A place wherein this Dwarven Cleric can share his love of maps, dice, miniatures, and all things involving gaming and general geekery--not to mention the occasional witty non-gaming observations--whilst escaping from the humdrum existence of his routine Terran existence.

Hail and Well Met, fellow traveler! May my Stronghold provide a place for enlightenment and amusement, and somewhere to keep your dice dry. Enter and rest awhile.

30 January 2015

"Fun" vs. "Balance"

As I was thinking back upon last weekend's 3.x session, and reliving the sheer hopelessness of the situation with my (all-too tolerant) wife, one of my kids said, "Dad, that just doesn't seem fair that Uncle L would throw that at you." It was then that I realized--truly realized--for the first time that there was a generation gap in the definition of "fun."

Don't get me wrong: several of our former players ditched the group and dumped 3.x play in favor of 4E because, and I quote, "Third edition is broken; there's just no balance to some things." BALANCE became a four-letter word to our gaming group. Seriously, everything needed balance for these players. Challenge ratings had to beclosely monitored and followed TO THE LETTER. Everyone needed to receive a powerful magical item if one character received one. We were (nearly) always assured of a victory, knowing that the villain/foe would be BALANCED. After ten years of gaming together, the one time we didn't actually see "balance" was when the DM at the time decided to throw everything he had at us as a "I'm leaving and want to show you how broken 3.x is!" effort.

The fact is, it probably would have been fun if we hadn't been on the DM's personal railroad.

You see, to me (and to most of my group) fun does not necessarily equate to victory. Certainly not "certain victory." We've long accepted the fact that everything in the world doesn't scale with our character level. We're going to be handed tasks and missions that are WAY out of our league. "Running away" is as much of a part of role play as "kicking butt and taking names." You learn from each.

Picture from Exfanding Your Horizons
by Flashman85
Let me explain simply: Just because the DM puts a dragon in front of your characters, doesn't mean he's going to let you win. Period.

Look at the difference in size. Dragons are majestic. Unless you have a group of characters that are equally majestic (and not just egotistical) then "running away" should be considered a viable option. You can always regroup and come back later.

I'm not alone in this. Consider this quote from the author of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen (5E), Steve Winter:
A mistake (from my perspective) that many people seem to be making is assuming that every situation in D&D should be "fun." If my ambition is to have nonstop "fun," I'd be better off playing Lego Star Wars or Whack-a-Mole. D&D can also be thrilling, frightening, inspiring, maddening, depressing, frustrating, immensely gratifying -- name a reaction on the human emotional scale and there's probably a place for it in D&D. The match against Cyanwrath was never meant to be "fun." It was meant to trigger an emotional response -- anger, even hate, and a desire for revenge against the Cult of the Dragon. I haven't seen much to indicate that it isn't doing that.
Amen. Even "frustrating" D&D can be fun, if only in retrospect. Frightening or depressing? Yep, but they're still moments to reminisce about later.

And before I get called a hypocrite for saying these experiences can be edifying in nearly the same breath that I said the railroad campaign was not, let me point out a key difference: our responses, reactions, etc., were all scripted for us. We had no chance given to us to run away. (We even tried to, individually, commit character suicide at one point. It wasn't allowed because it wasn't in the script.)

Of course, thus is only my 2¢ worth. I realize there are as many ways of having fun as there are players. I'm not saying that this is BADFUN or WRONGPLAY...just that, I suppose, that younger players may have different expectations than an old Grognard. When you have some of each of those parties entering the same game, you mp (as DM) need to be aware, and should set forth your expectations regarding "balance" and "fairness" at your table.

24 January 2015

[game report] Near-TPK

Game night tonight. 3.5 edition.

My 19th-level dwarven rogue and his companions found themselves trapped in a castle's inner room, one exit. Resurrected (and rescued) a cloud giant high priest whose skeleton we found shackled to the wall. However, we found ourselves facing a vampire (storm giant), 3 spectres (giants), 4 mummies (giants), and several other undead giants. Led from afar by a lich giant. We put ourselves under a shaped wall of force, but there was just enough space for the vampire to make his way through in cloud-form.

My character has nothing that could hit him as he was, so I spent most of the night readying an action. If I could get a shot at a physical attack, I could unleash some serious damage with my twin hand-axes.

The vampire finally re-manifested...but outside the dome. Our key tactical plan morphed: I would be teleported out from under our "dome of force" and unleash everything I had on him. Then we'd be teleported out of the castle. He was at near-full strength; I wasn't. But I was the only one that could touch him in melee at that point. So I took a deep breath; the sound of the All-Father's hammer was ringing through my mind.

Song lyrics came to mind:
I wake up in the mornin'
And I raise my weary head
I got an old coat for a pillow
And the earth was last night's bed
I don't know where I'm goin'
Only God knows where I've been
I'm a devil on the run
A six gun lover
A candle in the wind, yeah

You're brought into this world
But they say you're born in sin
Well at least they've given me something
I didn't have to steal or have to win
Well, they tell me that I'm wanted
Yeah I'm a wanted man
I'm colt in your stable
I'm what Cain was to Able
Mister catch me if you can

I'm goin' down in a blaze of glory
Take me now but know the truth
I'm goin' down in a blaze of glory
Lord I never drew first
But I drew first blood
I'm no one's son.
Call me young gun

Bon Jovi - Blaze Of Glory

I was ready to unleash, we were all ready to go. I was ready for the supreme sacrifice. The elf was ready to teleport us...and it fizzled. We were locked in place by a counter-spell.


That's when we saw TPK coming on the horizon. The only way out was to dispel the force wall and fight our way through to the door.

And THAT was when our other spell-caster remembered he had a miracle spell readied and a (hopefully) willing deity. One of the party cast a desperation destruction on the vampire--his last...which finally succeeded (try #3). That's what we wanted to accomplish before fleeing anyway--the vampire's dereat--so miracle was cast--successfully--and we were then able to teleport back to the cloud giant city from whence we set out.

Much rejoicing for our return, made even more special by returning the high priest back to his home. (Can you say XP and story points out the wazoo?)

One other high point: the shackled skeletal giant we found? Throw-away detail. DM had to quickly stat up an NPC to aid us. Our group LOVES to throw wrenches in the DMs works like this.

21 January 2015

[RPG Inspiration] Expedition to the Canaveral Cape

"I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it. [screaming] You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you!" -- George Taylor

The Planet of the Apes line was the first thing I thought of when this picture popped up on my Facebook feed this morning.
White Castle by Yuri Shwedoff

Unfortunately, in my pessimism, this picture paints what I fear is our space-faring future. It struck a chord with me, and not a good one. I'm one who firmly believes that mankind should be out there among the stars, exploring, learning, growing, and discovering as we have throughout our existence. I look out into the night sky now and wonder, "Where is our Columbus? Our Marco Polo? Our Thor Heyerdahl or Jacques Cousteau? Where is this generation's (or the next generation's) Neil Armstrong or Jim Lovell?" Forget what you may think of their supposed politics, alleged ethics, or remembered reputation: these men were explorers. They stretched our maps and widened our world views, risking life, limb, and possibly soul to do so. They were men of vision. They were heroes.

I still remember the thrill and adrenaline rush from the first shuttle launch. My father roused me early one morning and dragged me downstairs to watch. "Dragged" I say...I had always resented being born just a little bit late to see the moon landing; I wasn't going to miss this for the world. My father later had the opportunity to be present at a shuttle launch; he took pictures and, through his experiences--both there and as a bomber pilot--I watch the launches now and can almost physically feel the shock wave from the engine ignitions and the G-pressures from the acceleration. I remember looking at these men (and later women) as heroes. Certainly the crews of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles are heroes. Once we had vision and a drive to learn.

Now we're relegated to milk runs to a cramped little tin can in orbit. Especially as Americans, who have to humble ourselves to hitch a ride on someone else's bus to that flea-bag in space. Great way to honor the memories of the countless heroic astronauts who gave their lives to the space program and the idea of exploration.

We should be stretching out our hands and minds, embracing the wonder, the adventure, and the risk. From that activity comes growth, learning, and countless benefits to society. The other way--the way we're taking now--ultimately results in becoming Morlocks and Eloi.

That being said, the DM in me sees this image as a potential modern version of the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. The "verticality" of the shuttle gives rise to some interesting environmental questions, though, like "how best to traverse the interior?" and "just how do we get inside that thing anyway?" Of course, the modern version of the dungeon--as suggested here--couldn't be much of a dungeon crawl; the size difference in the shuttle systems makes that unlikely.  I mean, just compare the potential maps between the two. Canaveral Cape would have to be extended to the base itself and the various outbuildings. The STS and the tank/boosters alone just wouldn't be enough for a full adventure.

Hmm. Now there is an idea.

Dang. Now I'm going to spend all day looking through online NASA files for blueprints and such. Sigh.

08 January 2015

[From the Mailbag] Starter Adventures

Look what was waiting for me after a miserable day at the office...Tim Shorts' Starter Adventures!!

I took advantage of the holiday sales over at Lulu to get my copy. I haven't even opened it yet; wanted to show it off too much first. From all indications, though, it's a great book. Knowing Tim's abilities and his other works, I have no doubt that I'll find great use in this.

And actually, my reaction when I saw the Lulu box was close to this (although the sound and video quality on the clip are crap):

**EDIT: It sometimes helps to add the image when you type: "Look what I got!" Sigh.**
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