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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.

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

 

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The Thing in The Pit

This encounter is intended for 3-5 characters of 2nd level and makes use of current playtest/5th Edition data as of July 6th 2014


This one is a quickie: a room I designed for a one-shot dungeon crawl that unfortunately got passed over. Some of the party will be forced to fend off the slapping appendages of an abhorrent otherworldly creature, while the rest of the team attempts to breach the entrance to the dungeon before the lot of them are crushed. Make certain to have a player character on hand who can pick locks – or else this encounter is far from being fair.

Map

                                

Features of the Area

    Terrain: Each large block of dungeon floor is 10 feet by 10 feet. Any 5 foot squares marked with a star are considered difficult terrain

   The Pit: This yawning chasm reaches far down into the Underdark, where a massive, amorphous beast from the Far Realm is trapped. The drop is 20 feet where tight cracks and crevices leech deeper into the ground. The elastic tentacles have wormed their way up through these openings. Because the uneven walls of the pit provide good handholds, no check is necessary to climb back up (the writhing tentacles may pose their own challenges, however)

   Treasures: The locations of the two treasure caches are indicated by gold sunbursts on the map (see “Rewards” below)

   Exit Door: This sturdy steel door is a half-foot thick and incredibly heavy. It is shut up tight by three identical locks. Passage to and through the door is blocked by a toppled over column (see below).

      •Each lock requires a DEX DC 10 check to open, and some appropriate lock-pick must be used (a set of Thief Tools would suffice, and Proficiency in such tools grants advantage as normal). 

   Broken Columns: One of these collapsed columns has fallen in front of the locked exit door. With the stone ruins blocking the way, it will be impossible to unlock the door.

      •The column is very heavy, and another party member will be needed to lift it, if not completely move it out of the way. A STR DC 10 check is sufficient to lift the column up, allowing access to the lock. This same character can keep the column elevated for several rounds without having to make another check, but must use their action on their turn to do so. A STR DC 15 check will allow the character to shove the column aside and out of the way for good.

Monsters

The otherworldly abomination is far too massive and durable to be killed by a few paltry, low-level heroes. Fortunately for them, the beast cannot drag its squamous bulk through the caverns below to reach them. Instead, it has extended several of its slimy, mouth-covered tentacles to probe for prey. Though each individual tentacle can be destroyed with some ease, more will take their place, and the creature itself will take little damage. Is the monster regenerating these tentacles, or does it just have a near inexhaustible number on its body? That’s a question bets left unanswered.

•x(# of PCs) Tentacles (40 EXP each)

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     Beast Tentacle (Medium Aberration – Limb)

AC 12 (Vulnerable: Slashing)

HP 8

   Available Actions:

Slam  (Within 15 feet of any part of the pit; one creature) +3 to hit (1d6+3 bludgeoning damage); automatic hit and +1d6 bludgeoning damage if target is already restrained

Trip  (Within 15 feet of any part of the pit; up to two creatures) DEX save DC 12 or target(s) are knocked prone

Ensnare (Within 15 feet of any part of the pit; one creature) +4 vs. STR or DEX (target’s choice); on hit target is restrained and may attempt the check again to escape as an action. A tentacle that has ensnared a target in this way may deal it 1d6+3 piercing damage as an action

   Traits:

•Each time a beast tentacle is destroyed, roll 1d4-1 (minimum of 1) – a new tentacle replaces it after that number of rounds has passed.

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Tactics

The tentacles have supernatural blindsight, and the best has enough intelligence to try and interrupt any character attempting to escape. Otherwise, they try to kill and eat every PC (like you do, when you are an amorphous beast)

Rewards

In the nook in the north part of the room, the skeleton of an unfortunate explorer (wounded by the beast and unable to escape) is crumpled against the wall. Amid the ragged ruin of bones and torn clothes are x1 Healing Potion, a silver ring worth 10 gp, and three raw, uncut gems worth a total of 100 gp

One of the water basins in the eastern section of the dungeon is home to the formation of some uncut precious stones. A STR DC 10 check (advantage if a dagger, prybar, or other tool is used) will free the gems, which can be sold for 50 gp

 

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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…

       

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Editorial

 

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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….

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Editorial

 

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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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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.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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