Friday, November 25, 2016

Heroes Against Darkness review

For my birthday I picked up a print copy of Heroes Against Darkness by Justin Halliday.  Why, might you ask, would I spent hard currency on a book that is offered as a .pdf for free?

First, I like real books.  I read them better, and can do so in places other than in front of a computer monitor.

Second, it's worth it.  Beats me if Halliday makes any money off the sale or not, but I hope he did, because offering this game for free was a very generous gift to the gaming world. Heroes Against Darkness is worth owning. (At least if you are me.  Your mileage may vary.)

Heroes Against Darkness is, by its own admission, a "fantasy heartbreaker," which is the usually derogatory term used by someone's homegrown version of Dungeons & Dragons.  If I had to summarize HAD's genetic heritage, I'd call it an early edition of D&D done using Fourth Edition mechanics.  If that early edition had 11 character classes.

HAD has the standard D&D stat layout (Strength, Dexterity, etc.) and the archtypical fantasy races (human, dwarf, elf, etc.) with the usual add-ons like half-elf and half-orc.  Add to that an ersatz tiefling race and you have the idea.  The eleven PC classes mostly involve expansions of the core D&D classes.  There's a warrior, barbarian, and berzerker (separate from barbarian) as the martial classes.   Rogue and hunter for the stealthy guys.  Five different magic-wielding classes to reflect the typical schools of magic: necromancy, healing, blasting stuff, enchantment, and protection.  And finally one cross-over martial/healer that's not called "cleric" but "hospitaler."  That's not a bad breakout.  The magic classes are by design specialized, which is good because you can't really specialize in a class itself.  What makes this feel a little older-edition while still like 4E is that as your PC advances in his or her class, new abilities are unlocked (like 4E), but you don't get any choices about what those abilities are.  All berzerkers get the same tricks at 3rd level, or 6th, or whatever.  That will likely be a turn-off to players who like to game the class system to come up with whatever "character build" they are seeking, but lately that's been my biggest turn-off in recent D&D editions.

Another Fourth Edition quality that HAD has that I like is its use of creating encounters using a budget of XP that is spread over multiple monsters who have different roles, like Brutes or Casters.  I liked the "monster ensemble" quality of 4E encounters because they gave mobs of orcs, et al diversity instead of being eight carbon clones of each other.  They also helped negate the advantage PC groups tended to have in their strength of numbers.  Where Halliway really shines in this edition, and arguably his best game feature, is that he provides an extensive framework for building your own custom monsters, including scaling them up by encounter level and monster type.  The process seems much more organic than Pathfinder's system of adding PC levels.  If you have any craving to create your own monsters but weren't sure how to build them using a ruleset, HAD is right for you.

The magic system is the biggest break from D&D, insofar as they eschew the Vancian "fire and forget" spell structure and instead use a system of "amina points" which are burned to cast spells.  That follows a lot of non-D&D fantasy systems,

Finally, it's worth reading the introduction.  Most of the time I skip these, but this one is brief (a quality exhibited throughout the book).  In it Halliway gives probably the best argument for the existence of "fantasy heartbreakers."  I was thinking about this essay of his just a few days ago when I read a blogger engaging in some pretty blatant "badwrongfun" ranting about how other gamers get it wrong because they don't like what he likes.  I won't re-phrase it here--it's worth the time it takes to download a free game and read it for yourself.  But the bottom line is that Heroes Against Darkness hits a lot of my sweet spots when it comes to heartbreakers, and for a great price, .pdf or hardcover.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The role of the GM in resolving player conflict

On the drive to school today I had a really good conversation with my two kids about gamemastering (which is a sign I'm raising them right).  The question was, if a player is having a legitimate problem with another player at the gaming table, should the GM intervene?  My kids had two very different responses.

One said yes, because as the GM you have made a social contract with the players that they will have a good experience and be treated with respect.  If one player is giving the other a hard time, it's your job to say something to the offending player about how that isn't acceptable behavior.

The other one said no, because that's triangulation, which isn't healthy, mature social behavior.  If the offended player comes to you complaining about the behavior of another player, you should tell them to take it up with the player one-on-one.

I had my own answer, but what do you think?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Friday Night Recap: The D&D Postlude

I felt it would be good and fair to run one more session of the Grimfest D&D campaign (aka "The Bad News Bears") in order to resolve a loose thread of a plot point: the fact that the group had never managed to find the missing fiance' of their elven druid, Calidis.  So I dusted off my GM screen and ran one more session for the Bears.

A drawing of the angel descending.  There's a lot going on in this picture.
The PC's managed to trace a clue indicating that Calidis' fiance' was being held by an efreet in his palace on the Prime Material plane.  After clashing with fire giants, fire elementals, and even young red dragons, the PC's were able to rescue him (and possible his "love the one you're with" girlfriend).

I don't would to sound like I'm tooting my own horn, but the adventure had lots of madcap action, problem-solving, and dramatic tension.  Oh, and a cleric who had an 11% chance of having their goddess intervene rolled an 09, hence the angel reinforcement depicted above.  It reminded me of why I love running the fantasy genre (and why I should get back to it soon).

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The 500th Post

A bit of a benchmark for the blog--500 posts about RPG's and associated topics.  It's good timing, because I'm about to retake the GM screen in my group and kick off a new campaign, namely Champions.

It's been a long time since I ran this game, and a big change for the group.  My plan is to commit to doing a six-session "mini-series" as a test run for the game.  At that point I will take stock, talk to the group, and then begin to either plot out a larger campaign or change gears and go with something else.
Before that, however, I'm doing a "victory lap" with the 5E campaign by running one more session of that game.  For awhile now it's been run by the other Rob, but when he wrapped up his adventure arc there was still a PC plot thread left dangling.  In the past I haven't sweated those too much, but this was a big deal for this young player (the first PC she's ever made) so I'm coming back to D&D for the sole purpose of making sure she sees her story to its end.
It may be the  influence of Doctor Strange, but the first three PC's for the Champions game all have mystical origins: a straight-up sorcerer, a half-demon luchadore wrestler, and a person wearing a magical garb that has various powers (similar to Ragman from the television series Arrow).  That's a big shift from the alien/pseudoscience themes dominant in earlier supers campaigns I have run, and helps me find a direction.
Thanks for hanging with me for 500 posts.  I hope I make your reading experience worthwhile.

Over at Strange Vistas