And here we go again…

•January 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

Apologies for the very long delay between posts. Between then and now has been a con, D&D Encounters (which I still haven’t gotten around to blogging about) and a few different things. But honestly, I haven’t feel really motivated like I used to, until now. When I received word through my several intelligence networks that Wizards of the Coast are definitely working on 5th Edition. There had been rumours before, but this is the first time we had anything really official.

I promise later I will do an update, with a post on Macquarie Con as well as a how-do on Encounters and Pathfinder. But for now we return to where I really like blogging about, opinions and views on gaming in general.

The Lowdown

So, here it is officially by Wizards. And I have to say that I had rather mixed feeling about this announcement, particularly after the hoo-hah with Essentials. Part of me is a little annoyed, given how I have invested so much in 4th Edition emotionally as well as with money and time. It seems to be the case with a lot of things these days, we get used to something and then they change it. However, I am open to seeing what it is like and have signed up to be a playtester.

But did you hear that? That rumble in the air is the sound of a full-fledged edition war. And I’ve just gotten over the last one.

The natives are restless

To be honest, I am sick and tired of edition wars. There’s a lot of vitriol based on very little information, even now when 5e has only been announced. A lot of the very negative views about 4th Edition are spouted by gamers who not only have never played, but have little to no idea what it is about. They may have flipped through the players handbook in a gaming store and that’s about it. A 3.5 DM I know what convinced that there are no Bards in 4e, that is until I showed him my character sheet that had “Bard” written at the top.

From what I am seeing on the Interwebs, there are some terribly stubborn gamers out there who’d rather close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears than accept the fact that 5th Edition is coming. This article shows a good way of preparing yourself, and may persuade people to not join the tinfoil hat brigade.

So yeah, as exciting as the idea that 5e is coming is, I am not looking forward to these whingeing people objecting to an inevitable change. Seriously, grow up guys.

I should be sleeping like a log…

•October 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

If you really want me to be honest about my choice of Paranoia mission for Sydcon, it was the title that most attracted me to this. Yes, I am a Beatles fan and the last four CDs I bought were all Beatles albums. But despite its name, I had to put all the references in there myself as I know players would more or less expect them.

Particularly with a title like An ARD Day’s Night.

Back in April at Eyecon people were asking me if I was going to be running Paranoia again at Sydcon. Back then I said yes but wasn’t completely sure what mission. I think I was choosing between Heroes of Our Complex (the Bob-Y mission) and Treason in Word and Deed. But it was when I picked up Flashbacks, with its oodles of missions and other wonderful stuff for GMs, that convinced me to run one of the N7 missions, An ARD Days Night.

There are plenty of missions to choose from in there that I’d like to run at a later stage. Classics like Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues and others like Orcbusters and My First Treason that I may run at future cons in a condensed format, as they are rather long. I recommend any Paranoia GM to get Flashbacks not just for the missions, but what could be termed “random encounters” which are essential to a Paranoia game.

And I had to use them as An ARD Day’s Night was basically as skeleton. Other than the Beatles references (which involved being chased down a corridor by rabid fans, then playing in a concert and being chased by more rabid fans off the stage and into a trash compactor) I put in four more corridor encounters (one group didn’t get all of them as we were a little pressed for time) that really had very little to do with the main story.

I also put in two experimental devices from R&D that I was sure would please everyone. Namely a Portal gun and a TARDIS in a tent. Though only one Troubleshooting team used one on the other and created a singularity…and then created another towards the end of the session

But hey, that’s Paranoia. In Paranoia the story is something the GM talks about when the players aren’t shooting each other.

When I started, I didn’t think that the game held together very well which may have been because I didn’t think the play test at my last gaming session in Tassie went very well. Now that I think about it the session could have gone better, but it wasn’t that bad. I define success in a Paranoia game when it becomes more or less self-sustaining and I don’t really have to do anything at all.

I’ve said in the past that Paranoia is good to run at conventions because the game is rather short, but there’s another reason purely due to how people get at cons. Which is tired from lack of sleep, mainly due to the after-con events which had me getting home around 11-12 at night and getting up around 6am the next morning. Paranoia is not a game that requires a lot of thinking or calculating, unlike other games I have run.

There’s also the fact that even though I am running the same game over and over the novelty lies in what the next group of players will do differently. And so I look forward to the next Paranoia game I run at a con, which may be sooner than I first thought.

Sydcon 2011 – A Retrospective

•October 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

You know, I never expected to be making this post. At all. In June this year I was resigned to not going at all and even clicked “Not Attending” on Facebook. But a series of events led me to relocating and one of the first things I did when I knew this was definite was ask if it was too late to run the game I had been planning to run back when I was thinking about it when they were talking about Sydcon at the end of Eyecon.

That game is of course Paranoia and the module is called An ARD Day’s Night, which we’ll get to in another post as it deserves its own. I’ll just say it’s more than convinced me to keep running Paranoia at cons.

The problem when you run a game at a convention is that you don’t have time to play much else. I was running five games of Paranoia and I had only three sessions free. And I had to make a few hard choices, but I played Serenity, Rapture and Call of Cthullhu which I have always wanted to play (and ended up getting a trophy for).

But after last time it wasn’t just the games. What I really liked about Sydcon was that almost everyone knew each other, or knew of each other even though some people hadn’t seen me since Easter. And next easter can’t come soon enough, to be honest.

Skip to the end

•October 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Well, I don’t think you can get anymore epic than this. The session before they had tumbled inside Acererak’s Fortress of Conclusion and were face to face with a different version of the Face of the Great Green devil. Then, two weeks later, their characters were upgraded to level 22 and they were facing the Very Definitely Final Dungeon with the definite prospect of facing Acererak at the end.

And it was worth it, every time. Even if I didn’t get to possess anyone, which may be why I want to take another group through it.

Anyway, this post is a two-parter, I look at the game itself and I look at what it is like to DM an epic level game. The latter is not as hard as I thought it would be.

And just a warning, this post will contain a lot of spoilers about the game, so I can’t be blamed if the surprise ha been ruined.

Where gods go to die

Apart from the very end, the entire session takes place in Pluton. A remote and isolated realm in the Astral Sea that would take more than a bit of asking to find, as well as a bit of raiding, pirating and killing astral abominations to get there. They had fought their way across bleak windswept plains to arrive at the Dead God’s Tomb, a place that had no end of it’s share of traps and tricks.

They didn’t complete all the rooms, doing that would involve at least two sessions rather than just the one that I had planned, but they managed to complete more rooms than I anticipated they would.

As well as some very unplanned for moments that I suppose I should have been expecting at the time. Like the deal with Vecna and the deal with the Aspect of Nerull (shown at left).

It was enjoyable, but the only problem I had was mainly with the problems of epic tier which I will address below. But I will say this: the characters were powerful enough that it was a real challenge to keep up with them. That and some of the DCs they needed to overcome with skill checks were ridiculously low.

But the final fights made it all worth it, and I only wish that I had been fresh for the final fights (yes, that is a plural) with Acererak. Particularly the last one as it was designed quite impressively with the pillars of the room which I was honestly far too tired to run properly.

Bigger than big

I seem to be one of the few 4e DMs that I know that has run an epic-tier game, even if it was only for one session. And to be honest, it’s not nearly as hard as people think it is. It just involves a lot more numbers. Like runing Paragoin-tier, wioth an extra level. I won’t say I have mastered it, far from it as it took me a good while to master paragon-tier, but it’s do able.

Just don’t do what I did, jump in  quickly so you can do the final dungeon and finish the campaign before you are ready. Epic-tier requires thinking on a much larger scale, and the themes and atmosphere needs to be enormous. It was a brain-drain, moreso than 4e usually is.

At least we had Paranoia next and could turn our brains off.

That is the way of things…

•October 9, 2011 • 1 Comment

Well, it has been a long break and I once again apologise for it. But I have to say that this has in no way been for the lack of activity, far from it, too much has been going on and I haven’t really found the time to sit down and document this. But now, after a quick update I can finally address the things I have been doing below in later posts. Expect a few in quick succession sooner than later.

So, here is the big news: I’ve moved recently. It’s been almost a month now, but I’m now based in Sydney which has its own advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is that there is a lot more gaming going on here if you know where to look and who to ask. I’ve been to Sydcon, which was last weekend, and I have played D&D Encounters as well as joined may what be a long-term group for some 4e play. But it means that I’ve left my old group,  more or less for good. We still talk via the web but it’s not the same thing.

Another change is that with the exception of conventions, I’m currently not running a real-time game or even planning for one. And having a break in this way is not so bad, as I can plan for other things.

So, first up there will be a post about the last game session my group had, the final Tomb of Horrors encounters and playing at epic level. Then there will be a write up about Sydcon and another one about my game there, An ARD Days Night, which I play-tested before I left Tassie. And then I’m going to look at D&D Encounters, which I’ve played a few sessions of and am due to end the chapter this Wednesday.

So, the Level 1 GM is back, never went away, and is looking forward to experiencing and commenting on the world of roleplaying gaming. Just in a different location now.

Earn your happy ending

•August 27, 2011 • 1 Comment

So, after much requests and some trepidation on my part,  I ran Star Wars again for the first time in months. The players wanted it, so I delivered and it was very enjoyable to see them at work, plotting and trying to get all they could out of me while I had my ending to completely floor them.

And, to be honest, I’m a little glad it’s over. That I was able to end it then, in this way on a high for reasons that I’ll go into in another post.

Perhaps this is the best sort of ending, when everyone gets what they want. And everyone loses what they want.

Like 40 million credits.

Quorum

•August 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

When I was at university I was in charge of scheduling meetings (among other things) for the student union, and one of the issues with having meeting was making sure that enough people were present to actually make a meeting official. And this was called quorum, the minimum number of people present in order for business to be conducted.

Believe it or not, this is pertinent to gaming and not just because a gaming night could constitute as a meeting, in some way. But unlike at a meeting, quorum for gaming is usually determined beforehand and it may not even be about numbers.

I’ve seen this on discussion boards and so I thought I’d finally answer the question: how many people do you need to have a gaming session? The answer lies within an individual group and the sorts of games that are usually played. Some games are dependant on having a minimum amount of players at the table, who they happen to be is immaterial (Paranoia is one example, I’ll run it with five or six who ever they happen to be). And some games that are more story or role focused require specific people to be there.

Rather than look at specifics, I’ll take it as a series of questions you can ask yourself each week to determine if it’s worth having a session or not.

1. Numbers – How many can come?

I’ve said this often, the single hardest task is getting a group of people together on a regular basis. And this gets worse as we get older. What you need to do here is examine the group in terms of availablity. I find there’s three catagories, people who will usually turn up to sessions, people who occassionally can turn up to sessions and people who usually don’t turn up but may once in a while.

The first and perhaps the second group are the ones you want to focus on, these more or less determine whether the gaming session is on or not. And the more you have in the first, the better. These are the people you can give plot-important roles to, but more on that later.

If you find that most people in your group are drifting into the second or third category, consider redefining it. Perhaps game less often, or start recruiting again. And if you have to let people go, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes life catches up with all of us.

2. Numbers – How many do you need?

Again, we’re talking about numbers as some games have a minimum, and some game and DMs have a maximum. Take Paranoia again, the ideal number is six as there are six Mandatory Bonus Duties for the players to fulfil. And I am willing to go either one less or one more than that, as anything more can get quite chaotic and any less doesn’t get chaotic enough.

Some games, however, benefit from a small group size. Particularly those that are story-based. Mutant City Blues and Rapture (which I will review soon) are two of these. So much of the narrative is player driven and there’s less adjudicating on the GMs part. Also, in large groups with a story-focused game, some players seem to be left out. This can be gotten around in a long campaign, but not if the campaign is a one-off.

While we deal with maximums, I will say that not all GMs are comfortable with dealing with large groups of people. It is quite intimidating, even for an experienced GM. This is where you need to know what you are comfortable with if you are the person running the game that week. Speaking for myself, it depends on the system. Yet the games that require less players usually end up as backups.

3. Roles – Who is important?

I have to divide this into two parts, as in story-driven games there are characters that are plot-relevant while in other games (like Dungeons & Dragons 4e) there are characters that are important to the party.

Of course, plot relevance is more important in a story-driven campaign. I tend to run my Star Wars campaigns with a shifting spotlight, players have their turn in the sun (or maybe the stars) when their character is the hero of the story. Usually it’s two at a time. A lot of the campaign is centred on their character, either what their character is capable of doing or some plot they have come up with on their own and negotiated with me well beforehand. This is why we haven’t play Star Wars in so long as a group, as the two characters the story is centred on as in the not available all the time group. I don’t blame them, it is unfair to leave the campaign hanging for everyone else, but they need their turn.

Secondly, you have characters that are role specific. The best example of this I can think of is in D&D 4e, where the players are more of an ensemble cast with differing yet cooperative roles. And, when they work together for a while they realise which roles are more important than others. And it’s usually the leaders and the defenders, as they make sure the party actually survives. You might choose to be a little more lenient here if one person cannot show and allow their character to be run by a different player. But there’s a difference between a party of six with two missing and a party of six with three missing. If only three people turn up for gaming in my group, we don’t play 4th ed as we’re usually more than that.

4. Roles – Logistics

Finally, there’s the nitty gritty of what makes sessions happen at all. As while the DM may be able to run the game, if they don’t drive and don’t host it the game may be in jeopardy.

My advice for this is simple: have a venue, have a back up venue. The same goes for transport. And don’t secure one unless you have the other. You may end up like me, making a series of begging phone calls because someone has paid down money for the venue.

 
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