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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Theater Ninjas presents “GameNight”

       

     I’m frequently making references to Theater Ninjas, the Cleveland-based theatre company I’m a member of. The brief snatches about my theatre life are usually in context of how I’m dividing myself between many time consuming passions and putting poor Save Vs. Weekend on the back-burner. But in this case, Ninja action applies directly to the gaming world!

      The Ninjas actually use games an awful lot in our rehearsal process; both for scripted and self-written original pieces. This year we decided to expand upon the group’s interest in games, and invite the audience in to join us.

     Enter our new, free, monthly get-together: GameNight. The focus of GameNight is to introduce fans, collaborators, supporters, new comers, gamers, the curious, their friends, and anyone else to try out some games that focus on story and player creativity. In almost all cases that means some kind of role-playing game. My interest in table-top role-playing grew out of my love of improv and began with traditional titles like my beloved D&D. But recently (and in part because of GameNight) I’ve also branched out into some newer, extremely innovative titles that focus more closely on character and open-ended story-telling. More often than not our selections are (gasp!) totally GMless!

     I wanted to share a bit about the games we’ve been playing, and how GameNight can be relevant to D&D players of any edition. There are a lot of facets to what makes a good D&D campaign, and that ultimately comes down to which interests all the players at the table overlap on. But no matter what, story and character are going to play a role: and the more care you put into these elements the more your game will benefit. “Care” in this case does not mean hours of writing or railroading the PCs. It means establishing some simple links between and objectives for characters to inspire players to build the plot and dramatic action themselves. GameNight’s offerings are great at that, and I think each of these indie games has a place in supplementing the regular play (or campaign world prep) of a D&D game.

     We started GameNight off with Jason Morningstar’s FIASCO, a game where players create everyday people with burning ambitions and faltering impulse control. FIASCO’s rules build relationships between player characters into the action, – and even folks new to the RPG world take to it easily. A single game of FIASCO can be a good building block for exploring your D&D campaign’s characters, or even figuring out how the party got together before the classic “you are sitting in a  tavern when” moment (A suggestion Jason even mentions in the rules for FIASCO). In particular, Wizards of the Coast vet Logan Bonner has written a fantastic FIASCO playset that pairs well with experienced D&D players.

     Most recently GameNight took a crack at Ben Robbins’ Microscope. In this game, the players work together to write the epic history of a world by taking turns to create sweeping periods of history, crucial events, and the moment-by-moment role-played scenes that changed the fate of the world. Using Microscope as prep for your D&D game is a good way to bring the players into the world building stage. It can also be a means to sidestep forcing your players to write a 5-page essay explaining their character background (protip: maybe ONE of your players will EVER do this). You can build 1,000 year spans time, or focus in on a few pivotal minutes. Being non-linear, you can hop back and forth down the timeline, zooming in as you wish. Each player has complete, neigh unquestionable authority on their turn, but builds on the ideas of everyone else at the table. It’s your chance to invest the players (and their characters) in the world and its backstory, making them more likely to closely follow the plot and react strongly to the villains, allies, and institutions they run into along the way.

     Opening a D&D campaign with one of these (or any of the countless other) “story-games” can reap major rewards in player investment and attention, and does a lot of the dirty work for you. Best of all, it’s actually a lot of fun, and can help burn off any fatigue incurred from playing the same game for a long stretch of time by allowing you to try something new, while still contributing to the host campaign.

     I personally advocate for FIASCO and Microscope. Each of the Theater Ninjas’ GameNight events has been a major success. I love to hear the players chatting about that month’s game, the stories they built together, and how they might do things next time as they pack up at the end of a session.

     If you’re a gamer in Cleveland Ohio, I highly encourage you to check out the next GameNight event (details at the Theater Ninjas website). I think it’s a foray into a different way to play the kind of games we already love, and gives you ammo and ideas for your own home campaigns. You’ll find some pleasant surprises. But then again, I am a little biased.

      

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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Announcements, Story Challenge

 

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[X1 Isle of Dread] Random Encounter – Dinozon Ambush

     As usual, theatre obligations have put my game on hold for the moment (And I’m not even in the show this time!) But all that down time means I can pick away at filling out some of the details I’m adding to the adventure. Since I’m changing some things around on the dear old Isle of Dread, that means adjusting some of the random encounters. Today’s post will be about replacing those goofy phanatons with something a bit more deadly. I’ll give you a hint…it required me to revisit my old love of paleontology. 

Spoilers

     Like last time, if you’re one of my players, buzz off! No peeking! Secrets are ahead! (Not that the title didn’t spoil things already….)!

Amazons on the Island

     I always prefer to tailor the game world to what my players (and to some degree their characters) expect to find in it. So in order to facilitate some intrigue with one PC’s backstory, I’ve replaced the phanatons with an encampment of vicious rogue amazons. Though typically only defensive in nature, these amazons have turned away from the tenets of their sisterhood in order to persue agressive goals of conquest. While these circumstance are unlikely to gel well with most other campaigns, the amazons simply use the Human Warrior stat block, and could easily be swapped out with pirates, natives, neanderthals, or any other humanoid already present on the island.

     What is significant about this encounter is what the amazons are riding into battle: vicious utahraptors. These large dromaeosaurs inspired the erronously named “velociraptors” that made you pee your pants when you saw Jurassic Park  way back….anytime you watched that movie. Using their dinosaur mounts, the amazons increase their mobility and lethality by degrees. Also, riding dinosaurs is awesome.

Setup

      Have the PCs make a normal check to determine surprise when travelling overland. If they are using stealth, the amazons will need to make checks to discover their presence (to simplify this, give them advantage on the check to account for the keen senses of their mounts and the fact that they are out on active patrol).

Plot Text

      You’re finally getting used to the sounds of this awful place. The hoots and growls of unfamiliar animals are becoming commonplace to your ear. You no longer feel the humidity and atmosphere as some alien blanket wrapping around and suffocating you. It’s not home. You’ve merely adapted. Like survivors always do.

     Which is why the lull in bird shrieks should have been a clue. Before you know it they are on you. Women, most of them human, clad in scanty, piecemeal leather and scale armor adorned with vibrant feathers, wisely trading some degree of protection for comfort in the steamy rainforest. They charge forward, mounted on bipedal lizards covered in the brightly colored feathers that their riders wear. You’ve seen several varieties of these reptilian monstrosities on the island already but these look particularly fierce: big as a horse with long tails, a head full of piercing teeth, and a wicked razor toe on either foot. 

     The woman warriors call out to you in a heavily accented common, “Outlanders! This island is ours, and you do not belong here. The penalty for tresspassing is death!” Well, that elimantes negotiation as a viable option. The women let out a birdlike warcry and move to circle your party. The raptors descend upon you.

Tactics

     Two of the mounted amazons rush towards the most isolated target, while the rest harry the column of PCs with ranged attacks from either side. Their plan is to force melee PCs in two different directions – splitting up the group and isolating individuals so that the amazons can gang up on individuals, using the raptor’s pounce ability whenever possible. 

     When half of the amazon patrol is dead or severally wounded, they will raise a call to retreat. Dismounted amazons will not leave their stranded sisters behind. Any captured amazons will only bring down further attacks from search and rescue patrols.

     The raptors are tamed and trained for war, but strongly tied to their riders and accustomed to the amazon’s particular commands. As an action, a PC can attempt a hard WIS [Handle Animal] check, to climb in the saddle and get control of one of the beasts. If not under control of a rider, a raptor will attack the nearest enemy, but is well trained enough not to engage one of the amazons.

 
 

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