Saturday, January 31, 2015

Friday recap and XP issues

Two of the wonderful ladies in my gaming group. 

We had our first game session at level two last night for 5E D&D. The group did so well the actually cruised right into level three!  Well, the gaps is XP amounts per level increases from here, so it should slow down.  

I have noticed a problem with the methods in the DMG for determining the challenge of the encounter based on monster XP values. It has to do with large groups like mine (six at the table). 

With a group of six, a single monster is worth half its XP value for the purposes of determining the challenge total. Two monsters are worth their base amount. 

How's that work in practice?  Say a Nothic, a "level 2" monster, is worth 450 XP.  Against six PC's it is only worth 225 XP, making it an "easy" encounter. 

Two Nothics, however, are worth 900 XP, a "hard" encounter. What you can not get is a 450 XP Nothic encounter, its original value!  Weird. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Whither DC Heroes?

With all of the discussion about superhero RPG's here and elsewhere, I rarely see a reference to DC Heroes.

There's a lot of love out there for a lot of older superhero games.  A lot of people really love Champions.  Marvel Comic's old RPG, now often called FASERIP, has apparently a robust online community.  I even saw that Villains & Vigilantes has been re-published.  But every time I seen Barking Alien or Lord Blacksteel or someone else talking about thinking about one superhero RPG or another, DC Heroes never comes up.

Which surprises me, because from what I can tell, the game was ridiculously well-supported and went through three different editions (although on the Wikipedia entry it suggested that each new edition tried to clean up problems in the last one--never a good sign).  While I do not own any of the editions of the core rulebooks, I have managed over the years to score many sourcebooks at used book stores, and they all look pretty well written with lots of character information.

So what gives?  Is the game a dog with fleas when it comes to the rules?  Are DC-based games just cursed to be badly written (I'm looking at you, DC Universe...)  I need my RPG nabobs to fill me in here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


A while back I wrote about the ongoing (still...ongoing...) "Spider-Verse" story arc going on with Marvel Comics.  It is still plodding along, although this week seems to be drawing everything to a head.

My kids and I do still love the whole concept of alternate-universe Spider-Men, or women, or pigs, but if there is one thing that the whole series has illustrated (unintentionally) it is that the Peter Parker of Earth 616 (mainstream Marvel Earth) is the least interesting Spider-Man out there.

Even less than this guy. Who actually admits to being lame in the comic book.

Which might be why Marvel Comics recently announced that they were going to do some sort of collapse/recon/coalesce of their universe in some ground-shaking way this May, making many comic book store owners wonder how they are going to get people to buy the new Silk comic book if the universe might be thrown into disarray five months into the series.

Or, what I've heard kicked around the geek-o-sphere, if this isn't an attempt of Disney/Marvel to make Michael Morales, the Spider-Man from the Ultimates universe, the mainstream Spider-Man, and hence not Sony's intellectual property when it comes to making a movie.  Called, say, Spiderman, which would be of course completely different.

All of this is just because while in the midst of a fantasy RPG campaign, I still miss superheroes.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ghoul problems

So apparently, if I had bothered to look around before designing my intro adventure, I would have learned that ghouls, a pretty standard low-level undead creature, are entirely broken and have been so since playtesting.  There are a gazillion forum posts and blog posts about this, but I'll encapsulate the problem.

  • Ghouls have three attacks, a claw/claw/bite combination at +4/+4/+2
  • Which the attacks are low-level in power, each attack can paralyze an opponent for a full minute if they fail a DC 10 Constitution save.  Being paralyzed means are effectively hors de combat.
  • AC's for PC's are fairly low, and do not improve with PC level advancement, but strictly through equipment.
  • PC's only get a bonus to attribute saving throws if they are proficient in that attribute.  Each class only has two attribute proficiences, usually.  Otherwise, it is just a straight up d20+attribute modifier (usually low because its not the favored one of the class).  That means there's no difference between a 1st and a 5th level PC in this regard (barring magic items that increase AC).
So with three bites at the apple (the apple being a d20 roll of rough 9 or less), ghouls can one-hit KO a PC pretty often.

It's a weird loophole in their "proficiency bonus" rule, which replaced the "half your level" rule from 4E that caused everything to accelerate quickly into very high numbers.

Anyways, just an in-game observation (and apology to my players for hitting them with ghouls and a carrion crawler, which has the exact same mechanic).

Friday Recap: with added bacon!

It is game night again last Friday, and the crew brought in a ton of food. In addition to the pizza there was salad, white chili, brownies, and stuffed jalapeƱo poppers wrapped in bacon!  Thankfully I showed a little restraint, but here's a photo:

The group returned to the dungeon they explored two weeks ago. With the rotating player rules in place, the group ended up being mostly "squishies": a bard, a cleric, a warlock, a sorcerer, a Druid, and a monk. The cleric and the monk ended up at the front of the matching order. After a ghoul and a ghastly nearly took out the entire party, they started playing very cagey. 

One nice moment for me was realizing that the player doing the mapping got turned around and confused. Perfect for creating tension as they soon realize they don't know where they are!  They also did a very cool trick at one point by having the sorcerer cast "light" on a crossbow bolt and then having a PC with dark vision use it to "tag" a monster hiding in the shadows. 

All told a tension-filled night on dungeon crawling as I get the players familiar with their PC's (and up to second level). 

Thanks for reading and good gaming!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Larvate Sublimity

The Larvate Sublimity

  • The nobility of Grimfest
  • Masks and secrets
  • More than human
The first individuals to take advantage of the harvesting of flesh from the Tarrasque quickly realized that, beyond simple meat production, the flesh of the Tarrasque could be used as the core materials of many different kinds of products.  These included potions and other magical items.  Additionally the consumption of the flesh, prepared in certain ways, could prolong the lifespan of a living being, albeit with side effects.  While a person could live far beyond their normal years, the flesh of the Tarrasque was rumored to have mutagenic properties that would distort the body even as it enlivened it.

Most of those original families now called themselves the Larvate Sublimity, and rule of the city of Grimfest as local nobility.  Their research into the Tarrasque has led many of them to become powerful magic users, while others merely content themselves to fantastic wealth.  Almost all of the Larvate Sublimity have taken to wearing masks in public, adding to the rumors that they are no longer fully human.

Helping maintain their control of the economy surrounding the Tarrasque is the Red Glaives.  The Red Glaives are a military unit that both regularly extracts flesh from the monster with their magical polearms and polices the city, although mostly they exist to protect the interested of the Sublimity.  The hooded figures in their blood-red leather armor and long, serrated weapons are a common sight in Grimfest.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Science Fiction with gear

A friend of mine (not part of my gaming group) recently purchased the relatively-new Firefly RPG, which I've talked about here and even run a few sessions of with my group.  Her response on Facebook?

Wow. I thought the Serenity RPG book was bad. The Firefly RPG book is far, far, far, far worse. Did I mention it was worse?
When I asked her why she thought that, this was her response.
They mixed the rules for the game (which I don't use but still) in with the 'Episode Guides' so there's no actual rule section, ability/skill charts, equipment lists, etc. It then goes into how to write your adventures as episodes - just like the TV show. They finally give system maps but they don't give an over 'Verse map so you have no idea how the systems relate in terms of distance and position. Overall it's a poorly designed book for anyone who wants to play the game.
I'm with her on how the writers used the "episode guide" portion of the licensed RPG as a way to introduce the rules.  For example, the writers introduce the idea of "beats," which is when you have to successfully make a series of skill rolls to accomplish a single task, through the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" when Saffron takes a series of actions to attempt to hijack the ship.  You'll find references to "beats" elsewhere in the rules, but no description of it outside of that episode description.  Annoying.

No list of skills in chart format?  Also annoying, although there is a section of chapter where each skill is gone into in detail, and since every skill is on every PC character sheet, that's not such a big deal.

Describing gaming sessions as being akin to TV series episodes?  Who doesn't do that now in their rulebooks these days?  And since you're emulating a TV series, even more natural.

But now to the two things that really interested me.  The lack of equipment lists and the sketchy nature of intergalactic geography.  Let's take the map thing first.

In Firefly the series, there wasn't a lot made about where things were in comparison to what.  Firefly had a push-a-button-and-it-goes thing going when it comes to space travel that was really reminiscent of Star Wars.  How are we traveling faster than light?  We just are.  What mattered in the series was how advanced or primitive the world was in conjunction to the 'Verse.  The closer you were to the middle, the higher the technology (and possibly more oppressive the government).  It was a socio/economic/political spectrum that made each planet what it was, not how they were physically one to another laterally.  As for actually traveling, it seemed to me that it sort of took as long as it took, as my father used to say on our driving vacations.  Moreover, since it seemed like the writers themselves didn't really care, trying to extrapolate from the source material seems speculative at best.

Although when it comes to not giving a flying fig about relative intergalactic geography, nothing beats these guys.
But the gear issue really interests me, because I noticed it when I got the rulebook myself.  Most science-fiction RPG's dedicate some portion of the rules to equipment: guns, armor, ships, sensors, portable computers, robots, etc.  There's a "science" in "science-fiction" that seems to dictate some way in which technology is interfacing with humanity (or whatever ersatz human is involved).

Firefly, on the other hand, despite its starships and biological augmentations, is really a Western set in space.  It's a romanticized story about freedom and ethics and family and personal character with a hearty splash of class warfare thrown in.  The show deliberately thumbed their noses at the whole technology thing by using spaceships to transport adult livestock, rather than, say, frozen embryos that would be much more efficient in terms of space and cost.

For me personally, I'm at the point in my RPG-life that the chapter in the rulebook about equipment has become a big turn-off for me.  Why?  Because so many of my sci-fi RPG experiences have been players scrambling around for bigger and better gear.  Do a job, earn money, buy a bigger gun.  Of course, since the GM wants to continuing challenge you, he'll just pit you against guys with better armor, so ultimately you have the Zero Sum Gain issue FATE talks about in their rulebook.  I like equipment when it helps PC's do more interesting things, but I'm not a big gun-porn fan who gets all excited about the possibility of mounting a grenade launcher under the barrel of my assault rifle.  The most recent edition of a Star Wars RPG was atrocious in this regard.  It went from a movie that just had "blasters" to an equipment list that got into every electrified brass-knuckle and ceramic chest plate you could dream up.  It's one of the reasons why I like Star Trek as an RPG format, because you just say to the PC's, "here: you and everyone else can have a pistol that disintegrates people.  Now that we've established how bad an idea it is to get into a gunfight, let's continue..."

In our gaming group, I feel like Firefly tanked for two reasons.  First, the gaming group was so large than the lack of PC differentiation at a rules level meant that everyone was stepping on everyone else's character concept's proverbial toes.  Second, Fifth Edition D&D came out, and my fantasy-loving gaming group jumped on it.  It's too bad, because it was the first real foray into science fiction (or futuristic Western) that the group had really done, and I was hoping to see what a new genre could do.

What are your thoughts about lots of equipment, and how it relates to science-fiction RPG's.  Comments welcome.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Open Forum: individual or group XP

So I'm running a large group, and off the bat we have the issue that out of the first three sessions, three players will only be making one of them, but seven players will be making two.  Since the six players who made it to the first session are already almost at level two, it is pretty obvious that at least initially those who for whatever reason miss a session or two will fall behind.

Since D&D is so driven by XP awards and level advancement, this could really become an issue.  I feel like I have two options.

One, I could just let people garner XP for each session they make it, and let the dice fall where they may.  It's entirely possible that lower-level PC's will catch up with their teammates because they are getting a disproportionately bigger piece of the XP pie, relatively speaking.  (Does that make sense?  If a level 1 PC survives a fight with a CR 3 opponent with his level 3 teammates, his share of the XP will advance him to level 2 more quickly than the level 3 teammates will advance towards level 4.)

If it doesn't work out that way, then you have what I will from now on call "Steve Jinks Syndrome."

Do you know how hard it was for me to even find a cast picture on the internet with Jinksy in it?  He never made it to the rest of the party's level.
Option two, I have a running "party xp" amount where the entire group rises at the same time like ships in the tide.  Each gaming session, whatever XP the group gets, divided by the number of players in that session, becomes the new total for the entire group.  That means that PC's whose players can't make sessions for whatever reason can still advance at the same level.  There's balance there, at the cost of a certain naturalist/realist element.

Option three (not mentioned in the first count), I just abandon XP awards entirely and advance the entire group whenever I feel like it, which is what 13th Age does.

What do you, faithful readers, think?  For those who game, how do you handle this?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cooking for Game Night: Tarragon Sesame Chicken Breasts

As I have mentioned before, my gaming group gathers for dinner before we game.  It's a nice way to check in and do a lot of socializing before we start gaming.  Usually I provide the main course while others bring side dishes, salads, chips, soda, and beer.  Sometimes I get lazy and just order pizza, but often I try to cook something nice.  It is a way to be hospitable, eat better, and often eat less expensively as well.

Last Friday, I tried out a new recipe for Tarragon Sesame Chicken.  Here it is:

2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
12 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, tenders removed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted (or non-stick spray)
2 1/2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
1 tbls dried tarragon
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted

1. In a 2 gallon zipper top plastic bag, combine buttermilk, paprika, salt, and pepper, and stir or shake until blended.  Add the chicken to coat evenly.

At this point you can let it sit refrigerated as long as overnight.  A good way to cut down on prep time on game night!

2. Drain the chicken breasts and discard the marinade.

3. Brush two 13" by 9" baking pans with melted butter (or non-stick spray like I used).  In another shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, tarragon, and sesame seeds, stirring to blend.

4. Dip the chicken into melted butter, then the crumbs, making sure it is totally covered.  Transfer the chicken to the prepared baking dish and drizzle the remaining melted butter over the top.

5. Preheat the over to 350 degrees F.  Bake the chicken until golden brown and cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes.  Serve hot or cold.

The recipe can feed 10-12, which is probably more than you need, but leftovers are always good for the next day!

Friday Game Night: First session for the 5E campaign

We played the first session of our new D&D 5E campaign last night, set in the city of Grimfest (detailed in the last few blog posts).  There were a lot of logistical elements at work here, so let me break it all down.

First, I have ten players in the campaign, which is far too many for the table.  What I've done is set up three gaming sessions a month on the calendar, and asked everyone to pick two of them, with a general cap of six or seven per session.  So far for January, that has worked for most people, although at least two could only make one of the sessions.  I'm not sure how to handle experience points for the people who can't make two sessions a month and having them get behind the others, but I'll puzzle that out later.

The group's composition:

  • half-orc paladin
  • elf monk
  • human rogue
  • tiefling warlock
  • dragonborn sorcerer
  • elf druid
  • dwarf ranger
  • half-elf bard
  • human cleric
  • undecided
The first six played in the session last night.  They got to wander the city of bit, take in some of the sights, and get introduced to the ruling nobility, the Larvate Sublimity.  Eventually two mountain men approached them to see if they were willing to explore a strange subterranean tomb the two men found out far from civilization in return for a share of the treasure.  The group agreed and set out for the first dungeon exploration.

Now, the tomb of the 99 Mad Monks (which is where they were headed) was created by me using the book Central Casting: Dungeons, which is a great resource for generating random dungeons of the old-school variety.  The downside?  It's a random dungeon of the old school variety, meaning lots of apparently pointless, meandering tunnels and vacant rooms.  Neither of those things is really de rigueur for the current fantasy RPG scene, however, and for a group that was largely raised on 4E three-room dungeon delves, it was a bit of a shock.  By "shock" I mean, "some grumbling and getting bored."

But here's the thing.  I don't like designing dungeon maps. I don't have a knack for it.  I'm more than half tempted to start ripping off ones online rather than put the effort into it.  I like the vaguely random feel of Central Casting: Dungeons, but whatever my gifts as a GM might be, trying to figure out which 20' by 40' room goes where isn't it.

Also humorous?  I stock the dungeon with a bit of variety in the way of monsters, and the group wanders to every room with skeletons in it.  That got boring for them after a while too, but that's player agency for you.

Another quick 5E observation.  Lucky hits kill 1st level PC's.  Two of them dropped below zero last night and had to be healed up.  That's a new thing for them too.

It started to drag near the end, so we concluded the first session.  Turns out the group had nearly made its way through first level, and will likely level up in their next session.

According to the post-game review, the two best things that happened were the druid rushing into a room of skeletons because she was first on initiative, and then realizing to her chagrin that the skeletons were second, and the rogue ducking back out of the dungeon at the very beginning and killing both the mountain men.  She got lucky--their bodies happened to be gnawed on by two bears who were in the area and they were credited with killing them.

A good start, maybe not a great start, but a good start.  Hopefully the campaign will hit its stride soon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Introduction to Grimfest, Part Two

Continuing with my introduction to my 5E campaign...

The City of Grimfest

  • Indifferent to peril
  • The monster within
  • An economy of flesh

It is not clear if it was the magicians to halted the path of the Tarrasque or others who realized that the miraculously regenerative abilities of the monster could be exploited by harvesting its flesh.  The Tarrasque became a never-ending supply of meat for the region, and a community rapidly grew around it.

Beyond just carving off chunks of flesh for food, the body of the Tarrasque could also be farmed for scales, claws, horns, and other body parts which were used for the raw materials for armor, magical unguents, and other things conceived by the early entrepreneurs who formed the backbone of Grimfest's society today.

An Introduction to Grimfest, Part One

Author's note:
I'm launching a new D&D 5E campaign with my Friday night group, and decided the best way to give the backstory would be to just write about it here and link to it through the group's private Facebook page (some time I'll talk about how our group uses Facebook).  All of the material for the campaign will have the label "Grimfest" in the post.  So, let's begin and the beginning...

It would be impossible to tell the tale of the origins of the city of Grimfest without talking about the Tarrasque.

The Tarrasque

  • Living Mountain of Rage
  • Virtually Indestructible
  • Grisly Cornucopia for the City

The origins of the Tarrasque are a matter of myth and speculation.  Avatar of an angry god?  Magical experiment gone horribly awry?  Regardless of where it came from, the Tarrasque has moved across the surface of the planet for centuries, a living cataclysm in whose wake history has shifted.  Empires have been torn asunder, mountain ranges levels, new seas gouged out of the earth.  No one has known if any intelligence has ever guided its path.  But almost a hundred years ago the tarrasque was moving through the valley when a group of powerful magi impaled the indestructible creature with nine epic-level rods of immobility.

The tarrasque was pinned like a gigantic butterfly on a corkboard, It heaved and thrashed but its colossal strength was unable to dislodge itself from the rods thrust into its flesh and bone.

And there it has crouched, in agony and unimaginable frustration, for the last one hundred years...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

First Post of 2015: Who the Heck am I?

I'm willing to steal a good idea from Adam over at Barking Alien, namely taking the time on the first post of the year to introduce the readers to the author of this particular blog.

My name's Rob, with one b, not two, but I'll answer to both.
The origins of my blogger "handle" comes from way back when I was active some forums using a name that had "WQ" in it.  When I started blogging, I added my more familiar name "WQ" to my real name "Rob."  But Blogger wanted six letters in a name, not five, so I added the second "b" from my last name.  Thus, WQRobb was born.

I'm in my mid-forties, and live in Lawrence, Kansas, the "Berkeley of the Midwest" and home to the University of Kansas.  It's a great city to live in, and probably the only city in Kansas I'd want to live in for that matter.

This is actually my second blogger blog, an offshoot of The Army Collector, where I originally wrote about wargaming, miniature painting, and terrain building.

I've been running an RPG session at my house every other Friday for the last four years.  I started with three players (Todd, John, and my son Mac).  The group has slowly grown to ten people now, between the ages of 11 and 50.  I'm blessed that all of them are good friends.

We have dinner together before gaming so we can socialize and catch up with one another.  Usually I cook the main course and the players bring something (like beer).

Rachel carefully monitors the shenanigans of some of the younger players.
The group has played mostly Dungeons & Dragons, although we had a lengthy campaign of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and a similarly lengthy Mass Effect RPG campaign run by John.  With the release of 5E we are back to D&D.

When I started the blog I was very into the more OSR-oriented games, where maps written on graph paper were the norm, hence the title of the blog "Graph Paper Games."  After a while I switched it up to "graphs, paper, and games" to reflect a slightly wider focus.

When it comes to RPG's I like, I'm a dilettante.  I like fantasy RPG's, but I also really love superheroes, and consistently enjoy science-fiction.  I own a gazillion of them from the last twenty to thirty years, and am way overdue to cull some of them down.

On an unrelated note, when I'm not working or doing RPG's or wargaming, I'm also on a men's roller derby league in Kansas City, the Cowtown Butchers.


What's this blog about?

Finding ways to get new people into gaming.  I think that in-person, tabletop RPG's are a lot of fun and have a lot to offer, and I like talking about how to get new people to the gaming table.

Externally processing my thoughts about RPG's.  I think a lot about gaming, just as a way to keep my somewhat overwrought brain occupied.  In order to not have it just rattle around interminably, I write it down.  As a small side note, I'm aware that this is the least popular kind of post.

Helpful and inspirational material.  NPC's, maps, adventure ideas, etc.  I would actually like to create more of this kind of stuff for the blog, since I suspect it is the most interesting.

Anyways, that's a bit about who I am to get the year rolling.  Thanks for reading, and have a great new year!

Over at Strange Vistas