The End of WoW

Last night we ended the World of Warcraft game.  It was epic.  The armies of the Matriach, a shadowy figure who was banished from Azeroth long ago, laid siege to the troll village of Zel’jin.  It was one mass combat.  Chris ran a great fight that was reminiscent of the battle of Helm’s Deep.  My mage assaulted siege towers from the air, while the rest of the group engaged waves of approaching infantry.  At the end, we were thrown back in time, leaving a great plot hook to enable him to pick this game up again.

It was a solid end to a great game.  Chris mentioned he felt like the game had a lot of ups and downs, and looking back I can kind of see that.  Like every game, there were some rough sessions, but I feel that our current model of gaming (short three month mini campaigns) makes those rough sessions stick out more in the GM’s mind, as the time is compressed.   The game had a strong hook, a great backstory, a strong start and an epic finish. 

I had a blast with this game, and am looking forward to the next one which starts up next week: Dresden Files!  But more on that to come.

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Burning Wheel – World Burning Question #2

The acolyte descended down into the vaults.  His oil lamp cast an orange glow, throwing the roughness of the stone walls into sharp relief.  He passed through rows of coarse hewn wooden shelves, stacked with scrolls and books, the true treasure of this place.  The years of wisdom were horded here by miserly scholars. Finally, near the back of this place he disturbed ancient air, finding at last what he was looking for.  Gently pulling the ancient scroll open, he read the words ‘in the beginning’

Here is the Burning Wheel – World Building Question #2.  I sent this multi-part question off to my players earlier this morning.  It is more in-depth last week, mainly due to how interconnected the answers will be.  Last week they established genre and theme.  This week we look into the mists that will become our world, and ask “Who or what was there before?”  We are developing the god/s of this world.  Now, before we get to the questions, let me put this in focus.  The gods may not even play out in this world.  This question is to give us a starting place for a creation mythology as well as a foundation for the religions of the world.  The last of the sub questions will give us insight into how large a part the actual deities will play in the world.

So here are the sub-questions.  In each of them, I have tried to ask other questions or give examples to help stir some ideas up. 

Is there one god or many in this world? There is a lot of precedent in the literature for a variety of options.  A single creator god verses his dark mirror.  We could have a number of independent gods and spirits like in Kull and Conan?  Do rival pantheons, or a host of eldritch beings that look out upon the world with disinterest and malice in a Cthulhu-like fashion exist?

Are they aspected? In much of the heroic fantasy god (gods) are aspected.  We see them in traditional fantasy drawing moral lines along a good/evil axis, but the heroic fantasy/low fantasy genre the gods more often divided along the lines of Law and Chaos.  Law represents the light of civilization, and chaos the anarchy that precedes and follows times of Law.  Is there a strong division along one of these lines or do the gods fall in different camps on a case by case basis?

Are they benevolent or malevolent? What is the general nature of the god/s? Are they benevolent creators, cruel jail keepers, or cthon horrors?

How active are they in the world of our game? There is a spectrum to deific involvement, both ends are very prevalent in the heroic fantasy genre.  Distant gods means they have withdrawn from the world, and their power is not felt.  In this case, the religions of the world have temporal power due to their organizations, but not spiritual power to smite down their enemies.  A good example of this would be the starting point of Game of Thrones, the Whitecloaks in the Wheel of Time, or Crom in Conan (without the temporal power, because Crom does not need it!). 

At the midpoint of this spectrum, we have gods that are interested only in a few of their chosen.  At any time, there are but a handful of the truly faithful in the world, and sometimes they can get their gods attention.  This is the setting of the later books in the Game of Thrones series and in the Cthulhu setting as well we see this level of involvement at times.

At the far end, we have gods that are powerful and involved in their world.  Some of the darker gods like Set, in Conan would work here as well. 

 

Ok, that was it for me this week.  Looking forward to seeing this discussion play out and seeing how our world clarifies even more.

The City of Overlook is saved!

So I wrapped up the Scales of War heroic tier adventure last night.  It was a great night of gaming, lots of fun and great gaming moments.  There were a couple of hiccups to getting started, and we went a little late, but everyone seemed to have fun.  I was left feeling very satisfied with the game and 4th edition, but much less satisfied with the adventure path as a whole. 

Post Scales of War GM Thoughts:

1)      4th Edition D&D:

 

I really enjoy running this game.  This is my second campaign that I have run in 4th, and I would definitely consider running a third or playing in one.  I enjoy the power level and feel of the super-heroic fantasy.  I love the classes and the power set up is very accessible to new players.  And most of my players love narrating their powers, reading the descriptions, and adding a trademark movement to using them. (Aspects!)  I feel like the tool set that Wizards provides are great, and the system is solid.  It was easy to scale an encounter up or down depending on the people I had that night, and for the most part I was running at 150% more players than the path was designed for.

 

2)      Never Again: 

 

I ran for seven people for the majority of the game, and for a while with eight people. While the system took that many players in stride and didn’t break a sweat, it was emotionally and mentally draining for me to run for that many.  Chaos reigned a lot of the time during combat, and I could not focus on as much narrating as I typically am want to do, just because I was keeping track of the: damage, attacks, initiative order and status effects of 12 PC’s/NPC’s.  People also get distracted with there are 12 turns between their actions. I also feel the story got lost many times, partially due to the large amount of people.  Did I mention the exhaustion part?  Anyway, yeah, I am coming to realize that four is my sweet spot for my GMing style and six is my max for comfort.

 

3)      The Adventure Path:

 

I chose to do this adventure path for a number of reasons. As I stated, this was not the game I wanted to run, and I wanted to focus in on planning Mage while this one ran.  So I figured an adventure path would allow me to run a story with minimal prep, which for me amounts to 1-2 hours a week of reading the encounters and planning the maps.  And from that perspective, it was a great choice.  Up until this point, the majority of the experience I had with adventure paths have been with Paizo’s ones.  They do a great job of laying out the whole of the story and preparing you to run the entirety of the path.  

 

This did not. I did not like the Scales of War story from a GM’s perspective.  The heroic tier adventures felt disjointed to me, and from the responses of my players the feeling was mutual. There was little foreshadowing, explanation of what was important, or even a GM’s overview of what the path was about.  I can only assume that this had to be on purpose, so glaring was this lack of information.  I ended up reading the whole heroic tier before running the first adventure, just to figure out what was going on.  And I still don’t.  While at the end there was a wrap up of sorts, the story was left bleeding from so many unanswered questions.  That it was frustrating for me, I have to read 12 more adventures to figure out what was going on the whole time.  I have to say that Paizo does a much better job with the story aspect of their adventure paths and preparing the GM for the story.

 

Well those are my main thoughts after running DnD for 7 months.  Tonight is the climactic ending to Chris’ World of Warcraft game, and tomorrow I will chat about that and my Week #2 Burning World Question.

Curses!!

“So be it.  If cursed I am to remain, then cursed you too will be. From this day forth, though mine is a prison of stone, yours will be a prison of magic.  Dwharv, you who worried about the will you would thwart, will find that fear gripping your heart.  It will turn your bones to water, and your spine to jelly.  Auxen, in silence you agree, in silence you shall live.  Let your tongue turn to the desert and your words dry up in your mouth in times of need.   And you, Angel,” a word that is spat out of the trapdoor, thick with anguish and venom, “you who espouse freedom, but hide from its potential consequences behind a veil of self-righteousness, your hands will bleed as much as you say your heart does in the presence of the imprisoned.  These will last, not until you free me, for then I would be as base as you, but until you free a truly innocent soul, redeeming yourselves in the eyes of men and gods.”

 

This is part of the post that one of the groups in my online game received.  The context is not really important in this case, but the long and the short it is they are cursed. 

I have always been torn by the use of curses in games.  There are a lot of reasons why.  First of all I love curses.  I am an avid reader of fantasy, and love watching curses play out.  I am a story teller, and feel that the weight of a curse adds a lot to the story of a character.  Even when I am cursed in a game, if it is crafted well, I enjoy it.

But the main reason I am hesitant to use them in a game is a question of mechanics.  In the majority of fantasy games you, as both the GM and the player, are given a number of mechanical curses.  These things involve spells, saves, and penalties.  These are all very banal expressions of curses.  In the fiction we love to emulate: you don’t see a wizard throwing out curses like spells, they are hurled from a dark place of vengeance and malice; you don’t see the warrior just shrug off a curse that is levied at him with a wink and a nod to his natural fortitude [save]; and you don’t see curses just wear off after the spell expires, they last until a year and a day has passed, until the stars fall from the sky, or until the conditions which caused the curse are reversed.

Part of the mechanical hesitation is we are still playing a game.  So cursing a warrior to never raise a sword again: ie: penalize his to-hit roll, remove the sword from his class list of weapons, ect. (unless you have that perfect player) can ruin the fun of the game for him.  After all he played the fighter, customized him, to wield a sword!

So I have been looking for new ways to work curses into my game, and I am trying to divorce ‘True Curses’ from the main mechanics of the game.  Here is what I have come up with:

1)     No Saves, But a Loop Hole:  True curses in my games allow saves.  It defeats the whole idea behind curses, in my opinion.  But I am not going to saddle a PC with a debilitating curse forever.  There has to be a way out.  Maybe the PC picks up a different weapon than a sword, maybe he has to undo the perceived wrong, or speak to a god about it.  But there is a way to remove it, even if it is not obvious.  Which leads into…

 

2)     Words, Words, Words: Wording of a curse is important.  It has to feel like someone is spitting hate, drawing on dark powers, ect.  I will allow PC’s to do this in similar situations, if the world allows for such magic, but it has to be worded right, or the curse doesn’t stick.  I view curses like prophecy, to be potent in the minds of the players, they have to be worded right.  I won’t hit them mechanically, in a way that they will notate on the character sheet.  It will either be painfully obvious, like the bleeding hands curse above, or be vague enough to hang over the PC till it manifests.  The dwarf is actually a dragon in disguise in a world that hates and fears his kind.  So the curse of  ‘turning your bones to water, and your spine to jelly’ may actually play out in a shape shifting way, as opposed to the obvious fear effects.

 

3)     Hit them with story, not mechanics: I would rather not give out flat or situational penalties to my players.  A ‘-2’ verse dragons is not visceral enough, nor does it feel like the curses I am trying to emulate.  So I crafted the above.  Bleeding hands, being unable to cry out in times of need, and something vague that could be about fear, these are story manifestations that while constraining are not debilitating.  And their way out is story-linked as well.  It is not “have atone cast upon thee by a 9th level or higher priest.”  This curse will dog their heels till they find and free a truly innocent man. 

 

So those are my thoughts on curses.  How have you used them in your game and to what effect?  Any thoughts or comments on these thoughts or comments?

 

A Busy Week

I have a lot going on this week, gaming wise.  Tomorrow is the last session of my heroic tier 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game.  I am running the Scales of War adventure path, and the heroes find themselves trapped in the Dwarven city of Overlook with a troll army led by a shadowy figure besieging it.

It has been a strange campaign.  It is not the game I wanted to run at the time.  We were all gearing up for a Mage game, when my buddy deployed.  He loves Mage and asked if we could wait the 6 months till he came back to start.  So somehow, I don’t remember how, we ended up adding three people to the group and I started running this DnD game.  I only remember choosing the Scales of War path so I didn’t have to do any planning beyond reading the next couple of encounters and drawing some maps.  It has been a fun campaign never the less, and even with the group being at seven people for the majority of the campaign.

It should be fun to see how it ends up. Recap of the final session and some thoughts on the game will be up on Wednesday.

Then Wednesday night is the epic conclusion to the World of Warcraft game that my buddy Chris is running.  It has been building to a huge fight at a troll village for the last month, and this week it is our characters verse the army of the Matriarch.  You can read all about it in our adventure write ups here.  I am excited to see how Chris wraps this up!  I have enjoyed the story; he is always one for crafting intriguing game events, so post-campaign write up on Thursday.

Finally, this weekend saw the last of the responses to my World Burning Question #1 email coming from my players.  Here is what my group came up with.  They really want a low fantasy, heroic game.  They want the game to start off serial, with the adventures not really linked by anything, but have a story arc reveal as the game unfolds.  The feel of magic was mentioned in almost all of the responses.   They settled on magic being distant and unfamiliar.  It exists in the dark places of the world, and is most prevalent in the hands of those who would abuse it.  I am thinking of using the corruption rules from Magic Burner to aid in the feel of this type of magic.

There were a couple of other details that arose from the responses.  These include the desire for multiple races, a broad event in the foreground at the start of the game (possibly a war), and the inclusion of witch hunters or an inquisition.  I am excited about the desire for new races, as the elves and dwarves are too fantastic for this type of game, in my opinion.  It will be interesting to see where and how this line of thought develops.

In all honesty, this type of game could be hard to do in Burning Wheel.  The serial nature is the potential stumbling block here. I am more than willing to try, but if we get three months into planning and I feel there is a better system, I will propose it.  Iron Heroes is tickling the back of my mind, but I would really love to see this as a Burning Wheel game.  I will to be targeted with my future questions, using them to facilitate the group towards a game world that will work seamlessly with Burning Wheel.  How?  I don’t quite know yet.  But I do know this week’s question.  I will post it in more detail when I send it to my players, but the gist of it is: Is the world old or young?

My GMing Prep Process

I just finished my first read through of Mage and Burning Wheel.  Something that I try to do before I even start planning a game is a solid read through of the core rules, with highlighter, pens, and notebook handy.  

Part of my weekly prep, once the game starts, is to try to re-read a chapter a week of the rulebook.  Not the fluffy parts, for at this point I have my story in my head and will reference fluff as the story planning dictates.  No, this is a crunch chapter read through.  I strive for RAW (rules as written) but hate having to stop a game mid-scene/round to look something up.  I feel that unless I have it bookmarked, the group loses tempo as everyone sits around waiting for a ruling.

So I tend to rule from the table, unless one of the players knows the correct ruling, and then over the next week, I will focus on that chapter for my re-read.  Then the next session I can have the correct answer, explain how the rules work, and from then on play RAW (or in extreme cases explain my house ruling).

This is not as easy as it once was, with the addition of a one year old to the family, but I find that one chapter a week is something I can make time for.

Thoughts?  How do you deal with mid-session rulings and rules prep for games?

Burning Wheel – World Building Questions #1

What type of fantasy do you want?  This was the question I asked my players in the first email about Burning Wheel.  My goal with these weekly emails (and subsequent posts here on the blog) it to get good feedback from my players and involve them in the world and story creation.  So that in January, when we start this game, my group will have a world they are all heavily invested in, and will be ready to burn up characters and dig into the conflict.

I attached an in-depth article examining the types of fantasy and the tropes there in, written by Steve Long, to the email.  If you have not read it, you can find it here.  Done looking at it?  Good.  It is a fantastic high level overview of the main sub-genres in fantasy.  I hope my players read it.

I look forward to sharing what the group choses, and how the world burns out from there.

So what is your favorite type of fantasy game and why?  What have you played and what have you always wanted to try?

Side Note: Numenera, another game you will probably hear me talk about in the upcoming weeks, just released their short story anthology.  I kickstarted this game last year, and grow more excited with every update.  The anthology is only $2.99 from drivethru, and contains three short stories to wet your appetite for the setting.  It also includes a couple of pages from the upcoming main book, which was a nice added preview.  You can get it it here.  I really enjoyed the fiction, they are in a similar vein to the Amber Monolith short story, which is available for free from the Numenera website.  Check it out, it is well worth the price!