Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gen Con 2014 (Part 2)

In my last post I wrote about my Gen Con experiences around Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, but I got to play a number of other great games as well. The DCC community pretty much guarantees a great time at the table, which is a contrast to the crap shoot that playing a Gen Con game with random strangers can be. I suppose I got lucky this year as all of my games were a lot of fun and I encountered no serious breaches of gamer etiquette (or my personal sensibilities). I always brace myself for such things in a Con setting - so this was a welcome relief.
I'll stop the veiled complaints here. [Well.. allow me one overt complaint: I hate crowds and it becomes a trial to endure being awash in a sea of humanity for so many days in a row.]

Onward to the games. First up is:


I backed the Fate Kickstarter based on murmurings in the gamer community about how great the Dresden Files game was and how Fate would prove to be even better. When I got a chance to read through the rules I became more and more impressed with what they had done and found much of the mechanics behind the system to be pretty brilliant. My trepidation for embracing a story telling game melted away into a fascination with this refreshing approach to role playing games. [Aggressive disclaimer: The wafting stink of bickering over OSR vs. Storytelling Games be damned. A good game is a good game and I enjoy both ends of this spectrum].
I put together an adventure based on Welcome to Night Vale that takes place on Street Cleaning Day (listeners to the podcast will know how frightening of a scenario that creates, and those who don't listen should). My game was fun, but I came away from it feeling like the players didn't get out of it what I wanted them to. I felt like players needed to be pretty familiar with the rules to have it click and flow well during the game. I'd blame my own inexperience coupled with the players unfamiliarity more than I'd blame Fate's system.

The game I got in on was Elhal: The Harvest ran by +Phil Vecchione. His familiarity with the world of Elhal (Phil being one of the creators) and his obvious time spent on preparation had his game run smooth. This was how Fate was supposed to feel. I quickly had an idea of who my character was, what motivated him, and how I could use that in the game. Using cards to represent Situation Aspects and placing tokens on them worked well in this game. It didn't play out like resource management minigame inside an RPG like I feared it would. Rather, it became a way to keep track of all your options while keeping the story and action flowing.
It should also be said that a Con game of Fate is a vastly different flavor of play from what the system offers holistically. You don't have time in a four hour game to create characters, much less design the world in which they populate. The Fate core system offers that character/world creation into the hands of the player more so it gives overall control to the GM. This breaking from the traditional power dynamic between the GM and the players is a refreshing intent and genius of Fate. The point here is that I thought of Fate as a great new system that would fail outside of a regular campaign, but my experience here proved me wrong.
I lurk on the Fate G+ group and the community there is active with enthusiasm and support for not only the published core material, but independent creators and homebrew hacks. This is great to see and I hope that it propels Fate into the regular canon of RPGs for years to come.

That's it for now. Part 3 coming soon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gen Con 2014 (Part 1)

   I've been traveling to the bowels of the Midwest for the past 4 (or is it 5?) years to meet up with my good friend +Matthias Weeks (and a cast of other obsessed gamer friends from across the country) for Gen Con. My feelings about the city of Indianapolis (it's a shithole) weigh nothing on the event itself though. The four days spent there would be wasted on an interesting city as the experience is comprised exclusively of indoor activities. I look forward to this clusterfuck of all things gaming all year. I get a badge as soon as they are available and register for games the second the queue opens up. If you knew me, you'd realize this is a big deal as I usually possess some sort psychological aversion to planning.
   This years registration opened up the same weekend that I was staying in a cabin in the deep wilds of Pennsylvania for a gaming retreat with a dozen other friends. There was no cell reception there, so +Michael Bolam and I had to drive an hour to the nearest town to register 1-2 bars. We waited to push our wish lists into the Gen Con system. In the last few seconds, we realized our countdowns weren't matching up, mine being slower - I hit refresh. The 1.5 second delay landed me around 4,356 in line leaving me with only three games from a long list. A bit disheartening after all the effort, but a lot of what I was looking forward to happens outside the normally scheduled games anyway.

   My Gen Con experience is outlined below. I'll break chronology for this post and divide it up by game instead.
Of course, I'll start this off with:

 Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

   My first stop of the Con was the dealer room and more specifically the Goodman Games booth. I picked up all of their new offerings and completed my collection of Dungeon Crawl Classics zines. DCC is a great system in it's own right, but a major piece of what enhances that for me is the community that surrounds it. These zines are proof of the power of that community and an OGL. The unpolished and unpretentious way that the authors are able to create adventures and even new worlds gives me the same feeling of the atmosphere created by early pulp sci fi and fantasy weird fiction that DCC takes it's inspiration from. Enough gushing - go check this shit out for yourself!

+Crawl! Fanzine+Crawljammer Zine+Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, and Crawling Under a Broken Moon are all more than worthy of your time and money. I was very thankful that +Jen Brinkman grabbed all of these zines so they could be sold at the Goodman booth.  So yeah, I dropped $140 (minus 10% due to a lucky d20 roll) in the first ten minutes of the con.

   I got in on a game of Catastrophe Island on it's first night. Catastrophe Island was an afterhours multi-GM gonzo 0-level DCC game ran by +Adam Muszkiewicz+Doug Kovacs, and +Wayne Snyder. I ended up at Wayne's table with my trusty set of funky dice and a sport bottle full of whiskey. I can't with any economy of space recount the entire gauntlet of horrible situations my character found himself in. But, I can tell you that he was the sole survivor of his ship by virtue of running away from everything and making more than a few good Luck and Agility rolls. Though all of his party died, he did not end up alone while cradled in the fetal position inside a cave - he had a possessed chicken, a possessed ape man, and a possessed young Dave Mustane to keep him company.

   Sadly, I didn't end up getting to play the tournament that +Harley Stroh had put together called the "The Seven Pits of Sezrekan". The lines were always too long and I always had too little time or too much hunger. I'm not much of a fan of tournaments, but this looked like a lot of fun with lots of yelling and was obviously in high demand.

   Not to malign the enjoyable insanity of the gonzo funnels, I do have to say that is not the top experience DCC offers. I judge a weekly game of DCC and rarely get to play. Now, I get the limits of the con set up and the need to accommodate a large amount of people wanting to play, but I was hankering for a solid dungeon crawl with a character that had a class. I got this in spades when I sat down at +Edgar Johnson's table for "Blood for the Serpent King". This was an adventure that he wrote and was published in Dungeon Crawl Classics #82. I don't want to give away too many spoilers here, but I will say that my 2nd level Elf, Neurot, had a good run that would have had a sudden end had I not gotten a great roll on top of an extreme desperation spellburn to Invoke Patron. I got to play out a battle between a three-headed manifestation of Azi Dahaka versus a single headed giant snake. Three heads won, though the barely alive husk of my Elf didn't contribute much after that.

   That's about it for my DCC experience at the con, besides going to the Goodman Games seminar and getting to see what's in the pipeline for releases. This is covered in depth by Spellburn Podcast, should you be curious about the details. I do regret not summoning the courage to stand up in the middle of the seminar in front of The Dark Master and ask when they are going to reveal that +Harley Stroh is working on his next series of adventures for D&D called "5e Shades of Grey"... (jokes).

Next time I return here I will give a report on other amazing games that I got to experience at the con - including FATE, Shadows of Esteren, and Shadowrun.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Monstrosities for Dungeon Crawl Classics #03


Init +2; Atk bite +2 melee (1d4); AC10; HD1d8; MV 35'; Act 1d20; SP Innocent Appearance; SV Fort +1; Ref +2; Will+0; AL N

The Feral Carrion Children are the survivors of unwanted children left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. A callous tradition of the neighboring villages allows for parents of inconvenient offspring to leave them on an altar in the deep forest. Should they survive the night, these cast offs will be absorbed into the local pack. Instead of becoming hunters, the pack has developed a system of chase away rather than chase down. They stalk other predators, waiting until they make a kill, then chase off the animal -- stealing the corpse of their prey. The children have a disdain for adults and will expel any from their ranks when they come of age. They will also attack any adult that is unfortunate enough to lay eyes on them. Besides being covered in putrid blood and chewing raw meat, they have the Innocent Appearance of normal children. This makes it necessary for any Lawful or Neutral PC to make a DC10 Will save in order to make the first attack against them.

GM Advice: Adventurers will not be expecting to see a human child on their own in the deep wilderness. Set the scene as innocent looking and add the details as the party gets closer -- blood running down the chin of the child who is crouching over a decaying insect covered corpse. Once one child is seen and approached in any way the rest of the pack will come out of hiding and immediately attack. Keep in mind their Innocent Appearance and make it a moral quandary for the players who are inclined to respect human life.

Artwork by +Carly Onofrio. Stats and concept by +Kane Cathain.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Monstrosities for Dungeon Crawl Classics #02


Init +0; Atk ghostly grip +2 melee (1d6); AC10; HD2d8; MV float 30'; Act 1d20; SP choke, incorporeal; SV Fort +0; Ref +0; Will +3; AL C

A Phantasmal Cult appears as the residual energies of an ancient ritual coalesce during the alignment of constellations of a forgotten astrology. Anyone that comes in contact with them will be set upon and choked in a ghostly grip as they force their spectral hands into the mouth and down the throat of their victims. This ghostly grip can only be escaped with a DC10 Will save. Failure on a save will incur 1d6 damage per round until a successful check is made. The cult can also become incorporeal as an action during their round which enables them to move and be unharmed by any physical weapons. They will immediately become corporeal if they take magical damage or cause physical damage.

GM Advice: Use the Phantasmal Cult's ability to become incorporeal to force the players into using well orchestrated tactics (such as having a character high in the initiative order cause magical damage so the others can take a whack at it before it has a chance to become incorporeal again). Also take note that the cult will not become corporeal until it causes physical damage - failed attempts don't count. This monstrosity is good for random encounters in both remote areas and urban centers. The altars that they typically form around can be either long forgotten and grown over in the wilderness or have had a temple to another god built on top of them.

Artwork by +Carly Onofrio. Stats and concept by +Kane Cathain.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Back behind the screen

Introduced my players to Punjar this evening. They started The Jewels of the Carnifex, but I derailed them when a giant hand of shadow caused a sudden demolition of the pub they were in. After they deal with some extra planar wizardly curses - they'll get back to the Jewels.

This was also the first appearance of a home brewed class of Alchemist. I created the base stats for the class and our play group is going to collectively round out the details as we playtest. I think it'll be a great way to create a custom class as cool ideas are already flowing from my players. The Alchemist will be less of a brewer of ingestible potions and more of a creator of flammable sword coatings, glue traps, and the like. There will also be rules for gathering materials in the field as well. More to come later - I'll be posting the Alchemist class here when its complete.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why Dungeon Crawl Classics

With a bit of history mixed with veiled bootlicking and a review somewhere between the lines, I present to you...
                              Why DCC?

I was slow to come to embrace the Old School Renaissance (OSR) style gaming. That is, until I investigated the concept that a reverence for Appendix N was driving the flavor of many of these games. My perception of going old school for the sake of old school left me feeling like going back to the mechanics of yesteryear would ignore the progress and evolution of role-playing games and end up with a dull experience at the table. But, at the same time, this “progress and evolution” has ended up in sales cycles of a thousand books covering every minute detail of a quadruple classed character’s ability to cook a brace of coneys.

Extreme grognard vs pallette ripping crunch = equally tedious.

Enter Dungeon Crawl Classics. And here I’ll rip a claim by Goodman Games that makes a promise to hit the sweet spot I didn’t know I’d been looking for: “Return to the glory days of fantasy with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Adventure as 1974 intended you to, with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery.” Between this and the badass Motorhead-like foil cover on a thick-as-a-brick-supplements-not-needed rulebook, I was sold. And I can report from the perspective of running a weekly DCC game for over two years now, that I have not been disappointed.

Starting with the concept of a 0-level character funnel (where you start your first adventure with 3-4 characters, among whom maybe one of them will survive) that then flows into first level characters that hold to the old school concept of race-as-class (i.e. you are a wizard or an elf, not both), a blending of new with old grounds the players as to what to expect out of DCC. Each of these classes offers something unique in play style without the over complication that would slow things down. If you are looking to be a special and unique flower of a min-maxed character, look elsewhere. But, if you want to play a game where a simple system is clearly laid out and the world is formed as you create it -- stick around. I don’t want to put you to sleep so I won’t go into the minutiae of the rules system, but I have found them to be simple, adaptable, and engaging.

Now, back to the influence of Appendix N. I had the pleasure of talking to Joseph Goodman at Gen Con about Appendix N specifically and his enthusiasm for it being the basis for DCC was clear. The limitlessness of weird fantasy permeates the adventures that support DCC. It truly does succeed in harkening us back to a time before we memorized the stat block for every Monster Manual entry. The unpredictable nature of those early works of fantasy are reflected in DCC. Survival may mean running away from a fight and the creatures you encounter are likely something you’ve never encountered before. Then you have the magic system. A majority of that thick ass rule book is devoted to spell tables. The wild variance in how a spell goes off makes for a tense relationship with the nature of magic.

All of this stuff makes for a great game, but there are a lot of great games out there. I’m a bit scattered most of the time and end up often jumping from system to system. DCC has curbed that behaviour for the most part due to the community that surrounds it. There’s a sea of adventures and content created by passionate authors and I've yet to come across any that disappoint. I've watched the game grow in a unique way over the years. It's grown in ideas and themes, not in the number of supplement books to buy (as is typically the norm).

This may very well have just been a preaching to the choir, but hopefully if you haven't played DCC this will entice you to. I hate being a salesman, so take this as an introduction instead.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Monstrosities for Dungeon Crawl Classics #01


Init +3; Atk bite +2 (1d6); AC13; HD 2d8; MV 40'; Act 1d20; SP death sense, supernatural; SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +0; AL C

Shashpin are supernatural hounds that have no eyes and can only sense the smell of death. They are drawn to the dying or the freshly dead. Emerging from shadow, they are difficult to see (DC15 Will save to see them) and the clicking of their teeth will often be the last thing that their dying targets will hear before passing on and being devoured. While only interested in a fresh death, they will attack anything keeping them from their meal.
The Shashpin normally reside in an umbra that flows through light and dark of different dimensions. Whether drawn into existence by sensing the essence of death or summoned by foul magics, they are of a singular purpose and cannot be controlled or reasoned with. 
Damage from non-magical weapons will cause half damage to the Shashpin while damage from spells will be doubled. If a character fails to make the DC15 Will save they are considered to be fighting blind.

GM Advice: Give hints of the existence of the Shashpin when there's any NPC, monster, or character death. Before there is an actual confrontation, use any opportunity to describe a disembodied sound of gnashing and clicking teeth and have a body be partially devoured the moment they turn their back from it. Devious GMs can use them to make rescuing a dying fellow party member very difficult. Then again, the Shashpin are an uncontrollable extraplanar force that can make things difficult for any side of a conflict.

Artwork and concept by +Carly Onofrio. Stats and concept by +Kane Cathain.