Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting my players backgrounds is no small task: Part II

So being inspired I choose to continue today on more backgrounds. The ones I am working on right now I have talked with the players a bit with like Kevril in the previous post I had a lot more to work on with this character.

This is my friend Dennis' character and his background I came up with right away when he said why his character is the way he is. This was probably the easiest ones to come up with. I am thinking about the other six I need to do and there will be some challenges. So without further delay here is the Cavalier.

Redemption Seeker
I am an instrument of honor. I am he who seeks the weight to balance the scales.
Type: Campaign
Somewhere in your past, you behaved less than honorably. Perhaps it was a moment of ill-considered rage, a flirtation outside society’s boundaries, or maybe you took the blame for someone else’s lack of honor. Ever since, you have been striving to act impeccably and with such valor that you redeem yourself for the transgression in your past. What great event started your quest for redemption? Is there anyone trying to thwart your efforts? Have you given any thought to what will happen after you balance the scales of honor?
    Benefit: You add Diplomacy and Insight to your class skill list, and you gain a +1 bonus to Diplomacy and Insight checks.

Priadin BackgroundYou were brought up in a family who worshiped Erathis, the god of civilization. She is the muse of great invention, founder of cities, and author of laws. Your mother saw you as a priest, your father a man of the sword and during the day you learned the teachings of the clergy at night you were taught the martial practices of the knighthood.This constant back and forth between your parent’s desires for your future eventually broke you and you strayed from the path of good and fell in with the darker side of town. You lost your old friends, but you felt you made new ones, how wrong you were. Nothing is stronger than the bond of friendship not the trappings one places on people that they fall in with to do evil deeds.Erathis was a name you had forgotten, but she hadn’t. The god’s rarely notice the happenings of man but when your worship is lost in a town they feel its loss. As your family suffered and you ignored their cries they drifted from Erathis. While not entirely planned by her, she with the help of the Raven Queen nudged a soul for you to send the Queens way. Your parents were devout followers who also strayed, with you out of the way and gone perhaps Erathis would have the towns devotion again.Your antics caused you to push your friends away and they also caused one to return, Priadin was one such friend from your youth. He was now a knight and a devoted follower of Bahamut, the god of justice, protection, nobility, and honor. He had heard your actions had brought shame to his family and your town and he demanded you face justice.He attempts to apprehend you and a voice, your voice compels you to strike back. Your attack is sudden and swift, as he lay dying you do not see the man who had sought to bring you to justice, you saw the boy Priadin your friend, pleading for you to help him, crying that he was cold, that he was afraid. He tells you finally as you kneel over him crying as well, that deep down inside you, he knows you still have the spark of good in you.With the holy symbol of Bahamut in your hand you vow to seek redemption for your ways and take up the cause of your friend. His death was the result of your actions, today you will continue his life as you suddenly feel a resurgence of energy you have not felt since a child working to please your mother and father.As you ride off you do not see the figures standing on the road near where your friend lies buried. They got what they wanted, devotion and a soul. Someone else is near them and he got something as well, a warrior more powerful in spirit than the one he lost.

Thoughts on this background.
Dennis is the DM for our 3.5 adventure we have been playing for a few years. He was the one I had concerns with when it came to 4th edition. I wanted him to like it and perhaps run it? (hint hint) I fear that like Star Wars Saga edition I will be stuck as the sole DM.

Concerns aside one of the first things he asked prior to my first session was, "Are we going to keep these characters and actually play?" When I said yes he said "Good, I have this idea for my guy. I want him to have killed a guy who was trying to redeem him from his dark ways and in doing so he is brought back to the good and decides to become a cavalier in order to seek redemption.
Instant story!
I was hooked immediately and knew where I was going to take him but now how he got to where he was. Right up until the last portion of the background the characters name was Priadin and the man who comes to save him was his friend Lainadan (Elvish for Frank hehe) and suddenly I was like, HEY! What if after he kills Lainadan he takes his name, but wait his character name is Priadin. After doing some not so nifty cut and paste and word replacements the name change was done.

Deity Heavy?
Not really I wont be giving to much away to say that the gods might play a role in the future of the campaign which is called King Makers. They might not notice the day to day world of man but they do pay attention when one god or their pawns makes a move on the chess board they might not like.
I am going to keep it low key for now but they might run into some divine intervention from time to time on their adventures.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Getting my players backgrounds is no small task: Part I

So a while back I sent an email out to my group with the backgrounds as listed in the Character Builder for their characters and I asked them to fill in some basic information using that as a basis. I got one reply and a verbal from another at our last session.

I decided I would go just a step more and actually write out the background a bit but keeping it basic. This way the player could take the basic outlines and flesh them out as the need arose.

I really want this game to be different than other games I have run in the past, I want to build material for their characters so they all have fun. At any one session I could have up to eight players at the table to play and that is a lot of information to remember for anyone. In Star Wars they usually said here is my basic premise for my character and I ran with it but even then I run most games on the fly and to have something for all eight players in one session probably will not happen on a regular basis.

If there is one thing I have noticed in my years of gaming is that as it becomes easier to stay in contact, like through email, the less response I get back from the group as a whole. Procrastination? Probably so and I think I need to just sit down with the group and define the backgrounds as a group.

One thing I will probably use a bit more are character hooks, have some sub-plot side stories ready to go for each player that I can slip in and out as needed. I got this idea today after reading some of the seminar reports back from D&D Experience on Adventure Building.

Here is the background for my friends Human Knight names Kevril Shieldheart. I have included the 1st page of his character sheet.

Kevril Shieldheart
Defender of the Oppressed
Campaign Setting: General
Though the great empires of the world have fallen, tyranny still reigns on a small scale in many places. You swore to bring down tyrants both powerful and petty. Did you grow up under a tyrannical regime? Does it matter who is being oppressed? Would you rather fight for the victims or empower them to fight for themselves?
    Associated Skills: History, Streetwise
Benefit: You gained Streetwise as a Class Skill

Kevril's Background
You are the Defender of the Flame Imperishable. You grew up listening to your father tell the tales of the Knights of Nerath, Defenders of the Empire. The men and women who spread the light into the darkness and drove back the hordes of the “Ruler of Ruin”.

You were taught that no person deserves to be oppressed and that all should enjoy the freedom that the Empire of Nerath gave to its citizens. Give light to those who are in darkness and drive back the evil who would spread the veil of darkness across the world.

You are also not on a fool’s errand, you do understand that the Empire is no more, that darkness is everywhere and that you must be diligent and strive to empower those who have it within themselves to help drive back the darkness. You have joined with a group of adventurers who seem to share your goals, are they up to the task of restoring the Empire?

Some thoughts on this background:
When I set out to run this campaign like most of my other games I end up making the characters, (with the exception of my last Star Wars Saga game where most of us sat down and did a character creation day) Neal came up with a knight when he heard they were a defender. In running the game he has been very protective of the group and stands back and observes.
When in a tavern he stands near the door with his back to the wall not so much because he is paranoid (in my games they usually watch their backs) but because he is playing his role as a defender pretty well. I did not go off and tell my players you are a striker or defender etc etc they have just fallen into that framework themselves.

As such if you read the background and see things like Flame Imperishable and Empire of Nerath you can tell I have set my game in the Nentier Vale. The article for the Legacy of Nerath article appearing in Dragon Magazine Issue 393 really had me thinking of adding some of this into the game. Neal's character helped me fit that bill just a bit.

I have a Cavalier in the game who is out to redeem himself for past deeds, and this past will probably tie into his background just a bit. Imagine the possibilities that are provided when the Empire you want to see restored has met a stumbling block in a Cavalier who might have ended the life of someone who could give legitimacy to a new throne.

More on that later.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I am guilty... I took revenge in my game

So before the last session I was approached by my friend Neal about my feelings of him discussing creating Deadlands characters with the group before we started D&D. I said sure, I have wanted to play for a long time, a surprise to my group, and I encouraged the original system to the D20 OGL version which I do not care for.

Now my friend Kevin has been asking us to stat ourselves for a mystery game he would like to run. I have been passive aggressive since he announced it on our Facebook group. I was all over him about system specifics then tried offering solutions such as D20 Modern and such. Heck I have both the PDFs and the books I can give him.

One big thing I have been struggling with lately is my attitude and my punctuality to games, not to mention my being prepared. So this time I was all ready. I got there an hour before anyone else, ate lunch, had the characters printed from the previous session and just needed to print additional material. I was pretty close to complete when the topic of the mystery game came up.

To say I was mad would be an understatement. I had been torn between running the adventure as it was from the last session (Bark at the Moon) or tie up a few loose ends and move onto a request from the group, a real Dragon encounter! We had not done one in years, sure we fought one in the 3.5 game my friend runs but it was a weird homebrew creation I think, it was cool I guess but I spent the entire encounter (all 4 hours of it) unconscious.

But I am getting off topic, being mad. During prep I set up my tiles for the Dragon encounter start, when the talk of the mystery game started and they actually started writing up characters… I scrapped the Dragon encounter for the night and went to the published adventure, and by that I mean I sat there and fiddled around while some went to get food, came back and ate while I cut out The Weem’s Condition cards.

Could I have started my game on time? I suppose I could have, I was a jerk and I knew I was being a jerk. It probably showed, especially when I was asked if I would make a character I gave a typical response by not giving one when I said it might be possible. Here I was thinking that at least Neal asked me if it would be ok to talk about creating characters for a Deadlands game at my game. Why did Kevin not ask?

In hindsight, I should have said “We are not doing this now, I have a game to run.” Case close and game is underway. No I had to act out in the way I am classic for. I silently did a filibuster for my own game until I was ready to go. I need to take control more I guess.

I came to this realization after talking to my friend Neal on my drive home from work the other night and when I asked him his thoughts of the game I got a bit of a sigh and the topic of start time came up. I had shot him a look when he was texting people and he bit back that he sat there waiting for me so touche I guess.

Outside that conversation with Neal I have not spoken further of the incident. Would I do things differently if given the chance? Sure I would, like I said I need to take control more in my games and be able to say no more. I will start that during my next game session which the jury is still out on when that will be.
Does anyone else have moments where they were not proud of what they did during their game session?

Until next time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Social Contract

Does your group use one? Is it verbal or written? Is it enforced or just there just in case you need to go to it in the event someone breaks that one golden rule? What are the rules?

I have to say my group has one of these, have I seen it? Not since the notes were jotted down in our group meeting in September of 2008. Do we follow it? I do but others give it lip service or just ignore it outright. One brings it up to fuel his arguments that the group is doomed.

The just of what ours is about:
  • Start Time
  • Punctuality
  • Distractions: Kids; Breaks; in game disruptions
  • Minimum Attendance for your game
  • Games and how often they should be run
  • whining at the table. (could have fit under distractions but it was a long discussion)
  • How long a game session should be, what to do at the end time.
Not a big list really and does not address a lot of in game issues outside of breaks, and whining at the table. Like I said that was a huge issue brought up from someone who has not been in a game where it happened, but it was talked about a lot. To give the whiner credit he has gotten better and refraining from it.

Start Time and Punctuality could be rolled into one but needed to be seperate as we have start time and punctuality issues with players and DM/GM's. at the time this was leveled squarely at one person, the DM for our D&D game. He was/is/always will be late for a game, and lately it has rubbed off on me. We introduced a Gather Time and a Dice Rolling time and stuck with it for a good period of time. I tried to do this just last session a week ago and I was there super early I just let my hurt pride from allowing dice to be rolled on time because I was a bit miffed about something happening at the table. More on that later.

Distractions stemmed from an incident when I ran a demo of Mutants and Masterminds at a the GM for our Champions game. He spent most of his time away from the table making coffee and playing host instead of playing. It has also gone to be during his own D&D game, or when we play board games he is away from the table. The Kid portion was brought up because he said prior to his daughter being born it would not effect his gaming ability and one person in the group has held him to that statement ever since, even after we hashed out this contract.

We have had games not happen because someone was needed for the game and all hinged on them making it, and it was that one person with the crap schedule and so weeks would go by and no one could play. It has happened with more than one person. We chose to not let that hinder us from playing and we agreed another player would play that character for the important portion of the game. It also lead us to decide how many people minimum would you need for your game to be run at all. Outside of just a few instances where one person was really needed to be there this has not been an issue since.

One or two players have held the belief that if the game is not longer than 8 hours its a waste of a day, in fact anything that does not take a minimum of 6 hours it is not worth the effort to get together. This just can not happen in our lives anymore, in the gaming group he is in now it might be the case but we get together around 3-4pm and go until 11pm-12am or so. He will say this is not the case but when he gives his position on it, that's how it sounds to those listening. We also talked about what should we do when we hit that end time, do we keep playing or just end it? It is a case by case basis.

Now I said at the beginning "Do we follow it? I do but others give it lip service or just ignore it outright. One brings it up to fuel his arguments that the group is doomed." In most discussions we have on this I am told I follow this. I started up a Yahoo!Groups email list for us to use for the group, and recently I did the new groups thing on Facebook.

At this time I say it failed for a small percent of the group. The one who keeps bringing up issues we supposedly resolved. After we sat down and talked I felt like things were not really settled, I know I held back on bringing things up because I thought they were nit-picky of me and this was for the sake of the group. (It reminds me of the line from Stargate Universe, "For the sake of the crew) and in hindsight I should have just bitched and got it out in the open.

Why do I say this? Because I think someone did have a problem even after we talked things out and got all the issues on the table, because they still complain about things we were to have fixed. I can not be mad as I pulled my punches and held back.

It is almost a non-issue as the group does not even consider them part of the gaming group anymore. I think for the most part it helped some of us see where our issues were, we have tried to fix them. I have a new member of the group who has come in since then and he dislikes any talk about this sit down. He has read all of the old archived emails from the fallout that happened after the talks. He has laid blame where he feels it is given his tone about certain events in our groups past. So much so I cringe if an email is sent from someone bringing up the talks.

It was a huge deal, it is our Cuban missile crisis, I might get called out by the group for naming it that, some called it the Blindsided Pay Per View because they felt blindsided by the need to have a talk.

That is a topic for another day.

Is our group doomed? If it is no one told the group as we had a D&D session last week. Do people break the rules of this contract? Yeah and I could call almost everyone on infractions of it. I think the symbolism of knowing we have one keeps us strong but as far as the physical contract ever showing up I have warned it would cause problems. Luckily it has never surfaced, for others sake, not mine.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Product Plug and Random Musings

New Kickstarter Project:
First off, Christopher West of Maps of Mystery fame and the maker of many excellent maps used in the Star Wars Miniatures Game has a new Kickstarter map-set called Deep Vistas. If you have seen his work, or are a fan you should seriously consider helping fund this project. The project has three maps all double-sided featuring a 1" battle-grid. Whether you play a sci-fi or fantasy game these maps look great. Take a peak and consider helping fund this project!

Future of D&D:

Recently the community over at WotC has been speculating about the disappearance of several books from the product catalog and release schedule, and what this could mean about the future of D&D. I am not going to go over this missing products again, but lets say I was looking forward to them all.

Now members of DDI (Dungeons and Dragons Insider for those who might not know) get a subscription to the online magazines Dungeon and Dragon. Bill Slavicsek "treats" us every month to an article called Ampersand. It is basically the grandstand and product spotlight for the coming months where he teases us with new things just out of on the horizon. He gets a lot of heat from the community for these articles, because its all positive of course, and it usually where he gives the great news that Wizards has gone in a new direction with D&D once again.

This time, those books missing from the schedule are indeed gone but that they are going to be delivered in some other form. Also that the magazines, which at the end of the month used to get compiled into a single issue for each mag, will no longer be done. Instead "data" shows we as subscribers just download the articles as we get them (usually released daily) and we rarely download the whole issue.

So what does all this mean? Well I have read some really great thoughts on this in several forums on the official site, ENWorld, other blogs and Twitter of course. Thoughts range from everything going Digital and no more print products to the extreme that the books are done for but the game is going pure collectible card game.

I just do not see this happening, Magic the Gathering is still a strong selling IP and making D&D into a CCG would just kill the game no mater what some believe. Though the idea does have some merit. A starter deck for each player class comes with a set of dice and all the basic cards you need to make your character. Booster Packs and gear spice things up and the DM throws encounters at you. If you are one of those gamers that needs to own everything WotC would love you.

Card elements have become a staple of some of the games out there today. Warhammer Fantasy RPG from Fantasy Flight Games uses it for its characters from the character template sheet to the skills, powers and mental condition of the players. D&D Fourth Edition uses it for the powers and magic items, and soon fortune cards.

Say what you will I find the mechanic useful. In my 4e Games my players do not worry about cutting their powers out into cards they mark the sheets as they use the powers in some form or the other. In WHFRP the game pretty much requires that you have a copy of these cards and originally the game only allowed for a group of 4 to play. At a cost of $99 USD this got prohibitive if you wanted more to play.

I so hope they were not the ones to get their hands on the Star Wars game license.

D&D as pure Digital?
This one has been talked about the most. Right now with the Magazine content no longer being compiled on a monthly basis everyone is calling this ONLINE only, and crying foul it is behind the DDI Paywall. Hello? They already were online only, we can still download them we just need to download a whole lot more files than before.

WotC claims that "data" shows we download these articles more individually than the single download of the compiled issue. My viewing habit is that I "download" the issue and view it in my browser, I do this many times in the month depending on if I need it or not. I then wait to see if I want the whole issue. In a feedback email to WotC/DDI I equated it like this,
It is like an appetizer tray, you sample the items you might want, and if it is all good then you take it all.
Anyway that is the best I could come up with in my feedback. I tried not to rant and rave.

What do I see?
Someone on the forums posted an interesting thought. The books now gone will be presented digitally as articles to the online Magazines. We can then use these articles, critique them and find all the flaws. Errata is found and then more focused books can be produced as a result. The errata is one big issue the player base has with WotC. No product stands the test of the players, once we get it we find all the broken bits and complain and exploit the holes in the rules.

WotC has been on top of their game with errata but the result is a Players Handbook in the stores that is not even usable with all the errata it possesses. 

I see a mix of this missing content, and new content into DDI. I see a whole new host of online tools for us to use. I see that some of this content will make its way into some sort of best of book or a focused book of content in the future.

I know they have the best intentions for the game, they just are poor at execution and informing the public what it is they are doing. Especially to us insiders who pay for a product to be delivered and right now people are really pissed we are not getting our moneys worth.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Macross: UN Spacy Pilot WIP

So I started messing around with coming up with a few classes for a possible D&D 4e -Gamma World inspired game. I am starting with the UN Spacy Pilot.

It is still a work in progress, I do not know if it will go anywhere since it is just for a home 1-shot or more.

I think I will use the basic style of Gamma World. I will have two races. Humans and Zentradi/Meltrandi. While driving today I had the idea of at least two versions of these genetically created warriors. One for the macronized version and one for the Micron version.

UN Spacy Pilot
Enemy Tallyho at 2 o'clock
  Role: Striker
Key Abilities: Dexterity, Constitution
Bonuses to Defense: , +1 Reflex
Hit Points at 1st Level: 12 + Constitution score
Hit Points per Level Gained: 5
Healing Surges per Day: 6 + Constitution modifier
Trained Skills: From the class skills list below, choose 1 more trained skills at 1st level.  
Class Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Intimidate, Perception, Streetwise
Class Features: 

You are the pride and joy of the UN Spacy, you are a fighter jock. You were born out of the unification wars that followed the fall of the Alien Space Ship 1 or signed up after the need of new pilots following the Macross' space fold that took you to the far reaches of the solar system.

You pilot the Valkyrie, the by-product of the merging of technologies of Earth and Over-technology reversed engineered from the Alien Space Craft technology.

This class has no features. (yet)


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Character Backgrounds

Today I sent my players the backgrounds for each character in the group. I gave them an assignment worth campaign fun points from a house rule I am borrowing from In the Eye of the Beholder This is what I asked them.

Take be background information for your character and come up with some names for NPC's and their relation to you.

Take the background information and come up with a quest idea for your character. One is fine any more would be great.

Any rivals? nemesis?

Halfling Thief:
Occupation - Thief

Human Knight:
Defender of the Oppressed

Human Cavalier:
Redemption Seeker

Eladrin Mage (pyromancer):
Oathbound Fellow

Drow Hunter:
Pivotal Event - Escape

Human Slayer
Berserker - Follower of Kord

Half-Elf War-priest: Sun Domain
Occupation - Military

Longtooth Shifter Swordmage
Occupation - Military

Now I built the party as I usually do since all but one owns any D&D 4e books, let alone essentials. They have two weeks to come up with background information based on what I gave them, (The background txt from the compendium, and how they benefited from that background) we will then sit down at the beginning of the session and hash out how that will effect the campaign

I also think I will come out with a social contract for the group to work with, more loose nit than anything. It will state certain things about how the game will run, meal break, tribute to the DM, how we will handle missing players or those who need to leave early.

As I mull this over a bit I think I will end up with a more cohesive group. I see the Swordmage and War-Priest being good friends in the game, the Swordmage has already shown some leadership skills. I think the Cavalier will step to the forefront of the group as the true leader, while the swordmage will be the motivation of the group.

The Slayer is brand-new to roleplaying Pen and Paper games. He is 12 years-old and when we get together in a week and a half this will be his third game, 2nd as the slayer, he played the war-priest in the first session to cover for his uncle who left for work. I am real interested in seeing how he develops this character.

We will see how the rest of this turns out and I will post on the results after the session.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wish List for D&D 2011 and beyond

We have all seen the product catalog for the beginning of this year,  Some things I would like to see from Wizards of the Coast for the D&D line during the second half of this new year. Which mostly means with turn around time to make a lot of this for 2012

  • Miniatures Line:
    • Encounter Packs: This would help greatly for people who just want goblins or kobolds. I know it will not happen but this is a wishlist after all.
    • More Character Packs: I do not think this sold well but like most things WotC does they test something that has cool potential and then drop it like a hot potato.
  • Dungeon Tiles and Maps:
    • Cave Master Set: They made one for the Dungeon, City and Wilderness where are the caves?
    • More dungeon dressing tiles: It would be nice to have more chests and treasure piles to dot the dungeon.
    • Map Packs: The maps in the adventures are great but some people dislike using adventures. The ones they have placed in the Encounters modules are great along with the ones in the Essentials DM Kit and Monster Vault. Another company makes them, a lot of them. Heck don't I just hope Christopher West makes some more great maps for D&D.
  • Dragon and Dungeon Magazines:
    • More Essential Classes: If they are not going to make more books then they need to put classes into the digital mags.
    • More Crunch with all the fluff. More on Nerath.
    • Bigger adventures in Dungeon.
    • More encounters.

About Me

My photo
I am Regional Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region for D&D Adventurers League. Worked for Best Buy as a Project Team Specialist were I did store remodels, support Vendor displays and set merchandising standards for the stores in the Chicago market. He also enjoys playing games (PC, Console, Board Games, RPGs and Miniature Skirmish Games), reading, watching movies and listening to music.