Jun 30 2013

Big Damn Antiheroes

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We had the character creation and prologue session of my new Pathfinder campaign set in Eberron last night.

Unfortunately, two players were absent from the session, which threw something of a monkeywrench into my plans for the whole “shared origin” thing, but we decided to roll with it anyway with just the players at hand, since gaming opportunities are so few and far between for us these days. If I’d had time I would have rescaled the scenario a bit, but the group managed to get through it with only one character ever in actual danger of biting the bullet– it just ran longer than I’d planned for with the reduced firepower.

The background of the campaign is that during the Last War, the characters were mercenaries in the same unit fighting for Breland, engaged in a skirmish action near the edge of the Breland/Cyre border, brought back together four years later by fate or circumstance as they become embroiled in a new set of plots and intrigues. With the reduced group, this changes the background a little– the rest of the group will have to be integrated in at the beginning of the next session– but it still provides a shared background for three of the PCs, anyway.

The makeup of this group is interesting so far, in that instead of being the usual mix of heroes and professional adventurers, it’s a sort of ramshackle collection of ne’er-do-wells, most of whom have little business being out of prison, much less doing that whole “hero” thing:

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Jun 25 2013

Onward to Eberron

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As obvious a thing as it may be to say, gaming is a group activity. You have to have buy-in from everyone in the group in order for it to work. And while some of the players in my group are perfectly happy to play whatever game is put in front of them, I was receiving feedback from other members expressing preference for another direction. On the other hand, GMing is a boatload of work, and so you really have to be interested in what you’re doing to make it worth the effort. So choosing a game and managing a group is an exercise in finding common ground.

To that end, I decided to drop the Coventry campaign; my intention was to pick up and do more with Fortress of Tears, but for whatever reason, I’m finding myself blocked on it. So I decided to stop and think a minute about what I could run that would please the players (many of whom have stated a clear preference for some incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons) but would also please myself.

I was very surprised when Keith Baker’s Eberron setting stepped up and said, “‘ave a go, mate.” I was quite indifferent to Eberron when it first came out… I didn’t dislike it, and I certainly didn’t hate it for not being Forgotten Realms the way so many others in the RPG community seemed to, but it also wasn’t what I was looking for in D&D at the time.

Some of that was because it looked too much like a fusion of D&D and the Star Wars prequels (with Sharn standing in for Coruscant, warforged standing in for droids, etc.), and my feeling was, “There’s already a Star Wars RPG, what do we need this for?” That feeling was so strong that I actually nabbed bits from Eberron for the Star Wars campaign I was running, and sure enough, they felt right at home.

With the passage of time, I don’t think that was an inaccurate assessment, but it’s also less of an issue now than it was then. The Star Wars prequels have faded into the mists of pop culture history, and the other facets of Eberron can start to shine. When you can come back to Eberron on its own merits, there’s quite a lot to like there. It also has several “tweakable” settings that you can play up or down as you wish. Want steampunk? It can do steampunk. Want cosmic horror? It can do cosmic horror. Want jungle exploring? It can do jungle exploring. Want steampunk exploring of cosmic horror in the jungle? Yup, it can do that.

Still, the real surprise to me, was how well 4e treated Eberron– especially when you consider how it did its damnedest to destroy everything else. While Forgotten Realms got blown up (again) and Greyhawk got thrown under the nearest bus, Eberron got away with just having dragonborn and tieflings shoehorned into the corners, plus some easily-ignorable shuffling of its cosmology.

Mark of Prophecy, the introductory adventure in the 4e campaign guide, starts brilliantly. Seekers of the Ashen Crown, the largest of the 4e Eberron adventures, has as much intrigue and roleplaying material in it as any of the 3.x stuff for Eberron did, and considerably more than, say, Revenge of the Giants. It’s still in the “delve format,” alas, but once you get past that annoyance it’s a solid, well-written adventure.

So, I admit, I’m pretty excited about this new campaign. As always, I wish I was playing in it rather than running it, but that’s the story of my life as far as gaming is concerned. I have a rough campaign outline that should take the game from 3rd level to 8th, allowing for wiggle room as the PCs decide to turn left instead of right or what-have-you. Beyond that will just have to see what the future brings. Life changes are surely going to throw a spanner in the works by then, if not before!

-The Gneech

PS: For those curious, I’m running the game in Pathfinder, using fan conversions and/or custom data in Hero Lab.

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Mar 25 2013

Random D&D Higher-Level Campaign Starter Idea

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This just popped into my head, but it seems like it would be a fun idea for a one-off game.

Create any legal Pathfinder [or insert your game system of choice here] character of level 1d4+6 with level-appropriate gear.

You wake up, startled, and look around. Before you are a handful of other adventurers, similarly coming to their senses, as well as a woman in what appear to be priestly robes, who wields a magic wand. Surrounding you are several smashed and long-crumbled statues.

The woman speaks to you in a heavily-accented variant of the common tongue that takes you a few moments to comprehend. “Are you all right? Can you understand me? You have been restored from petrification by a medusa, centuries ago. The medusa is long dead. We have revived you because a great threat has arisen… and we have no heroes who have the strength to fight it. We hope that you, great warriors of the past, may have that strength…”

There you go, have fun with it. Depending on how weird you wanted to get you could tweak the available classes (say, disallow Gunslingers at the start of the game, even though there are Gunslinger NPC threats) or go for a superscience-and-sorcery angle a la Thundarr the Barbarian, depending on how long the PCs spent petrified. The PCs themselves could be from any number of different eras of your campaign world’s past.

-The Gneech

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Dec 20 2012

Worst Game Session Evar

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I don’t know why, but I woke up remembering the worst game session evar this morning, and I’ve decided to record it for posterity.

It was at a convention. It doesn’t matter which convention it was, nor really who the other participants were. I will say that we were at least theoretically supposed to be playing Mongoose’s Conan d20 game. My character was a Bossonian archer; my memory is that the other characters were an Aquilonian soldier (P1) and a Zamoran rogue (P2). Basically, except for the Cimmerian barbarian, we were Ye Olde Hyborian Cliché Party.

That’s okay, RPGs are like that. But little did we know what were were getting into from there…

(Note: This is paraphrased from memory.)

GM: You’re in Nemedia, all headed for a tavern. It’s getting dark. Up ahead the road goes through a narrow gorge. (draws the road on the mat)

Me: Uh-oh, smells like ambush. I’ll hang back.

P2: I’ll hang back too.

P1: Well, I guess I’ll march ahead then.

GM: A bunch of bandits pop up out of the rocks and charge you! Roll for initiative. (we do: P1 gets a 12, P2 gets a 15, I get an 8)

GM: Okay, the bandits go first. These three attack you (P1), these two run towards you (P2), these two run towards you (me). (rolling dice) Two hit you, doing 15 points of damage.

P1: Holy crap! Good thing I’ve got 23 hit points.

P2: Okay, my turn. I’ll move forward and attack this one. (roll) 15?

GM: You miss.

P2: Wow, on a 15. What kind of armor are they wearing?

GM: They’ve got a real high DEX.

P2: Oh. Okay.

P1: (roll dice) 20! Let’s see if I crit. (roll) 16?

GM: Nope, not a crit.

P1: Aww, crap. Okay… (roll dice) 15 points of damage.

GM: (frowning) You kill that one.

P1: Sweet! I’ve got Cleave, so I’ll attack one of the other guys next to me. (roll dice) 18.

GM: Miss.

P1: Miss? On an 18? Seriously?

Me: (doesn’t roll anything like a 20, so I miss) I waste some arrows.

GM: These two attack you (P1) again. These two see their friend go down and break off from you (P2) to go attack the fighter.

P2: Cool! Attack of opportunity time! (starts to roll dice)

GM: Nope, they have Combat Reflexes.

P2: What does that have to do with it? Combat Reflexes just gives you extra attacks of opportunity.

GM: Not Combat Reflexes. The other one. (looks at his notes) Mobility.

P2: So they get a bonus to their AC. I still get to roll, tho.

GM: No, one of my house rules is that Combat Reflexes mean you just don’t get attacks of opportunity against them. You would have missed anyway, this is faster.

P2:

GM: (roll dice) Okay, that one hits you (P1) for only 5 points of damage that time.

P1: Cripes! I only have 3 hit points left.

GM: Suddenly this amazingly gorgeous woman comes around the corner. She’s wearing nothing but these skimpy furs, and some fur boots, and a big fur cape. She’s got this amazing flowing blonde hair and blue eyes, and she’s obviously a barbarian. But she’s like, hot. She has 18 Charisma. She’s carrying a big, blood-spattered axe.

Me: Well there’s something you don’t see every day.

GM: It’s her initiative right after the bandits, so she charges the bandit that just hit you. (roll dice) She kills him! She’s got Great Cleave, so she attacks the other two.

Me: Doesn’t Great Cleave mean you can only keep attacking as long as you kill each target?

GM: (roll dice) Well, she does.

P1, P2, Me: Ooohkay.

P1: Well, uh, I guess I’ll move to this guy and attack. (roll dice) 14.

GM: You miss.

P2: I’ll move into flanking position, with the +2 that gives me (roll dice) 18.

GM: You miss.

Me: Guess I’ll shoot! (roll dice) 17.

GM: 15. You’re -2 for shooting into a melee.

Me: You mean the -4? I’ve got Precise Shot.

GM: That’s one of my house rules. Precise Shot means you only get -2.

Me: (sigh) Doesn’t matter, I would have missed anyway.

(next round: barbarian chick easily wipes out remaining bandits)

GM: She says, “My name is Anima. You’re lucky I happened to be here, this road is dangerous. These bandits were probably searching for the cursed amulet I carry.”

P2: No doubt.

Me: I recover whatever arrows I can and say, “Well thank you, Anima. We’re headed for the tavern ahead.”

GM: “I’ll join you, in case more bandits show up and you need my help.”

P1, P2, Me: (exchange dubious glances)

GM: You go to the tavern. Anima orders a huge chunk of meat and just starts eating it right off the bone. Then she guzzles down a whole mug of ale all at once and orders another. She obviously has no idea of what to do in civilization.

Me: Uh huh. Well I’ll go find a seat somewhere and order a meal.

P1: I guess I’ll sit with Anima. I eat about the same way she does!

GM: You spend the meal staring at Anima. She’s hot.

P2: I’m looking around for pockets to pick.

GM: (roll dice) You find about 22 silver pieces from picking pockets.

(fast forward over a painful scene of attempting to do a little RP talking to the innkeeper and such that goes nowhere)

GM: Anima says, “Those bandits were sent by an evil wizard who wants the cursed amulet I’m carrying. We have to go kill him.”

Me: Like, right now? It’s night.

GM: “Yes. We’re going now.” (erases the canyon from the map, then draws almost-identical lines to indicate a road) So after paying your tavern bill, you start heading for the wizard’s tower. You’re walking on a raised road that goes through a swamp. Anima says, “There’s undead in this swamp.”

P1: Bring ‘em on! They need wiping out.

GM: Anima says, “Be careful what you wish for!” (laughs the typical “I’m an evil GM and you’re in for it!” laugh)

Me: I’m not afraid of undead. We’re protected by Mary Sue the Barbarian.

P2: (snicker)

GM: These zombie-things come shambling out of the swamp at you. They all have gemstones in their chest that look like the amulet Anima is carrying. She says, “Oh no, they’re being drawn to the power of the amulet!” Roll initiative. (we do: I get 19, P1 gets 11, P2 get 15) Okay, the zombies go first.

Me: Wow. Before my 19?

GM: Yep, they’re really fast.

Me: Huh. Really fast zombies.

GM: They all shuffle towards Anima. (creepy groaning noises) She snarls and says, “I hate undead!” and attacks.

Me: Because her initiative is higher than 19, too.

GM: (roll dice) She kills that one. And with Great Cleave, she runs over and attacks the next one (rolls dice) but misses.

P1: Uh, I’m pretty sure that Great Cleave doesn’t let you move.

GM: Yes it does. That’s one of my house rules.

P1, Me: (shrug at each other)

GM: Okay, your turn.

Me: (roll dice) 20! I assume I can’t crit these guys.

GM: No, you can’t. Also, you missed.

Me: What??? I rolled a 20!

GM: Yeah, but they’re undead. You need a magic weapon to hit them. Anima can hit them because she’s carrying the amulet that gives them their power.

Me:

Shortly thereafter, the session ended due to time. Strange as it may sound, the other players and I did manage to have some fun, but for all the wrong reasons. It was a bit like a cross between a tabletop RPG and living an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

-The Gneech

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Oct 30 2012

House Lack of Rule

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For my Fortress of Tears game, I envisioned it being very much a LotR-clone, right down to the long marches overland. The characters are HERE, the monsters have the travelers checks HERE, kind of thing. To that end, I came up with a very detailed set of travel rules, with hex-by-hex turns that had Survival checks by the designated Guide to avoid becoming Lost, Perception checks by the Scout to avoid unwanted encounters, Perform checks by the Marshal to keep up morale and help avoid Fatigue, modifiers for terrain, weather, etc.

Then, looking at the (mostly) finished project, I just sorta blinked a few times and said, “What were you THINKING???”

It was a very playable system, and did a good job of simulating fantasy-overland-travel of the type likely to happen in a “war against the dark lord” sort of campaign, but when I was suddenly confronted with the question of “How does this actually make the game any more fun?” I couldn’t find a good answer.

Thing is, I can imagine once upon a time looking over a system like this and going “Cooooool.” Because why wouldn’t you have a detailed system for this? That’s what games have, is systems. That’s how your world and the characters’ world interact. You can’t just decide what happens, that’s cheating! But if I’m honest with myself, I can then just as easily imagine myself using the system for all of three “turns” and deciding it’s way too much work, throwing out any result that doesn’t interest me.

At the end of the day, I ended up with a slightly-modified version of the standard Pathfinder rules, which do little more than give you rough MPH measurements with some modifications for terrain and guidelines for fatigue if you push it. It’s not particularly nifty or cool in any way, but it does provide a reasonably fast framework for figuring out how long it takes to get from !The Shire to !Mordor by way of !Rivendell. Since any encounters that happen are only going to be ones that I think are “interesting” anyway, I might as well just spend my time coming up with those instead of wasting my time trying to simulate the boring bits on the off-chance that characters might come to an encounter lost or fatigued.

I don’t know what it is about the gamer mindset, that occasionally gets fixated on the rules as an end to themselves. Maybe it’s just a geek thing. But to paraphrase uber-geek E.G. Gygax, “A good GM often only rolls the dice to hear the noise they make.” A well-run game is all about the players and the story, not the mathematical construct that it rides on.

-The Gneech

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Oct 29 2012

Monday Monster: Mewlips

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The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.

Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.

They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they´ve finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.

Mewlips are described by Tolkien in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, in which they are mentioned in a hobbit nursery rhyme. The poem sounds a bit like they’re a race of Gollums, or perhaps just a particularly damp race of goblins. In any case, in the Dawn Reaches, there exist creatures which the humans call “water babies” and the hauflin call “mewlips” which fit the same mold. Small, pasty, wretched amphibian humanoids wrapped in oily rags, mewlips lurk under the water’s surface, preferring to ambush their prey with surprise. They only venture forth at night (or in the sheltering dark of caves), and rise out of the water silently, looking disconcertingly like drowned children, wielding a spear in one hand and a net which they use to trip their prey in the other.


The Mewlips Count Their Gold by ~Loneanimator on deviantART

Mewlip (CR ½, XP 200)

CE Small humanoid (aquatic)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +4
—————————————–
AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 13 (+2 Dex, +2 natural, +1 size)
hp 5 (1d8+1)
Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +2
—————————————–
Speed 15 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee spear +2 (1d6+1/×3), bite -2 (1d3)
Ranged spear +3 (1d6+1/×3)
Special attack nets
—————————————–
Abilities Str 12/+1, Dex 14/+2, Con 13/+1, Int 9/-1, Wis 10/+0, Cha 9/-1
Base Atk +0; CMB +0 (+4 trip); CMD 12 (18 vs. trip)
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Perception +4, Stealth +14, Swim +13; Racial Modifiers +4 Stealth, +8 Swim
SQ amphibious
—————————————–
Nets (Ex) Although a mewlip can’t attack to cause damage with its net, it is very skilled at using the net to trip adjacent foes. During the mewlip’s turn, it can make a single trip attack against any adjacent foe as a swift action. It gains a +4 racial bonus on trip attacks made with its tangling tentacles, and if it fails to trip a foe, that creature can’t attempt to trip the mewlip in retaliation.

A greater and larger form of mewlip, the “mewlip lord,” stays in their cave lairs and does not venture out except under the most extreme duress. Within their lair, however, they will fight to the death. They sometimes keep giant frogs or slurks as pets.

Mewlip Lord (CR 2, XP 600)

NE Medium Humanoid (aquatic)
Init +6; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +5
—————————————–
AC 18, touch 16, flat-footed 12 (+6 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 22 (4d8+4)
Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +3
—————————————–
Speed 40 ft., Swimming (40 feet)
Melee Claw +5/+5 (1d4+2 plus grab/x2)
Ranged Javelin +7 (1d8+2/x2)
Special Attacks Grab
—————————————–
Abilities Str 15/+2, Dex 22/+6, Con 13/+1, Int 6-2, Wis 10/+0, Cha 7/-2
Base Atk +3; CMB +5 (+9 Grappling); CMD 21
Feats Iron Will, Power Attack -1/+2
Skills Acrobatics +6 (+10 jump), Perception +5, Stealth +8 (+12 in water), Swim +10 Modifiers +4 Stealth in water
SQ Amphibious
—————————————–
+4 Stealth in water (Ex) You gain a bonus to Stealth Checks under the listed conditions.
Amphibious (Ex) You can survive indefinitely on land.
Grab (Medium) (Ex) You can start a grapple as a free action if you hit with the designated weapon.
Low-Light Vision See twice as far as a human in low light, distinguishing color and detail.

Designer’s Note: On Reskinning

These critters are actually reskins of existing creatures. The base mewlip was created from the stats of a grindylow, just changing the tentacle attack to a carried net, and the type from aberration to humanoid. The mewlip lord, on the other hand, is a merrow with the “young” template. Reskinning! It’s the GM’s second-best friend. ;)

-The Gneech

The stat blocks in this post are open content; mewlips and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and his heirs. Artwork by LoneAnimator.

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