Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Mulling over future game plans

 Brief post! Just a fun one as I muse on future plans.

Right now I am running D&D 3.5 live every other week, a campaign focused heavily on hexploration (without hexes, I only have grid paper), dungeon crawls, liberal adaptation of old Necromancer Games modules and a setting ripped right from 500 AD (but with, you know, more D&D in it). Then every other week I have an ongoing live Call of Cthulhu game, which I expect to last 2-4 sessions, but who knows, maybe it will go longer. Saturday I am running Pathfinder 2nd Edition on Roll20. I have been warming back up to it, albeit with the caveat that Pathfinder 2E will never quite feel as liberating to design for as D&D 3.5, but we all agree that we have fun playing it (it plays very well), and there is a lot of group investment in the campaign.

Meanwhile, semi weekly I am running Mothership RPG on Roll20, and it is quite fun....but also the kind of game where I can see how it may be best handled in periodic doses. It's extremely focused in its content, so every game feels like a dense dose of B-movie sci fi horror maxed out. This is good....but I could see overdoing it after 10 sessions or so. But hell yeah it is good! Just maybe best to broaden the focus to mix in a periodic palette cleanser.

For my new campaign ideas going in to winter and 2022, I have given some thought to what I most enjoy and wish to focus on. As one gets older, it becomes inevitable that you start to grow familiar with your preferences and find less and less trouble leaning hard into them. As such, I realize that I have some very specific interests, and those interests are remaining tighter and more consistent, which I really appreciate; I feel like maybe at last I am shedding my days as a "chasing the shiny" behind. Slowly.

So the first and biggest thought I have is: More D&D 3.5. It's a very robust system, and essentially complete since no one publishes for it anymore (if you exclude Pathfinder 1st edition stuff, which is technically compatible). I realize now I have enough D&D 3rd to last me to my dying days, easily. The stuff that annoys me about 3.5 is easy enough to ignore or modify, whereas the stuff that bugs me about D&D 5E requires a more fundamental rebuild, so I think its just easier to stick to 3.5 and be done with it. These are words I would never have thought I'd have typed 13 years ago. 

The second big thought is: more Cypher System. Monte Cook Games has the new Planebreaker Kickstarter out, and I decided to back it with the intent of getting the Cypher System version. I learned a lot earlier this year running my Realms of Chirak campaign in Cypher System, and one of those lessons I learned is to fit the setting with the system better....Chirak was born of an ancient and unholy mixture of Runequest and D&D back in the day, and is best if it stays in that wheelhouse, My next Chirak campaign will be in Pathfinder 2E or D&D 3.5, instead. Cypher, instead, deserves all the creativity and newness I can pour in to it, and I really want to explore my post-apocalyptic space opera campaign ideas for the next campaign.

If you follow this blog (and I know blogs are very out of style these days!) then you know I go back and forth on a few issues with Cypher System and Pathfinder 2E. In considering what I will do next with these systems, I think it boils down to this:

Cypher System: I want to look carefully at the way encounters/challenges are framed in Cypher, and how to make that work without defaulting to the more conventional RPG tropes set by D&D. Especially as Cypher character get to around Rank 4, when they become ominously powerful against conventional threats. 

Pathfinder 2E: On this one, the issue I have in mind is: can Pathfinder 2E run in a "loose hexcrawl" structure similar to the open-ended campaign I am running for D&D 3.5? Could I adapt 3rd edition style modules to Pathfinder 2E and not find balance issues that unnecessarily put PCs at risk of death? The Gamemastery Guide talks about hexcrawling as an option, but I am curious as to how it would really work and feel in play. I am not 100% sure my gaming group is good for this style of game, at least with Pathfinder, as I have some rules lawyers who can very quickly do the mental math to ascertain whether an encounter is disproportionately unbalanced either for or against the group, and that sort of balancing issue is core to encounter design in Pathfinder. I haven't reconciled this, but I do feel it is worth investigating....time will tell. D&D 3.5 is much looser and can handle this fluidity a lot better. I, for example, could have a mixed level group in D&D 3.5 without much difficulty at all, but in Pathfinder 2E it is very clear that PCs should never be more than 1 level apart, and ideally all the same level.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Mothership: Running Ghost Ship from Dissident Whispers

One of the books published by Tuesday Knight Games is Dissident Whispers, a great collection of dozens of short 2 page modules for various game systems, including system neutral, original B/X D&D (and therefore compatible with OSE), D&D, Mork Borg and more. Key among the selection is 11 modules for use with the Mothership RPG, which is one of this new wave of RPGs that I think spawned out of the Zine Quest movement to focus on tight but versatile RPG designs and modules which function with the utmost brevity while still delivering content.

Two page modules aren't new, and prior years have seen products focused on one-page dungeon crawls and other "brief' but useful designs for DMs with an excess of creativity/flexibility but a dearth of time. These modules work really well for me, once you figure out the intended structure of the designer's narrative (or lack of it), as they are very similar to how I used to write modules, especially back in the nineties and early 00's, using a round outline, notes and some charts to identify what I needed to know. I tend to write more robust modules for my own use these days, but module designs like this allow for a high degree of customization and improv....they are essentially skeletons on to which you can drape all the flesh and clothing you want, and can be very suitable to GMs who benefit from this style. If you're not sure if this style is for you, ask yourself this question: does a 2 page module with lots of brief ideas that can last 2-3 sessions easily sound appealing, or does a 64 page Adventure Path module from Paizo, in which you might get about as much actual content as the 2 page module, but with a massive additional word count and a lot of hand-holding and pathing provided by the author? Or, like that, but in a 300 page Wizards of the Coast tome? The appeal of that 2 page module is strong if you're not so worried about improving details as needed.

The first module from Dissident Whispers that I picked is Ghost Ship, a fun romp through a haunted ship with shades of inspiration from various haunting movies and a nod to Event Horizon, the grandmaster of B-Movie ghost ship stories. The premise of the module is incredibly simple: the lost ship Somnus reappears periodically out of nowhere in random locations, people investigate, and they get trapped when it disappears again. Meanwhile, on the actual ship are actual horrifying ghosts, an eerie alien artifact and a mad android to contend with. The module is only two pages, but I will go in to no further detail; we're on session two as of last night and the group ended on a cliffhanger that likely will solve the mysteries (or blow them up). 

If there's a negative to this module, it is that it is, after all, only two pages and while it provides quite enough content for you to run a good 1-3 session game, if you happen to be using Roll20 for a VTT game like I am, there's no real VTT support. I took a lazy route and copy/pasted the tiny ship map from the PDF into a Roll20 window, but it looks god-awful blown up; still, asking for a ton of VTT support from the module seems a bit much; I could have taken some time to draw or design a custom map easily enough, just call me lazy/low prep.

Because the core module is more of an outline on which you can choose (or not choose) to drape as much additional exposition, description and detail as you wish I have had a bit of fun with the ghost manifestations and some other elements, but honestly this module provided just about all anyone would need to run a haunted house in space. Good stuff, in other words!

I'm planning to run more of the two-pagers in Dissident Whispers soon.....some are a bit convoluted (the logical flow doesn't work for me) and some are very high concept (Escape from the Violet Deathworld feels like an outline of a grand campaign) but all offer enough stuff to make for many fun nights of gaming.

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Nitty Gritty of Game Collecting (and Balancing the collector with the gamer)

 I've been rebuilding my D&D 3.5 collection for almost a year now, and it's looking pretty robust. Almost 80% of the collection as I remembered it....the books I used with some regularity, or at least wanted to use...are back in the collection. My success at finding clean, nice copies has been pretty good, actually. Aside from a ratty first edition Creature Collection and a water-damaged original Tome of Horrors (oddly labeled "in mint condition" by the seller) I've had some major success.

Now, however, things are starting to get into the tricky gray area of books which I would like, but for which so would everyone else, and there aren't that many to go around. These books hold collector's values, and as a result are really difficult to secure copies for at prices I would consider reasonable for a copy that is destined to be read and used in play at the table. I'm not collecting for the heck of it....I want to use these puppies. 

Some of these books are particularly vexxing, too. Monster Manual IV and V are damned expensive, with the MM IV commanding $125 or more on average (though I found a mildly scratched copy for $79 after shipping, so I'll call that a win). The MM V, for reasons I assume are because of how late it was released in the D&D 3.5 lifecycle, is going for $200 or more easily. Yikes! Odds I will find a copy.....slim. 

One nice thing about Ebay is if you wait long enough, someone will pop up with a good quality copy of a book and either aren't too interested in gouging for it (want to make a quick sale) or they don't know what they have (didn't do the research). I secured a $55 like-new copy of the D&D 3.0 Book of Challenges this way, a price normally too low for a ratty copy, based on months of watching for it.

Still....this does mean that as I move forward, its going to be a harder (and slower) process to secure the books I want. MM V? Probably not anytime soon. Rappan Athuk Reloaded? Hah! Probably smarter to either spend less money on the very expensive D&D 5E edition of that module, or better yet, just go full 3E and buy the original trilogy in much cheaper format....maybe supplement it with the POD version or something. 

The print on demand market has helped, of course. Most Necromancer Games books don't cost too much these days, but I suspect that's because a bunch of them are available in POD at Drivethrurpg.com. Even Rappan Athuk Reloaded, which is a $60 reprint can be found in POD, and suffers only for not being able to provide the original maps properly. 

Another side effect of collecting for ownership vs. collecting as a gamer is that I can at least narrow down what I want to own to "the stuff I will use." I have so far found no need for Book of Nine Swords (the shadow precursor to D&D 4E) or Magic of Incarnum (a book no one wanted to mess with back in the day). I can preemptively never worry about buying a disastrous Mongoose of FFE splatbook in 2021, since I have the retrospective to look back and know which 3PP were destined to be good and which ones just plain sucked.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying my 3.5E game every other Tuesday almost as much as my Cthulhu 7E and Mothership games. It is beating out Pathfinder 2E as well, which much as I like my world and setting for that campaign, I find myself constantly comparing PF2E to D&D 3.5 and wondering how it is that the many iterations of D20 strayed in such weird yet predictable ways. Even 5E is shelved for me, for a while at least; maybe when D&D 5.5 arrives it will tempt me again, who knows.