Aug 30, 2011

Humor: Orcus's Little Known Ability




Little known Daily Power of Orcus, Demon Price. Once per day he can summon scrubbing bubbles that follow his commands.

Remember, they work hard so Orcus doesn't have to!

Aug 25, 2011

Adventure Gravy and Cornbread (A Gamer's Receipe for Success)

It seems inevitable in my games that when the PCs finish up the meat of an adventure--when the princess has been rescued, or the one ring destroyed--they start acting like a piece of cornbread at the end of a meal, sopping up the last bits of gravy from the adventure.

In almost every game, there seems to be rooms the PCs skipped, or failed Search checks that leave them thinking they've missed something useful. In these cases, when the bulk of the adventure is over, my players at least, start retracing every step, rechecking every room, and researching every scrap of paper they can find. In times like this, part of me wants to call a time out and move on to the next story point in the campaign. At the same time, I understand as a player wanting to find all the loot, defeat all the creatures, or learn all the secrets.

In trying to understand why my players behave like this (and why I behave like this sometimes as a player), I think part of this stems from the reward system built into D&D.

Dungeons and Dragons rewards players in two ways. On one hand there's level advancement, including all the benefits that confers such as increases to hit points, ability scores, as well as additional feats, new powers, spells, etc. On the other hand there's the reward system composed of treasure. By treasure I'm referring to coins, valuable non-magic items (gems, jewelry, art), and magic items.

Unlike level advancement, which is strictly a function of game mechanics, and typically handled outside of the game proper (often occurring between sessions), treasure provides both a meta game reward system and an in-game one.

In the game world, treasure sometimes provides the incentive and usually part of the reward for completing the various dangerous labors player characters undertake. In-game there is sometimes a patron sponsoring the party ("Here's 500 gold if you clear this dungeon") and always a dead body to search ("Do the dead kobolds have any coins on them?"). These rewards can provide a lot of role playing material for the characters, money can help pay off an old debt, an old brooch can be the starting point for the next adventure, and an ancient book of spells can give the caster new power.

But unlike level advancement where all the benefits of an advancement are clearly spelled out (at X level you get get Y hps, the following increases to saves, 1 new feat, etc), treasure acquisition isn't just handed out between sessions, it's provided in game, and the players have to find it, not have it thrust upon them. Certainly, that is as it should be. Finding the false floor board and uncovering hidden gems is a fun aspect of the game.

Unfortunately, older versions of the game took the "treasure hunt" aspect a little too far, with gems hidden is monster's stomachs or in the hollowed leg of a table/desk. With that kind of history, and the limitless creativity of DMs, it makes sense for players, through their characters to start tearing up every inch of storytelling scenery looking for those last coins.

While I don't think it can be, or should be, completely prevented, there are certainly ways to curtail or control it in your game.

One thing, I've done in the past was to set up an adventure where there were time constraints on the party, so after finishing up one chapter, they needed to rush off to the next location and didn't have time to search every sofa cushion. Unfortunately, that little trick can't be employed every time.

The other way is to lessen the influence of money in your game. In older editions money was required to train for a new level, monthly upkeep between adventures, purchasing new armor, potions, and spells.

Regardless of what edition you're running, there's a lot of helpful advice you can get from the new Rules Compendium book. You can start off by not requiring PCs to train for a new level (unlike earlier editions), or allow them to train for free (I've discussed character training before).

Additionally, make treasure relevant to PCs, don't have a short sword treasure when no one uses it. I've never read a story where the hero finds a magic weapon, only to sell it for cash to buy one he CAN use.

Lastly, reduce the PCs ability to sell items. Once again, the Rules Compendium has an interesting new rule on mundane items, which is simply, PCs can't sell them, or if they can, the PCs can only get 1/5th their value (Rules Compendium, pg 265). This alone should go a long way to preventing PCs from wandering in to town with every battered (and bloodied) suit of leather armor that could be stripped off a goblin, or every blade pried from the dead hand of a defeated orc.

A certain amount of treasure hunting is too be expected in your game, no matter what, but with a bit of work and some planning, you can keep the players focused on the meat of your stories, and less time on the gravy.

Aug 18, 2011

Gen Con: Aftermath - 3.5 Days of Gaming

This year, for the second year in a row, I got to attend the Mac Daddy of gaming conventions, Gen Con. If you're not familiar with this legendary convention, you certainly owe it to yourself to do some research, and then, hopefully, plan to attend next year's gathering.

This year, due to some real life issues, I wasn't able to head out early for the con. It's typical for folks to start arriving Wed afternoon (or earlier in some cases) even though the convention doesn't start till Thursday. In my case, I didn't arrive until Thur night, having missed most of the first day.

I was lucky enough to get over to the convention with plenty of time to get my badge and walk around the con. The Dealer's Room was closed at that time, but everything else was in full gear. That first night I even ended up playing one of the Dungeon Delve scenarios in the Dungeons and Dragons area of the con.

Personally, I think the Dungeon Delve is a great way to sample 4e at a con. It has a very basic structure wherein you get to chose a pre-gen character and have a basic story which includes a lot of "kill anything that moves". The goal is to get through 2 encounters in the one hour time limit. For my first Delve this year, my team had no problem.

Teams are 5-6 players and it's a fun way to meet people at the con. I met a number of people over the Delve's I've played in, and look forward to seeing them again next year.

Additionally, there's some neat features to the Delve where you earn points each time you play--points you can redeem for items (like bonuses to armor and weapons) that you can use the next time you play the Delve, or non scenario items like limited edition miniatures or Fortune Cards for your home games.

Lastly, there are a number of scenarios that are all part of the Delve, so you can replay multiple times, each time encountering different areas and creatures.

I ended up playing the Delve only twice. I tried several other times, but there seemed to be issues with not enough DMs on hand for all the available people. I had so much fun this year (and previously) that I'm making it a goal to come back to GenCon next year and serve as a DM for the Delve.

The other big part of the convention is the Dealer's Room. To call it a Dealer's Room isn't really doing it justice. Image a huge mall, but instead of stores like Macy's and Lord and Taylor, it's WotC and Paizo, while places like Lids and Williams Sonoma are replaced with Chessex, FFG, and Mayfair Games. Typically, all the major publishers are there, as are a lot of artists, not to mention card dealers, miniature companies, replica weapons, costumers and video dealers to round out the selection.

Visiting the dealers room is always an under taking, and you need a plan. If you just walk around willy-nilly, (and you're like me) you'll quickly loose your bearings and start heading in circles. I typically pick a start point and walk up and down each isle. After I've made a first pass, I then focus on the dealer's I'm most interested in. This year, I was looking to pick up a number of miniatures, and maybe a pre-printed map or two. On top of that, I was also planning to stop at the Dwarven Forge booth and pick up my first set.

One of the other great things about Gen Con is getting to hang out with folks you don't regularly see and bond over a few beers, and a few games. This year some of the folks I was planning on attending the con with couldn't make it, but I was able to reconnect with a few buddies I've seen at past cons. We ended up having some drinks, catching up, and playing the new Wiz Kids game, Quarriors.

Overall it was a great time. The energy of so many people just having pure fun, whether it's playing D&D or MTG, or dressing up in costume, or any one of a hundred different activities at the Con is something to cherish all year long. I can't wait to go back next year!

Aug 11, 2011

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 28) - Featuring 2 Complete Stories

2 StoriesIt's been way too long since my last comic post (or any post for that matter). Luckily, this is a standalone issue so no previous storylines are referenced here.

This issue contains two stories, one featuring a minotaur of the Imperial League, the other featuring a lowly hobgoblin questing to be the leader of his tribe. Sadly, while Myrella (the female wizard last seen in issue 16) appears on the cover, she does not actually appear in either story--already this issue is off to a bad start!

The Path to Power

The first story starts off with an arena combat where a minotaur, Cantavian, defeats another minotaur, Platius. Afterward, the Emperor talks with Cantavian and the leader of the Black Cloaks minotaur legion. Due to his win in the arena, Cantavian is grudgingly given support for creating a new unit similar to the Black Cloaks. Apparently this plan was originally the idea of Cantavian's cousin, who it turns out to be was General Axantheas (last seen in issue #25).

What no one else knows is that Cantavian is looking to create an army in the service of Erestem, and fulfill the bargain Axantheas made with the goddess and receive the power she was to give the general.

Upon hearing Cantavian's plan, Quillian, his trusted assistant, threatens to expose him. Cantavian is forced to kill the other minotaur in his quest for power.

Later, we see a group of robbed minotaurs who turn out to be part of the priesthood of Erestem, and they are not to happy to learn that someone else in the city seeks the favor of the dark goddess. Just then Cantavian bangs on the door demanding entrance. He pushes his way in, and then kicks down another door to get to the high priest.

Cantavian demands to speak to Erestem to claim his reward. As the dark queen animates a five headed dragon statue, the heads encircle the minotaur and then douse him in fire, leaving his burnt remains on the temple floor.

The Perilous Power of Feh

This story starts off with a group of traag draconians on the trail of Riva Silvercrown. Riva, much like Myrella on the cover does not appear in this issue.

The draconians encounter an area of swampy forest reeking of the foulest odor. One of the draconians comments that the hobgoblin's in the area cover the perimeter of their lands in filthy sludge to keep outsiders at bay. The draconians end up taking a detour around the stench.

Meanwhile, in the hobgoblin lands, Snonk has captured a huge slug and the rest of the tribe surrounds him in adulation. That is everyone except Feh, the Sludge-Spreader. Feh toils away in his thankless job, all the while bitter that he doesn't receive the adulation of his tribe, or the affections of Olob, a female in the tribe.

When Feh learns that Olob and Snonk are engaged, he takes matters into his own hands by seeking the help of Hanuk, a village shaman. The shaman has recently acquired a draconian scroll with directions for brewing a potion. The potion allows the imbiber to commune with the dark goddess Erestem. Before Hanuk can figure out the warning on the scroll, Feh drinks the concoction and finds himself in a dream realm where the goddess takes notice.

Feh asks for power and the goddess grants it to the hobgoblin. In exchange for the power to defeat all who stand before him, Erestem will call upon Feh for a service in her name.

Feh awakens in Hanuk's cave, seemingly unchanged. At the same time, the draconians find an opening in the sludge ring and decide to attack the hobgoblin village. While Snonk fights the draconian leader without success, Feh is able to unleash powerful magic on the draconian, defeating him in one shot and taking the leader's magical ring as Erestem had instructed.

Instantly, the village showers Feh with praise, and Olob takes Feh for a mate.

Some time later, Erestem visits Feh in a vision, reminding him that he still had a great service to perform for her. It seems she selected him to go confront Riva instead of the draconian leader because the hobgoblin looks so unintimidating.

As Feh leaves the village, Snonk returns to take control of the faltering village and get his revenge on Feh. It seems the hobgoblin went to visit Hanuk and learned the warning of the scroll that Feh never bothered with. While Feh has the power to conquer all who stand before him, he must also "watch his back".

As Feh wanders off, he has no idea of the creature stalking him from behind, or the limits of his powers.

Commentary

I didn't really care for the first story. The plot was too simplistic and the art was really bad. The artist clearly didn't have experience with D&D style creatures since all the minotaurs looked like regular people with distorted faces and the close up shots looked like a horse with human eyes.

As for the story, it was not very engaging. An angry minotaur storms around for a bit and ends up getting killed for his arrogance. Not very original, and the "twist" ending was apparent too early for it to be shocking.

The second story was a bit better. The art work from Tim Gula really captures the swampy forest, and all the characters have a great amount of detail, from the draconians to all the various hobgoblins, as well as the main hobgoblins Feh, Snonk, Olob, and Hanuk. If there's any complaint about the art, it's that it has a very cartoony feel, and the hobgoblins look more like Saturday morning cartoon characters than real D&D creatures.

The story also features a twist ending, which is a bit predictable. What really makes this story stronger than the first part, is how much introspection we get. We see so much of Feh's situation and what he hopes for, we understand his willingness to deal with the devil (or a dark goddess in this case).

While the story didn't feel like a Dragonlance story (this might have been more at home in the cartoon pages of Dragon magazine), it was at least enjoyable.

Aug 9, 2011

Return to Blogging

I know I haven't been on this blog lately, but I'm working on several related items that I'll be writing about and sharing with you in the coming weeks.

To that end, I'm going to try and write on a regular basis. I'm setting a goal of at least one post a week, while I continue to figure out how to juggle my games, my family, and my job.

I just came back from Gen Con and feel re-energized about my D&D game and what I want to contribute to the community at large. Part of that will start within these posts.