Tuesday, December 30, 2008

D&D or Rifts: New Campaign(s) Brewing?

With one less player, our weekly game night may be in for a reshuffling.  We have been playing Rifts almost weekly since mid September, but we are losing one third of the party at least semi-permanently.  Though I'm not completely sure that the Rifts game will lose momentum, it does seem like an ideal time for the group to change directions... especially considering that my brother's girlfriend has expressed some interest in playing D&D.  It seems such a waste not to play D&D with an eager recruit ready to go.

In any case, I'd like to see the Rifts campaign at least come to a decent stopping point, perhaps with the return of the rune sword to Ghost and safe passage to Phase World.  Of course, I was planning to throw a few more wrenches into those plans, but we shall see.

This week's game night will no doubt be the gauge of how we will continue, and how we continue will play a major role in what content ends up on this site... so stay tuned.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rifts Session Twelve: Contest of Champions Part II

It didn't take long to fudge the rules during this session.  My brother had what might possibly have been the worst gaming brain fart in our group's history.  We all knew that tonight would be the next fight in the Arena of Champions, and the players were eager to mix it up.  I asked the players twice if their characters had any preparations to make before the battle began.  Will even made a comment that went something like, "We don't prepare, we just roll for initiative."

So I described how the characters were introduced in the arena (TRIFECTA EEEEEEEEERECTA!), described their opponents entering the arena, and called for an initiative roll.  I don't remember the particular order except that Eric went after the demons across the arena.  Most of these particular opponents had very weak ranged attacks, so I declared that they were charging while shooting wild (which, in Rifts, basically just means you don't get any combat bonuses at all).  One of the demons scored a hit on Isaac Black, Eric's Colossus clone character.  I roll for damage and come up with something like 9 MD.  He looks  at me with a dumbfounded expression.

Eric: "Ummm... I'm dead, bro."

Me: "What?"

Eric: "I didn't get a chance to change forms."

Me: "So it hits your body armor."

Eric: "I don't have any."

Me: "Force fields?"
Eric: "Nope."

For those not "in the know", one of the biggest complaints about Rifts in general is the extreme difference between regular damage and MD (mega damage).  One point of mega damage equals 100 normal points, so my brother had actually just taken 900 points of damage just because he hadn't had the forethought to change into metal form (in which he had 600 MDC).  TOASTY!

Of course, we went through the usual methods of defense in Rifts.  He gets a chance to dodge the attack.  That failed.  Then I gave him the opportunity to "dodge" by changing forms as a reaction to the attack.  That failed too.  Finally, I just gave him the benefit of the doubt and said that the character would be smart enough to have changed forms ahead of time even if the player didn't.

Normally, I'd have let the character die.  I'm actually not sure what got into me.  Pity?  Amazement?  A soft heart?  I still don't know.

The fight raged for the entire evening... a real slugfest between super-powered beings (because that's what Rifts is all about, right?).

In the end, this session turned out to be a huge disappointment, though not because the game wasn't fun.  Unfortunately, we simply ran out of time and had to stop play in the middle of a pitched battle.  And while stopping mid-fight is never fun, it was even more painful than usual because it was Will's last game night with us for the foreseeable future.

Next time... will we even be playing Rifts?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Fond Farewell

Unfortunately, this year's Christmas season brings to our gaming group the loss of one of our regular players.   Although I'm sure the army will be better off with him, we will certainly be... less well off, I guess... without him.

Will is probably best known around here for establishing that "Cornwell" (my last name as well as my brother Eric's) is synonymous with a**hole.  Of course, he is also our resident rogue and the most reliable of all of us (even if it is just because he has less responsibilities... it is appreciated nonetheless).

Will, we wish you the best of luck wherever Uncle Sam takes you.  You will always have a seat in the man cave awaiting your return.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rifts Session Eleven: Contest of Champions

Because the players played "stump the GM" at the end of the last session, I was determined to come prepared this time.  The question, which called for specific items from a junk pile, threw me off, but I returned with a Rifts life saver: lists of random items straight from the Palladium Books forums.  Unfortunately, since these are fan created, they don't strictly adhere to the Rifts megaverse (a G.E.C.K. is on one of the tables, for example).  However, there are nearly a thousand items to choose from or roll for on the list, most of which truly belong in a junk pile... PERFECT!

After a few rolls, the players got bored with the random junk and moved on (I was so excited about the table full of random junk, but it was a dud at the table).  Almost immediately, they get the break that they've been looking for: a rune sword advertised in public.  There is but one catch: it is not for sale... it is the prize for next week's Contest of Champions.  The party would need to win a few fights in the gladiatorial arena in order to get an official invitation.

They signed up and entered their first match not knowing what to expect, and were introduced as the "Tifecta Erecta!" (They decided to be like the Fantastic Four but with only three members, and this is the best they could come up with...)

Across the gigantic arena, a murvola metzla floated out to do battle.  This monstrous tentacled being put up quite a fight, but surrendered after losing all nine of its eyes to called shots from our new plasma-based superhuman party member (details later... played by Will but I don't have the character sheet and can't remember the name).

The prize for this fight?  Bio-wizard implants to be detailed further at a later date.  Hopefully our minotaur vagabond will take advantage of this opportunity to catch up to the superhumans in power level.

Previous Rifts sessions can be found here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rifts Session Ten: Decisions, Decisions

The majority of last week's session consisted mainly of heated discussion over how to continue.  When Pyro the fire dragon hatchling perished in session nine, he took the party's plan for crossing the Atlantic with him to the grave.  All of the following options were discussed, among others that I've probably forgotten:
  • Getting captured intentionally by a Splugorth slaver
  • Do mercenary work to raise funds for transportation
  • Call in the Naruni for assistance
Finally someone said, "Why don't we just buy grav-packs?"  And thus, a fairly inexpensive (and safe) alternative was born.

The trip across the Atlantic was fairly uneventful.  The party avoided an encounter with some Horune pirates and navigated to Splynn with no other inconveniences.

In Splynn, the party endured some verbal attacks but didn't enter any physical confrontations.  The businessmen and Splugorth minions the party came into contact with just assumed they were slaves on an errand.  Their first attempt to purchase a rune sword led them to The Antique Weapons Dealer, a shop owned by Old West, a three eyed humanoid monster (whose fast talking rivals the Micro Machine guy).

After finding out that Old West didn't have a rune sword in stock, the party left and stumbled into Shack of Antiquities, in which they bargained with a trio of floopers (imagine a humanoid flumph... the comparison isn't exact... but the goofiness matches perfectly).

"The Shack" is essentially a giant indoor junk pile in which someone patient enough might find a bit of treasure. Unfortunately, the GM (me) didn't come prepared to describe all this junk in detail, so a simple question like "So what kind of stuff can we find in here?" could have been deflected easily but anything more specific left
 me stumped.  And stumped is where we left off, with the party digging through mounds of junk in Shack of Antiquities, waiting patiently for the GM to come up with some odd items to find in a junk pile.

Previous Rifts sessions can be found here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Argona Valdis

I really don't like the way I have approached the last few NPC Spotlight posts. In writing both, I felt restricted because I feared giving away too much information to my players (a few of whom actually read this from time to time). This time I'm focusing on an NPC that they may or may not even meet... and I'll post stats for the character at first level. This way, my players will still know more than I usually give them but they still won't know what tricks she might have up her sleeve that were unavailable to her at first level... and any readers who might find this useful can actually use it without having to do a bunch of work for the stats.

Argona Valdis is a second generation D-Bee on Rifts Earth. Her parents were druids from the Western Empire who were swept up in a freak rift and dumped in the alien swampland known as Dinosaur Swamp. They befriended the barbarian people that they first encountered and as the generations of humans came and went, the two elves rose to become the most respected members of the tribe.

A few years ago, a wandering shifter offered them the opportunity to return to their homeland, but Argona, daughter of the tribal leaders, decided to stay in the only home she had ever known: Rifts Earth. Despite her youthful appearance, Argona has stepped into her parents' role as a respected elder of the tribe since their departure. She is very protective of her people, defending them with a savage fury, the intensity of which is matched only by her compassion when tending to the wounded.


Real Name
: Argona Valdis
Aliases: none
Alignment: Unprincipled
Attributes: IQ 16, ME 14, MA 15, PS 11, PP 12, PE 9, PB 16, Spd 12
Hit Points: 14
SDC: 21
Weight: 130 lbs
Height: 5'5"
Age: 90
PPE: 72 ISP: 15
Disposition: Argona is distrustful of outsiders, but is a shrewd diplomat and is always looking for opportunities to improve the lives of her friends. Thus, while she may be tight-lipped and cautious, she is sociable and can be a valuable ally to those who have shown evidence of good intentions.
Race: Elf
Experience Level: 1st level Barbarian Eco-Wizard
Enemies: anyone or anything that threatens her tribe
Allies: the Ram tribe, which claims territory northeast of Char
Magic Knowledge: Knows Blinding Flash (1), Electric Arc (8), Globe of Daylight (2), Ignite Fire (6), Fuel Flame (5), Fire Bolt (7), Magic Shield (6), Manipulate Objects (2+), Energy Bolt (5), Create Wood (10+), Life Source (2+), and Power Weapon (35); can create eco-wizard devices (similar to techno-wizard devices but with natural materials instead of technology), spells are only half as effective as normal when not cast through an eco-wizard device
Psionic Powers: minor psionic: Commune with Spirits (6), Deaden Pain (4)
Attacks per Melee: 5 (Hand to Hand: Basic plus Elf bonus)
Abilities: Nightvision 90 ft, affinity with nature (sense weather changes, sense supernatural beings, sense direction of ley lines, half damage from lightning, and other bonuses)
Bonuses: +1 Dodge, +2 vs Horror Factor and possession, +1 Parry, +2 Pull Punch, +2 Roll with Punch/Impact, +1 Strike
Skills of Note: Fashion Weapons and Tools 40%, Holistic Medicine 40%, Wilderness Survival 47%
Weapon Proficiencies: Archery, Energy Pistol, Knife
Weapons and Armor: Argona carries a finely crafted longbow with a quiver full of SteelTree tipped arrows (2 MD), a survival knife (1d6 SDC), and a battered Wilk's Laser Pistol that she found on an explorer's half-eaten corpse (1d6 MD). She wears armor made of tanned dinosaur hide (28 MDC, cloak of darkness ability)
Money: carries no money in the traditional sense, but keeps several small but valuable trinkets on hand for bartering opportunities
Physical Description: Argona appears to be in her mid twenties. She is beautiful by human standards, with a slight frame and soft features.
Sources: Rifts Ultimate Edition, Rifts Conversion Book 1, Rifts World Book 26: Dinosaur Swamp

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rifts Session Nine: Pterodactyls, Naruni Agents, and Another Casualty

PterodactylImage via WikipediaThis week's session started with a simple objective: get away from Char and closer to Atlantis.

The first event to slow down the trip was a visit by a pair of Naruni Repo-Bots. These intimidating enforcers showed up for payment, but instead of demanding a cash sum they surprised the party by offering a somewhat mercenary payment. The Naruni agreed to forgive their payment if the party agreed to cause an equal amount of damage while in Splynn and bring back proof of their actions. The group readily agreed.

The second event to slow down the trip was much more violent and threw a much larger kink in the group's plans. When the group reached the coast, they were attacked by a group of leatherwings (pterodactyl-like dinosaurs), their first encounter with the deadly creatures from which Dinosaur Swamp got its name. During the battle, Pyro the fire dragon hatchling was overcome by his injuries and perished despite a valiant attempt by the other characters to keep hungry leatherwings from devouring his unconscious form.

By the end of the night, Isaac and Minos found themselves on the coast ready to fly across the ocean on dragonback, but with their dragon in a broken heap on the beach. Alas, they would need to return to Char in order to procure some new method of traveling across the Atlantic.

Previous Rifts sessions can be found here.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, December 1, 2008

My, how my tastes have changed... (a Drizzt rant)

Before I begin, let me make myself clear. I have been a fan of Drizzt, but this is by no means a defense of the drow renegade who has ruined the enjoyment of D&D for seemingly every writer on the internet. There are two camps on the issue: those who love their dear drow to death and the "Gah! If I ever hear you speak his name again I'll murder your gerbil!" crowd. Personally, I used to really like the fella. He was a sharp break from an old stereotype and it was refreshing. Unfortunately, so many people liked him that he formed his own anti-stereotype stereotype (if that makes sense). Now, after all the reading and ranting reading and raving, I still find myself going through a roller coaster of "like him" and "tired of the idea." Back and forth, back and forth.

But I'll say this for Drizzt. Even though he has shifted from a personal favorite to a tired archetype in my mind, his popularity has opened the doors for several other drow characters that I absolutely love... and likely would never have had the pleasure of knowing if not for Drizzt's popularity. Of these, my two favorites are Jarlaxle and Phaeraun... both drow who, despite their quirks, have attitudes much more typical of their race.

I particularly like Jarlaxle, who has totally eclipsed Drizzt as my favorite R.A. Salvatore creation of all time. What's not to like about this guy? Sarcastic and witty? Check. Dazzling display of swordsmanship? Check. Drow sense of opportunism? Check. Plays all sides to his own benefit? Check. Impersonates Drizzt to take advantage of ignorant surface dwellers? Check plus... my hero...

I am hereby casting my vote for Jarlaxle to ascend to godhood to replace Vhaeraun.

Are the drow worn out? My answer is an emphatic NO. Is the idea of a dual-wielding drow ranger worn out? Yes, but one drow shouldn't ruin the "drow experience" regardless of his notoriety.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 11: Filling in Racial Flavor

I want to first thank everyone for the feedback I received the last time I posted about the Shadow's Apex campaign. Even though it has been weeks since I worked on the campaign wiki, I am keeping all of the comments and suggestions in mind as I move forward.

Most recently, I have updated several of the race entries. While several are short and perhaps a little pathetic, the dragonborn entry might actually be worth visiting. I'd love to hear some feedback on what you think of my take on the dragonborn.


Draconians

The draconians are a troubled people descended from abominations born of magic rituals that corrupted metallic dragon eggs and produced humanoid dragonspawn. Though draconians are not inherently evil, they are most often distrusted by other humanoid races because of the war for which they were bred, in which they allegedly fought alongside an army of mercenaries and chromatic dragons against the established human, dwarf, and elf kingdoms. Despite the tales that surround draconian history, no one has yet found any archaeological evidence to support the claim that such a war ever even took place. This has led some to believe that either the stories are incorrect or that the war was fought on some far off continent (or perhaps another plane entirely). Regardless of evidence, the draconian people are often judged according to their racial history rather than their own merits, a fact that leads to many disputes between the draconians and the other races.

Draconids

Though draconians and draconids look much the same and have been known to interbreed, they are in fact two distinct races. While draconians were created in foul magic rituals that corrupted the eggs of metallic dragons, the draconids are the descendants of a single red dragon who sought to build an army by mating with countless humans and producing an alarming number of half-dragons. His full blooded dragon children did the same, and what resulted was a breed of humans with pronounced draconic features. The first draconids were trained to be mages, hence their name, and have passed the craft on to their descendants. Their progenitor has long since died, but his dragon offspring still lead isolated clans of draconids as representatives of their father, who supposedly ascended to godhood to be Tiamat's eternal mate. These dragon cults are fanatical and often contain members of non-dragonborn races, but these are encouraged to mate with dragons in order to strengthen the numbers of the cult. Most draconids live in and among human settlements instead of as members of the dragon cults, finding niches in human societies as long-lived mages, sages, and scholars. Draconids look like other dragonborn, but have skin that ranges from deep crimson to bright orange instead of the usual greens and browns of the draconians.

Eladrin


Eladrin are less common than elves because most live in the Feywild. Also called grey elves, they often have bronze skin with blonde, copper, or black hair. Eladrin are seen as the most civilized and haughty of the elves, preferring to remain separate from humankind and other nonelven races.

Kender


To the other races, kender seem like a race of children. The diminutive kender have short attention spans, intense curiosity, and a fearlessness that serves them well in battle but often lands them (and those traveling with them) in danger. Kender use the stats for Halflings in the Player's Handbook.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Devil

Last time I wrote an NPC Spotlight, it was Ghost to received all the attention. This time, it is one of Ghost's rivals, an archfiend from Dyval who now makes his home on Rifts Earth selling slaves to the Splugorth. This NPC's image was generated with Hero Machine, an old favorite of mine for creating character portraits. Please note that those are supposed to be red fangs... not lipstick... even though in lower-res it is hard to tell.

Real Name
: Unknown
Aliases: "The Devil"
Alignment: Unknown
Weight: 1100 lbs
Height: 15'
Age: Unknown, perhaps thousands of years
Disposition: Very confidant in his superiority over "lesser" races and quite arrogant.
Experience Level: Unknown
Enemies: Unknown
Allies: Maryanna (a dar'ota), a cyborg bodyguard, several fiends, and a small army of grave ghouls (a few dressed in tattered "dead boy" armor)
Magic Knowledge: Unknown
Psionic Powers: Unknown
Abilities: Unknown, though he speaks of having "talents that make mortals think me devilish"
Skills of Note: Unknown
Weapon Proficiencies: WP Sword
Weapons and Armor: Wears long flowing robes that hide any other clothing or armor he might wear, carries a greater rune sword that once belonged to Ghost

This particular character currently has the PCs a little on edge. They chose to travel all the way to Splynn to acquire a greater rune weapon to trade with him rather than fight... quite an unusual turn of events for my players.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rifts Session Eight: Dimensional Shifting and Char

It has been quite some time since I posted last. Real life has taken up more of my time than usual, and though I've still been able to game, the metagaming just hasn't been convenient. Hopefully I'll be able to afford some spare time to write over the holiday break next week.

For now, an update on our adventures on Rifts Earth:

After making a deal with the creature known only as The Devil, the group began their journey east toward Atlantis. Unfortunately for the party, the journey was far from safe. Isaac and Minos hopped on Pyro's back and the hatchling dragon flew the group over the dimensional shifting zone of the Appalachians. In the d-shifting zone, the party found themselves shifted into a nocturnal setting for a few moments and later were pelted by a rain of boulders from the sky. They sustained only minor wounds, but the experience was unsettling at best.

As they emerged from the dimensional shifting zone and entered "safe" skies once again, the group gazed down upon a jungle-like wilderness as far as the eye could see, with a large expanse of strange silvery trees to the southeast and the outer shells of skyscrapers off in the distance.

Though they found the strange trees intriguing, Minos sought to visit the skyscrapers in hopes of replacing or repairing his damaged armor. The rest of the group agreed and after Pyro metamorphosed into human form, they entered the city of Char (resting amid the ruins of the city once known as Charlotte). The group was almost immediately approached by members of the Concrete Vipers, a local street gang, with offers of safe passage in exchange for weapons and/or equipment. It didn't take long for the players to realize that the biggest threat in the area was the Concrete Vipers themselves, and a firefight ensued, beginning in the streets and ending inside a nearby building as Pyro hid to avoid dying from his grievous wounds and Minos mopping up the gangsters who survived the first few rounds of combat.

After this, the party looted the corpses and left Char immediately, hoping to avoid any retaliation from Char's most notorious villainous organization.

Next time: Will the group remain in or around Char long enough for the Concrete Vipers to avenge their dead? Will the group investigate the strange forest? Will any notable NPCs show up this far east?

Session Seven

Session Six
Session Five
Session Four
Session Three
Session Two
Session One
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rifts Session Seven: A Deal with the Devil?


When we left off, the party had gone in search of a rune sword that their patron wanted returned. They defeated a pair of warlock marines and we ended the session with both a prisoner to interrogate and a base of operations to plunder. Instead of continuing their search for the sword, they immediately took the prisoner back to Ghost.

They were not received as they anticipated. Ghost was disgusted with the half-finished job (keep in mind that this mission was for the party to prove their worth to Ghost's organization). With this cue, the party interrogated the prisoner and got back to the task at hand, learning that the warlock marines had traded the rune sword to a being that they called the devil. The prisoner agreed to give the group the coordinates of the devil's lair but refused to return even if it meant losing his life.

After negotiating their way past several of the devil's guardians (a dar'ota, a cyborg, and a fiend), they came face to face with a fifteen foot tall shadowy figure clad in dark robes, an archfiend. The group soon realized that there were only two ways to acquire the rune sword: taking it by force or replacing it with a similar weapon.

After a fierce debate that ended with a simple vote, the party decided to replace the blade with one of equal power if the archfiend would only tell them were to find such a weapon. His reply was ominous, though the group has yet to see just how dangerous this mission will be. "You can find such a weapon in Splynn."

And thus, the campaign has taken a turn toward Atlantis. This is going to get very interesting... assuming they survive the trip...


Session Six
Session Five
Session Four
Session Three
Session Two
Session One
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Campaign Wiki Design: How Much Canon to Include?

Although I'm struggling with this personally because I'm working on my very first campaign wiki, this decision could apply to a campaign handout or perhaps even in play during an introductory session. The question is, "How much of what has already been written should I include in my description of X?" If you are creating a race, town, or organization from scratch, this whole issue isn't even... well... an issue. You describe it as you have created it because no one has seen it before. But if you're borrowing material from an existing source, all of the following questions may impact the success or failure of your work:
  1. Is this information that the players already know or do I need to present it to them?
  2. If I include this information, will it discourage my players from reading the entire document?
  3. If I leave it out, will my players make ill-informed decisions during character creation or gameplay because of it?
  4. How much will it really impact the game if the players don't know?
  5. If I include it, will the players retain it between their first encounter with the info and the next game session?
On one hand, you want your setting to be detailed, and it is always nice to have descriptions of everything relevant stored in one place (as opposed to scattered across a collection of source books). On the other hand, most of us don't have the time to compile all of this information. Add to this conundrum the above questions about whether or not your players will actually benefit from the info (or suffer from the lack of it), and my head is spinning.

I started struggling with these when I began adding the "Races" sections of my campaign wiki. The drow came first (ABC order and all... no way they're my favorite villains... ahem...), and I stared at the page thinking about these two extremes: a long, well written description of drow culture based on all of the Realmslore, Dragon Magazine articles, and old adventures that I have stored up in my collection -OR- a short "X is what makes these guys different from what you've seen in other campaign settings" summary. For now, what I have is much closer to the latter than the former, but I'd like to move in the other direction if time allows. By the time this is all finished (if you can ever really say that a campaign setting is finished), I hope each section of the wiki will include plenty of canonical information, with the bits that are unique to our campaign either highlighted or in bold.

The real question is the last one in the list: Will my players retain the information long enough for it to be relevant? In other words, is the whole process a waste of time altogether? Personally, I think not, but I am idealistic enough to believe that a great resource for a campaign is not a waste of time even if the players never use it at all. Just organizing one's thoughts can be a refreshing exercise for DMs, and I'm enjoying both creating and blogging about the Shadow's Apex campaign.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cutting Time from Character Creation in Rifts

One of the most common complaints about the Palladium game system is the lengthiness of character creation. In my experience, the skill system is the number one cause of the process taking so long. So, in an effort to reduce this for my group, I put together a database of the skills in Microsoft Access. The database is sortable by category and by eligibility to be taken as a secondary skill. The database also includes the base value of the skill and the amount increased per level.

You can check out the Rifts Skills Database here or in the Rifts Downloads section on the right sidebar. If you already play Rifts, ENJOY! If you haven't played for some reason or another... I hope this eliminates an excuse.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 10: The Name of the World

While working on the Shadow's Apex Wiki, I decided that the land needed a name. The campaign has a name already, but the people of the world wouldn't call the world "Shadow's Apex", so what would they call it? For a meaningful name, I immediately went to a resource that I have described earlier, BehindtheName.com. After searching through names from various cultures that have meanings associated with "earth" and "land", I finally tried "forest". And then I realized that Mielikki isn't a fabricated Forgotten Realms name at all... it is actually the name of a nature goddess in Finnish mythology. How cool is that?

In any case, I finally settled on Vidarr... which actually means something like forest warrior, but will work great for the Shadow's Apex campaign.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 9: Stepping Into the Wiki World

Inspired by this post over on Critical-Hits.com, I have started the process of developing a campaign wiki for Shadow's Apex. You can find it here, and although there isn't a whole lot there at the moment, I hope to update it on a regular basis from here on. Each time I make a major update (or find that one of my players or readers has contributed), I will post comments on the new material. I hope that the campaign wiki will become a great resource for my players and that my blog posts can serve as a form of designer's notes.

In the meantime, I welcome any feedback, ideas, and inspiration from the blogging community. With its own site, Shadow's Apex almost seems "official" now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Game Night Derailed (Again)

Although we are usually pretty consistent, my gaming group sometimes gets into slumps... and we're in one right now. For two weeks straight, our usual Rifts campaign has taken a rain check and we have resorted to other games to kill time. Last week it was my frustration over Fallout 3 not working (which has since been fixed). This week it was a combination of car trouble and relationship drama (but hey, when the boyfriend of the girl you are seeing just found out about you, the crap is destined to hit the fan...). Hopefully our regularly scheduled campaign will continue as planned next Tuesday night.

We can't be the only group that gets hopelessly sidetracked from time to time. Does every group have a fallback game or two? What are yours?

Monday, November 3, 2008

The DM Drawback: The characters I'd like to play but never will...

As much as I enjoy DMing, there are some drawbacks. One is obviously the time needed to prepare for each session, but I actually enjoy the preparation most of the time. The worst drawback of DMing is never getting to play. I know that many DMs don't have to deal with this, but in my neck of the woods, if I don't DM, we play Magic instead. NPCs, even recurring ones, just don't do the trick, and the DMPC is a struggle to pull off without the party having a completely silent companion or a hint machine.

The following is a character I'd love to play but will likely sit on the back of my mind wasting away for eternity. The inspiration comes from South Park's underpants gnomes. If you take their business plan and replace "steal underpants" with "manipulate others" and replace "profit" with "power", you'll have Tilloch's game plan.

Tilloch Blayder
It is amazing how much ego is stored up inside Tilloch's small stature. Taking pride in himself for being the power behind the throne (whether he is in reality or not), Tilloch avoids the spotlight as much as possible and allows his pawns (errrr... friends) to do most of the dirty work. He spends the majority of his time attempting to manipulate people into doing what he wants, and when that fails, convincing them that whatever they did was due to his influence and was a part of his master plan all along.
Tilloch is primarily motivated by three things: the pursuit of power, the avoidance of any real responsibility, and delusions of grandeur. Tilloch's goal in life is to be powerful, but he wants to be a behind-the-scenes power monger so that he will never have to deal with the negative aspects of power. While he is intelligent and charismatic, Tilloch doesn't realize how easy it is to see through his schemes.
Tilloch would be a valuable member of any adventuring group, but his personality quite often drives would-be friends mad with rage. He is friendly and cordial, but tends to take credit for more successes than he deserves and blames failures on everyone else.
Game Mechanics: Whatever the system, Tilloch focuses on social interaction first, sneakiness second, and combat ability third. I like sticking to heavily personality-based character ideas because they are adaptable to any system. Tilloch could easily be a halfling or gnome in D&D, a ratling in Rifts, or just a small human in another game. In 4th Edition D&D, Tilloch might look something like this:

Tilloch Blayder
1st Level Unaligned Halfling Trickster Rogue
Str 11
Con 12
Dex 18
Int 14
Wis 8
Cha 16

Hp: 24
Healing Surges: 7

AC 16
Fort 11
Ref 16
Will 13

Trained Skills: +8 Bluff, +4 Insight, +8 Intimidate, +4 Perception, +9 Stealth, +11 Thievery
Feats: Nimble Blade
Equipment: Leather Armor, Short Sword

At-Will Powers
Piercing Strike
Sly Flourish

Encounter Powers
King's Castle
Second Chance [racial]

Daily Powers
Trick Strike

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mining Computer RPGs for Inspiration

When inspiration runs dry, computer RPGs are a great source of content for a "real" RPG. I really never thought of this until I was wallowing in the frustration of Fallout 3 crashes and remembered one of my players comments during our first Rifts session:

Playing this game is like playing a Fallout RPG.
-Eric-

It isn't hard to see the similarities that the two games share... both are post apocalyptic settings in which mankind is struggling to survive and both have a rugged, gritty tone. I immediately started thinking back to the countless hours I spent playing the first Fallout games (1, 2, and Tactics). There were quite a few memorable locations, NPCs, and quests. I plan on stealing some of them for future plot hooks, and I intend to work on a list of cool ideas from some of my favorite computer RPGs.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rifts Session X: Game Night Derailed

Ever had one of those times when you just don't feel like GMing? This week I had one, and we ended up playing an old favorite that has fallen out of favor lately.

When my birthday present was a copy of the brand new Fallout 3 game for the PC, I was stoked. Unfortunately, I spent the whole afternoon trying to figure out how to get the thing running... and I have still been unsuccessful. I can play long enough to get into a fight, and then the whole program crashes. UGH! Needless to say, I was bummed... so much so that any attempt at GMing would have been abysmal. Days like this one really make me wish someone else in our group was willing to GM every once in a while.

Normally, we play Magic: The Gathering when roleplaying doesn't work out, but after one game none of us were really having fun. Nobody brought cards, so we were all using my decks... just not fun.

Then we turned to the D&D Miniatures, which we had not played in over a year (at least), built 100 point warbands, and battled to the last man standing. I can't remember what everyone played (except that Matt had a behir and fighting Will's duergar and githzerai felt like playing Neverwinter Nights 2 again), but my warband consisted of the following:

2 Troll Slashers (28 points)
2 Orc Savages (7 points)
1 Drow Blademaster (22 points)
1 Lolth's Sting (7 points)

Matt would have won, but a series of statistical anomalies (like me calling a natural one for him and a natural twenty for me... back to back) led to my victory.

It is ironic that we are picking up the skirmish rules again just as they are getting tossed out the window by WotC. After an hour of battling things out under the outdated rules released with the Aberrations set, I have come to the following conclusions about D&D Miniatures:
  • I stopped playing the skirmish game and was only buying them for roleplaying, so if most other buyers were doing the same, this might have been the only way to save the product.
  • Skirmish rules need to keep getting support. Is it really that hard to add a point value and dumbed down stats to each new figure? Balance wouldn't even matter as much anymore without sanctioned tournament play.
  • I'm not sure why minis will be getting powers that aren't supported in the books... this attempt to add extra value to each pack just seems a little pathetic to me.
I wish Palladium Books would invest in a minis line like the D&D minis... but it would probably flop just like their collectible card game did...

All in all, this week's game night wasn't as bad as I thought it would be when it started and I was so mad about Fallout 3. Tune in next week for more updates on the adventures of Minos, Pyro, and Isaac.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 8: Name Flavor & Name Generators

Following the advice of Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft articles, the next step in the design of the Shadow's Apex campaign setting is to develop some sort of naming system for characters. I personally like using names from archaic languages and various generators from the net. One of my favorite resources for generating names from real languages is www.behindthename.com. It has several good things going for it. One, its page rank is high on google, so if you forget the site, it is very easy to find. Two, it has a nice selection of languages to choose from (and you can mix 'n match as well). And finally, the first name it popped up for me was Aron Illarion, which just sounds cool.

For now, we'll go ahead and establish a generator for each of the following races:
Drow (www.fantasyrole.org, and this site even gives meanings for each stem when names are created)
Elves (www.dlnexus.com, using the Kagonesti filter)
Eladrin (www.squid.org, using the Tolkien Eldar style)
Humans and Tieflings (www.behindthename.com, a mix of Ancient Celtic, Celtic Mythology, and Norse Mythology)
Kender (www.dlnexus.com, using the kender filter)
Dwarves (www.squid.org, using the Tolkien Baggins style... yes, I know that hobbits and dwarves are different!)
Dragonborn (www.dlnexus.com, using any of the draconian filters)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 7: The Map!

Okay, admittedly this is pretty rudimentary... but as I said earlier, I'm not much of a cartographer. And keep in mind, this whole campaign is still in the design stages, so the map is subject to change as well.In case the image isn't large enough, the three cities are Saltmarsh, Verge, and Garrotten (from North to South).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mapping Tool: Hex - World Creator

The next step in my creation of the Shadow's Apex campaign is a decent map, and since I don't have the cartography skills to make one myself, I went online in search of a free map maker. I'm not usually into the hex map thing, but lately I've been reminiscing about the old Greyhawk map from 1st Edition, so I figure now is as good a time as any to reintroduce them to my game table. The first program to catch my eye was Hexmapper, but it only took about 15 minutes to realize that this wasn't the program for me.

After trying a few other programs that left me less than impressed, I finally stumbled onto Hex - World Creator... and I am loving it. Not only does this program have a user friendly GUI... it comes equipped with a tile set that actually looks somewhat professional. Check it out:













Hopefully, I will be soon be able to share the Shadow's Apex map. Lets just hope I have time to fill in all of these little hexes!

Friday, October 24, 2008

NPC Spotlight: Ghost

Visually, my inspiration for the following character came mainly from Moon Knight. I've actually been showing my players this image each time Ghost appears in the game. Unfortunately, this has lead to my players actually calling him Moon Knight, so I'll be replacing the image I normally show my players with the images in this post, each of which is a screenshot from City of Villains (which, even if you don't have the money to invest in MMORPGs, is at least worth downloading for the 15 day free trial).

There are quite a few "unknowns" in the following bio. I'll be updating this post from time to time as my players learn more about him. For now, this is just a record of what the PCs know or could guess relatively easily based on what they have seen in game.

Real Name: Unknown
Aliases: "Ghost"
Alignment: Unknown, Miscreant if the UWW information is correct
Weight: 195 lbs
Height: 6' 3"
Age: Appears to be a young adult, but seems experienced beyond his years.
Disposition: Friendly but businesslike... it is difficult to tell whether his charm is genuine or opportunistic.
Experience Level: Unknown (Though an Invincible Guardsman, he was created using Heroes Unlimited and Rifts Conversion Book 1 rules for superhuman characters)
Enemies: United Worlds of Warlock, a rival faction within the Transgalactic Empire
Allies: Onyx (a wolfen), and Wraith (an elf). Claims to have more contacts on Phaseworld, but the extent of these contacts is currently unknown.
Magic Knowledge: Unknown
Psionic Powers: Unknown
Abilities: Can create impenetrable darkness that shuts off even night goggles and other sensors, moves with incredible speed
Skills of Note: Speaks thickly accented American (though the accent is like nothing the PCs have heard before)
Weapon Proficiencies: WP Sword, WP Paired Weapons
Weapons and Armor: Wears light MDC armor and carries a pair of vibro-swords, is searching for a runesword that was confiscated from him by the UWW marines when he was captured

As of right now, Ghost might wind up becoming a patron and ally of the PCs. In fact, last session the party killed one of the two remaining warlock marines and took the other as a prisoner.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." ... or so the saying goes...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 6: Setting Up the Sandbox

Last time, I briefly discussed the Shadow's Apex campaign as a sandbox style game. Today, we actually begin moving in that direction by following the steps in this post over at The Hydra's Grotto.

I've read the article several times, and I'm still scratching my head over one thing: why start with the map instead of the adventures? By my thinking, it would be much easier to put the maps of all of my favorite adventures side by side and see where it would make the most logical sense to place them in relation to one another. With this in mind, I'm going to switch steps one and two.

Step One/Two: Choose my adventures.
I'll start with some old favorites.
  1. The Assassin's Knot: Garroten will easily serve as one of Verge's trading partners as well as providing an adventure location with the assassin's guild
  2. Shards of the Day: Dylvwyllynn makes for a great adventure location and the magical item that is scattered across the ruined city plays well with the campaign's theme... a sword for light, darkness, and twilight... what more could I ask for?
  3. Unfamiliar Ground: With goblins and a tiny dracolich, this would be a great place to put near Verge for the PCs to stumble upon early in their careers.
  4. Fiendish Footprints: An adventure I never got around to running which contains that magical phrase: "Can be dropped into any campaign".
  5. Ruins of Undermountain: A classic... no real explanation needed here...
  6. Random Dungeon: Just for old time's sake, I think I'll roll up a dungeon randomly using the tables in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide. It might be a flop... but it could be a ton of fun.
I'll stick with these for now, though I might add more later. There is one thing that troubles me, however. With the exception of Garroten, none of these adventures come with a ready-made town. I could use Waterdeep, but it is too big for my tastes. I'll throw Saltmarsh into the mix, using the updated version from the 3.5 Dungeon Masters Guide II.

So as of now, I have five adventure locations ready to go (or at least ready to be converted to 4E), one adventure I need to sit down and generate, and three towns to place (Verge, Garroten, and Saltmarsh).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rifts Session Six: Profitable Opportunities

The course of the game took on a new direction this week when the players met with Ghost. Ghost explained that the group had attracted his attention and that working for him would be a profitable opportunity. In order to prove themselves worthy, however, the group would have to retrieve the runesword from the Warlock Marines. The party found the marines back at the crash site, where they were clearing rubble and still trying to salvage what they could, and attacked immediately.

Minos the minotaur vagabond traded laser fire with one of the marines while Isaac the Colossus-clone took on the other in melee combat, and Pyro the hatchling dragon breathed fire from above. It was a tough fight, but our heroes won in the end. One marine bit the dust, while the other surrendered just before his power armor was destroyed.

Now the party has a nearly destroyed suit of warlock marine power armor and a prisoner. We had to wrap things up before they sorted through the rest of the wreckage or their camp.

Next time: What will the prisoner reveal? Will the runesword be where they expected to find it? Will Ghost hold up his end of the bargain?

Session Five
Session Four
Session Three
Session Two
Session One
Introduction

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 5: Sandbox or No?

Reading How to Set Up a Sandbox Campaign over at The Hydra's Grotto made me think about which direction I wanted Shadow's Apex to take. I have run campaigns that I would call plot driven (Age of Worms springs to mind) and I have also run campaigns that needed player-driven plots because I came up with the setting and then improvised everything else. I think I want something in between my previous extremes for Shadow's Apex.

This is the campaign hook:
The world is getting darker. Corruption is spreading subtly, unnoticed by any but the most scrutinizing observer, and those who do notice are typically shunned and dismissed as doomsayers and madmen. Telltale signs of the coming storm have been dismissed as coincidence or as the work of the necromancers whose presence has been known for centuries. What the world doesn't know is that the shadows have come alive in ways that they will soon understand all too well...

This concept lends itself to a great plot-driven campaign and in my mind, I pictured the campaign coming to a climax late in the epic tier. However, I believe this sandbox concept has given me a better idea. It might be a more engaging campaign if these events still happen, but the planar merging happens around the end of the paragon tier or the beginning of the epic tier and I don't do anything to push the players toward stopping it. If they do, its fine. If they don't, the new world that emerges when the Shadowfell merges with the Prime Material will be a great place for epic level adventure...

So here goes... we're keeping the original concept but changing our focus so that the hook affects the campaign setting without driving the plot of the campaign itself unless the players choose to let it.

But back to our regularly scheduled design, we need a place to begin the campaign, and for this I'm going to reuse some elements from Verge, the small town where the initial run of the campaign started. Because the campaign is going to take such a dark turn later on, I want to make sure that the opening is bright and light-hearted for maximum contrast, similar to the way Lorwyn and Shadowmoor contrast.

Verge
Verge is a small town that was once on the outskirts of civilization (hence the name). However, the wilderness nearby has since become quite civilized in the last few decades and the name is now more than a little ironic. Verge is now a center for the trade of specialty items that are not profitable enough to warrant a permanent shop but sell well if only offered on a limited basis.
Population: 2000
Government: The official leader of the town is the mayor, but a trio of wealthy families have more political clout than he can realistically claim.
Defense: Verge has no standing army. The Guardsmen of Verge serve as the local police force but are more for show than anything else. (I am intentionally making Verge's defenses weak to emphasize the relative safety of the town. We'll talk about the consequences of this decision later.)
Inns: The only inn in town is the Lodge of Merchants. Verge gets very few visitors, and those who do visit are usually in town to sell their wares in the marketplace.
Taverns: The Ale Grove and The Soup Keep (to be detailed later... I'm thinking former will be seedier and the latter a little more toned down)
Supplies: Trader's Court (instead of a general store, I'm thinking maybe a giant flea market would be interesting... mostly empty except for one day of the week but with a few specialty shops that stay open regularly)
Temples: Selune and Azuth have temples in Verge. Paladine, Araleth, and the Raven Queen all have small shrines.

Note: All of the business names used in this post about the Shadow's Apex campaign were borrowed from hackslash.net's Random Fantasy Business Names generator, and it isn't the only cool feature of the site. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should.

Much of what I've said already about Verge makes it sound like a rather dull environment for adventure... a relatively safe and peaceful town with trading partners in all directions that serve as a buffer between the town and the "real" wilderness.

Next time: Setting up the sandbox.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rifts Character Sheets for Our Campaign

Character sheets have now been posted... both the character sheets for the PCs in our current Rifts campaign as well as the blank sheet that we use as a template for any readers who are looking for a simple Rifts character sheet in rich text format.

Check them out in the right sidebar or below:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 4: Mythology (Continued Again)

Finally, we bring the mythology of the Shadow's Apex campaign to a close (at least for now) with the following topics: Who is Araleth Latheranil? How did Vhaeraun come to the forefront of the drow pantheon? Why were several staples of D&D mythology omitted?

Araleth Latheranil originally appeared in Dragon Magazine #155 in an article called "The Elfin Gods." Unfortunately, I don't have that issue. What I do have is Dragon #236, where he reappeared in "The Seldarine Revisited." The following is what I will be using in the Shadow's Apex campaign.

Araleth Latheranil
The Prince of Stars, The Twilight Rider

Araleth Latheranil is a good power of light, starlight, and twilight. He is known for his hatred of the forces of darkness and his rivalry with Vhaeraun that has been more violent, some say, than the that which existed between Lolth and Corellon before their fall.
Alignment: Good
Allies: Selune, Paladine, Azuth
Enemies: Vhaeraun, Shar
Symbol: A shaft of white light

Note: In my first mythology post, I mistakenly listed Araleth under unaligned powers. This has been fixed here and also on the original post.

The last two questions that we will answer today deal with how Vhaeraun gained so much power and why other powers were left out. The simple answer is that I wanted most of the powers of the campaign to feel familiar without falling back on too many of the "core" powers.

The long answer is a bit more complicated, and I don't want to reveal too much too soon for several reasons. For one, my players may read this, so I want some of this to remain a mystery for a while. Also, because this is all in my head and the campaign is still in the design stage, I want to make sure that I don't commit to too much just in case I decide to change it later. For now, we'll just go with the following:
  • Years ago, the world was thrown into chaos. A series of events threatened to destroy the world itself and very nearly did. The world as sages once knew it has changed drastically, and this time of chaos is known now as the Great Upheaval.
  • During the Great Upheaval, many of the world's powers were destroyed, banished, or relegated to demipower status.
  • Lolth, Corellon, and Elistraee are all gone, presumably dead. Their portfolios were absorbed by Shar, Araleth, and Selune respectively.
  • Paladine and Takhisis are new arrivals, taking the place of several other powers who disappeared.
This briefly explains some background on how the current pantheon came to be, as well as introducing a new concept to build upon: the Great Upheaval. I needed something to refer to as the time in which the world was thrown into turmoil and a "Points of Light" style setting was created.

Since the beginning of this process, we have had an "outside in" approach to designing this campaign. Next time, we'll zoom in to the campaign's starting point and talk about a semi-sandbox style campaign start.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rifts Session Five: TPK... Almost

This week, we were able to complete the battle with the Coalition reconnaissance team, and the results were not favorable for the PCs. After battling nearly a dozen soldiers, the party succumbed to the onslaught of laser rifle fire and fragmentation grenades. Only Minos was able to retreat safely. Our goblin mind melter and human shifter will soon be replaced by a fire dragon hatchling and a superhero (Heroes Unlimited style).

This turn of events leads me to thinking about the scope of the campaign. Before the majority of the party got themselves killed, Minos the minotaur was the beef of the group... the defender in 4E terms. Now, if the dice fall a certain way, he will be the weakest in the group physically. And there lies the double edged sword of the Rifts RPG. It is great that players can play as virtually anything, from a wizard to a dragon to a superhero. Getting to play all of these roles at the same time without having to create your own hybrid game system is awesome. Unfortunately, the game's power level can spiral out of control... and that is what I fear may happen in the coming weeks.

Fortunately, as the character creation junky that I am, this gives me the opportunity to do what I love to do most... roll up more powerful villains! Again, I am failing to follow my own advice about making stats for villains, but rolling up characters is fun. Perhaps I need to start rolling up characters just for the fun of it and creating an archive of NPC ideas similar to this series over at Greywulf's Lair.

Next time: With 2/3 of the group dead and replaced, will the meeting with Ghost still go on as planned? Even though the party retreated, the Coalition recon team suffered heavy casualties... will they finally pack up and head home? What new contacts and enemies with the new PCs bring with them to the group?

Session Four
Session Three
Session Two
Session One
Introduction

Monday, October 13, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 3: Mythology (continued)

Last time, I posted a list of the powers that would play the most noticeable roles in my campaign-in-planning, The Shadow's Apex. If you haven't been keeping up, you may want to check out the other Shadow's Apex posts. This time, we'll look at some of the decision making that went into that list. I intended to begin talking about the world itself, but this mythology process is getting longer than I anticipated, so that will have to wait until a bit later.

First off, as if it wasn't clear just by looking at the list, I tried to pick powers that had preexisting (or at least easy to justify) rivalries. Character building and background writing is easier if power struggles are clearly defined from the beginning, and where better to start than with the most far-reaching power struggles of them all... the divine.

Shar vs. Selune: I have enjoyed reading about this particular conflict for quite some time and have always wanted a chance to let it enjoy the limelight in one of my campaigns, but I have just never gotten around to it.

Takhisis vs. Paladine: I could have just left this as Bahamut vs. Tiamat, but I'm bringing a little Dragonlance flavor into the campaign for two reasons: one, as a nod to the first D&D novel I ever read, Dragons of Autumn Twilight; and two, because my players aren't very familiar with Dragonlance and now is as good a time as any for a little education (even if they don't realize what they are being exposed to).

Vhaeraun vs. Araleth Latheranil: This is not a particularly well-known rivalry, though it might be if Araleth was a better known figure. Vhaeraun, according to current Realmslore, is dead. In protest, I am making Vhaeraun the head of the drow pantheon in my campaign. Although I could have used one of Vhaeraun's more traditional enemies, Araleth an old favorite and I couldn't help but use him as a foil to Vhaeraun. I'll post more information on Araleth later on. He's from an old Dragon Magazine article that I'll have to dig up before I say more.

That leaves just three other powers: Azuth, Moradin, and the Raven Queen.

Why Azuth? My first instinct was to fall back on Dragonlance mythology for Solinari, Nuitari, and Lunitari for powers of magic. However, in an effort to avoid unnecessary complexity, I decided that a single power of magic would be better in the long run. I didn't want to use Mystra because I was afraid that her rivalry with Shar would overshadow the rivalry between Shar and Selune. Thus, Azuth comes into the picture.

Why Moradin? Really just a fill-in because I wasn't sure which way I wanted to go with the dwarves, putting Moradin on the list was admittedly a knee jerk reaction. "Oh, I need something for the dwarves... Moradin!" Of all the powers on the list, this one is the most likely to be changed.

Why the Raven Queen? Well, to be honest, I'm not a big fan of this one. However, a couple of my players seemed drawn to her when they first glanced through the shiny new 4E books, so I'm putting her in for no other reason than to please my players.

Now, there is still a big gap in the pantheon that needs to be filled... that of a nature-based power. I'll let my readers weigh in on this decision (not that you can't influence the others). Feel free to post comments, but more importantly, show your opinion on the poll in the left sidebar.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Four Reasons Giving Your Villain Stats is a Waste of Time

One of my favorite parts of RPGs is rolling up characters. This might be why I am the DM most often. As DMs, we get the opportunity to roll up more characters than any player gets to. I like having stats for NPCs. In fact, I like having stats even for the characters I don't think my players will fight just because occasionally, one of my players will get a wild hair up his butt and decide to fight someone I didn't anticipate.

There are, however, certain NPCs that I believe a DM should not prepare stats for too far in advance. Number one on this list is the campaign's supervillain (if one exists). Having a faceless villain pulling the strings behind the scenes is quite enjoyable, and it provides an "Aha!" moment when the players finally figure out what was going on. Unfortunately, as a younger DM, I always felt like I had to give this supervillain stats even before session #1 of the game. It only felt "right." But there are many reasons not to give your primary villain anything more than a paragraph of descriptive text until you are ready for his mini to step out onto the gladiatorial grid.

And thus, I present you with:

Four Reasons Giving Your Villain Stats is a Waste of Time
  1. New books will be published. If you are anything like me, a new book with cool new abilities and character options makes you want to put it all to good use. And who better to receive the new crunchy goodness but your main villain? If you have stats for him long before the players ever see him (and before this cool new book just arrived), then you will find yourself in a conundrum: don't give him the new stuff because I've already got stats (which sucks)... or recreate him using the new stuff (in which case the first set of stats are worthless).
  2. Players will lose interest. They might lose interest in the specific campaign, the genre, or just gaming in general. Even if they lose interest in gaming, more than likely they will return eventually. While this isn't the end of the world, it may very well be the end of your campaign, in which case you have created stats for a character your players will never fight.
  3. The PCs might not have to fight him. This might sound anticlimactic, because a campaign ending with a gigantic fight with the villain is pretty standard fare... but that battle might not actually require taking him on toe to toe. It could be a skill challenge in which success causes a magical explosion that kills the villain. Of course, I'd also want a bunch of his minions attacking the party while they tried to pull off the challenge, but the villain's actual stats would be irrelevant.
  4. You will have new and better ideas. There is usually a decent amount of time between the beginning of the campaign and the time the players actually encounter the villain. If this is the case, changing the villain himself behind the scenes will not disrupt the continuity of the campaign at all. So this guy named Traxx is not the vampiric tiefling warlock that you envisioned him being when you first started taking campaign notes. Perhaps he is actually a dracolich all along... as long as the PCs don't know enough to recognize the switch, make the switch and be glad you didn't stat out the other guy!
Sadly, as a DM with more experience under my belt, I still fall victim to the same urges. Even as I write this, I feel the itch to jot down some numbers for the villain I've got in mind for my Shadow's Apex campaign. In all honesty, he will probably have stats before the first session, go through several shifts of concept, and be replaced when a new book comes out. In the end, there is just something satisfying about knowing you have the big bad evil guy's combat stats ready to go at a moment's notice... even if the first twelve versions of his stats never get laid on the game table. (Heh... too funny to edit despite the connotations.)

What do you think? Any other DMs out there go through several versions of the same villain knowing full well that the stats are a waste of time for any of the above reasons?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 2: Mythology

Last time, I explained why I was putting my campaign on the chopping block, hacking it to bits, and putting it back together in hopes of better results. So far, all that is set in stone is the hook: the prime material will be merged with the Shadowfell if the PCs don't rise to the challenge and prevent it.

Now, with such a world-changing phenomenon on the horizon, it only makes sense that the world's movers and shakers will attempt to influence the course of events. Even those who want the merging to occur want to maneuver themselves so that they benefit from the event more than their rivals. And who are the biggest movers and shakers of them all? The divine powers.

I'm trying really hard to follow the first rule of dungeoncraft: don't create more than you need. This one is difficult because once the creative juices start flowing, I end up with a ton of info that I will probably never use. So for this exercise, I'm only going to start with a few of the powers. I may need more along the way, but for now I just want to establish the powers my players will likely want as patrons and the powers who will likely be associated with the villain and his allies.

Good Powers
Paladine
Moradin
Selune
Araleth Latheranil

Evil Powers
Vhaeraun
Takhisis
Shar

Unaligned Powers
Raven Queen
Azuth


Okay, so far we have a few good and a few unaligned powers, along with the powers that will be associated with the primary villain(s). As is obvious, I am cherry picking powers from different established campaign settings. The Raven Queen and Moradin can be found in the 4E Player's Handbook, but the rest are from other sources (primarily the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance campaign settings). I am cherry picking for two reasons: one, because these are all either my favorites or those that my players have expressed interest in; two, because I want a new pantheon without having to create new powers.

Looking back over the list, the first thing I notice is that there is no power for the wilderness characters and that there are several deities that my players will immediately question being left off the list ("Wait a minute... Vhaeraun but no Corellon and Lolth?).

I'll get around to filling in those blanks and answering those questions later.

Next time: More on the mythology and a little about the world as it is pre-campaign.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Shadow's Apex Part 1: Prepping for the Future

Although Dungeons & Dragons has taken a backseat to Rifts recently, the campaign we briefly began is still fresh on my mind. It started with a "let's see how close to 4E we can get with 3.5 rules" experiment and then morphed into a 4E game for several weeks of play. Then we lost interest. It wasn't just me; the players seemed to lose interest as well. It just wasn't fun anymore, so we moved on to other things. We played some multiplayer Magic: The Gathering games a few weeks and drafted Shadowmoor/Eventide one week before the idea of dusting off the old Rifts books occurred to me. And Rifts was a breath of fresh air: new characters, new concepts, new genre, new game system, and new books to hunt down.

But that 4E campaign just felt stale and boring. Game night should NOT be boring.

It was so bad that my dungeon mastering ego was feeling a little less... well... egotistical, I guess. In any case, the idea that one of my campaigns fell flat has been bugging me. Part of it might have been that we have been spoiled rotten by having so many sourcebooks lying around and an edition of D&D without extra crunchiness seemed lacking in options. However, I still fear that the campaign itself had enough flaws to be part of the problem.

Because of this fear (and self-criticism), I have decided to rework the campaign. The hook will stay the same and I will likely keep elements of the home base, but everything else will be on the chopping block.

I will be referring to Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft articles for advice and I intend to follow his "Rules of Dungeoncraft". However, rules are made to be broken, so we'll see how long it lasts. For now, I'll just start with the campaign's title and hook.

Shadow's Apex
Hook: The world is getting darker. Corruption is spreading subtly, unnoticed by any but the most scrutinizing observer, and those who do notice are typically shunned and dismissed as doomsayers and madmen. Telltale signs of the coming storm have been dismissed as coincidence or as the work of the necromancers whose presence has been known for centuries. What the world doesn't know is that the shadows have come alive in ways that they will soon understand all too well...

Basically, the idea is that someone is planning to take control of both the material plane and the Shadowfell. The plan will begin with powerful rituals that begin breaking down the barrier between the two planes, continue with the swapping of strategic locations, and culminate with a grand merging of the two.

I'm drawing inspiration from lots of different places, but a few of the most noteworthy are listed below:
Tome of Magic (particularly the shadow magic section)
Dungeon #136 (particularly the "Gates of Oblivion" adventure)
the Planeshift storyline from Magic: The Gathering's Invasion block

Next time: Mythology of the Shadow's Apex campaign

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rifts: Session Four

This week our group came the closest to a TPK... and it is still possible. Well, I guess at least one PC will survive...

With a day and a half of possible down time before the meeting with the wolfen and his master, the party decided to make use of the free time to launch another assault against the Coalition armored personnel carrier.

They tracked the APC successfully, but found themselves outmatched when a rather large volley of mini missiles made it past their attempts to shoot the missiles out of the sky. With their hovertank destroyed, they fought off two SAMAS suits in fairly close combat. The highlight of the fight was Eric (as Drake, our shifter) using Compulsion to get one SAMAS pilot to take off his helmet. Despite dodging the first attack aimed at his exposed head and hastily retreating, a second called shot by another character ended his days in the Coalition military.

When the session ended, the party was short a vehicle and in fear of the remaining CS forces no doubt heading their way. One character was sent speeding back town while the others headed back at a slower pace, hoping to outrun their Coalition foes.

Next time: Will the speedier PC make it to town and back for a rescue? Will the others be overwhelmed before he can return? Are the Coalition forces even in pursuit? Might the party be saved by a third party intervening?

Session Three

Session Two
Session One
Introduction
Related Posts with Thumbnails