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Game Review #47 – Through the Breach (Fated and Fate Masters Almanacs – aka Malifaux RPG) (Warning – Potentially disturbing art in review)

Hello Readers

Ok so I am starting this with a bit of a warning because the art I am including, even just from the book covers may seem a little creepy, startling or disturbing to some. I think personally it is still mild but since this blog gets posted to FB and I have family that might read it I wanted to make sure that its known right off the bat.

Ok so with that warning out of the way, lets take a look at Through the Breach.

This RPG was actually created to support, sort of, the table top strategy game called Malifaux. The setting was created by Wyrd aka Wyrd Games as a story driven miniature strategy game setting. The setting itself is sort of a horror, steampunk, dystopian, Shadowrun setting. There is an extensive history that ties Earth to another world and from the other world magic comes into Earth. Seeing as how this happens in the 1700 – 1800 time range you can guess as to where the steampunk elements come from. In the alternate world there is an apparently abandoned city. The city and the world basically get the same name from the earthers and from that point on things get weirder.

Through the story arcs in the miniatures game horror is established as humans quickly determine they are not alone. And the things in this world hate… welllll, everything. But that does not mean that there is not a bit of a sense of humor to it as well…

Fate chompy

… as is evident by the monster being named Lord Chompy Bitts…

So while the miniatures game uses the same world, and the characters from the miniatures game can show up in the RPG, the players in the RPG have a lot more freedom to adventure how the want and not be as limited by faction or alliance as the miniatures game is.

The scope of the world of Malifaux is really interesting, as, well, its not all published. There is no telling where everything is out there in the world. It may be huge or it may end completely just past the edge of the known. So for everything they have published so far, we as players and consumers may have barely touched the surface of the world.

The scope of the city of Malifaux is a little more controlled… but only a little.

Malifaux City

I mean if you look at that map you can see two huge areas called Quarantine Zone. Both of those areas offer elements that are unexplored, dangerous, and frequently just weird.

The content of the setting is an eclectic mix of cultures, myths, and almost a stereotypical wild west kind of feeling. It has firearms and steampunk cybernetics, mixed with magic and sword fighting. living mythic monsters and strange horrors that Lovecraft would sit back and smile at.

So I think you are getting the picture here. The setting is well detailed, the art backing it up is beautiful and the stories are awesome.

Now then comes the challenge. I dislike the game mechanic almost as much as I hate GURPS.

First and foremost I dont like using cards as the main mechanic. And mixing cards and other mechanics together… unh… no… just no. They have also described the world in such a way that it is a challenge to even mod the game setting to other core rules without loosing something. That makes it a bit frustrating to mod unless you are using a game engine that is totally open ended.

Strangely in spite of that challenge, I still find the setting all kinds of fun, I think the Malifaux minis are beautiful, and so I can let a few things go by.

My wife is setting up a game for us right now (board game) so I am cutting this review short. I mean most of the rest would be me soap boxing or blathering  on.

Overall Fluff 5/5 – It is freaking beautiful. Background stories, art, NPC opinions and so many of them fleshed out well. Yeah this is worth a 5/5.

Overall Crunch 2/5 – Ungh, the rules. It is playable dont get me wrong. But they took nearly every thing a game can do that I dont like and rolled it up into a single playing engine. There are a lot of ways to spoof the rules and moving the setting to another engine that can work better than plying it as is.

Overall Mod 3/5 – Not easy to mod. The intricate way things have been put together makes it harder to tinker unless you just keep the story and then add new rules into play.

Overall Fun 4/5 – The setting is weird. Horror, steampunk, and so much more. The fact that is it outside our current reality by just a couple of steps. It is unusual, it is interesting, and it feels very much alive to play in… if only the rules.

Total Score 14/20 – Ok so here is what we are looking at overall. The setting rocks the rules will be a matter of taste. Its a lot of fun but the rules can get in the way. It is worth a look at the very least.

Ok so that is it for now. I hope everyone out there is having a good day and is not working too hard if you are working.

Now gimme the dice. I need to see how many soul stones can fit inside of one editors in box.

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This weeks blog not brought to you by anything…

Thats right… just not feelin it this week.

And thats ok 😛

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many dice you need to use to make a comfy pillow… I am guessing a lot.

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What is a Horror game?

Howdy readers.

I need to ask you all the question, what is a horror game?

I mean sure you can go play Call of Cthulhu, or get into Ravenloft, you can get games going in the World of Darkness, you can get lost in the Void, and so many others.

But are these really horror?

I mean when I read a book like In the Mountains of Madness by H.P Lovecraft, there is a sense of mystery, an air of suspense as you learn more about what is going on but never really see everything. When I play a game of Call of Cthulhu I am usually looking for the next monster to kill and hoping that I dont loose too much in the way of SAN so I wont mix up my black powder explosives and my writing kit.

Maybe its me as a player. I really dont get a feeling of suspense. I dont really get why my character should be afraid. Maybe I know the game mechanics too well and just get frustrated by not getting good die rolls. I do at least feel trepidation when die rolls are taken out of my hands, or I dont know what the GM is doing behind their screen. But that is not a sense you can really sustain.

As a GM I have tried things for players like telling them up front that I have changed some of the game mechanics and until your characters encounter them you are not going to learn about them out of game either. And that does seem to cause a little bit of horror. When no one in the group knows something… it seems to add that bit of ‘oooooooooo, scary’ to the situation.

So what does it mean to you readers? What makes a horror game? What makes a horror campaign? How do you make it work?

Ok now gimme the dice… one at a time… slowly… and if you hand me any of them with a number other than 1 there will be… consequences…

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Tales from the Game Table – Live Table

Welcome readers, running a little early this week so as to have a bit more weekend fun tomorrow.

dm disaster mw kaluta

So early on in my game playing days I started experimenting with the concept of playing a live table. For those who dont know what that means it is when everything that is said at the game table is said or done by the characters in the game. Players talking to each other is assumed to be in character. Statements of action are what a character is doing. It is not an easy thing to get used to, and usually it is easier to get it going in a serious game than a comedic one.

So in one of my very first attempts to play a live table, young me and young other players… and well… we happened to be playing a little game called Paranoia.

Things had been going ok… not great but ok… for the players…

But then that is the nature of Paranoia.

I had been using live table off and on in the game, trying to get the players to act things out a bit more, role play a bit more. And we had some really good moments. Then we get to a point where the players had lost most of their gear, but caught the enemy and were about to bring them in for questioning, when they suddenly realized they had no rope… and we had a moment that went like…

“Ok so how are you going to secure your prisoners?”

“I don’t know… we don’t have any rope…”

“Could we tear up our clothes?”

“Roll against your Moxie.”

****rolling sound of 2d10****

“Ok with a roll like that you realize that ripping up your uniforms would be very creative but it is also willfully destroying property of the Computer, and that is treason.”

“Shit… ok… ummm… ok…so… so I…”

****sounds of dice rolling****

“Looks like they are about to wake up… what do you do?”

“Ok… so I take of my belt and… awww #@%&-it.”

“You have no lotion so it hurts, make an endurance roll…”

Young male jokes about sex ensue.

I quietly rolled a couple of dice and realized that the prisoners had been so sheltered that what they saw as they were waking up scared them… I mean if he was willing to do that to a belt there was no telling what he might do to them…

We didn’t get much further that session. But in the end everyone was either having fun or young enough to be totally confused about the whole thing but too nervous to say anything. Young male players in the early 80’s.

So yeah… that happened… and things like it happened again and again…Not the worst thing really 🙂

heh

Ok so that’s a short post this week. I hope that everyone is having a great weekend.

Now gimme the dice. I need to see just how many troubleshooters could shoot trouble if trouble didn’t shoot back.

 

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Character Building 103 – Building Together

So having talked a bit about types of gamers, and elements in a character you may be thinking I am totally nuts, or you may be wondering how to get everyone on board and try to get a little more role play in your game.

Lets start out with what players can do to encourage each other to add a bit more depth into their characters.

The first and easiest thing players can do is to ask each other questions about their characters. Imagine an exchange like this…

Player A : So you have a pretty cool sword in game, I mean you put a lot of money into it. What makes it so special?

Player B : Its big and does a lot of damage.

Player A : So did you give it a name?

Player B : Why would I do that?

Player A : Well you know how in most of the good novels and movies the hero always has a name for their really cool weapons. Heart Seeker, The So and So family blade, and other stuff that they can call out during a fight. You seem to like that sort of thing so I thought you might have named it.

Player B : hmmmm…

It is a little thing. It is not asking the other player for a background. Some players wont bite on the suggestion and you will have to try other little ways to get them to add bits and pieces as you play but I think you can see the lots of ways you can get this going. Ask someone playing a Ranger why that species is their favored enemy. Ask a Wizard what makes the specific spells she has so important. Ask the Cyborg what part they got replaced first.

I have found that even with the most dedicated power gamers little questions like this over time can lead to players thinking past the numbers and developing much more fleshed out characters.

Some players have a bit of a challenge thinking about things like this at first, so the second thing players can do to help each other out is to make sure that when you do ask questions you are ready to follow up your questions with examples from popular media that the other player might be familiar with. This may require a bit more effort on the part of the player asking the question, but it will be worth it in the end.

The third thing is that the most powerful examples you can have some times are what inspired you to make the character you did. Did you have a fully fleshed out idea in mind? Did the way the dice rolled up the characteristics remind you of another character? And if in these examples you have to blatantly admit that you stole some ideas from a book or a movie, be honest about it.

Lastly, be supportive. When players step outside their comfort zone and play a new character type, or try to develop a background for the first time, it can feel intimidating. Not everyone has the confidence to jump into anything more than making the numbers match up right off the bat. And that is totally cool. Players need to support each other. You are a team after all.

Now from the GM’s perspective there is also a lot you can do to help encourage players to make a fully fleshed out character.

First is that you can pick a game engine that gives you ways to flesh out your characters more. Cyberpunk 2020, Palladium Books, and Role Master all make you or give you the option of walking character creation through your characters background to build them in a story like fashion. The Cypher System and Over the Edge have you build a character with descriptive terms so you sort of start them out in the flesh. Champions and GURPS build with a point base that requires you to take faults and flaws and quirks to round out your point costs. These added details can be fleshed out at any point to add more depth…

Actually here is an example from a Champions game…

Player A : I need 25 more points to finish off the character.

GM : Do you have any Hunted flaws?

Player A: No

GM : Ok then put down Hunted by Bob 11 or less. We can figure out who he is later.

That exchange ended up resulting in one of the strangest NPCs I have ever seen, and it actually got more than a few players involved in not only the characters story, but in to the NPC’s story as well.

So other than picking a system that encourages character depth, what else can a GM do?

Controlling the table is another thing. By that I mean enforcing that when players are at the table they are in character. The fastest way I have found to do this is to set a rule that anything said at the game table is said by the character. If you are using out of game information at the table it is bad for the player and their character both. If they keep themselves in character at the table you can offer bonus XP or other rewards.

The third big thing is to, from right at the beginning, reward players for going more in depth regarding their characters. XP for doing backgrounds, material rewards or something else for coming up with art that fits their character (drawn, photoed in cosplay or copied from online). Something for adding a soundtrack to their character. As long as you set the expectation for the players from the very first game session and you remain consistent in your rewards this sort of things can make players reach a bit deeper for the possible rewards. Now then if you are not applying this equally to all your players, you will cause a rift and screw up the group and you may well loose your gaming friends. So keep an eye on yourself. And if someone speaks up. Listen.

The last thing is something that should have come first in all likelihood but so it goes. That is to actually talk to your players. If you have three players who want character depth and story and three who just want to break stuff, you may want to consider two groups. If you have only one player who wants to do deep story then you might want to see if you can do that outside of the regular group sessions so that the player can work out the story. If you have just one player who wants to just destroy everything and not role play at all, consider bringing that player to your side of the table. Put them in charge of the monsters and the monsters tactics. You will likely need to scale down the power of your NPCs due to the new levels of aggression they may have. But that is all good too.

I am sure that as players and GMs you will come up with other ideas, or just pan the idea and go about your business. Just remember that in the end it is your game, and your characters. If my suggestions are not the way you want to play, that is totally awesome too. It is your game. Play it your way.

Now gimme the dice, I need to role up a random game generator generator.

hope you all continue to have fun and play nice with each other. 😉

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Game Review #46 – Pathfinder 1st Edition (G)

Hello Readers

Well this is one I have been holding off on for a while now. The reason is that I really love this game and I did not want to be gushing all over it without being able to give a balanced review.

Pathfinder

Pathfinder by Piazo Publishing did not start out as its own role-playing game, but was originally a setting of sorts for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 by WOTC (Wizards of the Coast) that was presented in Dungeon Magazine’s Adventure Path materials when the magazine was being published by Piazo.

The sordid history regarding WOTC canceling their open licence for 3.5 and canceling contracts for things like the publication of Dragon Magazine by third parties that resulted in Piazo creating D&D 3.75 (aka Pathfinder) is not something I will go into here. There have been enough internet rants and flame wars on the topic over the years to satisfy anyone but the most hardcore troll. Whats done is done, and the end result was Pathfinder. I am also not going to go into my opinion regarding some of their more recent (last four years) products and publication methods. This is also something that has been argued to death in many places and I dont want to waste my time with it. I would rather just enjoy the original game and talk about it. So here goes…

The short form of what makes it different from D&D 3.5 was that it took all the elements of 3.5 and improved on them either slightly or greatly. Some of the things that they improved slightly were things like the overall power progression for every class. They balanced them out and upped the power level overall a little in regards to things like Feats so that everyone could feel more heroic. They made skill progression a little more instinctive (less futzing around with class non class) and rewarding for taking class skills. In regards to combat they did one really big thing that helped the game flow a TON and that was to remove the uniqueness of the different combat maneuvers (each having their own method of resolution) like tripping, or charging, and merging them into a combat stat called Combat Maneuver (Bonus or Defense CMB or CMD). Feats and bonus’ for specific maneuvers were added or subtracted from that value. And they made the math just as simple as Armor Class or Base To Hit. It seriously saves a lot of time and effort if you are playing with people who want to do more than just hit things.

Overall magic remained mostly the same, save for making magic items. They ditched the XP cost for making magic items and made it more challenging skill wise.

Overall they increased the flexibility of the system.

When it came to the publication itself the initial book was basically the equivalent of the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master Guide in one publication that was big enough that you could beat someone bloody with. The interior art was so good that it would become a challenge for other publishers to meet. I mean really, monks and druids are rare in my games so I have to figure they are fairly uncommon in other groups too.. but look at this halfling druid and human monk…

Seriously does that not look inspiring? These are straight from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Artists are credited there. But seriously does that not make it look cool to be a druid? Or a monk?

And the basics they gave for the setting were enough to titillate a bit but not enough to lock you into any setting specifics other than suggested deities.

Now then what was really interesting was that they had set up Pathfinder so you could grab most anything from D&D 3.5, including their own Adventure Path settings and just run with it. Pathfinder characters would be a bit more powerful, but scaling was easy too when it came to the monsters, so you could just tweak things a bit and get up and running.

Now then I did encounter a number of people who for various reasons did not want to move their campaigns and such over to Pathfinder when D&D 3.5 had the plug pulled. And even though it was a bit frustrating to have something superior on hand to use I always tried to keep myself in check since I had a similar reaction when AD&D 2nd edition came out. It can be hard to let go of something you like and have invested in.

Another thing that I have enjoyed about Pathfinder is teaching the game. With the games layout, art, and presentation I have successfully taught more than one player who was completely new to role-playing games to create a character and be under way in less than two hours. I have had similar success with groups who are mixed being new to games or just new to Pathfinder. Being that easy to teach, and D&D 3.0/3.5 easy to mod, the game is solid and quick to work with.

Now then I said I was not going to go into the later publications but I do have to say that there was something about their publication model from day one that irked me. Shortly after they published their first Bestiary, they published a small press booklet titled the Adventurer’s Armory. Everything in that book came out again in the larger book the Advanced Players Guide. This pattern has meant that if you were on the ball and hot for everything that came out to supplement your game, you would end up buying the same information two or more times. While this does not directly affect the quality and the coolness of the original game book it does impact long term play-ability and affordability. And I have to mention this so that completely new players have a heads up, and can look for the books that have the most content and do not end up paying multiple times.

Ok so I have ranted and rambled lets see what I see by the numbers…

Overall Fluff 5/5 – Ok so there is little back story, and little follow through in setting up a world in the core book. However the style, the art, the look of the overall publication. This, this is just… dang…

Overall Crunch 4/5 – There is a lot of good stuff in the rules. They are well laid out and easy to follow. If you are coming from D&D 3.0 or 3.5 it should take you all of fifteen minutes to convert over. I have taught new players with this book in under two hours. And that is new to gaming. Not just new to the game. There is a bit of editing error… but for that I am only going to take away a point. It is more aesthetically displeasing that really screwing with your enjoyment and how well you can understand things.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It was made to be modded. I have used D&D Basic modules, AD&D both editions and 3.0/3.5 materials and modded them to Pathfinder with little effort. So the modding goes all ways.

Overall Fun 4/5 – Ok so this may seem a little short on score, but I have to say my overall fun was marred badly by their publication tactics and an overall deterioration of quality the further you get from the original product. When the rules first came out it was a 5/5, no questions asked. But with current eyes and experience I cant feel justified scoring it that high.

Total Score 18/20 – Ok so this score is pretty high. It really is worth it though I think. There are a lot of things that could be considered small flaws. And the follow though on future publications is a little… spotty… however I think in the end this really is the right score.

Ok so that is it for this week.

Play hard, play well, and have fun

Now gimme the dice I need to know how many hit dice my random hit die roller can generate.

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Character Building 102 – Creating a Framework

Hey there readers.

So in my last character building entry I talked a bit about the kind of roleplayers I have experience with. And I also spent a little time talking about the components of a character.

So what the monkey am I talking about when I say creating a framework?

Well when I am talking about a framework I am talking about putting the six elements that I talked about in the first post (Stats, Power, Kit, Personality, Story, and Appearance) into a semblance of order so that you can build like you want to build, or your game needs you to build in.

A quick example would be the following.

If I am a power gamer then I would be looking at a framework that would be

  1. Stats
  2. Power
  3. Kit
  4. Anything else.

Simple.

Now then for myself I like having a complete character with all of the elements that I mentioned. However I do not have a single framework that I use. I set myself up based on if I am using a level based game or a point based game. The reason for that is that when I am doing a level based game, they are bye and large set up for random stat generation. With that in mind I know that I cannot really come up with a story until I get my stats in place and see how they would work. When I am playing a point based game I can get a story and build the character to fit.

So my usual frameworks look like this..

Point based

  1. Personality
  2. Story
  3. Appearance
  4. Stats
  5. Power
  6. Kit

Level based

  1. Stats
  2. Power
  3. Personality
  4. Story
  5. Kit
  6. Appearance

Now then, I can already hear folks asking, ‘Why do you need a story?’

The answer to that is, simple yet not so simple.

With a character story you know more about your character. You know where they came from, how they developed their personality, if any element in their kit is something of importance.

Now then this does not mean you need to develop a 300 page novel about your characters background. It can be a simple paragraph.

For example –

**************

Julian the Swift was born to a wealthy family in one of the largest human cities in the kingdom. He was the last of six children and as such the family had no plans for him, and socially no real need for him. So he was left to his own devices as much as possible to keep him out from under foot. By age 10 he had decided that attention from his family was the last thing that he wanted, and that the street people held much more interesting lives. He fell in with criminals by the age of 12, and his mentor, Old Spider, gifted him with a set of masterwork thieves tools for his 13th birthday to celebrate his first solo job for the Thieves Guild. He would still spend holidays with his family, and even attend parties, mostly to garner information on who the Guild could hit and who they couldn’t. Unfortunately at age 19 he was caught in the act of stealing from one of his families friends and has been on the run since. He would still love to work with Old Spider and the guild, but until he can come up with a cover identity and some gold of his own going back to that city is not really an option.

**************

In that short bit of writing I have set up a background, given some serious motivations, and even hinted at the characters personality. From this you might expect a few stats to be high, and maybe a few others low. You have an idea as to where and how he might have developed skills and other abilities that may not usually seem to be part of a specific class. You know some of the kit that he carries and why it might be important in the game. You also have NPCs that a GM can run with to add to the overall game. I mean what happens when someone catches up to this character with a message saying that Old Spider is dead, or that his elder brothers have died and now he is the heir to the family estate?

Am I saying that background is all important?

No. What I am saying is that it is something that is frequently missed and is as important as everything else in a character.

The number of gamers that I know who can actually run a background on the fly is pretty high. Strangely enough. And so many of them fill in things as needed without a framework like the ones that I use. Being a bit of a control freak and a story teller myself I have a tendency to not even try to do it on the fly. I would rather have a story than not. I would rather have it well before game than not.

For the rest of the world other systems or lack there of may make sense. They may even work. For me not so much.

Personality is also something that most players will initially kind of skip over. They have a tendency to play themselves. I am sooooooo guilty of that it beggars the mind. The reason for this is because it can be hard to play another personality. You dont want to think like someone else. You just want to use your mind and escape reality for a while and dive into another. And that is cool. As long as your character supports it.

I mean if you are constantly drunk, more than a little violent, and have a moral compass with a broken needle… you really should not take that personality into playing a Paladin. If you are a righteous and moral being who cannot stand the idea that anyone should get away with anything, you likely shouldnt play a thief as yourself. You get the idea. If you are going to take your own personality into the game, you should build accordingly and so that should likely be on the top of your framework.

Now then article three in this will be about getting people to develop complete characters. How you can do it as a GM, and how as a player you can get others to do so in your group.

Ok so that should give you something to think about for a bit 🙂 Hope you enjoy.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many alternate personalities this character has… hmmm where is that d5000?

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Character Building 101 – What am I talking about?

Hello there readers

Ok so if you can see the featured image I put up… (yeah this one..)

character-male-anatomy9

I found this on Google Images with a link to a Deviant Art web page that no longer seems to exist or has been taken private. If anyone can find the creator of this art I would like to give them credit for it so please let me know if you find them.

So onto the main topic here…

WTF am I talking about with Character Building?

Depending on the type of gamer you are you might have your own thoughts on what character building is. In my experience there are a few things that folks tend to think of when they get into character building.

The first thing that most folks seem to think about is the stats. What are the numbers, how much strength or intelligence or whatever does my character have?

The second most common thing seems to be the kit. As in how have you kitted out the gear. What tools do I have, what toys do I have, how powerful are the items I am using?

The third thing seems to be power. What sort of special abilities does my character have? What super powers? What spells? What mutations?

The fourth thing seems to be overall appearance. How is my character dressed? What do they look like? Tats? Funky light effects?

The fifth item seems to be personality. Does my character have one? Or am I a raging fight monster who doesn’t need a personality as long as he/she/it has the guns?

And usually the last thing that players seem to think about is story. What is my characters background? Who do they know? What motivates them?

Now then I do know more than a few gamers where the order of those is very different. I also know a lot of gamers for whom a few of those elements do not even seem to exist. And depending on your game, well to be honest, the importance you place on any of those elements may need to change. But the type of gamer you are is going to influence how much effort you put into any of them.

When you talk about the types of gamers I really see everyone falling for the most part into one of the following categories.

The Power Gamer – This is a player who’s stats and powers mean everything to them. They could care less about background, personality, or even looks. They have to have big numbers, and hard core gear so they can blow things out of the water. Even their characters class or role is meaningless as long as it adds power.

The Pro – This is the player who puts everything together so that they can be the very best in the universe at something. When they generate a back story it only really exists to validate being the best at something. It involves training, getting the right gear and so on. They will have maxed out one stat or two and all the associated skills, along with feats or perks or whatever it takes to make them the worlds greatest expert at… something.

The Quirk – This is the player who makes a full character and backstory to support having one or two really strange things going on in their character sheet. Things that make no sense what so ever unless you know their full story. And I dont mean the character I mean the player. It can seem at times like a Quirk and a Pro are the same thing. And occasionally they are because a Quirk who is the best with whatever that strange thing is, is still a Pro.

The Dramatist – This is the player for whom the story is all important. The stats and skills and powers are all meaningless. It is the character and their backstory that is all important. All sixty seven pages of backstory. With all the annotations and details cross referenced so you can see how it is interlaced and they are very much playing to the drama of their story. Their story mind you. Not what everyone else might be playing.

The Balance – This is the player who actually takes a bit from everything above to try and make a balanced character. Powers, skills and abilities all have their place in supporting the story they have created and tried to integrate into the world that has been created and the story that is trying to be told overall in the game setting that has been used. They dont have to be the best, they want to be a part of things. Being the best is ok, but they want everyone in. Not just themselves. Interestingly enough a Balance can actually hide out as any other type of player. All they do is give you a surface view that matches the other gamers and then they keep all of the other stuff to themselves.

In all my time playing I have actually seen a few games that seem to know that they are going to attract players and game groups that would tend to focus on stats and powers and so they have put things into the game engine that will help drive to adding more personality and story to the characters. In most cases this is an optional step. However some have integrated this element fully into the game engine.

So this all racks up to a lot of what I have seen, what my perceptions are, and it does not really go into detail about what you could do. And as usual with my building series I am not going to tell you what you should do. You see even with all the stereotypes I have called out above, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with falling into any of those. As long as the group you are playing with knows that is your style of play and that it will not impact the game play for everyone else. I mean having a Dramatist in with a bunch of Power Gamers is usually just asking for hurt feelings and trouble.

And that leads me to the one and only real rule I have for character building. Be #*$%ing honest with the rest of the players and your GM on what style of play you have. Dont BS them just because you want some time to hang out or show off. It will only come back later to bite you in the @$$. The thing is you do not need to take this to mean that if you put a Dramatist in with Power Gamers it cannot work. As long as everyone knows whats what up front you can give everyone what they need in a game session. As long as you are honest, and your group is open minded, you can make it work.

And all of that leads me to what I do.

For me character creation is a lot like creating a building. You have steps you go through to get to a certain point.

You start with an environment, build a foundation, put a framework into place, add on all the bits and pieces that can make it sound, and then finally shape the appearance and accessories so that it all comes together.

In coming posts on this topic I will go into detail about several of these elements if not all of them. I am going to present them in the order that makes sense to me. However if you work in a different pattern that is totally cool. Heck if you ignore the ideas here that is totally cool too.

All righty, that is where we are going to end today. Look for more soonish.

Now gimme the dice. I need to see if this random stat randomizer is random enough…

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Game Review #45 – Ruins of UnderMountain (S)

Hello Readers and welcome to another game review. Now then using my standards some might wonder why I am designating this as a Supplement instead of a Module. I will get into that in a little bit.

SO while the wiki page for UnderMountain is a little underwhelming it does have a few links to other TSR related information that can help you get a little more info about the author and how this ties into the Forgotten Realms setting, especially the city of Skull Port.

From my personal perspective UnderMountain was the first true mega dungeon. Sure the box set only had three levels. But those three levels were mapped out on four poster maps. The guide book only had information on about 25% of the rooms that were shown on the maps. And there were rules and suggestions for how to add, well, anything you wanted into the unwritten areas to specifically enhance any campaign you were running.

This thing is freaking huge… I mean just look…

undermountain-maps

…and if that wasn’t enough (and for some it was never close to enough) TSR also came up with additional materials to support UnderMountain later… Ruins of UnderMountain II : The Deep Levels (not as good but it really kept up the theme), Dungeon Crawl UnderMountain the lost level (this was actually pretty good if you tied it into other things, on its own… meh) And of course there have been reprintings, updates to later editions of  D&D and knock offs by the score that have tried to out do UnderMountain like AEG’s Worlds Largest Dungeon.

The funny thing is that most of the other mega dungeons that are out there exist only to be adventured in. They dont have any real connection to their environment or world. That means you can drop them any place you like and play the crud out of them. However UnderMountain was tied to the Forgotten Realms in some rather interesting ways. Its primary entrance was in a specific city. It had interesting new magic items and spells that were tied into either the Forgotten Realms as a whole, Skull Port the city it resided under, or some of the background characters that TSR authors and creators had been using for a while. Now then this is not to say that you cannot take UnderMountain and just drop it anywhere you want. You can. You just have to ignore or modify the background and characters a bit so the story elements fit, that is if you want to use them. Considering that the publication only has about 25% of the rooms filled at best, it is really easy to mod it out to whatever setting or location you want to use. My personal favorite of all time is putting UnderMountain under the City State of the Invincible Overlord. Giving me a huge and detailed city with a massive underground complex underneath.

One of the things that comes in the box set that I think is very under valued are the DM assistant cards. Not their real names I know. But these handy little cards have information on treasures, traps, and some of the odd magics that are in the dungeon. TSR put similar cards into other products but most of the time they made them 8 1/2 x 11 page sized, and these cards are just a little over the 3×5 note card size. Much easier to use and keep out of the line of sight of your players.

And of course if I am going to be totally honest… without the maps this thing would not be worth it to me. I am all for added information, new monsters and toys, but… mmmmmmmmmmm maps. These things are very detailed, well presented and… sigh… beautiful. One of the reasons I do not like the follow up products as much is because the maps seem more like a cheap imitation and not trying to keep the feel and build on what they already created.

Ok so I have ranted and rambled a bit, how do I call the numbers…

Overall Fluff 3/5 – There is good background material, and some interesting story. However this product is one of the weaker ones that TSR put out in regards to art. And while a part of me wants to call the maps art, I am actually putting them under Crunch.

Overall Crunch 5/5 – The new spells and monsters really do well in AD&D as a whole. The new trap rules and details also build things out in ways that enhance the setting, and the game. MAPS!!!!!!!!! I would almost like to give them a separate score but that would really skew the review.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It is old school AD&D, so you can mod the crud out of it. And I have. And you need to. The fact that you need to in many ways almost made me give this a 4/5 instead of the 5/5 score. Almost. The fact that you know from the ground up that you will need to mod it, and they make no bones about it, saves it from the lower score.

Overall Fun 5/5 – MAPS!!!!!! no not just the maps… heh. Overall this is one of those rare gaming products that encourages you to think. To add the flavor to make it your own, while giving you a solid framework that you can run with to your hearts content even if you never tweak a thing. It is a ton of fun and I cannot be positive enough about it.

Total Score 18/20 – Yeah I think this is a great supplement for gaming. I think it is worth the collectors price if you can find it in the physical world, and I think it is not bad at all if you can get it in a digital format and come up with some way to scale up the maps so you can use them effectively. While this is not something that will change your life it really can change your game.

Ok so thats it for this week. Stay tuned because next week will have another blog entry and I have no idea what I am going to do with it.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many random dungeon levels I can roll up before I need to actually use them for something.

 

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Tales from the Game Table – One in a Million Shots

Ages and ages ago it seems I was playing in a regular Call of Cthulhu game group. We all came up with some very interesting characters. My character was a soldier who had been a sniper in Word War 1. I even worked out a history for him that had him in places that could have suggested that he might have been responsible for things like a specific shot at a specific Arch Duke. He was one of those characters that was not really socially comfortable and only really felt at home in a conflict.

He was brought into the campaign by a newspaper add that was looking for someone who could handle challenging work with combat experience. His interview for the job was an interesting bit that ended up with him and his interviewer in a private shooting range. If my character could back up his talk about how good he could shoot the job was his. So at range he looks at the constructed target. A few silver dollars can be easily seen. Focusing a bit he could also see nickles that were a little covered up. But my character was a pro and had a knack for spotting weak points. Critical success on the spot roll and he has the spot noted that would bring down the who target structure. Now then in Call you need to roll low on percentiles. So I line up the shot. 03 on the roll. DM says he needs a back up roll if I really do want to destroy the structure. 01. Needless to say he got the job and was made part of the team. DM kept a close eye on my rolls from then on because that was just too good to be true. But no… I didnt fake it. In fact my luck with that character tanked for several months. Nothing I could not get out of in the end, but… yeah…

So a few months after that incident the group of investigators is in with a band of primitives in a region that was… not quite Earth. Anyway our investigators had teamed up with a tribe. My character had been going over defensive measures with them and helping them fortify. Things had been getting hostile and so we were expecting an invasion from at least one other tribe. Invasion comes. Our cult busting mystic is setting up spells but needs time. Out other team members are getting ready to help with the wounded. My character goes to the ramparts of the hastily constructed defenses and yells down to see what the invaders want. Trying to buy time. The invaders leader steps forward and demands certain things and people from us in order to leave peacefully. Everyone on the team shakes their heads no at me and so I have my character ask if there is anything else he wants to negotiate for. Leader yells back it is not a negotiation and that we will submit.

So my character shot him. 01 right in front of the DM. He sighed and asked me to roll again because my character was using a high caliber hand gun and it might have had more kick to take things off a bit. 01 again. DM takes a look at his own specially prepared critical hit tables and it appears that with that handgun and my characters skill level that I also took out two people standing behind the leader.

And so what do I do next…. “Anyone else want to ‘Negotiate’?!”

We had been prepped for all out war. Heavy losses and likely losses of sanity on all parts as spells that we should not be playing with get cast to help the tribe we were allies with.

Fight ends in one shot. My character became a hero/demigod to the tribes. Not wanting to play outside my role, when the NPCs came to my character to lead, he told them that he was just a messenger and negotiator. The Mystic and the Business man were the ones who could lead them.

To be perfectly honest I have forgotten if the movie Fifth Element had come out before or after we did that last session. I think it came out before the session and I was just pulling a favorite line and putting it in a new place. But as long as I remain confused I dont have to admit to having stolen the line for my own fun in the game. 🙂

Sure I have had other critical hits in my life of gaming and even done a few more spectacular things in my games as well. But those two shots in that one game series just… mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…. tasty 😉 heh

That campaign continued for a good while after that and I really had a lot of fun delving ever deeper into the character and really setting some interesting goals for him that fit his personal… mindset… yeah mindset, lets not call him a psychopath or anything, cause noooo… mindset it is… in a way I dont get to do very often in a game group.

Ok so gimme the dice, I need to see if I can get a critical hit on breakfast.

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