Merric's Musings

Thoughts from an Australian Board Gamer and RPGer

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Fun in the Barrier Peaks

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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My 5E Greyhawk game is currently exploring the crashed spaceship in S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I am using the recent Goodman Games conversion of the adventure.

Things occasionally get a little silly.

DM: "The Metal Man lies in ruins before you, stuck repeating some of the strange words you don't understand."

Wizard: "I cast comprehend languages"

DM: "It is repeating over and over again, 'Roger, Roger!'"


###

DM: "Inside the cabinet are all many discs on spindles, half metal and half plastic." (basically DVDs).

D&D Characters: "Ah! A new type of shuriken!"

From gallery of MerricB


###

DM: "You press the button and a slice of some crusty pastry appears on a white, horn-like plate appears behind the transparent panel."

Barbarian: "Curse it! A torture device that displays food while stopping us from getting it!"

Wizard: "I slide aside the transparent panel."

Barbarian: "Stand away from my pie!"

###

DM: "You find a box of 30 small metal cylinders, each with a small red button on one end."

Players: "We DON'T press the buttons!"

DM: "Who are you, and what have you done with my players?"

###

DM: "As you examine the now-open cabinet, a police robot surprises you from behind!"

Barbarian: "I rage, negating the surprise, and attack!"

Paladin: "Are you raging against the machine?"

###

We have been on the first level of the spaceship for three or four sessions now. It is a *huge* dungeon. Most of the sessions have been dominated by the characters investigating the strange technology (magic!) on board, but after a while we have to get back to progressing the plot.

The plot? There is a segment of the Rod of Seven Parts on board! They have glimpsed it through a security camera, so they have an idea of where to look. Let us see how long it takes them to find it!
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Fri Nov 27, 2020 11:13 pm
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Etherfields and the Death Spiral

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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I have recently been playing quite a bit of the board game Etherfields, a campaign/story game where you explore a Dreamscape for something you have forgotten.

In theory, the story becomes apparent as you play, but I have not progressed far enough into the game for it to reveal itself yet.
However, one of the reasons I have not progressed far enough is because Etherfields is full of death spiral effects. What is a death spiral effect? It is something that you get when you fail, which then makes it more likely you will fail.

And the trouble is that because you then fail again, things just keep getting worse and worse.

Mild Spoilers Ahoy!
Incurring penalties when you fail is not necessarily a bad thing. Gloomhaven avoids them, with the only penalty for failing a scenario is that you need to play it again (which takes time), and that is something that annoys people. It makes it feel like a “restore from save” computer game.

Meanwhile Journeys in Middle Earth allows you to continue playing the next scenario – although perhaps it is a different scenario depending on the result of the last, or you have a small penalty (or fail to get a small bonus). (This version is often referred to as “falling forward”).

But what all three of these games share is that individual scenario balance is set to “challenging”. That is, you need to take care to complete a scenario successfully.

When the penalties significantly affect that chance, then the death spiral comes in.

My Favourite Game
One of the fascinating things about the game I play more than any other – Dungeons & Dragons – is that it mostly avoids inflicting death spiral effects on characters.

Not entirely, but they are saved for special occasions.

The chief mechanic that determines whether a character survives is the hit point system. And the game inflicts no penalties on you as you get lower and lower. A character with 1 hit point fights just as well as a character on 100 hit points. The player knows the character is vulnerable and might die, but – and this is the important bit – has the ability to flee and fight another day.

Those times when there is a lingering condition, there are ways of removing it. An individual adventure might be failed, but the character can be restored – even from death – to continue playing without penalties that reduce their effectiveness.

Lingering Penalties
And this is where I am having trouble with Etherfields. Due to my character failing (and dying, though that is not permanent in the game), I accrued several penalties:

• A dreamscape quirk, the Tormentor, which makes completing slumbers significantly harder
• Flaws, which stay in my deck and I cannot remove without being lucky enough to earn Ether (which is proving difficult to come by)
• The Season of Watchers, which means I can only earn keys to enter Dreams in Pandemonium or by completing a particular Slumber. (Of course, going into Pandemonium means I get MORE flaws.)

And the flaws are horrendous. All my movement is more expensive. I cannot use Wrath this turn. Every time I get hit, I take extra damage.
The combination of all of these means a lot of grinding to try and remove the flaws – and then I lose a slumber and more flaws come in and the process repeats.

I have completed a total of THREE Dreams successfully, but because of all the penalties, I do not feel confident to enter a new one – if I even could, because once the Tormentor comes out, I basically have to reset because it affects my chances of success so badly.

Going Forward
There is a lot to like about Etherfields, but the Death Spiral Effect is not one of them. I am honestly not sure what to do about it. Do I restart the game, as it is going so badly? Have I missed an unlock somewhere that would allow me to recover quicker from these penalties?
What I really resent is the “Season of the Watchers” card, which so badly impedes the expected game flow and layers penalty upon penalty.

I wonder how many players will just abandon the game due to that ill-designed card?
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Tue Nov 24, 2020 9:30 pm
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My First Steps into Etherfields

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
Victoria
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It is fair to say that I have been fascinated by the games of Awaken Realms of late. I have spent a very large amount of time playing through Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon - and yes, I have completed that worthy game - and recently the Etherfields game arrived on my table.

Which means that I have now spent a fair amount of time playing it. And, unfortunately, also getting fairly frustrated with it.

I *also* got frustrated with Tainted Grail. However, I was willing to work through that frustration because the story was so compelling. And I was very glad I did. As I played more, the difficulty I was having with the game, which mostly came from finding encounters too difficult, disappeared as I got better at fighting and negotiating.

Enough so that I have started a second play-through the campaign to see the bits I missed. Although that second play-through is paused due to Etherfields arriving.

Initial Reactions
The box for Etherfields is heavy. Really heavy. Not quite at the Gloomhaven level, but there are a lot of cards in the box, and they make it weighty.

From gallery of MerricB


Set-up was interesting, as I tried to navigate the rulebook which seemed to be trying to make everything as obscure as possible.

More experience with it brought appreciation. It's pretty good as a reference - once you learn how to use the index! - but there are a few poorly worded spots. Especially where the rules occasionally talk about "Slumber Tiles" when they actually mean "Slumber Map Tiles". Argh!

But after a bit, I had the initial place of my Dreamscape set up, and I was ready to explore!

The first scenario went by relatively quickly, introducing the main mechanics of the game, and I was thinking "this looks promising!"

From gallery of MerricB


The "Joys" of Unlocking Content
A lot of my recent gaming has been with solo campaigns, but I have also finally had a chance to play Clank! Legacy. And it strikes me that both it and Etherfields share a common trait: A long and involved process whenever you get a new sequence of unlocked content, involving multiple components.

At least, so far, I haven't needed to put stickers on anything!

The trouble with any involved process of unlocking is that I get dreadfully worried that I miss something. I did with Clank Legacy, and I wonder if I have with Etherfields.

There are two problems with Etherfields's process:

The first is that the Book of Secrets is *very* unwieldy. I dislike big square rulebooks. Give me something in the dimensions of a D&D book or smaller - and more rectangular - and I am happy. I find it difficult to keep open to the right page when not holding it - especially as it takes up so much real estate (which the game is ALREADY doing so).

The second is that the entries are really long. Lots of items, and I find it easy to miss something.

This wasn't a problem I faced in either Gloomhaven or Tainted Grail. The game changed, but it wasn't as component-heavy with unlocks.

The Penalty of Failure
Some of my friends said about Gloomhaven that one thing they didn't like about it was that failing in the game meant nothing - they just had to repeat the scenario again until they succeeded.

In Etherfields, I failed early. And then I felt I had entered the death spiral effect, with the game adding multiple flaws to my deck, and being very, very stingy about ways to remove them.

Things were made worse: I was condemned to Pandemonium. To do the next Dream, I had to take even more flaws? More frustration set in.

At this point, I wonder if I missed something. I've seen talk that indicate there are ways to mitigate flaws, but have I not found them because (a) I haven't explored that dream or (b) I missed something to unlock?

Grinding the Way Past
This was enough for me to put away the game for a week or so. I had died a couple of times (not permanently, but inflicting more penalties). But I am intrigued by the game, so I eventually put it back on the table. Then I settled down to the process of getting rid of the five flaws in my deck.

This was a frustrating process. There's that word again.

Most of the flaws required me to spend an Ether. But getting Ether required me to succeed at Slumbers, and not only that, but defeat them in the right turn so the reward was an Ether and not something else.

Then I managed to gain a flaw that when I drew it, I lost all my Ether. I needed to have two Ether to get rid of it! Oh, hell!

I kept going and going and going. Round and round the Dreamworld. I got better at dealing with individual slumbers, knowing which to skip and which to confront. And eventually got lucky enough to have two Ether at once. After a LOT of play, I finally had no flaws in my deck, and could finally approach the next Dream with some sort of confidence. From here, it should be easier.

Both Etherfields and Tainted Grail have that grindiness to them. You need to get confident enough in the mechanics and the tactics before they diminish. Tainted Grail I play with a great deal of pleasure now - I understand how it works. But I haven't got to that point with Etherfields yet.

The Importance of Story
One area where I think Etherfields is not working as well as I want so far is with its story.

Tainted Grail is the best story-game I have played. It has an incredible story, which is affected by your choices throughout the game. There are a couple of times when you can get lost - unfortunately, one of them is very close to the beginning of the game - but with the hints of the app, even that can be overcome.

Etherfields has a very diffuse story at this point. I've completed four Dreams or thereabouts, and I am still waiting for the story to come into focus. Playing amnesiacs gets old (especially when I'm wandering around trying to get rid of flaws!) But it is still early days.

Gloomhaven I enjoy, but I do get frustrated at times when a scenario proves too challenging for my solo play. (There's a lot of times I reduce the difficulty to advance), and its campaign story exists, but it doesn't engage me that much. I'm about a third of the way through, I think, and the scenarios are so long that the story gets lost when events don't happen closely enough together.

Clank Legacy I have played three games of. It's story is strong and - while not as compelling as Etherfields - seems to have branching paths and interesting decisions. So, good!

The Road Forward
I have a lot of campaign games I wish to complete. Halfway through Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. A third of the way through Gloomhaven. Finished Tainted Grail, but wanting to replay. In the opening stages of Etherfields. And there are others on my shelves.

The hope is that now I've ground my way past the penalties I suffered as I came to grips with Etherfields, the experience will improve. Finding yourself with crippling penalties early on is not good for enjoyment.

There's a lot to like about the game. Generally it is well laid out, has brilliant production values, and provides something different.

But I would like the story to get stronger soon. Mechanically it's okay, but it hasn't grabbed me yet.

From gallery of MerricB
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Mon Nov 23, 2020 10:03 am
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A busy few days

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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I’m currently fighting a cold that was creeping up on me through the past few days, so my ability to write is somewhat curtailed by my need for sleep.

It’s been a pretty hectic last few days, though. On Thursday, I played Power Grid and Strasbourg with my friends at Goodgames Ballarat – I won neither game, but both were very enjoyable. Then my car’s timing belt broke just as I was leaving to go home. 10 pm in Ballarat, needing to travel 30 km. This wasn’t good. I eventually took a fairly expensive taxi ride home. (Though worth it!)

On Friday, I spent the first part of the day getting rid of my old car – which was very, very old – then the second part of the day obtaining a new car. The people at Ballarat Toyota were very happy and by the end of the game, I was driving off in a brand new car. (I’ve been meaning to get one for the past six months; I was just forced into it by the breakdown).

Friday evening we played the second session of Lost Mine of Phandelver with my regular group. Everyone attended, and I’ll write a report on what happened as soon as I feel better.

Saturday afternoon I’d hoped to play some board games, but Goodgames was very busy due to both a Yu-Gi-Oh! Sneak peak and a Magic game day happening at the same time. Sigh. So, instead, I spent the afternoon revising my manuscript of Secrets of Neverwinter, the adventure I’ve written for this “gap” of D&D Encounters.

Then came D&D Encounters, and we had 31 players taking part. Five tables, most with five players + DM and one with six players + DM. Lee had a lot of fun with the Nothic prisoner I’d put in the adventure, who was pleading with the group (telepathically) to let it go. The session went fairly long – partly due a later start because of us waiting for the card tournaments to finish and partly because there seemed to be quite a bit of material in the adventure. It’s hard judging length when there are substantial role-playing segments!

So we were fairly late in getting to post-Encounters fun. Four tables stuck around, so we had one table of Rifts, one of D&D 5E, and two playing AD&D including my own. And I finally found a place in the campaign to stick Rob Kuntz’s Prisoners of the Maze series. That gave us 22 players in the post-Encounters games, including two players who weren’t in Encounters.

This coming week, we’ll finish off Secrets of Neverwinter, play some 5E, and possibly even get in a game of Fiasco.

It looks like we’ll continue running through all of Tyranny of Dragons; possibly the entire series in the Encounters spot (although we may have some extra-long sessions, depending on how people are enjoying it and how the DMs who run other games afterwards feel. The experienced players really want a shot at going through the entire thing.

We’ll likely still have a table of low-level games running even after we move out of the regular “encounters” levels. It may be a refuge to those who don’t like a particular story, as well as being the place to introduce new players.
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Mon Aug 11, 2014 6:46 am
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More information on the new Dungeons & Dragons 5E Starter Set

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Mike Mearls has enlightened us a little more about the contents of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. And there’s a big surprise for people buying the set:

No character creation rules are in the D&D Starter Set!

Well, that’s not what I expected – or had inferred based on his previous posts. Mike has clarified that the Starter Set is aimed at Dungeon Masters, so given that it covers levels 1-5, it likely has a pregenerated adventure in the box. It definitely has pregenerated characters. But from where comes the idea that you’ll be able to create characters?

Here’s Mike’s original tweet:

Lots of questions about character creation and the starter set – you will definitely be able to make characters when it comes out.

And his follow-up:

To clear up the Starter Set – it’s aimed at DMs, so no PC creation in the box. But players will be able to make characters without it. For a DM running the starter set, there will be pregens to hand out. Players who want to make characters will be able to do so.

So, how does this work?

At this point, it seems clear that there will be some online option for creating characters. The theories are split between a character generator on the Wizards site and a System Reference Document of some kind. My own opinion leans towards both – the big question is whether or not they’ll be behind the pay wall or not.

Here’s Mike again:

You will be able to run a complete campaign starting in August, with the release of the PH.

So, there’s definitely going to be something online – DM Tools, Player Tools and perhaps more. Unfortunately, Wizards seem to be still working out the details, giving us this reply from Mike when we press for more details:

Sorry, we’re still finalizing things, but I think we have a pretty nifty plan.

Sigh.

However, I can definitely tell that Mike is excited about the new Starter Set. He says so himself:

Holding the Starter Set books in my hand. Gotta admit, this is the most excited I’ve ever been about a product I’ve worked on.

For a DM running the starter set, there will be pregens to hand out. Players who want to make characters will be able to do so.

Orion Cooper: would you recommend the starter set to an experienced DM and player?

Yes – it’ll be a good way to either kick off a campaign or run 8 to 10 sessions to get your feet under you with the rules


Unfortunately, Mike didn’t respond to Morrus’s request for pictures.

There are no rules for creating your own adventures in the Starter Kit. The DM material contains only a pregenerated adventure and rules for running it. Mike, again:

Me: Mike, does the starter set have rules for creating adventures, or is it just pre-written adventures in the book?

Just the pre-written adventure. Think of it like a set you could hand to a board gamer to make them into a new DM running D&D.

The stuff we haven’t talked about yet is where DMs and players go next – there’s a step between the Starter Set and the Big 3


The five pregenerated characters are very, very likely to be the same identities as those in the Starter miniature set – so:

* Dwarf Cleric
* Human Ranger
* Halfling Rogue
* Northlands (Human) Fighter
* Elf Wizard
(The Drizzt in the set would be just a bonus).

One other point: The 32-page player book contains rules for playing characters levels 1-5. Given how D&D works, it will probably contain the spell lists (or a portion thereof) for the Cleric, Ranger and Wizard. That’s levels 1-3 spells for the Cleric and Wizard, and level 1 & 2 spells for the Ranger, assuming the progressions work like they do in the playtest (not necessarily true).

I've writing about a bunch of this stuff on my main blog: http://merricb.wordpress.com
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Wed May 21, 2014 2:09 am
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Netrunner thoughts

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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From gallery of MerricB
Last Saturday, I played in a small (ok, very small) tournament for Netrunner. Having it on Easter weekend when a few players were away doesn’t make for great numbers. We had four participants! I played a Whizzard deck and a Haas Bioroid: Engineering the Future deck and won all my four games. Yes, we just had the two rounds. The games were great fun to play, and very close at times – Chris hit two early agendas against my Haas Bioroid deck, and given that the deck is entirely 2 and 3 point agendas, this was rather concerning.

Chris then ran into my ICE – Ichi, I think – which destroyed his two breakers, and from there never quite recovered. Quandary – a 0 strength Code Gate with “End the Run” proved extremely effective at keeping him out, as he couldn’t draw a breaker for it. Eventually I was able to advance a Priority Requisition and win the game.

I then demonstrated the power of my Whizzard deck against his NBN, showing that I don’t need to play programs to steal agendas! I tend to do a lot of running early on without playing any cards just to see what defences my opponent has, and Whizzard is able to trash a lot of assets if they’re poorly defended. I actually drew a good hand with two of the icebreakers and a Special Order. I stalled in the middle game – as is expected – and was a bit disconcerted to see an Astroscript Pilot Program come out along with the Sansan City Grid. Luckily, he wasn’t able to chain Astroscripts together, and I was able to break through and trash the City Grid before it did too much trouble for me. From there, I was just able to pull out the win.

Against Josh, I won. It seems that I’m writing this too late to remember that much about the games. I know that an advanced Aggressive Sanctuary managed to destroy none of my programs (because I didn’t have any), but that may well have been against Chris. The games weren’t one-sided, and I was glad to win them, but the details are gone. Curse my poor memory!

I didn’t get to play Glen, which is perhaps just as well, as he was playing a couple of my decks – my NBN deck which had performed so well in the Store Championship, and an Andromeda deck which also played pretty nicely. He went 2-2 for the tournament (compared to my 4-0), which left him in second place. Chris and Josh would have ended up at 1-3 each, having had the misfortune to play me. J

I’m not getting to play as much Netrunner these days as I would like. In the early days, I was able to play a lot of games with Sarah, but our two-player Thursday night sessions are now long-gone: they’re far more likely to be a group of people getting together to play board games. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy at all about all the boardgaming. I’ve had the chance to play a lot of games of Caverna as a result, as well as Russian Railroads, Nations and other titles. (Given how D&D has taken over my Saturday evenings, it’s good to be playing serious boardgames). However, Netrunner and A Game of Thrones are a bit on the backburner. My main opportunity to play them comes at these small store tournaments.

Next month will be particularly interesting, as we’ll be doing drafts of both A Game of Thrones and Netrunner. My experience with the AGoT draft was hugely positive, as it allowed the core of the game to shine, away from all the combos (many broken) that you get in the full joust game. Netrunner draft? Now, that’s going to be a challenge.

Netrunner will actually involve two drafts: one for a corporation deck and one for a runner deck. So, we immediately take an hour of time doing the drafts. And I have no idea what sort of game-play will eventuate.

I played the original Netrunner back in the day – not that much admittedly – and was greatly hampered by the size of the card pool. There were a lot of cards that were simply bad, and building a playable deck based on a starter and just a few boosters was very, very hard. In some ways, drafting Netrunner is going to take me back to those days: attempting to build a deck from a very limited card pool, and hoping it’s even vaguely playable!

However, the existence of the draft starter means that even if I draft 40 completely unplayable cards for either deck, there will be still some playable cards. As a result, the main thing I’ll be looking for in my drafting is efficiency. It’s the core of Netrunner: making every action worth more than those of your opponents. In essence, if you need to spend fewer actions, cards and credits than your opponent, you should win. It will be tricky, though. I’m really not sure what the card pool is like. Yes, I can look at lists, but they’re not really a substitute for actually drafting.

The Netrunner draft is about a month away. It should be fascinating. It may turn out to be a horrible experience, but I’m hoping it proves to provide a new way to experience the game in an enjoyable manner!
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Wed Apr 23, 2014 2:19 am
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Thoughts on D&D Next

Merric Blackman
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Waubra
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I have mostly kept out of the online debates on the future of D&D. The basic problem is not that I don’t care, but rather that many of the debates are completely and utterly pointless, there simply as an exercise in breeding ill-will.

The other problem with engaging in the debates is that, quite simply, I don’t know enough about the final form of D&D Next to really comment. Yes, I know, the point of a lot of the discussions is to shape the final form, but, in fact, so much of the game’s feel will likely come from which optional modules you choose to play it with, and at the moment we pretty much haven’t seen those modules.

I’ve been running D&D Encounters with the D&D Next rules for the past year or so. (Since February 2013, in fact). This has been the majority of my playtest experience, although I’ve run a few sessions outside of the Encounters framework. My impressions of the core rules? They work, the game runs quickly, and running it is pretty simple.

This comes with a drawback, of course – fights can be over too quickly. Paul, who has been running the 4E table of Encounters, is running a Next table this season, and he’s definitely found it an issue. From the intensely tactical combats of 4E, which, although they could dominate a session, could also be the most entertaining thing about a session, you’ve gone to the fast’n'loose Next way of running things. Well, they’re fast, at least. The loose depends a lot on whether you use miniatures or, like me, run the combats mainly as “theatre of the mind”. However, if you add the tactical module, combats may go back to the 4E style of being fascinating parts of the game.

Or maybe they won’t. I can’t tell, because that bit has been in closed playtesting with people who like tactical combat.

Now, you see, I agree absolutely with Wizards that if you want to playtest a tactical module, you absolutely should give it to people who like that sort of thing rather than taking it to an open playtest and having all the tactical-combat haters derail the feedback. However, it makes it very, very difficult to properly evaluate D&D Next. The core of it? Fine. Know how it works. Doesn’t do everything I want it to? Well, perhaps the modules will fix that. The ultimate truth of it is that we really won’t know what D&D Next is like until it properly gets released in a few months. What I’ve seen so far is encouraging, but that’s all it is.

The most encouraging thing I’ve seen is the quality of the adventures they’ve been publishing. They’re not flawless, but you only have to see my reviews of some of the Pathfinder adventures to realise how far from flawless I consider their range. The new D&D adventures have been innovative and – most importantly – fun. I’d really like to see an ongoing line of published adventures from Wizards in the D&D Next era. At least one per month? Yes, please!

That said, published adventures are problematic. Paizo does well with its Adventure Paths (at least I think it does), but its stand-alone module line is struggling. The latest adventure is us$25 for a 64-page adventure with a poster map. That’s not great value. I got it cheaper through my subscription, but it does should that we may need to expect more e-adventures than otherwise.

So, I like what I’ve seen so far with D&D Next, but it needs more… and we probably won’t see that more until the release. Can we hurry up that day, please?

This article was originally published on my main blog, which also now has articles on the Rogue, Wizard and Cleric, looking at their history and development.
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Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:54 am
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Rise and Decline of the Third Reich and other classic Avalon Hill wargames

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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Board Game: Rise and Decline of the Third Reich
As I was browsing the internet (a dangerous activity, for sure), I came across this wonderful blog entry on Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. Avalon Hill was the major player in War Games for much of its history, and as I get older, I find that investigating its older offerings to be quite rewarding.

This is not to say that they’re better than today’s war games. Not at all! At the time it was pioneering in its efforts, and games such as Third Reich, PanzerBlitz and Squad Leader influence a lot of games today. These days, you can see the more elegantly expressed rules and concepts in modern games, and so looking at the older games can be slightly irritating; the rules tend to just sit a little wrong for modern sensibilities.

However, the good games remain that: good games. I picked up a complete copy of the original Panzer Leader yesterday to go with my copy of PanzerBlitz. Neither are games I’ve had a chance to play yet, but having them in my collection makes me happy. At some point, I’m likely to pull them out and either play them solitaire to see how they work or I’ll inflict them on one of my friends.

Third Reich belongs to the school of monster wargames. It’s a grand strategy game (says that on the box!) that covers the western theatre of World War II. It can be played 2-player or by up to 5 players. Apparently it doesn’t play badly solitaire either. How long does it take to play? The full game is long; BGG suggests 24 hours, although that may be wildly inaccurate. “Long” is perhaps enough – though not as long as World in Flames!

And yes, I do now own a copy, picked up earlier last year. It’s missing a few counters, but I have some blank counters I can use as substitutes. The mere fact that it uses single-sided counters makes it much easier to create substitute counters.

At some point, I really do want to try playing it. I just need to find (a) time and (b) players. Both of these seem somewhat unlikely at the current point in time, but if you’d told me I’d be playing a lot of Advanced Squad Leader this year, I wouldn’t have believed you. So, I remain in hope.

Third Reich was succeeded by Advanced Third Reich and John Prados’s Third Reich, and A3R was succeeded by A World At War by GMT Games. I actually own that last title (expensive it was, as well!) and you can see where it hearkens back to the original Third Reich design. Yes, I’d like to try it as well, but although it will have a bit more of the modern elegance, it’s still a terribly big game with a lot of special exceptions in the rules (which run over 100 pages). So, learning Third Reich which, while rough around the edges, still doesn’t quite have the same scale and so is easier to digest, seems like an easier option.

I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance, but seeing the blog entry I linked to above made me think about this game. I did manage to play another game of ASL SK with Michael last night; so a session report for that will be forthcoming. Tonight? Nations or Britannia seems likely.
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Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:15 am
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Three Games - all different versions of D&D

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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Microbadge: Ultimate Session ReporterMicrobadge: AD&D fan (1st edition)Microbadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: Geek of the Week
I’m feeling really good about last week’s role-playing. Three games, each with a different version of the D&D rules, all memorable for their own reasons. There are times when things come together, and that was the case this week.

D&D Encounters – Legacy of the Crystal Shard – D&D Next

This has been a challenging season to run, but it’s been getting a lot better as it continues. The last season (Murder in Baldur’s Gate) presented the characters with three factions they could work with. This one presents three factions they’re trying to stop. The complication here is that there isn’t enough time to stop them all! So, in this session I ran the first interlude, where the threat they hadn’t been dealing with yet became much more active and dangerous.

This is great adventure-writing. The adventure might look physically similar to Murder in Baldur’s Gate, but the change in focus makes it run quite differently. Another big difference is that the encounters are much more fleshed out than in the previous season – the first one gave you a bunch of enemy stats and let you determine the specifics of the encounter. This one suggests numbers and set-up for the encounters. It’s still very free-form, but I’m finding it aiding me a lot more. Against that, I’ve found the adventure much more sprawling and confusing to grasp, but this session everything came together really well.

It’s also notable that we had two role-playing encounters and four combats in under two hours of play; a big win for the speed of D&D Next, after my well-documented problems with the speed of 4E.

Greyhawk – Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil – D&D 4E

Monte Cook’s Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil is one of the big adventures of the 3E era. It was designed for a party of 4th level characters and would take them to about 10th level. Or thereabouts. I’m using it as the final adventure of my 4E campaign which I began when 4E was first released in 2008. The characters are now about 27th level, but the ease of adjusting monsters in 4E means that I’m finding it very easy to run. Admittedly, it didn’t help that for this session the notes I’d made on the monster stats hadn’t saved properly to the cloud and so I had to do some fancy footwork to fill the void. Luckily, I’m getting pretty good at estimating the stats (and the DM screen with its damage codes makes it a lot easier to wing things).

After a few sessions of slogging it through the crater mines, it was something of a relief to put in more role-playing and also bring back the idea of Adam’s original character, Archibald, as the chief villain behind the adventure. They’ve known he’s been involved, but he was revealed to be “Number 2” in the Doom Dreamers of Tharizdun this session.

But without doubt, the big event of the session was the group discovering a Deck of Many Things. I somehow completely missed it in my read-through beforehand (not that unusual), and so I didn’t have the Deck printed in Madness of Gardmore Abbey with me. Pity. However, the internet allowed me to find Rodney Thompson’s 2010 version of the Deck’s effects for 4e, and having adjusted a regular set of cards I was set.

This was not the first experience of some of the players with a Deck of Many Things; Greg and Adam had both encountered one when playing through Dungeonland about 10 years ago in my 3E Greyhawk campaign. (Yes, I am perfectly happy adapting adventures for all editions of D&D). So, all of the group – save Martin, as he’s wiser than the others – was happy to draw from the deck. And, by the end of the draws, Greg was imprisoned (DONJON) and Paul’s soul was taken (VOID). It’s quite likely that without Rodney’s notes I might have just left that there (go create new PCs!), but Rodney’s work inspired me to actually have the group break from the Temple quest for a session or two to recovered their lost friends. (It also gave me the details needed for the other, more positive effects, that Adam and Rich earned).

So, off to the Depths of the Earth and (quite likely) the Astral Plane before we return to the Temple. It’s a natural break-point in the adventure in any case, and should work well to getting their levels closer to 30th before the final encounters.

Greyhawk Vikings – The Caverns of the Oracle – AD&D

The week’s D&D ended with the continuing AD&D game. Six players turned up for this session, and they continued dealing with the Knights of Hextor and their Hellhounds. This time I did have all my notes with me, but, as usual for this game, I’m improvising a lot of the map and encounters. There are times in my life when I pre-plan everything, but this isn’t one of those times. Instead, I draw the map one step ahead of the characters and work out what is in each room either according to what should be there (based on theme) or let the dice tell me.

The knights are definitely giving the group some tough encounters, especially as I had most of them working as archers whilst the hellhounds engaged the party in melee. Jesse’s magic-user was back this session, so he was able to take out some of the knights, but the rooms were big enough that his area of effect spells weren’t as effective as they normally are. (We also had Callan running four players in his RIFTS game, so it was a good Saturday evening’s role-playing).

The group found some good treasure, enough for a number of the players to gain a level. Rich’s thief had finally reached level 10 by the end of the session. I’m going to be very interested if he tries to set up a thieves’ guild.

However, the major challenge of the adventure came when the group set off a magical teleportation trap and ended up in a gauntlet of quite dangerous encounters – four wights, two flesh golems and then two cockatrices – before they found their way back to the main dungeon and were able to escape. The wights really gave the party a shock, and they were saved mainly due to having three clerics with the party, and by Tait carrying around a large supply of oil. The group is actually very light on magic weapons at the moment (thanks, in no small part, to the encounter with caryatid columns a few sessions back), and so might not have been able to take advantage of the turning – they still would have had to go into melee with the wights – but Tait’s oil got them out of a tricky situation.

The flesh golems were more standard, but they did so much damage it was a confused version of musical chairs, with characters retiring from the front ranks and handing over their magical weapons to fresh combatants whilst the clerics kept busy healing everyone. No-one died, but it was close.

And the cockatrices? The party were very worried about them, with one hit on the front rank in the first round almost causing a petrifaction, but luckily the saving throw was made. And, at this point, one of the group realised that they held a scroll of protection against petrifaction! With that in hand, they were able to overcome the last challenge and make their way out of the gauntlet, although a few more knights and hellhounds stood in their way...

So, that was my week’s role-playing. Next week, more D&D Encounters and AD&D, but the Friday night game alternates back to Martin’s Deadlands Noir game (where I actually play rather than run the game!)
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Mon Jan 13, 2014 8:33 am
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AD&D: Chairs of Doom!

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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Microbadge: Ultimate Session ReporterMicrobadge: AD&D fan (1st edition)Microbadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: Geek of the Week
The final AD&D session of 2013 saw seven people playing, and the regular range of character levels from 1st to 9th. It also saw the group discovering What Lay Beyond the Orcs of the Bloody Eye, as - after rather destroying the first group they met - the group then negotiated their way past the other orcs. Mostly with, "Let us past or we will slaughter you", It worked pretty well.

The group actually found itself with no clerics when it began, so Shane had to hire a new henchmen to accompany the group. Paul turned up a little bit later, bringing with him his 5th level cleric henchmen, and the group was slightly better for healing. However, the major source of healing for the group was now Shane's 7th level magic-user, who had hired an alchemist and brew potions of healing. Every 2 days, for 200 gp each. So, given Shane will be playing something else next week, I expect he'll come back with quite a few potions in a fortnight's time. Or, maybe he won't - he also expressed an interest in researching some spells, find familiar in particular.

All of this downtime activity from Shane is pretty new to my campaigns; it's never something I did with Meliander, my 13th level wizard, but a large part of that came from the nature of the campaigns. Meliander lived in a campaign where he was mostly busy adventuring, and - in addition - none of us were really that familiar with the crafting rules.

It's also due to one of the many sections of the AD&D rules where Gygax was horrible at describing the procedure. Not so much as in what was required (though this is somewhat lacking), but in just being horrible to the players. The list of ingredients for the suggested scroll in the DMG? By no means is it easily attainable - other suggestions are even harder! Yes, Gleipnir may have needed six impossible things to craft, but there's a big difference between the ingredients in a myth and the ingredients in a game - especially one played with pen and paper. Computer games would later take up the torch of collecting ingredients from slain monsters and putting them together to make magical items, but in AD&D it's a level of detail and messiness that the game doesn't need.

At least, my game doesn't need it. Yours might differ.

At some point I'll probably have to work out some territory acquisition rules and the like...

Meanwhile, down in the dungeon, the group found the Chairs of Doom.

Okay, they're not actually called that, but in a room on one of the lower levels, they found four wicker chairs. Yes, one of the group sat in the chairs. For once, they weren't man-eating chairs: instead, each pair of chairs teleported you from one to the other. The group started making plans for how to use them - put one near the entrance to the dungeon, and they could bypass a lot of encounters... (and have monsters randomly teleport to the entrance! They did consider this, and decided not to put the chair in their home!)

The next set of chairs were more standard - superglue chairs. All of which led to Paul's cleric teleporting back to town without his armour - picture a slightly portly cleric, running around in rust-stained padding, looking for a new set of platemail.

This game can be so much fun!
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Sun Dec 29, 2013 8:13 am
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