Saturday, June 30, 2018

Terrinoth #2 - Setting up a Sandbox

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am planning to run part of this new campaign as a sandbox.

Specifically, I am using the Runebound map as the "sandbox". There are some differences between the Runebound map and the map of Terrinoth in the Realms of Terrinoth supplement, but for my purpose it will suffice. The Runebound map is also divided into hexes, each of which I estimate to be around 24 miles across, which is conveniently the distance a party travels in one day in D&D (and most fantasy rules).

Populating the sandbox was an easy task of marrying the strengths of the map and the supplement: I put a scanned copy of the map onto a cork board, and put red pins onto those hexes containing the landmarks and features described in the book.

I made a table of all these pinned sites with the description from the book, and then I went through my library of RPG modules to find suitable adventures for each of the sites.

For example, the text on Smokeblue Hills mentioned sorcerous cults, so it was a simple matter of finding a module that features cultists as the main antagonist, and then adapting it to fit the world, and then siting the adventure at the location. If the players decide to explore the Smokeblue Hills in the next session, I just pull out the module, revise myself on the story, prepare the required monster cards and miniatures, and we are good to go.

This somewhat duplicates the first phase of play for the Runebound game, where the player charactes wander around the board visiting quest sites and drawing quest cards from a deck.

The second phase of a Runebound game, which I also wish to duplicate, has a more "directed" quest, where there is a boss villain who is putting his plans into action, which will in time come to fruition if the players do not stop him before a certain number of turns have elapsed. This "main quest" also generates a number of related "side quests", which give the players a chance to throw a spanner in the works of the villain's plans - or not, if they choose to ignore the plot hooks presented to them.

This is the basic plan for the mixed sandbox-directed play.

There is of course another option, which is to let the sandbox proceed at a more "organic" fashion. I described this approach thus on a thread on rpgnet forum discussing sandbox play:

"So let's say there is this "Swamps of Fear" somewhere on the map. You then have to decide what challenge to put there. How about a hag? That's pretty standard, right? Then you think about what a hag might be up to, or just go to rpgnow or adventurelookup and search for a module that features a hag. You don't need a full-length module, just a mini-dungeon as others have suggested will do. Remember, you want the session to be self-contained. Once you have found a mini-module you like and read, you plonk the adventure there and then think about the rumours. Usually the modules come with a table for rumours - if so, when the players ask you what's at the Swamps of Fear you just make a roll and give them the rumour, and they then decide whether to go there.
For the second stage I like to introduce the overarching metaplot of the setting. This can be something you plan from the outset, or something that evolves organically. Say the hag that your PCs fought was particularly memorable and they looted something neat from her. You can then play on this and either have her return as an undead, or have her sisters in the coven find her looted lair and decide to take revenge on the PCs (and take back the looted item!). You can further expand it by deciding that these sisters were part of a collective of covens which are planning to bring about some Bad Event, and the item was part of the plan (maybe each hag was supposed to bring their item to the meeting place on such and such a date to participate in a ritual to bring about the Bad Event).Over the next few sessions the PCs continue to explore interesting spots on the map, but find themselves attacked again and again by the hags or their agents, until eventually they learn about their plans and the importance of the item, and must decide what to do."

It is of course still too early to say which approach I will eventually take with this campaign, but I am excited by the possibilities.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Terrinoth #1 - A new RPG Campaign

I generally don't post details of my RPG sessions on this blog, but I am planning to do so for the new campaign I am starting next week. The plan is to write a post after each session, with the first part of the post summarising the play, and the second part (out of bounds to my players!) being a documentation of my thought processes in preparing for the session and during the running of the game.

One of the reasons why I plan to do this is that I am experimenting with a new system of running the game, which I call the B-Team system.

Now one of the problems many gaming groups face is that of scheduling. I am fortunate enough to have a rather regular group, but even then once in a while a couple of fellows just happen to have something else on for a couple of weeks consecutively, and we end up not playing for several weeks in a row. I developed the "East Marches" system to deal with this in my Space Opera campaign, and that was rather successful. However, that system restricted us to adventures which must end in a single session.

For the upcoming campaign, I want a more traditional tempo to it, which means we may end a session in the middle of a dungeon, and pick up the next session, so I want the make-up of the party to be the same from session to session.

To cope with the problem of not having everyone at the table on a game night, I proposed the formation of a B-Team. What this entails is each player having a secondary character, which they will play on the evenings when not everyone (from the A-Team, as it were) can make it. To make a full party, I will offer the places at my table to other players. The B-Team then will play like the "East Marches" style, with the make-up of the party being different from session to session, but with each player playing his same character, and gaining experience and leveling up. And what is more, the A-Team and the B-Team will exist in the same timeline. To the players who are only on the B-Team, this will be like a closed Adventurer's League.

Another new thing I hope to be trying out this campaign is a sandbox style of play.

This all came about two months ago when my brother introduced me to the board game Runebound. I was struck by how the whole game is basically a sandbox game in the first half, and a directed campaign in the second. I was excited to learn that FFG would be releasing an RPG supplement for the setting soon, and started planning to set my campaign in the realm of Terrinoth.

For rules I decided on D&D 5E. I like the relatively simple core mechanics of the system, and the number of spells and customisation options offered by the rules even without the new books. My players are all rather easy-going, and we have built up enough trust over the past couple of years to be able to house-rules bits we don't like.

Probably the biggest rules change we have made is to the wizards' spells. One of the chief features of the Terrinoth setting is that much of magic in the realm is bound up in thousands of shards of crystals. This gave me the idea that instead of learning spells from spellbooks and scrolls, wizards instead require these crystal shards to cast spells. This means that learning new spells is now no longer just a matter of copying them into your spellbook, but finding and gaining new crystal shards. This puts a huge handicap on wizard players, but fortunately two of my players have stepped up to the challenge.

We did Session Zero after last night's game, and created three characters (one of the strengths of D&D is how quickly one can create a character), their backstories, a together came up with how they ended up together. I required each player to come up with a short-term goal, a long-term goal, an enemy from the past, and an ally from the past for their characters, and I am very happy with what they came up with - I am already making plans to include their past into the campaign.

After all that, I showed them the map from Runebound, and asked them where they would like to go next. They picked the one hook I haven't really got a module ready for, but I did manage to find one later that night. The module in turn led me to read up on pre-Celtic civilisations on Europe... There's still a bit of work to be done before I am prepped for next week, but I am an excited if sleepy GM now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Gamma World

One of the first RPGs I played, literally a third of a century ago, was Gamma World. I cannot be certain if it was the second edition of the game I played or the third. Or that I played it at all, come to think of it. But I learned about Gamma World at a very young age, and had always been fascinated by the premise of the setting.

Somewhere along the line, I acquired a copy of the Third Edition boxed set (the circumstances of which are also forgotten), but I never actually played it.

Then this year, with my foray into classic D&D modules, I came across Expeditions to the Barrier Peaks, and it occurred to me that here was a chance to kill two birds with one stone: I would run Expeditions using Gamma World rules!

The module itself is a dungeon-crawl with no real clear aim, so taking a leaf from Seth Skorkowsky, I decided to add an active opposition to our party.

So I decided that our party are mutants from a village of, well, mutants, who are persecuted by Pure Strain Humans in this post-apocalyptic world. The mutants have only medieval level technology, while the humans have modern technology. They learn that the humans are planning to launch an attack on their village, and to even the odds, they are sent on a quest to the magical dungeon in the mountain to find magical weapons. When they arrive at the door to the dungeon, they see that the humans have the same idea, and have just entered it before them. It will be a race against time and mutant-hating humans to find the most powerful weapons, and make it out and back the village in time before the attack comes!

I gave my players the choice of any type of mutant: a mutated humanoid, mutated animal, or mutated plant. I got a mutated gorilla, a mutated rabbit, a mutated bat, and a mutated cactus. Since they decided on their characters before they knew what the module would be about, it meant that only the mutated rabbit would reasonably be able to use any of the weapons they will find inside the dungeon. Well, maybe some other mutants back at the village have human-like hands...

The gorilla figure is a D&D prepainted, the bat a giant bat from Games Workshop, the rabbit a conversion made from the head and torso of a skaven (with bunny ears sculpted on), the arms of a Frostgrave soldier, and the legs of a Warhammer Fantasy ungor, and the cactus from Pegasus Hobbies.

While googling around for more information on the module, I learned that the 'boss' monster is an iconic creature called the Froghemoth. There is actually an official version of the miniature, but it is expensive for a one-use miniature, and it would be so much more fun to made one of my own.

So two packs of rubber toy animals, some stiff wires, putty, and spray paints later, I got this:

The most difficult part of this build was actually the teeth, but without them the model just looks like a large toy frog.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Another D&D Epic session

I played in another "epic" D&D session yesterday, my third Adventurers League game.

As with the other epic sessions, the format involves multiple tables of players undertaking different quests, all related to a story line, with the outcomes of each table affecting what happens at the other tables and also the outcome of the whole quest.

There were a couple of things that was different this time though. The players at the lower tier tables had a choice of quests to go from - a menu of seven quests, each with a different emphasis (combat, exploration, or social/role-playing), from which they would pick three to tackle, in the order of their choosing, with the aim of collecting ingredients to create a potion to cure a zombie plague.

Meanwhile, the highest tier table had to take the fight to the necromancer who is the cause of the plague. Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of the less experienced adventurer's they failed in their quest, and the over all quest as a failure.

Despite that, I had fun, and was impressed by the creativity in the format of the session. The people at WOTC must really have faith in their customers, as one subquest required the players to role-play NPCs, something which is not normally done.

My character gained quite a lot of XPs this session, but is still at level 3, which I am rather comfortable in.

Next weekend will see me behind the GM screen, as I run my Savage Worlds space opera scenario (for the fourth time!).

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Roman-Sassanid Game 2

The gang got together to play another game of our Dux Bellorum-Impetus mash-up on Sunday. This time we broke the game by playing with too many points - 125 compared to our previous 100- and 75- point games. The Roman army stretched from one end of the table to the other, and had a few units to spare for a reserve.

With little room to manoeuvre, the Sassanid wings had little option but to advance towards their counterparts across the field. The Persian skirmishers gave up their lives to allow the elephant to finally charge the Roman line, but they were repelled by the spears and arrows of the heavy foot.

The Goth contingent spent most of the battle staring at their Persian counterparts, and when the Persians moved in to try to shoot them up they charged into battle and rolled well enough to push the Persians back.

Visually it was a nice game with lots of nicely painted figures, but tactically, it was not very interesting.

In our post-game conversations we decided that we would make skirmishers more useful by making them not count towards loss of Leadership Points, and to keep our games smaller.

Further, we are planning to play a 4-game campaign in the near future, using a set of campaign rules written by Dan Mersey himself (things come full circle!) twelve years ago.

The next couple of weekends will see me playing RPGs at local events - stay tuned!