RSS

Tag Archives: gaming

Orc Campaign Companion for 5e

We very colloquially call it “The Orc Campaign.” I mention this from time to time – the most successful (and longest running) campaign I’ve ever DMed. It began as a one-shot to while away some summer boredom, and snowballed into my first stumbling attempt at a campaign that featured realm management and emphasized open (smallish) scale warfare and societal management. It wound up being the cornerstone achievement of my college-years gaming career.

Recently, one of my players from said campaign was kibitzing around Reddit (a worthwhile habit that I just never fell into) and noticed a request for information about running a similar kind of game. He asked if I had anything on hand I could send along to aid this DM. So I looked at my notes.

Grahhh!

Three separate editions and at least two hiatuses left my “Campaign Bible” a somewhat invoherent disarray. There was no way I could post that monstrosity on the internet. It was incomplete, unreadable to anyone but me (how do people write books for dead authors using their notes? Those must be a jumble of half-thoughts and suggested ideas! It’s madness!)

But if I could take the time to re-write it all…this time with an audience in mind instead of simply being a repository for my hastily assembled session notes – If I could re-write the campaign companion with advice on running the game and thoughts on how it should work behind the scene…then I might be on to something.

So I’ve decided to ever so slowly but surely start compiling an “Orc Campaign Companion” for use with 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. I’ll be posting the bits and pieces (or whole chapters!) that I finish as articles here for comments and suggestions, to eventually bust out a more convenient and palatable PDF version. Potentially with new art and ideally some better formatting (yes, yes, I know, and iPad is not a replacement for a computer and doing PDF design in the Pages app makes me some kind of slack-jawed troglodyte). But between work, theatre, and running an active campaign it will be a slow process. Please bear with me – I think I uncovered some cool stuff in the seven some years of running this game on-and-off.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Announcements, Editorial, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

D&D 5th Edition Release Update

Things are afoot for Dungeons and Dragons! So I wanted to pop in with a few editorial notes.

Though it may be a rolling release, 5th edition is, as of now, in the hands of the players! If you haven’t gotten a chance to take a look for yourself, the D&D 5th Basic Rules can be downloaded here.

In case you missed the details on Basic, the following sums it up: The most rudimentary rules necessary to run the game (Four most common races, classes, along with iconic class builds, monsters, key rules, etc.) are going to be released for FREE on Wizard’s website as a pdf called “D&D Basic.” At the moment this document only includes information for character creation, though by the end of the year it should be fleshed out with monsters and a slew of DM guidelines. This document will be enough for introducing new players to the game, though it won’t feature nearly the breadth of content that the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide will provide.

Going forward; for the sake of convenience, when I need to reference a page in “the rules,” my preference will be for the Basic document (since it is available to everyone). If I pull a monster or rule from the Monster Manual or other source, I’ll be sure to indicate it along with the page number.

Having looked the document over, I am very pleased with just about everything I have seen! The best changes from the playtest have been carried over, and further tweaks have pushed the game in a good direction (with some unexpected and very cool surprises among class abilities!) A lot of good work went into the playtest and I’m glad to see nearly everything survived.

          ____________________________________________________________________

Also! on the off chance that any readers might find it valuable to their own games, I’m linking to the Obsidian Portal page that will follow the game I’m currently running. I’ve found myself with a large chunk of time with few responsibilities, so I’m attempting to hammer through the entirety of Murder in Baldur’s Gate. The PC game of the (almost) same name is one of my top ten video games of all time, so a tabletop expedition to my favorite part of the Sword Coast (or ANY coast for that matter) was an easy sell. Combined with the adventure’s casual structure and concise sequences, I’m looking forward to running a campaign that might be able to go from start to finish in a reasonable time span while staying satisfying to the players. But we’ll see. Plans and contact with the enemy and all…

       

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Editorial

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

In Defense of the Refugees (AKA: “Save the Ladies!”)

This encounter is intended for five PCs of 3rd or 6th level using the most recent D&D 5th Edition statistics as of July 2

I was really fond of the Lord of the Rings console games that popped up in the mid 00’s. I mean sure, these weren’t the best beat-um-ups on the market, but they hit home by leveraging a franchise that I was obsessed with at the time. Given that one of my earliest memories is of playing Golden Axe with my father while propped up on a stool in front of an arcade cabinet – loving a co-op beat-um-up is never hard for me to do. 

A particular gem from those games was the “Minas Tirith Courtyard” level. In essence, it was a siege scenario in which you had to hold off endless hordes of increasingly difficult opponents, while making way for a flood of civilians to escape. The level ended once two-hundred villagers (all women, as I recall. Hence why this level became “save the ladies!” In common parlance) escaped to the safety of an inner wall. It was a grueling task, and a perfect complement for the scenes of devastation and warfare it was meant to invoke.

This encounter attempts to capture the feel of that scenario with a satisfying set-piece battle.

Setup

The PCs have agreed to help defend a community (castle, city, fortress, whatever is appropriate) from an invading army. While regular troops man the walls, the party is overseeing an evacuation. Civilian refugees may be fleeing the city out of a postern gate, falling back to an inner defensive ring, or breaking for the harbor to board boats that will take them out of the conflict. Regardless of the particulars, citizens have no choice but to rush through a warzone to reach safety. When the scenario begins, enemies have breached the defenses and the PCs will need to earn their keep covering the refugee’s flight.

At your discretion, some of the soldiers defending the walls may come down to lend the PCs a hand. Assign no more than one soldier per player, and bump the number of monsters in each wave up by one to compensate.

The party will face endless waves of opponents in this encounter. Their goal is to hold out until all refugees have made it through the exit gate in the southern corner of the map, before themselves pulling back to safety. Depending on the difficulty you intend, the number of total civilians can be adjusted up or down. As an alternate way of working the scenario, the parties goal might be to stand their ground until a prescribed number of refugees makes it through the gate (in this case, consider deducting the EXP value of slain refugees from the party’s total EXP).

   •Each round, 1d4 refugees arrives at the eastern edge of the map (Labelled “Refugee Entry” with eligible squares shaded in blue).

  •Every refugee that successfully escapes through the gate grants its EXP value to the party in the same way a defeated enemy would.

  •Number of refugees: Easy – 10; Moderate – 20; Difficult – 30

Map


When monsters enter the battle, roll 1d4: that monsters arrives in the corresponding entry point on the map (Labelled “Monster Entry”) and takes its turn. Monsters that arrive through entrance 4 will almost always make for the exit gate to cut off any refugees that get past their brethren.

Features of the Area

    Rubble: Walls broken by siege equipment, burning wagons, overturned market stalls, or even piles of corpses. Areas of rubble require 10 feet of movement to pass through.

     Barricade: These stacked barrells, crates, and debris grant half cover.

    Tower: This watchtower is positioned to overlook a great deal of the courtyard. The room is 25 feet up and features an arrow slit that grants Superior Cover, but does not allow the shooter to see anything east of the fountain. The advantage of being able to snipe from the safety of the tower are obvious, but not being on the ground to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees is a serious disadvantage.

    Porch: This adjoined patio area has a sturdy stone railing all around it that can grant half cover if someone inside crouches. Leaping over the railing is easy enough to do, but requires 10 feet of movement.

    Fountain: The fountain in the middle of this battlefield grants half cover, or full cover if the attacker is on the other side of the large statue in the middle. Enterprising or vicious PCs will find it deep enough to drown orcs in.

   Stone Structures: The low stone buildings might compirse homes, gatehouses, customs offices, or storage. Though their slate roves aren’t especially steep, a 15 foot climb is still required to get to the top, where a PC could enjoy an elevated vantage point. Some of these building have missing walls, destroyed by siege weaponry, creating a path for the city’s invaders to stream into the courtyard.

Monsters

   —Level 3 encounter: One wave every other round

 Wave 1: 10 Goblins (Pg. 49)

Wave 2: 10 Hobgoblins (Pg. 55)

Wave 3: 1 Hobgoblin Leader (Pg. 55), 2 Hobgoblins

Wave 4: 1 Ogre (Pg. 69)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Hobgoblins

—Level 6 encounter: One wave every other round

Wave 1: 10 Orcs (Pg. 70)

Wave 2: 7 Oorogs (Pg. 71)

Wave 3: 1 Orc Leader (Pg. 70), 2 Oorogs

Wave 4: 1 Hill Giant (Pg. 46)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Oorogs


Allies

For the civilian refugees, use the stats for:  Human Commoner (Pg. 57) [And for the record, the civilians comprise both men, women, and children, not just ladies! All the same, don’t NOT save the ladies – that isn’t very feminist either.]

•For allied soldiers (if you choose to provide them), use the stats for:  Human Warrior (Pg. 58 – Replace armor with “Ringmail” and bump AC to 14)

Enemy/Ally Tactics

The attackers (be they orc or hobgoblin) are in the thick of city fighting now, and much of their discipline is fading in the chaos of battle. Use the following guidelines in determining an enemy’s targeting priorities:

1. If a PC is within 10 feet of an enemy, it will attempt to attack the PC

2. Enemies will otherwise attack the nearest opponent, whether they are a civilian, soldier, or PC

3. Enemies will switch targets to the last target that attacked them, thus allowing your players to “pull” the horde off of a civilian

4. Enemies who come out of entrance 4 will make for the exit gate, to block the passage of those fleeing

Though based on a video game, the best part of tabletop RPGs is their infinite mutability. These rules of engagement make for an interesting tactical encounter, but as always, use your judgement. Smart players will find ways to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees. And likewise, a moment of dramatic ramping-up in which a foe purposefully ignores the players to slay the defenseless civilians might be just what the story needs.

Similarly you can follow a set of guidelines for the behavior of the fleeing refugees:

1. A refugee will always avoid provoking attacks of opportunity when possible (unless ordered by a PC)

2. Refugees always attempt to move toward the exit gate at best possible speed, allaying this only for reasons of safety

3. If within reach of an opponent, a refugee will use the Disengage action

4. If in reach of an opponent and unable to move closer to the gate, a refugee will use the Dodge action

5. Refugees consider PCs and soldier allies and can move through their space unhindered

If you opt to provide the players with back-up in the form of additional soldiers, consider letting the PCs give orders to the troops. They are in control of where the soldiers move to and how they form up, and can even order them to attack particular targets. If you wish to make this more complicated, perhaps an Easy Charisma roll is needed to clearly explain orders over the din and confusion of battle. In this case, PCs might only be able to give vague directions (“Stand left of the gate” or “form up on my right”) rather than letting the players choose which precise square for each soldier to stand in (the more tactical option).

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Conquest and Conclusions for 2013

     With 2013 finally wrapped up I cannot help but take the typical measures and review the conclusions that coincided with the end of the calendar year. I am, by my nature, a person prone to flights of nostalgia, and so I never need my arm twisted to write a retrospective. I had a very solid year as far as my life at the tabletop went, and wanted to discuss some of the milestone moments (both in general and personally). It’s an editorial, which I prefer to keep to a minimum on this blog – so I won’t shed a tear if you’re happier navigating right past this.

 Most obvious is the termination of the public arm of the D&D Next Playtest. Much of my trepidation about the state of the game was alleviated in this latest iteration. I think Wizards is hitting all the marks, and I’ve been evangelizing for this edition much more doggedly than even I had anticipated. And I’ve been earning converts in the process. I’m looking forward to the final release, but am happy to have, until then, a more than workable game in my hot little hands to continue enjoying in the meantime.

     The year also saw the start, conclusion, and delivery on a lot of titanically important gaming Kickstarters. Dwarven Forge rolled out their new line of much more affordable game tiles, Reaper Miniatures fired off a second wave of their (again, very affordable) Bones line, and countless other contenders  dove into the crowd-funding arena in an attempt to support your game (by first earning your support). There’s a lot more in terms of exciting projects popping up this year, so you’ll have no end of reasons to fling money at your computer screen.

     I finally took the time to start investing in a little fancy scenery as well. Being a lover of miniatures, I always want to enhance the table experience in 3D, and getting into the hobby of terrain crafting was a nice jumping off point. It granted me the confidence to try my hand at painting minis as well, and that has been a rewarding, (and time consuming) addition to my retinue of gaming interests.

       

     Most importantly, 2013 marked the end of the longest running D&D campaign I have ever participated in. It spanned eight years (on and off) and three separate editions of the game before it finally reached a climax just a few days before the termination of this past December. The game in question was the (admittedly) blandly named: “Orc Campaign” – a story in which each of the players portrayed a ranking warlord in a bloodthirsty raiding party sent by the Bleeding Blade orc clan.

     The impetus for this game began way back during the early days of our time with 3rd Edition (back before it was 3.Anything) in which I was asked one evening to run an impromptu one-shot. To break up the regularity of the game, the players wanted to try something different – monstrous PCs. Seeing as how we were all avid fans of Warcraft III (this was prior to there being any World of Warcraft!) we settled on orcs. They played their ruthless savages to the gory hilt, even developing a codified trophy system by which to measure who earned the most esteem in battle (based on how many spikes, horns, and skulls adorned your armor. Totally Metal. Totally Brutal). I capped that session off by pulling out character sheets from their regular game, and facing them off against the clerics and paladins they had played but a week prior (a nice switcheroo that I’ve made mention of on this blog before).

     That session was firmly in mind a few years later when The Orc Campaign began. The game was oriented toward realm and squad management; with each player having a handful of orc lackeys who were acquiring EXP and leveling up right along with him (albeit from a lower starting level). I drew up a map of the proposed kingdom for invasion, replete with locations that sounded interesting but were entirely undefined at the time.

     Despite the premise (Orcs, at war! How could this be anything but attack rolls!), the campaign was characterized by a great deal of roleplaying, secret keeping, wheeling and dealing. What I assumed would become a sort of strategy/invasion simulation quickly became “The Sopranos” + A Holy War + Dragons. The principle  thesis of the campaign was thus: How does a leader help a society predicated on “Might Makes Right” as the most important rule of law to flourish? 

       

      The players all had ambitions as to what orc society as a whole, and the horde under their command should be, but had to temper their progressive and often counter-culture agenda against the single-mindedness and violence of their subjects. Underlings challenged their leadership, and players challenged each other (ultimate decision making was kept in the hands of the “Warchief” who held his title through dueling). The worship of the orc God Gruumsh, was opposed by the deep roots of shamanistic tradition among their society, which clashed with the absolute control of the warrior caste. Then add to that one upstart player whose Warlock character had plans to use magical boons from bound demons to polymorph, and thereby “Orcify” the “lesser” races. Conflict abounded within and without. 

     So after years of twists, turns, tense standoffs, secret betrayals, desperate foes, tactics, cruelty, and triumph, we finally laid the game to rest. In the end, prophecy and mutual respect (or ambivalence) led each of the players to cast away their rivalries. They took up swords against their supreme leader; the High Warchief of the clan, and slew him. It was their wish to rebuild orcish society not as a dictatorship, but under the iron fist of a ruling council, where each faction had a check/balance over the other.

        

     Maybe that’s what happens when a bunch of American Humans play a horde of orcs? Or maybe there’s something inherently functional about democratic ideas? Especially when you can enforce that democracy at the tip of a sword (and do away with the whole “civil representation in government” business).

     I’ve kicked around the idea of scribing an “Orc Campaign Setting Guide” for use with D&D Next – most likely as serial supplements posted here at Save Vs. Weekend. I’m not sure if there would be much interest in that or not (since it would be less flexible than the usual material I’m interested in) so let me know what you think.

     Though I’m much busier these days than I was when this blog started 2 years ago (really?!?!) I still intend to keep up with it when time and content permit – especially with the next edition looming over the horizon. You can expect to see more encounters in the coming year, though more than likely they will arrive once, or at best twice a month. I like to be accessible, but thorough in my encounters, and that means taking a little more time on the writing end to save you time on the DMing end.

      Ideas? Comments? Gripes? Please, feel free to share them. As a narcissist I love talking about things I have written and am always happy to hear from you. Another year begins! Gird those loins. Gird them well….

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Editorial

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

      

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Penguincon 2013 After Action Report

     This past Saturday marks my first visit to Penguincon, hosted by Gamers with Jobs. I had been aware of the convention going on here in Cleveland, but assumed I’d be too busy to attend. Wouldn’t you know it, stars more-or-less aligned so that I could go! Board games and the ever incredible “fudge island” here I come! Because of my predilection towards running games (rather than wandering around the con and just having fun like a normal person) I was encouraged to prep a quick one-shot featuring the barely week old release of the D&D Next playtest. 

     Oh right! The newest Playtest! I couldn’t have been happier. Other than my hold-over gripes with feats, this latest (and final!) update to the public playtest is without doubt the best we’ve seen yet.

     In my typical fashion, I prepared copious amounts of glitz and glamor for the occasion. Quality always trumps special effects, I know that intellectually, but my heart screams out to blast a smoke machine down the intricately detailed halls of some modular Dwarven Forge set-dressing. I tried my hand at a few new effects for this very brief adventure.

   

     I know, I know, it’s a game of the imagination. But I just don’t trust the player’s imagination to picture it correctly! They need help! And LED lighting! Wish I had taken the time to do something fancier with the mosaic tile puzzle (stolen and adapted from a similar trap in the old 3rd edition Book of Challenges). Regardless, that particular trap was exactly as vexing as it needed to be both times, not bogging the players down in trial and error, but still forcing them to think sideways.

     This adventure, a variation and expansion on a previously posted encounter, Curse of The Black Jarl, fratured four (five if you count the Forge of Foresight) quick challenges that varied between combat, interaction, and exploration/puzzle solving. Ultimately I think it gave players a good feel for the speedy combat, and the flexibility of the core rules.

     What was cool for me was getting to run two groups of players through the same adventure, using the same party (six pre-generted characters, with six players in each of the two sessions). The groups were able to compare notes afterwards and see who had the simpler solution to puzzles (“Oh, you guys just used the doors as a bridge…we got set on fire a lot.”) At the end of the day there were no complaints about the system getting int he way of the fun, the final boss was tweaked just right, and each character had a place to shine regardless of the player’s level of experience (we had some newbies to D&D!) And once again, my sincere thanks to all those who joined me for the game – glad you liked it!!

     I’ll look into formatting the adventure into a friendly and readable PDF, with map and mosaic tile floor handout. It ran between 2 – 2.5 hours making it ideal for this kind of convention play. I think I’m learning my lessons from D&D Encounters well.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Con Man

     Tomorrow, I’ll be attending this year’s PenguinCon by request in order to run a few sessions of some D&D Next Playtest. I’m pretty pumped about this! The most recent (and final!) public playtest looks fantastic, and I’m really excited to drum up some interest in this new version. Also, I’ve never run a game in a free-for all, public setting like this one, so I’m looking forward to it. Time to hone some of these lighting effects to accompany all these Dwarven Forge catacombs….

I’ll try and grab some pictures of the event, write a little something about the experience, and will likely even share the (very brief!) adventure itself. It’s nothing special, and makes use of some of my favorite old tricks, but we’ll see how it plays to the audience.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: