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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Oct 26 2012

For #GhostbustersFriday — Custom Ghostbusters Gaming Minis

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The figures are done! After a few sessions of the Savage World of Ghostbusters using the closest minis I had on hand, I decided I had to have proper GB minis. I took a long look at Carmen’s Fun Painty Time set of Ghostbusters minis, and while I don’t have Carmen’s sculpting chops, I am pretty pleased with the final result. For those interested in the process, I figured I’d write up some details here. You can click through any of the pics to see larger versions.

Read more »

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Apr 16 2012

Monster Monday: Goblin Wolfrider

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Not as dangerous as a full-blown worg rider, goblin wolfriders are still very effective scouts, infiltrators (thanks to their pass without trace spell) or light cavalry. Wolves are also less likely to get annoyed at their goblin riders, turn on them, and eat them in the middle of combat.

Not that it doesn’t happen. Just not as often.

NOTE: Golarion goblins may (and usually do) take Goblin Dogs in place of wolves as animal companions. The statblock here is for my own game, in which the gobbies stick with wolves.

Somebody save that poor pooch!

Goblin Wolfrider (CR 1/2)

Male Goblin Druid 1/Warrior 1 NE Small Humanoid (Goblinoid)
Init +1; Senses Darkvision (60 feet); Perception +6


AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 16 (+4 armor, +1 shield, +1 Dex, +1 size)
hp 16 (1d10+1d8+2)
Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +4


Spd 20 ft. (on foot); 50 ft. (mounted)
Melee Lance +3 (1d6+1/20/x3)
Ranged Shortspear +3 (1d4+1/20/x2)
Druid Spells Known (CL 1, 3 melee touch, 3 ranged touch):
1 (2/day) Pass without Trace (DC 13), Jump (DC 13)
0 (at will) Resistance (DC 12), Know Direction (DC 12), Spark (DC 12)


Str 13/+1, Dex 13/+1, Con 12/+1, Int 10, Wis 14/+2, Cha 8/-1
Base Atk +1; CMB +1; CMD 12
Feats Druid Weapon Proficiencies, Mounted Combat
Skills Handle Animal +3, Intimidate +3, Perception +6, Ride +5, Stealth +9, Survival +8
Languages Common, Druidic, Goblin
SQ Animal Companion Link (Ex), Nature Sense (Ex), Share Spells with Companion (Ex), Spontaneous Casting, Wild Empathy +0 (Ex)


Mounted Combat Once per round you can attempt to negate a hit to your mount in combat.
Share Spells with Companion (Ex) Spells cast on you can also affect your Companion, if it’s within 5 feet.
Spontaneous Casting The Druid can convert stored spells into Summon Nature’s Ally spells.

Wolf Goblin Mount (Animal Companion) (CR –)

Male Wolf N Medium Animal
Init +2; Senses Low-Light Vision, Scent; Perception +5


AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 13 (+4)
Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +1


Spd 50 ft.
Melee Bite +3 (1d6+1/20/x2) plus Trip


Str 13/+1, Dex 15/+2, Con 15/+2, Int 2/-4, Wis 12/+1, Cha 6/-2
Base Atk +1; CMB +2; CMD 14 (18 vs. Trip)
Feats Weapon Focus: Bite
Tricks Attack, Combat Riding, Come, Defend, Down, Guard, Heel, Track
Skills Perception +5, Stealth +6
SQ Combat Riding, Track


Scent (Ex) Detect opponents within 15+ feet by sense of smell.
Track The animal will track a scent. +4 to Survival when tracking by Scent.
Trip (Ex) You can make a trip attempt on a successful attack.

-The Gneech

The text is open content using the OGL. “Goblin Wolfrider” was created by John “The Gneech” Robey. The illustration is from Paizo Publishing’s Rise of the Runelords and belongs to them. Stat blocks created by Hero Lab®.

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Apr 12 2012

When the Dice Hit the Mat

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Well it looks like my new campaign is going to start this weekend. I spent most of last weekend working up the first scenario (hanging out at the in-laws’ place with no internet to speak of makes for lots of focused time with a notebook and pen), and having received the campaign “handbook” the players are tossing character ideas around (so far 2/4 on halflings, which is strangely appropriate).

I mentioned before that this game isn’t like the others I’ve done recently, but is a “dig in, make lots of lore and background, go heavy on plot” type of game. This is fine and dandy as a mental exercise when putting the background together, but at some point it all has to become “real” and the character party has to inhabit the world. When the dice hit the mat, will all that pre-work make it awesome, or will the whole thing just go thud?

By a peculiar coincidence, Gnome Stew once again posts a blog entry that meshes up with the issues at hand nicely, this time about “Campaign Greatness.”

Some campaigns are not that good, some are fine, and some are ones we never forget. In my last article I talked about my Elhal campaign, and how it was one of the great ones. In a discussion on G+ (btw, Circle +Gnome Stew), some Plussers asked me what made Elhal so great. So I did some soul searching, as well as asked some of my players and we came up with some factors that not only made Elhal great, but could make any game achieve greatness.

Why Did It Work?

On the surface there is nothing about Elhal that was different from a hundred other fantasy stories. What then made it stand out? Here are some of the conclusions my players and I came up with:

Clear Sense of Purpose – From the initial pitch for the campaign, it was clear that the goal of the campaign was to de-throne the Demon King. Other things would happen along the way, but everyone knew where the game was going. This purpose was a beacon for the players. No matter what was going on, they knew what they were working towards.

Epic Feel – Elhal was an epic story, and thus it was clear that the fate of humanity was at stake. Likewise, it was clear that the characters were not just adventurers but people of purpose. That was conveyed through the tone of the game especially in the way NPC’s regarded the players.

Characters Tied To the Setting – The players did a great job of making characters who were tied directly into the setting. There were no Weirdos and no lone wolves. One character was the son of one of the Kings who fell to the Demon King, the other was the grandson of the King’s assassin. The third initially had a mysterious background with hints of the divine, but I would add some elements to that and fully embed him into the core of the game.

Say “Yes, And…” – There was a lot of saying Yes on my part. I worked very hard not to stifle any of the players enthusiasm, so when a player asked for something, I tried very hard to make that happen within the game, and the characters would have to earn the thing they wanted. When the players said that they would need a base of operations to mount their rebellion, I worked up an arc that would lead them to liberating a city under a terrible curse.

Outside Communication – The players were so excited that discussions of the game would spill into email between sessions. These discussions were almost always in first person and often represented in depth discussions about the situations the characters faced. Those metagame moments reinforced the game and added great depth to the campaign, and growth to the characters.

These are all elements that I’ve looked at with this game. Not all of them directly apply yet– there isn’t a single obvious “Demon King” for the players to rally against at this stage for instance, aside from an obvious Sauron-esque[1] Lord of Darkness too remote and powerful to be confronted directly any time soon.

The “Weirdos” points vs. “Say ‘Yes And…'” is an interesting balance that needs to be juggled. (And the linked article about the Weirdo Card is a very interesting one as well.) The players need to be able to create characters and situations that will interest them in order to get (and stay) invested in the game, but those things have to be woven into the setting and campaign in a way that works. Figuring out what to do when you are trying for a string quartet and half the players bring kazoos is part of the Gamemaster gig.

One thing I’m thinking of doing on that score is implementing a “Goals” and “Wishlists” system once the campaign has a good start. The “Goals” part (lifted from the old WEG Ghostbusters RPG) would be fairly simple: each character has a broad goal they wish to accomplish, and each session they get an XP bonus if they achieve it. Using the Lord of the Rings characters as examples, Aragorn might have a goal of “Lead Well,” Pippin would have a goal of “Get Into Trouble” or something similar, and Sam Gamgee would have a goal of “Serve Frodo.”

The “Wishlists” is even more straightforward: the players get together periodically and give me a list of things they’d like in upcoming sessions, both as a group and individually. Party wishes might be things like “a party mentor” or “to fight a dragon,” whereas individual wishes could be anything from “a magic spear” to “an NPC romance.”

Since the character creation process has been a bit more curtailed for this game than it usually is for my games, and there are limited options for things like buying gear upgrades over time, the idea is that these things will give players some extra control over the long-term story to compensate.

-The Gneech

[1] Strictly speaking, more Morgoth-esque, actually. Point is: definitely not an immediate concern.

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