Christmas 2016



I hope that everybody had a great holiday! The weekend went really fast, and I’ve got a game to prep for. We all have our weak points, one of mine is 100% improve, I can do it, but it isn’t very satisfying to me, and it isn’t my greatest skill, though I do work on it from time to time, I prefer to DM games where I have a better understanding of where it is going. While this takes some doing, on game day, everybody at the table, including me, can have a bit more fun. I tend to feel singled out and too much in the spotlight when we do improve games, our time to play is limited, and when a game doesn’t feel up to par for me, I take it very personally. We are our harshest critics!

My family did help me out for this kind of thing; wilderness adventures are not my strongest point, I’ve improved at it over the years, but it is still something that I need to work on, so this Christmas my kids got me Outdoor Survival by Avalon Hill, this is an old RPG Board Game put out in the 70’s which was recommended by the Original Dungeons & Dragons ruleset to play wilderness sections. Even in modern games the principals of this game are still present, however this was one of the few times when D&D strongly recommended a competitors product to play the game. Of course TSR quickly developed their own system, but talking to OD&Ders, this method is still far superior to anything else. It allows a more advanced game, and provides techniques that can add more depth than what I may currently have. I did get a chance to look everything over while I made sure that the game was complete, and I really wish that I had this thing for last game! I’ll have to have some players come over sometime so that we can just play it as is.

I was thrilled to get it! My very first Avalon Hill game! These things just were never available in this area, but it was something that people talked about. On its own it is a game that is supposed to test wilderness survival techniques, another interest of mine, plus I can use it for D&D? Needless to say I am very stoked to finally have it.

My wife also went way above the call of duty; I’ve been using the same DM screen the entire time I’ve been a Dungeon Master, the original REF1. I take really good care of it, but it is a paper product and since it has seen regular use for over twenty years, it is very very worn and starting to fall apart. I’ve got a tear on one of the spines that I’ve been meaning to tape up but never do and every game it just gets worse and worse. Replacing it isn’t an option because the market says that this is now a collector’s item and the prices are nuts, but my wife hates looking at that poor dilapidated old thing, mentioning it every game. She did some research on-line and came up with an idea of making one out of wood. We love DIY projects, but she is a nurse who keeps nurses hours, which are crazy, and for the last few weeks, unknown to me because I work graveyard shift, she’s been staying up until 3am working on this project. This is one of those things that really makes me kind of emotional, she didn’t have to do that; but it emphasizes the kind of person she is. That takes so much love!

She says that she’s not quite done with it, she’s got some hardware coming in the mail that she wants to put on it, and she wants to put some magnetic strips on the inside so I can hang papers from them, but this thing is just so beautiful already! I mean, look at this thing!



It gives me more room, better security behind the screen, but I can still see over it, it stores nicely and this one is not ever going to wear out. A good screen is something that we all take for granted, and I use mine a lot! She even put some nice pictures on the back. Words can not describe how this makes me feel, just the time and effort on her part makes this my favorite present! As far as I’m concerned, she won Christmas!



Anyway, this weekend went fast, and next won’t be much better, and then it is game night, so I’m not sure how much I’ll get done on this blog, in the next few weeks but we’ll see how it goes. Once again, happy holidays, friends!

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas! Taking it as easy as I can this holiday season, and working real hard to show my gratitude to all of the people that love me.

May all of your Saving Throws be high, and all of your Ability checks be low.

Gothic Earth Episode 4: Spring-time in Germany

Last night we had a pretty full house! Almost everybody showed up, which was nice, however because of the nature of this game it made things even more difficult. When we last left off, the former German Prime Minister had been saved from the asylum, in another bizarre twist of fate that was unplanned, Bismark's childhood house was just down the trail from where I had placed the asylum, which made things awfully convenient.

We had to play catch-up with the wizard before we could begin. He was able to locate his spellbook and escape the fire and then we started playing one of the oldest and most difficult games that one can do. The Hex Crawl, but unlike fantasy where we can just make stuff up, since we are playing a historical game, the terrain is already laid out for me, as are the towns.

I had already prepped a map in case the players tried to escape the asylum, but for this adventure I wanted an even larger map. I anticipated that they would either try to go to Berlin or Nuremberg, with my preference to Nuremberg because that is a longer trip which I felt would give us as much play-time as possible. I looked at google maps, and was able to get a rough idea of the terrain and found a free online map of Germany in 1890 which was really helpful. I also had to define the old territories as these people would all have different ideas about the current political system that had been set in place.

For Hex Grids, I just use colored pencil to mark the terrain type, then go back over it with regular pencil and mark and label towns. I was able to connect them with roads that were labeled on the 1890's map.  It isn't completely accurate, I deleted much of the railroad, wanting to limit travel. The whole reason to get to Nuremberg is to board a train. For each color that I use I make lists of things that might be out there, and I make random encounters lists. Nothing too advanced. I know that my map isn't to scale, but it has to be compatable with D&D, so each Hex = 6 miles, which I found works the best.

I also wanted to speed up the time-line for the German Military, so I've fictionalized a lot of my own history here. This made it more interesting and I could tie everything together with military encounters. I marked bases on the map, and just kept the Soldiers listed in the MM and gave them guns.

That was the extent of my prep, the rest was done ad lib. I had planned a survival run, but that didn't happen, so it was a good thing that I didn't over prep.

THE STORY

The heroes started out in bad shape. They are not dressed appropriately, and they still have the masks locked onto their faces which mark them as mental patients. It is spring and constantly rainy, they are wearing thin ropes, and no shoes. The gun-fighter has a magical item which hid some supplies from hospital staff, so they made a quick inventory. They had 2 pistols, with a few bullets, an iron shank, and a staff.

The effects of Ravenloft started dying once the Doctor was dead, but before that could happen the cleric made an error and started healing the party, which doesn't go well. The explorer with the broken arm got a useless and deformed arm, the sailor who had been horribly burned now looks like he is on the last stages of the black plague, and the cleric herself developed disgusting scales. This actually kind of worked in their favor!

After searching the grounds and gathering tools that they could use for make-shift weapons, they started a building on fire and tried to sleep the best that they could, until morning when they decided that it was time to find their way out of these woods. Bismark wanted to go to the farmhouse that he was born and raised, which they were able to find without getting lost.

Bismark was able to get some food from one of the last remaining neighbors still living in the area, the party came up with a plan that I had not seen coming, they decided to earn some money by putting on a traveling freakshow. They traveled to Stendle and actually made money, purchased supplies from town, and got the hell out before the novelty wore off.

From there they started working their way south, keeping to the roads, they had planned on repeating this at every town which they entered, but as DM I couldn't let them get rich, and they instantly got greedy, going to a bigger town that was out of their way to make even more cash, they got caught by the military and were arrested because they had no papers. Word hadn't gotten out yet about Bismark escaping, so that wasn't yet an issue; they were brought before the Captain in charge of Lower Saxony, they were getting no resistance from the locals, and young men were gladly signing up in droves!

I didn't want it to be too easy, so I questioned everybody, and yet another strange event happened, all of the players were able to successfully roll their crappy CHARISMA checks, all of them! They were able to get visas and told to leave the country as fast as they were able. There is to be no more shows as Entertainment has been banned by the government. Germany was preparing for war.

Off they go! They were able to buy a beat up old wagon and a couple of nags to pull it and they moved south. They were even able to buy a tent with the slim funds that they had left. Instead of scavenging for food, they were eating at inns and roadhouses.  

My players were allowed to smooth talk their way through the countryside, with only one combat encounter, that had been with a small party of orderlies that had escaped the fire at the asylum. Finally, though, their good luck ran out. They were stopped in Bavaria, a land that was currently being repressed by Berlin, by military bullies that were demanding everything. At this point it was known that the Generals in Berlin wanted all foreigners arrested and brought back to them, the Lieutenant didn't know that Bismark was the real target, and greed was this mans motivation at the moment. He demanded guns, all of them.

DM NOTES

Running an NPC that is traveling with your players is difficult. You have to remember that they are there, you don't want them making decisions, and you don't want them to get all the glory. Even though Bismark is a major NPC, I did not engage in combat. I offered no ideas unless asked. He would give advice and thoughts when asked. I did use him to make the game a bit more challanging, not only did they have to get him out of the country, but he placed another stipulation upon the group by forbidding them to commit murder. Any murder, even in self-defense. These were his people and he'd rather die than to know that any harm befell even the soldiers because of him.

Completing role-playing objectives within the game is how my players earn most of their XP.  

BACK TO THE GAME

There was no way that these characters are going to be vulnerable again, not after what they went through in the asylum, so turning their guns over was not going to happen. It turned into a mexican stand-off, six armed PCs verse fifteen soldiers of an unknown level.  Just as one of the players is about to pull the trigger, blowing the head off of the Lieutenant and definately getting shot for doing it, the cleric suddenly pipes up and casts Charm Person, instantly stopping the stand off, with no blood shed. Her quick thinking saved the party and secured the objective of not committing violence.

From there, they were able to make it to Nuremberg where I stopped the game.

Summery

I dislike playing this style of game, I've got a very good grasp on the rules, but it is not anywhere near thorough enough to ad lib. I used my percentile dice a lot to make up for mechanics that I couldn't remember and didn't have time to look up. I really like to be prepared so that I have a better chance of controlling the pace of the game, and this one was very clunky.

My biggest error, I feel, was where I chose to sit. I like to be by my books, but since all of my players but two showed up for the game, if I would had sat at the center of the table, instead of my usual spot on the end, I would had been in a better spot because half of the players were much further away than normal. Seating matters! Another thing that I could had done was have the person at the other end of the table be the caller, this might've helped force more communication with the entire table.

This was our last game of the year and the clubs Xmas shindig, my wife made an awesome dinner, Rosemary Beef Stew and a Yule Log cake, there was also some spirits and this year has been pretty tough of folks on personal levels, so we weren't at our best. I don't think that we ever really hit that level of focus that we like to, but that is to be expected when the DM is making stuff up as he goes.

All things considered, this wasn't our best, but it was still a great time. We finally got the Wizard leveled up, and he's got his book, which was bothering me.

My next task is to prepare something for Nuremberg, the players want to head back to England, they want to contact Van Helsing, and they want to resume their search for the Si Fan. THIS I can work with! I've got me some prepping to do!   

PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handook Review



Psionics are strange things, first appearing in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry in 1976, they have been supplemental material in every edition of the game with the exception of the 1st Edition of AD&D, which they were core. When asked about this on the Dragonfoot BBS, Gary Gygax said that he himself never used them, but had been talked into adding them to the PHB at the last minute by a group in Chicago, a decision which he quickly regretted because they weren’t written clear enough and they didn’t match up with the rest of the handbook.

It is a mystery as to the exact source, or inspiration behind psioncs, however the strongest candidate appears to be novelist Andre Norton, who appears in APPENDIX N, and in 1976 (the same year as Eldritch Wizardry came out) Gygax had flown to her home in Florida to run a game with her.
Gary had planned on omitting them from the 2nd Edition of the rules, feeling that they were unnecessary and didn’t meld well within the fantasy setting; a feeling mirrored by David Cook who did cut them from the 2e Core rules, probably planning to add them as supplemental later on. Later on turned out to be February of 1991.

Psionics have a rabid fanbase, and sooner or later they were going to have their way, but I’m not sure if PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handbook, written by Steve Winter & Blake Mobley, was a product that anybody really wanted. While Gygax agreed that the rules needed to be rewritten for clarity, going from seven and a half pages in the PHB to a 128 page book is perhaps a bit much. This bloating has been an issue with supplemental material in the past, they would take small concepts written by Gygax and make an entire book around them, as crazy as this is, we consumers ate it up!

INTRODUCTION

This book completely reworked the system, and greatly expanded it. Thankfully everything in this book is supplemental, so the DM always has the final say, which is needed. Players must understand that this is a book of options, and it has many many options.

CHAPTER 1: The Psionicist

The biggest change to the system is right here, it added a brand new player class who specializes in psionics. All of the information that a player needs to create their character is right here in this chapter, which is kind of nice. I know that when getting back into D&D after a long absence, we could had used something like this.

Also in this chapter, Psionic Strength Points (PSPs) are explained as well as that other cryptic stuff that mystified us when we saw psionic monsters in the Monstrous Manual.  I actually think that those things were a big motivator to selling this book, I remember that it really bugged me that I couldn’t use those monsters because I didn’t understand them, and once I bought this book, I still didn’t use them, but what are you going to do?

Additionally, there is a traditional Psionic chart for random generation of powers, now called Wild Talants (it was the 90’s and we loved being WILD), however this flips the number on the d% that you want to hit, and it’s dangerous because if you roll high it turns you into a retard.

CHAPTER 2: Psionic Combat

I always remember this stuff as being overly complex, but it really isn’t. It does require you actually reading it, but it isn’t any different than anything else in D&D, you learn more from playing than you do from reading about it.

Determining combat is fairly simple, it is treated like a proficiency check, the hard part has to deal with the weird terminology. I am a smart guy, and very well read, but the language that this book uses sometimes borders on the over-educated. Of course it also brings to mind terms found in the pulp fiction stories that inspired this genre, but that doesn’t make the terms less clunky because you or your DM will probably get terms mixed up.

CHAPTERS 3-8: Psionic Powers

This is actually where the bulk of the book comes from, the list of Sciences and Devotions was greatly expanded, and all of them are listed here. What is nice is that it is all complete to itself, you don’t need any other books; just this one. That is bonus points for it, unlike another class that shall go unnamed where the player can be required to have more books than his character does.

This is also one of this suppliment's issues, there is a lot of stuff here, yes they wanted to fill out an entire class, but it is not one that is completely supported by the core rules.

CHAPTER 9: A Psionics Campaign

This chapter squishes everything that we’ve enjoyed about the other Complete Handbooks into a diluted blip. I’ve got to say that I miss the Role-playing section. I kind of wish that they would had given a bit more attention to it; instead, the team that made this book knew that the small hardcore clubs that go crazy for this kind of thing will buy this book, and so will the completists, which were still around at this point: those trusting souls who purchased everything that TSR put out, believing that the company had the best intentions. For them, they are going to have to be sold this idea.

They talked about adding it as core into all of the different published settings, how psionics react to magic, some real world examples of psionics in history, and a suggested reading list. Overall, this chapter is only seven pages of content; it is rushed and to the point, but it really offers nothing of any true value, because it doesn’t properly do what it set out to, it was an afterthought, and ill edited.

MONSTERS

This was odd. At this point the Compendiums were still in use, these were loose-leaf monsters that the DM kept in a binder, and spent much of his time repairing. The psionic monsters were published in the back of this book and were not removable, so the players had full access to them. Whatever, our players generally know the stats of our monsters anyhow, and I dig this, kind of. On one hand everything you need is in this book, but on the other, you’ll have to flip back and forth a lot, and I’m not sure that the books binding can really take that. You can generally tell who uses it and who doesn’t, based on the condition of their book. There are brand new monsters, as well as a list for updating established monsters from other sources, with the exception of XP.

http://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/60043-ral-partha-mind-flayer/
Ral Partha mindflayer
One thing that doesn’t make sense is that they never properly added psionics into the calculated XP value, thus all of the monsters which can be harder than hell to fight, aren’t worth what they should be. Take the mindflayer, we all know what that is, and in my opinion, psionics was reintroduced to empower this monster. Because we aren't used to psionics, it takes longer to design our mindflayers, who at the table are incredibly dangerous because psionics aren’t magic, they can have their way with any party that isn’t prepared, and one hiding in a party of magic-users casting psionics is going to be even worse! However this Illitithid is only worth 7,000xp, vs. the 9,000xp gained by slaying a magic based one. To me, these psionic varieties could be the elite, as they are better in tuned with the mother brain.  Granted, I had never play-tested one, and maybe there are some problems, but looking around the web, folks complain of psionics being overly powerful, but this isn’t reflected in the XP, not even in the Handbook dedicated to it!

APPENDIX

At the back of the book there are summaries of powers, as well as an index so you can find each power fast.

Summery

This book is more visually attractive than the others in the series, but this ended up increasing its cost to $18, and the splash pages take space that could had been better served by actual content. There is a ton of material; too much perhaps. To me, psionics should be used to enhance the game, not provide a new class, but I can do that with this book too! It’s just that most of the content that made it into the book isn’t something that the average user is ever really going to use, it is just in the way. There are sources online that do a much better job, and in a pill that is easier to swallow.

Psionics were updated later, and, as we all probably remember, this book was made core to the Dark Sun campaign setting. I would say that this product is for pretty advanced tables, it lacks much of the exposition that is typically required for new users, and while those that are really into this kind of thing tear these books up, for the average users, these are things that we must remember to dust off from time to time.

I feel that this entire book has become out of date, even to us 2e hold-outs. It is a nice luxury item and something that we can use to enhance a monster here and there, so 18-20 dollars is a fair price for that. I would rate this book as a C-, perhaps if I used more psionics and was able to play-test it more thoroughly, this rating would change. It isn’t a bad book, it is just a bit too long winded to be practical.



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