Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In Which The Warlock Rebuilds...

With ChaoticFrederick prepping our imminent "Tyrian Horror" game, a ton of work needed to be done.  Character conversions, encounter tables, new allies, an entirely new board...this was a lot of work!

Lucky for us, we had an ally in the preparations.  You see, a fellow named Christopher Jennings had put together a neat little utility, with Fantasy Flight's blessing.  The result?  Strange Eons--a homebrew utility program that lets you build your own Investigators, Items, Allies and more! 

Simply put, Strange Eons is gorgeous.  It's quick to learn, and the results speak for themselves!   Take a look at Actorios, rebuilt as an Arkham Horror investigator! 

Front Side--Actorios

Reverse Side--Actorios

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In Which The Warlock Needs an Elder Sign...

Ia, ia, friends and neighbors!  Finally--after too many weeks of cancellations and other engagements--we managed to resume Chaotic Frederick's Dark Sun game.  Though we only managed to have three players at the table, the plot still forged on with Actorios, Berd, and Tanka delving into Under-Tyr in order to find an abandoned gateway to Raal.  That is to say, the Moon!  Well, one of them, anyway...

Saving Tyr is a hard job to do...
But with one our spell-shards planted firmly on Raal, we arrived back in Tyr only to find that something quite drastic had happened.  True, we had succeeded in our quest to open a gateway to Raal for House Wavir to use as a water-hauling venture.  The lush jungles of Raal would provide a fresh water source for Wavir to sell, undercutting their rivals and taking complete control of the water market.  But in doing so, we also opened a series of other rifts throughout the city, with monsters pouring into Tyr and raging through the various districts!

Wait a second...that sounds familiar!  That's Arkham Horror!

Fire up the Doom Track!
Yes, indeedy, friends and neighbors.  Chaotic Frederick is, as we speak, working on a conversion of Arkham Horror, set in Tyr.  We'll be playing converted versions of our own characters, attempting to stem the tide of horrific beasties before the Free City gets overwhelmed by otherworldly horrors.

I'll be frank here:  I love Arkham Horror.  It may well be my favorite board game.  Its mechanics, while complex, are streamlined and compact enough for the game to be easy to understand.  While the game is quick to master even, it maintains a level of difficulty that makes playing the game interesting every time.  And the expansions?  Ohhhh, the expansions!  While there are better and worse ones, they maintain a degree of quality that's really unseen in other games.

I have really high hopes for this next session.  Once ChaoticFrederick gets the last of the rules and conversions put together, I'll see about posting some pics of our Tyrian expedition, as soon as possible!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Which The Warlock Contemplates...Nothing.

So, the saying goes that "absence makes the heart grow fonder".  Yeah...something like that.

Friends and neighbors, I'm going through gaming withdrawl.  "Heresy!" you probably cry, "Warlock, you run a gaming blog, are in two weekly campaigns, and run demos on the Ohio convention circuit.  How can you possibly be going through withdrawl?"

Simple, my lovelies.  Much of my gaming seems to be coming to an end for a while.

My upcoming gaming schedule...?
Deadlands is just about over for us.  While I'm going to save up what's happened for a later post, after our final session, we have just that left:  one session.  The campaign had gone fairly well, all told.  I have some regrets about it, dealing specifically with certain choices I made as a GM, but overall I was pleased with the result.  I think the players had fun, which is what matters.  Some continuity in amongst the players would have been nice, though...losing DigitalKat halfway through sucked, and while LuckyDee and KungFuJake wake were welcome additions, they only joined after two other players had dropped out.

Similarly, our Dark Sun game is heading towards its conclusion.  ChaoticFrederick received an opportunity to work at a government jet-propulsion laboratory in California for three months, so we're trying to wrap up our adventures in Athas before then.  Unfortunately, this game's provided me quite a bit of consternation recently...we haven't actually had a session in nearly a month!  Actorios' story has been sitting on idle since then! 

FOPCon 3!  Return to the Scene of the Con!
The con circuit, while not quiet, has abated for me momentarily.  Next on the docket is FOPCon, in Huber Heights, which is always a blast.  FOPCon's run by Doug and his friends, who really pour their heart and soul into showing people a good time.  The F.O.P. hall where FOPCon is held is comfortable and spacious, but the best part of FOPCon is the food!  There's a ton of house-made food sold at FOPCon, but as a GM...the food is free!  Yes, free!  Om nom nom, indeed!

But, with that, my gaming options slowly die off.  There's been some interest in me running a short campaign of The Laundry, which seems appealing, especially as I work my way through reading "Black Bag Jobs", a series of Laundry adventures.  (Oh, you say, it's not out yet?  There are advantages to being a freelancer...)  However, I've had an itch to run some sandbox-style, no frills D&D.  With several of the WittKids staying on campus over the summer, I may just get my wish...

Oh, and speaking of Witt:  we have a new banner!  Take a look at this hotness:

Awesome, no?  Just wait till you see it hanging up at this year's Origins Game Fair!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

In Which The Warlock Plugs for a Friend...

Short post for you this weekend, friends and neighbors.

The lovely and talented Kit has finally gotten her long-awaited webcomic off the ground!  We've been eagerly waiting for it around these parts, and it's been great to see her getting back into the swing of things.

Kit's another of our WittKids, now graduated, married, and wonderful out on the other side of Columbus.

Drop on by her site and enjoy some Blatherskite!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Which The Warlock Continues a Tirade...

Quite a few posts ago, I found myself more than a little outraged at the words of one of the admired grognards of D&D--Mr. Mike Mearls.  Okay, outraged is a little much, but his "Legends and Lore" column, on the Wizards of the Coast site got me a little bit riled.  And, of course, here we are, several weeks later, and I'm still more than a little peeved.
Mearls! *shakes fist*

The last two of Mearls' columns have dealt with game balance (found here: Balance of Power, and here: Fighters vs. Wizards), which is a pretty massive issue, all around.  Most games want to be considered 'balanced', and I have yet to come across a gamer who doesn't want a degree of balance in their game.  Balance, in this sense, doesn't necessarily mean that things should be on the same exact level, but rather that things are relatively equal in comparison to one another, in this case, the various classes.  Considering that, by and large, we're dealing with qualitative analysis here--I'll let the Munchkins out there argue over feat choices for max DPR--this is obviously subjective material.

Mearls' presentation is fallacious from the very start.  He references 1st edition D&D as a paragon of a sliding scale, in which a Fighter (Fighting Man?  Warrior?  Call it whatever you want...he's still a guy with a sword) is essentially like playing on "easy mode" for the entry levels.  "You had more hit points, better AC, access to weapons," Mearls says, "...when it came time to use the rules to determine if you lived or died, the fighter had a leg up at low levels.  He continues this assertion with the progressive rise of the magic-user (mage/wizard/etc.) in power, as they begin to be able to cast world-breaking spells like Wish, Shapechange, and *gasp* Fireball. 

Illogical penguin is illogical.
But, in doing so, Mearls sets up nothing more than an "either/or" fallacy, also known as the False Dilemma.  Based on his statements, either you become a fighter, thriving at 3rd level before becoming irrelevant around 10th, or you become a magic-user, suffering through the first 6 levels before you get a few area-effect spells and dominate the game.  Either you get to enjoy the start of the game, mashing kobolds and orcs into the ground with your mighty +2 Flail, or you get to enjoy the late-game, blasting devils and abominations from existence with Mordenkainen's Magnificent Malconvocation. 

I outright reject this dichotomy.  The fundamental premise of a game is fun.  Remember that?  Fun!  It's not fun to have 3 hit points and to get taken out by a housecat, as Mearls fondly jokes about.  Similarly, it's not fun to sit on the sidelines while your mage friend nukes everything between here and Waterdeep with Fizban's Fabulous Flamethrower.  There's a sweet spot in between--around 7th level in 2nd edition, raised to 9th or 10th in 3rd/3.5e--that everyone gets to feel important at some point, but even then, the magic users outstrip the fighting classes at upper levels, in terms of both options and in terms of ability, while fighter-types dominate the low levels, due to relative survivability. 

The idea that you can only have fun at certain levels, the idea that you can only have fun together at even fewer levels, and that your character can and should only be effective at certain points, is contrary to the very premise of playing a co-operative game.  Instead of "we have fun", it devolves into "I have fun, then you have fun...if the campaign lasts that long." 
Truth be told, 4e's done a fairly admirable job of finding the elusive sweet spot--wizards don't feel as frail, and can occasionally even take a punch, while fighters and other warriors have abilities that keep them on par with their mythic and literary counterparts.  But, Mearls' argument seems to fly in the face of this logic, as he compares this inversely-proportional relationship favorably to deck-building in collectable card games:  where some decks are built to win now, others favor a slow build-up and a powerful endgame.

The problem with Mearls' ideas stems from the fact that no player plays D&D in a vacuum.  If I were playing a video game--let's use Blizzard's seminal Diablo II as an example--it would be fine for me to place myself on that continuum.  If I wanted, I could build a character in DII that would do very well in the act that I'm currently in:  given a Barbarian, for example, I could put points in the level 1 skill "Bash" and pump up the Mastery skill for whatever weapon I wanted to wield.  It wouldn't necessarily be very good for the end-game, but for the start of the game, I'd be a powerhouse.  Inversely, if I wanted to build a character to succeed in "Hell" difficulty, I would reserve my skill points for some of the later, more powerful skills like "Whirlwind" or "Berzerk".  Yes, I'd be crippled for the time being, but I'd be able to take on Diablo and Baal with better high-level skills.

That's great for playing solo, because it's my choice, but D&D doesn't work like that.  It's a social activity.  It's not fair or even remotely reasonable to implicitly ask one, two, or more players to essentially step aside, because "your class isn't important yet/anymore".  True, the role-playing aspects of D&D and other games place a limit on this, but the idea that this sort of thought-process is still pervasive, even celebrated, at the world's largest rpg-publisher is baffling.

Pitiful 3rd level cult sorcerers are
no match for Conan'smighty Cleave feat! 
It strikes me as particularly odd that, in a game that epitomizes the idea of the "triumphant hero"--the typical D&D character ascends from meager beginnings, graining power and prestige until they are giving noogies to demon lords and hanging out in not-Valhalla with not-Thor--that a traceable curve cannot be reached that runs concurrent, regardless of class.  The "tier" system in 4e is a start, as is Savage Worlds's various tiers (Novice/Veteran/Expert/Heroic/Legendary), but they do little to address the perception that a high level fighter can't hold a candle to a high level mage, or that apprentice mages should have to run in terror from their own familiars. 

Mearls' argument also runs on the assumption that most campaigns start at 1st level and run through the gamut of the game.  This strikes me as particularly confusing, as Mearls and others at WotC have cited in the past numerous times, that this is not the case.  In fact, it's an exceptional rarity.  As it turns out, most home games take place between 6th and 15th level, in that aforementioned "sweet spot", and only run in a given campaign for about a year to a year and a half.  If that's the case, and the marketing department knows this....why support a paradigm that intentionally deviates from what the market is telling you that it wants?!

All the data in the world doesn't do any good, if you don't actually do anything with it.  If the people want game balance, then that's what your design aim should be.  If people are going to play as a group, then you need to accomodate that as a goal.  And, if you're going to shoot for a "sweet spot", don't build mechanics that inherantly defy that aim!

Monday, April 11, 2011

In Which The Warlock Achieves Pathos...

It's been a while since I've spent some time talking about my Deadlands game.  To be honest, it's been a while since we've actually been able to play in my Deadlands game!  Things seem to keep getting in the way, between WittCon, Wittenberg's spring break, and other interferences, it seemed like ages since we actually got to sling some dice!

Following the explosion of the San Juan Express, the PCs found themselves marooned, hungry and cold, on the banks of the Arkansas river along the Purgatoire River Gorge.  Their gear fouled, they began searching around...only to find that Pablo Morales, one of Reverend Jacobson's beloved flock, had gone missing.  Fearing treachery, the group sought to find him, but were stymied by the potential prescence of the infamous Wicheta Witches, now armed with Hellstrome Industries gatling-weapons.

Black Thirteen, in all its terrible glory...
But that's not where their troubles ended!  Found by a fallen priest named Donald Callahan (Wolves of the Calla, anyone?), they were alarmed to find that he was, in fact, from an entirely different world--one in which some fellow named Ronald Reagan was president, and the Union won the Civil War!  Further, Callahan was in possession of Black Thirteen--the corrupted black orb of Maerlyn's Rainbow, which had powers far beyond that of Maerlyn's Grapefruit, the orb Roxanne Butler stole from Jeremiah Riggins.

And, if that's not bad enough? Callahan bore even more bad news--Roxanne was possessed by the manitou spirit of Josiah Riggins, and would give birth to an often-feared demonic child, if the spirit were to stay within her.  The only place nearby to exorcise the demon?  The North Church Cemetery chapel, in Derry's Ford.

Oh, yes. A town called Derry. In a game based on a Stephen King book.
Naturally, this brought the inevitable confrontation with the vampire lord Kurt Barlow, who rallied the town's vampires against Pere Callahan once more.  A murder of crows burst through the church, followed by some of Barlow's thugs....then Barlow himself, leaping through the stained-glass window onto the altar where Roxanne lay. 

The melee that followed may well have been the most difficult that I've run in this campaign, on both sides.  Wound chips flew back and forth, as Barlow and Callahan grappled over Black Thirteen.  Xu Lei and Yukon Cornelius pulled out the old "Throw-then-shoot the dynamite" trick, before whipping out their swordcane and hellfire carbine, respectively.  Roxanne slipped her bonds and started casting with Maerlyn's Grapefruit...only to have her perennial nemesis, cousin Wilbur Whateley, arrive on scene.

RIP, Rev. Elijah Jacobson. October 1, 1879
All this was just too much for poor Elijah Jacobson.  His flock panicking, the sight of the hideous Barlow leaping through the stained-glass, fangs bared, overtaxed his heart.  A failed Guts roll, and an ill-timed Natural 20 on the fear chart....Rev. Jacobson was down for the count.  Nine grueling rounds later, both Barlow, his vampiric henchmen, and Whateley were dead...but so was the good reverend.

Driving home afterwards, the PlatinumChick turned to me and said, "Y'know, I feel really bad about him dying."  In character, Roxanne and the Reverend often butted heads, primarily due to her "sinful profession", but in the end, he died while attempting to save her...

"Call no man happy who is not dead!"
The Greeks define Pathos as the "feeling of pity" one feels, typically accompanying the suffering and fall of a tragic hero.  Truly, the late Reverend Jacobson was exactly that.  Leading his flock across the Weird West, hoping desperately to find his dearest Annabelle, Jacobson faced horrors beyond reckoning.  While his quest led him across the western states and brought great good to many, his ultimate goal of destroying the fiend Grimme was never met.  Annabelle remains lost.  And, in the end, the Dark Tower eludes him...

A few entries ago, we spoke about the depth of death within the scope of roleplaying.  Truthfully, Jacobson's death makes for a fine example of this. 
Ever want to evoke true emotion?  Don't be afraid to let the chips fall where they may...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

In Which The Warlock Posts on Three Cons...

As the weather heats up, so does the convention season.  And, lo and behold, it's finally broken 70 degrees out here in Flatland, which means that dice-slinging is on the horizon.

Alas, poor Den Con...I'll make it next year...
After a quality start to the con-season at WittCon, I was excited to have Den Con 2011 on the horizon.  The WittGuild's been trying to build relationships with area universities and gaming organizations, and Denison's group has been really busy, building a game library and gamer culture in Granville.  With them so close to Columbus (and The Big O), it's good to have some friends and neighbors up yonder...

...that is, it would be.  Unfortunately for me, the PlatinumChick came down with a nasty stomach virus Friday night, after my Laundry one-shot at Witt.  At 2 am, she was begging me to stay home with her, and I gave in.

I immediately felt horrible about it--not about the fact that my wife needed me; I have no regrets in that regard--but rather in a realization.  I've been running convention one-shots of various games (primarily WEGS) for almost 8 years now.  This was the first time, in all those years, that I've had to cancel.

I e-mailed Mr. Mike, the head of Den Con 2011, immediately, but still haven't heard back.  I'm hoping they're willing to have me back next year.  The WEGS train has to roll on!  Granville needs to hear the Cold Roll Gospel sooner than later!

Dayton's own Comic Book Extravaganza
But, with that cancellation, the PlatinumChick and I were able to sleep in and, on Sunday, meet L-Train, EEE, and NuJosh for a trip to Dayton's Gem City ComicCon, held at Wright State University.  I don't typically get to do much trolling for floppies at Champion City ComicCon, as I'm usually helping to run the game room, so it was nice to be able to peruse the vendors from all over the Miami Valley and beyond. 

I have come to a conclusion, though, regarding comics vs. gaming conventions, stemming back to our trip to C2E2 last year.  Overall, I tend to be much less a fan of comics conventions, simply because there's less to do.

At a typical gaming convention, I can always find something that piques my interest.  I might spend some time trolling around the dealer hall, then drift over to a Paint-and-Take event, then play a one shot or borrow something from the board-game library to play.  If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll go to a panel, or visit some of the small-press places, to find out what's on the docket for the coming release schedule.  Sometimes, I'll even try to do a little schmoozing with some of the muckitty-mucks at various gaming companies, trying to get my name out there.  Fundamentally, there's a variety of events, so that if I get bored at one, I can move on to something different with little difficulty.

At the comics conventions I've been at, the inverse is true.  While there might be some panels or artist/writer booths that I'd visit, the prime attraction is only the dealer hall.  And, truth be told, there just isn't enough variety in what they're selling to really appeal.  When you've trolled through case after case of Ultimate Spider-Man trade paperbacks, all priced relatively closely, things tend to get a little repetitive.  There just isn't enough variety in stock or items to keep my attention.

Dealer hall from GenCon Indy 2010

But you might say, "What about the gaming dealer hall?  Isn't it all the same stuff there?"  Well, yes and no.  While there are some similar games that get sold everywhere--d20 supplements, current edition D&D items--most of the vendors are more specialized.  Either they'll sell for a specific company--the SJGames booth comes immediately to mind--or they'll focus on a specific aspect of gaming.  There are booths specifically that sell minis, booths that sell dice or battlemats, booths that sell chits and other knick-knacks that are gaming-related.  There's enough variety that one can avoid just seeing the same items in box after box, on shelf after shelf.

What shocked me most at Gem City, though, was not something I found in the longboxes.  Rather, it was something from their program that blew me away:  Glory Con.  Yes, Wright State's apparently back, having a gaming convention once more. 

The last time we went to Glory Con, it was something of a disappointment.  While the creators had ample room and a quality vendor, in Bell Book and Comic, there was no real schedule, and EEE's and my classic WEGS module, "Return to Castle VonYumenstein, Part VI:  The Revengening! (a Prequel)" was one of the few actual games being run.  I'm hoping to see some more information on Glory Con in the near future.  I would have provided a link, like the conventions above, but there's no website or Facebook page to be found...

Time shall tell, I suppose.  Besides, what else am I going to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, than chuck some dice?!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

In Which The Warlock Evolves His Topography...

(Note:  This entry is part of this month's RPG Blog Carnival.  This month's host is A Character for Every Game.  Go check them out!)

I find myself in something of a conflict.  Quite a few entries ago, I found myself straddling a bit of the 'rules-lite/rules-heavy' fence, in the various games that I personally enjoy.  I've been enjoying 4e D&D, despite never investing in minis or battlemaps prior to this edition.  I'd never needed to, truth be told.  My prior 2e and 3/3.5e games all worked quite well with just free-form gaming.

But, therein lies the rub, friends and neighbors.  You see, I can't draw for the life of me. 
Now, for most of my games, this isn't a problem.  In my experience, if you're asking to use a tactical battlemap when playing Call of Cthulhu or even Stargate SG-1, you're doing it wrong.  The games are just meant to focus more on problem-solving and character interactions rather than shifting two squares diagonally and unleashing a Radiant Ultimate Smite with your +4 P90.  Same with ICONS, with its rules-light approach.  When powers are abstracted as much as they are in ICONS, there's no reason to whip out a full map.

But...then there's WEGS.  Ah, WEGS.  My old-school indie love.  WEGS borders on tactical minis game, with its focus on "clearing the battlemat" and earning that elusive Rank Bump.  But, coupled with that, WEGS exhibits a unique tendency:  the idea of the "empty" battlemat.

You see, in all of the WEGS games I've managed to both run and play, I very rarely put forward an actual "finite" map.  Rather, the map usually consists of found items, and terrain that comes randomly.  Take a look below...

Map from "Dungeons OR Dragons" at Champion City ComicCon 2010
I didn't have to plan this map.  It really doesn't even make sense to, all told.  Rather, I improvised.  With a good set of markers, my old HeroQuest terrain, and a selection of WotC's Dungeon Tiles, it's not hard to slap down a few things that "belong" in the area and go from there.

For the above map, I figured that a dragon would probably have at least a few things of "normal" size around, particularly if it liked to mess with magic.  As such, I tossed down the HeroQuest altar, with a chest nearby, and a cabinet, the alchemist's bench, and a table nearby for magical "experimentation".

As for terrain, rubble makes sense, if a dragon is landing and taking off regularly.  And the blast, near the top of the map?  Well, a breath weapon does leave marks!

At this point, you're probably wondering, "well, what's the point?"  Well...that is the point.  There's isn't one.  For as good of maps that we can find, for as much internet scouring as we do, we don't always need all of the accoutrement!  The best maps, the most utilitarian and functional gaming aids, often come from necessity.

All told, just use the tools you have at hand.  The variations you can come up with will speak for themselves!

Has anyone else ever experimented with "found" or impromptu mapping?  Let us know how it turned out!