Tag Archives: d&d

Fun and games in June and July 2014

As usual, the start of summer has been busy. On Saturday, 21 June 2014, Janice and I went to the Compleat Strategist in Boston for Free RPG Day. We then met role-players Beruk A., Rich C.G., and some of Rich's friends at Pandemonium Books & Games in Cambridge, Mass.

I picked up free fantasy supplements for Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Pathfinder, as well as quickstarters for the superhero Valiant Universe and cyberpunk/fantasy Shadowrun. Clearly, I'm still in a retro-clone, old-school Renaissance (OSR) frame of mind.

Other recent acquisitions include Arrows of Indra, Celestial Empire, and the FATE (Core) Freeport Companion, all of which should be useful for my long-running "Vanished Lands" campaign, which is currently using D20/FATE house rules.

As you may have seen by now, I ran four games in one week! After the latest Creation Star Trek convention in Boston (more on that later), I ran my usual "Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" telecom team on Sunday, June 22. The Player Characters encountered monsters while scouting an army approaching the city of Sogewa.

On Monday, June 23, the "Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition" face-to-face group continued its adventures. That adventuring party has traveled through time to free some slaves.

Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area groups who now lives in St. Louis and participates in "A New Dawn" via Skype, stayed with Janice and me after a business trip back east. On Friday, June 27, I ran an extra "Vistel's Expedition" session, and Byron and I were pleased at the strong turnout.

Byron V.O.'s June 2014 visit

"Vistel's Expedition," summer 2014

On Saturday, June 28, I ran "Star Trek: Restoration," and it was nice to host a smaller group for the first time since moving from Needham to Waltham, Mass. The crew of the U.S.S. Rotha was involved in a tense standoff with Romulan warbirds!

After that afternoon session, we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Josh C. for a solid Italian dinner at Fiorella's in Newton. Byron, who is always a good houseguest and fun gaming companion, left on Sunday, June 29.

On Monday, June 30, Josh ran a one-shot of Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, using FATE Core (reminding me of what I like and what I'd tweak). That wuxia (Asian-style fantasy) scenario was among the one-shots and miniseries my groups have tried out each summer in between longer campaigns.

Pregenerated P.C.s for "Hammer, Don't Touch This!" — Josh C.'s Tianxia one-shot at Brian W.'s home in Newton, Mass.:

  • "Ma Wei Sheng" [Gene D.]-male eastern human, wandering nobleman, taciturn warrior determined to get out from his family's shadow and make a name for himself
  • "Smiling Ox" [Beruk A.]-male human, master of the Demon Hammer, boastful brute with large appetites and a heart of gold
  • "Sister Chuntao" [Brian W.]-female human, Bodhist nun and former thief, conscious of checkered past and seeking harmony, with monkey Sun
  • "Jasmina" [Sara F.]-female tiger, talking animal with scars and a strong sense of justice
  • "Han 'Dragon Dog' Ping" [Bruce K.]-male human, enthusiastic young adventurer and working-class hero
  • "Yee Wong" [Rich C.G.]-male human, old Daoist wizard, immortal but absent-minded and irascible alchemist
  • "Wolf-Eyed Yue" [Brian S.]-female human, wild woman and member of the secret White Widow sect devoted to helping women defend themselves

The Boston-area and telecom games took a break around the Independence Day weekend, during which Janice and I hosted one of our nieces. During the latest "JasonCon" on Monday, July 7, Jason E.R. (whose "Glassworks: the Devil's Den" superhero scenario using Icons: Great Power recently ended) graciously hosted Rich's School Daze, a narrative, rules-light game typically focusing on high school archetypes.

P.C.s for Rich C.G.'s third School Daze session, held in Reading, Mass.:

  • "Emo Wallach" [Gene D.]-male human goth, junior at Trowbridge High School specializing in art and comfortable in dank spaces; discovered a dead dog and classmate during a stormy night at Camp Crystal Lake; later a friend of "Reasonable Squid" reporter Cynthia Hoskins
  • "Chuck Taylor" [Jason E.R.]-male human jock, Trowbridge senior and friend of "Fighting Krakens" water polo Coach Bronkowski and his bullying son Murphy, helped defeat a homicidal alien with surprise tire-iron attacks; after a change of heart, became a nerd defender
  • "Brandon Shaw" [Bruce K.]-male human, shop yank and Trowbridge junior, prone to bad humor; fancies himself a ladies' man and good with an axe in a scrap
  • "Alan Morris" [Brian S.]-male human Trowbridge senior and budding filmmaker; friend of Henry Lee Jackson, an old hermit with a hook hand; recorded attack by assistant camp leader "Ms. Bellum," who was actually a mantis-like alien; dating Chuck's younger sister Tracy
  • "Feskilado 'Fesky' Mepeselph" [Erik R.]-male human Trowbridge senior, science and clank/electronics expert; snuck pet dogs and cat into camp; later found beheaded, and cat Severus was revealed as an alien guardian

I expect "A New Dawn" to resume this coming Sunday, July 13, and Bruce K. will begin his "Eberron/Pathfinder: Reign of Winter" miniseries next Monday. So many games, so little time!

In related news, the Dungeons & Dragons (5e/"Next") Basic Rules have been released. While there are no earth-shattering revelations, especially after a lengthy playtest period, I'm pleased that Wizards of the Coast released this as a free PDF.

As I've noted elsewhere, this looks closer to what I would have preferred for D&D4e, with a mix of AD&D2 style and D&D3.5/D20/4e rules. We'll still have to wait and see whether D&D5e will tempt role-players away from Pathfinder, OSR, and various indie systems.

Dungeons & Dragons 5e gets release dates

It has been a little while since I've posted here about Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast has announced release dates for D&D "Next."

Dungeons & Dragons miniatures

D&D5e minis

WotC is dropping edition numbering from the titles of the latest core books, although I think that many experienced role-players will continue informally referring to this iteration as "D&D5e." We've already seen much of the rules during the lengthy playtest period, but let's hope the kinks have been worked out.

I'm not sure what I think about the cover art. It reminds me of later AD&D2e through D&D3.x/D20, with representational art rather than fake leather. I do have fond memories of the illustrations in past editions, but these look a bit exaggerated in terms of action — D&D should be a tabletop RPG with action scenes, not combat game with occasional role-playing.

Even with discounts through Amazon.com and other retailers, the high price point is daunting but not surprising. Also, shouldn't we support our local game shops? What do you think about D&D "Next?"

For now, our D20/FATE house rules are working fine for both adventuring parties in my long-running "Vanished Lands" fantasy campaign setting, so I'm in no hurry to pick up D&D5e. Still, I am curious about whether it can bridge the gaps among fans of other editions (not to mention Pathfinder) and whether it can encourage more than a temporary uptick in interest in our hobby.

There are more than enough other indie systems, genres, and scenario proposals to keep our groups busy!

Boston-area role-playing games, late spring 2014:

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

Fantasy

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.

Publishers

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.