Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Farewell 4E (for now, at least)

For various reasons, I'm taking a break from running and playing D&D 4E.  When it came out, it fixed a lot of the issues that I'd had with 3.5, taking the tactical combat that was already in 3.5 and adding balance and options for each class each turn.  But running and playing it recently has been bogged down by paper shuffling, grinding combats and the over profusion of classes, races and powers that have started to all feel muddied, muddled and way too similar.  I've plotted out two last sessions for my ongoing D&D campaign that will hopefully provide closure for the still open plot lines and I've accepted that it's time for my chaotic evil, touched by the stars, slightly psychopathic Ardent to slip out of the party and become an NPC villain where he'll be more effective.  Mostly it's burnout, 4E has been pretty much the only game I've run or played for the past 4 years since it came out.

But instead of dumping on 4E, I want to remember some of my favorite bits:

  • Goblins shifting after being missed with a melee attack.  The first time I used this in a game, I remember how surprised the players were and it was great to see that goblins/orcs/kobolds could be more than interchangeable low-level monster stat blocks but could have some flavor that played out in the combat.
  • Fighters with interesting combat options.  Clerics who could be more than heal-bombs.  After the constant who will play the Cleric fights of the 3.5 games I ran and played in, it was refreshing to see Clerics (and the other 4E leader classes) be able to heal and do other things in combat.  And having fighters with interesting options was another revelation.  In fact, I can't recall a time when anyone played a straight fighter character in our 3.5 games.
  • My barbarian Amleth.  Previous editions of D&D never provided me with a barbarian class that felt satisfying.  4E changed that.  The Daily Rage mechanic felt like one of the least forced of the daily powers and had the added bonus of being able to sack a daily rage power to make a Rage strike.  An option that was strangely not used for any other classes.  Some of my favorite D&D moments were being able to charge recklessly into the middle of the fight and lay waste with Amleth, letting the mechanics and powers of the class support a character driven goal to lead from the front lines and charge to and fro in the battle.
  • Hobbits.  I ran a fantastic one shot where the players all played inter-related Hobbits and discussed tookweed as they fought off ghouls and then I stole that schtick for a game I played in to have a trio of hobbit siblings who baffled the rest of the part as well as the enemies as we ran about enjoying ourselves in spite of the often dark and terrifying goings on around us.
Now, though, it's time for a change.  I'm already looking forward to my new REIGN campaign, and we'll see if I can convince my current D&D players to try out another game.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Rest Goal Posts

Gearing up to start a new RPG, using the REIGN One Roll Engine rules and a home brew setting and just wanted to get my goals down on virtual paper.  The last few campaigns I've run have been very unfocused, and to some part a little more unsatisfactory because of that.

  • Party Cohesion
    • This is a big one, the last two D&D campaigns I've run have used the "forced together by circumstances" method of party building and while some party dynamics have emerged, they never cohered the way I would have liked.  I'm hoping that limiting the PCs to a single company or at most two companies will help give the PCs a sense of belonging to the same group, not to mention similar goals.
    • But aside from the somewhat forced PC relationships, I also hope to encourage the players to develop personal relationships between their characters right from the character creation process on.  
    • One of the most memorable D&D games I ran was a one-shot where the players decided to all play Hobbits (eschewing the much less cool Halfling designation) and in the course of creating their PCs also came up with relationships and one sentence descriptions... exempli gratia: the do nothing hobbit with a heart of gold, his slightly shut-in wizardly uncle who had an unseen servant to carry him above the filthy ground, a bardic rival who was slightly jealous of the do nothing hobbit, et cetera.
    • The most enjoyable D&D games I played this last year both had relationships, in one I blatantly stole the Hobbit schtick and played the middle brother in a trio of mischievous halfling children. In the other, it was a semi-cooperative game where each PC had relationships to the other PCs that shaped how semi-cooperative they were, with slightly disastrous results as my half-dwarf PC killed his unaware human half-brother perhaps a little too early.
    • Recently I played in another D&D game as a crazy ardent (psychic healer) with a telepathic brother, but since we had vastly different goals and did not share anything other than being brothers, that was much less satisfying and my character couldn't rely on his brother the way my spastic hobbit monk could rely on his siblings.
  • PC Goals
    • Another thing I want to focus on is PC goals.  My last efforts have seen a few PCs have very vague goals (get rid of this magical mark) and most of the PCs lack all but the vaguest goals (stop evil).  I abused my DM powers and let the PCs be led on by hazy party goals that merely led along the plot-point stops.
    • For Reign I want each PC to have a goal or two, even if they are largely the same as the goal of the company they belong to.  I'm hoping that the PC goals will then drive the plot instead of the PCs merely ferreting out the clues that lead them on in the DM driven narrative.
  • An End In Sight.
    • Perhaps my biggest DM sin is that I plot campaigns too big.  My RPG Spiritual Advisor, Thomas, of Tower of Infinite Evil, is constantly warning me against going too big.  In that spirit, and drawing on the meta-flavor text of our Fading Suns as sci-fi television series, I am going to run the REIGN RPG in Seasons.
    • Each Season will be a self-contained plot-arc lasting 3-6 months (8-16 sessions depending on play).  If after the first season the players decide not to continue playing REIGN, then we'll have a single season.  If they decide to continue playing, we'll decide if we keep the same characters for a second Season with a new self-contained plot arc or if we start fresh with new characters.  
    • I'm hoping this avoids the trap that my last two D&D campaigns fell into, where I planned out the EPIC level secrets and conclusion.. Leading to such classics campaign plots as: Three Insane Wizards, all thinking they're the same dead Wizard's Guild Master, tricked into a ritual by a Dark Force that feeds off the world ruined during the last Guild War or the PCs are descendents of a sorcerous family that became gods and somehow the plot would involve the players playing the long dead ancestors of their PCs in a flashback.  Such epic level plots are all well and good, but it would have probably been more satisfying for all involved if the Heroic tier of play had a better defined plot arc instead of being just the tip of the eventual plot iceberg, as it were.
So those are my goal posts for right now, three fairly simple things I want to make sure I do with this game, encourage Party Cohesion, let PC Goals drive the game and keep a reasonable End In Sight.  Now to force myself to stick to them.

Oh, also, you can follow the goings on of the Reign Campaign I'm running at: Last Rest - A Reign RPG Chronicle.  Right now there's just some setting notes, possible plotlines and an example character, but I'm planning to post Episode teasers and summaries and to have players write in character journal entries about the episodes.

Post-Apocalyptic Names

As I'm prepping to run a Godless mini-campaign, I wanted to have a good post-apocalyptic name table to draw from. The Apocalypse World...