Saturday, December 20, 2014

Doomtown: The Town has Changed

I was one of the "unfortunates" that did not start playing Doomtown until AEG put out the Boot Hill edition, but I feel in love with the game immediately.

Doomtown had everything I loved in a game: Cowboys, Indians, spellcasters, mad scientists, zombies, magic items, cops, robbers, robber barons, pirates, priests, evil cultists, was all just so jam-packed with awesome!

I spent a lot of money, then I became a part of the demo team for AEG (Bounty Hunter was the title at the time).  Then went on to the 7th Sea TCG/CCG...then to Warlord...then AEG stopped making Doomtown, and my sad face appeared.

Now, years later, Doomtown is back, and better than ever!

Doomtown: Reloaded Base Set
Faster, more aggressive play means you cannot "turtle-up" at home until you are reduced to a straight flush (the most common degeneration I saw locally).  Interestingly, this means that decks are usually geared towards just a few values and pull Full House, 4 of a Kind or 5 of a Kind.

The old cards are not completely compatible with the new cards, although you can play them against each other, the older decks will have more durability after the first 1-2 rounds.

Reading through the design goals that AEG posted on their website really brought me back into the game.  With a focus on shootouts and card abilities to enhance gameplay, getting into a shootout is the norm, many times on the first round, almost always on the second.

While a 2-player game can be super-fast (5-10 minutes) multiplayer is still where it is at for a long game.

The Factions have changed a little.

The Law Dogs are still around, now under the direction of Sheriff Dave Montreal.
The Blackjacks have been replaced by The Sloane Gang.
Sweetrock is gone, and the Morgan Cattle Company is now the big money-maker/deed slinger.
The Whately's are gone, but not to worry, the circus is in town and the Fourth Ring is full of Hucksters and abomitions, just waiting to show the freakiness.

Starting with just the four Factions gives enough variety to the game without getting too crazy, the original did the same, but by the time Boot Hill came out, there were 9 Factions in play.

This is not to say that AEG is not planning any new Factions, because they are, but they also realize that with fewer factions the game, and expansions, will not destroy the balance of the game.

Most of the rules have not changed, Lowball, Shootout Hands, movement rules, shoppin', skill pulls, have all stayed the same, Shootout Resolutions have changed dramatically.

Instead of Acing a number of dudes to cover the difference in hands you now suffer "Casualties."  For each rank difference you suffer 1 Casualty.  Discarding a Dude in the Shootout covers 1, Acing covers 2; special note: Harrowed Dudes go home booted to cover 1, discard to cover 2 and Ace to cover 3!

Also, instead of Acing the gear on dudes that go to boot hill, the gear is discarded, allowing you to play it later, of course, this does hinder the old deck-building style in some serious ways.

Currently, as far as product goes, there is the Base Set and a single "Saddlebag" (expansion), a complete collection will run about $50 or so, although I recommend 2 Base Sets since each comes with 2 of each card.  The Saddlebags come with a complete playset (4 of each card) and cost about $10.00, the next Saddlebag comes out in January 2015, you can bet on me buying it!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

SAT D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver ptIII

Tonights session went very well, with 3 of the 4 characters leveling.

The Paladin, Cleric and Ranger are trying very hard to convert the Half-Elf (Drow) Rogue to convert, but she seems bound and determined to hone her skills at killing.

The PCs have started the investigation of the Redbrand hideout, funny enough, they are not searching anything yet, lol.

They have missed so much stuff...

The Rogue has her own special move, jump on the opponents head and start stabbing. EVERY time she does this she rolls 18+ to hit on the grapple, then 16+ to attack (those are the actual die rolls...), so now the Ranger is copying her, LOL.

<spoilers here>

The Rogue found the pit trap, the hard way, the Paladin and Ranger both took the side ledges, with the Fighter almost falling into the pit.

The Cleric just jumped it, LOL, seemed like the first roll she made since the beginning that actually succeeded!

As far as investigation is concerned, they cleared the back room by the cistern in room 1, leaving one of the bad guys tied to the bunk, and killed the skeletons.

Next session they should be able to finish the dungeon, or at least face the Nothic and the Goblins.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SAT D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver pt II

Second session of The Lost Mine of Phandelver, still in awe that people are finding this hard, yes, I do provide some insight to my players; this is the first game my wife has played since 2004 or so, and the first game for the 3 younger players (ages 10, 12 and 14).

Having a great amount of fun, I believe I will be picking up Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat also.

Synopsis (with vague spoilers) follows...

Continuing where we left off, the PCs were able to sneak up to the next cave, wherein there were 3 Goblins.

The cave with the twin pools went quickly, Ranger taking down one of the Goblins and the Rogue taking down another, before the 3rd one could run and warn Klarg, he was dead also.

And "Nubs," as he had been named by the party, was dispatched here also.

Charging into the next room, the party finally met Klarg.

The goblins and wolf charged forward attacking the Paladin and Rogue, Klargs javelin barely missing the Paladin.

The Ranger took her first shot at Klarg, who then charged in as one of the Goblins attacking the Rogue fell, Klarg killing the other with a surprising fail.  Through acrobatic skill the Rogue leaped atop his shoulders and plunged her dagger into his neck, ending his reign of banditry, and garnering much respect from her comrades.

The wolf followed quickly, before it had a chance to run.

From there, the group went down to the last cavern, and showing tactical skill beyond their years, sent the rogue up ahead to scout.

After reporting back, it was decided that the two elves would take shots at the goblins and then the Paladin would charge in.

A killing blow to the leader from the rogue, and another to a normal goblin from the ranger, followed by a charge and kill by the Paladin, and finally a Guiding Bolt from the Cleric, left a mere 2 goblin survivors at the end of the first combat round.

They surrendered and were taken prisoner.

At this point, the party freed Sildar, loaded up the crates and treasure, and headed off to Phandalin, delivering their goods, turning in the goblins for a bounty, and returning the missing goods to the other service in town.

They have heard a few rumors regarding the Redbrands and the Black Spider, next week will be the next morning, their first morning in Phandalin.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

SAT D&D: Lost Mine of Phandelver pt I

Started running Lost Mine of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Set.

(BEWARE: There will be spoilers)

The group consists of:

  • Raven Lawhonor, Human 2nd lvl Cleric (Life) - my wife
  • Wolf, Half-Drow 2nd lvl Rogue - my 10yr old daughter
  • Laora, Wood Elf 2nd lvl Ranger - my 12yr old daughter
  • Aragorn, Human 1st lvl Paladin - my friends 14yr old son

First encounter was pretty easy, as soon as they came upon the dead horses the Rogue slipped into the woods while the Paladin walked forward.

The Rogue was able to sneak attack 1 of the Goblins, the Paladin took out the other two.

(I had lowered the number of Goblins due to number of players and player lack of experience, I will not make that mistake again, LOL)

Seems like the main encounter people talk about online is the 2 Goblin guards outside the cave entrance.  Lots of death and TPK stories in regards to this encounter.

Except for this group.

The Rogue snuck up on them, killed one, and cut off the other one's hand (called shot, nat20, total of 26; Damage of 15).  The party then bandaged up the Goblin to staunch the bleeding, tied his elbows behind his back, and are making him guide them through the caves to find Gundren and Sildar.

The Ranger was able to calm the wolves (big surprise there, lol), and both the Ranger and Rogue spotted the Goblin on the bridge - who was promptly killed by the Rangers arrow as he tried to run in order to sound the alarm and start the flooding.

Had to cut it there due to time constraints, and next week, if everything goes well, they will encounter Klarg and the Goblins in the twin pool cave, as they are making the Goblin take them to the boss...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

GM Notes: D&D Encounter Building

Okay, getting very used to the system, running a game on Friday and Saturday nights.

During the last couple of sessions I have come to realize that the Encounter Building system from the basic rules just does not seem right to me.

For the rules, reference the DM basic rules pdf.

According to that document, the 30 Skeletons, 3 Spectres and 2 Wights the Friday night group is up against is going to slaughter them...halfway through the battle and it is a tough fight, but the PCs are holding their own, next session will finish the battle and we will see what happens.

Overall, at this point I see them winning, minimal losses.

Breaking it down, the encounter building XP, according to the above document, would be 14,000, 35 times the deadly encounter XP allotment.  Without the multiplier of x4 (for "horde"), the total XP would only be 3,500; still a "Deadly" encounter.

But if you look at it more in line with the way things were normally done in 1st/2nd edition, we get a little idea.

1st/2nd edition, hereafter AD&D, the method I used was total party level (TPL) = approx total HD of encounter with single creatures no more than 2-3 HD higher than highest level PC.

The TPL of the current group is 17.  When I total up the CR of all the creatures involved in the battle we get 6 (2 Wights, CR3) + 7.5 (30 Skeletons, CR1/4) + 3 (3 Spectres, CR1) = 16.5 Total CR.

That seems about right if you look at the old way of doing things.

For comparison, tonights game had two encounters, the first with TPL of 4 (2nd lvl PC + 2 1st lvl PCs) vs a Carrion Crawler (CR2).  PCs won with a decent battle.

The second encounter was TPL 2 (2 1st level PCs) vs 4 Cockatrice (total CR2), and the battle was perfect challenge for the 1st lvl Rogue and Ranger.

Both encounters tonight were straight up fights, nothing fancy.

The encounter XP for tonight's first battle, according to the DM Basic Rules, would have been 450, a "Deadly" encounter, for the second battle it would have been 400 XP (200 total XP x2 for 4 creatures), still double the "Deadly" level for 2 1st level characters.

I can argue that the Friday night group is way more experienced, used tactical considerations (cover, for example) and had the benefit of 2 Wizards, a Cleric, and some healing potions.

But tonight's group consisted of my wife (who has not played in years), my 12 yr old (2nd time playing an RPG) and my 10 yr old (also 2nd time playing an RPG).  They did not use cover, or disengage options to move to long range, they stood and fought for both encounters; classes being Cleric, Rogue and Ranger; and they were able to mop up pretty well.

For the forseeable future, I will be using the old method of creating encounters, I will share my results here, stay tuned...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Attitudes in Gaming: DM/GM Responsibility

I have noticed an interesting attitude from some gamers, that the GM of the game is there to entertain the players and make sure they have a good time...even if it means the GM does not.

Role-Playing Games are just that, GAMES.

Games are a form of play, and therefore meant to be fun, for everybody involved, the GM included.

If a GM wants to run a horror game, and the players want to play a comedy game, then it should not be up to the GM to change their style of play to fit their players if they will not have fun running a comedy.

This does lead to only a few choices

  • The GM can run the comedy game and not have fun
  • The GM can run the horror game and not have fun because the players are not having fun
  • The GM can find other players
  • The players can find another GM

The GM decides the story elements, works constantly on encounters, treasure/loot, NPCs, voices and making sure there is enough paper, books, dice and pencils for the players in case someone forgets something.

From my players I expect them to show up on time, voice any major concerns they may have, and participate in the game.

As a player, I expect the GM to fairly interpret the rules of the game, and not obviously railroad the players into something.

I do not feel it is any single persons job to make sure that everyone at the table is entertained, or that the story is good, I feel it is the responsibility of every person at that table to encourage the fun, in the spirit it is presented in.

As a GM, I spend most of my free time working on encounters that will be challenging, fun and vaguely survivable, researching rules and making sure everything is ready for the next session.

Mapping, writing descriptions, creating NPCs, writing plot points, reviewing previous notes to tie things together, going over character sheets to make sure the PCs have the appropriate skills, changing encounters because PCs do not have the appropriate skills, etc.

On top of that, we are the primary focus of the players.  We are expected to entertain, use funny voices, provide pacing and fair rule judgments as well as not (obviously) railroad our players.

Over the past few years I have seen more and more people state that it is the GMs "job" to provide entertainment.


This is not my "job."  This is my hobby.  This is (supposed to be) my fun time.

GMs are not slaves to the players to accommodate their every whim and fancy.  GMs are players who do not get to kill the big bad.  GMs are players who do not get to grow a personality from a bunch of mere stats on paper.  GMs do not get to tell the glorious tales of how their character, alone and afraid, overcame the odds and became a hero.

No.  GMs get to be beaten down and looted, tricked and insulted, left to die or banished back to the bowels of hell from which they came to destroy the world they created.

I am a GM, a referee, not a player.  Not your personal RPG slave or lackey.

I posit that the players are there to entertain each other, but within the confines of the rules set forth by the GM.

The GM gets to use the information they have been working on, the players get to have fun overcoming challenges, and the game goes on.

If you want someone to entertain you, without doing anything yourself, go to a comedy club, or watch TV...but that is not what RPGs are about.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

GM Notes: Checking the Poles in Dungeons & Dragons

Lately there have been many discussions on Alignment in the various groups that I attend, facebook, tabletop and general talk with other gamers.

Hitler, Stalin and Mao
At some point in discussing the Alignment system of D&D (all incarnations) someone pipes in about how <insert Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc> could be viewed as Lawful Good, and then speaks about how they saw themselves and how they thought or felt like they were doing the right thing, etc

This is rubbish.

In D&D, Alignment is more than just how you view what you do.  It is a manifestation of cosmic forces.  Lawful, Chaotic, Good and Evil are present in the universe and represent absolutes.

A Lawful character, or creature, believes in order and fights against the forces of Chaos.  Likewise, a Good character or creature, believes in others over self and fights against the forces of Evil.

Notice the use of capital letters.  There is a difference here between good and Good, lawful and Lawful, they are pronouns, they are named Forces that manifest in the universe at large.

I can go on for lengths of time regarding how the Empire from Star Wars was a Lawful Good society, sometimes it can be fun to argue that, but everytime I do, I have to admit to myself that it is complete and utter balderdash.

Yes, the Empire brought about Order, yes, that makes them Lawful.  But the Emperor, and Vader, were Evil.  They were power hungry despots that had not a care in the world for who they destroyed, as long as they were on top.

The Rebellion, honestly, was also Lawful.  They believed in Order, but they were also founded on principles of Good.  Fair people, and fair laws, must be the rule, and differences should be handled with discussion and compromise.

Again, these are universal, cosmic, definitions.  Not definitions imposed by a single person, their friends/enemies, or society.

At the basic level, a lawful person obeys the laws of the land, a Lawful person instinctively strives towards order and away from Chaos without really understanding, or even caring, why, it is "right" to them while Chaos is just fundamentally "wrong," even alien in their thinking.

Classic Good vs Evil
In the real world, Evil may not realize it is evil, but in the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons, it knows what it is, it embraces what it is, in order to act good, it has to force itself.  And the same goes for Good, Lawful and Chaotic also.

One of the major aspects that separate Fantasy from other genre is the fact that these cosmic forces are there in the world, tangible, definitive and absolute.  Evil creatures destroy because they are Evil, Good creatures protect others, because they are Good.  There needs to be no other reason.

Science Fiction, and our real world, have come to view good and evil as merely gray areas instead of the black and white that is presented in the Fantasy genre.  Evil is a term used by the other side that believes itself to be Good, and the other side feels exactly the same.  Both sides cannot be Good, one side has to be Evil, or both sides have to be Evil, because if both sides were Good, there would be no conflict.

As someone who goes from game to game, genre to genre, I get where things can become clouded and grey-areas may pop up.  But there is a huge difference in the fantasy genre were "Humans are Evil says the Orc from his perspective" and "Orcs are Evil, because that is their cosmic alignment."

I am speaking in generalizations, not ALL Orcs are Evil, not ALL Dwarves are Lawful, those that stray from their racial alignment are outcasts (like Drizz't from R.A. Salvatore's novels), and will invariably end up killed by their own kind, exiled, or self-outcast from their race.

I feel like I am starting to ramble and type ad nausea at this point, so I will end it here.

For those that skipped to the end for the final statement:  Law, Chaos, Good and Evil are presented as cosmic absolutes in the game Dungeons & Dragons.  They are black and white, there are no "grey areas."

Last thought:  "What about Neutrals?"

They just have not picked a side yet.