Thursday, December 31, 2015

A look back at 2015

This year was pretty good, postings-wise. I did a lot of stuff for Old School Hack (and my twist on it called Neo School Hack), a goodly number of reviews for gaming products and movies, and a couple discussions on using technology at the table.  In the coming year I expect to be doing more of the same, generally speaking.

A new addition will be stuff for my "Cauldron Seven" campaign using Pathfinder and the Shackled City Adventure Path.  The original magazine articles and later hardcover book are packed with information but a lot is still left uncovered.  The forums on it at the Paizo website have a lot of additional content, alternatives, and links to blogs and campaign wikis with more.  I plan to fill in some gaps, starting with maps of key buildings in the city.  I will also be filling out my campaign wiki as a resource for others looking to run this adventure path.

Also, since I just got the fun board game Super Dungeon Explore I will be posting some thoughts on it, maybe some alternate rules, etc.  If I decide to paint the minis (which really cry out for a nice paint job) I'll post progress pics and thoughts.

A real-life scenario for Fiasco?

Okay, so I've been intrigued by the game Fiasco because I loved the movie Fargo.  It's meant to model criminal capers involving too much ambition, not enough brain cells, and a dose of gonzo.  So I came across this news item alleging racketeering by Gaston Glock, head of Austrian weapons manufacturer Glock Ges.m.b.H.  The article started out as a mildly interesting business news item about corporate insider sleaze but then suddenly went all Fiasco:

"Glock’s former business associate, Charlie Ewert, was christened with “Panama” by the press for the international shell corporations he set up for Glock Inc. At some point, Glock became suspicious that Ewert may have been moving some of the company’s money to places and accounts to solely profit Ewert, and in 1999, the aging founder set off for Luxembourg to confront his partner. Rather than be found out, Ewert engaged the services of Jacques Pecheur, a former French Legionnaire who also wrestled professionally as “Sparta,” to have his employer killed.

Ewert drove Glock to a parking garage where Pecheur waited with a rubber tire hammer. As Pecheur attacked Glock, Ewert ran away, and somehow Glock survived seven blows to the head and sustained choking without any serious injuries. (Both assailant and victim were in their 70s.) Ewert was convicted on charges of attempted murder in a Luxembourg court in 2003 and sentenced to 20 years in prison."

So, you hire a guy in his 70's to carry out a contract hit on someone using a hammer?  O.M.G.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Draft template for OoTS character portraits for Roll20

Okay, so earlier I posted some of the Order of the Stick style character portraits I made for a Roll20 game.  I made them using a pair of base silhouettes, one female and one male, which I embellished to create each character.  The silhouettes were made with a bordered 64x64 pixel square to work with Roll20.  Then it occurred to me that I could expand on the two base outlines to include elements which could sijmply be pasted on to speed up the process of building characters, including NPCs.

Drawing the various embellishments is slow and tricky, because I use MS Paint (I'm slowly learning Inkscape!) and a mouse, but I enjoy it.  For a lot of people, however, artsy stuff like this is way too much work and not particularly fun.  So, I figured if I could draw up a bunch of elements, eventually including equipment, hats, hair, shields, etc. then people could just paste them onto the base silhouettes, change colors with the paint can tool, and quickly make their own.

So here is my start on a draft of the template.  Ideally it will be just the one file but we'll see how crowded it gets.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Santa brought me...Super Dungeon Explore!

Okay, actually it was my very thoughtful wifey and daughter who went to the slightly scary game store and got me this fun game.

I've been looking at this game for a while now.  It looked fun but my gaming group is mostly into tabletop RPGs and computer gaming.  Board and card games usually only come out on the occasional "off night" when we don't have a quorum for one of our RPG campaigns.  Thus I have avoided buying board games in general, despite the fact that it was historical wargame board games that first took me from "playing with plastic soldiers" to games with actual rules and stuff.  But this Thanksgiving my family surprised me by suddenly being interested in playing a game.  So my wish list for Christmas this year was board games we could all play, including Super Dungeon Explore.  After excitedly unwrapping SDE and giving the rules a quick scan we ran a game and a half.  My quick scan of the rules just before and during play was kind of a fail so we actually missed out on a lot of the key rules but it was fun anyway.

As for the game itself, the first thing you'll notice is that the production values are very high.  The miniatures are excellent, there are plenty of dice for everyone, loads of marker counters, and all the dungeon boards are double sided.  You will definitely not be disappointed with any of the components.  The rules are not complex, but the rule book is not well organized and there is no index which leads to a lot of re-reading to find where that mention of topic X is hidden in the text.  Play is fast and fun.

So now I have to decide whether to take a plunge back into miniatures painting...I'd love to paint up the fun minis but my eyesight isn't really up to it anymore.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: D&D 4E Neverwinter Campaign Setting

Okay, so I stopped by my friendly local game store recently and picked up a couple books, including this one.  As I've mentioned before I love setting books no matter whether it's for a town, city, region, or entire campaign world.

This book covers the town of Neverwinter in the D&D Forgotten Realms world.  Well, actually it covers the town and the immediate region around it as well as a jaunt to the Shadowfell and the borders of faraway Thay.  The locations in town and nearby are given just enough detail to work with but almost not enough in some cases.  Several groups of baddies are included with key personalities and their on-going plans described.  Overall it's a great book for starting a campaign.  It even has a very nice pull-out poster map of Neverwinter, with the material plane version on one side and the shadow plane version on the other.

Even though it was published for D&D 4th Edition there aren't a lot of crunchy edition-specific rules bits inside.  For the majority of the creatures it simply provides references to earlier works.  This is good because it cuts down on space wasted repeating information you might already have in the other books and because it makes it reasonable generic so you can use it with other rules.

There were a couple things I wasn't totally happy with.  The main one is that although it is a setting guide with lots of locations, there are only a couple maps.  The maps they do include are great but more are needed.   Maybe I'm spoiled with what Paizo usually provides in their books and adventure paths but I can see GMs doing a lot of work making up maps. For example, there is a lost dwarven "Moria" type underground city complex which is described as huge but there no map and only a few locations are described.

Another thing was that descriptions of the groups of baddies give the impression that they each have a small army but this book is meant to take characters from level 1 through level 10.  Unless the baddies have a lot of easily killed minion types, which is apparently not the case, I'm not sure how they're supposed to fully defeat them.  Also, the town itself is beset by multiple violent threat groups and sources.  The impression is that there is almost constant violence of one sort or another.  But when you look at the map Neverwinter is obviously not very big--and one quarter of it is uninhabitable and another quarter is partially occupied by a group of orcs.  When you match up the threat group activities with the size of the town as shown it's pretty clear it wouldn't last long.

Now, on to read the huge Southlands campaign seting book...

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pacing vs. "Making Progress" in campaign play

Okay, so this weekend I had the pleasure of re-uniting with the scattered members of our extended gaming group for another all-too-rare session of our buddy Steve's game.  The members have become scattered geographically over the years and it is a rare moment when we can all be in the area for a game.  The result is that for this particular game we only meet once or twice a year.  Yes, that's quite a massive lag between sessions.  Luckily for us Steve keeps meticulous game notes so he can give us a detailed recap at the start of each session.  But with so few sessions (and my Shackled City campaign is in the same boat) I pondered the question of pacing.

For me, role play gaming is meant to include plenty of interaction between players and interaction with NPCs outside of combat.  We get clues, learn lore, discover new friends and enemies, make contacts, and discuss plots, plans, and ploys.  But that means that entire sessions can go by without a big battle, travel to a new area, characters leveling up, or other major "events".  That can lead to the impression that we "didn't make any progress" in a session.

But does that even matter?  Yes, RPGs are about enjoying the journey rather than scoring goals.  However it is satisfying to clean out that dungeon, take down the big boss, finish that epic caravan trip, etc.  But if you want each session to include "making progress" then you are forced to trim it back to just the dungeon runs and major battles.  It then devolves into almost a miniatures wargame with character sheets.

My current game is using a published adventure path which was designed as mostly a series of set-piece major encounters anyway.  Thus I have not had to consciously decide between "roleplay" and "progress".  I have actually been fleshing it out on the fly but it's still mostly "dungeons" with travel and meetings in between to provide context.  I have, however, decided to review the upcoming chapters of the adventure with an eye to eliminating or shortening some so that we can play through to a satisfying finish in under ten years.