That campaign blowed up real good!

Farm Report

There’s nothing like Death Frost Doom to stir things up when your campaign is beginning to peter out a bit.  Minor spoilers follow, so if you’ve never read or played DFD, you might want to stop reading now.

I’ve had DFD sitting around in the mountains since my first Telengard campaign (although I only actually got a copy of the module later; I’d heard of the basic idea and thought it would be a great fit, and would have improvised something like it if anyone had checked it out then).

I think level is not too important for this adventure, since it mostly exploration. The party was really near the upper limit — it’s supposed to be for PCs level 1-6, and most of them are level 6 now.  Still, the finale could be a TPK for almost any level of PCs, considering the confined space and overwhelming numbers of foes.  Being of highish levels made it possible for the party to fight one foe that a lower level party would have almost certainly had to bargain with, and defeat some other foes a low-level party might have been killed by, but since combat is not the focus of the module, it really didn’t matter too much.

Our party took on the module in two sessions — the first extremely carefully, as only the bard, assassin, and magic-user were present for the session, and the second a bit more recklessly, as the assassin and magic-user were joined by the paladin and dwarf, as well as four low-level meat shields.  Two meat shields died (one suicide, one energy drained) but otherwise the party was mostly unscathed.  The assassin gained a point of strength but lost a point of intelligence, and Funko the gremlin also lost one point of intelligence.

They had only opened one big crypt door by the time “hell vomits its filth” was triggered, so most of the undead were not immediately able to swarm the party. The one turn “lead time” meant they were able to find Cyrus’ tomb just before the undead actually began awakening.   Opening his tomb, they quickly found the coffin and surmised that there was a vampire about, so the dwarf immediately began destroying the coffin and scattering the earth.  This caused Cyrus to appear and attempt to parlay, but the party immediately attacked and being some serious ass-kickers, defeated him in matter of two rounds.

It took a bit of discussion before the party realized that there was no way to simply fight their way out, and they came up with a reasonably good escape plan, barricading a door and going out a ‘chimney’ to the surface.  My lax ritual casting rules let them escape with all their gear intact, but under stricter rules they would have been forced to leave a lot of stuff behind.  As it was the magic user could cast ‘fly’ enough times to give the party a safe exit from the dungeon.  I suppose if I’d been a jerkier DM I would have had ghouls come for them via the chimney while the casting was being done, but that would pretty much be a TPK by fiat, so I overrode the module’s suggestion there.  Instead, the party flew down to Zeke’s camp and rode their horses off the mountain.

t-o-d-trap

With a village (Clovis), a town (Puddington), and a small city (Skara Brae) all within a day’s forced march, the party was scrambling to give warning and figure out how to deal with the army of the dead now on the move.  Hilarity ensued, and the party even split up, but I’d already determined that they had a fair amount of time before the main body of zombies and skeletons were really on the move, and the ghoul horde was too disorganized to give immediate chase, so probably the undead will not make a ‘bee line’ for anything and instead need to fan out until they find victims.  Or a leader.  I understand the party let a mummy-priest get away a few sessions back. 🙂

DSC03537

Time to start figuring out potential troop strengths for the local settlements and how to handle large-scale battles.  One thing that might be fun could be a “cut scene” where a hopelessly outnumbered force fights the vanguard of the undead army, both to create some foreboding and to introduce mass combat rules.

I’ve heard of DFD  ‘ending’ campaigns but I think it Telengard it might be a bridge to the ‘end-game’ of fortress-building, army-raising, etc.  DFD would also be a fun campaign-starter at low levels or even first level, come to think of it.

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Published in: on February 28, 2013 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Weird Fantasy grindhouse ed. review part three: What it isn’t, what it is

Man, there is a hell of a lot to cover for this!

I know I’m being very unsystematic and wandering around, but recently I’ve been reading the Referee book a bit and it is really, really good.  I wouldn’t say I agree with absolutely everything, but the advice on finding players, using published adventures, examining ‘weird’ ideas to decide whether to use them in your game, running a ‘sandbox’ type campaign where the players have to show initiative rather than be told what to do, and even providing an ‘end game’ type experience that gets the players using all that loot to research new spells, establish estates (and even invest!), etc. are pretty awesome.  Most of this can profitably be applied to any game.  I’m not really a rules junkie or even well-read in terms of the many RPGs out there and whatever advice they offer to DMs, so I can’t say if any of this is standard stuff or just brilliance on Raggi’s part.  But I did find the Ref material fascinating and worthwhile.

The suggestions about ‘how tough monsters should be’ was hidden here too, so my earlier complaint about there being no way to tell how big a deal the lack of attack bonuses for non-fighters really is, are allayed.  The Ref book suggests keeping monsters within the ‘human’ range of AC 12-18.  In that light, attack bonuses are not as critical as they would be if the ACs ran above 20.

So here I am back to the rules themselves.  At this point I think I am finally “getting it” that LotFP is, despite the foundations in B/X D&D, and despite the marketing of the game as something geared toward old-school gaming, something else entirely.  Perhaps the weirdest thing is that on the one hand James Raggi has been saying it is “not D&D” all along on his blog, but also allowing the perception that it is “an extreme D&D” too.*  In fact the bald claim (in the Ref book & elsewhere) that you can play adventures designed for D&D with the LotFP rules seems bizarre, since you’ll probably need, or at least want, to excise or rewrite much of the magic items and monsters in them (see below).  I think you’d be a lot better off using Call of Cthulhu adventures (Strange Aeons, for example) and other nontraditional fantasy games for ideas.  Lastly, consider the example of play in the Tutorial book.   It’s very funny and enjoyable to read; it is in fact a lot like any low-level D&D game, with quite a bit of combat.  The fights tend to go badly for the PCs but it’s not immediately obvious that the game designer expects combat to be a ‘last resort’ or even just avoided when possible.  That is actually a fairly huge break with ‘standard D&D.’  D&D need not be “hack & slash” but LotFP seems to be designed with the assumption that “hack & slash” will lead inevitably to a TPK.  This is neither a flaw nor an improvement but a notable difference, and while certain parts of the  books reflect this , other parts — like the tutorial — seem to contradict it.

The class-and-levels system of D&D is retained.  But, advancement is very slow,  in the senses that:

  1. the XP rewards are fairly low (the monster XP is at the B/X-AD&D level, rather than the much more generous rewards of OD&D  and later editions; the loot XP is the same but the loot is less common and more mundane)
  2. the rewards for levels gained are more modest (hit dice go up every level until 9th or so, as usual, but saves progress slowly, skills progress slowly if at all, attack bonuses go up only for fighters and stop at level 9, etc.)
  3. the DM is advised to withhold magic items as much as possible, and even mundane items like heavy armor are very expensive

So the net effect should be that ALL PCs are a bit “weaker” than “D&D characters” of the “same level”.  This is not a flaw or bug but a feature.  In last week’s B/X session I was reminded just far beyond the pale a relatively powerful mid-level PC is in a world of 0 and 1st level humans.  One PC has a magic weapon that is fairly potent for his level but among regular humans, it makes him a hero, or a superhero really.  That is D&D too.  I mean, a level 8 Fighting Man is called a Superhero, right?

But in LotFP, even a fairly high-level PC will be in danger should the local authorities decide to arrest him.  He won’t have magic arms and armor to make him a superhero.  Unless he’s a fighter or spellcaster, his only advantage will be the ability to absorb more damage than a normal human!   This makes for a more low-fantasy, low-magic, low-powered game.  That sounds like an interesting game, even if it is not the one I want to run.

I want to play a game where the PCs start out as regular Joes but can eventually fight giants and dragons and wield powerful magic.  I want their henchmen and hirelings to be things like shieldbearers and maybe heralds.  I want them to fight a wide variety of monsters for vast treasures, and travel to surreal realms, and all that.  Sure, some PCs will die horribly and ingloriuosly, but glory is attainable.  That, to me, is D&D.

I’ll run LotFP when I want a game where the PCs are more like competent but regular Joes from start to finish; who can maybe stop the horrors from being summoned in the first place but run like hell if a demon or dragon shows up; who will have as henchmen and hirelings mercenaries, craftsmen, muleskinners and accountants; who will fight mainly against man’s inhumanity with a few “true” monsters here and there (& which will therefore be unforgettable!), and explore weird locales in hopes of finding treasures, and travel a mostly rational world in their quest for adventure (where the magical and surreal and horrific lurks, to be sure, but not under every bed or in every hole!).  These PCs will mostly die ingloriously until the players learn to be extremely cautious and occasionally decisively brave, but like Aristotle said, courage is that middle ground between foolhardiness and cowardice  mapped out by knowledge.  No kicking in doors and laying about with sword and axe; more listening, spying, researching, and approaching a dungeon as a heist rather than a home invasion.

I am not down on either style of play, and think both can be fun.  So, I think LotFP:WFRPGe will stay on my shelf  and until I (& my gaming group) feel like a change, I’ll stick with what I’m doing.

Still, the adventures published by LotFP all look pretty interesting.  The short sample adventure in the Ref book is very nicely laid out for a new DM and has a very cool looking mechanic for handling the whole ‘doppleganger’ thing in a game.  It will take some tweaking to use in a game where the PCs have magic items though.

I commented on another blog that LotFP actually strikes me as a recursive meditation on the weird tale generally.  I said:

the “weird tale” involves setting up some situation and throwing in a twist that completely unhinges our expectations and assumptions…and the LotFP game does exactly that– it makes us think it is sort of a retro-clone D&D, but it turns out to be a low-powered, low-fantasy, low-magic game of investigation more akin to CoC than D&D.

I edited that for typos and grammar but I pretty much would stand by that conclusion.  My brother asked me why anyone would use D&D to play a horror-fantasy when there are other systems that do horror so well.  It could be Raggi just loves D&D and is familiar with it and it’s what he runs and the OGL made it easy to adapt.  Maybe on some level he chose D&D as the foundation for his game just because of all the expectations and assumptions in D&D’s baggage, which he can in turn exploit in the “metagame” (misdirecting players) of the game.  Probably not, but it would be pretty cool if that was the idea all along.

.

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*By “allowing the perception…” I mean commenters all other his blog keep saying this and are not contradicted.  Reviewers say it and rarely get contradicted.  I imagine this is not so much that he wants to deceive customers as that doing constant PR and image management online is impossible.  For example, if you go back to the “tell me what to ask the illustrators to do for this last full-page  illustration contest” thing, many, perhaps the majority, of the suggestions focused on typical D&D parties in what the fan base imagined as “weird” or “horrific” or “hardcore” settings … extreme violence, deathtraps, etc.  Almost none of them were concerned with a town- or city-based adventure, investigation, simple exploration, or the like.  Raggi did mention his favorite suggestions and they fall more in line with the non-D&D theme.  Still, even the contest winner did not really understand. 🙂

Published in: on June 2, 2011 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Weird Fantasy grindhouse ed. review part two: my hypocrisy

After the “prejudices” post, and seeing Raggi address some of the issues raised on his own blog, it struck me that my concerns about the niche (or lack thereof) for dwarves and halfings in the game is not really a problem.  It’s just something for me to houserule if I don’t like it.  And really, when I give my own B/X campaign a hard, honest look, it is within kissing distance of LotFP really.  I lifted the d6-based skill system from LotFP (although I have since noticed it in other places too, so maybe we both stole the idea?).   I have not adopted all of the additional rules you find in LotFP but in most cases, it is so similar to B/X that the differences are trivial.  Some of my changes were directly influenced by LotFP, and some were not.  I have not revised the spell lists as LotFP does but I have seriously contemplated at least renaming the majority of Clerical spells and changing some to fit my setting’s Norse Catholic Church.  The clincher came after my AnCon game when the guest player, AJ, commented that he enjoyed playing and it was “good mix of horror and fantasy.”  Wha-wha-what? I didn’t really set out to run a horror/fantasy game, but I guess that the inclusion of some of Telecanter’s creepier ideas really did swing it in that direction. (Confession time too: hearing my regular players “talk up” how unnatural the dungeons are to the new players spurred me to ramp up the weird a little.)

So anyway if my major complaint about the game is a few things regarding the distribution of attack bonuses and skill points, WTF am I complaining about? (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (7)  
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