Tag Archives: d&d

Game changes, late summer 2012 edition

While I've been too busy with work lately to do more than post updates regarding my various role-playing games, I realize that it can be confusing to casual readers of this blog who aren't in my current groups. Here's some context.

Buckaroo Banzai

A motley but fun group of adventurers

Changing venue

Over the past eight years, my face-to-face groups got used to meeting at my apartments in Needham, Mass., because of their spacious basements. It was convenient to have an area dedicated to our games, with large tables, shelves of reference materials, and miniatures and dice all in one place.

Fortunately, Brian W. and Rich C.G. have graciously taken over hosting duties since my move to Waltham, Mass., this past spring. They both live between my office and home and are still relatively central for the rest of the gang. We may not have as much at hand, but the collection of people is more important than rulebooks or battle maps.

Strange new worlds

The eight or so people who meet on Monday nights have also dealt with the usual seasonal shifts in games. After running alternating crews in my "Vortex" homebrew space opera (using FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures/Mindjammer and Bulldogs) for the past two years, we've been trying one-shots and miniseries through the summer.

I've enjoyed playing with different genres and rules sets, including Jason E.R.'s "Glassworks" (superheroes using Cortex: Marvel Heroic Role-Playing), Rich's School Daze one-shot, and Brian's Dungeon Crawl Classics fantasy retro-clone demonstration. I also got to run a playtest of Dungeons & Dragons Next (Fifth Edition) and play in Rich's Way of the Wicked scenario for Pathfinder.

We had more ideas than time in which to explore them all! I held off on returning to my "Gaslight Grimoire" steampunk setting, and we didn't get to Bruce K.'s conversion of the OGL Conan to Pathfinder or Rich or James B.'s Call of Cthulhu or Arkham Horror game.

Telecom turnover

My Sunday night teleconferencing group has also endured changes in membership. Just as I had been running "Vortex" for the Boston-area people, the virtual teams had been playing in my "Vanished Lands" heroic fantasy campaign setting.

For the past few months, Josh C. ran his "Spelljammer: the Show Must Go On" swashbuckling fantasy, using FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre. Even though D&D(4e) and Pathfinder are the most popular systems right now, my groups haven't used them much lately.

Because of busy lives and "gamer attention deficit disorder," I've found rules-light systems such as FATE to be easier to deal with for character creation and running via Skype or Google+. On the other hand, after another break, most of us are eager to get back to longer-term stories where we can develop characters and settings.

The new normal?

We're dealing with end-of-summer schedule snafus, but we know what we'll be playing this coming autumn. The latest Sunday night telecom team has picked "Vortex," with a few Player Characters continuing from the previous face-to-face crews.

On Mondays, I'll be running the "Vanished Lands" at Brian's place. This time around, the group chose D20 retro-clone Basic Fantasy Role-Playing and a carnival-themed adventuring party — about the 39th in that world!

Josh's "A New Beginning: Mystic Adventures in the Big D" (modern supernatural/urban fantasy set in Dallas using FATE 3e Dresden Files) will meet on alternating weeks with my game. Jason plans to eventually run his "Barsoomian Adventures" planetary romance, probably using Savage Worlds.

I'm sure we'll also try other tabletop RPGs when we have out-of-town guests or when we can't get quorum for one of the regular games. Nobody can say that we don't have a rich fantasy life!

Ennies and recent favorite RPGs

Fellow role-players, as we continue to discuss our current games and what we might play next, don't forget to vote for this year's Ennies! Here's how I voted:

While I haven't played many of these, I own several, and I've looked at many more products and Web sites. I explain why I chose what I did below.

RPG dice

A pile of polyhedral dice — most tabletop role-players' fancy


Standouts include Paizo and others' continuing strong support for the Pathfinder system (a.k.a. "D&D3.75") and Obsidian Portal, whose wikis our current face-to-face and telecom groups have been using.

I haven't yet played The One Ring, but it has impressive production value, as do supplements such as DungeonMorph's cards and the "Mass Transit" series of maps. Many of you have received the news and Game Mastering advice I've forwarded from Gnome Stew and EnWorld.org. I enjoyed Rich's "Way of the Wicked" one-shot.

Modern and superheroes

I voted for DC Adventures: Heroes & Villains Vol. 1 (using D20/OGL Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Ed.) over the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game even though we're using the latter in Jason's "Glassworks" superhero miniseries. I thought Green Ronin's relatively timeless approach to DC's iconic characters was better than Margaret Weiss Production's dice-intensive take on recent Marvel continuity. I'll leave the various Cthulhu supplements to the horror authorities among us.

Science fiction

I've used various SFRPG supplements in developing the "Vortex" space opera, including Ashen Stars: Dead Rock Seven, Eclipse Phase: Panopticon, and Star Hero. Even though FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures/Mindjammer has been our baseline, Bulldogs! is a much clearer presentation of similar rules.


I'm not sure that Wizards of the Coast's polls are the best way to get feedback for "Dungeons & Dragons Next" (5e), and Mongoose still has too many errors in its rulebooks, even if I like that it's keeping Traveller going. Cubicle 7 has let support for Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre slip, so I voted for the publishers of my other favorite supplements of the past year.

What were your favorites? In addition, don't forget to vote for which of my campaigns you'd like to see for the face-to-face groups in the coming year! Happy gaming, -Gene

Who's the fairest of them all?

On Saturday, 2 June 2012, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for lunch at Mulan, a decent Taiwanese restaurant in downtown Waltham, Massachusetts. We also screened Snow White and the Huntsman at the Landmark Embassy Cinema. The fantasy film was enjoyable, despite some flaws.

Snow White, wicked queen, and the huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman

I've been following only some of the recent wave of movies and television shows based on fairy tales, so I can't compare Snow White and the Huntsman to Red Riding Hood, Once Upon a Time, or Mirror, Mirror. I do like NBC's Grimm, but that's more of a modern supernatural police procedural.

Snow White and the Huntsman only loosely follows the story recounted by the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney. There's still a princess, a wicked stepmother, a magic mirror, and seven dwarves, but this Snow White reminded me more of the wave of high-minded but inconsistent fantasy flicks from the 1980s, such as Dragonslayer or Labyrinth.

Twilight's Kristen Stewart acquits herself well as the eponymous princess, who is more like Joan of Arc than Disney's cheerful heroine. Charlize Theron (soon also to be seen in Prometheus) happily chews the scenery as Queen Ravenna and needs to be "uglied up" with computer-generated effects for her younger rival to be the fairest in the land.

Thor's Chris Hemsworth is appropriately gruff as the drunken widower hired by Ravenna to find Snow White. Sam Clafin (from Pillars of the Earth and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is a swashbuckling nobleman and potential live interest similar to Robin Hood, and Sam Spruell is Ravenna's cruel brother Finn.

Snow White and the Huntsman's dwarves have less of a role than you might expect, even with clever casting — including the heads of veteran British character actors Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, and Brian Gleeson put onto little people's bodies. The effect was seamless, but it only serves to whet the appetite for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in December.

Speaking of Jackson's example, the production values of Snow White and the Huntsman are very good, with nicely unified sets, costumes, and armor. James Newton Howard's orchestral soundtrack is a bit heavy-handed during the set-piece battles. I think the direction could have been better, since the movie starts slowly and the ending feels rushed. There are also few memorable lines in the script, which felt like a middling Dungeons & Dragons game (and I've participated in many of these).

In addition to the dwarves and Ravenna's sorcery, the brief scene where Snow White and her companions enter a faerie glade is a hint of how this movie could have used visual effects for a more fantastic setting (see The Dark Crystal or Legend for examples). Instead, the movie focuses on more mundane matters like raising an army and the princess realizing her birthright, closer in style to Ladyhawke but without the simple but strong plot magical device of that movie.

Overall, I'd give Snow White and the Huntsman, which has finally dethroned The Avengers at the box office, a 7 out of 10, a B, or two and a half out of five stars. It's rated PG-13 for violence.

Revisiting RPGs and Lego licenses

One game to rule them all?

Lego Lord of the Rings

Continuing this week's look at tabletop role-playing games, especially the announcement of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition and subsequent reactions, here's an overview of my current groups. I caught up on videos and some reading around the holidays, but I had to take a short break from my campaigns because it was too difficult to get quorum for my groups. We seem to be getting back on track.

In the meantime, I've enjoyed several recent sourcebooks — in both hardcopy and PDF — including the Asian-flavored Pathfinder Bestiary 3, Mongoose's printing of science fiction sandbox Stars Without Number, and the horror/SF Ashen Stars, which uses the Gumshoe investigative/troubleshooter rules. All of them will be helpful in my current campaigns.

The two teams of about six people each in my "Vortex" space opera game (using FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures/Mindjammer plus Bulldogs) were on hiatus over the past few weeks. I've kept busy, however, with planning for our alternating Monday night sessions, which are still going strong. Fellow Game Masters Jim J.D'B. and Byron V.O. have helped me prepare for the continuing misadventures of the explorers and diplomats aboard the Blackbird and the grifters on the Appomattox.

My Pathfinder: "the Vanished Lands" telecom fantasy team has had persistent scheduling problems on Sunday nights, but I hope to rebuild from our core group of three low-to-midlevel Player Characters. They've been heading north into the Wisalef Forest to investigate rumors of Unseelie Fey…. Paizo's recent Pathfinder Boxed Set is a good introduction to that system (for up to four or five players to Level 5) and to role-playing in general.

Most of the people in my groups are also playing in other games. Various local Game Masters have expressed interest in running one-shots, although they'll have to promote their ideas and find time and space for them. Here are some of their ongoing campaigns and potential one-shots:

-Paul J. and Greg D.C.: FATE 3e Dresden Files (modern supernatural) 

-James B.: D20 Call of Cthulhu (period horror) or Gumshoe: Mutant City Blues (investigative metahumans) 

-Josh C.: conversion of AD&D2 Spelljammer to FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre (fantasy) or Arkham Horror (board game) 

-Jason E.R.: Fvlminata (alternate Roman history/espionage) 

-Bruce K.: Pathfinder/D&D4e or D20 Conan (sword and sorcery) 

-Rich C.G.: Cthulhu Invictus (alternate Roman history/horror)

A few of the local role-players have also asked to return to my "Societe de Justice Internationale: Drake's Port 7" superhero scenarios using D20 Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Ed., whose excellent Game Master's Guide just arrived. So many games, so little time….

In unrelated but exciting news, Lego recently announced that, in addition to its licenses for Harry Potter, DC and Marvel Comics, and Star Wars, it won the rights to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies! We briefly used Lego for the D&D3.0 "Vanished Lands: the Liberators" and "Dragonslayers," and even though I have dozens of other miniatures, I'd love to use Lego minifigs for my campaigns in any genre, from steampunk and superheroes to science fiction!

More reactions to D&D5e

The Known World of early D&D

Mystara, an early D&D world

As I noted yesterday, the big news in fantasy role-playing was the announcement of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition and even early playtesting. I hope that gaming can still thrive, albeit with fewer fans than in the 1980s or early 2000s. Technology, rules systems, and playing styles have evolved, and I've enjoyed the social side of the hobby for almost 30 years.

My groups have been speculating about D&D5e for a few months now, and initial reactions among them and various bloggers were wary. Some people, who like D&D3.x and Pathfinder, hope that Wizards of the Coast can return to something like the D20 Open Game License rather than D&D4e's more restrictive Game System License. We debated whether WotC should try to widen its audience and pursue younger gamers or whether it needs to win back lapsed role-players and those who stuck with earlier editions. It should try to do both as the industry leader.

Others, who like how D&D4e tried to be more balanced and streamlined, hope for a more modular approach to the complexity level of the rules as characters and monsters advance. I'd like D&D5e to offer more support for role-playing, world-building, and pickup and one-shot games. German designers and Lego have been successful with board games that are potential entry points into the hobby. Dungeons that you can drop a random group of players and characters into, evocative settings, and the potential for long-term story and character development are all important.

I think an introductory D&D5e boxed set is likely, with more focus on pregenerated elements and online character management. Tactical combat will continue to be important, but I think the "fantasy punk" flavor will be dialed back in an attempt to win back some people alienated by the massively multiplayer online (MMO) style of D&D4e. As I said yesterday, WotC will still need to prove that D&D5e is better than already available prior editions and competitors such as Pathfinder.

In addition to the rivalry among fans of D&D4e vs. those of Pathfinder, I'm also still following the development and debates around rules-light and retro-clone (or "old-school Renaissance") games. I may not have minded memorizing the AD&D1 Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide about 25 years ago, but I now want to spend less time worrying about rules and be able to run fun games easily. For example, based on the success of the "Broken Chains" scenario during Byron's visit, some of us are considering using FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre instead of Pathfinder for telecom fantasy games.