Monday, October 15, 2018

The Heist Begins

This post may contain spoilers to the D&D Adventure "Waterdeep: Dragon Heist"

I think the last time I used a pre-generated adventure was the prior time I ran D&D a couple of years ago, and that was an old Goodman Games module for 3E that I updated for 5E (which wasn't without its challenges).  But with several of our regular GM's in my gaming group unavailable, but my still having a lot on my own plate, I thought I would consider doing it again, only this time trying out one of WotC's up-to-date publications.

After doing some research, I decided on their most recent product, Waterdeep: Dragon's Heist.  I'm a big fan of "caper" movies and the whole premise seemed to be a nice change from your typical murder-hoboing.  The whole adventure takes place in a city, there's a ton of investigation and roleplaying, and it serves as the prequel to their release of the latest iteration of the Undermountain megadungeon, which is being released in November.

We will be playing our third session tonight, having gotten our way through the first chapter of five in two sessions.  Each chapter is supposed to roughly correspond to a level advancement, so the PC's are supposed to be second level at the start of chapter two, etc.  The first chapter introduces the PC's to some major characters, introduces the main plot, and gives the PC's a chance to both do some investigating and dungeon crawling, albeit in a lead-you-by-the-nose sort of way.  One of the dungeon encounter areas, for example, has one clearly identifiable entrance (the others are much harder to locate) and doesn't truly fork, leading the PC's eventually to the boss fight of the level.  For an old school guy like me, that seems heavy-handed, but I'm not sure the players even noticed.

The second chapter is the most unusual for me, because it actually lacks any kind of crawling, dungeon or otherwise.  The entire chapter covers the PC's wandering around a neighborhood in Waterdeep, meeting people on the street, and being elicited to complete certain quests.  The quests themselves are not combat related, but based on skills, e.g. "Make three DC 12 Intimidation checks to succeed."  Many of these are roleplaying-related, making me once again question the relationship between players acting out what is happening versus just rolling dice.  Almost all the combat encounters are strictly the consequence of players actively seeking them, and are rarely advantageous given that they are basically living in a fantasy suburb at the time (the law is nothing to mess around with in Waterdeep).  For some players this will be a welcome change of pace to a D&D game, but others may find this to be a weird slow-down in the pace of the game, especially given that chapter two is supposed to cover over a month of time in the campaign world.

I'll keep you updated on how the campaign progresses without giving away too much of the plot.  Thanks for reading, and comments always welcome!

The End of the World 2018

It has been years since I joined my Ohio friends for their annual three-day RPG micro-con called "End of the World" or EOW.  They have literally been doing this event for 29 years, and have it down to a science.  This past weekend was EOW, and I was able to make it out to Ohio to join them for three days of gaming one-shots all featuring their homegrown (and somewhat suspect) system.

One of the cool things about EOW is that you can end up with a pretty wide variety of scenarios, each run by a different member of the group.  The first one was a post-apocalyptic adventure where a group of villagers have to travel beyond the valley into the greater, scarier world to try to find a cure for a plague killing off their tribe.  The second was set in 1959, with the PC's being a combination of FBI and CIA agents and the staff of a powerful congressman trying to prevent an attack by satanic Nazis on Nikita Kruschev's visit to Disneyland in California (a visit which nearly happened, but was called off for security reasons back then--Google it).  The third was a more wargame-ish scenario where the PC's played a team of Morrow Project agents sent back in time to prevent another faction from changing the history of Europe's colonization of the Americas (we can debate the ethics of this story later, but I found it a little troubling given that we were doing it on Columbus/Indigenous People's Day).

A few things of real note about this group.  As I mentioned before, this group has been gathering once a year for the past 29 years, which is remarkable in my mind.  They also have always been a much larger group than normal: each of the sessions at EOW had nine or ten players.  Keeping a group together that long and with those kinds of numbers is a testimony to both commitment and intention when it comes to maintaining a gaming group.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Dark Matter, by Phil Cho

I've featured Phil Cho's work on my blog before.  I'm a big fan, and frequently am inspired by his work to create superheroes or villains for my own campaigns. I thought it was only right, and a great way to make a present for my daughter, to commission him to draw her character in our Champions Now campaign. 

So, presenting, Dark Matter!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 5: Villain Team Up!

As the days pass at Waterford College, Jackie begins to develop the idea of her heroic identity, "Ultraviolet" and how she might use it to further her own agenda.  But before that can get too far, Professor Richter introduces a guest to the Guided Studies class: a supervillain named the White Flame.  The White Flame is part of Raven, an elitist group of European nobility committed to reestablishing monarchies throughout the continent "since it appears democratic rule as failed."  Richter explains that while most of the students already are affiliated with supervillain organizations, part of the what the Guided Studies program does is help young supervillains build networks with other factions.  As such, the students will be proving themselves to the While Flame by stealing the most impressive object they can find within 24 hours.

The White Flame, art by Phil Cho
Jackie is surprised when she is approached after class by her old classmate/rival Bronze Behemoth, who suggests that they team up and do something truly reckless: steal from the White Flame himself!

Their plan is simple: follow the White Flame to wherever he is staying in the area.  Bronze Behemoth will engage the flame in some fanboy/networking conversation while Dark Matter tries to get into his room to steal something of worth.  The next day, they give it back.

It's a good plan, until an UNTIL strike team surreptitiously approaching the hotel where the White Flame is staying.  Bronze Behemoth hustles the White Flame out of the hotel bar, then holds off the UNTIL agents until he can get away.  Dark Matter, on the other hand, is confronted in the White Flame's hotel room by Starburst, an UNTIL-linked superhero.

Bronze Behemoth is able to handle the UNTIL agents, but Dark Matter finds herself in a desperate flight across the city, finally shaking Starburst and making her escape.

The next day, the students present their "homework."  Dark Elf has managed to steal some precious gems from a local jeweler.  The Face used his emotion control abilities to easily steal some priceless artwork.  Bedlam turns over a bizarre collection of toenail clippings she stole from someone she found on the internet.  Bronze Behemoth and Dark Matter give the White Flame back his briefcase, but the White Flame's admiration is largely given to Behemoth for rescuing him from capture.

The big surprise comes from Ronin, however.  He turns over the electro-shock gun of Captain Hollywood, whom Ronin says was defeated by him in single combat.  The superhero, Ronin smugly states, has been beaten soundly and left to die in a car destined for the crusher in a junkyard.  Jackie is left pondering if she should intervene on behalf of the luckless superhero.

GM's notes:

First, I was interviewed by Ron Edwards, the creator of Champions Now, about the Dark Matter campaign I'm doing with my daughter.  You can see the interview here.

Second, this session has a special "guest star."  My son was visiting from college and sat in on the session, playing the character Bronze Behemoth.  My children have gamed together a lot over the  years, and my daughter misses having him around, so this was a real treat.  My son played the normally oafish Bronze Behemoth with a little more savvy than is typical for the character, making him a more complex and sinister figure as a result.  Behemoth is one of the few characters that transferred from my daughter's "canon" of previous Dark Matter stories, mostly to serve as a familiar and annoying foil.

Finally, since I may be getting more than the typical trickle of traffic here, I should given credit to the artist Phil Cho, whose deviantart page can be found here.  I found him looking for pictures I could use for my various superhero games and really liked his colorful, clean, youthful style.  I've shamelessly printed off pictures to show my daughter of various NPC's, even cribbed the interesting name now and then, strictly for personal use.   He does a lot of commission work, and I finally decided to ask him to do a commission of Dark Matter for me as a gift for my daughter.  Once it is done, I'll post it here.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 4: Enter Ultraviolet

My daughter and I played our fourth session of the solo Champions Now campaign set in my daughter's "Dark Matter Universe" featuring the novice super-villain/unwilling superhero Dark Matter.  In the last session Dark Matter had ended up fighting alongside local superhero to fight a monster threatening her college campus.  In the process, she's being touted as a new superhero in the community.

In this session, Jackie (Dark Matter's secret identity) finds herself being asked out on a date by fellow supervillain-in-training Joseph Kane, aka Ronin.  Later Kane calls to say he hasn't seen his roommate, another supervillain called The Face.  Jackie, who has always had a bit of a soft spot for The Face, scours the campus, eventually finding him in conversation with two mysterious figures who are clearly bullying him into being part of a job.

Ronin, by Phil Cho

After doing some research and talking to some other people, Jackie finds out that The Face is part of a Mexican gang of assassins called the Asesinos, who are led by a vampire called Stalker.  She talks The Face and discovers he is supposed to be part of an assassination attempt on a visiting dignitary from the Middle East, along with two members of the Asesinos, Tombstone Kid and The Maine.  The Face, however, has been forced into a life of crime since his childhood, and worries for his life should the job go badly.

The Face, by Phil Cho

Jackie decides to formalize her "fake" superhero identity, calling herself "Ultraviolet" and getting a new costume.  She surveys the public arrival of the dignitary, drawing the attention of Captain Hollywood, who welcome the new "hero."  The two of them spot Tombstone Kid and the Maine, and leap into action to foil the plan.  Both heroes take a lot of damage from the Tombstone Kid (while The Maine turns out to be a complete failure).

In the end, Captain Hollywood suggests that Ultraviolet make herself scarce while he handles the authorities.  Back at Waterford College The Face thanks Jackie for helping him out of a bad situation.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 3: Plague

Between the last gaming session of Champions Now with my daughter and this one, she hatched a pretty inventive plan to help Dark Matter out of her mistaken identity problem.  Because the mysterious attacker on Waterford College's campus had similar powers to a character from her graphic novel, a young man named Plague, she decided to ask that character (as basically an NPC) to help her out.

The plan was this: Plague would show up, shoot a video claiming that the attacks on the campus were the work of a rival, and that he had attacked Captain Hollywood in an attempt to hunt down the monster.  Furthermore, he would state he was giving up on the chase and leaving town (hopefully getting Hollywood to stop looking for Dark Matter).  In turn, Dark Matter would continue looking for the monster.

Things, however, did not go as planned.  Plague was captured by Captain Hollywood leaving town.  And when Dark Matter freed Plague from UNTIL custody, Captain Hollywood managed to find the monster but ultimately lost to him, getting most of his strength drained away.  Now the monster was on a rampage against the police, and Dark Matter and Plague teamed up to stop him (mostly from wrecking the college and ultimately exposing the Guided Studies program).  They were able to defeat him, and he was revealed to be a transformed Professor Throckmorton, Dark Matter's mythology professor.

In the epilogue, Plague thanked Dark Matter for helping build his reputation, and alluded to a big plan in the future being hatched by his brothers.  Dark Elf bragged at the next class session that she was responsible for transforming Throckmorton as punishment for embarrassing her in class, and in the closing scene Dark Matter was surprised to see a news report about a new superhero in the city, namely herself...
Ashley Mason, aka Dark Elf, in her human form.  Art by Phil Cho

Dark Elf in her supernatural form.  Art by Phil Cho

Friday, July 20, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 2: Mistaken Identity

My one-on-one Champions Now campaign with my daughter had its second adventure.  It began with her PC, Jackie "Dark Matter" Lee having the usual college experience: suffering through boring classes with her frenemy Ashley "Dark Elf" Mason, awkwardly talking to a boy she likes (Ben "the Face" Rodriguez), and fending off the unwanted advances of another supervillain classmate (Joseph "Ronin" Kane).

But all the teen drama is interrupted when several students at Waterford College are found suffering from a mysterious malady that leaves them weak and sickly.  Jackie suspects her friend Plaque from her old school, but discovers a strange, tentacled monster is stalking the campus instead.  Unfortunately Jackie, in her Dark Matter costume, is spotted near one of the victims by Captain Hollywood, a minor local superhero.  Now she is a prime suspect in the attacks and dangerously close to having the Guided Studies program exposed.

Captain Hollywood, by Phil Cho
I'm still enjoying the rules-light approach.  A handful of skills manage to cover most of what you come across in a superhero campaign.  There are still a few things about the rules that I am getting used to, like only have one kind of Multipower slot (for those who know the game--it's the flexible kind) and not being able to adjust Endurance or Stun with points, just the base characteristics.

Anyways, this game is picking up steam. 

The Heist Begins