GG5 – Week 1

15 December, 2012

Yay! Week 1 not a disaster! W00T!

Now, it should be noted that this is not really “story” I am writing, but DM notes. There won’t be plot spoilers, but you might be able to see the gears turning, which may take some of the magic away. For a more story-centric view you’ll need to see the player’s blogs – which I am sure they are all busily writing.

We split the players into two groups who have not met each other in-game, yet.

Paul’s Table

Aboard the good ship Pilchard, with Captian Haddock. “Good ship” being a mere politeness – the ship is a flat-bottomed bucket, a coastal trader. At this stage, the players are simply some of Haddock’s crew.

Encounter 1

The captain sent a few of the crew (ie: the players) onto a small sand island to pick a few coconuts. They were attacked by crabs.

Four giant crabs. About the right level of difficulty – a couple of tense moments, but it was never really in doubt. I wanted a simple fight to start with, and it worked out ok. No loot, just crab meat and coconut. Yum!

Encounter 2

The Pilchard is attacked by the Shirley-Jane.

The players were meant to lose this fight. I used the mass combat rules, pulling crew into the fight as they were killed.

It didn’t really go well. I massively underestimated how good the characters are, and had to pump the numbers – the Shirley-Jane crew were just not good enough to be obviously, convincingly better. To the players, the combat looked like new crew were just popping in out of thin air.

When running group combat (If I try it again), I’ll make the crew numbers public rather than hiding them. When running something they are meant to lose, I’ll pull more enemies out of melee than just one per player character, and make bloody sure that they are seriously better.

Eventually they worked out that they were supposed to lose, but it was an out-of-game thing. Which is what you don’t want.

Meh. Live and learn.

Encounter 3

At the destination, the elven harbourmaster took most of the rest of Haddock’s cargo as tax, citing the ship’s manifest rather than how much wood he actually had. I wanted to play up the racism of my campaign world – I believe “gaijin dog!” was used.

Some of the non-elf dockworkers indicated to Haddock that for a consideration, they could be elsewhere that night (not sure if I made this clear to the players), and so Haddock decides to (ahem) remove his lumber from the customs house and shift it to a warehouse next door.

The place was guarded by four samurai and the harbourmaster in his office. A couple of the stealthier characters snuck in, sniping from the rafters once combat started. The players pretty much rolled the joint – the harbourmaster downed with nolethal damage from Andrew’s character.

Loot was a couple of potions (cure light, barkskin) from the first-aid kit, and a chest of money (which Haddock took). [edit] and yes, a ring of protection +1 and a +1 elvish longsword. With Hare Clan markings all over it. Try explaining that to the authorities.

Alix’s Table

The other half of the players were retained in town to go investigate a ruins by a scholar. They headed off overland, dodging leeches, skellingtons, and a Kelpie (which took the form of a crocodile). Apparently it managed to death-roll one of the characters to unconciousness, which is just great.

Loot was some gear from an ill-fated prior expedition, and a curious wand. Mechanically, the wand is a wand of Cure Light Wounds. But it’s shaped like a small hammer. (Dun dun dun!)

On their return, the scholar who was going to be paying them is nowhere to be found.

So …

On the whole, we are setting the bar a little low, which I suppose is better in the first instance than killing characters first session. I don’t know how much plot and atmosphere the players are getting, yet. I suppose we need to get further into the story first.

I like standard magic items – wands, scrolls, potions – that are flavoured. In my wednesday game, Salty Bob scribes scrolls by way of scrimshaw. Elves (in this world) are druidic, so the potions I gave the players were enchanted fruit – cherries for the Cure Light, and a brown pear for Barkskin. They are the sort of things that a medicine kit might contain – I might retcon that the kit counts as a healer’s kit with a few uses.

Story is still on-track, after one session. Which is good – the players haven’t managed to derail things yet 🙂 . Players are participating by dropping story hooks, although we can’t incorporate them all. I have found that it is a Kajillion times easier to plan sessions with another person – the co-DM aspect is working out superbly well. At present, she does right-brain and I do left-brain.

Haven’t nailed down XP, which is very important. Players play for loot and XP – you want to power up your character. I’d like to go with actual tracked XP, so as to encourage people to actually show up on game night.

Next session has cool (well, I think it’s cool) plot and world-building stuff, but obviously I can’t talk about it here. I shall have to do it either though the medium of interpretative dance, or though the game itself. Which is the whole idea.

Season 5 prep

20 November, 2012

My glamorous co-DM and I playtested the Seas of Blood rules for tactical ship movement and mass crew combat.

The consensus was: tactical ship movement suffered the flaws of turning the game into a chess/wargame, and that of being between one player (the captain) and the DM – much like the “Crime Pays” game add-on that I have discussed before. D&D is about encounters. They can be social/skilly sort of encounters or they can be combat, but maneuvering ships around a grid is not D&D.

The group combat rules were fine, though. The entire “crew” is turned into a single stat block, and the two crews fight one another while the players have their fight with the bosses. The crew’s hit dice serve in place of hp, and if one crew is much bigger than the other, it gets bonuses to hit and damage. The upshot is that the crew combat happens at pretty much the rate that the player’s fight happens.

The great advantage of this system is that as players whittle down the mooks in their boss fight, you can pull them out of the general crew-on-crew melee. Your crew has 20 HD left, the opposing crew has 24. Pulling out 3 second-level fighters into the player’s melee means shaving 6 HD off the opposing crew. No probs. You could have two of those guys already beaten up on half hp, say, and only take 4 HD off the opposing crew. You can do cinematic things – the boss fight is already in progress, say, with good and bad guys. As the players enter the fray, those guys peel off and join the general melee.

The mass combat integrates nicely with the actual game and avoids, on the one hand, having to manage stats for each of a dozen or more crew; and on the other, having the player’s fight occur in some eerie parallel dimension or bubble that’s unconnected with the more general fight.

The “Book of the Sea” system for mass combat looks like too much work. Way too war-gamey. A “unit” has a number of “faces” – one attack per face. Opening a face is a move action. To move you need to “close” all but one “face”. You can be in skirmish formation, close ranks formation, and so on. Meh. Cool and playable, maybe, but not D&D.

This week I think we two need to look at overland movement. It’s also not as exciting as combat, but I think it helps give a feel for the world having size and scope. Paizo published a set of rules for moving around the island of Smuggler’s Shiv in the “Serpents’ Skull” campaign, and we might be able to re-purpose those. Maybe there was more detail than we want – stuff about making camp and foraging. The islands in this part of the world are mostly civilised – wandering through and making camp in most places will earn you a visit from the local samurai. But it would be cool if it takes two days to bush-bash across an unpopulated island on foot, and a ship can get from one side to the other in four hours. As in “this is why people invented ships in the first place”.

Most of the Paizo modules have minigames with auxiliary rules. It might be nice if Paizo could do some sort of omnibus volume integrating those rules from all of its adventure paths – factions and fame, money and trade. Kingmaker’s rules for city building, and war. It’s the book that the Game Mastery guide should have been, and isn’t.

Magic Item Compendium treasure generator

1 July, 2012

The most tedious part of Die With Honour is using the Magic Item Compendium treasure generator tables. So I have implemented them in JavaScript as a self-contained webpage.

Code is at GITHUB. Unhappily, WordPress won’t allow me to upload the HTML directly so you’ll need to save that link as an HTML file and open it in a web browser.

If my server is running (always a question of luck), you can view the page directly at
my site.