Monday, December 31, 2007

The Slam! Nears Completion...

After a hectic holiday season, I've gotten some time to work on Dungeon Slam!. With that time, I've managed to complete nearly all of the game components:

* Character Cards--Characters done, stat values added in, starting skills completed. Completed--Awaiting Printing!

* Skill Cards--Skills revised and tuned, cards reformatted for printing. Completed--Awaiting Printing!

* Loot Cards--Loot awaiting revision and formatting for printing. Completed--Awaiting Printing

* Monster Encounters--monsters created and formatted for printing. Currently undergoing final showing markup!

* Non-Monster Encounters--awaiting formatting and revision. Currently undergoing final showing markup!

* Room Tiles--awaiting formatting for printing. Completed--Awaiting Printing!

* Board--already created, and awaiting the other game components.

* Minis--selected and awaiting online purchase. Arrived--awaiting assembly!

I honestly can't believe that this game has actually taken shape in the way it has. I'm so excited to be actually approaching a finished prototype--one that's ready to be playtested and demo-ed--I really don't know what to think!

Here's for hoping that you can swing by WittCon and see what I've been up to!

[Edited 1-8-08, for your pleasure...]

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Dungeon Slam Preview!---The Alchemist Class

More on the Slam! or On Design and Development

So, unable to sleep yet again this early morning, I broke out some of my work on Dungeon Slam!

One thing that the game is particularly lacking is a series of straight-forward damaging spells. Bolt of Lightning provides one such spell, as does Shadow Storm, but aside from those two, there are no major damaging spells. Virulent Toxin and Spirit Poison both fulfill that role, as well, but...well, we're talking about 4 spells in the entire deck so far.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. I like the idea of damaging spells, but I also tend to feel that the spells are meant to be strategic elements, rather than simply "the beat-stick". The weapons and their concurrent enchantments (which stack really nicely, by the way!) are meant to put the beat down. Spells, in my eyes, are more meant to be the means by which you wear down your foes--take out their resources, milk their Arcana, break their equipment--before you move in for the kill.

Beyond this, it's looking like I need to tone down the Intellect tests necessary to cast the spells. Right now, with a lot of spells (even moderate level ones) requiring an Intellect test of 18 or higher, it becomes impossible for almost any class outside of the spellcasting classes to achieve with any regularity. While it's obvious that the Sorcerer and the Warlock should get the best shot at pulling off a spell, even the Berserker should be able to whip out a spell once in a while with his miserable Intellect score.

The gear, so far, looks good. I'm liking where the weapons and armor are, but I the costs have some issues involved with them. I think that's something that I can get ironed out in playtesting, though. I would like to put together some additional miscellaneous items that would add to various Skills or Stats, but that's easily done.

One of the things that's hung me up on this game for so long was the ability for me to get a stat array down for the characters--a range for each of the characters for their basic six stats. I decided to go back to one of my major inspirations--Arkham Horror--for some help here.

AH uses a basic Stamina + Sanity = 10 formula. While I like this idea, as it levels the playing field for all of the characters, I don't like the fact that there seems to be a definitive favoritism. The best characters, almost always, are either 6/4 characters or 4/6 characters. 5/5 Characters lack focus, while 7/3 and 3/7 characters remain so weak that they fall short of accomplishing their intended focus.

As such, I decided to use a similar formula, but with an odd number. Health + Arcana = 13. Right now, there's only one (out of 12) character that has a 9. The skew that weakens the AH characters, hopefully, will be absent, while still retaining the nice focus that is retained with characters like my personal favorite in Arkham, Bobby Jenkins. :D

As I've planned in the past, the stats will work on an opposed slider system (again, taking a page from AH), but with an expanded array for additional heroics. Having a max of 6 just isn't going to cut it. This'll all make more sense once I post one of the first character cards, I'm sure.

So, priorities for the holiday break?
1) Encounter cards. Right now, I only have 6 White Encounters. I need a ton more, in all 5 types.

2) Refine the spells. Gotta adjust the Arcana costs, as well as incorporate at least two more direct damage spells.

3) Add more miscellaneous items. Items designed specifically for each class, perhaps, may be in order, but that could get messy. Center perhaps on skills and class abilities, perhaps?

4) Put it all together. Get the pieces together, bring the board with it, and all will hopefully be well.

5) Run the first playtest! If I can get all this done by WittCon V, I'll be a happy man!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Baal's Just Not So Graceful...

So, after a ton of preparation, we came to the big day. Friday. The Guild's grand one-shot....excitement, no?

No. No, not really.

Y'see, we had a few problems.

1) Announcements Usually, large guild events are supposed to be announced well in advanced, so that the gamers can clear their schedules for a raucous night of gaming. Such was not the case this time. A desperate e-mail went out on Tuesday, calling for an end-of-semester guild meeting, as well as one-shot info. RSVPS only trickled in...which led to...

2) Lack of gamers I did my best to recruit for this game. Lionel, Ebbs, Nick, and Jules all gleefully joined in, and we picked up three more throughout the week. I was expecting two more, but they flaked out on us, which led to greater problems, as you'll see later on. Without a definite gaming group, we were at a definite loss.

3) Design flaws I really tried to do my best to try to make this game as fun as possible. The backgrounds I wrote up were interesting, and made for some nice inter-party conflict, but we never got so far as to experience any of them. Because of the lessened number of gamers (7, compared to my expected 10), we didn't even get through the first battle. Three of the PC were killed at the headwaters of the River Styx, which left the quest as kind of a moot point.

I felt bad, mainly because I forgot one of the key rules of both teaching and GMing--Monitor and Adjust. I should have adjusted the encounter on the fly, to make it more accessible to the party that I had, but we rolled on with the monsters, and Dr. Gearbox, Z, and Theodore all bit the dust because of it.

4) Poor party design/tactics I realize that everyone wants to play "their fun character", but at some point, something has to give. The party descending into the Abyss was made up of the following: a Reaping Mauler (grappling specialist), a Warlock (basically an Arcane sniper), a Rogue/Bard (diplomat/skill monkey), a Dragon Shaman (a commander-type), a Tinker (good for blasting), a Paladin (light healing and tanking), and a Jade Phoenix Mage (fighter/mage hybrid).

The party lacked the following: any type of Area of Effect support (wizard, sorcerer, etc), a full-time Healer/buffer (cleric, druid), a heavy damage dealer (rogue, barbarian, etc). Even tanking was limited to Jules' ordained champion...which doesn't say much.

Honestly, I didn't use tactics that were all that unnerving. The giant they fought took point and smashed things, while the two demons in the back cast their spells. Pretty standard. While being well aware that the monsters were above standard difficulty--perhaps even too much so--is it too much to ask that someone in the party can cast Fireball? Or Heal? I mean, the rules are built around the standard party of Fighter/Wizard/Cleric/Rogue--one would figure that, at least some point on the line, we'd get some of those. Not so much in this game.

5) Timing I had expressed my frustration about this one, upon leaving the apartment before the game. In the e-mail sent out, I had included everything that someone would need to build their PC--stat array, gold available, sources they could use...the works. I had also asked for an rsvp describing their character, so that I knew what the group would look like.

Nick, Lionel, and Dan arrived with their characters ready. Jules needed to pick spells, while Ebbs had to build his constructs. The others had nothing. We didn't start the game (which was scheduled to begin at 6), until 8:45. There's nothing more frustrating to me than knowing that you could be gaming, in a time when there's nothing to do but wait.

6) Blackfall I really tried to make this game like the Blackfall games of old--lots of skullduggery, and lots of character backstabbing. Only one problem--Blackfall is a city, while the Underworld is a giant dungeon. Dungeons mean combat, and lots of it. Yes, I know--D&D is a combat filled game. However, it's a social game, too, and that's what drove Blackfall at its core. Too much combat, planned even from the very start, meant too much dice-rolling and not enough fundamental, person-on-person fun.

In a city, you can get away with not killing anyone--there are guards, there are other adventurers, and there are mercenaries, all waiting to take a piece out of some interloper who thinks he has a right to swing a sword around. Take that social stigma out of the equation, and it's all about the combat now.

I'm being very negative here, I suppose, for no good reason. Everyone at the game had fun, and enjoyed the long night in the Science building, which is what matters. What makes me most frustrated, though, is the fact that this is the second game in six months, DMed by me, to have failed. Am I losing my touch? Am I not as good as I once thought I was?

Blackfall, originally, was a masterpiece. Parts I through IV each had their own individual, if sanity-blasting charm. My players loved running the gauntlet of a Blackfall game, seeing who would survive this time (Adam, by the way, has the record! He was the only one to survive Blackfall II!).

Saltmarsh was just as good. I had 'em hooked, even buying into their group's slavery and imprisonment. Hell, I had most of the group turning slowly to Lawful Evil, thanks to all of their dealings in Hell.

But now? Well, it looks like I'm going to be running Pirates of the Underdark, as soon as Jules' Eberron game wraps up. I just hope I can get back in shape over the break, to give the people what they want!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Last Grasp at Baal's Grace

So, the guild asked me to run their end-of-the-semester one-shot this year, and it's coming along in high style. I was asked to do "something" with the idea of the Underworld and came up with the following concept:

Sometime after the beginning of time and after the creation of man, the archangel Baal was cast from the heavens for that most heinous of crimes--deicide. Baal had killed the sun lord Amuantor, condemning him to the Astral Sea. The remaining powers gathered together and removed Baal from their sight, casting him into a massive pit.

That pit has been found, where Baal first landed. As one of the few known gates directly to the Underworld, a great city has sprung up, named after Baal's sword--Grace.

However, rumors of Baal's deity-slaying sword have never settled amongst the demihuman races, and many lust for his powerful blade. In particular, three great noble houses seek the blade: House Amenthetep, House Yu, and House Marduk. While the trio conflict on all fronts--particularly on who should get the blade--they agree to send a party into the Abyss to find the legendary sword. The adventurers, eager to enter the Underworld for their own reasons, take up the quest...

...but when they return, how can they decide who gets the magic blade?

In other news, Dungeon Slam! is on hiatus until Christmas Break. I'll be honest, I can't wait to get back to it, though. While the teaching life has kind of subsumed me right now, I really want to be able to premiere this at WittCon V.

Oh, and it's looking like the next campaign I'm running is going to be Pirates of the Underdark. Life is good, maties! Yarr!!