What’s VFF Publishing, you ask? Why, it’s my publishing imprint! Yes, I write and publish novels. This blog is about gaming, but I see no reason not to redirect you to the Visions of Fantasy & the Future site if you’re curious about what I write. I write fantasy and sci-fi. You can buy my novels at Amazon and other fine sellers of literature.
Last night we kicked off a new D&D 5th edition campaign! In our last campaign, two characters died during Hoard of the Dragon Queen and the other players conceded defeat. Defeat is not death, however, even when one is looking down the maw of a hungry, angry dragon.
The sad thing is, I still don’t have a name for this campaign. When I finally think of a cool and fitting one, I’ll edited the title of this post to reflect it. Until then, it is the Generic Game of General Greatness! 4Gs are 4x the G-rated of 1 G! (Yeah, that means absolutely nothing to me, too.)
The action started with Zinniana Namfoodle, Veya Knockrot, Flint Rockbottom, and Kagark:
Blood sprays in a crimson fountain as the great white dragon tears into Broken Sky. With a swiftness belying its size, the beast snatches up Tobin, ripping into him with aplomb, its dagger-like teeth piercing the bag of holding in the bard’s pack…
With an unearthly wail, its head stretches and distorts as it is pulled into the forming rift. The magical effect is unlike anything you have ever seen or heard of. You scramble to gain purchase on the slick ice to no avail. The dragon’s bones crack and shatter as it is forced to pass through an opening far too small for its gargantuan bulk. Blood and gore spray in all directions as cosmic forces rend flesh and organs. Yet, the pull is too great, despite the terrible things hurling themselves at you.
The stark blue-white of the icy citadel vanishes as you disappear through the rift. Darkness surrounds you, yet you know you are not dead. The dead don’t feel the pain of their most recent battle, and all your wounds still ache.
In the distance, you see what looks like a blurry rock in the void. It moves closer and you see that, not only is it the size of a city, it is hollow with odd protuberances and what look like glowing eyes on rocky stalks. The glow fades and the object turns, then speeds away from you.
Your senses dull and the pain fades. Curiously, you feel neither hunger nor thirst, nor do you perceive anything. In time, hours, days, weeks, who knows… everything fades until you are left with nothing but a vague sense of existing.
Time ceases to have meaning as you tumble through the void. You stray out of thought and time. Every moment is as long as a life age of the world. Color returns to your sight: a kaleidoscope of rainbows. You become aware of it dimly, unable to determine when exactly you crossed the threshold. Light suffuses that which was once dark. Sticky threads diffuse your sight and bind your arms and legs. You’re jostled and feel a sharp pain in your side. Then, the threads are torn away.
You squint against the blinding light. The air is filled with odors and sounds you forgot existed. Eyes that lay unused for weeks? Months? Years? You have no way of knowing how long it has been since you last saw anything, but slowly, the light dims and the world comes into focus.
A worn and well-lined face stares down at you as grubby hands pat your pockets. It is a bearded man who has seen too much life and too little luxury. He backpedals at your sudden intake of air. Your lungs fill again for what seems like the first time in centuries, though for all you know, it could be mere hours since your battle on the citadel.
Blimey! They’re still alive! Captain! Captain! Those floaters we found are still alive!”
The four survivors were pulled from the Flow by the crew of what they soon learned was Boccob’s Barge. All around, they could see a rainbow of colors surrounding the ship. The navigator, a human wizard named Straxius explained to them that they had been found wrapped in cocoons of astral spiders in the phlogiston. He and a minotaur warlock, Sumner Redhorn helped secure them aboard the ship while the rest of the crew gathered up the silk from the cocoons and prepared to make way again.
Over the next week, they became acquainted with Boccob’s Barge her crew, and her captain, a half-elf named Fallar Goldeneye. They learned about the Crystal Spheres and the Phlogiston, and how fire was the bane of all Spelljammers in the Flow. Captain Goldeneye offered to drop off the survivors on Toril, since they were headed that way anyway with a load of cargo from Krynn.
They arrived at Realmspace and one of the ship’s wizards opened the portal through which Boccob’s Barge passed out of the Flow and into Wildspace. Short after receiving a quick lesson on the nature of Crystal Spheres, the lookout rang the alarm bell. A ship was bearing down on Boccob’s Barge!
It was quickly identified as a Tyrant ship and Captain Goldeneye panicked. Despite sounding battle stations and giving the order to flee, the Tyrant ship fired its primary weapon. The first beam took out the part of the main deck upon which Captain Goldeneye was standing. The next cut through the hull, halving the helmsman and damaging the helm. Before the ship could get off a third shot, two Nautiloids engaged the Tyrant ship and they sped past, leaving the wounded Hammership to limp its way to Toril.
Several of the crew were killed and the First Officer was incapacitated. Straxius took charge. The ship’s Carpenter reported that the damage to the helm was too great to risk making port on a planet; they needed to put in to the Rock of Bral for repairs. Fortunately, it was on the way.
Once they arrived at the Rock of Bral, they docked and Straxius took Sumner and the survivors to talk to their employer, Herzog Steelarm. They went to The Laughing Beholder, a tavern frequented by Herzog and run by the only friendly beholder in known space, Luigi. Herzog was sympathetic to the loss of Captain Goldeneye and assured them he would notify their clients on Shou Lung that the delivery was unavoidably delayed.
After dealing with official business, they sought out Xil-ta, the Arcane, one of the few beings on the Rock of Bral capable of repairing a Helm. After convincing his assistant, the Rastipede, Jerry, their need was true, the Arcane made his appearance to negotiate with them. His price was high, but not unexpectedly so: 45,000 gold for the repair. Naturally, the crew didn’t have that kind of money, even with the funds in Boccob’s Barge’s strongbox. Xil-ta indicated he would trade favors for money.
Straxius didn’t feel he was empowered to make any such deals, since he was not Captain of the ship, nor was he the owner. In fact, with Fallar Goldeneye dead, they didn’t know who the owner was.
To the Hall of Records!
At the Hall of Records, they learned Fallar’s next-of-kin was his brother, Rylael. They found him in an opulent townhouse in Middletown. He seemed more put out by the news of his identical twin brother’s death than upset and informed Straxius he and his brother were connected, so he already knew about it for over a week now. He wanted nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the ship and told Straxius he was now Captain and in exchange for doing nothing, he would take 5%. If the crew needed him involved in any of the decisions regarding the ship or its business, he wanted a larger cut.
Straxius and the crew agreed quickly that these terms were acceptable and left Rylael to his wine. They returned to Xil-ta and made a deal with him. His first task for them was simple: collect an outstanding debt from Ra-Jareez, captain of the Sugar Moon, a Tradesman out of Midgard crewed by Nkosi.
They decided to attempt a stealthy approach first and used invisibility and silence on Zinniana, giving her instructions to go straight for the Captain’s quarters and avoid the crew. Though the First mate of the Sugar Moon seemed to smell her passing, with no visual or audio confirmation of his suspicions, he went back to work directing the crew as they loaded and unloaded cargo. She found a trapped and locked chest in the Captain’s quarters, but nothing resembling a pouch with the money Captain Ra-Jareez owed Xil-ta. She returned to her compatriots and they finally decided to speak to the First Mate.
His name was Chezan and he was annoyed that his Captain had gone to a tavern while the rest of the crew worked. First mate Chezan was more than happy to tell the crew of Boccob’s Barge that if the captain had sufficient funds to pay Xil-ta, he took them with him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the name of the tavern Captain Ra-Jareez went to, either the Black Bull or the Red Bull.
Straxius knew the Black Bull had a reputation for being a haven for assassins and violent thugs, whereas the Red Bull didn’t have much of a reputation at all. They decided to investigate the Red Bull first. The barkeep confirmed that Ra-Jareez was a patron, but he was already passed out drunk and they hauled him upstairs to sleep it off. Straxius kept the barkeep distracted while Zinniana slipped away to find Ra-Jareez. She found him sleeping with a pack at his feet. The gnome purloined the pack after discovering it was apparently magical and found a sack of coins within. They left a note with the barkeep for Ra-Jareez to read when he awoke.
They made their way back to Xil-ta’s shop, but by now, the Arcane was gone. Straxius counted out the money they found in Ra-Jareez’s pack and explained it was all the Nkosi captain had. Jerry thanked them and agreed it would be Ra-Jareez’s responsibility to retrieve his haversack and the rest of the belongings within.
Jerry told them Xil-ta would be back in the morning and bade them goodnight. They returned to the ship to rest and wondered what errand the Arcane would send them on in the morning….
A lot of role-playing happened and I think everyone got a good introduction to the setting. Fittingly, the players with the surviving PCs from Hoard of the Dragon Queen were all pretty much unfamiliar with Spelljammer and its tropes and the players whose characters were crew of Boccob’s Barge were familiar with it. We didn’t plan it that way, it’s just the way it worked out. Serendipitous, eh?
A crunch-light session was an excellent way to ease back into D&D after several months of play other systems.
First, a word on the previous two installments in the modern Fallout era: Fallout 3 and New Vegas. I enjoyed the quests and gameplay of NV over FO3, but I like the Capital Wasteland envrionment of FO3 better. The bombed out buildings and underground warrens felt more post-apocalytpic than the endless desert of the Mojave (I did LOVE the environment of the Honest Hearts DLC, though). I played both games multiple times, and at least once each completely unmodded (a real challenge on New Vegas, due to all the bugs; it wasn’t until my third modded playthrough that I actually got Veronica’s quest to work; my first game she got stuck and wouldn’t move at all, EVER). Still, I played the heck out of both of them, racking up over two hundred hours of play time on each game (over 400 hours on Skyrim, though, between 3 playthroughs).
I’ll try to avoid spoilers, though there may be a few (particularly about the opening). I haven’t played through the entire game yet, so I can’t speak to the ending. I do know you can continue playing after the ending, however, so it can’t possibly as bad as the original ending to FO3.
Fallout 4, the latest entry in the post-apocalyptic RPG series by Bethesda, starts off suitably bleak with you the Sole Survivor of Vault 111. Technically, that’s not true; you start off in 2077 before the war, and get to see a slice of life in the final days as you and your spouse plan your day with your infant offspring. The war comes to Boston and as fiery mushrooms sprout on the horizon, you race to Vault 111. Fade to black and when you come to, you are the Sole Survivor… sort of; your infant survives, too, and is kidnapped before you can free yourself from the cryogenic tube in which you’ve spent the last 200 years. Yes, Vault-Tec is back to its morally questionable antics with non-consensual experiments on its residents.
Thus begins the Main Quest: GIVE ME BACK MY SON! (Confession: I made a male character, so I don’t know if your child is a girl if you choose a female protagonist). It would be appropriate to make your character look like either Mel Gibson or Liam Neeson, and the robust character creator (which is similar, yet more detailed than Elder Scrolls Online’s character creator) allows creative and patient players to do just that. SPECIAL is still there, but skills are gone and you’re allowed to put a point into perks at each level (or level up a SPECIAL attribute; your choice). I hear there’s no level cap, so there’s plenty to go around (in fact, I understand in order to max out at 10 in all attributes and every perk (most, if not all, perks have multiple levels now), you’ll have to be over level 220). This makes it really hard to gimp your character by creating an energy weapons guy, then find out there aren’t very many at all in the first 1/3rd of the game (New Vegas, I’m looking at you).
That being said, rushing headlong into every fight thinking you can FPS your way to victory is a bad idea. It’s easy to get carried away exploring and wander in an area that’s far too dangerous for a fresh-out-of-the-Vault dweller. Power Armor makes a comeback, though, and with great power comes great responsibility, i.e. the responsibility to make sure you have enough fusion cores, because power armor actually uses power this time around. It’s also customizable if you’ve scavenged the right materials, so you can pimp it out and make it your own. Weapons and armor come in different flavors now, so they can be found with special qualities, similar to the weapons in the Borderlands series. While it’s pretty awesome to find a shotgun that fires exploding ammo from a game play perspective, it does take me out of the game a bit, because it just doesn’t feel real. That’s a minor quibble, though, because you can still mod those weapons and make them more awesome. You can’t break them down for scrap, though, so if you don’t want a particular legendary weapon, just pawn it off to your companion or sell it.
Fallout 4 is a scavenger’s delight and by the same token, the Settlement Building mini-game is an OCD packrat’s worst nightmare. You’re probably already in the habit of taking everything that isn’t nailed down. While you will immediately have a use for it (most things can be scrapped for parts), you can easily spend hours at a time building up your settlements. In theory, you could spend quite a lot of time doing nothing but. Too bad the controls are a little funky, a situation that will be modded on the PC, I’m sure.
Speaking of controls, Bethesda has committed the cardinal sin of screwing with keybinding. Some baffling choices have been hardcoded into the game. For example, melee and grenades are bound to the same key and cannot be separated. Rebinding the movement keys removes your ability to move around in Workshop mode, making building settlements such a huge pain-in-the-butt, that it is no longer something you’ll want to spend time on. If you’re not a leftie and are comfortable with a controller or the WASD default set up, this won’t be a bother. I’m a leftie though, and WASD is very uncomfortable for long periods of time. Breaking the interface when reassigning keys is extremely irritating (ME3 did this, too). I know WHY this is: it’s easier to design one control scheme shared across Xbox One, PS4, and PC than it is to design multiple control schemes that play to the strengths of each one. Still, that’s no excuse. It sucks, frankly. Fortunately, some Googling showed me how to install a keybind applet that resides in memory and bypasses the game’s keybinding so I can set up my preferences without breaking the interface too much (it’s NOT a mod for the game, so it doesn’t interfere with quests in any fashion). I can’t use the workshop menu at all with that script, though. I’m not sure which solution is better. The script is easier to disable when I do want to work on my settlements. I shouldn’t have to do that fiddle with these things to have a playable experience, though.
On the plus side, the game is playable. It is, in fact, the most stable Bethesda game I’ve ever played at launch. I didn’t come into Skyrim until several months (at least 6) after launch, so I can’t speak to it, but I remember the absolute nightmare FO3 could be (and NV was worse, but that was an Obsidian game built on Bethesda’s engine). Of course, WHY game publishers get away with releasing such buggy software could be a whole essay in and of itself, and I won’t get into that here.
In addition to the stability, the companions are the most well-rounded of any Bethesda game, to date. They have personalities and quests, and romance options more in depth than Skyrim’s “I see you have an amulet and I like you well enough, let’s marry!” Many of them have quests of their own for you. One in particular is a source of Radiant Quests, ala Skyrim that you’ll either love or you’ll grow tired of and avoid him (or if you’re on a PC, hunt down a mod to turn off his Radiant Quests). Gone is the faction/Karma system of New Vegas, now your companions judge your actions based on their own philosophies and the rest of the world doesn’t really care if you steal from the raiders who have been shooting at you.
The skeleton tableaus and subtle back story woven throughout the environment is just as strong here as it has been in past installments. Sometimes, these after-the-fact stories are stronger and more engaging than the actual plot. Someone in the Commonwealth certainly likes setting up their teddy bears in odd positions. I found a couple in flagrante delicato, and another trying to read the paper while doing his business, if you get my meaning. In addition, I understand Bostonians find the geography unsettlingly accurate, if a bit compressed, much like D.C. residents did FO3.
Crafting is pretty robust, even putting the settlement building aside. You don’t have to hunt for food recipes, though perks are needed for some of the more advance chems, meds, weapon, and armor mods. In fact, food is pretty awesome, better than stimpacks in many cases. Plus, you get XP for cooking. Save your stimpacks for broken limbs and Dogmeat (if you can stand the whining when he’s injured, he’ll heal quickly, but it’s REALLY realistic and I hate hearing a dog in pain). They didn’t include the ability to craft ammo, though. It makes ammo nearly the most valuable resource in the Commonwealth, especially once you have a strong settlement up and running providing you with clean water and food. You can also rename your modded weapons, so you could have a ripper called “Dr. Teeth” and a gauss rifle called “The Electric Mayhem.” My double-barrel shotgun is called “Nora,” after my character’s wife who was a lawyer before the war. See, she’d give the opposition both barrels in her closing statements, like I do Feral Ghouls, even after I think they’re dead (ESPECIALLY if they look dead). I also modded up a flamethrower and called it “Trogdor the Burninator” and my scooped rifle is AT&T (reach out and touch someone).
The shooter portion of combat is better than it was in FO3 or NV and VATS is still there when you need assistance (and the annoying, darting giant insects are much easier in VATS). You’ll want that assistance when you finally encounter Deathclaws and Super Mutant Suiciders (they give new meaning to the term “Nuclear Football”).
Bethesda has definitely learned in the years since FO3, and probably have taken cues from other games as well. Fallout 4 is challenging and fun and a worthy addition to the Fallout Universe. There’s hundreds of hours of content here and future DLCs will no doubt only serve to strength that. Unfortunately, as much as I praised the companions earlier, some of the interactions with other NPCs is lacking. For example, the first time I encountered a friendly ghoul in the game (which did NOT exist at all for my character just a few days ago), there was no dialog option why this guy was so obviously inhuman; he just just another Bostonian. As I understand it, there are certain friendly ghouls to whom you do have a WTF? reaction the first time you see them, so apparently, I wasn’t supposed to encounter this guy before all the others. So, it’s possibly an oversight, but it was immersion-breaking.
If you think it’s a travesty that the Fallout series has moved beyond turn-based isometric games, then Fallout 4 is not going to change your mind. If you liked FO3 and NV, you will likely enjoy Fallout 4. PC gamers are used to Bethesda’s quirks by now and know that a decent game by them can become great with the proper mods. Fallout 4 is already a great game, mod will make it awesome.
Coming soon, to a Doctor StrangeRoll channel near you:
I will be starting a D&D 5th edition Spelljammer campaign this Friday! You can expect session synopses and other goodies regularly here! It will be an original campaign, so unless I incorporate some pre-published material as filler (which I’m wont to do when prep time gets tight), there will be no adventure spoilers like there was with Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Beyond the Rim, or The Jewel of Yavin.
The campaign, for which I still have not thought of an awesome name, will pick up where Hoard of the Dragon Queen left off. If you’ll remember, Broken Sky and Tobin the bard were eaten by a white dragon and the rest of the players capitulated and chose to quit the campaign because they felt they were in a spot where there was no way out other than death. I’m using a bit of GM fiat and ruling that some bit of magic in the dragon’s stomach interacted with the bag of holding it ingested when it ate Tobin ripped open a portal which turned the dragon inside-out and sucked the surviving PCs through, depositing them into the phlogiston where they are picked up some time later by Boccob’s Barge. The hammership, out of the Rock of Bral, is crewed, in part, by two new PCs (played by Broken Sky’s and Tobin’s players).
I’m also working on a Fallout 4 review (game play only, very little to no plot spoilers). I’m going to post it here, on Amazon, and over at VFF Publishing. There’s a lot of crossover between Fallout gamers and tabletop gamers (at least in my circles), so it seems appropriate, plus it’s a hot property right now.
You may have notice that this blog kind of went silent after I posted the synopsis for my last Star Wars session. Life got busy with the holidays, sorry about that.
I didn’t stop gaming, of course. I’ve been running play tests of the games I’m going to run at Gary Con. I’m not going to post session synopses of them just in case one of the half-dozen readers of this blog are attendees; I don’t want to spoil the adventures for them. We also played a smashing session of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. It was a Hanukkah special!
I can give you some spoiler-free previews what I’m running at Gary Con, though (DGS is the Dead Games Society).
DGS Presents: Paranoia – Bugs in the System
March 3 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Once again The Computer calls upon you to stand up to the Commie Mutant Traitors, and dare we say, Shoot the Troubles they cause! Odd computer issues, obviously caused by Commie Mutant Traitors are plaguing Alpha Complex. Your Friend, The Computer, needs YOU to brave the deep recesses of the CPU core, root out the problems, and execute them with EXTREME PREJUDICE! Can The Computer count on you, Friend? Participation is Mandatory!
(Play test done, adventure updated, and ready to go!)
DGS Presents: Tomb of Horrors (Women Only!)
March 4 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
For generations, the crypt of the demi-lich Acerak has been the source of gamers stories the world over. Now, experience it for yourself the way it was meant to be, with AD&D! Can you face down the tricks and traps of the tomb and live to tell the tale? Or will you join the ranks of the legions of adventurers who have fallen victim to the Tomb of Horrors?
This session is for the women of Gary Con, only, please.
(No play test, just need to finish the pre-gens.)
The Wailing Sore
March 5 @ 8:00 am – 12:00 pm
A billion years in the future, a village in the Ninth World prospers, content in their little corner, ignoring the oddities and dangers of the world. Farmers grow their crops and tend to their livestock, children play in the meadows, and families work and live together. One day that all changes as a strange growth erupts around the spring that serves the village. With their water supply now endangered, the villagers turn to the explorers and adventures in their midst. The ones seeking to unlock the mysteries of the Numenera may be their only hope.
(Play test done, adventure updated, and ready to go!)
Locks of the World
March 5 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Workers at a dig site near the city of Qi have disappeared. Citizens have been reporting inexplicable disturbances. Is some bit of malevolent Numenera responsible, or worse? Did the explorers unearth an ancient, forgotten evil? The Council of Spheres turns to you to find answers and determine what awaits at the Locks of the World.
(Writing now, play test on Jan. 15th.)
Of course, since event registration hasn’t opened yet, I don’t know what games I’ll be playing when I’m not running these games, but I’m sure there’ll be a ton of good things. I already know of a few; the main thing I have to decide is which VIP game I’m going to try to get into. My wife will undoubtedly want to play in one of James M. Ward’s games; I try to spread myself around from year to year so I can play with all of the Old Guard eventually. So far, I’ve games with James M. Ward (Metamorphosis Alpha), Merle Rasmussen (Top Secret), Frank Mentzer (AD&D), and Luke Gygax (AD&D). Maybe this year I’ll look for one of Ernie Gygax’s games or maybe check out Peter Adkinson’s new game.
Depending on how my time shakes out, I might run a few of these in the evening at ConQuesT, as well, though my evenings are probably going to be booked with social activities since that’s a working convention for me.
On the home campaign front, once the Star Wars game wrapped up, we started discussing the next campaign. There was a strong preference to playing D&D again, so I will run Fifth edition, though there is talk about a Numenera game after that one.