Archive for May, 2011

Jeff Rients: The Dungeon As The Psyche

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2011 by Kullervo

In response to a recent open thread on Grognardia, Jeff Rients posted the following comment:

I believe that the descent into the dungeon is a symbolic representation of the rational mind attempting to understand the irrational, unconscious self. Therefore dungeons should have something important to say but they are under no obligation to make any sense.

I don’t know how seriously he meant this, but I think it might be one of the most, if not the most, important things ever said about roleplaying games. I will be thinking about this pretty intensely, so expect a more substantial post about it soon.


Warhammer Quest: Death By 1’s

Posted in Warhammer Quest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2011 by Kullervo

I played a bunch of Warhammer Quest with my 5-year old son this weekend. He can’t quickly do the math and he doesn’t understand all the rules, but does grok the basic ideas really well (turn sequence, 1’s in the power phase mean unexpected events, rolling high is good, the guy with the lantern explores the next room, when you run out of wounds you die, etc.) and WHQ doesn’t have so many options that he gets overwhelmed. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he can read really well. In any case, he can hold his own well enough that playing is legitimately a fun time even beyind the basic fun of spending time with my kid.

We decided to go ahead and play campaign-style, so we will be able to visit settlements, spend treasure, train up to new battle-levels, etc. At least in theory. The problem is that at battle-level 1, Warhammer Quest is hilariously lethal. The “roll a 1 phase” phenomenon can quickly devolve into cascading events, most of which are monsters, very quickly, and the players just drown in a sea of evil. Accordingly, we have yet to actually complete a dungeon without all dying gruesomely.

I don’t think it’s a bug though–it adds an urgency that is a lot of fun and feels realistic without being strictly a simulation. If you spend a lot of time fighting and making a ruckus, you run the risk of attracting the attention of other monsters in the dungeon. So it’s not unreasonable that a protracted fight would eventually bring the whole house down on you. And that’s precisely what happened to us.

Yesterday, while descending a staircase, we (Elf and Dwarf played by my son; Dwarf Trollslayer and Wizard played by me) were set upoon by a group of goblin spearmen. Alone, they were not much of a threat and we were well on our way to cleaning them up when we rolled another 1 in the power phase and drew another event: the ceiling collapsed! Suddenly we had two turns to get out of the staircase before the whole thing came down on our heads (this is stressful because it also means that if you decide to go out the wrong door, you stand a chance of permanently cutting off the objective, or worse, locking yourself in a dead end–we played it safe and backtracked so we could at least make it back to civilization even if we couldn’t “win” the dungeon).

But the next turn, before the colllapse had even actually happened, we rolled a 1 again, and drew a mass of orks and ork archers. We were down a few hit points from the goblin fight, and the goblins were not all dead either, and we had spent a turn running away from the cave-in instead of killing the last few goblins, so this was troublesome.

The other problem with roling a lot of 1’s in the power phase is that it means that the wizard does not have much power to draw on, which means he can’t cast a lot of healing spells (or area attack spells, or spells of any kind), so the cascading monster ambushes are compounded by the fact that the wizard is basically running on empty. When the orcs strolled in, I had the wizard burn up all of his reserve power to heal up everyone as much as he could, but that meant he was stuck with whatever the power die gave him for the rest of the game.

And of course, the power die kept coming up 1, which means we kept drawing encounters and the wizard kept not being able to cast spells. The turn after the orks showed up, a mob of skeletons strolled in, and our characters started biting the dust: first to go was the Wizard (which is a problem because the elf’s healing potion was already gone, which means all our sources of healing for the rest of the game were now off the table) and then the Trollslayer. The
Elf went down in short order, as well. There’s only so much you can do when compeltely surrounded by ork and skeletons, and taking fire from ork archers down the hall at the same time.

So the Dwarf was left all alone in a sea of monsters, taking his last stand Davy-Crockett-style. In his last turn he rolled yet another 1 in the power phase, and a gang of skaven pounced on him. The monsters were overflowing into nearby rooms at this point. The Dwarf acquitted himself manfully (dwarffully?), but he didn’t stand a chance. Another party of adventurers never to be seen again.

But we had a good time! My son doesn’t get upset when his guys die; he only gets upset if the game ends too early (so the other night when we drew 3 minotaurs in the first room and all got instantly slaughtered ended in tears). So he was happy as a clam because we got to play for a long time. So was I.

We’ll just have to try again.

The Fading Suns Game I Would Like To Run

Posted in Fading Suns, Space Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by Kullervo

If I had a good gaming group, and they were, oh, even only half as excited about Fading Suns as I am, my ideal campaign would look something like this:

The main adventures would involve the basic PC group, i.e., a questing knight and his or her retinue. I think this option as the default for adventuring in Fading Suns is a stroke of genius: it allows for different kinds of characters to be put together in arational way with clear goals and integrated into the setting’s society just by default.

So the questing knight and retinue, the main group, would have a series of connected but discrete adventures with a clear beginning, middle, and end, maybe 3-8 sessions long each (that’s my ideal), but all working within a larger story arc. They would be doing the generic things that questing knights and their retinues do: explore lost worlds, engage in house politics, look for ancient artifacts, etc. Lots of awesome Mystery in Space.

In between those main adventured, I would run shorter one-off games, 1-3 sessions long each, set all over the setting, all kinds of games. But each more focused and more specific than the questing knight and retinue, and without the need to reflect the basic, default, “iconic” Fading Suns game. A squad of the Stigmata Garrison on patrol. Priests on Holy Terra investigating the murder of a bishop. Spies in Kurgan space. Kailinthi demon hunters rooting out an Antinomist cult. Yeoman free traders. A diplomatic mission. Sathraists on the run. Favayana versus the Invisible Path. Stuff like that. More creative and offbeat. And these short mini-adventures would also ultimately connect to the main ongoing story of the questing knight and his retinue.

It seems like the perfect way to have your cake and eat it too. On the one hand, there’s really a core paradigm for what a Fading Suns adventure looks like, i.e. what really feels like Fading Suns. On the other hand, it’s a large and diverse setting with a lot of great elements and points of view to explore, but which you might not want to run as your central ongoing campaign or which might be hard to sell other players on as the main ongoing campaign.

I also think this approach would work for any large and diverse setting with a core, iconic conceit. You could do it in Star Trek–the main advenure would involve the command crew of a starship, while the side adventures could involve Klingons, traders, almost anything. It might be hard to sell players on that ongoing campaign as Ferengi merchant princes long-term, but easy to sell them on it as a short diversion from–but connected to–the main game that’s iconic enough for everyone to get on board with.

Warhammer Quest: Updating the Bestiary

Posted in Warhammer Quest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2011 by Kullervo

Still thinking about Warhammer Quest here on the haunted space station orbiting the Asura Star.

One daunting task is going to be updating the bestiary. Many new miniatures and army books have been released since Warhammer Quest came out, and consequently, many new monster options exist now. The Tomb Kings/Vampire Counts split had not yet happened when the game was released; Ogre Kingdoms were not an option yet; Beasts of Chaos were just “beastmen.” We could seriously fill out the mosnter choices by just converting the profiles of all of these choices into Warhammer Quest stats.

Also, I wonder if we might find anything interesting in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e monster book. Probably.

I don’t want to take anything out–in particular, I dearly love Chaos Dwarves even though they have long been abandoned by Games Workshop. But if there are new miniatures for new monsters, I don’t see a good reason not to stat them up and engage them in bloody combat in the dark places of the Old World.

One consideration, I suppose, is how much of the project needs to be bitten off in one go. In reality, it probably makes more sense to only stat up a new mosnter when we have a miniature for it and are already ready to throw it in the game. It kind of castrates the project to think of it that way, but it’s honestly more realistic to grow it organixcally we we plan and as we expand than to bite off this big game design homebrew thing that we’ll likely never finish. After all, it’s better to have one fully statted up new monster that we can actually play with than a whole book full of unfinished shit we can’t use.

And I’m not sure I even have anything right now that I could stat up and use. Except for the Fimir! For the record, I want to stat up the Fimir and use them really bad. I still have all of my old HeroQuest stuff, so I can use them right now, and Fimir are officially awesome.

I might have some Lizardmen and Skinks floating around, too, but I think there might be a Deathblow article out there where they have been statted up already. That brings up a point I addressed in my post about statting up the Amazon (hmm, what about Amazons as monsters? Pygmies? Other stuff from older editions of Warhammer? The expansion can go both ways in time…)–I realize that a lot of work has already been done by fans to stat up everything in existence for Warhammer Quest, and I could draw on some of that, and I might. But at the end of the day, I do usually think it’s the most fun to do it myself.

One question lingering is how true we want to stay to the existing Warhammer world. Should we stat up, say, an Aboleth for Warhammer Quest? A Mind flayer? They’re not Warhammer monsters, but do we care? They might be fun. Something to think about, at least.

Warhammer Quest: Amazon Warrior

Posted in Warhammer Quest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2011 by Kullervo

We’ve been getting excited about Warhammer Quest lately here in orbit around the Asura Star. I broke out my old boxed set and played it with my son last weekend, and he has been asking to play again (sadly, I am a lawyer at a big firm, so I work pretty long hours during the week, but we’re planning on playing again on Saturday).

Anyway, it’s fun, and my brother has expressed a heavy interest in expanding and developing the game a bit beyond what currently exists. There are a lot of houserules and homebrews out there for Warhammer Quest, but in the end we’re going to want to put together our own pet homebrew version, possibly even with custom cards (yes, I realize you can just have a table, but no, that’s not nearly as much fun) for each battle-level and even custom dungeon tiles.

What’s buzzing around my bonnet though is the urge to write up a new Warrior. This is not an unusual urge–there are probably a billion custom Warriors for Warhammer Quest floating aroud there on the internet. What I specifically want to create is a Lustrian Amazon, but I don’t want a Norsca-disapora Amazon that we saw in Mordheim.

I want an old Warhammer Fantasy Battles Second Edition Amazon armed with ancient Slann relics like laspistols. More exotic.

That’s all I’ve got right now. Just an inkling of an idea. Thoughts?

Father Jacob: A Temple Avesti PC for Fading Suns

Posted in Fading Suns, Space Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2011 by Kullervo

I have been tossing around an idea for a Temple Avesti PC for awhile now, although I have yet to actually stat him up. At this point I will probably just wait for 3rd edition to come out.

But the idea is, I want to make a Temple Avesti PC who goes against type but not too much against type. Just enough to be a decent PC with a decent chance at getting along with the rest of the party and being a valuable, contributing member on an ongoing basis, but not so different that he is not still clearly recognizable as an Avestite.

(For the uninitiated, the Avestites are usually villains in Fading Suns: ignorant, sadistic zealots ready to burn and kill in the name of rooting out heresy).

But my idea for Father Jacob is an older, mature, wiser priest. He had his days of youthful zealotry and intolerance motivated by sadism and narrow-minded xenophobia, but miracle of miracles, over time he eventually became truly concerned with the state of mens’ souls. And he gradually grew to understand that while all sin is sin, some sinners respond better to a firm but gentle hand. He would rather save sinners than kill them. So he comes off as a wise and kind but firmly authoritative old priest. He even specifically eschews the use of the flame-gun, preferring instead to use his simple blade.

..but he still knows better than most that some evil cannot be corrected, and under the grandfatherly exterior is a bone-tough and ruthless hater of sin who is more than capable of tackling the horrors of the void single-handedly. I want to play an Avestite that makes the other players cheer and shit their pants with excitement when he finally locks and loads his flamegun.