Monday, September 28, 2015

Rules to live by (or die trying)

As everyone continues to prepare for session #1, here are a couple good posts to reread (or just read, if you haven't read them before):

Players: What you need to know to play

The Importance of Finding Another Way (and AD&D Combat Math)

These are written more for new players, but if I did a decent job they really should benefit anyone. I also highly recommend A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming as a good AD&D mentality refresher.

On the topic of numbers and rules, one AD&D mechanic that always seems to get house-ruled is the critical hit. By the book, a natural 20 on an attack roll hits automatically. Many groups expand this to the attack automatically dealing double or max damage.

Over the years, I've developed a tendency to leave the critical hit rule alone. As unfun as it is for a player to roll a '1' for damage after scoring a natural 20 on the attack, the problem is that the mechanic tilts both ways. Player characters will generally be targeted by more attack rolls during a session than their enemies, and have much, much more to lose from erratic swings in damage. In the AD&D world, all lives are not created equal!

Hopefully, the frequency with which the players breathe a sigh of relief that we didn't change the critical hit rule will outweigh the times they bemoan it. Keep your tactics sound and the rolls will take care of themselves.

EDIT: Oops, I was wrong on this one. Sean pointed out to me that we did enforce max damage on natural 20s in Ravenloft, despite its potential to be detrimental to the party over the course of many battles. I'm OK with continuing that, in the name of the players' fun superseding the statistics. Anyway, it's far less swingy than extra dice or multipliers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Decisions and Values

A little more than a week before our official start date, I have the campaign options narrowed down to two that I actually like. Both are developed at a high level in my mind; both will require more fleshing out over the next several days before we play the first session. Until recently, I had only one option that I felt good about, and a handful of other, disjointed paths that weren't coming together. I'm happy with both options I'm considering now; either should result in a good game.

The choice is a classic debate of homebrew vs. published, and it mostly boils down to whether or not to favor the prevalence of powerful governments and organizations in the world. A secondary consideration is the value of having locked-in anchor points with prewritten details and histories, along with overarching histories of races, kingdoms, and a select number of high-profile NPCs.

I'll spend the next week figuring all this out; in the meantime, below is the set of core values to which the chosen setting must adhere. These line items represent to me the most critical elements that the campaign world needs to provide:

Value #1 - The setting must accommodate a player-driven campaign. By this, I mean that the goals and desires of the PCs should be the main determinants of the campaign's path, not sidelined while the party goes along for the ride in my haunted house. The common term for this is "sandbox"; the setting must provide a large variety of adventuring paths to explore at (mostly) the whims of the PCs.

Value #2 - The setting must be able to feed the primary motivations of the starting characters. This value adds more specificity to value #1. Not only must the setting provide many adventuring options to the PCs, it must also provide the means to satiate the high-level goals of the starting characters as detailed to me by the players. The primary motivations given are "discovery," "exploration," "riches," and "vindication."

Value #3 - The setting must provide verisimilitude. Of course no fantasy world is going to seem real in the way our actual lives do; what's important is that the setting is believable within the context it defines. For me, realism within the fantasy world is a golden rule. It stands upon a pedestal. One of the reasons I stay away from the newer D&D editions is that I find them to be "gamey" in ways that distract from the sense of believability more than I would like. The rules system cannot do this, and neither can the setting.

Value #4 - The prep work needed to run the setting must be sustainable. We are a group of adults (technically speaking) with busy lives. I have a family, a career, and other hobbies and commitments outside of D&D. I have some time to prepare and run a D&D game, but that time is not unlimited. Many RPG campaigns start strong but sputter out after a handful of sessions due to the DM not being able to meet the time commitments to maintain the game. Running a D&D campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. The amount of prep work required of me must be something I can sustain.

Value #5 - The setting must "speak to me" and keep my interest as DM. If lack of time is the biggest reason for campaigns falling apart early, loss of interest by the DM is second. Campaign worlds built around bizarre or gimmicky premises tend to lose their novelty once the honeymoon period is over. The setting for our game must be robust and multi-faceted enough to hold my interest (and the interest of the players) through many sessions and levels over multiple years.

Value #6 - Preexisting player knowledge of the setting must not be exploitable. I would likely not run a Ravenloft game for a group of players whose Ravenloft knowledge eclipsed my own. Such a situation puts too much pressure on me to abide by perceived canon material for fear of being called out on differences, and carries too much risk of certain plot lines being spoiled by players who already know the books. Running a setting that doesn't present the PCs with a sense of trepidation for the unknown would be unfair to both me and the players.

Will be good to get our first game in so I can finally stop thinking about this stuff. :)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Revisiting T1, four years later

As I'm gearing up to kick off a new campaign (and as I've been bogged down with a cold all week), I've been reading, a lot. AD&D blogs, Realms stuff, DMing books, you name it. One thing I did was revisit my posts from running T1 for high school buddies a few years back. We played four sessions, sorely needing one more, but due to scheduling and life, we never got it in. It'd have been nice to wrap that one up.

In any case, what really stood out to me in those games was how they practically ran themselves. The village and NPCs, everything simply reacted to what the characters did, and the successes and failures they found. There was an overarching plot to the moat house, but it mostly lurked in the dark, away from the spotlight. It was all about the PCs.

The Ravenloft game we just ended was pretty railroad-y, most of the way. Ravenloft's atmosphere demands that, to some extent. But I really want this next campaign to reclaim the "sandbox" element and freedom of direction that we had with Hommlet. It's D&D in its rawest form. Plot is like a good spice: a little goes a long way; much more than that can ruin the dish.

T1: The Village of Hommlet (part 1)

T1, part 2: A Mixed Bag

T1, part 3: A Feasting of Ghouls

T1, part 4: In the Arms of the Enemy (literally)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Final Ravenloft XP totals

As I'll soon be removing these from the sidebar, I'm posting them here as a formal archive:

  • Leilana - 8,224
  • Aginot - 7,904
  • Carmen - 7,550
  • Gaertorin - 3,900/3,940

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ravenloft, Farewell

All good things must come to an end, and so it is that we've chosen to set our Ravenloft game aside, indefinitely, to begin a new campaign. This decision is more a result of real-life changes and availability than anything else, but Falkovnia and Drakov's Talons will surely be missed. We had a solid run of 21 sessions over the course of three years, with six characters between four players. Until we meet again...


In any event, something I'd like to try with the next game (aside from running a more traditional setting) is making the DM screen more transparent, as per some advice I recently picked up on. That doesn't mean players become privy to enemy stat blocks and unexplored map areas, but it would involve making most (if not all) DM dice rolls public. It seems like an interesting and worthwhile challenge - it definitely forces me to up my game, in terms of getting my rolls right and not pulling any punches for the PCs. I think we'll give it a go.

Edition-wise, I'm fairly sure we'll remain on AD&D 2e for the players, and for simplicity I'll likely follow suit, rather than having to deal with conflicting class and spell details in OSRIC. While 1e/2e/OSRIC are all nearly interchangeable at their cores, 2e still provides the best class options for wizards and priests, and remains the AD&D system I know best.

Look for more information on the new game in the coming weeks. Players can start bouncing around character ideas - in that vein, I leave you with this.