On Reflections in Wildspace

I love the Spelljammer setting. It is silly, swashbucklery and D&D IN SPAAACEEEE. However, it has some issues that occur when contact is made with the players. This post, from the Hack and Slash blog has solutions to a number of the problems with Spelljammer. First, it solves why you can’t make a killing just running goods from one point on a planet to another, in a really nice way. Then it has some advice about trying to do too much, some ideas about 3D space battles and why you can rule no 3D battles (I’d just rule that moving off the 2D plane is a very slow process that can take hours, myself, but each to their own.) It them wraps up with some details on XP, gold, weapon ranges and some other system-specific things.

I recommend any DM running SJ check it out, it isn’t long and has some good points.

Until next time, stay geeky.
—Canageek

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Published in: on July 3, 2016 at 2:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Cosmonomicon: Spelljammer + Dragonstar + 5th Edition D&D

Another post on some cool Spelljammer stuff I found the web a while ago. Jordan Short over at The Mox Boarding House has written up a cool mashup of Spelljammer with Dragonstar, and given advice on how to run it in 5th edition. It strips down a lot of the stuff blogging down both Spelljammer and Dragonstar, mostly edition-specific rules that neither are really enhanced by, and makes a pretty cool setting out of it, known as The Cosmonomicon.

For those that don’t know:

Spelljammer was a 1st and 2nd edition AD&D setting that took D&D into space, and let you fly ships from one campaign setting to the next using magically enchanted boats. It never really caught on, due to how strange it was, and, likely, due to a lot of rules and bookkeeping related to the flying ships and spellcasting in space. Mostly though, I think it was how strange it was, an odd mashup of swashbuckling, D&D and planar travel. There was also a Shadows of the Spider Moon article in Polyhedron magazine that attempted to update things to 3rd edition with a new setting.

Dragonstar was one of the setting that came out in the rush of 3rd party products after the OGL came out and was mostly lost in the rush (The company killing Living Dragonstar didn’t help.) It added a lot of Science Fiction elements to D&D, and made the players trying to exist on the edges of the Draconic Empire, right after a red dragon took the throne and has begun sending out his orc legions and drow secret police. This gives a very Star Wars + D&D type vibe that I find really cool.

The Cosmonomicon takes the Dragon Empire from Dragonstar, some setting bits from Shadows of the Spider Moon, removes the technology from Dragonstar and replaces it with Spelljammer’s flying ships. It doesn’t have all the details from Spelljammer (no crystal spheres or such), but I think that enhances things and removes a lot of the unnecessary complications. He also gives some useful details for playing in the setting in 5th edition.

I encourage you to check this setting out and enjoy: I think I’ll be borrowing some of this if I ever run a Spelljammer game. As a note to my readers: these posts on Spelljammer material are being shared to Wildspace: The Spelljammer Fanzine, which is something you should check out.

Until next time, stay geeky
–Canageek

Stripped Down Spelljammer

I’m a bit late on this, but the excellent Blog of Holding has published stripped down rules for Spelljammer, trying to fit the essentials onto one page. I agree with his point that Spelljammer has a couple cool ideas, then bogs them down with a bunch of overly-complicated rules about Grubbian physics and extra rules for clerics. To quote: “I’ll break out my copy of Spelljammer. OH NO IT’S 200 PAGES! THIS BOOK IS TAKING TOO LONG TO READ! THE PCS HAVE ALREADY IMPLODED IN THE VACUUM”

The first blog post covers the basics of the setting and physics, boiling it down to a short paragraph (plus expositions explaining the decisions to help the DM understand why they have done, something useful for when you want to expand upon it for your game.

The second builds a 20 entry random encounter table that also helps explain the setting.

And finally they flesh out the setting and compile things into a one page (illustrated!) setting document.

Published in: on January 26, 2016 at 12:06 pm  Comments (6)  
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Multiclassed to oblivion

Another post in my series on how to build characters that will actually help the party. This advice comes from a very common character type that I could not stand at all. The overly-heavily multiclassed character. Multiclassing is a great way to meld the attributes of two classes: For a barbarian to take some sorcerer levels to magically enhance themselves, or a fighter that wants to flip out like a barbarian every so often.

However, it is an even better way to water down your character to the point of uselessness. Sure, there are lots of multiclass characters that can do a bit of everything, but do first level spells really do much of anything at 1oth level? If you have more HP then your average rogue, but can only take one more hit then a normal rogue, and you are far less skilled then a normal rogue, are you really an asset to the party?

I once played at a table with a Fighter 2/Wizard 2/Cleric 2. That’s right, he wasn’t very good in a fight due to only having a BAB of 3 (half that of a fighter), he had few HP, and could only cast 1st level spells due to splitting his abilities so many ways. Sure, as a character in a book he sounds awesome, since he can do so many things, but as an asset to the party? A straight fighter, or a cleric, or a wizard with an attack bonus high enough to hit monsters, 3rd level spells and so on would have been far more useful.

Remember; your most previous resource in combat is often time. There are never enough rounds to cast all the spells you want, and fighters can always use more attacks. When you build a character think about this: You are walking along a hallway, you run into a group of orcs: When do you do? A fighter will hit something: The cleric buffs the fighter, the wizard casts a spell, the rogue tries to flank of slip into the shadows or something (Can you tell which class I never play?). Or for the more epically inclined of you, what do you do when you when you burst into the throne room of the evil wizard-king moments before he completes his ritual to destroy the world? The base class person knows what to do: The multiclass person doesn’t. Do you cast a first level spell at them? Do you charge into battle and go squish? What can he actually do to HELP the party? (Not much).

I’m using D&D terminology here, but this can also happen even more easily in point-buy games. It is very temping to grab skills willy-nilly all over the place, and stock up on cool advantages and whatnot. However, you should sit back and go “How will I help the party?”. Most of my examples are from combat, but it doesn’t have to be: One of my old GURPS characters Dalton had a special ability that let him see the past of items (Very useful in an investigative game), some combat skills, and more antiquities skills. Which, in an occult investigation game, was quite useful. In that game, that ability was usually worth more then another bruiser. I had a very fixed idea of how I wanted him to help the party when I built him, I didn’t just randomly pick skills out of the book.

So, when making a character and thinking of doing some multi-class combination think: How will this play in combat. Will my abilities help the party out? Am I worth taking over a fighter, wizard, cleric or rogue, or am I going to be a drag on the party? Also remember; Bards at least have charisma, skills and bard song. If you can’t match that, just play the freaking class they built into the game.

Well, so much for this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that I’ve made you think about making characters in a slightly different way.

Until I think of something else to write about, stay geeky.
—Canageek
 

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 9:12 am  Comments (8)  
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It doesn’t matter if you are awesome

There is a lot of advice out there for DMs. What you don’t see a ton of is advice for players. I’ve played with a lot of players: I was in Living Greyhawk from 2002 until its end, which means convention play with random people. I’ve seen a lot of players, and they played even more characters and I saw what worked and what didn’t. I’m not saying I’m an amazing player —I can see something work without having the skill, patience or inclination to do it myself— but I like to think I’ve got a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. From this I’ve learned something that may shock a lot of you:

It doesn’t matter how awesome your character is if they don’t help the party.

The biggest thing that people tend to forget, even really, really skilled gamers that I admire, is that modern D&D is a team game. There are games where players are constantly backstabbing each other and whatnot,  but most games follow the assumption the designers work with: That a team of specialists, go do heroic things as a team.

As I’ve mentioned before, Penny Arcade and Weregeek both describe sports with gaming (MMO) metaphores, and you can easily convert these into gaming terms. Each player in a sport has a job, and they are very good at doing that job. Now, I don’t know sports that well, but even I know that you don’t have all quarterbacks on a football team, or all…um, goalies on a hockey  team. Ok, so I really don’t know sports: I think of it more like a commando team, a group of elite agents working together to beat obstacles that would break lesser foes: I’m told that The Dirty Dozen and Ocean’s Eleven are the archtypical examples of this, but as I haven’t seen those I think of The Mass Effect Series (Mass Effect 2 was 90% building your team), Firefly, The A-Team, Star Trek (The Original Series is the best example), and similarly nerdy things.

Now, look at these teams: For the most part there aren’t any characters that can’t pull their own weight, and have some talent they lend the group. Sure, they are usually fairly competent on their own, but they really work best as a team. Kirk is awesome, but he’d be lost without McCoy putting him back together, Spock advising him, Scotty running the engines, and so on.

So, when making a D&D character don’t think of how you can make them awesome. Think of how you can make them help the team. You aren’t going to be fighting the monsters by yourself, so why should you focus on doing things yourself?

I’m going to try keeping my posts to a reasonable length for the next bit, so I’m going to give examples of some do and do nots next time. Until then, stay geeky.

—Canageek

Published in: on May 13, 2013 at 8:40 am  Comments (4)  
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Why should we bring you with us?

I’ve given you the advice that you should focus on how your character can help the team they work for, not how they can be awesome by themselves. But what does this mean? Think of your D&D character like an elite team of specialists: Why are we bringing you with us? In Mass Effect I bring Tali for her ability to break into anything and hack bad guys. I bring Liara because she can toss enemies into the air so I can pick them off with ease. Why would I bring you?

So, lets assume I always have the option of bringing the four core characters; A fighter, a cleric, a wizard and a Thief/Rogue/whatever.

Being awesome doesn’t mean you can help the party. No one is going to call a straight class fighter with the obvious feats awesome. However, he can help the part a lot.  For example Suppose you make a character that no one can harm. However, you can’t harm anyone else. I don’t really see any reason to bring you along, as the enemies are just going to walk around you and attack the rest of the party. The fighter is going to be more help, as if enemies try and slip past him, he can smack them upside the head.
This is an actual example from play: A bunch of gamers, skilled ones that I respect, created a series of fighters with crazy high con and some feats when 4e was new. That meant they got temp HP every time they were hit or some such. However, they drained all their other stats to boost con, so that they’d get more temp HP and be invincible. However, since they didn’t have much strength, and all their feats were in that special ability, everyone else could just walk past them; their marks didn’t have any force behind them.

Then there was the fighter with too many HP to die. He dumped everything into HP, all his feats, stats, everything. No one could touch him. I think he did OK damage as well. However, he had no defence, so he always was taking hits, and thus after battle it would drain a crazy amount of the clerics spells to heal him back up. In my opinion he was more of a drain on the party then a boon. I’d rather have your standard, run of the mill fighter, that isn’t going to suck my cleric dry after every fight.

See? These characters, made by decent and sometimes great, players, don’t help the party much. Sure, they’ve are really awesome. They’d work great as the star of a book, but they don’t work well on a team. D&D isn’t a story about Snake Plissken; it is a story about The A-Team. When building a character think: What am I going to do to help the party? Sure, this is a great ability, but is it contributing anything?

Think on that, and next time I’ll plumb the depths of the horrid jack of all trades.
Until then, stay geeky
—Canageek

Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Things I learned at my last gaming convention: Don’t have fun at the expense of the party

Alright, so in my last post I covered what happened in my Sunday morning game. Now we are going back a little earlier, to Saturday Afternoon. Due to a cancellation we wound up playing D&D 4th edition, which I’ve not played in several years. It isn’t my favourite game, and I know the person I was playing with isn’t found of it, but hey, we decided to make the best of it.

So the DM hands us out characters, and I grab a half-orc ranger, and the guy I’m playing with gets an old, knight (Paladin) at the end of his career. Now, each character has a secret mission: Mine is the simplest: I have to either slay or bloody the head orc, or a certain number of other orcs…or betray the party, embrace the orcs and slay or bloody at least one PC. An interesting choice, I think, and carefully watch how the rest of the party treats me as we roleplay. My buddy had the mission to refuse all healing (Note: The DM pointed out that if he was unconscious he couldn’t refuse healing) and then die in battle, and being the only one to die in the adventure. Someone else’s mission was to reveal to my mentor (a half-elf) that she was the Elven mother he had never met, and I don’t know the rest of them.

Now, it being a 4 hour con game the DM cuts out a lot of the roleplaying to fit it in, which makes a lot of the missions pointless, since we have no time to get to know one another.

Then comes the first fight: It turns out there this is the fight with the leader of the orc army: I don’t have any reason to betray the party; no one has treated me badly, so I don’t have any animosity towards them, and we are winning, so why would I switch to fighting on the losing side?. So I stay with the party, and we easily win the fight. Not even many tense moments. Cool, lots of healing left, the Paladin is in rough shape though, but whatever. We go into the next fight, with a red dragon. A big red dragon.

I go nuclear and do 84 points of damage in the first round, but that taps me out of my daily and encounter powers, and I don’t really have much other then sit there and whale on the dragon after that. The fighter works his way around to flank the dragon with me and the paladin, so it takes a penalty if it breaths on us. None the less, it does, killing the paladin outright. Now, we’ve still got 5 people, and our tank is pretty much unharmed, and the cleric has all her daily and encounter healing abilities.

Now earlier in the adventure the fighter tried to leap through a window, as he liked to do odd and unexpected things. So, at this moment, when the best thing he could do was stay there and distract the dragon and try and draw fire, he decides that isn’t what he is going to do. What does he do instead? He leaps through a nearby window (gets a 20 on acrobatics) then runs past the dragon towards the party, leaps through another window (another 20) then as we all hold our breath and wait to see what he does….he runs off to safety, abandoning the rest of the party to die. So he did his odd, unexpected thing, which I’m sure he greatly enjoyed by leaping through two windows as a full-plate fighter, and abandoning the rest of the party.

Was surviving so he could see his wife and kids part of his mission? NOPE. He was an exiled knight whom hadn’t been back to the capital for years. A knight who was sent out to this monastery to learn humility due to his overwhelming arrogance and pride. A knight who was mentioned on all our character sheets as having grown into a brave and noble knight in his time here. So yeah, the DM is confused, the party is confused and now we have no tank (Defender in 4e parlance). I’ve got the most hitpoints, so I try, but I don’t have any abilities to draw fire or anything, just to hit the dragon harder. Meanwhile the dragon is breathing on us, everyone else is tapped out, and there are only 4 of us, so our damage output is way down.

We lose. At the end the dragon had 7 hit point left. If that guy had played his character at all like he was supposed to, or even stayed around to hit the dragon ONCE more, we would have won.

What makes this more of a demonstration of this principle is the game he did it in: 4th edition D&D, a game that, love it or hate it, is all built around teamwork. This is true in most D&D games, but 4e just plain doesn’t work if people don’t work together. As Penny Arcade and Weregeek point out, D&D is surprisingly like sports; everyone has to work together to win. He didn’t play as a team, we lost as a result, and it was really, really boring and frustrating.

My stance is always that you shouldn’t have fun at the expense of the group. This one guy decided to have fun, and as a result, 5 people were bored and frustrated. This leaves me conflicted: Would it have been OK to betray the group if they’d treated me badly? I think it may have been, if the adventure had been set up better. If I’d had the oppertinity to betray them in the final fight, and had motivation to do so (they’d treated me badly) I think it would have been a cool story we could have all enjoyed. Also, I get to keep playing, instead of having to sit out the rolelpaying between fights and the final battle with the dragon. As it was, they’d treated me well, so me betraying them, killing one PC and then running away in the middle of the adventure, leaving them to die against the dragon would have been really boring, as we saw.

So yeah, long story short: Think about others when you decide your characters actions. Is what you are about to do going to ruin the game for everyone else? Are we going to walk away from the table thinking “What a dick!”? Or will you’re betrayal read like an epic tale, spun by bards?

Anyway, I hope I didn’t meander about this too much.
Until next time, stay geeky
–Canageek

Spelljammer and Clerics

Clerics represent how the desire to limit change to the existing settings and/or establish a distinctive setting identity limited roleplay possibilities.

The settings that SJ connected to have dozens, and in some cases, hundreds of gods. They limited clerics ability to get spells if the sphere they were visiting didn’t contain a following of that god. There are workarounds —You could store spell levels in a portable alter, worship a pantheon or the gods of a plane to increase your chances of finding a god belonging to it in that sphere, or worship Celestian or Ptah, both of which allow clerics to get spells as long as they are not on a planet. Therefore you are going to get lots of clerics of pantheons, planes and Celestian and Ptah, but not much else.

I think this is a great missed opportunity. First off, it makes it much harder to bring groundling clerics into SJ. This makes it harder for players to scoop up groundling NPCs they encounter on the way, or to transition from groundling games to SJ. Secondly it limits the number of religions present in SJ, which I don’t think is a good thing.

You have a culture made from the bits and pieces of a thousand other cultures from a hundred worlds. I think of Lankmar’s Street of Gods, with a selection of constantly changing temples from all over the world, many with only a few followers. Another model would be Lin Carter’s Gondwane Epic with its innumerable religions, cults and heresies from 900 millennia of civilization. Both have the feeling of a mishmash of different things, which I think is what Spelljammer should feel like. Also this would open up religions to more abstract things like the Church of the Silver flame or the Ancestor Worship of the elves in Eberron.

The easiest way to encourage this would be to take a page from Eberron and remove the gods as anthropomorphic entities. None of the faiths can be proven to be correct, so a multitude of conflicting religions exist, coexisting, clashing, getting spells no matter what. This matches the riot of colour I see in my head, which would be more similar to what we see in the first episode of Firefly, the Star Wars cantina scene. Luke, a groundling walks into a wild space bar and is just stunned by the riot of different people and colours. There are many ways to do this, but I think the easiest starting point is religion.

 THIS is the Spelljammer I want to play in.

 Until Next Time: Stay Geeky.

–Canageek.

Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Update on my online summer game

So as you may have guessed from my review of Dungeonslayers, I will not be running a game of it this summer. I’ve gotten into a GURPS game on Wednesdays, but well, I have weekends free. However, I forgot how much 1.5 hours in transit and 8 hours of work a day took out of you, even if you have free time, so I’m going to have to limit what and when I’m capable of running.

1) I have been looking at what system to use. So far I’ve looked at FUDGE, ‘Warrior, Rogue & Mage’ and both Red Box Hack and Old School Hack. None of them have seemed to be quite what I am looking for, though I would like to place some FATE & FUDGE. The current front runner for my summer game is GORE. GORE was designed to be an eldrich horror game, in the sprite of another game I play a lot. However, it uses a more D&D like magic system and is freely available, so I think with some house rules it could make a good, if high danger, dungeon crawling game. Additionally, it is simple enough that I think I could convert old D&D monsters to it- Since it is % based I could just make a D&D character of the appropriate level and see what that monsters chance to hit would be, then use that.

2) I’m still interested in the following ideas from my planning post– I’m having less energy after work then I thought, so some of them are not as feasible. Basically I don’t know if I have the energy to run the Dimensional Hopper game and Tangents is definitely out- I don’t have the energy for the planning either of these would take. I’m also less sure of the Megandungeon based ones until I get my feet under me- I’m thinking I could start a standard game with smaller dungeons, and if it goes well move it into a megadungeon. On the plus side, if we use GORE then we could include guns in the X-Crawl based settings if we wanted.

I know what times I can do this at now: Friday night post 7pm, any time Saturday, or Sunday night, ending no later then 9pm, all Pacific Time. I don’t get hope from work until 6 most days, later on many, and that leaves me just enough time to shop, eat and relax a bit before I have to go to bed.  This allows me to move things along a bit, as I have narrowed down the times to the point I feel fine taking applications to join in and suggestions on what to run.

3) I think Google Wave, Maptools, IRC or similar is more my speed right now. I don’t have a webcam or a decent mic, so yeah, voice seems like a bad choice.

So yeah, there are my current plans for an online game. I’m willing to look at other free gaming systems, and if I do use GORE it will be with some houserules (Probably more skills, might use pointbuy. It has rules for gaining HP already, but I will have to look at the system more. I also might tack on a simple XP system, as ‘when you finish the adventure’ doesn’t work in megadungeons.

So, is anyone interested in playing? Leave a comment! Ask questions! Please!

–Canageek

Ideas for my online game

As you all probably know, I am planning on running an online game this summer. I am not officially recruiting yet, as I am unsure of my schedule once I start my job, and that seems like an important thing to know. However, I love writing out game ideas, so I thought I would set some down here.

Idea #1: “XSlayers” (Ie Dungeonslayers meets X-Crawl) I’ve blogged about this one a lot before, specifically when I first mentioned my summer game. To recap: The players are sports starts who descend into short, premade dungeons before a live and televised audience. A Master of Ceremonies runs the show,  providing live commentary, flavour and possibly altering the dungeon as the players move through it.

Idea #2: “Megaslayers” This is very similar to idea #1, except that the players move through a large megadungeon. A megadungeon is one of those giant, many levelled complexes with perhaps hundreds of rooms in it, where the players will never truly “clear” it: New monsters will move in, old ones will leave, and monsters may well migrate as the players kill others and create vacuums within the dungeon. This is set in the same world as number 1, but instead of being a short sports event this is a weekly show. Players still are in a modern setting, but instead of being in a small dungeon 1-page dungeon style affair they are in a long megadungeon, and thus can play monsters off against one another, retreat to the surface, will have to rest in the dungeon and conserve resources.

Idea #3: “XSlayers Classic”  This would be like idea #1 except that instead of going through an adaptation of a one-page dungeon or something short that I cook up the part will go through an adaption of a classic adventure. Probably an old TSR adventure, but I can take suggestions provided players promise not to use out of game knowledge to their advantage. This could very well branch into “Megaslayers Classic” if a longer adventure like the Temple of Elemental Evil is chosen to.

Idea #4: Straight up Dungeonslayers: If the modern-reality TV dungeon idea is not popular then I could go with running a traditonal fantasy version of Dungeonslayers.

Idea #5: “Dungeonslayers Classic”: If people like the idea of mixing Dungeonslayers and classic D&D adventures, but do not like the idea of the modern-dungeon crawling then I could do that to.

Idea #6: “Megadungeonslayers” Again, Megadungeon+Dungeonslayers but no modern.

Idea #7: Dimensional Hoppers: Another idea that I have blogged about before, this game would involve the players travelling across dimensions in search of a way home. Each dimension will be part of a slightly different genre and tech level for a highly episodic feel, but with (hopefully) continuing characters. I would be using a variant BRP system.

Idea #8: Dungeonworld/The Sargasso of Dungeons: Really I can’t think of much to add to this, except that I’d probably use Dungeonslayers, or if I can’t get support for that something like Warrior, Rouge & Mage or a retroclone. This one could be modern, fantasy or some combination of the above.

Idea #9: Tangents. I recently found the Tangents book for Alternity and discovered that it has a really cool adventure series in it. I would be willing to run this with the caveat that players either have to make their own characters or use a premade one from the adventure, as I don’t have enough experience to help them with it as I do the other systems.

I think I’m the most interested in running #1,#3 and #7, followed by #4, #5, #8 and #9, but if I get a bunch of enthusiastic players for any of them I think I’d catch the enthusiasm myself pretty quickly. Also it should be noted that while I listed a bunch of megadungeon ideas they all rated pretty low on my list: This is likely because I’ve not run enough dungeons yet to create a good atmosphere in most of them, and have them react organically to events in the dungeon. The Sargasso would be an inherently random place, so I think it might work more easily… That isn’t to say I wouldn’t try, which is why I listed them. Ideas which I really like, but am unsure I could run, like this idea I have for a game set on a Spacehulk/Sargasso of Death setting I haven’t listed, as I am sure I could run it, but can’t think of a system I am comfortable enough with and that has enough creatures for me to stock it with.

So, does anyone have any feedback on these ideas? Would anyone be interested in playing in one of them? Questions on bits of the setting that seem unclear? Just want more details on one or more of them? Please leave a comment!

Until then, or next time, Stay Geeky!

–Canageek