Wednesday, September 28, 2011

N-Shots, With a Side of Minion Design

With my gaming time seriously curtailed, I've been thinking about short campaigns.  I ran a one-shot and found the form rather dissatisfying; it was, essentially, a series of short wargame scenarios plus a few puzzles, with very little character development or exploration.  Granted, part of the problem was that I made a few mistakes in terms of monster design; just because manufactured and natural armor stack does not mean that one should stack them.  Likewise, I dropped a solo hydra on the PCs during the finale, and found two problems.  First, Trailblazer's combat maneuver rules mean that hitting a hydra's neck is much, much harder than hitting its body.  This should not be; in theory I could've altered it on the fly, but I missed my chance.  Secondly, when you upgrade a critter to solo, you quadruple its HP, which in turn quadrupled the neck HP, making sundering the heads extra difficult.  In the end, the PCs just ended up damaging the body to death.

Trailblazer's short rest rules allowed the PCs to absorb absolutely tremendous amounts of damage; I estimated that the party took in total about 300 points of damage during the course of a single adventuring day, with no character falling unconscious at any time, minimal expenditure of permanent healing resources (cure wands, for example), and, the kicker, without a cleric.  These were 7th level PCs we're talking about...  maybe 70 HP tops on any given character.  It was just nuts.  The action points really saved their butts a few times, though, so that was interesting...  likewise, the party sorcerer built for ray usage and didn't cast a restricted spell the entire game.  A change of pace from the usual fireball storm.  We also had a glaive paladin / fighter specializing in sunder, a greatsword critical-hit fighter, and a bard / fighter archer.  The greatsworder had very very swingy damage; when he really hit, he killed opponents outright, but he also missed a lot.  The glaive paladin got pretty reasonable performance across the board, through sundering the hydra turned out to be a bad idea.  The archer was less than perfectly useful...  I attribute this largely to the high-AC monsters.  Ranged combatants need to be using rapid shot and similar to do decent damage, and the high-AC critters really shut that down.  Sorry, Tim.

This has led to some speculation on "mook design", if you will, where by mook I mean what 4e or True20 might classify as a minion.  They're weakish monsters who are fairly easy to kill, but are still a threat to the PCs.  I've employed mooks as such on two occasions; here in the mountain fastness of the lizard men, and in my TB Bloodsworn Vale game two summers ago.  Here, they had high AC but low HP, and were not fun.  In Bloodsworn, the zombie gnoll servants of Golgorroth had low AC, but took about two hits from the party monk or a good hit from a holy greatsword to take down.  Effectively, I conclude that 'fun' mooks should be easy to hit, and should take about two hits to kill.  This gives the satisfaction of hitting reliably and doing damage, and also makes clearing them out so you can get at their leader straightforward, but not trivial.  Missing is frustrating, but hitting and doing damage, even if you don't drop anything, is satisfying.  Ergo, even if the same number of expected hits are required to kill a mook, one with low AC and higher hit points is preferable as far as fun goes.

But back to one-shots.  I had never DMed a one-shot before, and my only experience playing in one had accidentally turned into a medium-length campaign of about 9 sessions in a single world because it ran long and we did a few unexpected things.  I recently, however, stumbled across a blog post by the Angry DM which effectively advocates picking up a new system with a new GM and playing a three-shot.  I find this to be a really good idea...  The human mind loves threes, and this allows a much less rushed storytelling structure along the traditional lines of beginning, middle, and end, with gaps in time and space in between the segments.  It doesn't have to be combat-combat-combat, and player choices other than strict combat-resource allocation start to matter, but can still be kept reasonably simple; putting a decision point at the end of each of the first two sessions creates four possible outcomes, which is relatively easy to manage compared to a full "go anywhere do anything kill anyone"-style campaign.

I don't know that I'll have the time to run a three-shot...  but it's something I'd like to keep in mind for the next time I get the itch, but maybe don't have time to run a full campaign.  Hell, a three-shot would be the perfect length for gaming with my family over the holidays.  Hmmm...

Friday, September 16, 2011

On Hiatus... again...

Greetings, gentle readers.  I apologize for the lack of updates; the semester got me, and then I ran a one-shot, and it went OK but was quite savage actually due both to system changes, a few miscalculations on my part, and some player mistakes, and then I got owned by the semester, and both of my laptops died.  So now I've got Ubuntu running on this one, but I really don't have much to say other than "Hopefully Alex will run a game sometime soon, because I sure won't be..."  :\

Friday, September 9, 2011

Miscellanea: Traveller Trade, GM Screens, and Upcoming Game

Nothing groundshaking today, but a couple small things:

First, trade in Traveller has always bothered me because it's kind of a pain to actually do.  Too much bookkeeping for not a whole lot of raw fun.  I recently found this pdf full of commodity cards, though, which looks like it might improve play considerably, both by speeding up random cargo generation (draw a card, roll tonnage, roll type, go) and by kind of concretizing them (players buy cargo?  Give them the card).  These kind of seem like they'd make Traveller trade bearable, which is a Good Thing.

Along a similar line, I've been thinking about how convenient the Stargrunt reference card makes the game, and it's inspired me to build a Traveller GM screen covered in handy tables of things I often forget, like weapon range modifiers ("What's the mod for an assault weapon at 50 meters again... ?"), law levels, radiation effects, and things like that.  Alternatively, I might build a series of reference sheets for different parts of gameplay; a combat card with actions types, cover, ranges, autofire, and similar, a "Crime and Punishment" card gathering the government, law level, sentencing, and starship loan default rules, and so forth.  These would be damn handy, and also useful on the player end of things.  So that might be worth the time to put together if I end up playing or running Trav...

But, this weekend, I'm running a Trailblazer one-shot of a stripped-down version of one of the Dungeon Crawl Classic modules that I played through once.  The intent is to test TB's action points and short rest rules, as well as to game for the first time in a good while.  So the rest of my afternoon is going to be prep for that, interspersed with homework.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Traveller Ramblings: Of Guns, Gear, and Starships

The semester is well and truly upon us, and my weekends this month are pretty filled, preventing much in the way of gaming :(.  My discussions with my roommate Alex have actually kind of increased my level of indecision in regard to what, if anything, to run this semester.  We've been talking mostly about Traveller, and he's considering running a Stargate-inspired Traveller game as well.  We've been discussing a number of things with Trav, and here's what we've come up with:

The lack of small automatic weapons irks me.  There's the gauss pistol, but it's TL13 and does significantly more damage than other pistol weapons in addition to being autofire.  Ergo, the following:

Machine Pistol: TL7, Range Class: Pistol.  Damage 3d6-3, Auto 4, Recoil 0.  Mass 1 kg, Magazine 24.  Cost 300 Cr, Ammo cost 15 Cr.

Submachine Gun: TL7, Range Class: Assault Weapons.  Damage 3d6-3, Auto 4, Recoil 0.  Mass 3 kg or 3.5 kg with extended magazine, Magazine 36 or 50.  Cost 500 Cr, Ammo cost 15 Cr or 25 Cr.

The first statblock represents modern fully-automatic pistols like the Skorpion or Beretta 93R, while the second represents larger weapons like the MP5 or P90 which have longer barrels and shoulder stocks for greater accuracy at range, but are still chambered in pistol calibers.  The larger magazine flavor represents drum or helical-style magazines which are often available for such weapons.  I'm also tempted to do a conversion of the Colt-Calico Mini-Gatling from CyD20, but that might be a Bad Idea.

Point the next is that armor-piercing weapons just don't exist.  There are weapons that do a lot of damage, and they are good for taking out enemies in armor, but they are also good for insta-killing people not in armor.  There is no equivalent to steel-core, high-velocity, or other specialized anti-armor rounds, which go through armor nicely but do less damage to the target's physiology than usual.  The problem with implementing an 'armor penetration' mechanic is that it adds an extra lookup, subtraction, and ceiling operation to each attack that hits.  One simple option is to halve armor against armor-piercing weapons, much as armor is doubled against buckshot, but that gets brutally effective against heavier armor types.  More study of this problem is required.

Idea the third is that I realized that I really dislike the Scout Ship entry on the Scout mustering-out benefits table.  It's not that I dislike the notion of the party having a ship; quite the contrary.  A ship is freedom to jump the rails and go somewhere interesting, a place to hide smuggled goods and stowaways, and an extra target for me as a DM that the entire party has a vested interest in protecting.  But a ship with no cost is a problem, because then when the PCs get money...  the credits just pile up until they find a high-TL world to spend some of them on.  The monthly payment on a starship is kind of the whole reason for wanting money in Traveller without a scout ship; it's a little bit of constant pressure on the players to take that extra-risky job because it pays more and will help pay the bills.  I know last game with the scout ship, money was basically a non-object; the PCs had enough to buy grenades and ammo, spare parts and repairs when they needed them, and life support, and that was all that mattered.  It was kind of unsatisfying.  So if I run another one, I may need to replace the ship entry on the Scout table.  Maybe it's a big pile of ship shares (like...  3d6.  Something bigger than other classes get, and unrestricted).  Maybe it's shares that are multiplied for getting a scout ship, as is normal for specific kinds of ships on the tables.  Maybe it's an extra 'upgrade' for a ship, rather than shares; choose a component, and upgrade it, or install a laser turret or someaught.  But no way is it going to be just 'a ship, with minimal organizational obligations attached.'  Plus, having a scout ship makes everybody else's ship shares kind of useless, which is frustrating...

And so after all that Traveller talk, it seems I'm likely to run Trav.  I've got a plot, I've got a subsector...  now all I need is time, players, and characters.  Or I could run TB/LL Kingmaker in the Great 3.5 Derivative Smackdown...  it's hexcrawly enough that it might get the Wilderlands out of my blood.