Monday, July 28, 2014

Impressions of Chocolate & Cigarettes : RPG-Lite / Small Scale Skirmish

Chocolate & Cigarettes is a system included with Nuts! Final Edition from THW. This is something new for this edition. It also happens to tap what I think is the sweet spot for THW systems: very small scale skirmish with 3-5 figures making up the entirety of the player's force.

Three skills are used to differentiate your characters beyond REP: Fitness, People and Savvy. There are two additional attribute tables to be used in addition to the attributes normally used during the generation of the player's force. Finally, characters have the possibility of carrying special items that may or may not be useful on the mission (chocolate and cigarettes among them).

Although the regular mechanisms are still used, there is a system for Opposed and Unopposed Challenges - something common to any number of RPGs, lite or otherwise. I like this as it shows that actions more typical of role-playing are expected in these missions.

For my first mission, I brought out my Conte British Paratroopers, hereafter referred to as Corporal Lionel Hardcastle, Lance Corporal Alistair Deacon and Pvt. Stephen Peacock aka Team BBC.

Intel had located a high ranking German officer enjoying a holiday on a remote farm in rural France. Hardcastle and his team were called on to parachute into the area under cover of dark, make their way to the farm and capture the officer. They would rendezvous with the transport team in a village some 3 miles away.

[Night scenarios limit visibility to 12"]

The drop went swimmingly and the team descended on the farm, approaching through a small patch of woods to the south.

Utilizing the hills to their right for additional cover, the team swept right over the crest of the hills, and moved unseen towards the buildings.

[The PEF on my right advanced towards us but was found to be nothing]

On Hardcastle's signal, Peacock and Deacon stormed towards the back of the yellow building, while Hardcastle himself covered the front. 

[The building PEF resolved as nothing, meaning I'd roll 3d6 when entering the building.

The leftmost PEF advanced into range of Hardcastle. It revealed a lone guard on duty]

A lone guard tromped through the darkness, whistling a folk tune. He caught a glimpse of Hardcastle and brought his gun up to his shoulder, but he was too slow.

[Hardcastle won the In Sight and gunned the man down. ]

[Although it's not written anywhere, I really should have tested to see if anyone in the buildings reacted to this but I didn't. To my knowledge, as written, building PEFs don't leave the building (unless they're revealed to be troops]

Peacock and Deacon cleared out the building while Hardcastle kept watch for enemy reinforcements. The building was empty. With no welcoming party other than the lone guard, the team stormed the second building.

[Building PEF was nothing, so 3d6 when door opened. Rather than use the Ready the Grenade test, I used a Savvy challenge, and then did the same with kicking down the door, and putting the pin back IN the grenade after the first floor PEF turned out to be nothing. The upstairs PEF had to be the objective.]

With nowhere left to hide, the team rightly believed the officer must be on the upper floor and Hardcastle joined his men racing up the back stairs.

[I tested In Sight and the German Officer won. I decided to forgo the way the rules usually work and had him dash down the front stairs - that I didn't know existed until I rolled some dice: Does he engage them in a fire fight? 1- Yes and he's turned over a table so he has cover, 2-3 - yes but only until he can fight his way to the front stairs, 4-5 No, but he takes off running down the stairs, 6 No and he surrenders. I rolled a 4. ]

[He won the initiative for the next turn and took off running for the woods and out of sight.]

Team BBC raced down the steps behind the officer. 

[Thankfully the Officer then rolled a 6 for initiative, which meant no action for him. This allowed the team to get within range.]

Unable to catch him, they opened fire and dropped him in his tracks.

Mission : Failed!

This is more like it. 

A handful of figures makes it easy to keep track of everything, not too much dice rolling and a loose RPG-Lite feel. In fact, I imagine I could run a solo RPG using this system, and only break out the miniatures when combat necessitated it.

Skalafell : The Sorcerer's Apprentice

When we last left our "hero", Fjörgyn had followed the map, given to her by the evil wizard possessing Sister Rebecca, to a secret cave where she retrieved his spell book, a leather bound tome, firmly sealed by a clasp (thankfully, since she knocked it off the pedestal and it could have become quite damaged). After escaping the skeleton guardians and making her way across a deep chasm, and finally slaying one goblin and charming several others, she exited the cave complex, spell book in hand

She returned to the village to find a line of villagers outside the shrine of the Forgetful Bear. As she approached to try and hear what, if anything, the people were talking about, she was recognized by someone in the line. Someone in line called out "Ghoulslayer!" and the rest of the crowd broke into applause.

[Here, I will use a direct transcript of what transpired, since I think it reveals one of the difficulties of chat-based gaming: a pause to type can be interpreted as a full stop, allowing interjection.]

Ariale: I ask "what is going on here?"

Me:  A heavily built man with narrow features and a flaming red beard informs you that their grand-father, a man of some years, has passed and they have come to see the good sister about arranging the funeral rites.

Another, a solid woman with golden braids and a barrel chest, tells you that she's here for a blessing for her family's sheep flock.

Ariale: I inform them that I heard sister Rebecca had an emergency of her own and will be away for some time. 

Me: A willowy man, with a hook nose, and wearing farmer attire stands at the closed door to the shrine, his hat in his hand, turns to you and says "Odd. because she's in with my cousin right now"

Ariale:  "Oh, good to hear! I'm glad that all is back to normal!" [this is a pretty good save on her part]

Me:  "Normal?" asks someone in the line

Ariale: How long may I ask has your cousin been in there?
( I ignore that person )

Me:  "Not long. He went in after Orlygrson's wife came out." 

[I opted not to follow up with the questioning since it was clear to me that had I indicated that Sister Rebecca was seeing her flock, then Fjörgyn wouldn't have made that statement. And, if we had been face to face, i would have stopped her interjection before I finished the description of what was going on with the line ]

As Fjörgyn went to take her place in line, the door opened,  and a villager came out, behind him, Fjörgyn could see Sister Rebecca beckoning her to come in. Sister Rebecca addressed the petitioners, "I'm sorry all, I must speak with ghoulslayer for a moment." 

She paused, then added "Important church business."

Inside, the cleric's demeanor and face transformed from the one Fjörgyn recognized as Sister Rebecca to the one she recognize as the wizard. 

"UGH. these people are driving me mad! Did you get the book?"

"I sure did. Not without some trouble of course, " said Fjörgyn.

"Excellent...oh yes, the security system. I had forgotten about that. It's been...a very long time. May i have my book please?"

Fjörgyn handed over the spell book.

"Excellent," said the evil wizard as he caressed the aged tome.

Having completed her mission, when the wizard suggested yet another to prove her merit for the spot as his apprentice, she reminded him that the deal was that getting the spell book was supposed to guarantee her position. [i.e. I forgot and she reminded me, in character]

Thus corrected, the evil wizard ordered her to go to the site of his long abandoned tower to see what of it remains and to clear out any who may have taken up residence during his extended absence. Without solitude, he informed her, he could not study his magic, nor silence the constant yammering of Sister Rebecca, who still occupied some part of the otherwise possessed body.

Since the last errand was somewhat dangerous, F. inquired after the possibility of some kind protective magic, but,  until he could study his spell book in peace, he could provide no such thing. He did note that she could loot the shrine as she saw fit.

Which she did.

Taking leave of the Forgetful Bear and noting the sun was drooping in the sky, Fjörgyn set out to sell some of her acquired loot from previous outings. 

After successfully unloading some items at the general store, she went to Zelligant's shop to sell him the remainder of some black fabric she had found. Business was obviously booming and he offered her top dollar for the yard and a half.

When she returned to her room for the evening, she found a folded piece of parchment had been slipped under the door:
"You have been invited to attend a late night gathering of like minded patrons of Dark and Ancient Forces in the clearing by the old shrine in three nights. Please tell no one of this invite. We will know if you do and we cannot have that."

[this is where we ended the session.]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Ten Games, Ten Times Challenge

I'm 22% into the 10 games, 10 times, challenge and I thought I should post an update, because I think the experience has already been worthwhile.

What I am finding, and it confirms what I think most of us already know, that multiple plays of a game help reinforce knowledge of the rules, help us learn and improve strategy and tactics, and help us decide how we really feel about a game beyond the first impressions.

By way of example:

One of the games on my list, Urbion, is a solitaire card game that offers both a basic game, and several advanced options, all within one box. 

I had thought when I started that I would focus on getting into those advanced options, since I had already played the basic game a number of times. 

However, I found on the first game  after I officially declared the challenge for myself (and game here means gaming session. I can play multiple games of Urbion in an hour, but I only count that as 1 for the sake of the challenge) that I not only needed a complete rules refresher, but that I had been doing a few things incorrectly the first 5 games which I had credited myself.

It wasn't until the 7th game that I finally won playing the basic rules. 

The game was harder to win than I thought it might be, but, with repeated play, I had developed some strategies that seemed to work, and i was seeing things I could do each game turn that I couldn't see in those earlier games.

About 2 weeks passed between the 8th and 9th session, and so I decided to stick with the basic game. Lo and behold, I remembered the rules! I didn't win mind you, but I played well enough to feel like it was time to try the first of the advanced options.

In the 10th game, I tried the first of the advanced options. 

They add a fair degree of difficulty and the first option alone includes many possible choices. I greatly underestimated the depth of this game in the sense that I thought I'd explore the all of the advanced rules, or at least many, in 10 games.

This was a pleasant surprise and I see that I will get many more hours of enjoyment from this game. So, despite having completed the challenge for Urbion, I will continue playing it.

Awesome, right?

Well, all is not rainbows and unicorns in the realm of Ol' Tabletop:

I have played 7 games now of Nuts! Final Version, and all of these games have been infantry only. I have yet to touch the vehicle rules, nor have I tried the Chocolate & Cigarettes rules. 

Whenever I played Nuts! 2.0, I was always looking up something or other, and that was the case when I started playing Final Version. However, by game 5, except for the non-player "ai" and the reinforcements table, I needed to only refer to a chart once in awhile; repeated play has its merits. 

By the time I finished the 6th game (which was the first mission I completed successfully), I was feeling dissatisfied and started to consider whether or not I should cut my losses and pick a different game to play ten times. 

Another benefit of repeated play: This is a game that at first i was quite happy with but something about the game, after several plays had soured that - having the experience of playing multiple games of Nuts! meant I had data to mine to find the source of my dissatisfaction.

What I found was, it's not the rules generally, but that I don't really like the "ai" for the non-player side. 

This isn't to say the tables controlling the non-player side aren't well done (I lost to it 5 times in a row after all), but that the dice rolling each turn for tactics doesn't suit me - even though it provides a result, it still requires interpretation and I have to wonder then, why roll each turn at all?

What's more, with Nuts!, and the THW reaction system in general, I don't think a non-player decision table is necessary.

All you need is to know the enemy's mission and maybe their general posture (aggressive, cautious, or somewhere in the middle). That should be enough - because the rest of the rules will take control away from you, making sure that, even if you try to make the enemy do something stupid, you'll probably fail because they'll duck back to cover. 

Finally, the provided NP rules and the reaction tables themselves, don't provide an easy way to determine when or if the NP enemy will surrender or fall back. 

Rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, I dropped the built-in NP tactics rules (although i kept the rules for moving PEFs as I like those) and used a much simpler system of my own for game 7.

The result was a more enjoyable game (I'll post a write-up tomorrow).

Regardless, after 7 games I don't know if Nuts! is going to be the go-to game for me at this scale of battle - which, even when it starts with a single squad, ends up being around a platoon on at least one side, if not both. It's too many individual reactions and resulting statuses that have to be indicated (even if you roll once for the group, it applies to each individual - your rep 3 Private is going to react differently than your rep 5 Corporal).

Iron Ivan's Disposable Heroes/Coffin For Seven Brothers or my own Featherstone's Nuts! (which I continue to tweak) are probably more likely to scratch the squad to platoon game for me, although they should each be subjected to a similar 10 game experience, to be sure.

I have 3 games left in the challenge for Nuts! and I have decided these will all explore the Chocolate & Cigarettes rules. 

This is something new between 2.0 and 3.0. At 3-5 figures, this is the scale of game at which I think THW rules shine - CR3:FV is always a blast to play with just a handful of figures, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the additional role-playing elements add to the game.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

DragonCon 2014 : Here's What I'm Running (So Far)

This is probably the first of several posts I will make prior the event itself because I'm really looking forward to DragonCon this year and find myself daily checking for updates.

Gaming event submission has been open for a few weeks, and registration to play is going live very soon live as of Monday 7/21. I decided yesterday to apply to run 3 sessions and all 3 were approved.

The Purple Worm Graveyard (Planet Thirteen)

I had a lot of fun with this when I ran it in December 2013. My concern, then as now, is that it could all end early depending on what choices they make. I may fiddle with the module a bit to prevent at least one of the possibilities. But I will have a second adventure on hand, just in case.

I chose to run this at 9AM, the Friday of the con. 

I don't know if I'll get a full table or not, but last year the b/x game at 9AM Friday had 18 players (way too many) because people kept showing up with nowhere to put them, so I have hopes that I'll get my 6. I have been running as many as 8 with my open table campaign, and I find that is really the top end of what's fun. Four to six is the sweet spot; everyone has a better chance to get involved or perhaps, I just do a better job of involving everyone.

The Dungeon of Akban (S&W Quickstart)

I ran this in November 2013 and really enjoyed it. There's no way the players will complete the dungeon in 4 hours, but there are multiple paths they can take that will allow them to satisfy at least one of several possible victory conditions. 

I know, I know, you can't win at role-playing, but for a one-shot, I think it's nice for there to be a sense of achievement, even if it's, "well we didn't find X, but we found Y and Y was pretty cool!"

When i ran it in November, I converted it for use with Labyrinth Lord (that took about 3 minutes). For DragonCon, i'm going to run Swords & Wizardry : Whitebox. That's how much I like Whitebox.

I might sign up to run one more slot (probably a 2nd Purple Worm Graveyard), but that depends both on what I sign up to play, and what else looks interesting on the schedule, and how much time I want to leave for the pop-up zine library. At this point, I'm only signed up to play D.B.A. (I've heard many times that the best way to understand these rules is to have someone show you, so that's my plan!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ariale (of Fjörgyn infamy) Has a Blog!

The subject line pretty much says it all.

Ariale has started posting some of her Tunnels & Trolls solo exploits, as well as her side of the screen for our ongoing B/X campaign, where she plays the chaotic, arguably evil, unarguably impulsive, Fjörgyn the Elf.

You can check her blog out here: Ghoul Slayer.

Her side of the screen. Photo by Ariale M.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Skalafell : Into the Evil Wizard's Safe

This session of Fjörgyn's adventure was held outdoors at Griffis Sculpture Park in Western New York. It was also the first time I have ever played D&D outdoors.

photo by Ariale M.

Fjörgyn followed the map Sister Rebecca / Evil Wizard gave her to the mouth of a cave in the hills south and west of Skalafell.  The tunnel within forked, and she chose to pursue the one to the north.

[I gave her some info to help her decision making, but I'll be damned if i can remember what it was.]

As she approached a cavern, her torched flickered [which ultimately was a terrible clue that something was amiss]. Remembering her infravision, she opted to extinguish the torch and peer into the cavern in hopes of not drawing attention to herself. 

Before her stood a large cold glob in the center of the room. Lighting her torch she saw a grotesque tentacled monstrosity of a statue. Expecting the worst, she tried to sneak past, but it was not to be - the living crystal statue animated and smashed at her with its massive tentacles.

Fjörgyn blocked and parried blow after blow before finally shattering the statue into hundreds of shards (some of which were stashed in her pack for later use). She had taken some damage, but not much [we're using Solo Heroes, so damage at most is 2 points per hit, and quite often just 1 pt]. 

She decided to return to the other fork and explore that direction, but found her path mysteriously blocked by a wall. A search for secret doors revealed nothing, despite her elven prowess in such matters, so onward she went.

After trying to climb her way around the walls of a room and falling onto a great glowing sigil painted on its floor (which cost her a point of INT), she made her way into a chamber wherein a large leather bound book, sealed with a clasp,  rested on a small plain stone dais. 

Taking no chances with her safety, but risking the book, she knocked it from its resting place. As the book skidded into the rough ground, this transgression triggered the rapid appearance of 3 skeleton warriors bent on making her life pretty miserable in a battle that did not go her way (she came close enough to death that Ariale was getting worried).

Finally, in an act of desperation, bloodied and bruised, Fjörgyn grabbed the spellbook and, like a young Walter Payton, blasted through their line and out the door into the hall opposite the way she came in. Fortune was on  Fjörgyn's side and the skeletons did not pursue - although fortune has a sick sense of humor and put her at the precipice of a great chasm some 20' wide. 

Despair may have settled in for a moment before the light bulb went off and Fjörgyn noticed hand holds and a small ledge allowing her to cross the chasm ever so carefully. 

Ahead, she heard the distinct sound of loud voices and with torch extinguished she spied several humanoid shapes sitting about another cavern. 

With surprise on her side, she prepared her Charm Person spell. It was not until she uttered the necessary phrases that the goblins became aware of her presence and by then it was too late - all but one of them failed their save. The sole exception charged into melee (Fjörgyn won the initiative) but was cut down quickly and easily. As for the others, they could not understand why their brutish companion would attack their dear friend, the elf.

So happy were they to see their long lost bestie, they readily gave up information about the tunnel system. Realizing her health had been seriously compromised by the statue and the skeletons, Fjörgyn asked for directions to the entrance. As it turned out, the goblins had their own secret way in and out of the cave and happily showed Fjörgyn the way to the surface. 

Sadly, obligations to their Boss prevented them from going with her back to town to continue their joyous gathering.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Ever Expanding Dungeon : Session 30

For this session, I decided to use the 5 Room Dungeon model as the frame for whatever I rolled up on the content generator/wandering monster table

For the thief skills, I'm using Whitebox Heroes.

After moving into the hallway, the party made their way across the hall to a door that ultimately led them to the Eastern door to a large, narrow room that already had been mapped [Room 43]. Listening at the door revealed nothing, and a brief examination showed the door to be locked.

[Room 1: Guardian I decided it would be a lock. Simple.]

Leegand set about trying to pick the lock but was unsuccessful and the party was forced to backtrack and approach the room via another [Room 42].

[Room 2 in the 5-Room Dungeon is Role-Play / Puzzle, I rolled Monster with Treasure]

As the party entered, 3 skeleton guardians attacked, ganging up on Runolf and Eomond, as they led the party into the chamber. Ygg called upon the Hedonistic Lumberjack but the mighty god must have been sleeping off a hangover and failed to assist in any way. "Ratsplitter" proved its worth against the undead, destroying the first skeleton outright. Runolf had a bit tougher time of it, taking a substantial wound [3 HP damage], before dropping the remaining skeletons single-handed .

[For the puzzle/rp, I felt like i needed more to go on and consulted Mythic GME's Subject Action tables: release danger.]

In the center of the room, a smallish metal box marked with evil looking symbols that any idiot could see was a warning sat surrounded by the scattered bones of the destroyed skeleton warriors. Lykidas noted that he could cast a spell to allow him to decipher the sigils and symbols, but he would have to do so a different day, as it was not a spell he had prepared for this delve. Ygg suggested carrying the box out with them and then Lykidas could cast his spell in the comfort of their room at the inn.

Amazingly, no one could see any flaws with this plan.

[Room 3 in the 5-Room Dungeon is a red herring / resource drain ]

Weird box in hands, the party made their way into the room to the south [Room 43. For contents, I rolled Trap. I used my own trap table from 6 Iron Spikes #2, and got "Piercing"]. 

Perhaps as reward for their success, javelins sprayed from the ceiling, floor and walls [I decided each member of the party would have to make a Saving Throw or take damage]. 

Fortunately, the trap wasn't lethal, although nearly everyone suffered some degree of injury. Despite efforts to bind wounds, the effect of the trap was enough for the party to decide to retrace their steps and get back to town.

[Room 4 in the 5-Room Dungeon is the Big Bad / Combat encounter ]

Unfortunately, their exit was not to be without incident. 

Unbeknownst to the party, the ghoul, whom Ygg had turned earlier, waited in ambush and sprung upon the party, catching them completely off-guard [the party rolled a 1 for their Surprise check].
Eomond bore the weight of the ghoul's fury and was dropped, paralyzed, to the ground - fortunately, for what it was worth, he was still alive. Ygg and Leegand tried to engage the creature from a distance, but Leegand's dagger sailed wide of the mark, and again the Hedonistic Lumberjack was unavailable for direct calls. Finally, Zilliniy charged the beast and cleaved it head to groin in one gruesome swing of her blade. 

Cheers erupted from the party - except for Eomond who, of course, was still paralyzed.

[Room 5 in the 5-Room Dungeon model isn't necessarily another room but treasure or a twist. I don't know why, but this popped into my head]

Unable to move Eomond and the weird box, the party set up guard to wait for the paralysis to fade. Meanwhile, the old man (Lykidas) decided to examine the ghoul - intellectual curiosity, you see - and found something quite odd : a series of numbers tattooed on its wrist. A curiosity no doubt, he severed the hand above the wrist and tossed it in his bag, for further examination in a safer location.

With Eomond mobile again, the party made their way home, only to be ambushed outside of the dungeon's entrance by two men [Wandering Monster : Thieves, 2nd level ] who had misjudged the party's health (easy to do given the amount of bloody bandages in which they were wrapped). Ygg struck a blow which killed the first and as the second ran Leegand and Zilliniy combined to drop the coward with sling stone and arrow.

*** Epilogue ***
Early the following morning, Lykidas, Ygg, Zilliniy and Leegand retired to one of the party's two rooms, shuttered the windows and locked the door - both Eomond and Runolf had far more recovery to do and were allowed to sleep in. In the center of the room, they placed the strange box. 

Lykidas cast his spell and reported that the box promised great treasure at significant peril. 

[Mythic GME: Does it give any clue as to the peril? 87, No]

Zilliniy drew her sword, Ygg readied his mace, Lykidas readied another spell, and Leegand set about trying to pick the lock. Unsuccessful, he stepped out of the way as Ygg put his crowbar to the task.

 [I decided if he rolled under his STR it would open. I rolled a 2. 
I was torn on whether the peril was monster or trap, so I turned to Mythic GME: Is it trapped? 57, yes
I again turned to my trap table in 6 Iron Spikes #2 and rolled "Dumbing"]

As the lid of box flew open, a ghostly form rocketed out howling and screaming in tortured agony. 

[All rolled to Save or lose 1 INT permanently]

Although Leegand and Zilliniy were unaffected, both Lykidas and Ygg felt as if ice picks had been wedged into their brains.

A moment later the apparition had vanished and the party stared at a pile of coin [30 gp and 150 sp]. Eomond and Runolf were summoned from their slumber and the treasure was divided equally among them all. 

"I think a shopping spree is in order, " said Ygg.

[The party will need 6 days of rest for all members to be at their full HP]

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mail Call! And more!

I just got back from my trip to Western New York and a pile of envelopes awaited me when I got in the door:

While I was on my trip, I swung by a store called Two Kings Gaming. The reviews I read suggested that customer service was rather low on their priority list, but I figured I had nothing to lose.

The store mostly caters to Magic : The Gathering, and Warhammer 40K, but they do have a decent selection of out of print RPGs (primarily D&D, but some other systems). 2e is probably the one they have the most of, although 1e and 4e weren't too far behind. Oddly 3e seemed to have very little. As nothing beyond 1e really interests me (except 5e), and I have all of the 1e stuff I care to have, I wasn't holding out much hope of finding anything. 

To my surprise, I found a copy of Holmes D&D for sale, tucked into the rack with the White Dwarf back issues.

My copy of Holmes is rather pristine, so I have been considering buying a "reading copy." I couldn't find any price, so I took it up to the counter expecting to be ignored (based on the reviews I had read). Instead, I was waited on immediately, and even better, although the price was $24(way overpriced), they sold it to me for $10 (much more reasonable).

Next time I'm up in WNY and I've got some time, I'll head back to Two Kings Gaming to see what they might have gotten in.