Monday, June 22, 2009

Latest Thoughts on 4E - we're about a year in...

My latest thoughts on 4th Edition of D&D are up at here:

What started as a comparison by one poster between World of Warcraft and 4th Edition has started to edge into flame war territory, but I'm resolute that by taking something pen-and-paper and trying to blatantly mimic something digital that we may have seen the high water mark of dungeons and dragons and we're receding rapidly from it...

A copy and paste of my post (without having to wade through other responses, etc.) is here:

I think by making the characters fit into niches in the party explicitly (leader, controller, etc.), it damages the ability for a player to roleplay their role. (Can't tell you how many times a new player at a table in the shop where I run games has said "I'd like to be X," and some other player holds forth about how we've already got too many controller types, etc., when it was just a kid wanting to play at being Gandalf or something...) Party balance (we can't all be clerics...) is one thing, but by over strategizing party structure, we're removing the chance that maybe that Wizard wouldn't be a controller type - maybe they'd be the tank with the fireballs, or an elderly sage who avoids combat and is studying runes during the fray, trying to find the way through the dungeon. Defining ones own character is what makes the game fun for many. Walking into a formula - one more formulaic than 3.5e's splat books or 2e's Kits - is going to hurt the play of the game as a roleplaying game. Those variant kits and splat books, mocked as they may have been by some in the hobby, actually opened more doors for variations on classes, rather than trying to shoe horn all players of a particular class into a singular, specific role.

Defined roles in a MMORPG are one thing, where for solving computer-driven scenarios you need X spellcasters, Y healers, and Z warriors to defeat an opponent, but I'm of an older school of pen-and-paper RPG players where in a good RPG, there's a large map (or better, a sandbox) with a series of encounters, wandering monsters, and lots of scenarios to roleplay, rather than a booklet of 5-7 hyper-defined single room maps with combat scenarios that require X spellcasters, Y healers and Z warriors to defeat the opponent.

Let alone the fact that, to take one example, a spellcaster now is even more so a walking magic missle, rather than perhaps an interesting figure schooled in arcane lore who creates spells, mixes potions with untold results, and an actual interesting background, rather than a series of powers that I can shuffle like playing cards and play to defeat an opponent.

This is just my take, watching how it's affected the games I run. Will I still continue to play 4E? Yes, because it's what others are playing, but I feel we're drifting away from traditional role playing the more we attempt to mimic what is succeeding in other markets (video games).

You know how you build a better bicycle? You don't imitate a car.

Other thoughts? How do you feel? Am I being shortsighted or hopelessly nostalgic? How have they gotten it right, more importantly?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Free RPG Day - What a Haul!

Still poring over my loot from yesterday. Wow! If any of you have played the full or freebie versions of any of these, please let me know. They all look pretty hip. A list of my loot and some quick thoughts, below...

  • Castles & Crusades - A Primer - Troll Lord Games - When C&C first came out a few years ago, kind of leading the charge to return to OAD&D now taken up by OSRIC and countless others, I was really intrigued. I never dived in though, despite the opportunity to play new Gygaxian materials, as it seemed like not all that much different from the red box I still have (albeit without the box). That said, the primer has tempted me to invest in the "fourth crusade" being released this summer. The rules seem a bit cleaner (or at least better explained) and the breadth of support materials now suggests to me more than just a rehash of rules - there's a real opportunity here, and I want to explore it.
  • Dragon Warriors - Introductory Book - Magnum Opus Press and Flaming Cobra/Mongoose Publishing - This is the one product I've reread a few times since grabbing it yesterday. WOW! This is British Fantasy RPGing from the late 70s early 80s at its finest - Runequest, Pendragon, and Warhammer FRPG all rolled into one. I have not seen the Dragon Warriors books at any of the FLGS I frequent, but I plan on ordering them. A simple rules set with Celtic fantasy threads down to the kings buried in barrows in the hills... Nice stuff... Some reading I did suggests an early edition came out in 86. Has anybody played this?
  • Dungeons and Dragons (4E) Khyber's Harvest - Wizards of the Coast - I thought I'd never want to play Eberron ever again after leading a party of munchkin high school kids through it at a series of games I ran at a local shop (sample dialogue between two of the players: "When are we going to fight a Tarrasque?" "Damn it, dude, it's a unique creature; there's only one Tarrasque." "Oh, sorry, when are we going to fight the Tarrasque?"). But, Keith Baker is a great designer - my generation's Ed Greenwood, perhaps (oh, let the flamewar begin) - and I'm routinely impressed with his ability to fuse Indiana Jones w/ D&D and make it work. Heck, maybe the rerelease of Eberron will be what saves 4E for me... And heck, it came with a free dungeon tile!
  • Corporation - Brutal and Flaming Cobra/Mongoose Publishing - I thought vaguely cyberpunk inspired games about big corporations ruling the world had died out, but then Enron happened and now they seem relevant again. Another freebie from the Flaming Cobra imprint of Mongoose Publishing, and one I plan on digging into a bit. Stephan and Gareth, if you're reading, this one totally looks up your alley.
  • Rogue Trader: Forsaken Bounty (Warhammer 40K Roleplaying) - Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop - This was the one everyone was practically drooling over yesterday, and I saw referenced as the must-have in a posting on a message board. VERY impressive design quality, and the ability to do more in the 40K multiverse - how to lose?
  • Pathfinder: Bonus Bestiary - Paizo - The Pathfinder RPG is trying to become the heir to the 3.5 throne, and appears to be winning hands down - and it's not even released yet. This freebie add on to their pending Bestiary, gives you the Shadow Mastiff, Huecuva, Lammasu, and more classic monsters for your 3.5e compatible RPG. Very cool renderings and I'm a fan of what Paizo's trying to do to keep what has become my second favorite edition of d&d alive.
  • Goodman Games two-fer - Hearts of Chaos (Amethyst Adventure), Hero's Handbook: Immortal Heroes - Goodman Games may be the thing that saves 4th edition. So far, the non-core WotC books (with the exception of the two FR books and the Eberron Player's book) have seemed really lackluster to me - better, but not much better, than the 3.5 splat books. Goodman's trying to do cool stuff with the rules to expand upon things, and the Immortal Heroes with its method for attaining divinity (akin, but far cooler, to the basic immortal set) and Amethyst, which essentially mixes d&d and twilight 2000, are pretty mindblowing...
  • Hollow Earth Expedition: Kidnapped in the Hollow Earth - Exile Games - I downloaded a bunch of the Pulp Adventure stuff when it came out - freebie stuff that was on - and there is a soft spot in my heart for 30s era pulp stuff. The derring do stuff, as well as the mystical Lost Horizon kind of stuff. If you haven't seen this game, check out Exile's website.
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters (World of Darkness) - White Wolf Game Studio - For those of you who write off the Vampire/Changeling set as LARPing gone wrong, get this or any of the more recent World of Darkness edition starter kits (many available for free on and play them. Roleplaying done right, World of Darkness continues to amaze me with the quality of its products and the depth with which they consider the ways a player would want to play a character, rather than just coming up with more equipment and powers books like so many other game lines devolve into. Well done, folks. I look forward to playing this on some spooky fall evening.
What did you folks grab as your free swag from Free RPG Day? Any good stories? Good games you played?

Monday, June 15, 2009

RuneQuest: When Last We Joined Our Intrepid Heroes...

The last game of RuneQuest I ran, last month, was in my opinion a step in the right direction. The players started coming into their own as characters, grasping the different Gloranthan themes like the Empire of Wyrm's Friends, the God Learner Empire, and furthering the overall plot related to the humble rogue of the Clanking City who has found that he is to bring about the world's destruction (The Destroyer). Also noteworthy was the first "in the flesh" appearance of The Interloper.

As the party adventured down river, they came upon the small city of Tinaros on Felster Lake. In Tinaros, they got into a tussle with some dock hands that were trying to exact tribute from our intrepid heroes. They investigated the city briefly, saw that a pageant for Sacred Time was being held in honor of the legendary Arkat, but they returned to the docks and recruited some of the thuggish dock hands to be essentially their pirate crew. Yarrr. (Yes, Jon was behind this piratey turn of events - all worship the Mighty Flying Spaghetti Monster...)

Making their way to Kustria, where the Destroyer was told he'd find out more about his heritage and where his path was taking him, they arrived in one piece, tussled with the Kustrian Longshoreman, shared some loot and looked into possible trouble to get themselves into while the Destroyer did his soul searching. Rather quickly they stumbled upon Mad Maud's Brass Horn inn, where the crazy proprietess added another bizarre NPC to the mix (who could forget a barkeep who had mice living in her hair). Staying there, they found that like much of what Glorantha (and all of RPG-dom) holds to offer, if you are an adventurer, hanging out in the common room of an inn will result in people searching you out for hire.

A Messenger of St. Beaud (a young street urchin in the Lampwick mould) brought news of the framing of a timinit (antman) monk for the murder of the abbot of the Arkat Cathedral. The party reached out to the antman, who runs the Rug Seller's Guild, and agreed to help clear the young monk's good name. They also caught wind of an evil gangleader named Ava who is in charge of a band of thugs called the Renunciators - rivals of the Vadrus Runners (who, coincidentally comprised part of the group of thugs that accosted the party at the docks).

After several days of searching, including a day the Destroyer spent at Church Row researching the Interloper and the tales of the Destroyer, the party had a run in with insane Ava and her gang. Ava, it seemed, had muttered more than a few words about The Interloper during her and her gang's attacks on the citizenry. While attacking her hideout, and completely decimating the gang (gotta love RuneQuest's vicious combat rules), the Interloper appeared out of a mirror in her hideout and assaulted the party. A vicious demon, he evaded many of their blows and managed to escape into the mirror before it was shattered in the midst of the combat. He revealed himself in one of his many guises - primarily, to make it known to The Destroyer that he was aware of his presence. The city guard appeared as all of this was occurring, and The Destroyer realized that Ava was aware of his true identity. Risking being revealed as "the Destroyer" and likely being sentenced to death for crimes he'd yet to commit, the Destroyer reluctantly killed Ava, and turning in her body for the bounty. Jon's pirate recruited the survivors of her gang to join their band of pirates, and paid the crew out of the booty in The Renunciators' hideout.

A thread that I thought was a little too tidy had the timinit monk actually framed by Ava's gang, and so his name was cleared in the process. Basically, I was working to have as many arrows pointing to Ava's hideout as possible, so that there'd be a run in between the Destroyer and the Interloper, and a potential unveiling of the Destroyer as the man he truly is (or will be). In a sense we got that, with the Destroyer's reluctant killing of another, furthering his story a little bit more, actually in the vein of Ben from Carnivale, without the player's having seen that program before.

After the game, I arranged for the RuneQuest Pirates, Glorantha: Blood of Orlanth, and another Runequest book or two to find their way to me just in time for Father's Day. ;) I wanted to add more to the game to help cater to the players' interests. There's only so much within the actual Glorantha sourcebook (lots of resources, especially about the small region of Safelster), but I wanted to create more of a sandbox for the game itself. Interestingly, I found out that part of the reason why one of our usual players didn't come to the last session is that he found the campaign to be too event-oriented instead of sandboxy. Something I'm trying to remedy. I felt the first couple of games had to help establish some landmarks, and hopefully now that the players "speak" Gloranthan a bit better, I can kind of leave them to their own devices, to find adventure where it suits them.

Any other DMs out there struggled with that issue in the past? The balance between keeping thigns moving, and keeping things open ended? I'd appreciate any advice.