Sunday, August 2, 2015

I Steal Maps

When I was a kid playing Cyclopedic D&D in the early 90's, I used to love drawing maps. I'm sure they were awful, being scribbled out by a ten year old whose main world design influence was Final Fantasy IV on the Super Nintendo.

Somewhere on the long trudge into adulthood, I grew to hate making maps. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, but I became extremely uncomfortable with it. I found myself obsessing over things like scale and proper population density and how far apart villages should be to maintain a sense of realism. I spent a lot of time making maps that contained a million details that were never going to come up in play and that my players never gave a crap about.

So now I steal maps.

Well, sort of.

I make most of my overland maps using the tools over at Wizardawn and I take (and repurpose) my dungeon maps from Dyson's blog, of which I am a huge fan. In fact, three of the four dungeons I've placed in my 5e campaign's starting area are taken from Dyson. (The other is taken from the thing Christian recently mailed to me.) I fancy myself good at stocking dungeons, but I'm absolutely terrible at creating maps that I'm satisfied with.

Do I lose street cred for this? 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jeff's 20 Questions for my 5e Game

So I did Jeff's "twenty questions" thing from some years ago for my brand new 5th edition campaign. The post is kind of long and is mainly intended for my players, but feel free to give it a gander if you wish. I stole liberally from Al-Qadim, but my setting isn't Al-Qadim.

1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
 Depends on the religion:
*If you adhere to Samadala, your character is a monotheist who enjoys the backing of the Albadian government. Clerics of the god Samad are very similar to "standard" D&D  clerics. Expect daily prayer, celibacy, and not eating certain meats. You are also expected to help the helpless, right wrongs, and kill monsters. Note that the latter duties apply to clerics; ordinary priests are not expected to fight.
*If you adhere to Ormasdism, you're kind of the same, but you're allowed to have a family and you're more prone to the wandering Don Quixote thing because your religion says that Ormasd and Ahriman are equally powerful.
*If you adhere to the Temple of Ten Thousand Gods, you're a bit more mystical and less martial. This religion is very populist and looks after the common folk. 
*If you are a Sihilist, you're probably a monk, not a cleric. Expect lots of meditation, stretching, and montages where you punch rocks/trees and pray facing the sunrise.
*If you follow the Old Ways, you're a druid who pays homage to the Lords of Flame, Sea, Sand, and Wind... or possibly just one of them. Expect vague visions about things you need to do and seeing omens in nature. Also expect to protect the natural world from that which is unnatural.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? 
Cities all have marketplaces and bazaars where you can procure just about anything. Smaller towns and villages tend not to carry much gear of interest to adventurers unless they are on or near a hostile frontier. Merchant caravans can be found on the roads crisscrossing the desert and will often overcharge, since where else are you going to get a lantern in the middle of the sand dunes?

3. Where can we go to get plate mail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
Most large cities have artisan armorers. Spoiler warning: it's going to be expensive. The capital city of Maruk is host to the greatest craftsmen in the land.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? 
Bakar al-Ramad, master of the Great Academy in Qalam.

5. Who is the mightiest warrior in the land? 
  In public, you'd probably better say the Caliph, Suliman the Righteous. When not in public, you can probably say Ramalaan Mansoor, a wandering monster slayer believed to have slain a blue dragon in single combat.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?
Fahd Othman, an ambitious merchant prince who dominates sea trade. Rumor has it that he's a legitimate business man and a devout Samadalan.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Holy men and wise women. You can find the former in most large temples and the latter in some out of the way places. 

8. Where can we get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Poison and disease can be treated by mundane physicians and village healers, although magical healing is available from temples, hakima (wise women) and the odd shrine priest. Curses, level drain, lycanthropy, and alignment change are cured by clerical magic. The best sources for that are temples in medium or large population centers, or being able to find a hakima on the outskirts of civilization. Death is never cured. Undeath is cured by destroying the undead.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or an order I can join to get more spells?
Wizards are typically trained by a magical academy. There are two in Albadia: One in Qalam, the City of Scholars, and one in the royal capital of Maruk. Even after graduating, former students are welcome to visit their academy to exchange magical knowledge. Sorcerers and warlocks, for obvious reasons, are not part of these academies.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage, or other expert NPC?
Alchemists can be found in medium or large population centers, especially those that contain scholarly institutions. Sages can be found in cities, though there are some who live in remote wilderness places. Experts are usually found in the large cities.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries? 
Unlike many of the other specialists, mercenaries are best hired away from the centers of civilization. Outland tribes, seafaring corsairs, or troops of professional mercenaries. 

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other hassle from Johnny Law? 
Weapons and magic are forbidden to all but the Caliph's house staff in his palace. Outside of that, possessing a weapon and using magic in themselves are not considered crimes, but actions that damage or assault others are still crimes. Usurping the will of another is considered a form of assault.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
Very nearly every settlement has a tavern and also a coffee house. The town of Agrama, where we've started our campaign, has one inn/tavern/trading post/coffee house, The Mighty Tiger. One of the PCs is temporarily living there. The proprietors are Ghusun, an ogre woman, and an elderly halfling man named Fatin.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? 
Here in the northern part of Albadia, the hobogoblins and gnolls are feared for their attacks on border towns. Barbarian tribes from the northern mountains used to be a problem, but they were driven back after a series of border forts were constructed.

15. Are there any wars brewing that I could go fight? 
Conflict between outland tribes is ongoing, as is the threat of mountain barbarians.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? 
Not legal ones, no. Gladatorial combat is considered barbaric. That doesn't mean there aren't tons of underground ones, though.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas that I could join and/or fight? 
Well, if you already knew about them, they wouldn't be very secret, would they? The PCs have heard rumors about a poisoner's guild that used to have a hideout north of town. (The PCs are currently exploring said hideout) The stories say the townsfolk ran the poisoners out and destroyed them. No way any of them survived, right?

18. What is there to eat around here? 
Bread, meat, and rice, with the wealthier having more meat and the poorer having more rice. Onions, figs, dates, lots of soups and stews. Oh, and don't forget the coffee. Albadians love coffee. 

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
 The Pirate King, Hizir Hyred, is said to have hidden a fabulous treasure "far from the seas." Scholars place that treasure somewhere near Albadia.
The Noor Empire that once ruled this part of the world collapsed suddenly and totally. Noorish treasures hidden away by warlords, decadent nobles, and corrupt priests can be found in all sorts of out of the way places.

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? 
 The deserts near Agrama are said to be home to a young blue dragon. I'm not quite sure how to translate treasure types into 5e, but it likely possesses the most treasure. A runner up would be the cyclops that is rumored to live in a nearby region.

5th Edition, First Impressions

 Last night, I started my 5th edition campaign, set in the Middle Eastern flavored realm of Albadia.

A lot of the session was roleplay in town. (My wife says my NPCs are fun to talk to) and that whole awkward getting the party together thing. "Sure, I've only known you for ten minutes, but you seem like a solid guy. Let's go crawl around in a dungeon together." I'm also struggling from the transition of totally open sandbox style game back to something that has a present narrative, which is what this group prefers. I sprinkled clues and connections around, but that didn't work so hot so I had to have an NPC ask the PCs to go do something for him. Hopefully all the other clues and connections will come together. We ended the game in the first dungeon since it ended up being later in the evening than we had anticipated. Next week we'll be able to pick up and run, since the party is together and the campaign is established.
Now, a few thoughts on 5th edition itself: 

-Combat runs very much like 3rd edition, but with all the tedious parts cut out of it. No attacks of opportunity for failing to signal half a block before you turn, no five-foot steps, no confirming criticals, none of that. I've also noticed that monster armor class is much, much lower and doesn't suffer from Arbitrary Bonus Syndrome.

-Skills work a lot like they did in 3e, but without the Arbitrary Inflating DC Syndrome. 

-Spellcasters and their infinite cantips aren't nearly as bad as I thought they were going to be. Most cantrips do damage similar to a weapon. Yes, the sorcerer can use dancing lights all the time, but the light isn't as bright as the rogue's lantern. None of the party members felt extraneous. In addition, despite the higher number of spell slots over previous editions, the party's two spell casters hung on to those spells for dear life.

-My wife doesn't really dig on proficiency bonus. She thought that since she had to add it into everything it was a bit pointless, and that perhaps there should just be a penalty for rolling things you aren't proficient with. I can see her argument, but it's not a deal breaker or anything. My other two players haven't commented but sometimes they nearly forgot to add it to various things as well.

Someone (I can't remember who, either someone from a forum or my Sunday group or whatever) said that 5th edition plays a lot like 2nd edition. I disagree completely. I think 5th edition plays like 3rd edition if 3rd edition had been more like an actual edition and not like an attempt at a totally separate game.

So do I like it? So far, so good, but I'm only one session in and most of it was rp and exploration rather than fiddling about with the rules. I don't have anything I actually dislike yet, and I'll go ahead and echo the sentiment that it's a good compromise between older editions and newer editions.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In Which I Get a Thing From Christian

So I sent an email off to Christian, the writer of the presently-on-hiatus Destination Unknown blog, one of my favorites these past six years. In return for dropping him a line, he sent me the first real, actual mail I've received since.... well, probably the last time he sent me something a couple of years ago. It was a nice find amidst the credit card offers and coupons for places I never go anyway.

Within the envelop I found two mini-dungeons: one a junk/salvage area located in the Planescape setting, the other a petrified giant corpse with a lingering enchantment. I'm actually stealing the giant corpse map (but not the exact back-story) for my D&D5 game which starts tomorrow night. It has also given me the idea that in my setting of Albadia, the giants who live today are not the True Giants, who are all dead (supposedly) and are more like the titanic monoliths of destruction in Skyrim, but with tons of now-forgotten magical lore.

...the junk shop will probably get some play in something I eventually run, but not for this particular campaign. I don't plan for it to be planar in scope. It does give me an idea for a crowded merchants' alley full of dubious dealers and even more dubious goods, however.

I have forestalled Rifts tonight, mainly because I am presently on a lot of benadryl to counter a reaction to what ever species of demon-weed seems to have infested my backyard. To make matters worse, the hose on my giant dispenser of weed-killing chemical broke, so I had to traipse about splashing poison on them straight from the jug. The medicine has left me in an air-headed state (it seriously took me like forty minutes to type this blog post.)  Ah, but I digress with my first world problems...

Anyway, thanks to Christian and also for his blog recommendation. I've been trying to update my blogroll lately as many of my old favorites have either shuttered their blogs or simply stopped posting months or even years ago. While my blog probably stopped being even a glimmer of relevant years ago, I intend to go on, because I love reading the sound of my own voice.

I will post my thoughts on 5e after running the first session.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thinking About KantCon 2016, etc.

It might be a bit premature to start thinking about next year's KantCon, given that I've only been back from KC2015 for three days. Still, the amount of joy I gleaned from running those two games gives me the idea that I should run more than two games next year. Perhaps I should do nothing but run games.

I'm going to at least do three next year, perhaps being a GM the first day and a player the second. I think I will also continue my tradition of running both Starships & Spacemen 2nd edition and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. (Even though I wasn't signed up to run LotFP this year, I ended up subbing in for Death Frost Doom, thus upholding my tradition.) I might also bust out some Savage Worlds, because 1.) I miss SW and 2.) It seems to be pretty popular at KC.

Rifts tomorrow and D&D5 Friday, then I play John's Sunday game... and then my summer is over.
I'll be giving Rifts back in a few weeks as Steven resumes our Beyond the Supernatural 2nd ed game.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

KantCon Day II: Madness

Jesus. I did me some gaming today.

In the morning I played a Savage Worlds game set in the 50's, where veterans of a secret anti-demon/anti-sorcerer unit in WWII were called together to protect President Eisenhower from a scheme carried out by remnants of the Third Reich.

Highlight: We blew up Hitler. (Well, his mangled body in a life-support-iron-lung thingie)

In the afternoon I played the Buffy the Vampire Slayer rpg. I really enjoyed the Spock vs. McCoy style relationship between the Watcher I was playing and the Slayer's questing troll boyfriend, who was adamant that the Slayer was a goddess and didn't need training. It was the setup for a really good campaign and the GM knew his shit...sadly, it's only a one shot.

Highlight: More roleplaying and characterization than most convention games.

I didn't go to my evening session because I ended up becoming a substitute DM.... there was a guy who was supposed to run Death Frost Doom but didn't show, then another guy offered to step in and he went home sick or something. Well, I happened to have DFD on my iPad and I've run that module four or five times, so I offered to step in so that the event could run as scheduled. This was my first time running the Zak Sabbath "remix" of the module. (The other times I ran the original version, which I have in print.) It was probably the most fun I've had running DFD and the players loved it.

Highlight: Magic-user casts web. I narrate how she contorts and then vomits forth a swarm of spiders that quickly spin the web at unnatural speeds before withering up into dessicated husks. The look on the players' faces was... gratifying.

Black Blade Publishing was at the vendor tables today. I was this close to buying the collector's edition of Metamorphosis Alpha, but it's frickin' $80. (The deluxe collector's edition is $120) Probably too rich for my blood considering how cheap the PDF or even the POD from Lulu versions are, or the fact that I can run Metamorphosis Alpha using the Mutant Future rules.

I'm not signed up to play or run anything tomorrow, because usually on Sundays we bail early in the morning. I'm pretty amped up right now from my DFD game, but I think there's probably a 75% chance that I'll be ready to bounce in the morning. I might run back tomorrow and maybe pick up a Dungeon Crawl Classics module. I want to give money to Black Blade. I kind of wanted to watch a Fate Core game that's running tomorrow so that I can actually grok Fate Core, but the forces of exhaustion and sloth will probably triumph in the end.

Also, I'm kind of losing my voice.

My attendance at tomorrow's D&D game down at the FLGS is probably 50-50 at best. I'll make every endeavor since I haven't missed a session yet. Maybe I can be fashionably late...

Game on, fellow bloggers.

Friday, July 24, 2015

KantCon: T-Minus 30 Minutes

I'm at KantCon getting ready to run my Starships & Spacemen module. I've basically made it a personal tradition to run S&S at this con every year, following the continued adventures of the CSS Armiger and it's intrepid (?) crew.

The DCC event I was going to play in was cancelled, which irks me because I've been lugging around the heavy-ass DCC rule book in my bag. I'm going to offer to run Tower of the Stargazer for those who now find themselves without an afternoon game. This evening I'll be playing White Star and I'm pretty psyched about it.

Last night, I it up the Half Price Books in Overland Park and found the Creature Catalog for basic D&D (Cyclopedia era). I haven't had much of a chance to dig in but it looks pretty sweet so far. I'm particularly taken with the idea of the Gray Philosopher.

Anyway, time for some last minute over-prep.

Love me KantCon.