Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Know Your Audience

When I read through gplus posts, enworld discussions, and game related blogs, I am often left with the impression that the players and game masters that are interested in actually creating a blog, creating an account to post on a bulletin board or on social media... Well, I often feel like that audience has very little in common with the people I play role playing games with.

As a case in point, I will relate the Ravenloft adventure I ran right before Halloween. I say it was Ravenloft, but really that was window dressing to get the players in the right frame of mind. I actually made up my own castle inhabited with the dread Strahd. Below is a map of the courtyard where the players started.

Each player created a set of four 0 level Dungeon Crawl Classic characters that were peasants that were storming the castle.

When I created the courtyard, I made several different areas with different challenges. The graveyard would have "Thriller" type zombies rise up and attack the peasants. The chapel was covered in spider webs and had a group of dangerous giant spiders. The scarecrow would animate if anyone dared disturb his pumpkin patch.

I did not put hard numbers to how many zombies or spiders would appear. And I was not sure how tough the scarecrow was, or even what, if any, special powers it would have.

But what I did not expect, but really, should have expected is... each player decided to go and explore a different area of the courtyard. The reason I forget that the players are going to always do this, is I am more of a strategic thinker and it seems, to me, that sticking together and tackling one little piece of the area is just natural. It is part of an optimum strategy and, being that I have written computer code for 20 plus years, it does not even register to me that there is a different way of thinking (except when I take a step back).

And that other way of thinking is what is the "most fun" thing to do. When you play with a large group of people (8 plus), your turn is a very short amount of time, and when your turn is over, you have to wait for 7 other people to go, and the Dungeon Master before you get the chance to get back into the action. What is the optimum strategy if you want to have the "most fun".

Well the answer is to go and explore something that someone has not already explored. Why go into the stables if another player has already gone in there and gotten all the swords and shields and other goods. Why explore the pumpkin patch if another player is already going to grab a pumpkin.

So, in the end, that is why I play a different sort of game. I take it easy on the players. It is so rare we get together and we all have such a blast playing, that it is rare that I inflict a total party kill on the group. Even if they do trigger 6 encounters in a courtyard instead of tackling each challenge one at a time.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bits and Pieces of Dragonlance

So, I have been skimming through the Dragonlance modules to see what I missed in the 80s. It is strange to me how popular they were. Shannon Applecline writes for the description of the last UK series module...

So why did the UK series end? It certainly wasn't due to sales. Imagine #30 (September 1985), published shortly before the release of "Dark Clouds," claimed that "after the Dragonlance epic, the UK modules are the best-selling series both here and in the USA." 
People can be disappointing. The UK series was much more worthy of purchases than the Dragonlance series in my humble opinion. But, you would think I would have devoured up Dragonlance modules. I was TSR's target audience in the mid 80s. But as I have written many times before, Dragonlance just never appealed to me. One of the greatest parts of D&D to me was that you get to create your own character and fight for fame and glory on your own terms.

Dragonlance just felt like pantomiming someone elses heroes.

Even now, when I skim through the 15 modules for Dragonlance, I find it difficult to get into. There is just something painful about the setting, the plot, the characters. But I skimmed through them with the mindset of, what could anyone use for any setting or home brew campaign. What if you stripped away the story and the pre-planned plot, and the cookie cutter heroes?

You actually don't get a whole lot. Here are my notes to all 15 modules.

DL1 - Dragons of Despair

Temple of Mishakal - This is how gods get made. Some crazy person finds golden plates that have the word of god on them and then brings them to the masses-- Oh wait, I mean the heroes find platinum plates and save the world by bringing religion back to Dragonlance.

DL2 - Dragons of Flame

Walls of Pax Tharkas - A knock off of the gates of mordor. Also I keep getting World of Warcraft vibes when looking through Dragonlance; this also is similar to the Lich King's black gate in Northrend, but it probably just Hickman aping Tolkien and then Wow also mimicing Tolkien.

DL3 - Dragons of Hope

Skullcap Mountain - A mountain with a giant skull face carved in the side. You know bad guys like to make their lairs look like a giant skull.

DL4 - Dragons of Desolation

The floating tomb - Remember the teleporting, floating, medieval alien fortress in Krull? This is that but instead of a lair of ultimate evil, acting as a power base to spread villainy, it is just a tomb of some forgotten hero.

There is also a lot of material covering the Dwarven Kingdom of Thorbardin. If you need a Tolkien-esque Mithral Hall, but back in the day when Dwarves lived there, then this might be useful. Again with the Tolkien, Hickman, Wow reference this is a lot like the Dwarf/Gnome area of Ironforge/Gnomeregan.

DL5 - Dragons of Mystery

Man, I don't even get this module. It is not a module, it is a source book, compiling information about the world of Krynn and is probably obsolete or repeated in the hardbound and box set Dragonlance world books that came out later.

DL6 - Dragons of Ice

Icewall Castle - A castle built into the side of mountain and glacier. And, of course, there is a white dragon named Sleet to fight.

DL7 - Dragons of Light

Foghaven Vale and the Stone Dragon of Ergoth - a mysterious elven like valley with a giant carved stone dragon carved / sitting on top of a mountain. The valley reminds me a lot of the old "World Dragon" locations scattered throughout Azeroth.

DL8 - Dragons of War

Temple of the High Clerist

This has a giant 3D rendered map of a Citadel. It doesn't appeal to me as a place to adventure. This module seems to be Tracy Hickman's version of the siege of Minas Tirath in the Tolkien universe.

DL9 - Dragons of Deceit

Remember when Frodo and Sam were hungry, alone, and sneaking through Mordor? Well, here is Tracy Hickman's version, except it involves dragons and lots of lava.

DL10 - Dragons of Dreams

Primarily a romp through a dream forest.

Another Warcraft like connection. In Warcraft the elves constantly reference the Emerald Dream, and then there are parts of it that have turned into a nightmare.

Well, this is the same thing here. Another reference that makes me think that whoever was the writer for Warcraft's fiction was a Dragonlance fan.

DL11 - Dragons of Glory

This is the X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield of Dragonlance. You have a large map with a hundred card stock counters to punch out and have a huge battle with.

DL12 - Dragons of Faith

This is the X7 War Rafts of Kron of Dragonlance. You have a large floating city. You have an underwater ruined city.

There is a cool idea of building out the city using geomorphs. This actually gives me an idea of writing a little program to generate the under water city of Istar in a similar fashion to what I wrote for B1 In Search of the Unknown (See B1 Dungeon Randomizer)

DL13 - Dragons of Truth

Finally, the players get to fight the ultimate evil of Dragonlance; Tiamat! Except, in the end, they find out that Paladine the good dragon has been pretending to be a foolish wizard and travelling with the party the whole time, and he reveals himself and snatches a satisfying victory from the players by taking care of Tiamat.

DL14 - Dragons of Triumph

Another source book disguised as a module.

DL15 - Mists of Krynn

This was released much later than the other modules. It consists of a bunch of adventures of the Dragonlance version of vikings. It doesn't really fit in with the rest of the series.

So, if you wanted to grab a couple of Dragonlance modules for maps and locations you can import to another campaign?
Even though they are cliche, the first four probably can serve that purpose the best; a long lost temple, an evil wall gate fortress, a skull face mountain, and a floating tomb. It would be a little work to fit them into a campaign, but I enjoy reworking things in this way.

Most of the others are a bust, DL5, DL14 are just too much minutia Dragonlance history and source material.

DL6, ice fortress and DL7, giant stone dragon complex can be used, but they start to veer into a lot of work to convert.

Then all hell breaks lose, and the later modules deal too much with war, with a ton of battle scenarios and events. Or they deal too much with individual characters from the novels (which I have never read, and these modules reinforce the idea that I never will).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Best Edition

This past weekend, the old gang decided to get together and play some Dungeons & Dragons. I usually DM and was casting about for ideas of what to run. Halloween is just around the corner, so running something with a horror like theme came to mind.

One of the players had a really bad play experience with Ravenloft back in the 80s. I am not quite sure of the exact story, but he really didn't like the teleporters in the module. So naturally, I said we would be playing Ravenloft.

Except, I started to think about characters and editions. 5th edition is the new kid on the block, perhaps it is time I buy a copy and give it a spin. Except, I haven't really liked what I have seen of the rules. I never warmed up to 3rd edition and the d20 system that was big in 2000, and that is mainly what sticks out to me when I read over the 5th edition rules. I know a deluge of people claim that 5th edition is like 2nd edition, but I just don't see it. All I see are boatloads of DC numbers and a reworking of the d20 system.

So thinking it over some more, I really didn't want to burden everyone with making up characters, or getting into the groove of playing 1st edition AD&D, level 6-8 characters, so I struck upon the idea of using Purple Sorcerer Games Dungeon Crawl Classics character generator. It is really very good and you should check it out (See DCC Zero Level Character Generator).

That complimented the horror theme nicely. Instead of heroes navigating the dungeon, it is going to be a horde of peasants storming the castle! And not many of them will make it.

But, alas, I don't have a copy of the DCC rules. So, in the end, I realized that I will just play the edition of the game that I am best with. It is the edition that is in my head. It pretty much goes something like this.

The players will need a 12 or higher on a 1d20 to hit most monsters they are going to face.
If it is a really tough monster, or it seems like a really difficult kind of attack, then they need a 15 or higher.

If the players are attempting to do anything else, and it seems like there might be a chance of failure, I ask them to roll under whatever ability score seems appropriate. Such as, roll under strength to push over a heavy cauldron.

Monsters have enough hit points to survive two average hits. Tough monsters, somewhere around four hits.

Thats pretty much it, and is what I have used for most of the games I have run over the years. I feel that was pretty much the standard in Mentzer era Basic D&D and Allston/Heard era Basic D&D and 1st Edition through 2nd Edition AD&D. But really, the main thing is, the best edition is the one in your head, the one that comes naturally.

I learned a few things in the game we played, and hopefully I will gather my thoughts and write more about it soon.