Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Khorne Campaigns: World Eaters vs. Necrons

I decided to work on a World Eaters army because I've had berzerkers for years and never had a ton of success with them. People have been talking them up in 8th though so I decided to get an army of them together and try it out. My first victim was Apprentice Red's Necron army.

The list:

++ Battalion Detachment +3CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [56 PL, 1071pts] ++

Legion: World Eaters

+ Dedicated Transport +

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 83pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-flamer, Mark of Khorne

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 83pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-flamer, Mark of Khorne

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 83pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-flamer, Mark of Khorne

+ HQ +

Chaos Lord on Juggernaut of Khorne [7 PL, 143pts]: Bladed horn on Juggernaut of Khorne, Chainaxe, Plasma pistol

Dark Apostle [5 PL, 76pts]: Bolt pistol, Mark of Khorne, Power maul, The Black Mace

Exalted Champion [5 PL, 75pts]: Axe of Blind Fury, Bolt pistol, Mark of Khorne, Power axe

+ Troops +

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

++ Battalion Detachment +3CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [47 PL, 928pts] ++

+ No Force Org Slot +

Legion: World Eaters

+ Heavy Support +

Havocs [10 PL, 207pts]: Mark of Khorne
. Aspiring Champion: Chainaxe, Combi-bolter
. 3x Havoc w/ boltgun
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher

+ HQ +

Chaos Lord on Juggernaut of Khorne [7 PL, 143pts]: Bladed horn on Juggernaut of Khorne, Chainaxe, Plasma pistol

Daemon Prince with Wings [9 PL, 183pts]: Daemonic axe, Khorne, Warp bolter

Kharn the Betrayer [8 PL, 160pts]

+ Troops +

Chaos Cultists [3 PL, 49pts]: Mark of Khorne
. 8x Chaos Cultist w/ autopistol and brutal assault weapon
. Chaos Cultist w/ special weapon: Flamer
. Cultist Champion: Brutal assault weapon and Autopistol

Chaos Space Marines [5 PL, 93pts]: Mark of Khorne
. Aspiring Champion: Chainaxe, Combi-bolter
. 3x Marine w/ Boltgun
. Marine w/ heavy weapon: Lascannon

Chaos Space Marines [5 PL, 93pts]: Mark of Khorne
. Aspiring Champion: Chainaxe, Combi-bolter
. 3x Marine w/ Boltgun
. Marine w/ heavy weapon: Lascannon

++ Total: [103 PL, 1999pts] ++

The theory here is that half the army is 3 rhinos full of berzerkers (including Kharn, two juggerlords, and some buff characters) rushing towards you while some guys with missile launchers sit in the back and take shots. It's not a complicated army, and I don;t have a complicated strategy for using them - that's pretty much it.

Red had a bunch of warriors, a monolith, two annihilation barges, a unit of lychguard, all led by the Stormlord. It was a lot of Necron bodies and some nasty guns.

Here's the start of the fight. We needed more sight-blocking terrain so I broke out the old Mighty Fortress and we decided we were fighting in an old ruined fortress. We declared the battlements and towers to be cover regardless of facing so my missile squads set up in ruins and woods and were pretty happy with the situation. The rhinos were as far up the board on the starting line as I could put them. I got first turn and it was off to the races. The rhinos moved, advanced, and popped smoke - now to endure the first wave of firing.

Over on the left side of the board Red dropped in his monolith and blew up my rhino. It's bound to happen which is why I take 3 of them but in this case his big pyramid tank thing wasn't all that far away from my berzerkers once they bailed out. So ... we charged! As did the Khorne Juggerlord and the daemon prince! With a few krak missile shots to start things off we managed to blow up the monolith in one turn! This had the snowball effect of stranding a 20-man warrior squad he had waiting in the webway or whatever the Necrons call their version of it. They can only emerge from the monolith or one of the flyers and he had only taken the one monolith!

On the other side I advanced up the board and finally got Kharn and the boys into charge range of some skelebots.

The rhinos took a beating as I used them to absorb overwatch and generally get in the way of the robot forces. The berzerks performed as advertised, mulching the opposition pretty handily with attacking twice, re-rolling misses, and re-rolling wounds thanks to the dark apostle and the exalted champion. Those lychguard are really tough but they fell one by one and I eventually brought down Imotekh the Stormlord himself. He conceded after that. I think we made it to turn 4 and it was a really fun game.

The game also convinced me I had a sound core for the army but I was less sure of the shooty half. They contributed for sure, but in the later turns they were somewhat out of range (as we were playing long ways on the table)  and most of the potential targets were engaged in melee and so could not be targeted.

I was also unsure of Kharn - yes he's a melee hurricane but he does nothing to buff the rest of the force and killed a couple of his own men during the fight too. At 160 points I'm thinking I could find a better option. The second juggerlord is 143, does a lot of damage too, and can also buff a squad if they stray out of range of the other two characters. A foot lord in the third rhino might be an alternative as well.

Overall though I was very happy with this battle - now to try them against a different opponent!

Monday, January 15, 2018

40K: The First Seven Months of 8th Edition

It's been a glorious first half-year for 40K. The rules work well, the support from GW has been fantastic, and it's just been a whole lot of fun. Our first fight with the new rules was just over 7 months ago and we've had quite a few since then. With the codexes coming fast there's been new lessons to learn every month and with the FAQ's following right along there have been curbs to the worst abuses in short order. There have also been new ways to play with the Open War card deck and new missions in Chapter Approved. It's the most amazing, active, alive six months of 40K gaming I can remember - and I remember a lot!

I've mostly played my Iron Warriors with a few games of World Eaters, Dark Eldar, one game of Ravenwing and one with Khorne Daemons. I've mostly played against Space Wolves, Necrons, Eldar, and Tyranids. I've won some and lost some but I've enjoyed the games regardless and that's kind of the point. Playing more and enjoying more also drives army building. I've added a lot to my armies over the past few months and even managed to get some significant painting done as well. I've spent the past two weeks reorganizing my workspace so that I can be more organized and hopefully get more out of those chances to sit down, build, and paint.

There are more codexes coming out as GW maintains their furious pace into 2018. The new Daemons codex will have a big impact on one of my armies this week and I can't wait to try it out with the new rules. The big revelation from the codexes has been stratagems: they have had a huge impact. "Here's something cool you can do with your army" is a great way to reinforce the flavor of a particular faction and they give each one some tricks that are worth exploring and learning beyond just units and point costs.

My plans and hopes for the first part of the year are to finish up the chaos stuff while getting in some more games with them and then spend some time building out my various marine armies into a force I like for 8th. There's a rumor that the Ork codex will be out this summer and I'd be happy to spend the second half of the year building and playing them.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Stat Trackers for 5th Edition D&D

In a lot of RPG's it's important to track initiative and there are a lot of ways to do it from pen & paper to mag-boards to computer tools. I've used a variety of methods over the years but when we started playing 5E I went with the fairly popular "hanging cards over the top of the DM screen in order" approach. It's simple, inexpensive, and requires no hardware other than a DM screen, which I already had.

Then some guys ran a kickstarter for an improved version of everybody's homebrew solution: trackers pre-printed with monster stats! Now there were form-style printable sheets sort of like this available but for even less prep these are pre-printed which means I don't have to go through and transcribe the Monster Manual - instead I have a 300+ of these things ready to go. For roughly the cost of a 5E book I have all of that plus a bunch of blank monster trackers I can use for IP-restricted monsters and homebrews. I also have a bunch of blank character trackers so I can keep my PCs' stats available too if I so desire. Honestly I almost never track my PC stats in any game - that's their job, not mine - but I may give it a try since these make it so easy. Here's what it looks like in action:

The purple sticky notes are where I'm recording the actual initiative number. I'm not sure this is really something I need to do anymore as there aren't really ways to change it once it's rolled - just ways to shift who goes before who. It's a holdover habit from older editions and maybe this tool will help me let go of it.

As the frost giants were beating down the gate to Bryn Shander I had their stats right there in front of me and I DID NOT HAVE TO OPEN A SINGLE BOOK TO RUN THIS ENTIRE FIGHT!

That's huge. I had the adventure in front of me, but it basically sets up the scene, the goals, and the aftermath. I did not have to look up anything specific to the fight itself and could focus almost entirely on what's going on and not what the numbers are.

This is exactly what I'm looking for when running a game.

For 4E and for previous 5E runs I would typically put together the monster stats I knew would be appearing and printed them out on individual sheets. This saved me from using books or flipping through adventures or using a laptop for stats. This tool is a step beyond because I still needed to track initiative separately from those sheets and this accomplishes both with one item and leaves one less thing to clutter up my table space.

I'm very happy with this product.

One other note: Part of what makes this possible is the simplification of the statblocks for 5E. I think it would also have been possible for 4E as those were similarly clean. There's no way this would work as well for Pathfinder because a lot of the bigger and more advanced monsters have extremely long statblocks, sometimes a page or more for the heavy hitters. It's a good example of an unanticipated benefit to simplifying things where it makes sense.

Solutions to potential future issues: Say I want to run multiple frost giants on individual initiative but I only have the one card? Photocopy the tracker, add a colored post it or sticker dot that corresponds to a colored dot on each individual frost giant mini.

If you're interested they are now "Top Dog Games" and have a website here where you can order them. I don't know them personally or have any involvement with them - I just like what they've done.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Savage Rifts - Session One!

So ... finally ran my first Savage Worlds Rifts game over the weekend. We had some character building to finish up at the start but after that we covered the ground I wanted to cover so I'm calling it a win.

Part 1 - Character Creation
It's more complex than a normal Savage Worlds game and there's a lot of jumping back and forth within the Rifts player book and over to the SW rulebook. Additionally the various Iconic Frameworks have different effects on the normal character creation process - some replace race, some alter the number of attribute points you get, some alter the skills, so each one would sort of have its own procedure chart if there was such a thing. We managed though and ended up with ...

  • A Cyber Knight (Paladin Steve)
  • A Glitter Boy (Paladin Steve's 10-yr old son)
  • A Juicer (Variable Dave)
  • A Dragon Hatchling (Apprentice Blaster)
That's pretty iconic Rifts right there for a 4-man party 

Part 2 - The Opening Scenario
I used (well, re-used) one of my starting concepts mentioned in this post. Specifically, the "Slave Ship" option. They wake up in the dark, stripped of gear, and in unfamiliar and confined surroundings. The ground shudders, the lights flicker, and a previously locked door half-opens, and you're off to the races!

For the GM this is a nicely controlled situation that you can use to introduce players to using various skills, then hand to hand combat, then to ranged combat almost like a tutorial if you wish. Less-disarmable characters (like the juicer) are held in higher security single occupant cells outside the general human "slave pen" and provide another way to try out skills and thinking while getting them free. the whole thing can be mapped out as a flow chart  - you don't even need a map!

For the players this means they have to try out some things without auto-starting with "shoot big gun". I had the human-form dragon, the GB pilot, and the cyber-knight start out in the "gen-pop" pen as they all look like normal humans without some kind of special scan. Admittedly, ridiculously high physical stats make things like forcing open a door much easier but I do want them to get somewhere so this is not really a problem. Our heroes forced the door open, ventured down a hall, found some doors labelled "Special Prisoner Containment" and with the help of some NPC's (I have no serious magic PC's and his restraints were mainly magical)  freed the juicer.  

Part 3 - Combat!
Moving through the next set of doors led to a group of humanoids in armor with pistols and vibro-knives - combat commenced! The basics of combat came back pretty quickly but we were all making wrong assumptions about who or what is or has mega-damage pretty much every round. The knight's Psi-Sword was probably their best weapon (remember that they're all basically naked) until the juicer slapped the pistol out of one crewman's hand, caught it, and then shot him in the face with it - all in the same round! The dragon was the victim of horrendous dice-rolling and did almost nothing during the fight - the wild die doesn't always save you! I'm sure we got some rules wrong here but it helped to shake the rust off. 

Part 5 - Gearing Up!
After this fight they reached some kind of control room that was connected to the armory where all of the prisoner gear was locked up. Several failed hacking attempts and several successful strength checks later they were picking up their gear and some "backups" as well. The Glitter Boy pilot was particularly thrilled at this point. 

Part 6 - The Big Fight
They had several options after getting their stuff back but the ongoing explosions, sounds of firing, and "whoosh" noises from outside led them to make "getting out" a priority. They took an elevator down to the lowest level of whatever they were in, The doors open and ...

... they appear to be in a large flooded room shaped like a U with ships docked on both sides. The elevator opens at the base of the "U" and there is daylight shining in an opening at the top of the "U". It's basically a hangar for waterborne attack craft and most of the attack boats are already gone. There is one still docked near the party and the immediately start after it. 

The boat has two deck gunners warming up their stations and a single full conversion borg watching aft. The juicer takes a shot at him which does very little and the fight is on! The borg gets off one shot with his railgun then the dragon sheds his human form, flies up, and flames the entire deck, setting it on fire, killing the two gunners and shaking the borg. The juicer and the cyber-knight charge in on him and out comes the chain greatsword to test their skill and protection. 

After this brief flurry of actions an armored figure emerges from a different elevator on the other side of the docking bay - a figure wielding a red psi-sword. "Duel of the Fates" fires up out of nowhere as he and the Cyber-Knight take stock of each other. Then the Glitter Boy declares "Everybody Get Down" and unloads the boom gun into the red-saber knight.

The boom gun does a lot of damage and ignores a lot of armor. After the first shot the red knight has taken 4 wounds but managed to soak one (DM bennie) so is still on his feet. We imagined he's just punched full of hole except for a line that perfectly matches where his psi-sword was when the blast hit him. He sneers at the party.

Then the GB fires a second shot and erases Mr. Red Sabre from the planet. Completely.

The juicer, knight, and dragon are all fighting the borg but are having a hard time getting past his armor. They've hurt him but it could be a long fight. Then they all back off and the big gun speaks for the third time and blows the borg into fragments while largely removing the upper deck of the attack boat, The controls are intact as they are inside what was the control cabin or bridge, but the boat is definitely a convertible now. 

They figure out the controls and jet out of the larger ship into the daylight. They spot a shoreline not too far away and speed for it as they watch Coalition SAMAS and skycycles making attack runs on the larger ship where they had been prisoners. They safely make it to land ... but what land?

The Aftermath
I know we mangle the combat rules in that last part as there was a lot going on. Autofire - that could have been a lot nastier if I had thought about it and there were several missed opportunities on both sides to do other cool things. The knight's psi-sword seemed overpowered against the normal crewmen but under powered against the borg. 

The good thing about the "slave ship escape" opening is that it lets me drop them anywhere in the world near a shoreline. The even better thing about ending it just as they land is that I can change my mind now about where they are and they will never even know the difference.

Our youngest gamer was hating life when his character was running around naked but he was cackling with glee once he finally got to fire the big gun. It is every bit as nasty as advertised and it's a medium burst template which means things like the red knight's -1 to be hit power doesn't help as you don't aim at a target, you aim at a spot on the ground, and everything near that spot gets blasted with fragments. It's going to be fun.

Everyone had a good time, including me, so it is going into the rotation. I'm going to re-read the rules and work up some cheat sheets for combat, psi, and magic to make things easier next time. I have the general SW cheatsheets but I want some Rifts-specific ones for this. 

Next time: Strangers in a Strange Land!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Agile-Style Gaming - One Year Later

Captain Jack's ship the "Tinasi Fire"
I posted this almost a year ago about adapting tabletop gaming to a new model: Instead of announcing that I am going to run Game X on Date Y I ask who can make it on Date Y and then, based on the available player pool, run Game X, Y, or Z. It's a fairly common expectation to try and build a game around a set group of players, and it's a pretty common reason for games to get cancelled when one (or more) of those players can't show up. This approach is an attempt to get around it.

Now you may say "press on!" and in the past I have done so, but if the party is 3 levels deep into the lich-king's dungeon and the cleric can't make it there is usually some resistance to forging ahead. This is not just a D&D thing either - if Tech Sergeant Chen was taking the lead in escaping the work pits of Saladar-9 it doesn't make much sense for him to completely vanish from the adventure when his player can't make it. So there are plot-reasons, campaign coherency reasons, and game mechanical reasons for wanting a consistent group of players for an ongoing game.

I ended up running two different 5E games this way: I was running one for Paladin Steve, Variable Dave, and Apprentice Blaster. Dave couldn't make it for a while but we wanted to keep digging in to 5th edition, and Steve's oldest is ready to try out D&D. So we started another 5E campaign, this one set in the Realms, and it's going really well. It's now the "D&D game we play when Dave can't make it" campaign.

I've tried this approach for the past year and let me tell you - If we don't have the mix for the "main" game we will still have the mix for *some* game and that means we're playing that week instead of not playing. We may have to wait an extra week or three to see how it goes for Tech Sergeant Chen but it between we're going to find out how Smuggler Captain Jak Daniels, his First Mate Gim Beem, and Jedi Knight Jon-E Wahkker do against the Fearsome Bounty Hunter Rum Chata in the days of the Old Republic instead.

Captain Jack's droid - "Old Number Seven"

So as a solution to the "no game this week" problem it works. As a solution to the inconsistent party problem it works. That said there are issues that arise:

  • A good game draws attention. "Hey I like Star Wars too, I want to play that too" says the player who is not part of the list for that particular game. Do I bring him in and muddy the player/game matrix? Or do I start a new one and create a new entry in the matrix?
  • One player who is part of 3 of your 6 games is out for a month. Then a second player is out for most of that same time and wipes out two more of your six games. 
    • For one thing, this cuts out a huge swath of your options. This approach is resistant to damage, not immune
    • Additionally this creates a situation where it may make sense to start a new campaign with the available players, but realistically how likely is this particular configuration of available/not available likely to occur again? So you start a new game that gets played a couple of times then never happens again. I'm thinking it's better to make it a branch-off of an existing campaign so it can be routed back into an existing game when the time comes.
  • The last-minute cancel: You know Jim-Bob can't make it this week so you plan on playing Game Y. Then suddenly Jason cancels and now the matrix says Game Z but you haven't touched that one in a few months. 
It's tricky being a GM sometimes.

Jon-E Wahker's Green, Blue, Red, Gold, Purple, and White!

The main advice I can offer here is this: Resist the temptation to let every player join every game. If you do that you're circumventing the whole reason for taking this approach. If somebody can't make it you have a game tailored to just the people that can. Don't screw that up!

Also: Don't run multiple campaigns for the exact same group of players. I ended up doing that last year and all it does is create conflict. I have a D&D game and a Deadlands game that is based on the same group of 3 players. It's dumb - don't do it!

The Final Challenge: You're going to run a lot more games as in "campaigns" but you're going to spend less time on each one over the course of a year. How much "more" and "less" depends on how often your players miss. You do have to pick a "main" game - "if everyone can make it then this is what we play" and then things branch from there. Decide the others as the schedule issues come up. If you get into an interesting run and then that particular group never seems to get together again go ahead and schedule a special run to wrap it up! If a group wants to drop one game and play something else instead let them!

It's mostly working for me so I'm going to keep doing it. More to come as things develop.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

2017 was an interesting year - the year I ran more different games and less of any one game. It was also a year I filled in a lot of boardgame "gaps" that I had been feeling for a long time. It was also the year 40K was reborn and became even more our Number One miniatures game.

  • I ran a few sessions of Mutants and Masterminds and then it just fizzled as my players were unable to gather at the same time and other games moved into the space this created.
  • I ran a few sessions of our very leisurely d6 Star Wars campaign earlier in the year.
  • I ran one session of Runequest. Hey, "one" is better than "zero"!
  • I was determined to get in more experience with the FFG Star Wars game and for a while I did - I ran 4-5 sessions of it this year and feel cautiously optimistic about it.  
  • I have been trying to get back to having a regular Savage Worlds game on the schedule and I briefly achieved this while running a few sessions of our Deadlands campaign but then it too sputtered to a stop as Player Schedule Incompatibility Syndrome reared it's head again.
  • I ran 4-5 sessions of 5th edition D&D using "Keep on the Borderlands" to kick off our experiment with the current big thing in RPGs.
  • I ended up running 4-5 more in a  second, separate 5E campaign using "Storm King's Thunder" for more of the typical schedule issues. 
The single biggest issue (and I know I'm not alone here) is schedules: I have college kids with their work and school schedules, I have adults with work and family schedules, and it's a real challenge to get those to sync up regularly. It gets an order of magnitude more difficult when trying to keep the same group of players together for a particular campaign! Now about a year ago I outlined my approach to managing this and that's pretty much what we have done and it works - with some considerations I will describe in a future post. 

In spite of the challenges I am still getting to run a lot so some things are going well. 

Looking back to last year's kick-off post, well ...
  • I was noting that 5E had not replaced Pathfinder and seemed unlikely to do so - weeeell...
  • One goal was to rejuvenate or kill the Pathfinder campaign I was running. I did accomplish this at least. 
  • I was trying to make a Supers game a regular ongoing thing. That briefly appeared to be working, then it fizzled. My players all seem interested but it never really seems to be the top priority. I may have to resign myself to it just being that way here and keeping some things ready as a fill-in option.
  • I also resolved to do more Star Wars - I did!
  • I didn't run any more DCC, Shadowrun, or Gamma World but I did manage to squeeze in more Savage Worlds and a session of Runequest so partial success there. 

Enough rear-view mirror - what does 2018 look like?

Well 5th is here to stay for us for now. I expect to finish SKT and probably move on to Tomb of Annihilation in that campaign. I expect to finish the Keep and move on to the next thing in that campaign. I halfway expect us to end up with a third campaign in it as well - why not? 

We're regrouping on the FFG Star Wars and I expect we will at least finish Beyond the Rim early this year. After that I am not sure. I'd like to do some more with it but it will depend on the players. I expect the d6 game to continue.

The third main game will be Savage Worlds but right now it looks like it will be in the form of Rifts. Rifts! I'm set to run a kick-off session this Saturday so we will see how that goes. Assuming we have fun with it I could see it becoming the "other" game we play on a somewhat regular schedule. If it fades out then Deadlands will likely make a comeback. 

Anyway it's shaping up to be a good year - I have a clear course, a decent plan, some backup plans, and interested players!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Looking Back at 2017: D&D

2017 is the year 5th Edition D&D became my "main" game. Early on we were mainly playing Star Wars and Deadlands but once we started playing 5th edition it rapidly started to take up most of our game time.

This is not really a surprise - from the very earliest get-togethers D&D (some version of it anyway) has always been our main game and everything else is a change of pace/when we can fit it in/off week type game. I've had brief bursts where we've set D&D aside to focus on some other game for a limited time but we always come back to the fantasy game.

I don't mind spending time and money on a game I know we will play so I spent some of both this year catching up on 5th edition - picking up the books and accessories I didn't have, looking around online on how other people run it, checking up on computer/tablet/phone applications, and just generally looking at how it works and what people are doing with it. I did the same thing with Star Wars last year and Pathfinder the year before so this is not a new thing for me.

To me there are three main options when running a well-supported long-lived game like D&D:

  • Run a published campaign - there are several of these for 5E
  • Convert some favorite older material and revisit some classics - lots of options here too
  • Go totally original - setting, adventures, etc. - Certainly an option with 5E and a good excuse to bring in some of those third party support materials.
Now I'm doing those first two for now and developing some ideas for the third so hopefully next year will see major progress on all three of them. 

Knowing that it is the "main game", that everyone is excited about it, and that we're still largely in the honeymoon period with the game makes it easy to look forward to next year and easy to plan out what we're going to do - as much as you can with an RPG anyway. Between 5E's slowed pace of releases (compared to 4E and Pathfinder) and my good-sized pile of older material that is easily converted, I have a lot of options down the road.

So ... I'm happy with it. I'm happy with the way the game plays, I'm happy with what I've decided to do with it, and I'm happy that my players are enthusiastic about it and enjoying it. It's a complete win so far and that's really all I can ask for.

More on the individual campaigns next week.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Looking back at 2017: Pathfinder/Starfinder

Looking back at this post from January this should be a pretty short item, right? 

This is the year I stopped running Pathfinder. I'm still playing it in my friend's Kingmaker campaign, but even in that once-a-month game we only played about 6 times this year. Most of this is due to scheduling issues more than anything else but I'd still say as a group we are less excited about Pathfinder than we used to be.

We had a fight that took up roughly 5 hours. There were plenty of interruptions and distractions but still, that's a lot of time for one combat. If we're going to spend that kind of time on battles I'd rather play 4th Edition or Champions. Pathfinder rewards (some might say requires) system familiarity quite a bit and with us only playing it once a month (or once every two months) we get rusty and the game plays slow. I suspect a group that plays every week would wonder what in the hell we are talking about  but we cannot manage to do that anymore.

I still like the game in general. I still have adventures for it that I would like to run. I'm just not sure when that is going to happen.

Then there is Starfinder - the game I was so middling about that I haven't finished reading the PDF. When it comes to sci-fi fantasy mixes I have Shadowrun, Rifts, and Star Wars and I'd probably go with any of those before I start up a Starfinder game - at least that's how I feel right now.  I'm sure it's a decent game but it's in a niche I have well-covered already.

Will I run either of them in 2018? Who knows? Starfinder I might give a test run if I ever finish reading the rules - a one-off if nothing else. Pathfinder might sneak back in if we end up unsatisfied with 5E for some reason or maybe a limited run through a specific adventure. Neither one is really at the top of the list anymore though.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

It's been pretty quiet here as I've been pulled in several different directions, one of which is pictured above. That's "Ranger" the new in pretty much every sense bulldog. Later in the week I do have some things to post but for today we're just going to leave it at Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charging to Play at the FLGS

There was a discussion of game stores on EN World a few weeks back and the hot topic was a proposal that they should be charging players for playing space at their tables.  I decided to chime in with some history and my own personal views. I thought it was a good discussion so I thought I would share my post - edited to remove other names and for some context.

Let me dive into this with one perspective - I've been playing RPG's since 1979 when I was ten years old and I've never gotten away from the hobby. My longest break is measured in months, not years, so it's pretty much continuous for almost 40 years now.

I've never played a single RPG session in a store.

I live in DFW and have for most of this time and there are plenty of FLGS's within a 60 minute drive.

We have always played at someone's home. When we were kids that's because that was the easiest place to go. We sat around somebody's kitchen table and played for hours.

Once we could drive we still did it this way because it still worked.

College - it was somebody's apartment, house, or dorm.

As adults it's the same way - most of us have a dining room or living room where we can do this and some of us have a dedicated game room set up for it.

So in my experience you don't need a dedicated neutral space to play. I get why it's convenient for some and if it works for you that's cool but for at least some of us it's a total non-factor. I have all of my books, miniatures, props, mats, markers, dice, and all of the things you accumulate for gaming organized and stored at home. If I play at someone one else's home they typically have the same situation.

The idea that people should have to pay to play in your space ... I get the economics from that side but I've never seen a store that was nice enough that it made me say "wow I'd pay to play here." Especially in the sense that it had more positives, and fewer negatives, than playing at home. You buy books specifically for a game, you buy dice for a game, but space - space is the easiest thing to find and it's not something specifically tied to the game. Paying for some kind of special event - sure, I get that. Paying for 4-5-6- friends to get together and play a session? You'd better have a truly compelling "something" there or it makes no sense at all to me.

I simply don't understand why there is such pushback: you don't balk at paying for bowling, miniature golf, billiards, target shooting, batting cages, and the like; and what you're paying for are the tools to do the thing with and the space. Why are FLGS so incredibly different? There's not much money in the people who only play at home--but there is a definite need for a place to *play*.

I don't have a bowling alley at home; I don't have a mini golf course at home; I don't have batting cages in my backyard; I don't have a 75 foot wide movie screen at home. Those are specialized things necessary for a certain experience and I will pay to use them. Pretty much everybody has a table and chairs or some couches or some beanbag chairs and some empty floorspace - those are all that's needed to play an RPG. Some hobbies require the use of specialized facilities, from bowling to drag racing - RPG's do not. So attempting to monetize your space means you're swimming upstream right from the start, business-wise.

The entire FLGS industry owes its origins to RPGs and minis games. In the 80s, they were the only places you could get them

Well, in the 80's you could buy RPG's and wargames (and the associated miniatures) everywhere from Toys R Us to Kmart to Target to Michael's craft stores, not to mention the Sears catalog and various mail-order houses. There were also "Hobby Shops" that covered a variety of hobbies and games were just one of many things they included. The FLGS wasn't a thing in much of the country until later.

More importantly, the only way you could meet other people to play those games with; and from there grew everything we have now.

Oh no no no - you realize there were at least 3 separate generations of D&D'ers that got started without game stores being a thing right? The OD&D crowd mostly seems to have picked it up in college. The Holmes edition basic players like me mostly bought it at a retail store and started up our own crew or joined in to one we knew at school. A few years later the Moldvay Basic set brought in another wave and again it was not store-centered playing that drove this - it was playing at home or at school with your friends or through some kind of high school / college gaming club.

Most Magic players in the early days were RPG players first. Without a space to play, these days, the games all die.

Magic, 40K, X-Wing are all competitive type games with a tournament/event component that drives playing with strangers in a neutral space. RPG's are an entirely different animal. Without that neutral space those games might die, but they also seem to be where stores make most of their money so that seems to be a self-settling kind of thing, right?

When the online competition to buy product makes the margins & volume so low that FLGS go out of business...the space goes away, and the people and communities go away, and the home game groups eventually age out, so there's no one new and enthusiastic to greet and play with people face to face...and the future is nothing but virtual tabletop, less human interaction, and less friendships built.

How many Napoleonic miniatures players do you come across in stores? How many WW2 mini gamers? Heck, how many historical miniatures players period? How many people do you see playing ASL or other board wargames in stores? These games are still produced, supported, and played. They still have a community. Much of it is online these days because stores do not support those hobbies. There are events like meetups and cons where face to face play does happen.

As for home game groups aging out leaving no one new ... it's a good thing none of us are raising kids who are interested in some of these things and who then go off the high school and college and find new players and start their own gaming groups - except that we are.

I have nothing against the FLGS. I've spent plenty of time in them over the years and I have one in particular that I use and like. But I do not know how you get to "stores have to charge people for playing space or they're all going to close and then RPG's are going to die out". The FLGS is a cool thing when done well but it is not a necessary thing for RPG's to exist.