King Cailan Wants YOU!

I mentioned previously my enjoyment of the Dragon Age video game. I also mentioned in that post that Green Ronin was coming out with a pen-and-paper version of the game. Well, about a week ago, maybe a little more, Green Ronin offered up the boxed set of the game for preorder, with the bonus of a .pdf version free. I jumped at the deal, and have been reading the game.

I like it.

Some specific comments, in no particular order:

  • I like the idea of a boxed set, even though that hasn’t made it to me, yet. I think it’s mostly nostalgia, the feeling of opening a Christmas present that I associate with the boxed sets.
  • There is a real old-school feel to the game, mixed with more modern concepts in game design. It feels, in a lot of ways, similar to the old D&D Basic Set, but with the system aesthetics of things like d20 and FATE.
  • There aren’t a lot of options for starting characters, but really this is the simplest thing to develop as the game line matures. You get three character classes (Mage, Rogue, and Warrior) and seven backgrounds (Apostate, Avvarian, Circle Mage, City Elf, Dalish Elf, Ferelden Freeman, and Surface Dwarf). While I don’t think we’re going to see more classes added, new backgrounds (even just adding the ones from the video game) are an easy way for the game to add variety and options.
  • The rules look simple, flexible, and fast. It uses 3d6, with a simple bonus from stats and focuses (skills), compared to a target number. The broad middle of a three-dice bell curve creates a different feel to the game from the flat probabilities of the d20 system, and the Dragon Die component of the system (one of the d6s is a different colour, and is used to determine degree of success, among other things) adds an interesting variety to the rolls.
  • For a small book, the Player’s Guide provides a surprising wealth of information on the game world. If you supplement that with the information you can pick up playing the video game, you get a very rich starting background.

So, I’ve been reading the game, and trying to think when I could fit time into my schedule to run the intro adventure in the Game Master’s Guide. What with it being the run-up to the holiday season, and all the work I’m doing on getting Scio Occultus Res ready to go, my schedule’s a little cramped. Last Thursday, I figured I was about a day-and-a-half away from breaking down and sending out an e-mail invite.

Fortunately, I was saved by my friend, Clint, beating me to it. He proposed a game for that Friday night, and then asked me to run it by his wife, whom I work with, to see if she wanted to play. We also roped in their daughter and her boyfriend – hey, we’re all gamers in this group.

So, I threw together a character (two, actually; each one took about twenty minutes, and that’s with paging back and forth in the .pdf Player’s Guide), picked one to play, gathered up some dice, and headed out.

Oh, I also printed out a hard copy of the Player’s Guide. I was playing a mage, and wanted to make sure I had all the rules for the spells and Mana and stuff close at hand.

Clint ran us through the first part of The Dalish Curse, the intro adventure in the game. I hadn’t got around to reading it yet, fortunately, and I’m not going to give out any spoilers. It was a fun evening, though, and we made faster progress through the adventure than I had anticipated.

Some observations on actual play:

  • Combat moves fast and can be really deadly. I was playing a mage, which class isn’t great in a stand-up fight, and I almost died a couple of times in different combats. We got through three separate combats, plus a fair bit of exploration and roleplaying, in a single play session that ran about five hours. That’s significantly more than we generally get done in D&D.
  • Healing, while not quite as ubiquitous as in 4E, is robust enough that the twenty-minute-adventuring-day bogeyman never showed up. Still, you can feel the pressure of multiple fights. Same thing with Mana points.
  • The stunt system in combat rocks. Basically, when you roll doubles on any two of the three dice in a successful attack roll, you get a number of stunt point equal to the number on the Dragon Die that you can spend on that attack. The list is fairly short, but flavourful, and includes things like moving the target (or yourself) a couple of yards, doing extra damage, knocking the target prone, penetrating armour, getting an extra attack, and things like that. Now, by my calculations (and I could be wrong here – need an actual math-guy to check my numbers) you’ll roll doubles on 3d6 roughly 31% of the time. Even if only half those rolls hit the target, you’re looking at about one successful attack in six generating stunt points, which is a pretty good ration. It actually seemed to happen a little more often than that in play, but that may just be my perception of it. It made the combats (and spellcasting – spells get stunts, too) very interesting and flavourful.
  • The stunt system is currently only for combat, but I would be terribly surprised if it remained that way. It seems such rich game development ground to produce stunt lists for other actions that I can’t imagine the designers ignoring it.
  • The system in general handled a number of very different combat and non-combat tasks very well, and very easily. The structure of the intro adventure is nicely designed to allow new players to try a little bit of everything – this is what intro adventures should be, in my opinion – and it worked smoothly and almost transparently, which is what I want in a game mechanic.

So, we had a lot of fun, and we’re probably going to get back together to finish the adventure soon. And Clint is talking about setting up a loose gaming group to play Dragon Age semi-regularly, with a changing cast of characters and GMs trading off duties in a manner similar to the Spirit of the Century Pick-Up League.

I’m in.

One Shot, Part Three: Brother Puddler Saves Humanity

Okay, maybe I’m revealing a little bias in the title.

Saturday, we had the third and final installment of the Robot Wasteland one-shot that I’ve talked about here and here.

We managed to save Junkyard, flying in on our scavenged hovertransport at about the same time as the Devourer army reached the walls. My character, Brother Puddler, was flying, because the others were better at shooting things with the transport’s weapons or with some recovered beam rifles tied into the transport’s targeting assist.

We went after a few of the bigger Devourers first, because we had limited ammo and wanted to do as much damage as possible  before we ran out. Unfortunately, the shooting rolls did not favour us, and then one of the big grinders chewed the cockpit off the transport. There was just enough of it left for Brother Puddler’s divine powers to cobble the control systems back together again, and then we blew one of the control Devourers apart as we headed back to the no-man’s land.

Why were we heading back there? Because our psychic had spotted a small band of humans on a small hill surrounded by ravager Devourers. We flew in for a quick pick-up and dust-off, saving the wounded and driving off the attacking Devourers long enough for the survivors to get inside a bunker. I also managed to bash the crap out of the transport with a bad piloting check, but it still presented a great cinematic image: a hovertransport, with the cockpit shredded and open to the sky, a heavily-armoured warrior holding the controls intact through sheer willpower, swooping in to a rough landing on top of a pillbox, the passengers blasting away at six-legged catlike robots the size of bears, snatching up the the wounded, and blasting off back to Junkyard.

Then the folks in the bunker activated the bombs hidden in a long line through the battlefield, blasting a fifty-foot wide, twenty-foot deep ditch about a third of a mile long through the advancing robots.

After dropping off the wounded, we asked the defenders where they needed us, and they suggested helping to reclaim one of the cannon emplacements on the wall. We shot up there, but were running short on energy for the weapons. The two folks with beam rifles tried to clear the cannon tower of little raider Devourers, while the gunner on the ship’s guns kept firing downrange at the advancing larger Devourers currently trying to cross the ditch. When she ran out of power, she took the ship’s controls and Brother Puddler leapt down onto the tower with his chainsword to show the upstart metal a thing or two about the will of man.

And he was promptly pulled down and had his arm mangled. Again. Critical hit by a raider coupled with a critical failure on my Dodge roll. The rest of the raiders dogpiled him.

But a lucky Strength roll let him burst to his feet, tossing one of the raiders over the battlements, and grab a plasma cutter tossed to him by one of the other characters. He drove off the bulk of the raiders, supported by beam rifle fire from the transport, and then used the cannon to take out one of the huge Devourers that happened to be crossing the ditch by the simple expedient of walking across on the back of another huge one that was stuck in the ditch.

At this point, the Devourers were starting to flee, and had less cohesion than they had previously displayed. That’s when we figured that the first one we had killed was probably some sort of Devourer brainbot leading this unprecedented army.

So, we wrapped up the game, and we each got to say what our characters were doing five years later: we had wandering scouts and troubleshooters, a research team set up in the old weapons cache we had found, and Brother Puddler leading a chapterhouse of the Cult of Iron, working with the tech cult to understand and use the transport and other tech devices we had uncovered.

All-in-all, a most enjoyable one-shot, for all that it expanded to three nights.

Thank you, Clint, for the enjoyable game.

And thank you, Penny, Fera, and Tom, for saving Brother Puddler so many times.

One-Shot Dungeon Delve

This past Saturday night, I ran a one-shot for a fairly large group. The organizer, a friend from work, wanted to introduce his wife to the game, and to try out the new system, so I agreed to GM, supply pregenerated characters, and the adventures. His job was assembling a group. I told him that the basic assumption in 4E was that the party would consist of 5 characters, but that it was possible to run with more or fewer. I also said that less than four characters could make things more difficult, because then all the roles wouldn’t be filled, and there would be very little in the way of back-up.

He put together a group of seven players, most of whom had very little (or no) experience with 4E, which was fine. I used the D&D Character Builder (which I love to death) to generate quick characters – one for each class, and spread among the races. Everyone picked a character, and I ran them through  Coppernight Hold, the level 1 delve from Dungeon Delve. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and I think the game went fairly well. Some observations:

  • In retrospect, I think it would have been better to stick to the PHB1 races and classes, rather than going for the variety I did. While there was a benefit to having the broader choices – one of my friends finally got a chance to try out a Warden, for instance – I think that the range of choices was a little overwhelming to those who were less familiar with the whole thing.
  • As new supplements are released for 4E, I have noticed an increase in mechanical complexity with newly-introduced material. This is reasonable and to be expected, as the supplements can be viewed more as expert source material for those who have achieved some mastery of the game’s basics. However, for starting players, it makes the characters that use the new systems (beast mastery for Rangers, the Shaman’s spirit companion, and the Monk’s full discipline mechanic, for instance) more complex to play. We had both the Monk and the Shaman in play on Saturday, and they took a little time to start fitting together their abilities. I’m immensely glad no one chose the Psion.
  • Monks are very, very cool. I want to play a Monk.
  • Monks might be broken, currently. I’ll have to take a closer look, but the Monk in the game unleashed an absolutely devastating combo of powers with the wise use of an action point that made my eyebrows rise quite dramatically. Further investigation is warranted.
  • Seven players is a big group. Larger than I ideally like, but not completely overwhelming. The simplicity of the adventure and the frame of the one-shot made it easier to handle than a regular campaign, but combat rounds took a long time, especially as everyone was trying to get familiar with what their pregens could do.
  • The Character Builder Quick Character feature is great, but it produces some odd results sometimes. There was a real preponderance of multi-classing among the characters it generated, and some strange combos of class and race, and some less-than-intuitive selections of powers and feats. Now, the idea of the optimal build for each class will change from player to player, but I feel comfortable in saying that none of the characters was really optimized.
  • We started late (around 10:00 pm), and had a large group of novice players, so I cut out the middle encounter of the delve, and didn’t beef up the encounters we did play to match the number of players. That let us get through the delve in about three hours, which is not too bad.
  • It was very foggy as I drove home, and I thought I might die.

As I said, the game went well, and I think everyone had fun. We’re talking about doing it again, and I’m up for that.

One Shot, Part Deux

I borrowed that title from Clint, so he gets at least half the praise or blame, as your taste dictates.

Last night we went back to the post-apocalyptic world of the Devourers, and continued our quest to warn Junkyard of the impending army of robots coming to eat them. We didn’t quite finish the adventure this time, either, so we’re looking at one last session.

No combat this session, which was nice in a lot of ways. There is a drive in a lot of games to have at least one good fight every session – I know I try and do that in most of the D&D games I run, because the combats are fun. But it’s nice to have a session where there isn’t any fight, and the whole thing comes down to roleplaying, with some skill checks, and player decisions.

Also, we were running somewhat low on resources, so best save those for the big fight we know is coming at the end.

Once again, Clint crammed a wonderful variety of post-apocalyptic tropes together into a fun-filled evening. We hid in ruined buildings to avoid scavenging robots. We ran from a Devourer that looked a little like a Veritech Fighter in robot form, only with guns and blades replacing the hands. We met a society of somewhat mutated psychics in the abandoned sewers of Many Police, and bartered with their God of the Pit, an insane Devourer that had developed enough of a mind for the psychics to affect it. We worked with the psychics to telepathically warn Junkyard that the attacks was coming, completing the most important part of our mission. We evaded a large group of feral humans, not wanting to risk the delay or combat that might result. We scavenged the communications panel from an old suit of powered armour, and used it to uncover a hidden cache of weapons from before the Harrowing, including an armed hover transport, which we plan to take back to Junkyard and use against the invading Devourers.

But it was late then, and we wrapped it up.

So, Brother Puddler is coming back for one more night to hack through the soulless Iron with his faith-powered chain sword.

I’m glad.

Saturday Night One-Shot

My friend Fera sent out this link last Wednesday.

Within a few minutes, my friend Clint sent this reply:

OK, anybody want to play a one-shot game this weekend.

‘Robot Wasteland’ – It is nearly a century after the holocaust, when the EATRs progressed from eating dead organic matter to ANY organic matter. Robotic killers roamed far and wide in search of sustenance. It was not long before the EATRs infested the first Manufacturies, creating the next generation of redesigned Devourers. From that point onward, human civilization was doomed. After a century, the remaining living creatures on earth haunt a ghostworld of shattered wasteland that expands as the Devourers exhaust their resources.

You are one of the survivors. What will you do to tip the balance of power back in favour of life.

At first I thought he was joking. Putting together a one-shot in that short a time is a lot of work. But a number of people were jumping on the bandwagon. I had lunch with him on Thursday, and asked if he was serious.

He said yes. I was soooooo in.

He decided to use OpenQuest, which is a hybrid system based on Mongoose Publishing’s RuneQuest SRD, remixed with some ideas from the original RuneQuest and Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying. It’s a quick, fairly simple system, especially the way Clint scaled down some of the detail to speed things along. Fast to learn, easy to use and adapt.

The game actually didn’t finish in one session – it’s an easy system, but every system has some ramp-up time, and we had two people in the group who hadn’t played it before*. And, speaking from experience, it’s tough to judge how much of a new game people will get through in the evening. So it looks like the game may wind up being a two-shot.

Clint went with a tried-and-true scenario: all the characters are captured by the Devourers, the robot eating machines, in the ruins of Many Police. The Devourers are mounting an attack on Junkyard, the largest human settlement in the area. The characters have to escape captivity and make it back to Junkyard with a warning to save humanity.

He put together some nice pregenerated characters for us to use, too. I wound up playing an acolyte of the Cult of Iron, heavily armoured and able to “persuade” metal to behave in certain ways – repairing simple things, making my armour weightless, powering my chainsword. We also had a psychic with clairvoyance and healing ability, a gun-fu jedi-type, and a Gear Cultist with an EMP device*.

We started out locked in a cage, armoured but without our weapons and other gear. After the initial description of what was happening, my character, Brother Puddler, distracted the robots left behind to deal with us by trying to convert them to his faith* while the Gear Cultist jimmied the lock and the psychic located our gear. The others ran for the weapons, while I tore out an iron bar from the cage and used it to hold off the attacking robots. Did pretty well, too, except for a lucky critical in the early rounds reducing me to one usable arm.

After we got out of there, we headed for Junkyard, making our way through the ruins. And, of course, we got attacked by an old RuneQuest monster: rubble-runners. Think rats the size of bulldogs with mouths like aligators. They proved surprisingly challenging, and ate up the rest of the evening.

It was a fun game, and I’m eager to finish it off. Clint did a great job of putting it together, especially in so short a time.

And what else?

Well, it’s got me thinking about running more one-shots. OpenQuest is a simple system to adapt to other settings, and a nice choice to build one-shots. I’ve put off a number of interesting game ideas in the past because they’d only stand up for one or two sessions, but now I have a tool to turn them into something playable in an evening without it taking a month and a half of prep.

Now all I need is more space in the schedule to do it.



*Actually, they pretty much had, in my Call of Cthulhu one-shot, but that was a while ago, and the differences were just enough to disguise it. Back

*As you can tell, this wasn’t just a rip-off of Terminator. It was a rip-off of Terminator mixed with rip-offs of Fallout, Feng-Shui, Warhammer 40,000, and a bunch of other influences. Clint mixes and matches some of the tastiest settings I’ve ever played in. Back

*Primary doctrine of the Cult of Iron: metal subservient to the will of man, because metal is soulless, and man is too physically weak. Only by the joining of the two, with the soul of man providing the divine guidance, can the two species progress. At least, that’s what I decided it was on Saturday. Back

Hunter: The Vigil

Last Friday evening, I got some of my group together to run a one-shot of Hunter: The Vigil. This is White Wolf’s New World of Darkness version of Hunter: The Reckoning, which never really inspired much love in me. Hunter: The Vigil, on the other hand, really intrigued me once I bothered to take a look at it.

My main problem with the old game was that, instead of playing normal humans confronting the supernatural, you played normal humans with funky powers confronting the supernatural*. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but I felt it ignored a large area of interesting story by not letting one play a normal human thrust into a paranormal world.

Also, I found that the basic assumptions of the game really tried to force one to play a very specific type of game, with very specific types of characters and plots. Not enough freedom readily available in the basic design, is what I’m saying, though of course every game can be expanded beyond its core assumptions by a dedicated GM.


The new version of Hunter really did a lot to fix that. It provides a much more open matrix of story than the previous game, and is designed to allow the GM to pick the style of game he wants to run. It’ll readily support stories told in the vein of the Supernatural TV series, stuff out of Poltergeist: The Legacy and X-Files, and full-blown gun-bunny Delta Force raids on vampire nests. You can pick the level of play in a manner very reminiscent of Unknown Armies, choosing how much the characters know about the weird of the world and what resources they have at their disposal. There is also a very nice section at the end telling you how to build your own creatures, so you’re not tied into the standard World of Darkness mythology, which I think is a good thing**.

Well, of late, we’ve just been playing D&D, so I think we were all hungry for a non-fantasy, non-d20 game as a change of pace. I downloaded one of the quick-start adventures available from White Wolf – The Hunt. It uses the characters from the in-game fiction in the rulebook***, and picks up their story about a week after the events described in the fiction. I invited five of my group to play, and they all said yes, so we set a date, they picked characters, and we got to it.

Overall, it was a success.

There were a few hiccups, though, in part because this was a first run for all of us, and in part because the intro adventure is very bare bones without a lot of depth to it. Not surprising in an intro adventure, but it showed its holes when confronted by experienced players.

A couple of negatives really stood out to me (I’ll try to avoid spoilers):

  • The timeline for the “mystery” really railroads the characters. There were a couple of points where the adventure basically says, “This is all you can do. Now you have to wait for things to happen.” Sure, that’s very reflective of reality, especially in a police investigation, but I prefer more active avenues be available for players and characters to explore.
  • The main villain, who is given a fairly rich backstory, is barely onstage at all. There is little to no interaction set up in the adventure beyond trying to shoot him.
  • Far more engaging and compelling than the main character is a red herring introduced about midway through the adventure. This really sidetracked the investigation a fair bit.
  • The combat stats were not really well-balanced. Five PCs, three of them tough cops and one of them a gang leader with a bodyguard, could barely handle four stock, run-of-the-mill gang members. The relevant stats were too out of whack for the cops to have had much of a chance unless they pulled their guns. When they ran into some of the supernatural threats, it was even worse.

And now the positives:

  • The SAS structure was quite easy to follow and use on the fly.
  • There was an interesting mix of things to do in the adventure, giving pretty much everyone a chance to shine.
  • Some of the ideas were great, such as Rag Man.
  • The quick-start rules that came with the adventure were handy, easy to follow, and gave us all the basics.
  • The write-ups for each of the pre-gen characters were wonderfully complete and easy to use.
  • It was fun.

In the final analysis, it’s really that last point that makes all the difference, isn’t it?

We liked the game enough that we’re going to run another one-shot available for free from White Wolf: One Year Later. If that one goes well, I’m considering starting an ongoing campaign.

We’ll have to wait and see on that, though.

Final verdict? Hunter: The Vigil is a fun game.

*I freely admit that I am oversimplifying, and indeed may be downright wrong about this. I haven’t looked at the game since it came out in 1999, and that’s the impression I came away with after reading it. Or at least that’s what I remember my impression to be.

**Especially considering the long-running Vampire: The Masquerade campaign that ran in my group for somewhere in the neighbourhood of ten years. A lot of the backstory and basics of the World of Darkness got explored in that time. Granted, it was the old World of Darkness, but still.

***Which is one of the creepiest bits of in-game fiction I’ve read in a White Wolf product.