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Horde of the Dragon Queen – session 1

If I wanted the title to be really accurate, I would say D&D 5th Edition: Tyranny of the Dragons: Horde of the Dragon Queen, Episode I – Part 1, but that would be a form of colon cancer. One thing I should note is that I’ve taken to altering the adventure slightly, based on the notes given at the Hack & Slash blog. One advantage to having waiting (whether willingly or not) so long before starting to run this adventure, is that many people have already done so and identified problem areas. The plot hasn’t changed and the major encounters are pretty much the same, but the way some of the information is presented has been altered.

We began with character introductions. For character creation, I did not put any serious restrictions on characters; I stipulated that only the Player’s Handbook be used with the option of using the Bonds presented in Horde of the Dragon Queen. I discouraged the creation of dragonborn characters, but did not forbid them. I personally don’t like how WotC has been shoe-horning dragonborn into every setting regardless of whether or not they have a history in that setting, frankly, but my opinions on dragonborn could be an entire blog post in and of itself. Anyway, our band of heroes includes:

Zinniana Namfoodle, a forest gnome rogue.
Flint Rockbottom, a dwarven cleric of Sune and a brewer of fine beer.
Tobin DeNalia, a half-elf bard.
Broken Sky, a sylvan elf monk.
Veya, a human barbarian.

Most of the characters were created together at a joint session (which I prefer), but due to the realities of life, a few were created independently. It’s a good mix, though the bard has to pull double duty as an arcane caster. A lot of the classes have options to add spellcasting, so it’ll be interesting to see if the lack of a dedicated arcane caster, such as a wizard or sorcerer, gimps the party in any significant way.

As with previous long-term games, the session summaries (without snarky/insightful commentary) will be posted on Obsidian Portal. Of course, all summaries will contain spoilers for Wizard of the Coast’s 5th edition D&D adventures Horde of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat.

On with the show…

Our happy band of heroes were returning to Greenest, when the little town they remembered was not the same as when they left. Several buildings appeared to be on fire, there was chaos in the streets, and a dragon circling the keep. Concern for those they knew in Greenest overrode their instinct to stay away from an attacking dragon and they ran down the hill toward town.

Looters ran unabated in the streets. A man leading his family was set upon by a gang of kobolds. They leapt upon him, tearing out his throat as his wife tried to fight them off and their children looked on. Our heroes charged into the fray, slaying the kobolds, albeit too late to save the man. They learned from the woman that the residents were trying to make their way to the keep for safety. Despite a dragon attack the battlements, the keep was a safer location than the houses that were currently being looted. They made their way toward the keep, rescuing a few other residents of the town along the way.

They arrived at the keep just in time. The guards shut and barred the gates as cultists and kobolds surrounded them. Once inside, they met the Governor. Clearly rattled, he was somewhat incoherent and irrational. Nevertheless, he suggested there might be an alternate escape route: an abandoned waste water tunnel that lead down to the creek. It hadn’t been used in years, but might let them move in and out unseen by their attackers. The governor asked them to try to capture a cultist who could tell them what was going on.

The tunnel was undiscovered by the attacking looters. Zinniana used her gnomish talent for communicating with small animals* to dissuade the rats that were in residence from attacking and was able to pick the rusty lock at the gate after Flint broken open an odd trinket filled with oil** he’d had for years. Once outside, they dealt with a group of kobold and cultist scouts on the creek’s banks, taking them by surprise. They then entered the town and looked for a group of looters. Tobin and Veya disguised themselves using robes they’d looted from a group of cultists they’d dispatched earlier. They were able to discover that the cultists were members of the Cult of the Dragon and were looting the town to gather a hoard for the Queen of the Dragons: Tiamat. They were unable to capture anyone, however, but they did rescue some more townsfolk who’d been barricaded in their root cellars.

When they returned to the keep, the Governor asked them to do something about the dragon, much to their consternation. Tobin made an attempt to go to the battlements, but was unable to go out there. Crippled by dragonfear, he confirmed that it was, indeed, a real dragon and not some sort of illusion. The rest of them decided the keep’s guards should handle the dragon and they confronted the Governor about his cowardice. He was still shaken and irrational, but one bit of useful information was gleaned: the Sanctuary, the temple of Chauntea was now under attack by the cultists.

Our heroes exited the keep via the tunnel and made their way to the Sanctuary. The temple was under siege by groups of cultists and kobolds at the front and back doors, and a patrol of the same walked the grounds with two ambush drakes. They avoided the patrol and ambushed the cultists attempting to batter down the front door. Naturally, this alerted the patrol. The patrolling force arrived just as the last of the cultists who were trying to break in fell. It was a difficult combat, but our heroes prevailed at last, though not without wounds. The announced themselves to the people barricaded inside the temple and received some healing from the priest.

As they caught their breath and assessed their wounds, they knew they had two tasks remaining: deal with the third group attempt to set fire to the back door of the Sanctuary and get the priests and townsfolk to the keep…

Wow! Combat is really fast, at least at low levels. The battle at the Sanctuary featured large numbers of foes. A similar fight in Pathfinder or D&D 4E would’ve taken much longer (I’ve had combats in 4E against fewer opponents take longer than all of the combat in this session put together). The Sanctuary was the first fight in which the PCs didn’t maintain an overwhelming advantage through surprise and guile and the pack tactics of the kobolds were much-hated. In fact, in convinced the players that their early stealthy approach to the situation was going to be the only way they would survive this portion of the adventure. From what I’ve read, groups that don’t adopt these types of tactics find themselves losing PCs to death very early on. This is a fairly deadly iteration of D&D… and I like the sense of danger their getting. From KOBOLDS. When was the last time a group of PCs encountered a pack of kobolds and considered them a serious threat? AD&D, that’s when.

Now that I’ve got a handle on what the adventure is going to run like, the next couple of sessions should be better. I’m not very good at thinking on my feet and improvisation, but I’ve had some ideas…

* The giant rats, apparently, were a problem for many groups who played this adventure from what I’ve read. Obviously, they didn’t have a gnome with them.

** This is an actual trinket from the trinket table in the Player’s Handbook. Since the type of oil was undescribed and it was a clever use of a curiosity, I let it work like WD-40 on the rusty lock. I might have even given out an Inspiration for it. If I didn’t, I should have.

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – The Jewel of Yavin, part 5

This entry is written from the point-of-view of my Edge of the Empire character, a Duros politico named Baniss Mulk. It will have spoilers for Fantasy Flight Game’s adventure The Jewel of Yavin. You’ve been warned!

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Duros malePersonal Journal – Day 6811 of Exile

Much to my surprise, no one fell to their death as we climbed up the central air shaft toward the vent that would lead up into the museum. Apparently, Cloud City has problem with pest control, but we managed to avoid the rawwks* nesting in the air shaft. We didn’t even set off the alarm when we broke into that storage room, though we had to neutralize a droid and destroy another. There was another security droid patrolling the museum, but Herrick took care of that one while I opened the door to the room holding the Jewel of Yavin.

Unfortunately, there were guards in that room and before I could tell them about the plight of the Duros people (or subject them to my brilliant drunken, recently passed-out partier schtick) they opened fire.

The situation was not ideal.

Despite our efforts to relieve them of their duties, they tripped the alarm and locked the door. Ungrateful mammals! Naturally, this summoned more guards to shoot at us. Apparently, at ME, specifically. Caring not for the plight of the Duros people and their designated representative, they gunned me down.

Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time… The stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as a life age of the earth… But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I’ve was sent back until my task is done, revived by Dr. J. When I had my wits about me, I resisted the urge to change into stark, white robes. The room was filled with the bodies of the hapless guards who were more dedicated to their jobs than their lives. In short order, we snatched the jewel and made our escape.

I called Arend Shen to arrange our pickup, as planned. We made our way to the pickup and boarded the waiting speeder. Naturally, someone decided to plant a bomb on the speeder and also sent a squad of goons to shoot at us just in case our speeder didn’t blow up (which it didn’t because we’re that good). Arend had betrayed us! My opinion of mammals and their trustworthyness has not improved. In a fit of bigotry, I suggested we steal Baron-Administrator Calrissian’s ship in which to make our escape. That was vetoed.

It wasn’t easy, but we returned to our ship and blasted off with the jewel and no payment. Selling such a rare and distinctive gem will be a challenge, but I’m hoping to at least break even. The universe owes me that.

And thus ends The Jewel of Yavin. I like the FFG Star Wars system, almost as much as West End Games’s d6 system. I don’t think the system is perfect and the adventures definitely assume you have a well-diversified party (despite our efforts, we were still lacking in a few key skills and we learned that the adventure benefits from NOT having your pilots be your tech people… who knew?). I wonder if some of the difficult of the adventures is because they’re fairly early products and the writers are still getting a handle on the system. They definitely assume you’ll be utilizing the Destiny Pool liberally.

I did not particularly like playing Baniss. The Politico is a “face” character, a fast-talker, and that is not the type of character I’m good with. I think I would’ve been happier with a techie or a pilot-type character (I liked Kelko Gen, RIP). Our group also didn’t seem devious enough to think of all the ways we could get an edge in this adventure, either that, or those were not telegraphed sufficiently. In that regard, it reminded me of some of those old style adventure games where you had to combine random things to find the solution to the puzzle and once you knew the solution you could see in what twisted way it made sense, but it didn’t if you weren’t in a very specific frame-of-mind.

Several people expressed an interest in playing more heroic characters, so Hoard of the Dragon Queen for D&D 5E is being greatly anticipated. We were basically criminals in this Star Wars game. They were goblin pirates in the Pathfinder game. They were very anarchic treasure hunters in the D&D 4E game before that. Heck, I’m looking forward to GMing for a group of heroes. Plus it’ll be good to play D&D again.

 

* I had a HUGE disconnect with this creature. Apparently they’re native to Bespin, yet inhabit the floating cities and mining platforms. Have those structure been there long enough for a mammalian species to evolve on a GAS GIANT?  I can buy the gasbag creatures living in the clouds, but furry mammals evolving on a gas giant, even flying ones? Totally wrecked my suspension of disbelief. I know, I know. It’s STAR WARS. But still, some writer didn’t think through this when they invented rawwks.

 

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – The Jewel of Yavin, part 4

This entry is written from the point-of-view of my Edge of the Empire character, a Duros politico named Baniss Mulk. It will have spoilers for Fantasy Flight Game’s adventure The Jewel of Yavin. You’ve been warned!

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Duros malePersonal Journal – Day 6810-6811 of Exile

After narrowly avoiding complete failure by falling bass-ackwards into an invitation to the gala, we took a few moments to change clothes and freshen up. Agents of the Chiss persuasion were hanging out in the lobby and we overheard them talking about Herrick, so he decided to not return to the room with us and go hide elsewhere. We make plans to meet with him at the gala. At this point, I am convinced whatever greater power there is controlling the universe has it out for us. Forget crime lords or the Empire, FATE itself seems determined to destroy our lives.

Once we arrived at the gala, I got busy working the room. We saw some of the other bidders, like the Togruta, Shraya. Zekra Fol accosted Herrick and Xena, and demanded to know if their killing of Razer was a hit. I got her alone and assured her it was actually an accident before asking her if she was familiar with the plight of the Duros people. I explained how our planet was folded into the Corellian sector against our will and how my father died to ensure my mother and I escaped so we could continue to fight for Duros independence. She was less than sympathetic; I don’t know what I expected from a mammal. I managed to anger Shraya to the point that she left the gala; I would have thought a Togruta would be sympathetic since the Empire is known to have no love for non-humans.

While the others tried to figure out ways to steal the Jewel of Yavin, I continued to work the room. Sadly, no one cared to learn about the plight of the Duros. You’d think the mammals would have a greater appreciation for THE PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT HYPERSPACE TRAVEL TO THE GALAXY. Without us, they’d still be flitting about in deathtraps, clinging to their atmospheric-skimming orbitals and unable to reach out to the stars. But that’s okay. No need to show the least bit of respect for the species that allow them to crawl out of the primordial muck that was their worlds before interstellar travel.

At some point in the evening, Herrick and Xena got called into a meeting with Kaltho the Hutt. That’s not going to go well for them. Hutts have a lot of money, though, so I decided to see if Kaltho was familiar with the plight of the Duros. According to his Major Domo, he would be happy to give me a loan. Yeah, sure, I have no problem pledging my arms, legs, and first three children to the Hutts.

The gala ended and someone won the auction. We knew it was important to get the money as soon as it was transferred; the gem would wait. We tracked down several banking droids we could slice to re-direct the funds and decided to go after the one furthest away. It would shut down for the evening first and would also take the longest to return to its charging station. If we failed at that droid, there were two more to try. We found it in a fairly deserted area and, using a combination of the restraining bolt I purchased and brute force, we wrangled it into a service lift. Xena sliced the lift to lock it down between floors so we could work on the droid in private. Having some sort of dataspike would sure have been handy, but she managed to get the funds transferred. Unfortunately she saw that her new benefactor, Kaltho the Hutt, was the winning bidder. I calmed her panic attack by pointing out that she wasn’t stealing from the Hutt. He… or she, I’m not sure which phase of life Kaltho is in, paid the auction house and we stole from the auction house. We didn’t have time to properly dispose of the droid and cover our track completely, though, so we sabotaged the lift and sent it crashing down to the bottom of the shaft with the droid in it. Hopefully, digging its “black box” out of the wreckage will take long enough for us to make our getaway.

Slicing the droid took longer than we hoped, so, pressed for time, we bribed ugnaughts to get us to the proper maintenance tunnels to let us climb the central windshaft for our upcoming museum robbery. That bad feeling I had? Yeah, it hasn’t gone away.

I have determined, that, as a player, a talky-charismatic character is NOT the right type for me. I’m pretty horrible at it. I’m also bad at planning heists. I think I would’ve been better off as a techy-type or another pilot. Live and learn.

I pushed for greater usage of our Destiny pool this time, since we had so many Light Side points. I also pointed out as the session got late, that there was literally NO REASON for us not to use them on every roll since they were going to reset at the beginning of the next session. Frankly, I think that saved our asses. I’m beginning to think that the game expects you to use them freely, rather than hoarding them for when you think you might need a boost. Sort of like the Fate point economy in Fate games or Bennies in Savage Worlds. They’re not Hero Points from late D&D 3.X/Pathfinder or D&D 4E, to be using sparingly in cases of life & death. They’re necessary to keep the dice from totally screwing over your party. I still think FFG set some of the difficulty too high in some cases, though.

The next session will be a one-shot of Fate (an Atomic Robo-inspired Fate Accelerated game, to be exact–Action Scientists of Tesladyne, Issue 1: The Madness of Doctor Frankenheimer) due to one of the key players in this heist being away on vacation. Depending on how attendance is looking for Hallowe’en, that may stretch into a two-shot. When we return to Edge of the Empire and The Jewel of Yavin, it will likely be the last session. Hopefully, we’ll have better luck than we did at the climax of the last Edge of the Empire adventure.

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – The Jewel of Yavin, part 3

This entry is written from the point-of-view of my Edge of the Empire character, a Duros politico named Baniss Mulk. It will have spoilers for Fantasy Flight Game’s adventure The Jewel of Yavin. You’ve been warned!

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Duros malePersonal Journal – Day 6810 of Exile

The Grand Prix was upon us. We rushed to get our racer entered, then I took a position in the grandstand so I could watch the race. There were many teams competing, but only a few seemed to be a serious threat to our chances. One local kid seemed to be a favorite, Rocket, Rayger, Razer? I think it was Razer. Looking at the odds sheets, I realized I should’ve placed some bets. Anyone betting on us was going to be pretty rich when we won.

Naturally, this backwater planet, as cosmopolitan as it wants to be, is incapable of keeping the track clear. The racers not only had to contend with competitors shooting at them, but big, stupid jellyfish and their winged predators, too. Xena and Herrick did a good job of avoiding them, but spent most of the race lagging behind. They just couldn’t seem to push their racer hard enough to catch up to the teams that got a good lead.

Fortunately, as the race neared its end, some well-placed blaster shots too everyone out except for Razer. I was relieved I didn’t bet on us; there wasn’t as much money in a second place win. Herrick took one last, desperate shot at Razer as the local racer was just about to cross the finishing line, causing him to spiral out of control and crash in a horribly conflagration. We finished! We were the only finishers!

… and we were disqualified for causing the death of Razer. Sith spit.

As we all reconvened, my thoughts turned to how I was going to brush up my resume. I was going to need a job. We didn’t have enough money to stay for much longer (or even to refuel our ship and continue paying the docking fees). Our team killed the local favorite racer. Going incognito for a few years was looking pretty good.

A Hutt’s representative approached us before I could make my move. Our bold racing strategy didn’t help us win, but caught the attention of a Hutt who wanted us to go to the post-race gala as his representatives.

I have a bad feeling about this.

The race took up the bulk of this session, hence the write-up’s relative brevity. We had a short discussion after the game regarding the system. It was another session where many of our rolls were abject failures and the observation was made that the game system seemed to be very swingy; i.e. you either succeeded spectacularly or you failed terribly. It creates drama, to be sure, but I wish there was some way to mitigate that a bit. Failure for several consecutive minor rolls gets frustrating. The Destiny Pool doesn’t help a lot because we typically roll poorly for that, so we are reluctant to dip into it for fear of NOT being able to use it when we really need to.

While our failures in this session didn’t (and wouldn’t have) resulted in the deaths of our characters, they could have potentially locked us out of the rest of the adventure. I don’t honestly know if the Hutt inviting us to attend the gala in his name was a contingency on the part of the adventure for groups who don’t win the race, or an ass-pull by the GM to keep us in the game, as it were. It will be interesting once the game is over to go back and read the adventure to see what is supposed to happen, since we are capable of derailing ANY plot. Watching our group play is like a live-action demonstration of Chaos Theory.

Another part of the game we thought was unnecessarily harsh were some of the rules revolving around vehicles. The race used quite a bit of them and it seemed that the racers’ system strain was too low with respect to how a race should actually be run. Putting the hammer down right out of the gate uses up the majority of your ship’s system strain, one more and you’re essentially out of the race. So, you can hammer it right out of the gate and stay competitive, or play it really conservative and hope to catch up. In the meantime, the other ships are trying to shoot you down so your co-pilot has a choice: shoot back or try to recover strain. Of course the system is really swingy, so at least 1/2 the time you’ll fail to recover any strain (note: I have not crunched the math and worked out the exact probabilities, nor do I plan to do so; these are my impressions).

It was dramatic. It was edge-of-our-seat (though less so for those of us not actually piloting our racer; though the GM had us roll for some of the other teams to keep us doing something during the game). I still feel like no matter how competent you are or how well you plan, you’re 100% at the mercy of the dice, though. Maybe that’s just cynicism from chronic poor rolling, though. Or maybe, Fantasy Flight Games makes their adventures too frickin’ hard for the average group. I’m certainly going to be watching that carefully when I run my Age of Rebellion game (barely in the planning stages, D&D is still next).

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – The Jewel of Yavin, part 2

This entry is written from the point-of-view of my new Edge of the Empire character, a Duros politico named Baniss Mulk (may Kelko Gen R.I.P.). It will have spoilers for Fantasy Flight Game’s adventure The Jewel of Yavin. You’ve been warned!

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Duros malePersonal Journal – Day 6809 of Exile
While most of the mammals went drinking under the pretenses of gathering information, I set about disguising our racing vehicle. It wouldn’t do to enter a cloud car into the race adorned in the colors of Cloud City’s Wing Guard. I finished my task and returned to our suite. Dr. J had spent some time casing the museum while Herrick and Xena were out drinking, so the night wasn’t a total loss. Of course, if Herrick and Xena actually learned anything from their “investigation” it was going to have to wait until morning, as they were barely coherent by the time they returned.

Fortunately, they did glean some information we could use about some of the other racers. Apparently, one particularly unpleasant fellow makes a habit of shooting other racers to remove them from competition, and is skilled enough that he doesn’t get disqualified himself doing it. I thought we should try to manipulate him into gunning for our competitors, but I don’t think anyone was paying attention to me. They did like the paint job I gave our cloud car, though. Unfortunately, they ripped it apart to remove the armor plating to reduce the weight. At least they didn’t scuff up the paint too badly.

Xena told us about banking droids that she saw, which changed our idea of what the bank job portion of our task was going to be. Dealing with a droid would be easier than breaking into a physical location; much less chance of getting shot, I should think. I made a mental note to go to Bespin Buy and pick up a restraining bolt. Meanwhile, we all paid a visit to the museum. The security cameras were well-hidden enough that none of us spotted any. I found that idea ludicrous to say the least. The Guide Droids in the museum were of great help, as long as we acted like tourists. The instant we tried to get more specific information from them that had nothing to do with the exhibits, they became annoying and unhelpful. I did find out the museum had changed hands since it’s original construction, so I paid a visit to the bowels of the city and the ugnaught-run Construction Guild.

After a bit of haggling, I acquired a complete schematic of the museum from the Construction Guild. Apparently, the ugnaughts have no particular loyalty to the tall folk who run the upper levels, but even still, it required lubricating his palms with most of the remainder of my money. We could now plan our post-auction nocturnal excursion to the museum with competence! Xena wanted to try a test run of hacking into the city’s central computer, and lacking an astromech, the only way to do that was to find a connected terminal. Unfortunately, since publicly accessible terminals were unsuited for this task, that meant trying to access one in a governmental building. We discovered these are under extremely tight security.

Regrouping as the day drew to a close, we went over what our tasks were:

  1. Win the Grand Prix
  2. Go to the Gala/Auction
  3. Bank Job to retrieve the credit bid on the jewel
  4. Museum Job to retrieve the jewel itself
  5. Escape
  6. Profit!

With a sinking feeling, we all looked at each other and realized we ALL had a very bad feeling about this.

Some of our dice rolls didn’t fill us with confidence. Fortunately, the odds of dying horribly, eaten by jungle monsters, was much lower this time, but the risk of failure was just as great. It also seemed that the majority of the tasks we needed to do rested on the shoulders of one person: our slicer who also happened to be the most proficient atmospheric pilot (played by my wife). She’s really feeling the stress of carrying the whole plan on her shoulders. I’m not as stressed about it as she is, since she’s consistently rolled best out of all of us. Still, having all our eggs in one basket like that does worry us. I guess we’re going to have to do what we can to aid each other over the next two sessions.

I’m still sold on the game system itself. It’s a nice blend of dice-crunchy and narrative, and while I wouldn’t say it’s rules-light, it does hit a nice balance. The dice themselves take less than an hour to get used to and the more you play the game the faster the task resolution takes. I’ve heard some complaints that it’s too fiddly and there’s too much micromanagement of equipment, particularly weapons, and space combat is  terrible. All I can say is, so far, none of that has been an issue for my group. Maybe that’s our skilled GM making up for shortcomings in the system, or maybe it’s just our play style.

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – The Jewel of Yavin, part 1

This entry is written from the point-of-view of my new Edge of the Empire character, a Duros politico named Baniss Mulk (may Kelko Gen R.I.P.). It will have spoilers for Fantasy Flight Game’s adventure The Jewel of Yavin. You’ve been warned!

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Duros malePersonal Journal – Day 6808 of Exile
After a dull, dull flight, we have arrived at Cloud City on Bespin. I still marvel at the circumstances that led me to become aligned with this motley crew. I was unable to learn much about the Chiss, Herrick, except that “Herrick” is not his full name. The pink-skinned human, Xena is a little more open, but still a mammal, as is the twi’lek doctor, whom I shall refer to as Dr. J. None of them seem particularly interested in helping me restore my people to Duros and righting the wrongs the Empire has perpetrated there, but at least the reason we are on Bespin may serve to further my goals. We have learned of an opportunity here to acquire an item of great value: a gemstone known as the Jewel of Yavin. It will be a righteous caper, an old-fashioned heist, if you will, but the end result will serve the greater good.

I hope.

Aris Shen was our contact, the daughter of our benefactor, Arend Shen. We were to meet her in the market just past our landing bay in Port Town. Finding Aris in the crowd was easy enough, so easy, in fact, that several long coat-wearing, begoggled thugs also found her. It seemed ill-advised to let them apprehend her before we found out the details of this job for which we were hired, so we intervened after agreeing upon a rendezvous point. Naturally, the Chiss couldn’t keep it (his blaster) in his pants and took a potshot at one of the thugs. I didn’t want the Wing Guard to come down on us, so I made a scene. I grabbed one of the thugs, screaming bloody murder. Chaos gripped the marketplace and Aris got away as we distracted the thugs.

We finally got to the rendezvous point and Aris took us to her father, where he laid out his plan for us: We were to infiltrate the upcoming auction, drive up the selling price, then after the auction, steal both the Jewel of Yavin and the money. We were given a list of people we could manipulate into getting into bidding wars with each other, and introduced to another part of the plan. In order to be allowed into the auction in the first place, we were going to have to become semi-famous or at least flash-in-the-pan famous. We were going to accomplish that by entering and winning the Grand Prix. Fortunately, a Storm IV twin-pod cloud car would be provided for us. 1000px-Cloud_Car_NEGVV

The Grand Prix took place shortly before the auction, so we had a day to gather information and figure out how to manipulate the other players. Hopefully, the mammals can keep up their end. Scheming is much easier without sweat glands and other pesky mammalian autonomic anatomical responses.

Not much else to say about the system. We built new characters for The Jewel of Yavin right after the demise of the characters we used in Beyond the Rim. Hopefully, they’re more suited for the adventure. Our GM indicates he thinks we can wrap up this adventure in two more sessions. I hope our dice don’t betray us the way they did at the end of Beyond the Rim.

Once this adventure is done, I’m taking back the reigns and running games again. It is likely the choice will be D&D 5th edition, as it is the new shiny and everyone wants to take it for a spin after the positive experience we had with the Basic Rules. I’m considering running Tyranny of Dragons, though adapting a Pathfinder adventure path is also on the table.

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Gen Con Tips & Advice

Gen Con logoGen Con is nigh! With less than two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there, here are some links.

Sean K. Reynolds (of Paizo) says…
Gnome Stew (ENnie Awards-winning blog) says…
Erik Mona (of Paizo) says…
DoingIndy.com says…
Examiner.com says…
The Illuminerdy (ENnie Awards-nominated blog) says…

OK, enough about that. As you can see, there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. I am going to rehash what I posted last year (it was my most popular post ever!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.

However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. This year, she has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I could stand to lose 40 pounds myself. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds 2′ – 3′ to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I’m pushing her, I’m watching for this sort of thing. This year she’ll be driving herself and I actually worry she’s going to get beat up.

  • Be Aware of People Around You

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes its because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack. You’re not in a High School hallway, stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, you really need to watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller last year because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to to his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.

  • Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for 4-6 hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses!

  • Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving 5 seconds to you?

  • Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

This last thing is just actually a castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. If I’ve had a really bad day, I hope the elevator breaks and falls back down to the ground floor with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

  • Don’t be a dick.
Categories: Conventions | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition – Jammin’ part 2

D&D Basic Game logo

After a short rest, the intrepid heroes (oops, they objected to that phrase) murderhobos continued to explore the ship. There was still one room on the main deck, beneath the forecastle they hadn’t entered, so they started there. To their surprise, they were greeted by a healthy-looking man and woman. The way they were garbed, possibly the Captain of the ship and his wife. Unfortunately, when they entered the room, the illusion vanished and they were replaced by horrible, rotting people who moved to attack. They put down the heucuva with little difficulty and searched the cabin for more booty, of which, there was plenty.

Beyond the captain’s cabin, at the bow of the ship, they found a large number of the golden skeletons. After inadvertantly activating them, the PCs gave the skeletons a wide berth so they could continue repairing the ship. Our her…murderhobos proceeded to the lower decks. They encountered more storage, and a hoard of zombies which they dispatched with FIRE. (A diabolical DM would’ve had the flaming zombies run around, setting fire to the ship before they were destroyed… but I was tired and forgot.) On the lowest deck, in what would be the bilge, they found a stone sarcophagus, completely with a skeleton dressed in rotting robes. The specter of that wizard apparated and tried to drag them to a horrible doom, but they were able to defeat it (I had to substitute wraith stats… which probably helped their survival). Ren of the Cloak picked that time to show up and thank them for all their hard work, admitting to fibbing a bit when it came to the set up for this whole expedition. He took the two nicest pistols they found and went on his merry way, leaving the rest of the loot and the Spelljammer for the murderhobos.

Will there further adventures lead them to the stars? To Wildspace? Will we ever find out?

*shrug* Dunno.

Upon further reflection, I have decided that while I like D&D 5E as an RPG, and I appreciate the work that went into and production values of the Starter Set, I think that product is mis-named. Sure, it has pre-gens, a decent starting adventure, and a book with rules, but it doesn’t really teach you how to play. If you’re a total newbie, who has never played a tabletop RPG before, the D&D Starter Set is going to be confusing. It’s not going to help you and might put you off tabletop gaming altogether. Despite being called a Starter Set, it seems to make the assumption that you have some experience with RPGs, just maybe not D&D.

And that’s too bad. At least the Mentzer Red box from the 80s had a solo adventure that held your hand through character creation and took you on a short adventure to teach you what the game was about. The Star Wars starter boxes and the Pathfinder Beginner Game aren’t perfect in that regard, either, but WotC should at least taken some lessons for them. The Starter Set is not the gateway product it needs to be.

That doesn’t mean 5E is a bad game. I know how to play D&D already and I like the system. I like it better than 3.X, 4E, or Pathfinder (speaking strictly from a mechanics standpoint) based on what little I’ve seen so far. I’m already thinking of adventure I can run at Gary Con using the Basic Rules, and when I run it at home, I’ll probably keep my game as close to the basic rules as possible allowing for use of the full PHB class list (though maybe not all the races; I’m not sure I have any use for dragonborn in my preferred campaign settings).

Value for the money: the Basic Game cannot be beat. It’s free! The Starter Set is not horrible. If you buy it on Amazon, you’re paying $13ish for a nice box, a set of dice, and an adventure for levels 1-4, so really, that’s not a bad deal. Dice these days will cost between $7 – $9 by themselves. As I’ve said before, the Starter Set is a bad product for people who have no idea what this D&D thing is or how to play it, but if you want a box to keep your Basic Game in, you get an adventure and dice, too! I’m not sorry I bought it; I may even run the adventure some day (or at least steal some ideas from it).

It’s too early to judge the full game of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, but I am looking forward to getting the full rules now, where I was ambivalent prior to playing the basic game. I think I will be adopting as my go-to edition of D&D, based on what I know now. As I have changed my mind on this matter before, I reserve the right to do so again if I get the PHB & DMG, look at them, and have a WTF??? reaction. I have a hard time believing the full rules, if they’re as modular as I’ve been lead to believe, will be so radically different from the game I just played.

TL;DR Summary: I liked D&D 5E. If you find 3.x/Pathfinder and/or 4E to be too complex or just not to your liking, if you think AD&D or BECMI D&D did it better, you might want to give this edition a chance.

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Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition – Jammin’

When the new D&D Starter Set and Basic Rules came out, my players asked me to run a few sessions of it before Gen Con. One was going to be playing several games and the other was going to be running several games. We were between Star Wars adventures at the time, so everyone agreed it would be a good time for a 2-shot game of D&D, using brand-spanking new rules!

I’m sure the adventure within the Starter Set is fine, but it looked like it would be too long for my group to finish in two four-hour sessions. We only meet every other week and most of us don’t interact much outside of the game, so those four hours are not four hours straight of gaming, it’s more like two-and-a-half hours of gaming and an hour-and-a-half of bullshit, and that’s IF everyone shows up on time. (That’s not a judgement of my players, it’s just the way things are; we’re all adults with families and lives and none of us consider gaming to be Serious Business™.)

So, I selected a shorter adventure, “Jammin'” by James Ward from Dungeon magazine #21 (January/February 1990). I heard 5E was really good with backwards compatibility and from the looks of things, all I needed to do was swap out the monster stats and Bob’s your uncle.

I don’t know why I became British just then.

mohs“Jammin'” had another excellent thing going for it: it enabled me to use the giant sailing ship cardstock model my wife made for our Goblin Skulls & Shackles Pathfinder game. It seemed a shame to have it continue to collect dust in the closet when this would be a perfect opportunity to make use of it again.

And so, we embarked upon another edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

There were 4 characters
Naivara Laidon (Silverfrond), a wood elf rogue
Rurin Stoneforge, a hill dwarf cleric
Salazar Thrace, a human wizard
Ebenezer, a human fighter

It was pretty classic party. They went around the table and introduced themselves and talked a bit about their backgrounds, flaws, etc. Everyone seemed to enjoy the mechanics of backgrounds, personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. I know some people will be thinking “I’m a role-player, I don’t need the game to tell me how my character is supposed to act. Warrrgggbarglllleeee WORST EDITION EVER.” There are many players, however, who enjoy the game who like to have such information suggested by the game so they have a better handle on how to create a unique and interesting character. Not everyone is a great improvisationist or can come up with original character traits like that on the fly (and remember to apply them consistently during the game). If it encourages role-play, I’m for it. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s as simple as that.

The adventure started out in a classic fashion. The PCs were in the Happy Stein tavern (they already knew each other, however), and were enjoying a dinner provided by Ren of the Cloak, an adventurer of some renown. He had a proposition for the PCs; go to the valley of Shemar and see if the ship said to carry the fabled treasure of the great Kings of the Sky would appear by the light of tomorrow’s full moon. He found a scroll that told of the legend when the ship would appear (which conveniently destroyed itself right after he read it), and tomorrow night was the first occurrence of that particular kind of full moon in 500 years. He was unable to go himself because of an important meeting with a grumpy wizard, so he was offering this opportunity to the PCs in exchange for first pick of any magical treasure and a tenth share of the wealth. They agreed, a contract was drawn up, and the PCs set off!

It was a long journey, but they found the valley around dusk. The ship, as foretold, was there! It was battered, tattered, and covered in glowing moss, but it appeared to be intact. From the mizzenmast few a black flag depicting a skull & crossbones. They explored the ship and (the DM missed the opportunity to describe the myriad piles of goblin skeletons, including a nasty, ugly dog-like skeleton) discovered spherical piles of colored bones. The bones near the hatch to the main hold were golden. Ebenezer shoved one of the odd, roughly-spherical piles and it animated into a golden skeleton. He attempted to smash the thing, but it ignore him and started to patch holes in the deck. They agreed not to disturb any of the other piles of bones.

There were enough piles of bones on the Forecastle that they chose not to search it thoroughly, though they were able to climb up on the sterncastle. Attached to the mizzenmast, they found a large golden coin, pierced with an iron spike. They removed it and saw that it depicted a vaguely spider-like being on the reverse, and an insectoid ship on the obverse. They elected to explore the rooms under the sterncastle next. The first room contained a score of kegs of smoke powder. The next was a chart room that looked like some wild animal had taken it apart. The next was one of the officer’s quarters and as soon as they entered, an ogre’s skeleton leapt to the attack. They bashed the bony thing to bits and continued on to another room. It’s walls were reinforced, but once they broke though, they discovered five zombies were ready to eat them.

The battle was hard one, but eventually they defeated the zombies (they just Would. Not. Die!). They took the opportunity for a short rest, barricaded themselves in the room, and while Ebenezer recovered from holding off the zombies, Salazar and the rest examined the odd throne-like chair in the room. A large furnace was attached to the chair and after translating instruction on the wall, they learned they were on a spelljammer, complete with a furnace that would burn magical items to power the ship.

After they recovered and rested, they examined the final room under the sterncastle and found it was covered in a nasty mold (I had to handwave this since there aren’t rules for yellow & brown mold yet). They proceeded to the rooms under the forecastle. Ebenezer rammed open the left door and dislodged a pile of bones which caused a chain reaction, disturbing the nine other piles of bones in the room. Yellow skeletons animated and began firing their pistols at the intruders. Ebenezer blockaded the door with his body and defended the opening as they picked off the rattle of skeletons** one by one. Salazar, the rapping wizard*, incinerated quite a few with burning hands, but the skeletons kept coming. Eventually, they smashed all the bones to bits and gathered up the valuables from the room, and retreated back to the helm furnace for another short rest before tackling the right side of the forecastle and the main hold…

The zombies were great. 5th edition zombies get a save when they’re reduced to 0 HP. If they make the save, they drop to 1 HP instead and keep fighting. Radiant or critical damage will keep them down, though. Basically zombies are trolls for 1st level characters (particularly since 1st level clerics can’t turn undead). The first time the zombie stayed up, they got worried (particularly since it took so much damage before they thought it should have died). The second time the same one kept coming, they got scared. They experienced the Holy S*$%, WTF? reaction for the first time in a long time. It was great!

My players really liked the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. It was much easier than trying to figure out who was flanking who and which square was threatened by what. Combat moved much faster than in 3.X, Pathfinder, or D&D 4E, yet everyone still had a variety of actions they could do, at least, enough that they didn’t feel like their role was just to perform a basic attack over and over, like Basic D&D (BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia, as defined by this blog) could sometimes feel. They also like Inspiration.

In general, everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves and I heard a lot of praise for the system. The session sparked a lot of curiosity about what sort of options were going to be available once the core books are out. Personally, I like the way the mechanics are set up now, and when I run this edition at conventions, I am going to stick to the Basic Game for combat and encounter adjudication. It’s fast and fun. I like what I’ve seen of this edition so far. I like it a lot.

* I’m not sure which personality trait required him to sing his spells, but that’s what he did and he had a whole sheet of lyrics to use.

** We decided the proper way to refer to a group of skeletons was as a “rattle.”

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Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D Next)

The Starter Set for the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released on Thursday, July 3rd to Wizard’s Play Network-affiliated game stores and the Basic Game PDF was made available for free download at Wizards of the Coast’s website (https://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/basicrules).

That a new edition of the game was coming shouldn’t be news (unless you’re new to gaming and just happened to stumble upon this blog instead of the myriad more well-known sites). I downloaded the Basic Game as soon as it was available and picked up the Starter Set on my way home from work. I’m not going to do an in-depth review because there are many other sites out there who have already done it faster and more comprehensively than I will. These are just my thoughts on it coming from a gamer with D&D experience stretching back to 1982.

At first glance, the game is imminently more approachable than 4E was. It also firmly establishes the Forgotten Realms as the default setting. The Basic Game even uses a character from R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy as the sample character created during character creation. While I have mixed feeling about the Forgotten Realms, I do like that the setting is less nebulous than what was presented in the initial materials from 4E. I never got a decent sense of what the world was supposed to be in 4E, other than a town here, a village there, and all of it surrounded by dangerous wilderness. A big part of what I like about Dungeons & Dragons is exploring the rich histories written for their fantasy worlds, and 4E’s Points of Light world seems almost like an afterthought to me.

IMG_0932So first, the Starter Set. (You can click on the picture to see the full-res versions.)

The box is sturdy and should hold up to years of use. There’s a thin cardboard insert inside to take up space; this can be discarded if you want to store more things in the box. It includes a 32-page rule book, a 64-page adventure, pre-generated characters (1 of each class, plus a second fighter), a few advertisements, and DICE! These are better dice than my first D&D boxed set came alas, but sadly, new gamers will not know the dubious joy of coloring in the numbers with a cheap crayon.

IMG_0933IMG_0934IMG_0936The characters provided include the information you’ll need to level them up to level 5, since character creation rules aren’t included in the Starter Set. The adventure itself is designed to take characters from levels 1 – 5 and if your group only meets a few times a month, should last you until the core rule books are available.

 

Of course, if you can’t wait, there’s always the Basic Game. The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game has everything you need to create Fighters, Clerics, Rogues, and Wizards of human, elf, dwarf, or halfling persuasion. There’s even a few sub-races included if you aren’t satisfied with being just an elf or a dwarf. As I mentioned earlier, the character creation example references a character from the Forgotten Realms novels, and other examples reference other D&D worlds, such as Dragonlance, Planescape, and I think I saw a Ravenloft reference in there. The Basic Game is on version 0.1 right now. The plan is for the document to be updated as the core books are released. I assume not all of the options available for GMs regarding playstyles will be put in the Basic Game, but monsters will be and probably a few class options as well.

As far as the rules themselves…they’re not bad. I was pleasantly surprised. It feels like an update of AD&D with some modern design ideas incorporated. They obviously took lessons from d20/3.X and 4E, but the feel of the game (based on a reading of the Basic Game) is very much AD&D. Whether or not it retains that feel in play, well, I will find out shortly since I am running two sessions of it before Gen Con.

I loved 3.X when I started playing it, but after 5-6 years, I was burnt out by the complexity and bloat. I like Pathfinder’s presentation and fluff, but it has the same complexity (arguably, Pathfinder is even more complex). 4E…I tried it and just didn’t like it. At all. There were a few good ideas, but it just didn’t click for me. When I first read the book, I did not want to play it. I eventually did, of course, because I couldn’t make a fair evaluation of the system otherwise (and it didn’t seem fair to judge it based on one disastrous Gen Con DCCs tournament). I’m hoping minion rules will make an appearance in the DMG; those were always good for large battles where the PCs can feel badass by wiping out dozens of them at a time. I would peg this edition as rules-medium right now. I could see myself enjoying this. If it’s as modular as they say, and I can easily control the rules bloat…yeah, it’ll be a good game.

Categories: D&D | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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