Posts Tagged ‘beginners

01
Jan
15

0-Level ACKS Alices

Introductory Complaining

If I’m running a low-power game, I like 0-level play: It sets the tone, establishes more of the character at the table, and introduces new players to the game in play rather than in prep. What I don’t like about it is a tendency for the (scant) modules to concretize class restrictions in a particularly unbelievable way. Consider N4: Treasure Hunt:

Zero-level characters all know how to use one weapon. Before your adventure gets underway, have each player choose his character’s weapon proficiency. (Weapon proficiency is explained under “Weapons” in the Players Handbook). A player may only choose dagger, quarterstaff, or dart. Tell the player to write his character’s weapon proficiency on the character sheet.

If, in the course of the adventure, a character picks up a weapon and states that he’s going to try to learn to use it, let him. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that, while these characters are in their “state of grace” and learn things speedily, they can learn a weapon proficiency after using the weapon in two combats. A character can learn no more than three extra weapon proficiencies.

Tell the character he should swing the weapon around for a while, get used to its heft and characteristics, and that after a couple of combats in which he uses the weapon, he will have a proficiency with it.

The characters are not limited to dagger, staff and dart after they enter the adventure but, again, the choice of the weapons they learn can limit their character class choices.

If a character tries to learn more weapons during the course of the adventure he starts limiting the number of character classes he can choose. For instance, a 1st level magic- user can only have one weapon proficiency. If the 0 level character learns a second weapon before taking 1st level, he can therefore not be a magic-user when he reaches 1st level. That’s how it works.

Some of this is a consequence of the AD&D weapon proficiency framework, but I’d dread having a conversation at table about whether a PC wanted to surrender the chance to become a magic-user because they used a dagger and a dart. I get bored just thinking about it. Instead, I thought projecting a Jack-of-all-Trades class backwards to 0, with accreting abilities after creation, would work better with the group I’m running a game for.

The ACKS approach to weapons, classes and proficiencies gives a GM some tools to work around the rough spots in the 0-1 progression, and I thought that an ACKS conversion of the Alice class from A Red & Pleasant Land would make an especially good 0-level class for the group I was running.

The Alice: A 0-Level ACKS Conversion

As you might expect, it’s pretty easy to convert between LotFP and ACKS. The Alice is built on the Thief without a backstab ability, and over the course of the 0-1 progression they:

  • Get a +1 to hit (going from 11+ on AC 0 to 10+)
  • Get a +1 to saving throws (going from Thief 1 with a -2 modifier to a -1 modifier)
  • Get a +1 to skill throws in 3 abilities (equivalent to the 1/2 level progression in RPL)
  • Get an ability from the Alice random progression table (see RPL, this happens twice)
  • Get the exasperation ability (see RPL)

There’s a lot of room there to set up minor XP milestones or success feedback checks along the course of an adventure to result in level 1 Alice characters, and none of it is jarringly binary (with the possible exception of exasperation, but that worked well to establish the kind of fantastic space the PCs were in).

The ACKS Thief skills improve more-or-less by 1 with each level, so I started them with thinly renamed throws as follows:

  • Take Things Apart: 19+
  • Find Hidden Things: 18+
  • Sleight of Hand: 18+
  • Be Not Heard: 18+
  • Climb: 14+
  • Be Not Seen: 19+
  • Eavesdrop: 14+

Three of those are 1 better than would be expected from the ACKS Thief, but I thought it was fair for the worse initial climbing and rounding the 1/2 level progression down to improving 3 skills instead of 4. Given the style of progression, I found it easier to leave the throw targets static and have the players record a modifier on their character sheets.

Play Report: Waking Up, or Possibly Falling Asleep, in a Library

Caddy Jelleby, Percy the Urchin, Robert Call-Me-Bob, Scotia and Tadcaster awaken with a start from the falling dream in a library (map) with a ruined roof. A quick wealth roll revealed the quality of their clothing and the number of things in their pockets (modifier of a 3d6 roll, +1).The room they were in was full of numerous books, crockery, broadsheets from all over the world, several partial decks of playing cards, and a military saber (with which Scotia armed herself). Feeling like they needed to find a place with a sturdier roof to escape the snow beginning to fall, the 5 of them set out to look for an exit.

When two of them tumbled into the giant pneumatic tubes under the map room’s floor, the rest followed and were shunted to a reference desk staffed by the last remaining librarian: A hulking bear in a tweed suit named Ian. Ian drinks gin from a porcelain tea set (-3 to hit and AC when drunk, save vs poison each round or lose an attack to hiccoughs). Ian dissembles over questions he doesn’t know the answer to, and is prone to fib responding to those he does. Ian regards the PCs as items from Special Collections, and makes up elaborate classifications for them that shape the contents of rooms in the library.

Ian can be tricked into classifying PCs as outdoor goods, he can be killed leaving his pneumatic controls to the PCs to decipher, or he can be bargained into “remaindering” the PCs outside by bringing him the 2 dozen or so catalog cards that have gone missing. His catalog is full of many shifting cards- if the drawers are turned out, the cards will flap through the air on a middle crease like a swarm of bats.

The 5 PCs set out to find the cards. They discover a talking penguin named Birdtha who just wants to go home to Pengland, and promise to aid her (Caddy: “a quest!”). They discover the missing cards being used as a makeshift deck in a Euchre-LARP conducted in an inexplicable garden party in one of the library’s salons. After establishing one of their own as the best, correct, and right bower, the PCs won most of the tricks (but not all). They cheated by swiping the last trick, and an enraged Left Bower (a level1 Alice) came after them with a sword-cane. Scotia confronted him in the doorway with the saber, and Poor Percy seized the opportunity to drive a silver letter opener into the poor Bower’s neck. The rest of the party fell into panicked chaos as the Left Bower fell dying to the ground, and the PCs escaped with the cards.

Ian proved trustworthy enough in the card exchange, and the PCs ended the session shunted into a bin outside the library with the saber, some maps and newspapers, and about 40 xp apiece. The xp is earning them 2 of the accumulating abilities before the next session.

23
Nov
11

my son the convention DM

This is Javi wearing his Halloween costume: a green slime in disguise. He will not be wearing it while DMing, as the mask makes it hard to see the numbers on the dice.

In the early years of being a parent, people would talk about how the first year of a child’s life was the best time of all. I believe that this nonsense is part of the directed forgetting we evolved so that humans will have multiple kids and ensure the survival of the species. If we really remembered what it was like to change our shirts six times a day because spit-up leaked through the cloth forever worn over our shoulders, and be woken up at each of the hours of the morning that go wee, wee, wee all the way home, procreation would come to an abrupt halt after we’d done it once.

The thing that kept me going through the various torments of early childhood was the knowledge that the best times were yet to come. Not wanting to be the kind of parent who already has their kid’s college picked out or expects them to follow precisely in their footsteps, I didn’t have specific moments in mind. However, this is definitely one of them: my nine-year-old will be DMing his first convention game next weekend at Anonycon in Stamford, CT. Here is the description we came up with for his event:

D&D Classic – The Dungeons of Ramburgh (D&D 4e)
By Javi Allison. The people of Ramburgh are being tormented by undead monsters from the desert. Will your heroes find fame and fortune in the streets of the city and the dungeons beyond, or will your corpse soon join the ranks of those shuffling toward Ramburgh? This adventure was developed and playtested in the D&D afterschool program at Hunter College Elementary School. Javi is one of the program’s most talented DMs, and will have adult help managing the rules (4E Essentials), but grownups should still expect a different kind of D&D: fresher, funnier, weirder! Paragon-tier pregens will be provided, or you can bring your favorite 11th level characters from LFR or your home game. (Reminder, LFR Characters cannot receive XP, GP or items from this adventure … but players can still have fun. ;-))

The reminder was thoughtfully added by the convention organizers, who put together a great event every year. I’m looking forward to it!

19
Aug
11

Some Interesting Questions for RPGs and the OSR

First, how do you make roleplaying games something that anyone can pick up and play for as much or as little time as they like – for example, at a party where people who aren’t already gamers are walking up and looking to experience this new thing without having to commit their whole evening to something they’re not sure they’ll be into? I feel like this is an OSR question because one of the hallmarks of the RPGs of the original era was that they enabled a situation where stoners with Frodo Lives buttons in a college dorm, or new recruits on a military base, or imaginative kids at a school game club would be able to walk up, create a character, and get hooked. And revivalist things like the Tower of Gygax are better enabled to do this than anything else I know about.

Second, how do you reconcile delivering an instant hit of RPG goodness to newbies with the contradictory goal of satisfying the “this campaign could be your life” promise of the neverending story? James has talked about how, even in a nominally open-table game like the White Sandbox, the mass of information an ongoing storyline accumulates can be off-putting. What structure will keep an enlivening churn happening between new players who want to be enthralled by the way their choices produce immediate results and old ones who want to keep on getting deeper into an exploration of the consequences of choices they made many sessions back in their collective memory?

17
Oct
10

super awesome lets pretend time (pt 2)

I managed to clear my schedule this week to help Tavis with his after-school D&D program.  I guess this is Week 4?  (I probably shouldn’t call this Part 2, since it’s the fourth week, but hey.)

My job was to help one of this week’s Dungeon Masters with her prep, and to help her batch of kids stay focused.  Five things were noteworthy:

1.  Our first sandbox!

Although Tavis had observed several railroad adventures in Weeks 2 and 3, this time around we had our first sandbox dungeon.  “My” Dungeon Master RaQuel, with help from her dad, obtained one of those poster-sized battle maps used in 4e: a small town adjoining the ruins of a castle.  The Dungeon Master had prepared a little encounter in each building, which could be explored in any order.  The encounters were plausible, interesting, and (weakly) interconnected.  It was delightful to see.  (I think Tavis said her dad used to be a gamer, and she admitted he helped her a little; I’m curious how involved he was with the design.  But regardless, it was very well done.)

2.   Our first GMPC.

“Okay . . . So, this fire goblin jumps on your head!  He is eating your brain!”

“Ha ha ha, my brain…. my brain . . . . it’s so big, it’ll be a big meal!”

“Okay, so when the fire goblin is eating your brain, he becomes good.  He’s a good guy now.  He is your slave because of your brain.  He is like, ‘Yes master!’ because your brain is so strong.”

(a round later)

“The fire goblin turns into a boulder.  [Places wad of tinfoil on the map.]  It’s a boulder made of tinfoil.  With eyes in it.  And the tinfoil is like really good armor.”

(a round later)

“Okay, you could run to the tower, but the Fire Tinfoil Goblin says, ‘Master, jump on me, I’ll roll there, I’m faster.’  Okay, so do you jump on him to roll there?”

(a round later)

“The prisoner won’t leave without his parakeet, but the parakeet wants food.  There’s a peanut in the tinfoil goblin!  It says, ‘Master, I have the food.  If you want it.’  Do you want it?”

3.  You Will Never Guess What Victor Did!!

The Dungeon Master wrote on the map “Adohna’s Chest!”  But then Victor wrote down “MAdonhna’s Chest” and we opened it!  Hee hee hee!

(This was, to the 8 year old boys, indescribably hilarious.  They hero-worship the 12-year-old boys like Victor.)

4.  Elementary School Teachers are Vastly Under-Appreciated

Spending 80 minutes supervising 5 little kids and getting them to focus on something is hard work.  Oh man.  One kid was literally bouncing off the walls, doing flips over the sofa, doing weird postures that would break his neck if any other rambunctious child bumped into him.  (As a lawyer, I look at this child and see FUTURE PERSONAL INJURY PLAINTIFF written on his forehead.)

I don’t know how teachers handle 30 of these little dudes.  I leave the classroom and want a belt of rum just to steady my nerves.

5.  These Kids Like D&D

Leaving the session, I asked Joan (one of the other Dungeon Masters), “So, hey, is this stuff fun?”  And Joan responded, “Yes!  It’s my favorite game, even more than chess!”  Which made me feel really happy.

24
Sep
10

super awesome lets pretend time (pt 1)

This afternoon Tavis and I played a home-brewed version of D&D with ten 8 year old children at an afterschool program in Manhattan.  Let me front-load with the cute stuff:

  • Two of my five players were girls.  One of them, Joan, ended by saying, “That was AWESOME.  That was, by far, the best game I have EVER played.”  We loaned her a copy of the new 4e Starter Set to read this week – God knows what she’ll make of it.  So at the end of the session, a copy of D&D ended in the hands of an enthusiastic new (and female) player, which is what this is all about.  I am awesome (Tavis is more awesome, but gets second billing on this).
  • Joan initially was disappointed that there were no “normal girl” miniatures, but at the end of the session said, “I wish I could keep this, I LOVE her” in regard to her black-leather-clad dual-wielding female Doomguard.
  • “Okay, as you’re travelling along the old bridge road, you see a strange little lizard man, about 3 feet high.  He is astride a giant weasel, and looks to be having a nap in the saddle.  What do you do?”  “Kill it!  “Um, kill it.”  “Ooh, ooh, I attack it and then kill it!”  “Let’s just kill it!”  “Okay . . . Roger, what do you want to do?”  “I guess . . . I chop off its head, and then kill it.”
  • In the process of killing it: “I chop out its eyes!”  “Whoa cool!!  It can’t see!!”  “Nice one!”  “Yesssss!”  (twenty minutes later) “In the dungeon, you find Sir Justin.  The monsters have chopped out his eyes, leaving him blind.”  “That’s horrible!!”
  • All of these kids were 8 years old.  They showed strong ability to do D&D-type reasoning: “It sounds like this route is very direct, but dangerous.  Let’s try an indirect route and get there a different way. . . . Let’s stick together so the monsters don’t get us . . . This key probably unlocks a dungeon cell, let’s take it along with us. . . . This monster invited us to dinner: it must mean he’s planning to eat us!”  So all of these signals from the DM are immediately understood correctly.  I delivered these signals in a slightly exaggerated fashion, but the children had no problems understanding the big idea and how stuff fit together entirely on their own.
  • RaQuel said, “My second sword is also a cell phone.”

The idea is that we’d get a whole bunch of kids at the elementary school to role-play, using the Dungeons & Dragons brand as a bait-and-switch.  The idea would be to teach newcomers that these types of games exist, and Dungeons & Dragons is a fun thing to do.  And for kids who are already D&D players (there are a few in this bunch), we’d show them how to do things in a more Old Skool kind of way–which is to say, just imagining stuff and having fun, without worrying about “builds,” rules, feats, and other stand-ins for status-mongering.

Some of these kids are new.  Several of them that I was playing with had no prior role-playing experience, and were very frightened and worried about trying something totally brand new.  So I did a lot of work reassuring them that, “This is a game that is fun.  It helps you imagine.”  We would play as a team (“Yes!!  I’m so glad we don’t have to compete!”) and while unexpected things might happen, you’re never out of the game.

Tavis home-brewed some super-simplified version of 4e which was still too complicated for me to understand, much less teach.  My bunch played pretty fast and loose: roll + stat bonus = hope for the best.  Basically, my version of it was a D&D 4e Skill Check type system, just without skills, and 5 kids managed to accomplish 5 encounters (with 2 combats) in just over 40 minutes.

Maybe some day soon I will post up the little adventure I drafted, if I can figure out how to do it.

17
Sep
10

Lend a Kid Your Red Box Essentials Starter Set

 

Mike Phelan, says here you get a Starter Set. Jim Romero, please step inside the bus to be smitten by the cudgel of a blazing-eyed zealot in platemail armor.

 

By now, most of us have had a similar experience with the 4E Essentials Starter Set. It goes like this:

Attracted by the Elmore cover art and 1983 retro-clone layout of its red box set, or by the trumpets and war-drums announcing that the D&D Bus was rolling down your street, you ran right out and bought one.

Like John Aegard posted at storygames, you were then “struck by how hard it was aimed at the patient zero kid who is going to be learning the game as they’re introducing it to their friends. The ‘player’s book’ is a numbered adventure. When the player completes it, they have a completed character and a bit of a feel for what D&D is about.”

You were filled with admiration for this tool for introducing new players to the game who might have   just picked it up on the shelves of a Target store.

However, you then realized that you were not a new player. While making a character by stepping through an introductory adventure is awesome for first-timers, you weren’t going to want to do it more than once or twice. Maybe you went out and bought Heroes of the Fallen Lands: Create and Play Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, and Wizards so you could do like the subtitle says, and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms in order to Create and Play Druids, Paladins, Rangers, and Warlocks. Or maybe you didn’t. Either way, your new red-box Starter Set is likely collecting dust.

Why not put it in the hands of a new player? Here are some ways you can do that:

  • I’m going to be teaching an afterschool D&D class for eight kids age 8-13, starting next Thursday (9/23). During the class I’ll be adopting the Starter Set approach of building characters and learning mechanics through play, and it’d be great to have some to lend to the kids to read and try out on their own outside of class.
  • The Game Loft is a a volunteer-run community center located in the heart of Belfast, Maine that runs after-school program organized around a community of interest based on games. I’m betting they would love to have your unused Starter Sets.
  • Many public libraries have games programs that would be glad for donations. Wizards launched a library program called Afternoon Adventure with DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, which inspired the Terra Libris effort at the Escapist (the RPG advocacy site, not the online magazine). Sadly Jamie Albrecht’s program at the Homewood Library seems to have run into problems, but there are likely many more successful library RPG programs out there that I don’t know about.

I can return Starter Sets loaned to me at the end of the semester; if you’re not a NYC local, I’ll put my address in the comments. (Otherwise I can pick ’em up at the White Sandbox game on Saturday, or otherwise arrange a handoff). Contact the Game Loft to inquire about donations at the link above, or visit your local library’s homepage.

16
Sep
10

The New Red Box: Philly

Just in case you thought it was that other red box we're talking about here

I’m glad to share the news that the Red Box family of gaming groups is gaining a new member, Red Box Philly. Let’s welcome the new meatshield, I mean cherished offspring, by joining the site as a show of support, and also rooting through our collective store of hard-won experience points to see what we can pass on to help Philly level up!

I’ll brainstorm some categories of things I’d want to know if I were trying to seed a new Red Box in untilled soil; although we can give advice here, there are also related threads at nerdNYC and the NY Red Box to take advantage of the different functionality of a forum.

  • What is the best way to attract players? It seems to me that having a regular weekly night to start with might be a good idea, because you can list that in player-finders that assume regularly-scheduled games rather than just-in-time ones. Pen & Paper is the player finder that comes to mind; what others work for people?
  • What are the pros and cons of coat-tailing an existing gaming group? I know that NY Red Box owes much to nerdNYC for creating a thriving community of gamers that we can recruit from, and I think I’ve heard that the Vancouver Gaming Guild also helped lay the groundwork for Red Box Vancouver. So my inclination would be to start out by offering to do New City Red Box events within the existing structure of whatever local community exists, especially the D&D Meetup group and the D&D Encounters program at a local game store (I’d even go so far as to create an Encounters game if none exists yet). However, I know that NY Red Box also benefited a lot from the attitude we inherited from the nerdNYC community, which is different from the prevalent approach I’ve seen in our D&D Meetup group, and different again from the likely style of friends you talk into playing despite not being hardcore gamers. I’ve found it possible to bridge these groups and would consider it more important to have many players to seduce away from their old style & towards the enlightened wisdom of old-school Red Box than only one or two right-thinking stalwarts, but it bears thinking about.
  • What is the hook that people keep coming back for? Curiosity about old-school play may lead some to check it out, but let’s face that it can be an acquired taste to roll up a character who only lives long enough for ten minutes of play time and one insanely ill-advised act of  sociopathy ending in a Save-or-Die effect. I suspect that the real selling point is a drop-in, low-commitment game like Encounters, Living Forgotten Realms, or the Pathfinder Society, but unlike them in that your character’s actions have an immediate, visible, and lasting impact on the story of the campaign.

To capitalize on that last one, and roll these together, I think that what I’d do if I were in Red Box Philly’s shoes would be to run games in the campaign wherever I could find players – at cons, at gamedays, at D&D Meetups or game stores on the same nights as Encounters, at friends’ houses, whatever. Each time, I’d capture people’s emails, and after the session I’d make a session summary on the forum, a wiki page for each character, magic item, place, and proper noun like Glantri and Black Peaks do. Then I’d email all the players:

Hey, thanks for playing! A recap of the events from last session is here on the forums; become a member so you can comment and help plan the next adventure. I made a Wiki page for your character so you can drop in and play anytime, even if you don’t have your character sheet with you. You’re always welcome to join in; you can use the forums and wiki to keep up on what’s happened while you’re away. If you earned any treasure, you should visit the carousing thread; it’s kind of a play-by-post minigame where you can earn experience points by having your character lavishly spend their gold on wine, women, and song, or whatever other special interest they may have…

As soon as possible, I’d encourage other players to run their own games; lots of people want to DM, and as we’ve seen with Red Box NY’s Sudden Summer Gaming, one of the great things our kind of group can do is to provide a pool of free-associating players who can come together to do stuff without being locked down by it. I suspect these should not be campaigns yet; you’ll know when something that started as a pickup game has developed enough momentum to become a campaign, and you want to select for DMs who have fun playing in other games and being loose with their ideas rather than making people commit to their grand pre-existing vision for how their game will be.

What else have we learned about how to make a Red Box group successful?




Past Adventures of the Mule

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