Saturday, September 30, 2017

Returning to Phandalin

Image result for 5th edition D&DThis summer, after a careful look around our Friendly Local Games Stores, I knew that I wanted to offer a 5th edition D&D game in our after school club.  Despite my own preference for older editions, I figured that once my students head off to high school and college, some familiarity with 5e will make it easy for them to jump into any pickup games they encounter.  Also, should some of them be bitten by the bug and decide to teach themselves the full game, 5e can be purchased retail in five different local shops and bookstores.

Though I've run something like 70 sessions of 5e before, some aspects of the system just don't stick with me and I've constantly got to review some bits to stay on track: 

  • spells prepared vs spell slots
  • short rest vs long rest
  • reaction vs bonus action
  • 5e spell descriptions vs their 40-year-old analogs
  • some conditions (e.g. "poisoned")
Image result for lost mines of phandelverTo that end I ran my older kid through Lost Mines of Phandelver at home to help me brush up some.  Her quartet of adventurers made swift progress, hitting a few side quests but mainly focusing on locating the Forge of Spells, rescuing various NPCs, and thwarting the Black Spider.  

In fact, perhaps because she cut her teeth on B/X D&D, she was adept at avoiding unnecessary combat and focusing on recon, speed, and stealth to achieve her objectives.  She wasn't willing to risk a confrontation with the adventure's final guardian and so, after a brief but polite conversation, she withdrew, leaving the Forge unplundered.

As the school year kicked into gear, this gave me an idea: except for a bugbear boss, rogue wizard "Iarno the Glasstaff," and the Black Spider, all of the named villains made it through to the end of the adventure unscathed.  Instead of rewinding and starting Lost Mines over again, why not just pick up with my new group of players from where we left off?

I started session one with the group, a company of free swords hired by the Lords' Alliance and Sildar Hallwinter (the new townmaster of Phandalin), acting to support the two surviving Rockseeker brothers.  

Having at long last discovered its location, the pair of dwarves had all but beggared themselves in order to purchase a charter to reopen Phandelver Mine.  This meant that they had scarce resources left to hire laborers, provisions, and equipment.  

But wait!  

The Redbrand gang had left a considerable stock of supplies in their hideout when they were chased out of the ruins of Tressander Manor ... somebody just needed to trek up there and haul them out.  

And rumors that the manor was haunted?  Bah.  Probably just cooked up by the Redbrands to keep the townies away.

Image result for ghoul

Drop a furtive ghoul into the northern hallways (gnawing at the bones of slain brigands) and  and voila!  Instant memorable, creepy, first encounter.  
It became even more memorable when, once the ghoul had brought down the party's cleric and was dragging him off by the ankles, another emerged from the cistern behind them!

One PC fled, two went down, death checks were passed, and thanks to the presence of two rogues in the party (rogues seem to be the new fighters), both ghouls were vanquished.

Image result for nothicSession Two: after his arrest, rebel wizard Iarno Glasstaff had spilled the beans to avoid the gibbet.  Among the information he shared was the fact that he had built a lab under the old manor ... in fact, his books and papers were still there as far as he knew.  

Harid, the party's wizard, might profit by getting his hands on some of those books and notes.  Iarno had said something about a creature he called "mad eye," ... but that was probably just to keep profiteers from looting his lab.

The group tangled with the Nothic, and defeated it (just barely), making a third plunge under the manor's ruins to find Iarno's lab.  His old familiar (re-skinned as something much more along the lines of Brown Jenkin) made things interesting, but they got back out with a bit of swag.


Overall I'm feeling good about the plan to simply continue the storyline ... following some threads out and fleshing out others (e.g. orc raiders planning revenge for the defeat of their chief's son or necromancer finds something of interest in the ruins of Old Owl Well).

Because of the novice experience level of my players and the increased mechanical complexity of 5e, however, I'm finding that the pace of the game is much, much slower than what I had anticipated, however.  With 5-6 players at the table, I'm really only getting a couple of encounters in for each 90+ minute chunk of play.

Will that pace hold their interest for the longer term?

Will it hold mine?

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

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.