Extra Life – Reporting Staggering Success Already!

Thanks to an extraordinarily generous anonymous donor I have already met my initial Extra Life fundraising goal of $100. That made me decide to embrace the concept of stretch goals.

I have raised my fundraising goal to $200, and picked some things I’ll do.

For the initial $100 I will stream my gaming on Game Day.

If I reach my new goal of $200 I will publish my Game Day adventure as ran along with a play report here. I will also come up with something new to do if I reach $300. I have some ideas that may be of interest to someone out there.

After Extra Life comes normal life. I am now a father and the truth of all the expectations is being revealed. So far some hobbying is still happening, given I am on leave so there are more opportunities if not actually more time. I have entered the current painting contest over on Data Sphere. I have my entry for Maya Cast sitting on the craft table right now, base coats are done. I’m looking forward to Game Day because I haven’t been able to get my RPG on since the Infinity RPG beta test. I’m also itching to play the Infinity miniatures game, it’s been a while for that too. I’m sure I’ll get one in some time soonish.

A Little Housekeeping

Dealing With Attrition was the last thing I posted? I’ve been a terrible blogger.

Today’s post is housekeeping and life updates, I suppose.

You may know as I was DMing at the local shop, I was live streaming via Meerkat and posting the final videos on YouTube. There are more of those videos that I never finished finalizing and then I forgot my iPad a couple times and couldn’t get online to stream a couple times and sort of quit keeping up with it. We’ll call it an extended performance art piece about my last post. I’ll probably get those last few videos public and in some sort of playlist eventually. They’re really nothing fancy, I was just trying to one-up Dave at http://blog.danddencounters.com/

You probably don’t know that I am not DMing this season for Adventurer’s League. No shocking revelations of the sordid inner workings of AL, it’s just not a scheduling priority anymore. Any day now I’ll be a father for the first time, so that’s all I’m prioritizing.

But I do have some hobbying going on. I was recently told after the baby comes I’ll have free time, but it will be in 20 minute bursts. Since I’ve dropped some of my long time block commitments and my wife is in the stage of pregnancy that involves frequent naps, that has already come true, so I’ve been painting. I recently entered the MayaCast Q3 2015 painting contest. The whole album of all entries is on Facebook here.

And to merge the themes of roleplaying and my Infinity involvement, I have backed the Infinity RPG Kickstarter.

This is my first Kickstarter and it’s pretty exciting to watch those stretch goals be met, especially having gone for a pledge level that means each new goal is another PDF I’ll be receiving at the end.

It is my hope that I can get an Infinity RPG campaign off the ground. I was in the beta and may start using that before the core book shows up, depending on how things go after the baby is here. If baby is really good at naps I may do some YouTube stuff for it. I follow a lot of people who talk about fantasy RPGs on YouTube, but it seems like there’s not as much out there for SciFi.

Other gaming things I hope to have coming up include a session for Extra Life during which I plan to use A Red and Pleasant Land. I finally finished my initial read through of it and I think I’ll be sticking to the tables and general suggestions to do a lower level, lighter feeling excursion into the Place of Unreason using D&D 5e and pregens. My intention is to take a page from the Infinite Life Infinity Tournament and Re-Roll Weekend and charge admission, and allow players to pay for re-rolls. All proceeds, of course, going to Extra Life.

That’s my current focus, and after that is when I intend to switch my focus to the Infinity RPG. My wife wants to keep fantasy gaming as well, so something will happen there as well. Unsure what it will be currently.

Dealing with Attrition

Life report/play report:

I’m continuing to run Rise of Tiamat for Wednesday night Encounters at my local shop. I’ve made the interesting decision of picking up war gaming while a child is on the way. I’m now playing Infinity Tuesday nights at the same shop. It’s fun. We’ve planned an escalation that should end about the time baby is due, and then all of our gaming will be hosted by us. My friend and gamepatriot over at http://blog.danddencounters.com/ has proposed pioneering the world of Fantasy Grounds and attempting to place so many support calls that we have a say in its future. So far the overwhelming response has been “why don’t we just use Roll20?” If either of those happen, I’ll write something about it. I may also blog about the Infinity escalation campaign – is that interesting to any of you, Gentle Readers?

On to dealing with attrition…

Attrition is an ever present problem for roleplaying games. I have only ever seen three campaigns to the end, everything else went to attrition in some form or another. We seem to have reached the attrition point for Wednesday night Encounters.

There are a couple things happening there. First, we’re running two different games. One is Rise of Tiamat, the continuation of last season’s story found in Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The other is Princes of the Apocalypse. I think we anticipated more interest in Rise of Tiamat than actually happened, but we’ve had enough players that we generally have two large tables of the low tier game and two small tables of the high tier game, which I think is generally a good thing. Lately, however, we’ve either been forced down to one table of RoT or have had barely enough to justify two. I’m having a harder time getting a good idea of how participation in PotA is because I’m not at those tables and because that has the potential to be three tables given all DMs in attendance.

Since it’s what I’m dealing with, I want to talk about merging tables. Adventurers League requires tables of at least 3 players, so as soon as we hit six we can run two. There have been a couple times that I couldn’t be there, but most of the time CM and I are both there. Our whole shop generally doesn’t do a great job of checking in before the game to say if they are/not coming so we’re often stuck at start time waiting to see if anyone else shows up. Sometimes people need to move and it’s annoying but that’s not the interesting part. What’s interesting is how do you bring people in to a storyline they haven’t been in? This applies at home as well, because you may have a new friend join in the middle of a campaign, or you may be forced to recruit new friends in the middle of the campaign due to our subject of attrition.

So have they always been there, standing stoically in the background? Did the party just meet them? You can usually figure this out at home. Sometimes it happens at an awkward time, but you can modify what you had planned to fit them in. But the format for Encounters is so strange, it has to be awkward when it happens. The last time CM and I had to merge tables, I just pushed my players back in time some. It wasn’t a big deal because they managed not to repeat any combats, and they only repeated one NPC encounter. We were able to run two tables again, and mine left the dungeon we had been in. Now what happens if we’re at less than six next week? My players are in an entirely different part of Faerun now, on pursuit of a totally different goal. It’s quite a bit of pushing back time to ask them to kill the same dragon again at this point. We could push one table forward and then back again, either way some players know the future, but that seems less fair somehow. One thing that’s peculiar to RoT but could be a boon, is there are a few floating encounters that are supposed to be fit in between chapters. It may be easiest to ask both tables to suspend their knowledge of time and run one of those if this comes up again next week.

With the Encounters format, there’s not a lot that can be done about making the aftermath of attrition smoother. It’s just a flaw with the format. So the next question is – how do we stop the problem from happening?

There are a few likely reasons for attrition:

1) Burn-out (Interest, or energy)

2) Life happening

3) Being waylaid and devoured on their way to the game

Since there’s nothing we can do about 2 or 3, we’ll focus on 1, which is really two things.

Why do players get burned out? Why do DMs get burned out? Whether they’re tired or no longer having fun, there’s a balance between what they’re getting out of showing up every week and what it costs them to show up every week, that affects it. Essentially, they aren’t having enough fun. The DMs job should always be to make sure everyone is having fun. And you have to include yourself, or else you’re going to get burned out. Right now I think we may be looking at player burn-out. In other words, I have no one to blame but myself. I could blame the module, but this one is actually better than the last one. I’ve heard the newer one I haven’t seen is again better, so that’s all good. Also, I know my players pretty well, I think we’re running in to life happening more than anything, but I’m going to assume I need to take action to keep the players coming. In reflecting on this I think my flaw is probably pacing. I have a tendency to wait for late players to show up, and I maybe am generally not moving fast enough. I keep things going, we haven’t stalled out anywhere, but I wouldn’t mind getting through more on a given night, and I think neither would my players. Another thing I can do is provide more rewards. I’m very limited in what I can do with the module, but I would like to reward players more frequently. I think I’ll have to give out Inspiration more readily. I should bring up having printed Inspiration cards again too. I’d really like to give them items, but I’m stuck in the position of we’re not supposed to give out items that aren’t specified in the module, but this particular one consistently includes “and some magic items of your choice” in the treasure hoard. There seems to just be inadequate support from AL for Rise of Tiamat, but I may need to reinvestigate this issue.

What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you keep your players engaged, considering the constraints of a pre-written module being used in organized play?

The Problem with Dungeons

I’m about to write something in stark disagreement with a lot of the gaming community that I follow: I don’t like dungeons. I actually don’t like dragons either. I’ve picked an interesting system for my hobby.

I’ve been running Rise of Tiamat at my local comic & games store. The Tomb of Diderius is a really cool dungeon… if you’re reading it. If you’re playing in it it’s really easy to miss a lot of what makes it cool. Cool details are wasted if the players never trigger the particular odd thing that is supposed to prompt them. I didn’t write Rise of Tiamat so it’s just a shame that neat little things didn’t come up during my players’ time in the tomb, but if I had written it that would have been valuable writing time wasted.

What I’ve come to do at home is use a system of what I call rumours. I write up people, places, events, things, and actual rumours, and randomly select some to give to the players and let them decide where to go from there. I then essentially facilitate them creating their own story by answering their questions. This doesn’t work if I want multiple tables to play the same game, they’ll end up playing very different games. That leaves me with a written adventure. I’m all about saving time, so how do I mitigate the wasted time factor of writing whole adventures? I can think of plenty of alternatives. The first thing that comes to mind is just don’t do it. I can use a detailed setting, or a pre-written adventure. I could also use a dungeon generator and theme the results appropriately, but that doesn’t sound terribly exciting to me. I can also just let it go wildly different in the more likely situation of games being in different places and times, but the time factor is what drives me to want this to be close to the same for all tables.

Doing a straightforward quest with a big dungeon seems like the easiest answer to how to homebrew something in this situation, but that has its problems too. Dungeons are fairly predictable with respect to pacing, it’s roleplaying encounters that vary in time a lot. Dungeons are also easier to write (in some ways) so maybe the risk of wasted time isn’t as high. But they’re very difficult to control, and to anticipate. Secret doors are great, but what if they don’t find them? You can write an awesome trap that never gets triggered. You can put tons of treasure in a room that is never reached. You can put hints as to the origins of the dungeon all over the place that the players never look at. So while you’re disappointed that all this work you put in to your dungeon is being missed, the players are feeling bored because this dungeon isn’t very exciting. You can cut the prep time by randomizing a lot of the dungeon creation, but I feel like that tends to pull some of the life out of it.

In any case, I bring this up for a very specific reason. I’m going to be running a game for my baby shower (my baby shower? My unborn child’s baby shower? Who is this thing for anyway?) and I anticipate more players than I’ll want to wrangle myself, so I need to have something written down to give to one or more other DMs.

I don’t feel like I’m giving away too much to say I’m using Zak Smith’s Red & Pleasant Land. Using Zak’s fine work means I don’t need to come up with each individual encounter, so I can map out the path I hope the players will take and have the other DM(s) study those parts of the book. I suppose I’ll also have to instruct that hints for the correct path be dropped in to prevent one table from ending up horribly lost.

I happened to want from the start something that works well for what I’m doing, I don’t expect it to be a problem, so this is mostly just a mental exercise right now.

The questions are: Those of you who actually write the adventures you run – how do you expedite the process? How do you keep your dungeon engaging and prevent players from missing things?

Adventurers League: A New Series

I’ve been playing Adventurer’s League since it got started with 5e. Mostly D&D Encounters, but I’ve played a few Expeditions as well. So that’s most of my gaming time lately, but I’ve been keeping this blog to homebrew stuff, so I haven’t been saying much about it. I have now decided, however, that I can spend some time writing about it because I have volunteered to DM at our local comic book shop next season. I think where I can do something useful is by providing experiences from our shop and sharing tips that I think will be useful for us. We’re definitely not the most organized AL group, but I might be able to provide something useful to some folks.

So here’s the first problem we’ve had that I would like to take a crack at addressing:

When the players and DMs get to the shop, they kind of just wander to the first table available. Since Encounters are decidedly not episodic they frequently stop at awkward and varying places, even if the groups start in the same place in the story. This results in players shuffling tables and half of the party is suddenly in a different place than they were last week, they don’t know if they successfully dispatched the evil mastermind their new allies have never met, and the barbarian doesn’t know whether or not she has the axe she dropped. This is a slight exaggeration, but I think it illustrates the point well.

What I expect to be a simple way to minimize the occurrence of what I write in my notes as “TIME WARP!” is to make it more table-centric. If we label each table at he beginning of the night with where it will be continuing from, in some detail, I think people will sit at the table which is continuing where they left off more frequently if they know where to sit from the start. I think part of what’s happening now is if players arrive before DMs, they don’t know where to go, and once they’re situated they don’t want to move to match up correctly. But if we communicate to as many people in advance with something like “Table 1 – Episode 6, just arriving at the castle. DM: A. Table 2 – Episode 6, Floor 2 of the Castle. DM: B. Table 3 – Episode 7, beginning. DM: C.” it won’t matter what order everyone arrives in, and anything funny that happened at the very end can continue naturally, instead of getting skipped and going unresolved.

The problem with admitting that Encounters isn’t episodic and treating it as such is if that actually stabilizes into consistent parties, one could fall pretty far behind by the end of a long campaign like HotDQ. I don’t know if that’s really a problem per se, but it would be nice if everyone was more or less on the same page.

What are your thoughts, gentle reader? Is anyone else having this problem? Not think it’s a problem? Have a solution? I’m looking forward to talking to the other DM volunteers about this.

Idea Board: Agents of RPG

My wife and I both came down with a pretty nasty cold, so we’ve been spending a lot of time on the couch. Yesterday, we finished Season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I always imagine everything I watch or read as an RPG, so that of course happened during watching, but it wasn’t until later that night, while falling asleep, that I was struck by a sudden idea. I have foolishly neglected to leave a notepad by my bed, so I trusted the memory to fate and decided to write it down first thing in the morning. As it turns out, fate was on my side.

What I have so far is just a first thought at character creation. It’s probably inspired mostly by the MechWarrior Roleplaying Game. The first thing I thought of was providing special abilities by enrollments in programs. I actually had a specific program in mind that I did forget, but for an example I’m generating right now: “I was enrolled in the Icarus Program, so I know how to use this experimental jetpack.”

Projects and Programs could be infinite and they would cost character points of some sort to purchase.

The character points thing made me think of GURPS, but I’ve always really liked the aging your character and developing your background character creation method that I first encountered in MechWarrior. There might also be a little Numenera in there. This is what I ended up writing down this morning:

I’m a…

  • Human

With a knack for…

  • Psioncs
  • Marksmanship
  • CQC
  • Science
  • Engineering
  • Computers
  • Alien Tech
  • People Skills

Trained as a…

  • Scientist
  • Engineer
  • Technician
  • Specialist
  • Leader

For a while, I was involved in the…

*Programs and projects provide specific bonuses in exchange for character points.

Obviously more or less of any of those steps could be available, or more or less steps could be available. If you wanted to get complex I would add steps for how you grew up (on the streets vs fabulous wealth) and what kind of education you had (None, BA, PhD, Boot Camp, West Point, etc.)

You could overlay this on to pretty much any system you like, too. The easiest way would be to just provide bonuses for all the choices e.g. if we’re talking about 5e DnD “With a knack for Alien Tech” would give them advantage any time they’re working with alien technology. Or it could be more complicated. Trained as a… could be custom classes in the DnD example. Honestly, most of my ideas end about here, but if I were to run this I would probably use a custom GURPS-like system for it. I like the dis/advantage system of 5e, and I could use that to modify In Nomine’s d666 to roll 2d6 to measure success and 2d6 for degree of success, high or low winning out depending on your background. Character points are awarded instead of experience, and the players buy new programs or upgrade their very simple stats. As far as settings go, it’s open ended enough for any paramilitary organization. It also doesn’t have to be all for the same organization. If I’m sticking to settings I’ve used before, it’d make for a nice modern day or near future Malleus game.

As always, gentle reader, I am interested in your thoughts.

Play Report: Malazan Session III

At session II, which I missed, we introduced a new character: Sadddique, the rogue.

And at session III we introduced another, Timmie, using a Ranger variant i made a few days earlier, just removing spells in exchange for being able to take the fighting specialization repeatedly.

The party spent a lot of time split, and did a lot of information gathering and not a lot of murdering, more or less to their chagrin. More because they were itching for combat by the end, less because I think they’re getting pretty uncomfortable with all the morally ambiguous decisions working for the Empire is encouraging them to make.

They met another soldier named Jackal when they arrived at Darujhistan, and with them they brought some stolen trade goods and girl who’s not all there and they know to be a Soletaken. Jackal brought them to Fiddler and Quick Ben, of Bridgeburner fame, who have also snuck into Darujhistan at this time, and they handed the girl to their care. Timmie was introduced as the Empire’s contact for the Daru Thieve’s Guild, and so he was able to help the party fence the stolen goods – granting them a small source of income during their time in Darujhistan. From there they worked primarily at making contacts in the city.

First, they went among the people to get an idea of what’s going on in Darujhistan these days. The only really interesting tidbit they got in the markets was that the newest Council member was going to be holding a party that night. They set out to get into that party.

To that end, they split up and half of the party sought to make contact with a character the Thieve’s Guild knows only as “The Eel.” They were able to meet with one of The Eel’s agents at the Phoenix Inn, with a little bit of bribery, and the agent agreed to help get them into the party in exchange for doing some yet-unnamed task for The Eel. Simultaneously, the Thieve’s Guild was working on another way to get them in.

Meanwhile, the other half of the party, masquerading as a traveling merchant and part of his retinue, went to try to meet the Lord in question – Anish. They were unable to meet with Anish, but met with his senechal – Zavoz. Zavoz provided them with invitations.

The Thieve’s Guild had their names added to the list of extra contacted servants, but when they met with The Eel’s agent again, they were provided with uniforms of the regular servants, allowing them even easier access to the party. In exchange, they were given a packet of three dossiers on individuals The Eel wanted “taken care of.”

Once they were all at the party, they snuck around looking for anything incriminating they could blackmail Anush with, and stole a few things. They found evidence that Anish was personally meeting with a powerful wizard in the city, including shortly before his father died, giving him his council seat. They also were able to pick up another job from a different wizard, contracting them to “punish” a rival for “stealing” an apprentice. The “artist/art merchant” was able to secure an invitation to stay at Anish’s estate for the entire party, under the guise of them all being part of his retinue.

The next day, they set out to find a way in to the home of the apprentice-stealing wizard. They split up again. Half the party held a stakeout on the house, the other half tried to find a way through the tunnels under the city to get under the house. The half under the house encountered some armed Daru meeting with a wizard that the Claw member with them recognized as bearing the sigil of the Pannion Domin. They briefly engaged with the group and then parleyed, the wizard disappearing into the darkness during the exchange. The ones on the stakeout recognized one of their targets from the dossiers, and followed and attacked him. It turned out that he was a member of the assassin’s guild, and they revealed their other targets to him and he confirmed that they are all also assassins, and all on the same contract, but he didn’t know why The Eel would want them dead. They took him captive and hauled him off to their hideout behind Quip’s bar, hoping that The Eel’s eyes and ears would think they took him off somewhere to kill him and dump the body quietly.

I left this session really open ended, but the nature of the Empire makes it easy to make morally ambiguous decisions. The next session should have some opportunities to do Good things, which might be refreshing for us all.