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Dragonmeet Report, 1st Dec 2018

Hello dear readers,

Long-time no speak. How are you doing? Having just spent an exhilarating Saturday in West London, I thought I’d tell you all about it.

Dragonmeet

So what’s a Dragonmeet? Anything it wants to, who’s gonna argue with a fricking DRAGON?!

Ahem. As well as being a terrible joke, Dragonmeet is the UK’s largest RPG-focused convention. Taking place annually around 1st December in West London, it’s a good place to buy things, meet friends, catch a live “Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff” and, of course, play games.

Was lots of gaming, more than ever this year, as evidenced by fact there were 4 RPG rooms, as well as a dedicated Pathfinder room, Demo room and usual open gaming space. It’s always a tiny bit chaotic, certainly less well structured than the (much larger) UK Games Expo, but in a way that better reflects the UK RPGing community – cobbling things together that kinda work since the 1970s!  Want to play an RPG? Write your name on a piece of paper on a board. Morning bookings went up at 8.30am for 9.30 start, with Afternoon and Evening bookings going up later. I thought this meant they’d put Afternoon sheets up during the Morning games, thereby giving more people a chance to play. Not a bit of it. They waited til Morning games had finished, and then put them up, which meant at 13.45 there was a huge mob gathered around the boards, blocking people from entering the main floor entirely. It’s often been said that there’s no perfect system, but there are definitely some that are less perfect than others.

Having said, one thing that worked really well was the staggered start. By having doors open at 8.30, morning games start 9.30 and trade hall open 10.00 it meant that there was never the same massive queue that we’ve become used to at the start of the day. The rain probably helped, but credit where it’s due, getting in was slick and easy.

 

Trade Hall

I’m not entirely sure, but my guess is there were fewer generic games sellers in the trade hall and more arty-crafty and indie stands. Cubicle 7, Pelgrane, Chaosium and Modiphius had dedicated stands, Leisure Games had a big slot, Mindjammer Press had one right by the entrance, and after that it was mainly bits and pieces. I wonder if clashing with Pax Unplugged in US had anything to do with this?

I bought a couple of key rings for the kids, a bleeding unicorn candle for the Missus, and nothing for myself. I asked the Twitterati to recommend a soft-cover or small format RPG that I could sneak home, but in the end I ran out of time. In any case, I think being allowed to attend at all, as well as a pricey stay in the smallest hotel room I’ve ever seen, was probably as much as I could ask for at a time of year when money is always a little tighter.

I was also pleased to see that some people really went out of their way to try and SELL ME STUFF! Admittedly, none of them were RPG publishers, but it’s progress. I like to hear people who are passionate about their stuff and it certainly makes me more likely to buy.

 

D&D4e Sci-fi hack

The most exciting thing about Dragonmeet, of course, was my 4e sci-fi hack making its public gaming demo. Indeed, this was actually the first time I’ve GMd away from the friendly audience of a home group. I am a naturally arrogant confident person, but I certain felt the faint tremor of performance nerves as my 3pm time-slot approached.

Getting to a game by trusting people would find their own way actually worked fine, much better than last year’s “shouty man with no microphone calling games out one-by-one”. Only slight downside was the fact that they changed my room without telling me. Dragonmeet organisers emailed a note to GMs 48 hours before to say where we’d be playing and giving us a chance to proof read the sign-up sheets. Surprisingly efficient!

Come 2.40pm, I spent 5 minutes talking to different people to see if I could go up early to set up. Eventually, I got a yes, and discovered I was literally the last to set up, everyone else had just done it without asking – that’ll teach me, typical Lawful Stupid. Still, I had 15 mins to settle my nerves, get all the maps, minis, tokens, character sheets etc. out. Got organised, then went down to collect my GM sign-up sheet as required… and then discovered that my room had in fact been changed. Luckily I had some very helpful players, who assisted me carrying everything across to the new room. But not the start I wanted.

Game itself went very well. I’d dialled up the aliens’ combat abilities, and it certainly made things more interesting. Overall, though, it went almost exactly the same as my previous playtest.

Adding information on how each PC felt about the other characters worked well to encourage some light role-playing. Having specific objectives for each character worked particularly well, giving each player something to focus on but without unduly interfering with the overall scenario.

One issue I have is the middle encounter, to which both groups so far have responded identically. The intent of the encounter is to present overwhelming force and encourage a fighting retreat. But no-one likes to retreat, and I guess there is a D&D mindset in particular that says “Every encounter is balanced, so every encounter must be beatable”. Literally the only way I could get them to run was to stop marking down kills, and just say for every one they knocked out, another filled the gap. Which was a bit clunky and railroady, but it was this or TPK or run out of time.

As it was, I had to squeeze the 1 RP encounter and the boss battle into the final 50 minutes, which was tight. As with previous, there’s an entire area that wasn’t explored, and its just as well because there wouldn’t be time, but it’s a shame, because the unexplored section offered something just a little different. Need to think about this – one option is to remove the middle encounter entirely. Need to give this a bit more thought…

We finished at 6.55pm and were the last group in the room, but felt it went well. Three of the players wanted to keep their character sheets, which I hope is a good sign, and everyone seemed engaged for the full 4 hours. In my mind, at least, I’m absolutely convinced that 4e works brilliantly for this sort of game. I’d go further – I think it works better for this than it does for fantasy. Now as a campaign, it would be trickier. For a one-off, the fact that what appears to be a gun is in fact a class-based power isn’t an issue. In a campaign, when people want to start picking up cool equipment and trying different weapons out, it doesn’t work so well. But then, it’s the same effect-based paradigm that Hero System offers, it’s just a disbelief you need to suspend to make the mechanics work.

Side note: 4e characters are enormously resilient. These 6th level characters had around 50hp, but also with just 5 minutes rest they could each heal around 90+ damage. So I guess one needs to be figuring damage on the basis that you’re inflicting c. 40 damage per PC per combat just to be a threat. My aliens weren’t quite doing this, so more work to be done (indeed, more damage was probably inflicted by exploding aliens acid blood than anything else!)

What looked cool

I flicked through WFRP4 on the Cubicle 7 stand.  It looked pretty enough, but I’ve got enough huge RPG rulebooks for now. Apart from this, I really didn’t see anything especially new on show. It’s a real shame neither WotC nor Paizo really support Dragonmeet. Pathfinder Society does at least run games there, but nothing from D&D Adventurers League, which is a shame. It’s not my bag, but it says something about the UK if we can’t even get the largest RPG in the world to show their face.

My New Project

I’ve proved 4e works as a brilliant sci-fi game, so I need a new project. So I’m going to rewrite a chapter of an RPG in 50% of less word count. That’s all. RPGs are just too damned wordy, it’s time to do something about it…

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Britt the Warlock renegotiates…

For several adventures, the party hadn’t been entirely comfortable adventuring with Britt the Warlock, someone whose power explicitly came from a relationship with an angel from the higher planes. Sure, Britt was a powerful ally with all manner of cool powers, but the fact she only got her powers because of some shady agreement with an extra-planar entity made them feel a bit uncomfortable.

Tori the Bard was sure that Britt could find lots of deities who would be more than happy to give her otherworldly power, with just a bit of praying and none of this patronage nonsense. It would be the easiest deal in history, she said.

Sovrin the Wizard wasn’t sure about that. He was pretty suspicious of any deal with Outer Beings like this, and it was about time Britt took back control. Sovrin felt really strongly that no patron was better than a bad patron.

On the other hand, Pragmat the Paladin, whilst concerned about some of the onerous requirements of patronage, felt Britt’s actions showed a close alignment with the morals and ethics of the rest of the party. Even if another patron could be found, who knows what conditions they might impose on Britt? He struggled, as ever, to come to a decision. Both ways had their merits.

Things were much clearer for Mona the Cleric. Angels were a good thing. Stick with angels, stick with Warlock power, why change a good thing? And Banck the Fighter? Well, as usual, he saw it simply. Without Britt’s eldritch blasts, the party would be a lot weaker. Weaker meant fewer kills. Fewer kills meant less XP. And he couldn’t support that.

After much debate around the campfire, they finally decided to have a vote on it: let Britt keep her patron, or leave and find another source of power. Predictably, there was no way to separate the two sides. However, they had forgotten about Boris the party donkey. As the voters put down their arms and prepared for more pointless arguing, Boris wandered up and nonchalantly pissed into the circle of adventurers. And as his golden stream jetted onto the ground, the foul-smelling fluid rebound with such force that it splattered Mona and Banck where they sat. As the two yelled out their urine-soaked rage, Britt was clear. This was a sign. She would take back control.

# # # # # # #

It took many days – many, many days – but eventually Britt returned from her hidden Warlock’s Tower. She was haggard and pale, exhausted from long hours communing with her patron. The deal was done, documented here in 500 rolls of finest calf-skin parchment.

Well, no, of course Iye-Yu, her mighty angelic patron, wouldn’t accept an unconditional departure. The patronage came with an agreement, with commitments, and those commitments couldn’t be easily unravelled. Plus, if everyone thought it was easy to get out of patronage – why, they’d all try it! And Iye-Yu couldn’t be responsible for that sort of message.

So, here it was: a binding legal agreement stating that Iye-Yu was no-longer Britt’s patron. Now, in return, Britt would need to find another soul to pay for the one she still owed Iye-Yu. Or she could give up the one she’s got, but that might limit her ability to find patronage elsewhere. Also, until such time as Britt found a new patron, she’d still have access to her Warlock powers. It’s possible those powers might be changed, or Iye-Yu might decide they didn’t work against certain opponents any more, and Britt no longer had any say in that. But she kept the powers, so that was good right? It also meant she could keep on fighting, so Banck would still get his XP. Well, mostly. Result!

Now Sovrin wasn’t entirely happy with this. This looked like Iye-Yu would actually have more control over Britt’s actions, not less. That didn’t look like taking back control. Britt had negotiated out of patronage, by agreeing a lesser form of patronage where she didn’t even get a say. What sort of stupid deal was that?

As for Tori, she felt Britt had mucked things up completely. Britt shouldn’t have negotiated at all. Iye-Yu was lucky to have any kind of relationship with Britt – after all, Britt’s ancestors had been some of the most powerful heroes in the world, just a couple of hundred years ago. Britt was a catch. She should just walk away. There are loads of deities looking for supporters. Who cares if we all earn less XP for a while, eventually she’d level up and then we’d be back on the XP Gravy Train. And sure, they wouldn’t be the same powers you have now, but they’d be better powers, without all the restrictions of this stupid patronage that Britt was clearly suffering under at the moment.

Mona was also unhappy. You had a good thing, why throw it away? You’ve got to find and handover someone’s soul for Gods’ sake, and those things don’t grow on trees. Not willing ones, anyway. Why go to all this trouble to get something that is worse than what you have right now? It’s the very definition of stupid.

Pragmat thoughts it was ok. I mean, it was a compromise, of course no-one would get what they wanted.

The party turned on Pragmat in a murderous fury. No-one likes a smart arse…

 

 

Runequest in Glorantha: Home-brewed

With the launch just this week of RCQ – Runequest Glorantha – the “true” successor to the much loved Runequest 2, many of my geeky chums are once more venturing to Genertela to explore the deep mysteries of the cults, runes and deadly combat from back on the day.

So what better time for my dear friend Stephen (@smginnessuk) , GM of our Runequest 2 campaign, to share his house-rules for elevating an aged system for a more enlightened gaming age…

Introduction

I played my first game of Runequest in 1978.  I played it almost exclusively until it made it to third edition.  My lack of enthusiasm for the new edition, the stuttering publication of that edition along with a distancing of the game from Glorantha, and several life events meant that I rarely played the game between 1987 and just a few years ago.  That did not mean I stopped reading stuff or buying almost everything Glorantha that I could put my hands on.

I did play a lot of other games, including a variety of other Gloranthan related systems: Mongoose Runequest, Design Mechanism Runequest, Hero Wars, HeroQuest.  When I came back to RQII I fell in love with its simplicity all over again but there were things that rankled me, especially when I no longer had the copious amounts of free time to play, or to manage the detail of the second edition. Not to mention having been spoiled by modern systems that accommodate narrative gameplay and give agency to the players.

Now Chaosium just releasing a successor to RQII, I thought before I read the shiny new PDF that this would be a good time to show others how I adapted RQII and imported things from other iterations of Glorantha to allow me to play Runequest now.  This is my first real attempt to do this and it will change and adapt to my players responses, its inability to cope with at the table situations and new cool ideas that I come across.

The main changes I’ve made fall into three categories:

  • Character design
  • Running the game
  • Heroquesting

The latter two will follow in a day or two. But, to kick things off…

Character Design

Characters are rolled and written up using pure RQII, just like I did it in 1978. Statistics, modifiers, spells and skills. I add the the previous experience rules to get more experienced starting characters, but that is as far things go there.

I do not use the old character sheet, but have designed my own, one based on the Heroquest way of doing things and designed to put the key information front-and-centre in a way that really supports play at the table.

Gundrig-RQ1-page-001

Skill Groups

This is where things start to change a little. Skills are organised into three key skill groups.  This is often narrative background things like “Pavis born and bred”, “Initiate of Orlanth” or “Experienced scout” with all of a character’s skills organised underneath those.  Each group is then assigned a skill level based on the best five skills in the group.  The skill groups have threshold numbers: 15%, 30%, 50%, 70%, 90% and 120% which I assign the titles used in the Robin D. Law’s King of Dragon Pass game: Fair, Good, Very good, Excellent, Reknowned and Heroic.

All skills that fall into the group are then treated as operating at at least the threshold skill level.

The upshot is that a character with Good “Pavis born and bred” can tell the GM at any time that someone born and bred in Pavis’ dusty streets should be able to find a decent short cut to Gimpy’s and use 30% as a chance for that.  The player might then list “Pavis backstreets” at 30% on the sheet and, if successful, give it a tick for later experience checks.  It is a way of providing a broad base to skills and allowing players to more effectively play the character they envisaged without having to think of every little skill they might need.

Gundrig-RQ2-page-001

The other aspect of skill groups is that once five skills within the group have advanced beyond the next threshold, the threshold goes up and so every skill goes up to the threshold.  E.g. a Good “Initiate of Orlanth” has just raised his broadsword attack to 70%.  Within this skill group, he already has Spot Hidden at 85%, Riding at 80%, Evaluate Treasure at 70% and Camouflage at 75% (all skills the player and GM agreed fitted within this skill group).  As broadsword attack was the fifth skill in this group to get to 70%, the skill group is now Very Good and all skills within it – including any new skills the player comes up with in play that fit within this this group – will be at 70%.

This reflects the idea that during down time, when they are living their lives rather than adventuring, characters maintain and update the skills associated with that life.  Initiates of Orlanth will find themselves using skills that such initiates use on a regular basis.

Next-up: Running the Game (coming soon!)

Xeno-Hunters

I’ve always had a soft spot for D&D 4th edition. Sure, it never felt like D&D for me, but the core engine was just so unlike anything we’d seen before in table-top RPGs.

My previous efforts to convert D&D4e into a fast-paced dungeon-crawl boardgame were documented on here some time ago, an experimental project which showed some promise but perhaps not quite enough to keep me interested.

However, a tweet from Dungeon World co-author, Adam Koebel (@skinnyghost), got me all a tingly again. Another bit of Dice Mechanic tweakery was on the cards…

image002

Creating Xeno-Hunters

Aim: to create an X-Com or Aliens themed game, based on the D&D 4th edition rule-set.

Methodology: I wanted to prove Adam’s thesis to its fullest extent. I knew I could house-rule and tweak 4e to make a sci-fi game – however, if I was to do this, I wanted to make it as close to vanilla 4e as possible. Reskinned but not house-ruled.

Browsing the Player’s Handbook, it wasn’t too difficult to start to equate different character classes to equivalent sci-fi roles. In 4th edition, Fighters are very much the tanks and blockers of the game, taking the hits and holding up the enemy so their colleagues can deal the killing blows. To me, the immediate image that came to mind was a power-armoured Space Marine struggling to hold back a scuttling mass of insectoid aliens. Wizard’s area effect spells are just magical hand-bombs. Ranger sharp-shooters are clearly 4th edition’s Snipers. Easy.

I decided to make the characters at Sixth level: this gives them a few more powers and feats, a few magic items and allows me a wider range of opponents straight out of the Monster Manual to match them up against.

Results: I’ve created six characters, almost 100% 4th edition compliant, and absolutely sci-fi through and through. I used standard character generation rules, races, powers, feats and equipment. The four relatively minor changes were as follows:

  • Feats: I accidentally gave characters one Feat too many. I spotted this on the 4th character, but by then I was committed and couldn’t be bothered to go back 🙂
  • Weapons: I created a custom weapon for the Assault Trooper, as nothing quite fitted. But I still think it’s broadly balanced in the context of 4e weapons. Everything else is a standard 4e weapon (though there’s a Bastard Sword and a Superior Crossbow in there if you can spot them)
  • Magic Items: the game does have rules for giving magic items to characters created above 1st level. However, instead, I calculated how many items an equivalent party would have earned through play and then shared them out.
  • Sniping: the 4e Player’s Handbook clearly says that Crossbows can be used for Sneak Attacks, but looking online it seems that may have been errata’d to just “Hand Crossbows”. I figured spending a Feat to broaden to all Crossbows wasn’t unreasonable, based on the precedent of the Elf’s Treetop Sniper feat.

The only change I made from my original vision was that, on studying the abilities a bit closer, I decided to make the Close Assault Trooper the Ranger, and the Sniper is a Rogue. It was pretty interchangeable, both classes have great abilities to cover both of these roles.

The Salvageers

After all this, here are the six characters: Salvageers, private contractors making a living by clearing out alien bug infestations from abandoned space wrecks.

I’ve re-designed the character sheet to completely mask it’s origins. I decided if I was going to re-skin things, I was going to re-skin everything. I tried to give it a sci-fi feel and also bury the abilities granted by Race, Class and Magic Items into themed power-sets.

Cleric / Commander: Warlord might be the obvious example for the Leader of this gang of XenoHunters, but Warlords don’t have ranged powers and I wanted to change as little as possible. I think the Commander makes for an interesting and effective character – and probably the only character in the party that is absolutely essential to make the party work.

Fighter / Power Trooper: a Goliath with a good spread of defensive-focused magic items and here you have it, a walking juggernaut who is probably the sole melee combatant as often as not.

Ranger / Assault Trooper: makes the most of the Ranger’s Prime Shot ability and range of move-and-attack combinations to be the group’s scout. And yes, he’s a halfling, but don’t hold that against him.

Rogue / Sniper: with a number of stealthy assassin-type feats in one of the later 4e character books, I was able to create a very effective ranged character. Indeed, in comparison, I feel like the Assault Trooper is a little hard-done-by

Sniper

Wizard / Grenadier: the basic powers were easy enough, but I had to exercise some creativity with the utility abilities a wizard has. I think it works pretty well, a bit fragile but a fun character to play.

Warlock / Psychic: an absolute loony-tunes of a character, with a range of very deadly attacks and a don’t-give-a-damn attitude. I decided to make the psychic abilities Encounter and Daily powers only, as I didn’t feel a constant flurry of psychic blasts fitted the sci-fi psionic aesthetic.

Psychic

I’d love to hear your thoughts / comments, either on the feedback below or via Twitter.

Next up: XenoHunters: the scenario. You’ll be amazed how a simple name change and bit of colourful description can turn a D&D standard into a scuttling alien menace…

The Belgarithon

I started it with a couple of not-entirely-favourable tweets on my reading of David Edding’s “Pawn of Prophecy”, first of the famous fantasy quintet, the Belgariad.pawn-of-prophecy

It ended with a group of UK Twitter geeks committing to reading (or re-reading in most cases) the entire sequence of books in a kind of virtual geeky bookclub. All five of them. Or perhaps ten. Or maybe fifteen. It really depends who’s counting.

Anyway, if you’re of a geeky bent and want to join in, just follow #belgarithon on Twitter. And read Pawn of Prophecy by the end of February.

We’ll probably discuss it. Somehow. And then read the next one. I think it’s Rook of Destiny. Or King of Fate. Or perhaps Knight to Queen’s Bishop of Doom. Something like that…

Forth #Belgarithon!!!

 

 

Torchbearer character sheets – for newbies

Will be running a short try-out of the Fantasy dungeon-crawl RPG Torchbearer in a week or two. It’s a wonderful game, full of complex interlocking game mechanics that support rather than replace role-playing – at least that’s the theory. It puts a lot of pressure on the GM, both in terms of system mastery and improvising when character’s rolls don’t quite go as intended.

Invariably, I create new character sheets for every game I run. I find most default character sheets are messy and over-written, so I try to emphasise the key features while removing unnecessary detail for players who don’t know the system.

This is my first effort to do this for Torchbearer – the level of mechanical crunch that players directly interact with make it hard to strip back to the level I’d like, but what I have been able to do is only retain the elements that players will directly interact with in their first few sessions.

Unusually for me, I decided to do this in Powerpoint rather than Excel. Sssh, please don’t tell. Both .pptx and .pdf versions can be downloaded using the links below.

PDF version (non-editable)

PPTX version (editable)