Friday, 27 September 2013

Grandolf's first foray: Protect Those Flowers!

I have read other blogs about parents playing roleplaying games with their kids - and particularly, with their daughters.  I recall one where the adventure seemed to be focused mostly around riding ponies and shopping, which, whilst I can accept that some might find that fun, I am thoroughly glad I don't have to partake in.  Indeed, when Ali and I sat down to take her character "Grandold the Hobbit Wizard" on his first adventure, her first two questions were right to the point: "Are we going to fight something?", and "What can we fight?"

Effort was made to tie in the oncoming desired battle with some form of story, but all Ali was interested in was hitting something - and, in short time, that 'something' became a green dragon.  With a little convincing, I scaled it down to a few green drakes, used the stats for the kobold mooks, and told her that she was after them because they kept eating her flowers.  Ali was on board with that, with an encouraging "yeah!", and so Grandolf and Denver (the dwarven ranger I built to accompany her character) set out to deal with these pests.

The first roll of the session was a natural 20 for Grandolf's initiative, to which she cheered and demanded a high five.  Strangely, from then on, it was the hopes that we would each roll the same number (not necessarily a high number) that excited her.  I am still playing around with how to balance 13th Age combats, so this first battle was decidedly easy; the three mooks did not stand long against two characters and their friendly wolf.  That in itself wasn't a surprise - I didn't want poor Grandolf to go down on his first outing.  And it was most likely a good choice, too, as Ali's grasp of tactics didn't really match up to her eagerness for battle. It's not every day you see a wizard leap into melee, zap the enemy once, and then turn to bludgeoning them over the head with his staff...

Ali was keen to heal up again once the combat was over, even though Grandolf had barely been scratched. Again, she called for battle, and her desire for the green dragons had not been quenched, so I grabbed a large mini, and looked up the stats for a real green dragon.  Level could be dangerous?

The second skirmish started with us both rolling natural 4's for of course, Ali had to run around the house, telling everyone how wonderful it was that we both rolled the same number.  She had no care that it meant the dragon was able to bite us before we could react - we had rolled the same number, so more high fives were called for!

As it turned out, low rolling was the flavour of the encounter, and I was beginning to wonder if the green dragon had any bite, when it finally started triggering all of its special abilities.  It's definitely an interesting mechanic - instead of being able to choose between a number of actions, the dragon had one attack, and three triggered follow-ups.  The way it played out for us is that it did minimal damage for the first three rounds, where it missed or barely hit, then on round 4, it almost ate poor Denver alive!

Having no experience of fighting green dragons, Grandolf's first attack was his Acid Arrow.  The aim was botched, but there was a slight hissing as the splashback dissolved a few scales.  The rest of the battle was back to thumps with his staff, whilst Denver and his wolf focused on keeping the dragon off the wizard.  I did get the benefit of the "reroll-on-a-2" Two-weapon-fighting rule, which I enjoyed, but also brought up an interesting rules question I will have to research: is it the initial natural 2, or the new, rerolled score, that triggers the ranger's second attack?

With the dragon's saliva burning our skin (Ali then quizzed me as to what effect her mucus would have on the dragon...eww...), it was looking dire indeed, when a marvellous series of deft strikes (including one staggering critical) from Denver weakened the dragon enough that Grandolf's next clobbering knocked all the fight out of it.  " 'I surrender!' ", I had the dragon say, and described to Ali how it now cowered before her, respecting her power.  "What do you do now?" I asked her.

"I beat him up!" came her reply.  Hrmm... it would seem I need to teach her about accepting a surrender.

"No," I tried to clarify, "He is giving up - he is saying sorry, and that you win.  What do you want him to do?"

"Fight us!!"  Even after all her previous calls to battle, the violent call was still a surprise.  I guessed I just had to make the dragon seem even more weak and grovelling!

" 'No, please, I won't bother your garden any more - just let me go...' " The dragon made a final plea for mercy before the all-powerful and enraged wizard.

Something must have finally made it through, because her next response was a simple "OK, we go home."  And with that, the adventure was complete.

Ali enjoyed her time, and I managed to learn something about the system from the two minor encounters. Hopefully, next time will not be so focused on dragon-slaying; but for now, the good thing is that there will be a next time.  Already, she has been asking me "Daddy, when can we play that game with Grandolf and the dragons again?"  It's definitely a hit for her, and it's a fun thing we can share together.

Friday, 20 September 2013

On 13th Age (My Initial Thoughts, and My Daughter's Character)

There have been many things said on 13th Age so far, and many in-depth and useful reviews about it, so I am not delving into areas that have already been poured over many times.  In short: if you have not yet done so, take some time to read about what others have said, and if you can, try it out through their Organised Play events.

The best one-line summary I have read was that 13th Age was what DnD Next / 5th Edition should have been; without the hate for 4e players, and without the teary apology letter to Pathfinder fans. That is, where many 4e fans have felt 5e has ignored what they enjoyed, 13th Age has kept similar options.  It has been made from the houserules and home sessions of Rob Heinsoo (lead designer, 4e DnD) and  Jonathan Tweet (lead designer, 3e DnD), but has moved onwards, taking elements from each edition and forming something new (instead of simply rolling back to past editions, ala 'Next').

They have some great tricks, some of which can be found in other 'indie' games, but which would work well and be easily implemented in a 3rd or 4th edition game.  The Escalation Die is one I see the most talk about, but after backgrounds, I'm not sure I ever want to return to using skill lists!  4e simplified the skill lists of 3e, but Backgrounds makes them a whole new, easy to use, creature!

There are parts that I am still not too sure about - the "simple" classes (Barbarian, Paladin, Ranger) seem too simple on paper.  I am withholding judgement until I have seen more of them in action, but the latter two in particular have the feel of 'not enough choice' mixed with 'choosing from the same pool again'.  4e ran aground of this with their 'essential' fighters.  You have a pool of powers, and choose some from them.  Then, as you level up, you choose another, from the same pool.  Then another.  Ultimately, despite you gaining levels, the items you choose are getting worse, for all the best (be that mechanical, flavour, or however you chose them) were taken earlier.

But for every element of doubt (Constitution modifier to HP again? +1 to your constitution has huge differences at higher levels) is outweighted by many elements that are great (choosing middle modifiers for defences, more even scores, class and race getting stat bonus options).  Even the whole 'Vancian magic' problem has a simple, if not complete, solution, in that instead of 4e's at-will / encounter / daily slots, each spell slot can be filled with a spell of any kind, thus allowing a purely 3e wizard to be created alongside a wizard matching one from 4e.

When I received my 13th Age book, my daughter (currently 4, at least until the end of the year!) was eager to play this 'new game' with me.  So we sat down with the book, and talked about what she wanted her character to be.  There were times when her attention wavered ("How To Train Your Dragon" was playing in the background), but by dinner time, we had arrived with this:

Clearly, she was heavily influenced by "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" (she's only seen the first bit of The Hobbit, until they leave the Shire, and none of the LOTR movies...but she's played through the LEGO game, and I have a ...reasonable... collection of the LEGO figures).

Her character was "Grandolf, the Hobbit Wizard" (I wasn't going to go into the hobbit / halfling distinction), and it was played by a Sauraman figurine, because she liked his cloak.  Through some questions, she allocated her stats (10 / 8 / 16 / 18 / 14 / 12) and noted down her defences and hit points.

Ali decided eagerly that one of her backgrounds was going to be that Grandolf liked to breed spiders from eggs (watching the eggs with a telescope (!) to see when they cracked open, and the babies came out). He even carried a spider familiar! 

Strangely, the second background was a lot harder to pry out.  Every question as to what else Grandolf had done or likes to do kept coming back to those spiders...but eventually, we worked out that he also is an avid gardener, having the most colourful garden in the village.  These things turned out to be equally important, and so both gained a +4 bonus.

She then told me that Grandolf grew up on the clouds, which I quickly tied to the Overworld.  It seemed to fit that he should start with 2 points (positive) with the Archmage, and one point (positive) with the high Druid, because of his gardening.

By the time we reached spell choices, I think Ali was wishing she had chosen a simpler character (she did keep eyeing off my Fíli-the-Dwarf-Ranger and his Warg companion. I was making this character alongside her, so that she didn't have to adventure totally alone.).  But with some simple drawings, I described the spell options to her, and she chose them - but the only ability she wanted to write down was "Evasive".  The rest of the numbers were causing her to get a little distracted.

So now Ali has her character sheet, she has a card with her spells written onto it (made by me this time), and she has some dice - this weekend, I foresee some adventuring happening.  And I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Dark Sun Marauders (Season 3, Chapter 9)

These posts are from our DnD group's latest game.  The current adventure is a return to the world of Dark Sun.  In the previous seasons (the first run by me, the second run by Richard), the party were involved with hunting through Kalak's pyramid, confirming if the Sorcerer-King was truly dead, and retrieving the Orb of Dust.  This month, the group takes a brief journey to Raam, in a final ditch effort to gain an edge over the invading Urik army.

No one made any movement to head back to Tyr.  They may not have liked working with the dray - and undead dray at that - but the hopelessness of Tyr's defences was only so apparent.  If they retreated within the city walls, death was a matter of when, not if. 

The group huddled together in the cave, with the Braxats watching over the entrance.  Once Alyshialynn and Valentin were reacquainted, the pair set to determine their next step.  Their work was noisy, but still allowed everyone to get at least a token rest in, and around midday, the group was once again all awake, and ready to hear out Valentin's plans.

"We know where the second hero is," he started out, confident and hopeful of his as-yet-unrevealed plan.  "Sadhbh, the Storm's Wrath, was lost nearly two and a half centuries ago, fighting the armies of Abalach-Re." None of the party had visited Raam, but they all knew enough about the distant city-state. Its population was over 40,000 strong, with almost as many living in the surrounding warlord-dominated estates within a day's walk from the city.  Instead of being a boon, the huge populace actually made the city-state weak, for Abalach-Re, the Sorcerer Queen residing over the city, took little interest in its upkeep, allowing the city to fall into chaos and almost open rebellion.  Their mines and quarries are exhausted, and only the large, deep water reservoirs below the city allow it to continue on; without them, the city would be forgotten within a generation. 

Eagerly, Valentin continued. "Though we lost track of her, we are confident that she still is out there, and that she, just like Alyshialynn, can be revived and brought to your cause."   As it is, even if there was some chance they could find the champion's remains in Raam, the trip would take roughly two weeks - and countless supplies they did not have - each way!  How many in the city would die before their return?

The news didn't bring anyone the same hope and excitement that Valentin showed; that is, apart from Alyshialynn herself.  "No - don't worry!" she comments, sensing the group's general mood shift.  "I have recovered further whilst you have rested.  I can get us there quickly, though it will weaken me somewhat.  But I can get you there, and whilst you find Sadhbh, I will prepare to take us back, as soon as you have recovered her." Leading the group to the rear of the cave, Alyshialynn showed them a large arcane circle drawn on the rough ground in inks, waxes, and paints.  A multitude of symbols criss-crossed over the circle, with strange runes that none had seen before.  "Using this, we can all travel to Raam instantaneously, and I can make another one there to get us back.  If you are ready, we can go now?"

"Absolutely, great one. I and my companions stand ready to recover your comrade, that together we may save Tyr from its impending doom." Liet, for one, eagerly welcomes this opportunity.

Alyshialynn stepped into the centre of the arcane circle.  The pair of dray had been up all night preparnig it - another advantage to not being alive, it would seem - but only Alyshialynn was coming with the group to Raam.  Valentin was to stay behind, and Kulo, was chosen to remain with the dray and 'watch over' him.  The rest were travelling into the distant city, and helping fuel the travel.  Liet was only too happy to allow himself to be used, but the others had varying reactions to the defiling magic.  Sure, it was the only way to get themselves to Raam in time, but the drain it took on each individual, and the arcane stench it left behind, was almost too great. 
Staggered and momentarily sick from the trip, it took them a few moments to notice the destruction their arrival had caused.  Two buildings had been torn in half, a rough hemispherical hole stretched up and around them.  Fires burned towards the edges, where pieces of the building not fully consumed had been thrown and scattered.  There were signs that a few bodies may have been there, too, but the layer of soot and ash was confusing, and everyone felt it better not to investigate the disturbing scene further.  Especially when the guards arrived.
A scene this damaging, this noisy, was sure to bring attention.  Four squads of mansabdars, the local guards / marauders for hire, quickly came to deal with the interlopers.  They didn't last long, being more used to dealing with small riots or the occasional pick-pocket.  Once their position was no longer under attack, Kuoroar!, Beren, Liet and Paelias moved off to find information on the missing dray; the rest of the party, weakened from their trip and further injured in battle, had to be left behind.   Alyshialynn also stayed, making preparations for their return trip.

The most likely place for a prisoner was a prison, so that was the first thing the team looked for.  The lower ring of Raam held no such place - they had landed in the low quarter, but as they scouted northwards, they only found markets and poor housing.  Their first obstacle - guards at the gate to the second ring - gave them pause for a while, but after luring a few foolish troops into a darkened and abandoned ally, they had the (almost) perfect disguise!  Trailing a large group of locals through a checkpoint, they were able to bluff their way through, and head towards the actual prison complex.
Trekking their way through the lower two rings of Raam had taken quite a lot of time, so when faced with another few guards - and, in particular, overweight and inattentive guards - Liet suggested brute force was necessary.  Boren quickly dispatched the two guards, and together, they dragged the bodies inside, removed their keys, and set about searching for any imprisoned undead dray. 

Fortunately, there was little opposition, as no one seemed to remember locking away the dray 250 years ago.  The final cell had simply been locked and left alone - whilst, inside, Sadhbh sat, chained to the wall, her powers negated by an intricate enchantment.  Intricate or not, Liet was more than a match to disperse the energies, freeing the champion from her bonds, and now, with her weapon calling to her, they charged forth from the prison, and into the final circle - the palace garden.  Within that haven, within the forest of trees, the rolling plains of grassland that would have taken more water to keep alive than most towns had for their population, stood a small stone structure.  Within that structure stood a statue.  And lying before that statue was Sadhbh's spear.
The dray took on the gate guards, urging the others to run ahead and secure the area.  They managed, but paid for it dearly, as two of Abalach-Re's High Huotagha lay in waiting, each backed up by a squad of crossbow-wielding archers.  When the last of them fell, the group approached the statue, seeing it for the first time for what it really was - not a work of art, but a prize taken in battle. The statue, another dray, was far too realistic to have been carved: what they had found was the petrified form of Rhyleighi, the third missing champion.

There were more guards flooding towards and into the garden, and Sadhbh feared that Abalach-Re herself could be called in, since they were now taking not one but two of her captives.  "Run now, make for Alyshialyn." she instructed, "I will keep them busy here, then take to the air with Rhyleighi and meet you there."  They didn't need to wait for Sadhbh to repeat herself.
The race was then on, the group fleeing through streets, into sewers (a bad decision), and even across a rooftop to leap from the second ring's wall.  At one stage, the guards had almost caught onto them, but a quick ploy by Kuoroar! saw them thrown off their track, and allowed the group to make one final sprint towards the awaiting portal.  By the time they were closing in to the area where Alyshialynn waited for them, they could see the bright form of Sadhbh streaking through the darkening sky; she landed moments after they arrived, weary and breathless.  The magic this time threatened to tear years from their lives, but in a moment, it was over; Raam was thousands of miles away, and Urik's army was now the immediate threat.  The sun had set, their bodies were exhausted and drained, and they had a statue to un-petrify. But tomorrow, when they were joined by the three dray champions, they would win back their city.