Friday, June 29, 2012

Lost Baronies - the missing campaign

It is rapidly closing in on 4 months since the last session of the Lost Baronies campaign. That is typically a bad sign and indicative of a failed campaign. At this point even I don't feel much like scheduling the next session.

With this in mind I think it might be time to turn the string of mishaps into something official and just declare a hiatus until we (the players and I) can get our crap together to pick up where we left off.

A big factor is the issue of not having enough players to keep things going when someone has to miss a session. This thing began with a bang (7 players and 11 PCs) and we're now down to (again after one new player came and went) 2 players and 9 PCs.

Other factors include my desire to have some repairs and home improvements taken care of over the next couple of months and not wanting to have to deal with too much at my place game-wise until the dust settles so-to-speak.

Once the house issues are resolved I will re-evaluate the matter and if I feel the urge to dive back in, I will begin recruiting additional players. We'll see how I feel around the approach of Fall.

Meanwhile I am still gaming with the weekly group so at least there is that going for me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shiny! - Traveller in the Firefly Verse

So it is finally underway. I got my first session behind the screen with the weekly gaming group. My brief story arc will be played out using the Mongoose Traveller rules in the Firefly and Serenity Verse.

For the first session not a whole lot happened beyond character generation. Five of the eight players were in attendance and pre-rolled 3 spare characters for the other players to pick up and run with so that we can just jump right into the thick of things next time.

Character generation was a blast, as it always seems to be with Traveller. I remember whole afternoons and evenings of the old group 3 decades ago just sitting around rolling character after character for the fun of it.

The players present ended up with some funny outcomes due to the die rolls. The 5 PCs already involved in the action include a SOC 11 Lord (with possible Companion training?), slumming with the likes of a mad scientist, a gutter rat of a former soldier, a former intelligence agent, and a scout (with an enemies and contacts list as long as the rest of the group put together) who trashed a scout ship early in her career.

After completing the character generation we had time left to move into the beginnings of the story. The players had received the following info via email to give them a sense of where things are headed.

 - You sent waives to your normal list of contacts on your approach to Persephone. The trip in-system took about a day during which you heard back about available work. Mostly small jobs or nearly worthless cargo runs were all that seemed to be up for grabs.

You had to land anyway since you were running short of fuel. Having used 48 of your 52 tons, left you with at best a couple more days of operation.

Worse yet, a month of laying low after the last job has left you nearly broke. Despite making enough from that single job to pay two months of overdue ship mortgage bills, you're wondering if helping those siblings get from a Fed facility on Sihnon to Persephone was such a great idea.

Sure, you have confidence that your cover story will pass muster, and the stolen shuttle you ditched had nothing on it that could lead to your involvement, but curious Feds poking around tends to interfere with finding the better paying, less legal, work.

You didn't figure on getting a meeting request from Cricket. A former Companion, she runs in High Society circles and no job coming from that crowd can be called "small".

The meeting is scheduled for 11:00am tomorrow at the loading dock of Pearl of Heaven Industries. Can't hurt to hear what she has to say.

Funny thing about Cricket. Rumor says she is over 60 years old, but she doesn't look a day over 23. Suspicion is that she's big into use of anagathics, anti-aging drugs. If true, that is a very expensive and dangerous habit.

Nothing's ever what it seems.

The players decided to take care of some items of immediate necessity such as getting at least a little fuel. Nessa Black (the aforementioned scout) was taking care of buying 10 tons of fuel, not enough to jump, but enough to make sure they had over a week of operation otherwise. At 500 credits per ton, that 5,000 credits felt like a kick in the gut to some on the crew.

(note: I do not have my notes so some names will be edited back in later)

Lazlo Jenn, ever curious, put his intel gathering skills to work and began researching viea the cortex what he could about Pearl of Heaven Industries and Cricket. Cricket is the public face of the corporation some of the time. The company is currently pushing a new cosmetics line "Touch of Eternity" with lots of Eqyptian design stylings, and marketed as helping hide signs of aging, etc, yadda, yadda.

Cricket is also a broker for "work" of a less legitimate sort, though that is not public knowledge except to some in high places with more money than god.

Meanwhile, Morgan Cahill (aka Lord Morgan) and Dr. Zarkhov decided to wander over to the high side of the city and reconoiter the meeting space get a feel for what they might expect. They already knew there would be tighter Federal, corporate, and personal security in place, and that their own hardware would not be welcome, but they were more interested in the layout and possible exits should things turn ugly.

While making their way high-side, Morgan discovered that they were being followed, almost from the time they stepped off the ship. The tail stuck with them until somewhere near the upscale area, then they managed to shake whoever the two goons were and made their way to just outside Pearl of Heaven HQ.

The building was a construction involving three high-rise towers, the center one the tallest at over 20 stories, and the loading dock appeared to be a landing pad for shuttle sized vessels, placed well above the ground between the right and center spires, 12 stories up.

Lord Morgan decided to have a drink or three at a nearby upscale restaurant. Dr. Zarkhov however would not be able to get in the front door so bribery at the rear of the building would have to make due.

While inside Zarkhov's lack of social graces managed to endear his face to the fist of one of the kitchen staff. This resulted in a call to the local fed patrol and the doctor being booted out of the building.

Lord Morgan had a much more pleasant experience and after finding that he was under observation, began sending drinks to the table of the curious duo before eventually joining them for conversation. Before the two tall, thin gentlemen in dark suits and sunglasses departed they remarked that they might see his Lordship tomorrow.

Zarkhov, alone and annoyed had tried returning to the ship without the company of Morgan Cahill. He was about halfway back when he was jumped. (to be continued).

It is funny that most of the crew seem to have some former ties to the Alliance. I am really looking forward to continuing this in about eleven days with session 2. Hopefully we'll have a full house of players.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday to The Dice Are A Lie blog

Can you believe I've managed to keep this blog going for a year? With my attention span and being easily distracted this is a mighty feat.  :)

Huge thank you to Mark Allen for creating not only the blog logo, but this wonderful bit of celebratory mayhem.

Now I have the jitters thinking about how the heck I'll keep this pixel-bound ego trip rolling for another year!

Thanks to those who signed on as followers. It is knowing some folks out there find an occasional post of mine interesting enough to follow that helps me keep posting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Odds and Ends

Ugh, when life throws curveballs it doesn't mess around. Currently dealing with some annoying real life issues. Might not be posting for a couple more days at least.

Meanwhile . . .

Working on refamiliarizing myself with Traveller (been over 25 years since I played the system). I have the Mongoose rulebook since my old rulebooks were lost ages ago.

I'm planning to run a short couple sessions of Traveller in the Firefly 'Verse for the weekly group. The Firefly tv show has the feel of Traveller and many things within the program can be pointed out in the books without too much disconnect. That and I have the itch to mess with the old kludge of a sci-fi system. Should be fun since I will be slipping some "Easter Eggs" from the series into the scenario.

The players will be rolling up characters at the start since that really is a fun aspect of Traveller. Another advantage is that it helps the group build a team as they go instead of a bunch of individuals with no background connections or reasons for being together. Once they have their characters created their next decision will be the naming of their ship.

At this time I cannot reveal any additional info, that will have to wait until my turn behind the screen comes up and the players manage to get themselves into trouble.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side”

Taking a look at cantrips and orisons in the 5e playtest.

While the group had fun with the playtest session it was pointed out that the orisons for clerics, radiant lance in particular (laser cleric), and the at-will cantrips for the wizard, were too powerful as cantrips and at-will spells. All of them were what once would have been 1st level spells.

During play the wizard and laser cleric blasted the crap out of kobolds and rats with what felt more like Star Wars hero accuracy than 1st level adventurer accuracy.

Meanwhile actual cantrips and orisons, things that while very minor from a combat standpoint, yet still useful, are mostly not found.

Sure, you can remove the modular piece that provides the at-will aspect, but what then happens to the spells? Do they go back into the list to choose from for 1st level slots? Does that mean the rules will state that the player creating a character will have the option to choose any first level spell as a cantrip?

From a personal standpoint I do want to see cantrips and orisons as at-will spells, but I'm referring to the stuff like Mage Hand, and other Dragon Magazine of old spells.

This is another reason I am anxious to see the character creation rules.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

More 5e thoughts - Swing and a miss

One of the things our group found problematic from the playtest materials was the damage-on-a-miss ability of the fighter. Against low hit point critters it could be interpretted as scaring them to death, which is amusing to think about. While we would prefer to just toss, one option might just be to declare no kills on a miss as an addendum to that ability.

I can see a place for the rule based on how I view hit points, short version - they represent the avoidence of a lethal blow until you run out of them, and not actual damage. This reinforces the need to avoid a kill on a miss, and even the designers have said they are in line with my idea of hit points as opposed to them actually representing wounds.

Here's hoping this is something that will get worked out in playtesting.

The good news is that most of what we are seeing is a mish-mash of optional rules.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bounded Accuracy (5e)

Here is a link to the WotC article about bounded accuracy, in other words, what they have been referring to as flatter math.

This was another topic of brief discussion Saturday after the playtest and the group seems to feel that it is going to prove itself to be a welcome innovation for 5e.

Mearls covers the details well in the article so there is not much point to go into it here.

After the playtest I can visualize the characters entering a large circular room with high ceiling and a balcony with the intent of facing a villain. They also find themselves ringed by a couple dozen dagger weilding kobolds ready to throw at a signal and they would know this isn't a good thing. Sure the kobolds are only 2 hitpoint wonders, but they outnumber the group by a lot and they are murder with those thrown daggers.

I think I'm inclined to like the flatter math.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

5e playtest report part 2

To begin the discussion let me start by saying everyone at the table said they had fun testing things out. We didn't get to try every concept in the playtest documents so there is a chane we may run a second playtest in the hopes that the conditions will get a chance to come into play.

It was agreed that WotC choosing to use the Caves of Chaos for the playtest environment was a great idea.

Everyone at the table really liked the layout of the character sheets with one caveat - you would likely need to use an online tool or downloadable software to add/subtract options when building the character in order to get your created character sheet to come out as nice.

Backgrounds and Themes were another thing everyone really liked as modular options. The way these things are handled in character building/development appears to them to be well done. They are anxious to see actual character creation rules.

The way the sleep spell works in the Next doc seemed to please everyone so far.

The number of first level spells (the at-will "cantrips" were actually first level spells) was high and it was noted that this needs changing in the base skeleton of the core and instead used as a modular option.

The big issue a lot of us were wondering about is the way healing is handled and from reading the documents had gotten the idea that it might be overblown and need to be reduced. What we found from actual play turned out to be very interesting and I have to say we liked most of it as written.

The "healing from dying/unconscious" is done almost exactly as a house rule in my Labyrinth Lord campaign. The only difference is that in the Next documents you heal from zero and my rule has characters healing form 1 hp.

The dying/death mechanic in Next got some praise from a player for setting an atmosphere of urgency due to losing 1d6 points on failed saves each round until the death threshold is reached.

The "hit dice" healing in the Next docs at first glance appeared to be just the renamed surge mechanic from 4e, but upon actual use we discovered that this just isn't the case. Instead of getting 25% of your total hp back from a surge, you actually roll 1 or more dice and take the random number. Once you use your hit dice up from bandaging, they are gone for the day. In the current weekly Labyrinth Lord game I take part in there is a house rule for bandaging that gives back a random number of hit points, no healing kit required. In Next the hit dice mechanic works very similar, but it requires healing kits. If we were running under the Next hit dice rule in the current weekly game, we would be toast since we are a long way from civilization in a lost valley and would have run out of healing kits weeks ago easily.

I am a convert to liking the hit dice mechanic and it appears so were the players.

The full hit point recovery from long rest mechanic still gives us pause however. We hashed this out for a while and used professional NFL football players as examples of adventurers after strenuous combats, etc. They are not ready the day after a game to do it again even without grievous cuts, stab wounds, etc, and take a week or more to recover from the exhaustion, bruising, and soreness from a game. We felt that people in life threatening situations should also not be fully ready the very next day to do it all again without some chance of still being affected by the strain. We seemed to come close to a consensus that rolling your hit dice after a long rest to see how much you recover would leave enough randomness that some characters might be fine while others are suffering a bit from what proved to be more stressful effort. It isn't unanimous though and compared to the weekly game where a d3 is rolled for hit points recovered in a full rest it would still be a bit high for some of the group while others think adding CON bonus to the roll would be appropriate. All agreed that the full recovery should be an option and not core.

Another player pointed to the healing potion difference between 4e and Next, commenting that the Next version makes more sense.

The Advantage/Disadvantage rule was described by players as a neat simplification that they want to see interact with Conditions. As a DM I agree and liked the freedom it gives me as a DM to apply a modification to situations without having to memorize tons of modifiers. It certainly sped things up for me and allowed me to quickly rule on something and move play along.

We did not like that the Dire Rat's disease mechanic was just instant additional damage on a failed save. Diseases and some poisons need to be modeled differently so they add to the immersiveness of the game.

While the group didn't run into any stirges during play, the read through got unanimous agreement that the three attached stirges and you're dead rule, regardless of hit points, has got to go. Admittedly it is no worse than save or die poisons, but it doesn't fit with the idea of blood drain, instead acting like a slower save or die poison. (hmmmm . . .)

The DMs in the group looked at the bestiary and agreed that my initial thoughts on getting rid of ability scores and instead having a single set number (one for saves, another for skills) that DMs can modify, would save time for prep and during play. Monsters should not be treated like characters when building them. That is a great thing that 4e got right and editions prior to 3.0/3.5 were decent about mostly.

A number of other things I commented on during the skim of the bestiary are also on the list of "I have changed my mind". The idea that the save vs centipede poison was too low is out the window now that I have seen saves in play and understand the mechanic better. Centipedes were always weaker with their poison so in context, it works.

Here are the links to my previous thoughts on the Next document readings/skimmings. Bestiary. Other docs. And of course the play description from yesterday.

Please feel encouraged to offer your thoughts and especially playtest experiences in the comments section.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

5e Post Playtest session, 1st level PCs (part 1)

Today my normal campaign group plus one additional player, opted to run a 5e playtest. We chose the first level characters, using a Theater of the Mind approach instead of grid and minis. All 5 characters were in play. The players are experience, with one having begun play with 2e, and the others having experience with all versions from Moldvay Basic forward.

We began with the characters at the end of the canyon that encompasses the caves with the characters aware of two entrances and knowing more were not currently in view. The old geezer at the keep's tavern said there was lots of treasure to be found in the caves for anyone brave and wise enough to go and get it.

While the players were deciding what to do I had them make perception checks for their characters. The rogue and the cleric of Pelor failed. The cleric of Moradin, fighter, and high elf wizard noticed that about 200 feet away, further up the canyon some sort of critter had scampered into a bush, but they weren't sure about what it was.

Not wanting to waste time, and looking for something, anything to beat on, the fighter charged off at full speed to the area where he was sure the critter would be. Meanwhile, the rogue, paranoid that something might be attacking them, chose to hide in some bushes. The remaining three characters followed behind the fighter about 50 feet behind.

The party was now strung out, the dwarf near the kobold cave entrance he just became aware of followed by three members 50 feet back, and the rogue who remained hidden 200 feet away. "Psst, guys, is it safe yet?"

Realizing he had been left behind, the rogue broke cover and hustled hard to catch up.

Meanwhile the dwarf made a perception check, beating the kobolds by a lot and realizing he was surrounded by at least 8 of the little bastards. Then he remembered nothing.

The kobolds struck enmass, daggers flying at the vastly outnumbered dwarf fighter, 6 out of 8 daggers finding their mark  (2 crits) and putting the dwarf into unconsciousness. (negative 12 hit points, advantage for enemies can lead to nasty outcomes)

At range three other party members went into action. The wizard struck the kobold closest to the downed dwarf with a Ray of Frost spell, trapping it against the ground and to the bush it was half hidden within. The cleric of Pelor sent a Radiant Lance of divine energy forth, felling another kobold which tumbled, dead from the tree branch on which it perched. The cleric of Moradin used Healing Word to stabilize the fighter.

Of the 6 remaining kobolds, 2 ran for the safety of the cave and 4 began dragging the downed dwarf toward the entrance. Fearing they would outright slay the fighter or hold him hostage, the wizard moved into range and used her Burning Hands spell instantly cooking the 4 kobolds' heads and missing the dwarf by mere inches.

The two kobolds made their way into the darkness of the cave and out of reach for now. The clerics and wizard converged on the fighter and a Cure Light Wounds was cast. Now, sitting up, his wounds sore, but otherwise closed and his life no longer in immediate danger, he wondered what he missed. Not for long though, as back on his feet he was ready for revenge, and treasure.

Having caught up to the rest of the party, the rogue slipped into the shadowy cave mouth and hid, quietly observing the passage inward.

Lighting a torch, the party moved into the cave, briefly exposing to the brighter light the previously stealthy rogue. Fortunately nothing was in a position to see the halfling's annoyed look and the party, continued onward.

Leading the way, the two dwarves reached the T intersection in the passage. Both noticed the hastily covered pit and relayed the location and size to everyone following behind. The rogue then slipped forward and with incredible precision managed to rig the doors of the trap to securely handle someone walking the edges, but advised his companions against passing over the middle. Stepping gingerly past the pit, the dwarves again took up the lead.

A perception check later and the cleric of Moradin was able to warn his companions of the ambush that was about to be sprung. The wizard stepped forward and dropped a sleep spell around the corner where 6 kobolds were preparing to attack the party. Three of the would be ambushers dropped immediately to the ground, two more swayed drowsily, and the last (having rolled a natural 20 which I declared total success for amusement sake) remained double-espresso-wired awake.

Note: the wizard has spent her two Vancian spells and only at-will cantrips remain.

Rushing around the corner and laying about, the two dwarves manage to completely miss their targets. The rogue steps up and fires a sling stone into the room shattering the upper jaw and lodging deep into the skull of the previously saucer-eyed-awake kobold guard. Another round later and the remaining kobolds were killed followed soon by their sleeping companions, but not before getting off warning cries.

Coming from behind the party, a swarm of cave rats led by a single dire rat began mixing it up with the adventurers. A number of rounds and several bites later and the rats too had sloughed off the mortal coil.

At this point the dwarves were in need of some healing so the rogue and wizard stood guard while the healing kit was brought into play.
Ten minutes passed and as the party was about to move deeper into the cave, a kobold scampered off after tossing a bone wrapped in rough parchment toward the party's position. Suspicious, the rogue dragged and tossed a corpse over top the object and the party moved back past the entrance hall (using planks to cover the pit) to a room filled with trash and rat droppings. They searched and located nothing of value and no other exits so they headed back toward the spot where the bone had been tossed.

Removing the corpse, they picked up the object and read the note that was scrawled in rough common. "Leave our home." Using blood they wrote an extortion note below those words and tossed it further down the hallway from which it had been thrown, and they waited.

Some time later the note was brought back and next to it was placed a bag that jingled as it was placed on the tunnel floor. Again the messenger ran off. The new message bore a hastily scribed map leading to a room with the word treasure by it. In the bag was a ring of keys.

After some argument, the group decided to risk a trap and followed the map to a locked door. Checking for traps, the rogue announced it was safe to try the keys. A few seconds later they had access to a storage room. Within was a collection of all sorts of objects along with the stench of rotting meat, and a large cask that had some kind of liquid within based on the sound when it was tilted and settled flat again.

The rogue, fighter, and wizard stood guard at the door while the clerics performed the search. As they waited and watched, a party of well armed and armored kobolds, 9 total, approached cautiously down the hallway. Stopping 40 feet away, and 20 feet from the hallway the party would need to use to escape, the Chieftain of the kobolds spoke. "Leave now, go."

An exchange took place with the fighter demanding "shinies". After a successful intimidate check by the dwarf, the kobold chief sent two of his guards back deeper into the caves. He had decided that his tribe had sacrificed enough this day and no more kobold blood needed to be spilled even though he was confident they would defeat the intruders. A few minutes passed with the groups staring each other down before the runners returned carrying a rolled up blanket which they placed at the intersection. One of them cut open a corner and revealed two coins, then scampered back to the group.

The party carefully advanced, picked up the blanket, and determined it held more coin shaped items sewn within it. Placing the keys on the floor they cautiously withdrew back down the side hall to another intersection. Peering down the way they had not gone previously, they could see at least a dozen sets of eyes, maybe more, reflecting at the edge of their torchlight.

A further retreat allowed them to escape the caves. A large number of kobolds followed, growling all the way to the exit, but did not attack, and the party continued out of the canyon and back to their room at the keep.

Here endeth the play session. Part two will cover things we discussed after the game play stopped.

Friday, June 1, 2012


I've been mentioning the whiners and crybabies out there and suggesting that they rethink things and realize nobody is out to ruin their fun. Well, as expected people don't listen, preferring instead to try and convince others in the stupidest and nastiest of ways that if the other person likes something the commenter dislikes then they suck.

Normally I try to avoid pointing (with exceptions) directly to these things and focusing instead on counter commentary, with the idea that it is better to discuss ideas than to ridicule people. Today, I take a different tack.

I received an email from a good friend of mine pointing out how negative people are getting about both grognards and 5e lately. Here's the text of emails from my friend about the issues I'll point to and ridicule:

Apparently there was a twitter firestorm accusing D&D Next of trying to pander to the OSR by the inclusion of electrum pieces and 10 foot poles in the equipment list. The chief "twit" told people to play Pathfinder instead (which someone pointed out also included electrum pieces and 10 foot poles.)
Why are so many gamers assholes?

I then pointed him to a rant on Tenkars Tavern that just had me shaking my head at the abject stupidity with which bile was vomited forth by a commenter. My friend then summed up a bunch of my thoughts in a polite fashion compared to what was running through my thoughts after reading Biting Halfling's ridiculous rant.

I generally read and enjoy Tenkar's Tavern, but early into his D&D Next / Mike Mearls rant fest I stopped reading those posts. His point of view is clear (he is never going to like any "new" version of D&D), but his comments showed again and again that he would willfully ignore any reference to late 3e and 4e and pretend that Mearls was making stuff up instead of reacting to some players real concerns and experiences.

It is obvious that Biting Halfling has a similar axe to grind. That the D&D Next playtest had 4 innovations (his words not mine) should be a cause of celebration, , not censure. How many innovations do most games have in final form?

You know, I don't care if people like D&D Next or not. Play it or don't. But if bloggers want to continue to just gripe and whine due to ideological hatred of WotC, I'll just ignore them.

Fortunately there were enough people with functioning brains and some sense among the commenters over there that I didn't feel the need to dive into the muck at that time.

Now is the time.

To Biting Halfling, and the 10 foot pole/electrum piece twit

Dude, Really?! Seriously, get some help. Therapists can do some good if you're willing to work on your issues.

I dislike some of the system ideas in the various editions, but as I've noted on the blog a couple of times, I play what entertains me and let others play what entertains them.

Think about that for a while and then have a big helping of Wil Weaton advice. "Don't be a dick."

. . .
General note: Normally it is considered impolitic to call out another blogger or blog, but in this case I am making the exception because it is only fair to provide readers with access to the available info so they can make up their own minds. I took a couple of days to make the decision and did not do so lightly.

We among the OSR blogging sphere need to stop acting like spoiled brats and put on our grown-up pants. Most of us are older, and we should act more mature. This kind of thing does nothing to help our cause and only serves to make us look bad when we are trying to win over WotC or other game publishers to produce things we would like to see. This is why we can't have nice things. People like you, Bitey, make it difficult for any of us to be taken the least bit serious.