Getting the Gang Together

Does anyone else have problems getting their gaming group together? I’ve been playing roleplaying games for years now, and the capacity for trouble when assembling a group of gamers has never ceased to amaze me. Even now, when my gaming groups seem to be getting ever smaller, it’s almost impossible to get a regular weekly game together. It seems like getting just 3 people together for a session should be easier than assembling the monumental 7 people games I used to run/play in back in university, but, if anything, it seems harder to keep these small games running, possibly because the loss of even one player means that we can’t run the game that week, whereas 5/7 was a good turnout in the old days.

People call the day before, or even an hour in advance, or maybe just drop you a text.

“Hey dude, I’ve got an early start/late finish today/tomorrow, so I can’t make it tonight. Sorry!”

I can’t blame them, I’ve done it myself. Work builds up, the house is a mess, maybe you’ve even got family commitments (maybe even your own kids?!) or you’re just totally wiped out from shitty, thankless days at the office. Unless the game really grabs your interest, it can be hard to turn down an evening that consists of a warm comforting meal on your own sofa in front of some of your favourite tv/films/video games before collapsing into bed for a few extra hours, at least compared to the amount of sleep you’d get after hauling yourself back from a game late at night.

This has got me to thinking, am I asking too much? Sure, when all my friends and I were lazy university-going bums, it was easy for us to make the time. After all, we pretty much had nothing but time on our hands, even those of us that went to lectures. Admittedly, we probably should have been doing more work and less roleplaying, but still, we had anywhere 2 and 4 weekly games going on at that time, and there were few weeks those games didn’t run.

However, nowadays, almost 5 years on, that’s all changed. Most of us have full time jobs now, we’ve moved further apart (geographically) due to affordability and work, and, obviously, we have less time. It’s fine to head out to a game at 6pm on a weeknight if you’ve only been to 3 hours of lectures that day, but doing the same after 8+ hours of workday is significantly more challenging. On top of that, our games have started to begin later and finish earlier as well. What used to be a 6pm through to 11pm affair is increasingly becoming a 7:30pm to 10pm session, which now only manages to run about once every other week, rather than weekly. Maybe weekly games are just not a realistic affair in an, and I’m loathe to use this work, “adult” world?

Having spent a not insignificant amount of time on various internet forums that talk about roleplaying games, it seems to me the more common format in games for work-a-day chumps is a monthly, or maybe, if you’re lucky, twice-monthly game, potentially running for longer than I’m used to (sort of a roleplaying day than an evening session). Maybe this would work better in our now grown-up roleplaying world, allowing us to fit our gaming in on our increasingly rare days off, but ensuring that people can make that bit more effort to attend, with only the one commitment a month.

I think I might give it a go with my next roleplaying endeavor; perhaps less is more?

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Review: Shards of the Exalted Dream

Shards of the Exalted Dream, or just Shards, as it has come to be known, has been out for a week or so now, and I’ve read enough of it that I think I’m just about able to pass some form of comment on it. For those of you who don’t know, Shards of the Exalted Dream is a new book from White Wolf in their Exalted line, and it presents a number of new and different ways to approach and play Exalted. There are four alternate settings in the book, one of which encloses and entirely separate system, and there are also a lot of new rules in there for doing different things with your Exalted game; it includes rules for guns and driving, with charms and artifact cars, motorbikes and guns to compliment.

As described by Drive Thru RPG

The world of Exalted has been reflected in the minds and stories of players across the world for over a decade. Now the mirror shatters, and White Wolf presents a collection of unique new visions of Exalted, shards of imagination to take your games through alternate realities, twisted histories, new genres, and even to the stars. In addition to re-imaginings of the classic setting, this book also contains a plethora of new rules to support those visions, or for enterprising Storytellers to use to create their own new takes on Exalted. What worlds will you forge from your dreams?

I’ve browsed most of the book, and read pretty thoroughly through most sections, and I have to say I am impressed. Gunstar Autochthonia is the first setting, in which the Exalted lost their war with the Primordials, and as a result they were forced to flee Creation en masse, using Autochthon as a mighty spaceship, which, over the last 10,000 years, they have rebuilt into a mighty warship known as the Gunstar. This setting draws from a number of different sources but the one that struck me as the strongest influence was Battlestar Galactica; the feeling of being constantly pursued across what is a largely unknown void by powerful enemies that, if conflict occurs, you can only really hope to hold off until you can flee really reminds me of the recent series. And I have to say, that’s something I like.

The next setting is Burn Legend (a name I always feel like someone should be yelling in a deep voice as your press the “Start” button on a games loading screen), and is basically the RPG version of a 90s action film or fighting manga. This setting is the one that diverges most from “vanilla” Exalted. It’s set in the real world, or at least the Burn Legend version, where your characters, powerful martial artists running the span from mere heroic mortals who know american wrestling and muai thai, to shapeshifting Okami and demonic Yama Kings who harness supernatural powers in their martial arts. This section is lacking somewhat in exactly what you would do in a game where everyone is a badass martial artist, but it still seems like a lot of fun. The elemental martial arts styles in particular, taking clear influence from Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra’s elemental bending (going so far as to call themselves elemental binding…), really draw my eye. I’m not sure a whole campaign of this is in the cards, but I can imagine some memorably one-offs being spawned. It’s a very streamlined system, with 3 main stats, a list of your techniques and then just backgrounds to resolve everything else, and combat comes down to playing cards to activate your martial techniques, some of which auto-defeat other kinds, but others calling for roll-offs. I’m hoping that this will mean the combat plays fast and furious, but I’d be worried that it could get bogged down in mechanics and card-choosing. If you’re interested in taking a look for yourself, see this link for the technique cards free to download from Drive Thru RPG.

Saying no to your players

Okay, so, just a quick post, since I haven’t put anything up in a while and I was inspired while cooking dinner. Having played a couple of different game systems recently, I’m musing on the concept of GM interference in what the players want, more specifically in character creation. How much free reign do you give players in your games?

I was involved in Mutants and Masterminds recently, which is a game I love, but one that has the most ridiculously broad character creation system, allowing you to create almost any character imaginable. Now, given that it tries to recreate the wild and varied world of comics, this is pretty necessary. It’s almost entirely freeform point-buy, in the sense that any stat in the game and any power can be bought at any level from maximum to minimum with a pool of points. No minimum scores, required powers or anything beyond what a player imagines. Which sounds great, right?

Now here’s the hitch. There’s something you may not know about me, if you’re not one of the people who knows me IRL, as the kids say; I am a heinous power gamer. I mean, real bad. Well, not bad, I’m actually very good at it, but that probably makes me bad to play with. I like my characters to be good at what they do. It’s not always combat, in fact quite often it’s not. It’s just that if I play a character’ I want them to be awesome. Fortunately, since I, more often than not, GM games as opposed to playing in them, it’s not an issue that comes up to often, but whenever I do get the chance to play you can guarantee I’ll be scouring books and crunching numbers to try and find the most effective build.

It’s not nice, but it’s the truth.

Okay, so where am I going with all this? Well, the character I made for my most recent game, the aforementioned M&M game, is a prime example of this. Sure, he’s fun, but he’s also a huge bundle of terrible powers and point-refunding character flaws. He’s literally a psychic box. He’s a paraplegic with incredible psychic powers (which is a concept I totally nabbed from the Ravenor series; a great read if you’ve not had the pleasure); it’s not actually as much of a munchkin concept as it sounds, and it has ended up delivering some interesting character opportunities, but I do wish someone had stepped in during character-gen and told me to scale it back, make it something more straight up and simple.

At times, it’s made it awkward for me and the GM. I think I probably would have enjoyed the game more with a simpler character. Flying around and blasting guys with energy rays might not give as many opportunities for character driven angst or allow for such a wide ranging set of powers, but sometimes it’s those restrictions that make the game enjoyable. If you can’t do everything, then it’s more interesting when you’re presented with situations to overcome. Now, credit where credit’s due, my GM definitely presented my character with challenging obstacles (at least once he was left with a powered down life-support chair, basically powerless), and that really made the character into more than he was, but I think these kind of interesting situations would have come up more often with a less heinous build. And I probably would have enjoyed the game more because of it.

So how do you deal with players whose concepts might cause trouble in your games? Do you ask them to scale it back, or do you accept what they want to run with and try to run your game accordingly? I tend towards the latter, but maybe that makes me a power gamer and a control freak?

Let’s Take 10

Okay, so I was on the interwebs yesterday, surfing about when I saw a discussion about what taking 10 and taking 20 actually means in roleplaying games.

For those of you unsure what I’m talking about when I say that, Taking 10 or 20 is the term in a game for when, rather than rolling a D20 to resolve a situation, you simply take either 10 or 20 as the result on that dice. Now obviously, this has some downsides compared to simply rolling the bones, as I’ll discuss in a second.

Now for me, what Taking 20 means is fairly simple; it is essentially as if you stood there rolling your dice over and over again until you rolled a 20, which basically means it takes 20 times as long as it normally would. More importantly, it also means that any negative results that would come about from failing the check automatically happen. Fail your jump check and fall into a chasm? Yup, that just happened. Trigger a trap and explode it in your face? Yup, bang.

So obviously Taking 20 isn’t always useful, and I think it falls to the DM to say when a character can take 20 and when they can’t.

Taking 10 is a bit more of a contested issue it seems. I saw someone suggest that for them, taking 10 was like a watered down version of taking 20. You try your luck 10 times rather than 20, so it takes 10 times as long, but still carries the risk of exploding yourself. To me that seems wrong; how can you try every possible solution, but only half? I mean, you either try it every which way with no concern for turning yourself into a magically-spattered lump of dust or you decide to be careful about it.

For me, taking 10 is your character only trying to do something once, but taking his time and being careful about it. Now it’s needless to say that neither Taking 10 or 20 can be done under pressure, so you can’t take 10 or 20 on opening a lock when there’s an ogre trying to smash your head in. You haven’t got all the time in the world and probably aren’t thinking particularly clearly. But you could take 10 on the aforementioned jumping a chasm. You know you need to be careful about doing it, but you’re not being chased at the moment and you’ve got half a minute to look at the jump, pick your spot, psyche yourself up and then go for it.

TL;DR – Taking 20 is trying every possible option, taking 10 is making sure you don’t mess it up.

Super interesting post, I know, but I just wanted to talk about it!

World Building: The Creeping Doom

I’ve recently started thinking about building a world for a potential D&D game. In considering the other day, I was trying to think of some kind of conflict that hasn’t already, to my knowledge, been played out in a game or setting, and then I hit upon the idea that anti-magic has good potential for a danger, especially in such a high-magic world as most D&D settings.

The world, which for the moment I’m calling “The Creeping Doom” is a high magic world, where people are used to living their lives surrounded by magic items, used to having mighty wizards perform great and terrible works and are comfortable in expecting that if they suffer any undue hazards divine magic can whip them back to life and full health at a reasonable outlay. I figured that in this kind of setting the most palpable force that could really be a threat to people isn’t a villainous sorcerer or necromancer king or anything like that, but is in fact something that diametrically opposes the magic that so influences the setting.

The idea is that, perhaps from the bowels of the earth or from some particular region, a growing area of anti magic has begun to expand. Called by some the True Death, this isn’t a force of necromantic magic sapping the life from the world, it’s the real cessation of magical influence. As such, it would be opposed by all factions in the world, both mighty elven druid kings and terrible undead liches. I want the Creeping Doom to be something already established in the setting; not some new force, but something people have been aware of for many years, centuries perhaps, but that has had some kind of resurgence in recent years. I like the idea of a world where magic pervades almost every part of civilisation, but can only really exist inside cities and towns, walled and warded against the ever growing True Death. Obviously, the idea that magical wards can repel and antimagical field is a little off, so perhaps some kind of physical barriers are called for. I’ll have to consider that aspect further.

The world would obviously also have its own politics that exist aside from this antimagic field, and have to deal with each other as well as try and halt the encroachment of this effect. I quite like the idea of there being at least one nation ruled by a probably Lawful Evil necromancer king, just because I quite like the juxtaposition that’s created when you have a life sapping antimagic field that is probably feared by the undead more than most. After all, most of them are magically animated; it’s quite likely they would suffer more than anyone else from the effects of the True Death.

At the moment this is all just kind of off the top of my head. I’ll think about it more over the next few weeks and keep posting up more stuff and crystallising it into a more usable setting as we go.

Steamforged for 3.5 D&D

Originally put together for when I was trying to make a Warforged Artificer for my friend’s D&D game in a custom setting, Steamforged are a take on Warforged (originally from Eberron) with less wood and more billowing clouds of steam! I’ve always thought that Warforged are instantly made less awesome when you realise they’re some armour strapped to a load of magic timber, and I really wanted a steampunk, clockwork variant, especially because it fit in better with the world I was playing in. With the help of the wonderful guys from RPG.net, I put together the following:

In all respects apart from as mentioned below, Steamforged would operate like Warforged.

– Required to drink the same amount of water as a medium sized humanoid, daily, as well as ingest an amount of coal, firewood, or other suitable flammable material in the same quantity as a medium sized humanoid would food, daily. They can have all of this intake at once (they are not required to eat 3 meals a day, or stop for water once they’ve taken the required amount). This is necessary to keep their inner workings correctly operating to produce Steam Points.

– A Steamforged produces Steam Points, to represent the steam-power in his inner workings. Providing he has taken in the proper amount of fuel and water for the day, his boiler produces 1 Steam Point an hour. Steamforged can store a number of Steam Points equal to their hit dice. Any additional Steam Points is bled off through vents, as if the Steamforged had used the Steam Blast power (see below). In addition, the Steamforged loses 1 Steam Point a day through standard operation.

– Providing a Steamforged still has a single Steam Point left in his system, he operates normally, suffering no penalties. If at any point he has 0 Steam Points left, he is put into an inactive state, and can only perform a single action: Stoking the Furnace.

– Stoking the Furnace is a full round action that requires a DC 15 Fortitude save; a failure indicates that no Steam Points are gained, a success garners 1 Steam Point. After Stoking the Furnace succesfully, a Steamforged suffers the penalties for Fatigue (even though he is normally immune), until he intakes at least 1/3 of his required daily amount of fuel and water. If a character proceeds to Stoke the Furnace multiple times without refueling, he suffers cumulative penalties, until he cannot move from lack of fuel (being reduced to 0 Strength or Dex). Then only an ally can revive him by refueling him. Intaking 1/3 of his required fuel and water will remove all penalties for Furnace Fatigue.

– Steam Points can be spent in any of the following ways. If any of these effects require a caster-level, the caster level is the amount of steam points spent to fuel the action.

  1. Light of the Forge: A Steamforged can spend a single Steam Point (or more), to produce the burning light of the forge from their eyes. This is spell like ability which functions as the Light spell, with a caster level (and likewise duration) equal to the Steam Points spent to power it.
  2. Burst of Steam: A Steamforged can forcibly expel steam from his body to assail an opponent. This burst is a conflagration of superheated steam, heat and flame from the Steamforged’s furnace, and is a spell-like ability that operates as the Burning Hands spell, with a caster level equal to the Steam Points spent to fuel it.

– Due to the steam-powered inner workings of Steamforged, and the small blasts of smoke/steam and pressurised air they intermittently let off, Steamforged suffer a -4 penalty to all move silently and hide checks.

– Unlike traditional Warforged, Steamforged are not susceptible to Warp Wood, or any other effects that would normally damage the wood in a Warforged. Their inner workings are entirely steel and steam.

So, there we go! The Steamforged I ended up playing was a really good laugh, although I’ll admit that perhaps I did go a little too much Marvin the Paranoid Android. Anyways, just a little bit of crunch to fill the time, enjoy!

Grids!

Okay, so let’s start with an oldie, but a goodie. Grids! Now, this issue only came up in my gaming circle a year or so ago, when Dungeons and Dragons 4e started to roll out. Before, even when we’d played 3.5 or another system that generally recommended using a grid, we’d just ignored it. I’d even been given a set of pregen maps in my D&D 3.5 Starter Kit, but mostly just thought that they’d get in the way of the game. The most we ever really used was abstract maps so people could get an idea of the lay of the land, never anything with regimented distances involved.

Then of course, 4e! You can’t play that game without grids, maps and figures, never mind all of the other stuff they try and press on you, like Power Cards and Map Kits, etc… So, when we first played it, we begrudgingly brought out the grid and dry-wipe markers, following the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure for level 1 characters. I wasn’t really sure what to think about it at first; it was very different to any other game I’d tried before (I cut my teeth on Exalted 1st Edition at the ripe young age of 13, try and imagine that!), and to be entirely honest, I was never a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons at the time, although that’s all changed in recent years. In any case, I was all set up to hate 4e, and, contrary to all logic, I loved it.

Yes, yes, I can hear your outraged gasps now, but from my point of view 4e is a very different beast to pretty much any other roleplaying game (except perhaps Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3e, which can go take a long run off of a short pier…). It’s more of a boardgame and a casual but enjoyable activity than a true roleplaying game, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less fun. In my opinion, 3.5 was always a compromise between roleplaying and mechanics, with overly crunchy rules often just getting in the way of doing what you wanted to do, and 4e took a sensible step by just taking it all the way over to the crunch side. Sure, if you want to do some deep roleplaying, maybe you should look elsewhere, but then again, there’s plenty of room for that outside of the grids and initiative rolling.

Okay, now I’m getting off topic. The real reason this has come to a head for me recently is that I’m currently playing in a D&D 3.5 game, harkening back to spells-per-day with nostalgia a plenty. We’re high adventuring our asses off trying to save the gods, or somesuch roleplaying staple, but an issue that often comes up is that of grids. Whenever we break out into combat in any but the most simple arenas, I often feel the experience would be greatly enhanced by a grid/layout of some kind. Sure, it doesn’t let you build up as much of an image in your head as perhaps you’d like, but on the other hand, at least no-one is going to go running off in the opposite direction to the enemy because “Oooooh! I thought he was over by the jaguar obelisk!”. My friends (and DM) vehemently disagree with me, but I’m just wondering what anyone else thinks?

Do you avoid grids at all costs in the hopes of a true imaginarium, or do you sacrifice some of the freedom of the mind in exchange for a little more ease of use in your games?