RPGaDay 2015: Day 4

August 4th.

So, I had never heard of this before until I read about it at Casting Shadows. I missed Day One (Star Wars, Force and Destiny, FFG), Day Two (the upcoming Ghostbusters board game), and Day Three (D&D Attack Wing). This is such a great idea though, I want to be a part of it. Also, it forces me to write everyday – which is huge as I attempt to bring the Rhetorical Gamer back from the dead.

Most Surprising Game

I suppose that it makes sense I’d choose to jump in on a day when I have no idea what to say. What makes a game surprising? I feel like in the last year I’ve read a few games that I was surprised by – in the sense that they were more interesting (or disappointing) than I expected but I’m rarely surprised by a game. Most surprising game… well, it’s not from the last twelve months but I only discovered it within that time…

The biggest game surprise I’ve had was Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery from Gale Force 9. I’ve watched the Starz show. It was enjoyable. But I never expected to like a game based on it. First of all – I wasn’t sure what to expect and second, when I saw it in the game store, I assumed it would be just another half-baked tie-in game without enough development and simply taking advantage of the popularity of something else.

This game turned out to be a ton of fun though. There are multiple paths to victory, multiple strategies of play, and each is rewarding. In one playthrough, I did nothing but host the games and came within a turn of winning.

The game doesn’t just focus on the houses, or the gladiators, or any one aspect. It truly does the best of both. There is treachery, and, as promised in the title, blood. There are many different strategies one can attempt and reasons to do all of them.

The treachery portion of the game, where you are wrangling against the other players to enact your schemes is very well handled and causes a decent amount of give and take. The market phase is always tense. And the gladiatorial combat is quick, easy to resolve, and actually fun to play.

Despite my initial reservations, this is a game that it only took playing once at a con to drive me to pick it up for myself. I never expected a tv show tie-in game to have the kind of depth, interesting play styles, and quality this game does.

I’m also pleased that they continue to support it and that it was apparently cool enough that recently an X-Men game has been released based on the rules. It’s a very clever and enjoyable game I wish I could play more often.

So, that’s my most surprising game. Looking forward to day 5.

Thanks for reading.

Adventurer Conqueror King System is a Domain of Madness

So, first, a few disclaimers:

  1. I love ACKS. I’ve played every edition of D&D, AD&D, and D&D again along with Pathfinder, Castles and Crusades, and Dungeon Crawl Classics and nothing comes close to how much I enjoy ACKS. I’ve written about this before when I started my first ACKS campaign and I have to say that the Autarch team has built one heck of a game on the old school base.
  2. I’m not a math-oriented person. I mean, I’m not one of those people who can’t make change in my head or needs a calculator to do division… but I don’t “think in numbers” the way some people can.

Those two disclaimers were important because I want to follow them up by saying that for me, I find the domain creation system in ACKS (touted by many as its greatest strength/innovation) to be a nearly unworkable mess as written. It is clearly working for some players, so I’m happy to admit it might just be me, but as I embark on my second ACKS campaign, I am once again confronted by the fact that I can’t make heads or tails of how the domain system is supposed to work. The fundamental math is very confusing to me and the book provides scant and contradictory examples of the different parts leading to even more confusion.

I’m going to try and outline my issues and then we’ll see if anyone out there can help me tumble my way through them…

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Thoughts from Keep on the Borderlands

“The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted.”

This is the opening statement of the Keep on the Borderlands adventure. It implies a fairly small “Realm” and that much of the surrounding territory is not controlled by humans. The default assumption of human primacy in many fantasy worlds seems challenged here.

That said… where does that road go? There is an established road through the Borderlands which suggests to me that there is something at the other end. Or, at least, there used to be. There is also mention that the Jewel Merchant staying in the private apartments is “waiting for a caravan” back to civilization. Where did he come from and why would a caravan even come to the Keep? The Keep seems to be populated with a majority of soldiers and there doesn’t appear to be much farming going on… so I’d assume that most of what comes to the Keep is agricultural production from the Realm to keep the soldiers ready to fight.

I could suppose that the Jewel Merchant traveled here to provide a commission to the Castellan, as the Magic-Users and Clerics here are too low level to need much in the way of fancy gems. If that’s the case, why did he bring his whole family – or not just send a messenger? Yes, these are silly questions but I’m hoping to build a larger campaign to stem from this first adventure so the world around the Keep is important.

As I have begun running Keep on the Borderlands using ACKS, here are some assumptions I’m going to work with. The Realm – as introduced in KotB – is a large valley, nestled between two mountain ranges. The Borderlands extend from the end of the valley – one of its larger passes – into unsettled lands beyond (where there are lots of monsters lurking).

The Keep is an important waypoint though, as there is a road running through the hilly regions of the borderlands which leads to another small human kingdom which shares a history with the Realm from a time when that road was better defended and the borderlands not so wild. This gives me that “ancient civilization” to draw from for purposes of history and old ruins left scattered about.

As I was unhappy with the very small size of the original KotB wilderness map (it’s tiny) I have expanded the Borderlands into a much larger region using 6-mile hexes and Hexographer. KoTB.6mile.Player1Because I have expanded the scale of the Borderlands, this also means that any caravans passing through the Borderlands will likely spend several nights on the road, meaning that ‘caravan guard’ and ‘borderlands scout’ are valuable occupations. [This means that as the party levels up and wants to hire henchmen with levels, they can find a decent proportion of fighters and explorers.]

One of the primary things making travel from the Realm to the other Kingdom (and the reverse) most valuable is that the Realm is a mountainous place, on good terms with the Dwarves and capable of producing metals and gemstones. The other Kingdom, as it moves out of the foothills becomes a savannah like place which eventually gives way to the sea. Tribal humans live in the savannah, once enemies of the old civilization of mankind. The Kingdom is more of a city state holding on to past glories and still believes itself an enlightened and advanced place.

In the Realm, the mountains are home to the dwarves, human mining settlements, and back-to-nature mountain tribes who don’t care much for “city folk.” In both the Realm and the Kingdom (hereafter called the City-State) there are Elven Fastnesses in the wooded areas and to the south of the Realm, there is the last great Elven Kingdom, which faces challenges of its own from the deep woods and from the underworld beneath.

All of this is basically my attempt to incorporate the additional classes from the ACKS Player’s Companion as well as to build in room to run some other classic adventures – like possibly Against the Giants or Isle of Dread.

We are currently three sessions into the new game and I’ll post more thoughts on the evolution of the Realm into a full campaign setting – as well as some actual play reports. Stay tuned.

The Incredibles. Facist Propoganda?

So, a friend of mine started an interesting conversation on Facebook today concerning the movie, The Incredibles. I think his own bias is showing a little bit in his interpretation of the movie – and I deeply disagree – but I’ll allow that my own bias probably shows here as well because, full disclosure, The Incredibles is one of my favorite movies and is also in my top three for greatest standalone superhero stories. It is certainly my favorite superhero movie. Also, this post is long. Just, you know, before you dive in.

I thought about trying to explain his position in a simplified form but it was too simplified. So here’s his main thought on the subject, in his own words

The Incredibles, intentionally or not, carries the idea of super heroes as admirable fascists even further. The biggest obstacle to heroing is a foolish and stupid public presented as largely unworthy of rescue by these super beings who do it anyway (recall the film begins with super heros being vilified and oppressed by the public after a man sues Mr. Incredible for injuries sustained in the act of being saved from his own suicide attempt). The most moral mortalsin the movie until the final minutes are a villain who sees the error of her ways and turns on Syndrome and an “Uncle Tom” government beuracrat apologizing for humanity and trying to make it up to the supers.

The bad guy, who as Meg discussed certainly has evil methods, is a figure whose evil monolog states his goal is not wealth, not power, not suppress what is special in anybody, but to uplift ordinary people. To make everyone special and to equal the playing field for those not born with super human gifts (every super in the movie is presented as being born with their powers – the two super villains, Syndrome and Bombadeer, are both gadgeteers. Edit: third villain is mole man who we know nothing about except he drives a giant drilling machine that at least implies gadgeteer).

So the good guys are a group presented as being born not just genetically but MORALLY superior and that our questioning of their decisions in how they exercise power is a sign of our moral and intellectual weakness.

Presented as evil is the idea of democratization of power. Of giving ordinary human beings a level playing field.

The movie is not remotely subtle about these points.

There are some interesting points here but overall, it seems like it ignores certain things as well.

I’ll start with the pair of Syndrome and Mr. Incredible. I think this is a good place to start as they are at the core of the conflict in the movie and they are also the core of the message. First, let’s separate Syndrome’s words from his actions. He states that he wants to make everyone special. He states that he wants to make everyone better and level the playing field. But words are just words. His actions show us differently. First, he has an island full of minions. Does he share his tech with them? Not really. Other than a few fancy vehicles, what we see is bad guys in classic mook fashion with machine guns. Also, he employed a super – Mirage (at least, it’s implied she’s a super, I don’t know that we ever see her use powers). Instead of sharing any of his tech with the people around him, he builds a weapon of mass destruction which he plans to unleash on an unwitting populace to prove a point (that he’s a hero). He can SAY he has whatever motivation he wants to claim… the question is – does he? Here’s what I see when I look at Syndrome. I see a guy who was hurt as a child when he was let down by his hero. But here’s the thing. He’s special. He’s a scientific genius who is also clearly smart enough to make the kind of unlimited fantasy wealth that only really exists in comics. He has an island lair and a small private army. But he doesn’t use any of that to improve humanity. He uses it to get revenge on aging supers and plan his big reveal to make himself a “hero.” He’s stunted. He represents a character who is never able to see past a slight to the larger world. He’s entirely caught up in himself and his vision of the world. Which, oddly, is a vision that the world has already given him. The supers are gone. The world turned away from them and they disappeared.

And this is a significant point to make about Mr. Incredible (and the supers at large). For all their power, for all their gifts, when humanity said, “We can’t stand the supers anymore” the supers went away. They could have gone to war with humanity, enforced their vision on the world. This could have been a much more “Aberrant” story (ha! gaming reference). It wasn’t though. Syndrome had already won. The supers were gone and the world was the typical, mundane world he claimed to want. Mr. Incredible chose to accept a world that didn’t want him, went into hiding, and turned himself into a man he didn’t want to be all in the interest of doing what was right. He grew. Admittedly, it was rocky for him. He created a constant state of turmoil for his family because he couldn’t stop himself from hero-ing. Even when it was detrimental, he still had that urge. For the most part though, he was part of the system. Part of the world without supers. Ultimately, his story isn’t about superheroes at all. It’s about a man having a mid-life crisis because he’s turned his back on who he was supposed to be. Because he’s living a lie. But he is at least trying to live in the world as it is. Syndrome is still trapped at age 15, he’s still just Buddy wanting to show off. He still just wants revenge. He kills a man’s family (he thinks he does) just to watch that man suffer. He’s willing to kill as many people as it takes in the city just to show that he’s special.

And if we want to talk stand-ins and such, I don’t see the supers (and specifically, Mr. Incredible) as important because they are superhumans facing a world full of stupid humans. I see them as a powerful message about just going with the flow and letting the bad things happen. The job at the insurance company is a perfect example of this. Sure, Brad Bird’s politics are pretty clear here, but this is a perfect example of the culture we live in – one that values the bottom line over people – among other “legal” injustices. And Mr. Incredible still values people more. In fact, the point that he does have powers to help with and chooses not to actually makes him the worse for it. That’s the dichotomy I see in the film, not powered vs. normal but valuing people and family and being true to oneself over the opposite of those things.

Sure, you can read the inherent hypocrisy of superhumans beating up on normal folk into the film if you want. You can cast Syndrome as a guy who wants everyone to be equal, and you can say that some elements of the message are muddied by things like Dash and his desire to race. They explored this same ground on Smallville too – with predictable results. But here’s the thing… I accept that the message is a little muddy because life is a little muddy. The story isn’t about the message it’s about the characters and they are a very human bunch of people just trying their best to make good decisions in a world they don’t fit into anymore – or in the case of the kids – were never allowed to.

I could go on. This is already too long though. I think I’ve made the point I hoped to.

Thanks for reading.

The New Mad Max: Fury Road is Breathtaking

Still a little shell-shocked. This movie, man. Wow. It was breathtaking. It was awesome in its visuals, with action sequences that were simultaneously riveting examples of modern technology while also sharing a sensibility that would have been at home in any 80s action movie.

I find myself wanting to use words like stunning. I don’t often find myself wanting to use such words. It’s tough to figure out what else to say though. There were moments when I found myself trying to crawl out of my seat because of what was happening on screen.

First, I’ll say this… there is not much to “spoil” in this movie. The plot is simple – I believe in a very intentional way – with a spine that is primarily an extended chase sequence across various types of challenging terrain. I’d also love to see this movie again and really examine exactly how much dialogue was in it – cause it ain’t much. But just in case you are worried about any levels of spoiler-y detail, here’s where I’ll leave you – This movie is well worth your time.

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Attack Wing Wednesday: OP4 – The Owlbear Joke…

“I don’t have to outrun the owlbear, I just have to outrun you…”

When I read this scenario I was quite annoyed with it. Effectively, this seemed like it would play a lot like an escort mission. My wife and I have a saying… “Everyone hates escort missions.” In practice, though it did still feel like an escort mission, I found the scenario to be the most fun of the OP scenarios we’ve played so far in D&D Attack Wing.

Basically, your team is racing another team to escape off the board with a cart full of loot. A “pursuing army” is off-screen which does automatic damage to the cart in the rear each turn, so it pays to be ahead. There is a wall to break, and an opposing force to evade. Add to this the uncertainty created by blind pull boosters and the day could turn out many different ways.

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I went extremely simple for this tournament. I tried a lot of teams in theory-craft but at the end of the day, I went back to my standard approach to the game – use the best creatures you can for the scenario and make sure they function well with a minimum number of upgrades.

My 90 Point Build
Lord Maximilian with Drain Life (54) and Calamity with Precise Shot (36).
From my booster I pulled Dragonfly for the second consecutive tournament. This time, I was happy to see him, with bear form and his staff, I knew he’d make a solid cart pusher, freeing up Lord Maximilian to go on the offensive.

First Round
I faced off against a team made up of a Generic Copper Dragon, two generic druids, and a generic Frost Giant. I rolled out Calamity and killed the Frost Giant in the first shot from the big ballista. 6 attack dice with a target token is no joke. The game steadily went downhill from there for my opponent. I was able to keep up the fire on their cart (being pushed by their booster pull, Rezmir), and unfortunately, he just couldn’t generate enough dice to seriously threaten my team.

This was the only round I got the cart off the table.

Second Round
In this round, I faced my most dreaded opponent… my wife. She consistently beats me at this game and has twice beaten me in the previous OP events. I knew her build well and with a Dwarven Ballista, Frost Giant Fighter, and Claugiyliamatar, I felt certain I was in trouble. For her blind pull, she had Ontharr Frume, who she set as her cart pusher.

Once again, I got off to a hot start, one-shot killing her Frost Giant with a full six hits from Calamity. It was devastating, but she had enough oomph left on the team that we spent the full round duking it out. We both lost our carts and she came within a target token of defeating me (to be able to trigger magic missile).

In this round, I was saved by the fact that the cart provided protection. Those extra dice saved Lord Max from death and kept me in the round long enough to win.

Third Round
Facing two super-charged giants (Jarl Horn and Ancoram) was a test. My opponent had pulled a Paladin for his blind figure as well and we went at it. In a very smart play, my opponent put his giant in between my cart pusher and my cart, leaving me unable to get the cart moving again right away. Calamity took a crit which lowered its attack to 5, and Lord Max was running around doing his best to keep everything on track.

In this round, Lord Max turned out to be the star. He pretty much fought Ancoram to death, dealt with a damaged Jarl Horn (my bear druid got a few hits on the big guy), and my weakened Calamity managed to kill his chances of getting the cart off the board. Lord Max died for the only time today in this round, but he really did save my bacon.

Overall Notes
My first OP win. I’ll take it. Hard fought games with lots of unpredictable twists. It was a blast.

The other two legions I did not play against both had Drizzt on their team. I expected him to be a popular choice for this OP so I wasn’t surprised to see him out there. One of them was sporting Drizzt and Vakka, the other – I can’t quite remember what else he brought – I know he pulled the ranger for his booster, who, without a melee attack couldn’t sub in as a cart pusher. Unfortunate.

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I was genuinely surprised that I didn’t see any Malebolge. I expected him to be prominent in this tournament, with his high durability, great ground attack, and decent enough level. I tinkered with a few builds including the little guy, but decided against him (for myself) in favor of the armor penetration and dodge dice I get from Maximilian. Without that, I think I would have lost the day.

This scenario provided a challenge I was not excited about on paper but turned out to be fun to interact with. The emphasis on the cart as a way to get bonus points made it worth protecting and worth moving every turn. The variety of tactics to slow that down or stop it made for an added element of tactics not usually present in the game and builds needed to be about more than just, “Kill the other guy.”

Now, as always, thanks for reading. I’m off to start thinking about OP5!

PS – getting closer to the Solar!

Monday Morning DM: Mass Combat!

One of my favorite adventures from Dungeon Magazine was called the Pipes of Doom (issue 28) which involves an evil army composed of many types of creatures and lead by a Lich attacking human settlements. Now, there are problematic aspects of this adventure, namely that in some places it is more about set-pieces than giving the PCs interesting things to do, but since I’m usually a little more laid back about that than some other folk, it isn’t such a big deal.

What keeps drawing me back to this adventure is that it is a battle scenario (indeed, designed to use the Battlesystem Mass Combat Rules) that sets up the initial forays of an evil army into less-than-prepared human kingdoms. It’s the beginning of a war.

And I’ve always wanted to start a war in my games. It never seems to go well when I do. It’s almost my white whale, I’d say. I’ve run a lot of fun games. I’ve played in a lot of fun games. War just never seems to go well. And RPGs keep churning out ways to play out the war at the table. And I keep trying. I’m a sucker for Mass Combat Systems. Put one in an RPG book and I probably have to buy it just to see how “they did it differently.”

Recently, I was reading the Mass Combat rules for the Dragon Age RPG and they got me thinking about this topic again…

Games go to extremes with this stuff. GURPS has this crazy awesome mass combat system with tables, and percentages, and troop strengths built from a million different factors and involving multiple math operations for just about everything. As I said, it is both crazy and awesome. I can’t really get into it. It takes too much work to do just about everything for my tastes.

3.5 D&D had a very different take, with Heroes of War, where the value of “units” almost disappeared into an idea that allowed the PCs to determine the majority of the success or failure of battles based on their actions. This was clever and cool, but turning the battlefield into a “dungeon” sorta took all the grit and terror of battle away.

For a long time I was a big fan of the Birthright mass combat system. It was played out on a map and became almost a war game where the actions of the adventurers were felt through their inclusion in a unit… but mainly, the system was somewhat too random for me and only supported a fairly narrow range of troop types. That is to say, you could have knights and ogres, but Dragons and such were probably right out. But the concept of playing it out on a map, physically moving your units through flanking maneuvers, setting up charges, and seeing it laid out like a war game was a neat twist.

I really appreciate the Dragon Age system as it sits in a nice middle ground for me. Battles are broken up into three phases and the outcome of each phase hinges on some basic die rolling – but how the event plays out is entirely narrative/description based. During each phase, it is possible to have a “Crisis Point” which will focus and narrow the action to allow the PCs to shine and possibly have an overall effect on the outcome of that phase of the battle.

Creating the paperwork for an army takes a matter of seconds and is guided by the primary troop type as well as special troop types which affect the three phases of the battle. While not entirely “realistic” I find this system to really support the type of play I want. It has a clear, mechanical framework with some dice rolling to determine the outcome of the battle but things like strategy, leadership, and having the right troops still matter. There are also sub-systems for determining casualties, having sub-commanders, and a few other small flourishes. Reading it, it definitely appeals to me.

The Dragon Age RPG does not have any information on raising and maintaining your army. I also think the Focus system inherent in the game would be an interesting way to call out other things about your army that might not just be specialty troops. Things like veteran status or hardened wills or something which could provide small bonuses in specific situations. The title system inherent in the game might also be an interesting place to start.

If you are interested in tracking troops and upkeep and things like that, it’s easy enough to put together a simplified list for your campaign setting based on the kinds of troops you plan on having appear in battles and then pricing them in a campaign appropriate way.

At the end of the day, I know that what has been missing for me in many of the war scenarios I have run/played in is the sense that the stakes are so much larger and the horror or war so much worse than the PCs can imagine. They’re heroes after all, shining paragons, with access to healing, magic, and powers beyond the ken of mortal men. So, I like the Dragon Age system. And I like the idea of running war games, but for now, I think I’ll stick with the more personal game I’m running and just shake my harpoon at the great white whale of war.

As always, thanks for reading.

Monday Morning DM: Can Murder-Hobos Belong and Other Thoughts on My 5e Experiences.

I used the term “murder-hobo” in public the other day and I realized that to anyone who does not play D&D, they might seriously think I was endorsing lethal bum fights. I was on a college campus, so this seemed extra likely.

The context of my comment though, as it would make sense to gamers, concerned the idea that even though I – ostensibly – enjoy a sandbox, hex-crawling style of play – I wonder if sometimes I only think that I enjoy that. I worry about this because it doesn’t just inform my fun as a player but it affects my thinking when I’m planning and running a game.

If I may take a brief aside into video games, I really struggled to enjoy Fallout 3, but I very much enjoyed Fallout: New Vegas. The difference being, for me, that New Vegas included this whole layer of civilization which was lacking in F3. In New Vegas, I was able to connect with different factions, have recurring enemies, build a storyline around my exploration and I didn’t just feel isolated like I did in Fallout 3. I make no objective claims that one is better than the other – it’s just that New Vegas satisfied my need to be a part of something in a way that the purely open exploration of Fallout 3 could not.

This difference really affects my enjoyment of playing an RPG at the table too. I enjoy old-school play to the extent that I really enjoy fragile characters and having to make tough choices and the mystery of a wide-open map with a million stories to be told. But out of the OSR movement, I naturally gravitated right to Adventurer Conqueror King System because of its emphasis on civilization (especially in sharp contrast to the great wilderness). During the explosion of settings surrounding D&D, Second Edition, while everyone was raving about Planescape and Dark Sun, I was quietly sitting in my corner running Birthright (and I would love to see a Birthright revival in 5e). The domain rules appealed to me precisely because they inherently connected player characters to the setting. You were a regent (or if a non-regent, then connected in some way to survive the world of regents). When I was running Warhammer Fantasy, I unbundled the “blooded regent” rules from the domain system and used it in conjunction with my homebrew world. That was a seriously fun game.

Taking another example, out of all the Pathfinder Adventure Paths, the only one I was ever pulled toward was Kingmaker. The whole concept of getting a hex-crawl which was explicitly tied to the idea of building a domain was fascinating to me. It served both purposes and we had some very memorable roleplaying based around the council the team put together to run their budding kingdom.

Amber – my gaming crush from way back – is another example of finding this freedom. Characters created for Amber games are intricately and explicitly tied to forces larger than themselves which will demand their allegiance (or rebellion) and with which their interactions are vital. That said, during the course of any given session it is likely that the players will roam all over Hell and half of Georgia (as my Granny used to say) because they can literally go anywhere. But they still have important, inescapable social ties which are as much obligation as they are sanctuary.

So why is it – as I am running my second 5e game – that I find myself falling back on the habit of treating D&D like a set of disparate adventures thrown together in episodic fashion and not able to find my footing in building a sense of community and continuity? It’s a question that keeps me up at night.

There was an announcement that Green Ronin is going to bring back the Blue Rose RPG. I was excited about this for two reasons. First, I’m a huge fan of romantic fantasy. Second, I’m a fan of the AGE system and I am interested in seeing it supported outside of Dragon Age. That said, I was not enamored of the world/setting of the Blue Rose RPG which shares much more in common with Mercedes Lackey than Tamora Pierce (or new writers like Rae Carson). Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy Mercedes Lackey’s Valdamar stories – and I certainly respect their longevity – but even for a civilization-loving gamer like myself I find everyone just a bit too reasonable for my tastes. Everything is just a bit too ideal. I mean, I wish the world worked like that. At the end of the day though, I appreciate the complexity of motivations which often seem to drive the characters from the later waves of Romantic Fantasy. That said, I am happy that Blue Rose is coming back if for no other reason than it had a beautiful aesthetic and presented a very different kind of fantasy – which is almost always a good thing.

To return to my problem which prompted this think aloud session… What is it about running D&D which shoves me back into module mode? Why do I find it so hard to create, in D&D, the same kind of free-floating wonder I am able to capture in Amber or other games? Why are there so few opportunities in the D&D realm to mix sandbox-style play with a world full of connections? Is it because the nature of sandbox style play (the freedom to roam) is conflicted by the need to have connections which, by their nature, tie your PCs down?

I struggle with this. As a DM/GM of over 30 years, with many successful campaigns at my back (at least, based on feedback from my players… I am often my own worst critic) why is it that I still struggle with a game I genuinely enjoy? It vexes me.

Let me close with this. I was reading some of the introductory material to Silent Legions and I found the discussion of sandbox play there refreshing. Specifically, the idea that “the stories it produces are all in retrospect – the tale of the choices the PCs made and the consequences that came of them.” This is a well-crafted thought and explains precisely what it is that makes me love the idea of sandbox-style gaming. It captures the spirit of what I have done in my best games – the ones I have run that even I love looking back on – which involves a give and take between the setting and the PCs such that sometimes they will have to accept consequences for choices not made; the road not taken and all that. If I can capture that again – if I can capture that sense of freedom and wonder compounded by a living, breathing world – I think I’ll be happy. Until then… I’m not sure what comes next.

Thoughts, feelings, reactions, stories? Feel free to share.

As always. Thanks for reading.

D&D Attack Wing – Tournament Three (something about poisoning a well?)

The local comic shop (The Secret Lair) held the Month Three Organized Play event for D&D Attack Wing this past weekend. It was a decent turnout and everyone seemed to have a good time. I’m reminded at each of these events that no matter how often we play, there are still rules questions which come up infrequently enough that we should all consider ourselves, “still learning the game.”

That said, I feel like, as players, we are reaching the point where we have developed some tendencies, and we generally know what we like. I, for one, enjoy playing the good guys and I’ve recently been running a team with Nymmestra and two Angelic Paladins which I very much enjoy. The team has also proven surprisingly competent.

So for the tournament, I decided that I’d play a variation, using Nymmestra and Sarpiel – with each coming in at exactly 45 points, and then I’d just take whatever popped out of my booster. I pulled Dragonfly the Gray – the elf druid.

[As a brief aside here… I was deeply disappointed at pulling Dragonfly. Not only is his generic version one of the most worthless in the game – which limits his usefulness outside of the tournament scene – but in my consideration of using him, I’d never really found a reason to think he was worth much. Sure Control Weather is decent but most of my armies fly anyway. Call Lightning is an okay direct damage spell, but all in all, I just don’t like him. To end this aside, I’m just going to apologize to Mr. the Gray. He was a solid member of the team and did a great job. I will no longer malign the Druid (at least the named version).]

The day was a lot of fun. In both Round One and Round Two I squared off against generic versions of the Red Dracolich. I expected him to see play at the tournament, he’s a great looking figure, powerful, and I know several players who have just been waiting with baited breath for his arrival in the game.

My first round paired the Dracolich with a Jarl Horn, who (and his little brother the Frost Giant Fighter) is still a very popular character for play at my local venue. This was the only round where the druid died, getting sandwiched between Jarl Horn and the Dracolich one fateful turn. It was a rough round, exchanging heavy blows, but I pulled out a narrow win.

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The second round, a Dracolich, and Malebolge, the deadly gargoyle. He had pulled Rath Modar for his booster figure – which scared me a little – but I knew I had a wizard too, so I felt good. The limited mobility of the Dracolich really worked against it in this game and I was able to position better – primarily due to my characters just having stronger maneuver dials. It was a good fight, but with one battle behind me and a good sense of what I could do, I was able to win this one and take full points.

My final opponent of the day was my wife, Jenny. Now, if you recall my last tournament report, I played Jenny in the first round and she stomped me. This time, I played her in the last round… and she stomped me anyway. She was playing a variation on her team from the previous month, bringing Claugyiliamatar, a generic Ballista, and Talon Everhale. She pulled Rezmir as her booster figure and used her primarily to gather antidote tokens. Which was fine as her remaining force was more than capable of stomping my angel and wizard into the ground.

A few observations from the day…

I really enjoy the Angel. I’m looking forward to the Solar joining the fray in a few months because I’m a big fan of the Angelic Host. Both Sarpiel and his Angelic Paladin generic have been excellent team players for me and I have had such success and fun with them that the challenge now is remembering to play other teams.

Nymmestra remains the star of spell casting glory. While Rath Modar is a great addition to the game, I feel we are overdue for another full caster with a variety of interesting options. I would also like to see a spell enter the game that makes Disintegrate not the automatic go-to choice for Nymmestra. I like Ice Storm and Phantasmal Killer but nothing compares to that six dice attack that penetrates armor for raw effectiveness.

The other armies at the game today included a Balagos sighting, an Elf Troop (right?), another Nymmestra, and no Ontharr Frume (no one pulled one). Though several of us own Arveiaturace, we all tend to shy away from using her (at least the named version) so you probably won’t see her pop up in my play reports too often.

If I have any gripe about the Organized Play so far it is this. The two scenarios, while interesting on paper, were not very well realized on the table. The Month Two game was decent and a few players made attempts to get out of the Vault with the Compass. The Month Three game though was overly complex and basically lent itself to, “eh, let’s just fight it out.” I think only one game in three rounds had anyone competing to poison/cure. I have not yet read the upcoming scenarios but I hope they add more to the game play.

Overall, I am still finding a great deal of enjoyment in this game. With five waves of figures and multiple organized play prizes all in circulation, I was worried that I’d reach a point where I felt the metagame start to bog down, but as of now I still find the balancing and range of effective possibilities inherent in the 120 Legion Point standard game to be exceptional. There are a few glitches (high armor is over-valued considering the myriad means to penetrate it, for example) but this game is solid. D&D Attack Wing continues to draw favorable comparisons to Battletech in my mind and I find that I’m continually excited to play as well as at the prospect of “what comes next.”

Hope you all are having fun and that your skies are full of dragons!

D&D Attack Wing: Unique vs. Generic Creatures

One of the more interesting aspects of the D&D Attack Wing game is the difference between the Unique and the Generic versions of the available figures. In my opinion, it was a very smart strategy with the game, as it encourages purchasing multiples of certain figures and it provides multiple play options right out of the box. I’m not really sure what the official name for these generic versions is (calling them generic seems to imply they are somehow boring options) but it fits and is less awkward than calling the versions Named and Unnamed (which makes them sound like Cthulhoid monstrosities – and we don’t have the mind flayer in the game yet). So I’ll be sticking with Unique and Generic as I discuss the game.

This is to be the first in a series of posts discussing the generic creature options in DDAW. I want to explore their differences from their Unique counterparts, but really, more importantly, I want to discuss how I see them fitting into the scheme of the game overall and where some strong options exist for the generic figures which might help flesh out a team. Before discussing specific creatures though, I thought it might be useful to just look at the state of the generic options as a whole – and maybe by category. I’m feeling my way through this as I go, in a game that is still evolving, so I’ll do my best to make it coherent. I encourage other players out there to chime in and let me know your experience with the generic versions of the figures and how they’ve played out for you.

General Notes
The generic creatures are always weaker than their unique counterparts. This usually shows up in four forms.
1. They lack the special power of the Unique Creature. Balagos, for example, gets an attack bonus when he is more wounded than his target. The Adult Red Dragon does not.
2. They have weaker stat lines. This can vary quite a bit, with some generic creatures very similar to their unique versions and some losing a little more of their punch.
3. They have fewer upgrade slots. The impact of this also varies. Some creatures, such as dragons, lose all options except Dragon slots as generics. Other creatures simply have less of the only type of slot they’d possess anyway (usually the case with Monster slots).
4. They are of lower level. Again, the range of difference varies. With some creatures the change can almost seem negligible when considering how play might go on the table.

While these changes are important, don’t forget that some aspects of the two versions of a creature stay the same.
1. Their type remains the same – so they are eligible for the same types of upgrades as before (though again, their options may be constricted).
2. They also – at least so far – maintain the same important designations such as “Shadow” and “Incorporeal” as their base creatures. These are usually fundamental to the type of creature it is so that certainly helps.
3. The most obvious similarity, of course, is that they share the same maneuver dial. This means that the transition from playing a unique to a generic version of the same creature still allows for the same understanding of positioning you have with the unique, so you don’t have to retrain your brain for each version.
4. A specific benefit of the generic version of creatures not related to their unique versions… You can play multiple of the same generic figure. This should not be underestimated for utility.

My plan is to go from here and explore the various generic versions of the creatures in the game but I’m still struggling with the best way to do that. When I consider them in my own head, I am constantly weighing them against other options, Unique and Generic, and thinking of them as creatures in their own right as opposed to the lesser version of a Unique. This makes it somewhat harder to review them in isolation. So I’ll probably try a middle road, if I can. For my first follow up to this, I’ll explore the generic options in the Starter set and then move out from there.

If any readers are into D&D Attack Wing, I’d love to hear about your experiences with the Generic options so far.

Thanks for reading.

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