Monday, May 26, 2014

They Keep Killing the Dragons

Despite the relative negativity of my previous post about 13th Age my group and I have been playing it each week since then, give or take a couple of breaks due to player absences. The starting adventure is a mess but the central conflict between the Three -- a triumvirate of powerful dragons -- and the Elf Queen -- er, the queen of the elves -- has given us a good spine for the campaign, as the players find themselves embroiled in a cold war between the Icons that may about to tip over into something a bit warmer. This has led to something of a mission-based structure as the player-characters zip about the map on black ops, er, operations for the elves, although the last couple of sessions have seen a bit of a digression as they have been pursuing a plot thread about a treasure buried on a distant island.

The party consists of Jordan Young, a bard and former pirate and the instigator of the treasure quest; Sartheen, knife-chucking rogue and the only red dragonspawn in the world; Rarity, a tiefling barbarian who remembers legends everyone else has forgotten; Ne-0n, a robotic sorcerer who is able to perceive the underlying structure of reality itself; and Amras, an elf wizard who is the reincarnation of the Devil.

The way I've been running the campaign is to use the player-characters' One Unique Things as the ongoing background plots -- Sartheen's background in particular ties in well with the aforementioned cold war -- and in the first few sessions I was using their Icon relationship rolls to give me an idea of what sort of things may occur and which non-player-characters may be involved in each session. I am still doing that but as we've got more used to the game the players are becoming more confident in claiming those Icon rolls themselves and using them to shape the narrative; in our most recent session Sartheen's player Stuart used his Prince of Shadows relationship result to tell us all that Sartheen knew of a smugglers' hideout nearby and that the smugglers there -- being part of the Prince's network -- would be able to assist the party in outfitting a ship with the crew and equipment needed to go sailing after this mysterious treasure.

I don't know if it's necessary to have this kind of thing built into the rules mechanics but it's quite fun being surprised when the players roll their relationship dice and then I have to find a way to involve their Icons in the next session. It's sort of a random encounter roll for the GM and I'm sure it's sharpening my improvisation skills.

Anyway, in the first adventure -- the dodgy one from the rulebook -- the player-characters witnessed an attack on an elven fortress by a blue dragon and other minions of the Three; although the party's cleric was half-eaten during the fight -- and the other half was later consumed by Sartheen as a "sign of respect" -- the party did kill the dragon and they were welcomed into the Elf Queen's court as heroes. A bit of nudging from the Diabolist -- as a result of Amras' relationship roll -- led to the party speaking out in support of retaliation against the Three and so they were sent to a town under the dragons' control to assassinate the mayor, who just happened to be a white dragon.

They laid out an elaborate plan reminiscent of my old Shadowrun days -- and as I don't get to play Shadowrun any more this was quite a welcome piece of nostalgia -- and infiltrated the town, killing the mayor and half of his hobgoblin bodyguards while disguised as undead minions of the Lich King, hoping to implicate Old Boney in the assassination. After that they returned to the elven court and waited around for a bit before deciding to follow up on Jordan's stories of treasure, their first stop a series of elven ruins on the coast and the ships rumoured to be hidden there.

Over the next couple of sessions they found and explored the ruins and the secret underground harbours beneath them, fought some banshees and skeletal dragonspawn and a giant psychic crab, discovered a magical helmet that seems to allow communication with a temple in the Three's capital city, and befriended a gang of sahoowagin sawaugin sahuagin, in a scene that I found familiar.

The player-characters now have an ancient elven ship and a somewhat reluctant crew who will only sail with them into the uncharted east if they can find the infamous Captain Morgan -- oh dear -- to lead the expedition. The only problem with that is that Morgan is said to be under lock and key in Highrock, the Archmage's flying prison island. I hope there are no dragons up there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Take Cover!

The cover designs for Dungeons and Dragons 5 have been announced and there has been much discussion of them. I won't go into much detail here as I'm not that interested but they look fine to me; there's nothing stunning about them but nor are they ugly. Out of all the commentary on the new covers my favourite has been +Matt D's observation that the new logo seems to have been borrowed from somewhere else:

The news prompted me and my gaming comrades to discuss our favourite D&D covers. It turns out that we all rather like the cover of the 1983 basic set.

I've never owned or played it but I nonetheless have a nostalgic fondness for the 1983 set -- a fondness I have banged on about before -- due to it being advertised on every single Marvel comic of my youth. This image defines D&D for me but it's not my favourite D&D cover; for that you have to look to another game I've never played.

I don't know if I'll ever play first edition AD&D but I love the cover designs of the revised core books. There's an attractive simplicity to the way they take a painting of some fantasy scene and then place a stark white logo over the top. It's a much more effective approach than the busy and complicated designs of later eras -- even the blue and red trim on the logos of the AD&D2 core books is a step too far -- and while each of the core books looks great my favourite is the Dungeon Masters Guide, so much so that I bought a copy just for the cover.

No really, I've had it for about a year and never read it.

Discussion moved on to other games and I think there may be a bit of a Call of Cthulhu itch waiting to be scratched in my group as Stuart mentioned the Games Workshop edition as one of his favourite game book covers, just days after picking the game as his top choice for a desert island rpg. The Games Workshop version of third edition CoC is a pretty book -- the internal colour plates are lovely -- but my favourite cover is that of fifth edition:

I adore this piece -- again it's a simple design of a basic white logo over a painting -- and I've been trying to convince artist Lee Gibbons to release it as a print; no luck yet but I am confident that it may happen before the Stars Are Right.

Call of Cthulhu 5 is probably my favourite rpg cover but sometimes even that mighty work of art is too fiddly for my tastes and on those days there's only one piece that will do:

They could have put all manner of spaceships and planets and aliens on the cover of Traveller but instead they went with a stripped down and simple design that encourages the reader to use their imagination which, of course, is what it's all about.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

You Must Gather Your Godzilla Before Venturing Forth



All of which is to say that I've played far too much Baldur's Gate II in my time and that I'm very excited about the new Godzilla.