Personal Updates & Other Worthless Information

There has been some big changes at the table, it has been decided to drop the current campaign. My vision was a military style scenario, but it just never worked out. We really like the puzzle solving and role-playing aspect of the game, and, honestly, we have no mass combat rules in play, and once again the game went in that direction.

To make the game military, I needed characters that could lead armies, thus we started from 10th level. Now, in the past we did lots of experiments with playing at different levels. We played modules only, and the DM would tell us what kind of characters we need and assigned the level to us. This worked at the time, but we were much younger and played a lot more. We wanted different things out of the game. Today, this just doesn't work for us; we really push the role-playing aspect. We don't necessarily act or make funny voices, but we do develop our characters. I had asked the players if we wanted to start out at 1st, and see what happens, but they said no. They know me. If I had a vision, then we best get too it. I should had kept them low level, from the start I had to beef up my orcs. All of them are unique to my table, as I wanted the enemy to be high level as well.

Just starting at 10th level is hard as hell! For spell casters, it was a nightmare, they ended up reading and unable to focus on the game, which is something that we had previously eliminated by following the AD&D rules of choosing spells before play, but with the expanded spell lists for such characters, it took forever and they didn't have these spells memories as players yet, they were all new to them. The slow advancement really aids the spell caster, it gives them time to really get a feel for their spells and what they can and can't do.

It is really hard on the DM! It took me forever to properly challenge the players, but now it isn't about challenge levels, or spells, but about not really giving a crap about your character. It's been 6 months and nobody really knows who they are playing. Not to say that we didn't learn a lot, because we did. If I could go back and start again, I would lower the levels to 1st and play from there. The idea is still festering, but for now it goes back on the shelf.

What the players really want to do is get back to Gothic Earth. Prep is much harder, and it was me that needed to take a break, but if this 10th level excursion has taught me anything, it is how to prep large areas very quickly. I feel that I have grown stronger as a DM, and I definitely feel more at ease using magic, which is something that I've always had problems with in the past. The hardest characters for me to play have always been wizards and clerics. Especially high level clerics, at least mages have specific spells that they can use, but a cleric is still a problem, as they have access to all of the spells in their spheres.

Now, my normal method of prep is to brainstorm for a couple of days, and then start prep, but I didn't get to start prep, on Monday, my bathroom floor started leaking downstairs so my father and I had to rip out the floor and we are in the process of fixing it. Game-night is Saturday and I have nothing prepared beyond the thoughts in my head, and I hate doing that but it is what it is.

This will be the start of the second chapter, and I've had a few years to figure this stuff out, so I should be okay. I started the first chapter much the same way. I actually was drawing a map of a house that they were in while I was DMing a murder mystery. I had to go back and fix a couple of details when I had time to make a proper map, but my players forgave my inconsistencies. To be honest, I was in a much harsher position last time we started this game. I am excited, I was having some difficulty with the direction that it was going, and with some old errors that I had made and just had to live with, but now I can go back and correct them.

As far as the Blog goes, I do like doing the retro-reviews, and we'll be starting on 1990 very soon, I've also discovered a few more technical issues that can be added to the Mechanic Series, so I am not without ideas for new content.

That is what has been going on this week! Wish me luck with this weekends game, because I'm gonna need it. Thankfully, once I get going again it will get easier.


The Dale Wardens said...

Why did you feel as though you needed to start characters at 10th level to start the game? Would something lower like level 3-4 worked better?

I am running a Game of Thrones style political game with a lot of military involved (although it's no where as viscous as GoT.) Everyone started at level 1, but got perks of being important people like for example: platoons of troops, land, business, or church holdings, piles of cash, titles, etc etc depending on their background. They started at level 1. It's a slow advancement low magic. For battles we use Battlesystem skirmish, or the full Battlesystem.

Have you looked at any of the Birthright Campaign materials? It's set up for players starting at level 1 and being a lord of some sort of a territory or holding.

David S.

Ripper X said...

I made a mistake, plain and simple. It was one of those things that looks great on paper, but the execution just never panned out. I have not seen any Birthright material, and honestly, didn't know what it was about until this year. I believed, falsely, that one should be 9th-10th level to control armies, it is what the rules suggest, but you are right. Starting at 1st level would had been for the best. Live and learn!

Typically with war, I write around it. Before I try again, I really need to get some Battlesystem experience under my belt. We learned how to use miniatures recently, and it improved our game, but I don't think that we have the space to play out big wars, and besides, the players really aren't all that into it.

The Dale Wardens said...

Birthright has a pretty cool system for it's economics and politics. Players can perform a couple of domain actions per turn. They can raise taxes to pay for stuff, extend influence, conduct diplomacy, go on adventures etc.

Birthright has a simplified battle game with it. The units are represented by recipe card sized cards. All the stats and a picture of the troops is on it. A smallish (for wargames) paper map is included for the battle field. It's not terribly intricate and played fairly quickly.

If you can get hold of a copy or a pdf you may find some interesting things if you are ever interested in running the sort of campaign we used to call: Dungeons and Geo-Politics. :)

David S.

Ripper X said...

That actually sounds like a really useful product. I had always dismissed it as a TSR money grab. Yet another setting for us to buy! After a while, and after getting burned by books, I started ignoring all TSR titles. I want to say that Birthright was published fairly late in 2e's lifespan, and it might be one of Wizards of the Coasts publications. Like I said, I saw it in the gaming shop and ignored it.

The Dale Wardens said...

When it came out we really took to it. We had played an AD&D game set in Middle Earth and used Battlesystem quite a bit. The characters were minor nobles from Arthedain during the Witch-King's invasion. That wetted our appetites.

Birthright does have it's own unique takes on some things. Character creation is a bit different, as is how races are handled. Of course any of that can be dumped from the campaign if you don't like it.

The supplements that came out were regional or province guide books giving characters, events, and history to the area as well as adventure ideas. They gave stats to the economics, territories and power of the various factions. They had a few adventure modules too that gave a lot of good ideas on how to run the game.

I really am quite fond of Birthright. You are quite right, TSR did have a lot going on with Spelljammer, Planescape, Ravenloft, ?weird desert world?, Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms. What did I miss?! It could have been seen as a money grab, maybe it was, but I really enjoyed it and have collected most of the books.

Birthright's theme really caught our group too. The gang was pretty avid wargamers and a hybrid of rpg and a sort of a national level wargame made it unique and attractive. We had a total of 4 campaigns that went on in the setting that were moderateley successful...going on about a year or so each. The biggest one had 2 DMs and 15 or so players, so there was a lot of interplayer deals, rivalry, intrigue and politics going on.

I have actually put the mechanics to use in my Greyhawk setting game. It takes a little thought and work, but you could port it over into any setting that you want to introduce politics and economics to.

I would totally recommend the base set, or at least a pdf of the rules, for any 2nd edition fan or person who likes a different scale to their rpg. I think rpg-ing Game of Thrones fans would love to try their hand in Birthright.

David S.
(Dedicated 2nd edition fan!)

Ripper X said...

See, now that sounds exciting! 2 DMs and 15+ players . . . that sounds old-school to me. My wife told me about one of those games that her father had played, where you had 2 DMs sitting back to back and sharing notes between two tables. It sounds nuts!

That sounds like, yet another product that was before its time, and now it is hard to get a hold of.

So was it kind of like a Battlesystem 2.5? I'll have to look around now.

The Dale Wardens said...

I wouldn't describe it as a Battlesystem 2.5. Wars, although part of the game, are not the focus of Birthright. It has a lot of the traditional trappings of regular D&D like regular adventures etc. It's just from the point of view of being a duke's son and his entourage (for example.)

Battlesystem is very detailed, and the fights in Birthright are more abstracted. I would not set up an evening to play the war system in Birthright as I might have a Battlesystem miniatures game. A minis battle is fun, even if it has nothing behind it campaign-wise. Birthright's system gets the job done in a pretty simplified and streamlined way, but there is not enough to make a good wargame that you would want to play on its own frequently. What I am doing is adding Battlesystem and Battlesystem Skirmish for when there are army level fights. If time is a consideration we would use the Birthright system.

In the big campaign, we didn't have too many games where the whole group showed up. The idea was: There were groups of allied players (like an adventuring party in reg D&D more or less) that controlled a province. They had different ranks and controlled different things. In the whole group, the players were divided into 4 provinces. The leaders of the respective groups would give the DMs the "actions" that they were doing in a turn. The Dms would give results and run results and adventure sessions as needed for the individual groups. Sometimes they would meet with 2 groups if needed. We did have a couple of large group meetups that were very chaotic and fun. In one all day session, two groups ended up conspiring against each other, and my group and our allied group launched an attack on an evil npc nation. We did not have great results against the foe...but we did anger him! The other 2 groups lost a couple of characters in pvp combat! They ended up getting in a war and ended up wrecking each others countries. By the end of the campaign they had little left and not much to show for their war.

The real interest that Birthright has for me is the province/holding management, and the complications that comes from having them. Things I can remember from our games: peasants not wanting to pay taxes, a bridge was washed out and was interfering with trade, a new religion was moving in pushing the old one out, goblin raiders coming out of the north harassing my villages, seeing diplomatic envoys to try to get into alliances or make trade. We had a good DM. He had a compelling story and npcs! I thought he used the setting materials well, and we had some very interesting games. I am hoping I learned some things from him and can put something good out there for my group.

We got into a discussion in one of your earlier posts about 2nd edition being a very (deterministic/railroady?)story sort of game. I never got that feeling from our 2nd ed games. They felt sandbox. I felt like we had real player agency. Im sure somethings were just disguised railroads (like the peasant not wanting to pay taxes!...who is not going to remedy that?!), but they didn't feel that way. I do know neither of the Dms in our game thought we were going to launch a preemptive invasion on the big bad guy! If you want to give your players some autonomy in a sandbox: give them a country to run!

Cerilia, the Birthright world setting, does have its own feel to it. The thing is, if you don't want to use that world, take the mechanics, and move them to your own preferred setting.


Ripper X said...

Thanks for all of the cool details. I have had thoughts along those lines. I've played the AD&D endgame only once, and it sounds like that. I have never dmed that phase in the game, it is difficult. I think that we've all got strengths with low and mid level campaigning, but the high levels are difficult, and this includes staying focused long enough to get characters there naturally.

In regards to railroads, as a new DM I used them all the time. Learning how to DM from published modules, and the materials that my players would give me because they wanted me to run it, it was typically those "witness important events" scenarios. 2e did have some fantastic modules that weren't like that at all, but a lot of them were, and it takes a while to realize how to change it. There is a manipulation happening at any table. A good magician doesn't get caught doing the things that he doesn't want you to know about. That is the mark of a good DM. To feel like your character matters, and it should!

These are interesting roads to walk down David. I played under a very few DMs that could make a world seem alive and dynamic. It took me years to accomplish.

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