Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Return to Dragon Age RPG?

(image from Green Ronin website)

For some reason lately my mind had been turning to the Dragon Age RPG published by Green Ronin.

My first encounter with the game occurred in 2010, when the players in my previous RPG group bought me Set 1 of the RPG and forced me to GM for them. They have all played the computer version of the game, and wanted to experience it in tabletop RPG form. I played the computer game, enjoyed it, and then proceeded to run Red Hand of Doom using the rules.

But a few sessions in, I decided I didn't like the rules, and persuaded them to switch to Savage Worlds instead. We played through the remainder of the campaign with Savage Worlds rules, and I thought that was the end of my involvement with the DA rules.

Then in 2016, when I decided to start GMing again, I learned that the Dragon Age rules had now been compiled from three separate boxed sets into a ingle rulebook. Now by then D&D 5E had been published, but I chose DA over 5E, and recruited a group of players for the campaign. I once again ran Red Hand of Doom, and we managed to complete the campaign and start the next arc of the campaign. However, we began to have problems with scheduling, and so I decided to put the campaign on hiatus and switch to a sci-fi campaign using Savage Worlds rules and a different scheduling system. Again, I though this was the end of my involvement with DA.

In 2017 I started playing D&D 5E at local Adventurers League events as a player, but at my sister-in-law's insistence I had to learn the 5E rules (using the books I borrowed from FG - I still do not own my own copies of the basic rulebooks). I enjoyed the 5E rules enough, and of course they were more "universal", and since 2018 they have been the mainstay for my fantasy campaigns. This was also when I decided to start chronicling my sessions on this blog.

But now, even as I am looking to start another 5E campaign in May, my thoughts turn once again to Dragon Age.

Previously, I had thought that the rules were clunky, compared to what I was familiar with, like Savage Worlds and Dragon Warriors. When I started playing 5E, I felt that 5E was a more elegant system, even if mechanically DA and 5E were very similar: they were basically the same game except DA used 3d6 while 5E used 1d20. You can imagine my surpise when I learned that DA was actually published before 5E was.

One of the things DA was infamous for was the hit-point bloat. This, coupled with the way armour worked, meant that fights can last a very long time, with characters using lighter weapons being unable to do very much against heavily armoured foes.

The advancement system was also complicated, with things like Focuses, Talents, and Specialisations to consider.

The casting of spells also took longer than it did in 5E, requiring a roll to cast a spell, with different modifiers depending on whether your character had a Focus in the same school as the spell, and a different target number for each spell, and then for some spells a saving throw on the part of the target of the spell.

What I did love however was the presence of spell trees, which was something I think is thematic and but have so far failed to implement in 5E.

Now, with a few years of 5E under my belt, and having learned more about the history of D&D and having had some exposure to OSR, I feel I am more ready to handle the complexity of the DA rules. There are issues still, but I think I am now more confident of tweaking the stats and playing fast and loose with the way monsters and NPCs are stat-ted to make the game feel less of a slog.

What does this all mean then?

I have been thinking of picking up our Dragon Age campaign, perhaps continuing one of the PC's quest of reclaiming his family thaig from the Darkspawn, maybe using the Dwarrowdeep megadungeon. Of course, whether that will happen will depend on how much the module fits my concept, and in any case it will probably not happen this year as our next campaign, scheduled from May to perhaps November, will also be a fantasy campaign.

If you are a fan of the Dragon Age RPG, do let me know about the games you have played and plan to play, and what house rules you have implemented to make your games better.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Trigram Chronicles #3

The Second Heavenly Gate of Mount Qiyun

Bandits terrorise refugees fleeing the Qing; our heroes put down the thugs

Our heroes obtain the scrolls from Mount Qiyun; Reverend Zhang sacrifices himself for the greater good

As out heroes (see PC profiles here) traveled south towards Mount Qiyun, they found thousands of refugees also on the same road. General Yen had launched an offensive south of the Yangtze, and many had fled the chaos that comes with war.

They stopped at the small town of Qimen, where they took their meal at an inn. Here, they were greeted by a man named Soon, who recognised them as the heroes who defeated the Two Emissaries. Soon offered to pay for their meal, and proceeded to order the most expensive items on the menu, before absconding and leaving our heroes with the bill!

As our heroes were arguing with the inn staff, a farmer approached them and offered to pay for part of the bill; he had overheard Soon's conversation with our heroes, and beseeched them to save his son Yang Shou, who was gang pressed to join the thugs under the Twelve Banes a month ago.

Our heroes agreed to help the farmer, and after tracking down Soon (who was trying to sell a piece of fake jade to an unsuspecting customer) and exacting justice on him, proceeded down the road out of town, to where they had heard the thugs had set up a roadblock and were extorting from refugees who sought to pass.

Luring one of the thugs away, our heroes captured him and learned of the location of their camp. They proceeded to the camp and defeated the thugs who were there, only to learn that Yang Shou was one of their leaders! Yang confessed that he had indeed been taken from his family farm by force, but the life of a thug turned out to be better than that of a farmer, and he was soon made a junior leader. Our heroes convinced Yang and the other thugs to take some of the loot they had gathered, and to return to their homes, and they did so. When the other thugs returned to their camp, they were likewise defeated and were persuaded to disband and return home.

Our heroes then continued south, and after a week arrived at Mount Qiyun. As they ascended the narrow stairs that led 2000 feet to the Taoist Monastery at the summit, they saw a large party of men, numbering over twenty, also headed to the monastery. When they arrived at the outer gate, they were stopped by two priests who told them that Reverend Zhang, whom they had to see, was not receiving visitors that day. Wu presented the letter of introduction from Prince Gui, and our heroes were admitted.

Entering the courtyard of the monastery, our heroes found Reverend Zhang seated at the steps leading to the main hall. Around the courtyard his disciples, all looking ill, sat or laid.

Zhang explained that he and his disciples had been poisoned by the Dark Judge's Poison, which weakened them and prevented them from using their Qi, rendering them defenceless. Our heroes surmised that the party of men behind them must have poisoned the priests. They stated their purpose of visit, and Zhang bade them to take the scrolls and flee, while he and his disciples would try to stall the intruders.

Unwilling to abandon the priests to their fate, our heroes instead decided to confront the intruders, and meet them at the narrow gate that guarded the approach.

As the party of men neared, our heroes could see that they were thugs led by the Purple Robed Twin Swords, two of the Twelve Banes. Our heroes tried to stop the intruders, but they were no match for the Twin Swords, and were unable to fight past the many thugs who followed them. When it seemed that they would be defeated, they heard a voice calling from above them - Reverend Zhang had arrived, wielding a scroll case in one hand, and challenging the Twin Swords to come after him. Our heroes took advantage of this distraction to flee, and so once again the scrolls were kept safe from the hands of the Twelve Banes.

Our heroes are one step closer to defeating General Yen, but will they find the last set of scrolls in time? For the answer, gentle reader, you must wait till the next chapter...

Prepping and Running the Game

The first part of the session were based on encounters from encounter tables I found on this blog. There are quite a number of ideas from there that I think I will employ in future sessions.

By now I think my pattern for this campaign is to have two major encounters: one minor one based on an wuxia trope and not necessarily related to the main plotline, and a second one where our heroes encounter the forces of the Twelve Banes or the Qing, which will advance the main plotline.

The first half of the session was a lot of laughs as I role-played the conman, and the players role-played how they convinced the thugs to give up their lives of crime and return to their families. I told them afterwards that their spiel will not work in future sessions or campaigns.

I am still having trouble calibrating the fight where Major NPC Villains are used, partly because the game utilises a d10, which means damage can be swingy. This is not a deal-breaker, however, as in wuxia it is acceptable for the heroes' skins to be saved by fortuitous circumstances, or the arrival of a powerful mentor figure.

At the end of the session I once again asked my players what they wanted to do, and they had the idea to assassinate a Qing General. This is of course a common plot for many wuxia movies, so I hope my version will measure up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Seth Skorkowsky RPG Icons Dice Set

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Seth, and have been on a quest to get him to 100K YouTube subscribers so he will make a full-length movie starring Seth and only Seth. That was three years ago, and we are now at the 95.7K mark.

The fact that Q-Workshop is making a set of dice based on an RPG personality - not even the two Matts have their own dice set - tells you how much you need to subscribe to Seth's channel, so watch the video, and don't forget to like and subscribe.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Trigram Chronicles #2

Map of Old Hefei - Carefree Lake is in the top right corner

Hidden scroll reveals secret to defeating General Yen; our heroes meet the Emissaries again

Service to Prince Gui brings our heroes to Hefei; mission to Carefree Lake reveals betrayal

So our heroes descended from Mount Juihua, wounded but alive. 

Wu studied the bamboo scroll hidden within the metal case, and found it contained two of the secret kung fu manuals that together comprised the Trigram Grand Style.

Now after Master Zhang Sanfeng of Wudang created the Taiji Style, he found that few among his students had the aptitude to master it. And so he broke the style into eight parts, just as the duality of taiji gave birth to the four elements, and the four elements gave rise to the eight trigrams; and so his students could master aspects of this formidable kung fu. In the latter years of the Ming dynasty the court turned against Wudang, and its disciples were scattered, and so it was that the eight styles separated.

Now most men could only master one of the eight styles, weak as men are these days, but General Yen was able to master the Qian and Kun (Heaven and Earth) styles, making him nigh invincible. However, it is believed that those who can master the styles of the other six trigrams may, by their skills combined, defeat a wielder of the Qian and Kun style. So now our heroes are resolved to find the remaining four scrolls, and master the skills within.

For a while our heroes cast about for news of the lost scrolls, but could not find any clue. In their wanderings they learned of the news that General Yen had ordered all blind beggars in the region to be seized and interrogated, and that Prince Gui, a nephew of the late Ming emperor, had raised a banner of rebellion in the Yellow Mud Lake region in the west, and was calling for loyalists to join him in overthrowing the Qing.

Following the rumours, Wu, Soong, and Wang (see PC profiles here), arrived at the Green Dragon Tavern, where it was said that recruiters for the prince could be found. Unbeknownst to them, they were being tracked by the Black and White Emissaries, who confronted them at the tavern, demanding they handed over the scroll. Our heroes refused, and the Emissaries and their thugs attacked - but they had underestimated our heroes, and they were defeated and slain.

Witnessing their prowess in kung fu, a man approached our heroes, and introduced himself as Chow, a servant of Prince Gui, and offered to make an introduction of them to the prince. Following Chow, our heroes traveled to the edges of the marshes around Yellow Mud Lake, where they were taken by a sampan to a hidden isle, upon was built a large wooden house. They were brought to the gallery on the upper floor of the house, where they saw the prince in the midst of composing a four-line poetry. The prince appeared to have been stuck after composing the first three lines, and so Wu proposed an ending to the poem. The prince was much impressed, and called for wine to be shared.

They then spoke at length, and when the prince thought he knew the hearts of our heroes well enough, he offered them a mission. General Yen, he revealed, was planning a moon appreciation feast at Carefree Lake in Hefei on mid-autumn night. He had invited Ming generals and officials in the areas still not under Qing control to attend, and it was understood that those who answered his invite would be showing their allegiance to the Qing.

Now the prince suspected that some of the generals and officials who were in his faction would be attending the feast, and so he needed someone to spy on the feast and identify these traitors, who would be traveling to Hefei and Carefree Lake in secret.

Our heroes accepted the mission, and after shaving their heads in the Qing fashion and learning the appearances of the generals and officials under Prince Gui by studying their portraits, traveled to Hefei. Outside the city, Soong waited by a tea house until he spotted one of the officials, whose entourage had stopped for a break. He spiked the tea of one of the sedan chair carriers with laxatives, and when the man became afflicted, he offered his services, and were taken into employment on account of his strong physique.

Inside Hefei, Wu found the musical troupe which would be performing at the feast that night, and managed to impress them with his virtuosity at erhu, and so was likewise taken into employment.

Wang, meanwhile, met a contact in the Beggar Sect in Hefei, and through him was able to smuggle himself, hidden in the food supplied for the feast, into the two-storeyed pavilion on the island in Carefree Lake where the feast would take place. Under the cover of darkness, he moved from the kitchen to the upper floor, and hid himself among the rafters of the roof.

Came mid-autumn night, our heroes kept their eyes and ears peeled, as they observed the guests as they exited their covered sedan chairs, as they moved about in the banquet hall, and as they greeted each other by names. By these means of subterfuge, our heroes were able to learn of the identities of 27 of the 28 guests who arrived in covered sedan chairs to pledge their allegiance to the Qing emperor and their support to General Yen on an attack planned on Prince Gui's hideout in a month's time.

With this information, our heroes made their way back west, where they were to rendezvous with Chow on the road to Yellow Mud Lake. When they arrived, they found Chow waiting for them with a band of armed men. Chow asked them for the list of those whom they had seen. Suspecting something on account of Chow's eagerness, Soong lied and said that they had made no list, but had memorised the names, which they would report to the Prince personally. Chow then asked if they had revealed the information to anyone, and when our heroes replied that they had not, Chow produced a list of names from his robe, and asked that they gave the prince the list instead.

Chow revealed that he had in fact pledged his allegiance to the Qing, and that the list contained the names of generals and officials who were actually loyal to Prince Gui. Chow exhorted our heroes to join him on the side of the rising Qing against the waning Ming, just as a wise bird would choose a healthy tree to perch upon.

Such a proposal was an anathema to our heroes, who rejected it and denounced Chow. Chow ordered his men to attack, but the traitors were easily defeated, and Chow, seeing his men slain, threw himself at our heroes' mercy.

Our heroes hog-tied the traitor Chow, and brought him back to the Prince. When he had heard the testimonies and seen the made-up list, Prince Gui ordered Chow to be drowned in the waters of the lake. Then, after perusing the list the heroes had made, he came to the conclusion that with so many of his men turned, his position was no longer tenable. He resolved to join his brother in the south, and asked our heroes to join him too. But with revenge still in their minds, our heroes declined, and instead promised that they would fight the Qing in their own way. As parting gifts, Prince Gui presented a paper fan to Wu, upon which he wrote the words "Iron Fan Esquire" (after the latter's signature weapon), and a letter of introduction bearing his seal, addressed to the Master of Qiyun Temple, an offshoot of the Wudang Sect, where news of the Trigram scrolls may be found.

What awaits our heroes at Qiyun Temple? If you desire to know, please turn to the next chapter...

Prepping and Running the Game

After our game was postponed a total of four times due to various illness (including covid), we were finally able to play the second session of the campaign, even if there was a last-minute drop-out (due to yet another illness).

This session was based off the idea in the module Bohemian Grove. At the end of the previous session I asked my players what they wanted to do next, and they said they wanted to find some rebel factions to join. Now there were indeed several rebel factions, some of them formed around Ming princes, so I decided that they would hear about one such factions and try to get recruited.

The fight in the tavern is of course a standard requirement for wuxia. My players were able to fight in a more co-ordinated fashion this time, and utilised the verticality of the battlefield, which gave them the initiative throughout most of the fight to defeat the enemies convincingly.

The site of the mission was chosen based on the module, which set the action on an island in the middle of a lake. I found a map of old Hefei, and saw that there was a lake within the city walls with a small island in it, which seemed a likely setting for a secret meeting. I had no idea how the players would achieve their mission, but they were able to capitalise on their characters' strengths to find a way into the pavilion.

I gave away Chow's betrayal too early when I reached for my map book before I roleplayed the interaction between Chow and the PCs, telegraphing that a fight was going to take place. Rookie mistake - have to watch out for that one in the future.

At the end of the session I asked my players again what they wanted to do next, and they replied that they wanted to continue the search for the scrolls, and so I picked a spot on our map and came up with an in-game reason for them to go there.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Warzone Eternal and Sci-fi WW1 Photodump

I found out recently that there will be a new version of Warzone called Warzone Eternal that will be launching on kickstarter soon. While I am not looking for a new set of rules, it seems like the figures will be released in small, five-figures packs, which sounds like a good way of supplementing my forces.

I joined their facebook group to keep track of the project, and thought I might as well lay my collection out on my new mat and contribute a few photos to the group, so here they are: