Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sign up for Virtuacon!

Check out this virtual gaming convention being held in October! Lots of great games are being run, everything from old-school faves to brand new stuff. There are lots of opportunities to play. More info is at the link below; you will want to be registered on RPG Geek to sign up for events.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Search of Strongholds, Part 6: Get to the Good Stuff

Welcome to the penultimate installment of my blog series on developing a stronghold system for 4e. It has taken a lot longer to get this all written down than it took to put it together in my head, but that is the way things go sometimes. Check out the previous installments if you need to catch up: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Today's post largely shies away from mechanics and instead focuses on the philosophy and reasoning behind my design decisions.

Here at Frothsof 4e, I try to keep my DM advice practical and specific. I personally do not enjoy reading DM advice posts. You can learn more by DMing one session of a game then you will ever learn by reading someone's blog, or even worse, a DM "self-help book". Specific advice on game elements is fine, but I believe everyone should make their own path as far as pacing, adventure styles, preparation, and all of the the rest goes. When it comes down to it, there is really only ONE bit of advice that I consider crucial enough to stress to a new DM, and that is to get to the "good stuff".

This is a lesson I think many of us have learned. We have a great idea, be it for an adventure, a foe, a location, or whatever, but instead of immediately getting to the good stuff, we take a roundabout way of getting there. We then run the risk of never actually arriving. Gaming groups break down, things happen. If you do not get to the good stuff, you sometimes never get there at all. If you have a great idea, use it as fast as you can. Get to the good stuff.

I have applied this mantra to my stronghold rules. I asked myself, "What is the "good stuff" when it comes to stronghold systems?" This also begs the question, "What is the bad stuff?" Well, everyone is different, but for me the "bad stuff" regarding strongholds and domains would be too much focus on the minutiae. Too much accounting. Too much resource tracking sucks the fun out of it for me, and makes it feel like school work. On the flip side, there is a lot of "good stuff" about stronghold systems that appeals to me greatly. I love the idea of carving your own place in the world, clearing hexes old-school style, designing what your stronghold will look like, roleplaying the construction and hiring of retainers and armies, attracting townsfolk to the area, and of course, eventually making a profit.

The question now becomes, "How do you get to the good stuff with only a modicum of soul-killing accounting?" Well, we start where every stronghold system starts: finding a suitable location to build. This should always be a joint exercise with the DM, and should always fit into your campaign world. My own completed, edited rules ("Baronies and Barbicans") will appear in issue #2 of 4e Forever, and as such, they will reflect the 4e Forever world. So the seemingly simple act of selecting a locale will vary widely depending on the campaign.

The DM should draw a map on hex paper. Use large hexes. It doesn't have to be very detailed, but it can be if you want. As for scale, I suggest using 1 to 3 mile hexes. The DM should note any special geographical features. Select a hex to be the building site. The PC(s) must then clear the area of monsters in a 3 to 6 mile radius around the site. This can take as long as you like and can constitute one or many adventures in and of itself. You can use random tables or design detailed adventures. The party can do all the work themselves or hire soldiers and mercenaries. Whatever the case, building should not start until the area is cleared.

So far this should sound pretty standard. Here is where it gets a little different. Traditionally, here is where you will start having to itemize everything. Every individual salary of everyone hired from potboys to engineers. Every single door, bastion, and tower. Formulae for construction time based on the number of workers. Wall footage. Armies. It starts to get tedious fast and the fun quickly gets sucked out.

That is why I came up with an idea for simplifying the building and staffing process. Now, I have talked before about how I could care less if my numbers are "historically" accurate. Its a fantasy game. I want them to make sense, but I do not care if they accurately portray medieval life or economies. If you disagree with this style, this system will likely drive you bonkers.

Anyway, you will still want to roleplay the hiring, building, and so forth, but I have "bundled" the necessary expenses for building and maintaining the property into two "packages". A DM could extrapolate further based on these packages if he or she wanted to make it more complex. The idea is that you spend a set amount of money. I have used round numbers for ease of use. The numbers are based on the stronghold construction taking a year (in the game world) to complete. All of the materials and labor costs are rolled in together. This includes a Sage whose magic presumably helps with the speed of construction, as well as the cost of fielding a smallish "army", whose size varies based on the amount spent.

I present two options, one priced at 50k and one for 100k. That is the total cost for the first year (i.e. construction, salaries, army, etc), payable all at once or by the game "month". After the first year, there is a set amount you pay in perpetuity for upkeep of the property, patrols of the previously cleared area, and maintaining your armed forces. After the stronghold is built, settlers automatically move into the area and begin paying taxes. After a couple of years you break even, and from there you start to make a modest profit. The hard numbers for this will appear in the next installment of the series.

Here is an idea that I am really proud of. I have always loved looking at the little drawings of castle components in OD&D and the Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets. Designing the look of your keep or manor is definitely part of the "good stuff" in my book. What sucks is trying to tally it all up piece by piece. I mean, how many doors do I need? 60? 43? How long does this wall need to be...and if I make it such and such length, what about the moat? Argggh. Fun=gone. Well, my idea is that instead of itemizing and accounting for each little piece of the stronghold, the cost of construction instead provides you a certain area of space. You can then use whatever architecture you want so long as it fits in the area. This area should be depicted on graph paper, and involves a combination of length, width, and height. So you don't have to worry about counting doors or towers or any of that. You are just restricted by the size of the stronghold, not by the "look". Make sense? Like I said this isn't "accurate", but it works. It is a way to embrace the fun parts of traditional stronghold systems, while doing away with the nitpicking.

So to review, the idea is pretty simple: less accounting, more roleplaying and stronghold designing. The system maintains the traditional "feel" of various domain systems, while alleviating a lot of the math and inventory tracking. The costs for building and maintaining the property and employees are all built in. You have a lot of freedom to give your construction the look that you desire without having to be needlessly anal about it. What is also cool is that it also will tie into the Scalemail mass combat system for 4e Forever (see issue #1).

So that is it for now. I will provide some numbers and breakdowns next time and summarize the blog series. You will have to wait until issue #2 for everything to be edited into a final presentation. My wife is going to be drawing the stronghold components, and I will be aiming for it to feel as close to the OD&D and Judges Guild's drawings as possible!

I would love to hear some feedback. Let me know what you think about these ideas!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Best 4....Weeks...in Gaming?

So I thought I would make this post as the GenCon excitement has reached a fever pitch. People have arrived and lines are forming. Not I. For millions of gamers, it just isn't feasible. The biggest reasons for me are family related, but you could point to a myriad of reasons one might not attend, from cost, to work-related issues, to living outside of the US, to just not wanting to brave a crowd of tens of thousands of people.
Hope you brought your deodorant...

I have always been the type that would rather watch a football game or other event on the boob tube rather than pack up the fam, deal with traffic, and ultimately not have the greatest view in the world. Of course, there are exceptions (like that Pink Floyd concert back in the day), but by and large, as long as I can see/hear what happened, being there in person is not crucial to me. In the case of gaming conventions, I can always catch up on seminars through social media. Important news gets around quickly, and the twenty minute delay in hearing the news is not such a big deal to me. Likewise, while I do collect a lot of old RPG materials, I cannot see myself waiting in line for things like free commemorative dice sets. There is nothing wrong with that at all, and I do not mean to sound judgmental; I am just speaking for myself. If I want an item badly enough, I can bid on it or find another way to get it. Anyway, I say all of this just to set up my point. There is ONE thing about conventions that has always made me jealous of those that regularly attend. The gaming. The near-constant gaming.

In my home games, I am always the referee. Always. I actually don't have a lot of folks nearby that would have ever even have played RPGs if I hadn't have invited them. This is fine and good, but I like to play too. I like to play old games. Obscure games. Brand-new games. All kinds of games. Conventions give you the ability to immerse yourself in a variety of games with other like-minded folks. That has always been the "draw" for me.

For years now, I have supplemented my in-person gaming with on-line gaming. I have always used the VT that WOTC tried to develop. It is a pretty simple program to use, and it works very well with 4e D&D, and other editions to some extent. It is limited though. It is not terribly well-known. In fact, when VTs get mentioned, it is rarely listed. It is also very much centered on 4e, which is fine, but it limits its appeal. There were other games I wanted to play, and for a long time it seemed like the only way I would get to play them would be to run them myself, likely with a group that wouldn't even be all that into it. Then I started exploring Google+.

About 4 weeks ago, I started to explore G+ more thoroughly. I had ignored it before; it just seemed like another pseudo-Facebook type deal. Come to find out, it is a gamer's paradise. Dozens of obscure, forgotten games have found a home there. New RPGs are playtested. Free materials are shared. And lots and lots of games get played.

Within the first 20 minutes, I was approached about playing a game of Boot Hill. I nearly swooned. Boot Hill? I literally do not know anyone but the local game shop owner that has even heard of it. I have had a player-in-waiting, The Albuquerque Kid, for years. Powers and Perils? Yes sir! Oriental Adventures? You don't say? Numenera? Why not? Mutant Future? Let me at it. Night's Black Agents? Holy moly! Pathfinder as far as the eye can see. D6 Star Wars. Shadows of Esteren. Dungeon Crawl Classics. Cthulhu. The opportunity to play games of all varieties is staggering.

I got to play in an OD&D game for the first time in years. I got to playtest the latest 5e packet. And the games just keep coming and coming. I don't have time to play half the games I would like to. If I had this while I was in college, I may have never graduated.

There is no real cost of entry. Most games are played on free tables, usually Roll20 being run through a Google "Hangout". You will likely need a mic, but that's about it.

Now, I am sure I sound a bit noobish to many. I am certainly late to the party, as there are already thousands and thousands of gamers taking advantage of it. All I can say is, better late than never. Anytime I want to find a game, I can pretty much just hop on, click around a bit, and find something going on. There hasn't been a day that has gone by that I haven't seen a game posted that I would love to play in.

Another bonus is that there seems to be a dearth of assholes. I am not saying they don't exist, it just seems like there is a lot less cynicism and edition-warring on G+ as opposed to the typical forum. I hope it stays that way. Everybody I have met has been cool.

Anyway, while you might be down in the dumps about not making it to GenCon for whatever reason, if what you feel like you are missing is the sheer GAMING, all I can tell you is that everyday is a convention on G+. Freelance designers share ideas, gaming companies preview materials, freebies flow like water, gaming news abounds, and most importantly, ACTUAL GAMES are going on near-constantly. So, don't just sit there feeling sorry for yourself! Get on G+ and find some games!