Tyranny of Dragons

I was planning to do quite a bit of painting last weekend, but discovered I had run out of a critical colour of paint. Hate it when that happens. New paint duly ordered this week and hopefully next week I will be able to show you all some painted Dwarfs (the 2,000 point army I have been planning just requires four war machines now), more Ancient Greeks and I will also be commencing proper work on a new secret army.

However, I did get some proper gaming in this week, in the form of trying out the new 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons.

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We gave 4th edition a miss and have been doing a fair amount of 3.0/3.5 over the years, including a D20 Slaine campaign that we are now in the last phases of.

For 5th edition, I decided to run the recently released Horde of the Dragon Queen, part of the Tyranny of Dragons series. It has dungeons, it has dragons – what is not to like?

Paging through the new Player’s Handbook, I was struck by something of a revelation. Not only have Wizards got this edition ‘right’, this is possibly the best RPG on the market at the moment (a subjective comment, I realise). In terms of presentation, roleplaying hooks integrated into character design, and streamlined mechanics, it ticks all the right boxes and I would happily give this game a 10 out of 10 based on the initial read through.

If you are a player of 3.5, there is much here that you will find familiar. At the same time, however, you have to be careful as even some sacred cows that have been in place since 1st edition AD&D have been tweaked. Fireballs, for example. No longer a base 6D6 damage.

Here’s some other things I really like;

  • Cantrips are effectively use at will. Wizards now can still contribute in a big way when they have run out of spells.
  • You burn spell slots to cast prepared spells, not the spells themselves. Spellcasters are now much more versatile.
  • Rests (long and short) are now properly defined, and you may well be able to get away without dedicated healers in a party (still very useful though).
  • Something interesting happens at every level in every class.
  • The three strikes and out rule for Death Saves is very attractive, and removes the ‘-9 Club’ factor.
  • Weapons, armour and shields are all greatly simplified and there are a lot less of them. No bastard sword, for example. Simply not needed when the longsword has the Versatile rule.

I could go on. There really is much to like in this edition of D&D, and I can see it reclaiming its top spot for RPGs. Certainly got me thinking about how Traveller is approached and presented…

 

Character Creation

Anyway, we started rolling up characters last night and even with everyone trying to get to grips with the new rules, it flowed fairly quickly. We created the following;

Alan: A Human Fighter with the Noble background.

James: A Halfling rogue with the Urchin background.

Ed: An Elven Cleric (of Kelemvor) with the Acolyte background.

Amy: A Half-Orc Barbarian with the Outlander background.

The backgrounds really do work well in fleshing out a character, though my players took a perverse delight in rolling up Flaws, getting more excited about them than anything else. One observation I would make is that a party now can have an awful lot of languages between them. It may be a little too much, or it may simply facilitate ease of play during gameplay.

I also gave each of the players one of the Backgrounds detailed in Horde of the Dragon Queen.

 

Horde of the Dragon Queen

Character creation was done quickly enough that we had enough time to get a few hours of play time in, and we launched into Horde of the Dragon Queen, the first part of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. I have seen some negative reviews of this online but, to be honest, I think they are mostly off-base. Yes, things can always be better, but I found enough ideas and tips in the book to start running the game fairly easily and my biggest complaint is the lack of an easy key for the maps. But, at least the maps accurately describe what is in the text, not always a strength of all RPGs (Dark Heresy, I am looking at you).

The players are on their way to a small town called Greenest, all for reasons laid out in their additional campaign backgrounds, with a big list of choices for the DM in the back of this book. They come across the town and find it under attack, by a big blue dragon, of all things!

Rushing in, they rescue a family from marauding kobolds (the wife of that family turned out to be a spear savant of some kind, as she nailed a fair few kobolds herself!). The players then escorted the family to the keep in the centre of the town, battling kobolds and cultists along the way.

Inside the keep, they meet the castellan (a dwarf called Escobert) and are introduced to the the town’s governor, Nighthill. The governor asks them to see if they can rescue more townsfolk and also if they can keep their eyes out for any potential enemy leaders that can be taken prisoner. They duly agree (being the heroes that they are) and are shown a secret tunnel out of the keep.

In the tunnel, they meet a couple of rat swarms – rat swarms are not as nasty as they were in 3.5, but still deserve respect (as the players discovered) – and then pop out into a stream where they ambush more kobolds and cultists. Wondering what to do next, they see a temple under siege and duly head in, knowing that while the cultists trying to batter down the front door are few in number, there are an awful lot more close by.

The battle goes almost smoothly and they capture the leader, but not before he managed to call for help. Ten kobolds come racing around the corner followed by a couple of Ambush Drakes, nasty draconic lizards. Remember, this is just a first level party, and they quickly realise they have bitten off more than they can chew.

In this fight, the Fighter and Halfling go down, though they are both stabilised and the Elven Cleric gets too close to the lizards for his liking. The day is ultimately saved by the Half-Orc Barbarian who cleaves through the kobolds and finishes off the drake. The session ends with the Elf carrying the unconscious Halfling, and the Half-Orc hefting the Fighter and prisoner over her shoulders (she has Strength 20…).

Next week, they will be thrown back into the embattled town…

The book says that by the end of chapter one, players will hit second level – no kidding, with this much fighting they did it in just this half session, and we are not too much into the first chapter. As 2nd level only requires 300 XP and eight kobolds are worth 200 XP between them, with this much fighting levelling up quickly is pretty much inevitable. It will get harder as more XP are needed to go up levels, but this was very, very quick, much faster than 3.5 (where there is perhaps a 50/50 chance of attaining second level in your first, full session). Something to keep an eye on.

However, for all that, the players greeted the new rules in a very positive manner. They like all the changes and we are looking forward to revisiting Greenest next week!

 

Gaming? Anyone?

Okay, things have not gone so well since my last post where I talked abot the Star Wars campaign thundering along.  Against my better judgement, I have let Real Life interfere with gaming and, frankly, what Real Gamer would allow that to happen, eh?

It got bad enough last week that I even had to cancel the weekly Star Wars game, simply because I had not been able to prepare the adventure that evening – which, considering it only required me reading it, is a poor show.  Still, I have set aside some time this evening and next, so hopefully we will be back in the saddle on Wednesday to uncover the next phase of the Dawn of Defiance campaign.

I did manage to get the monthly D&D game in (mostly because it was Forge of Fury, an adventure I have both run and played before, so not much preparation required).

Fresh from the Sunless Citadel, the adventurers returned home to a little celebration (they did not tell many people they were leaving in the first place – still, Nick’s Father, Silas the Baker, did bake a celebratory pie in the shape of an enourmous pie. . .).  Tally the Bard made sure everyone in the village was kept abreast of developments in the outside world (war is brewing up north, some trade tarriff problems to the west), while the players got used to being 3rd level, and bought some new equipment.  Nick, playing a rotund cleric, decided he was not going to be dodging many blows in the near future, so invested in a shiny suit of half-plate.  Angus and Andy lashed out on a couple of mules, no doubt in anticipation of a treasure trove in the next adventure, while Kat meanwhile refused to purchase any new animals after her last horse got eaten by kobolds.

They finally got round to reviewing a map that purported to lead them to a lost dwarven fortress. Asking around, they found an old veteran of the stronghold in their village (the blacksmith), who regaled them with tales of a legendary dwarven smith who made fantastic weaponry – it all went well until, a hundredyears ago, orcs hit the fortress, and hit it hard, forcing the dwarves to withdraw and scatter.  Ah, the good olddays, he mused.

Suitably armed with a description of the rune the smith stamped his weapons with, the party set off.

They found the small mountain easily enough, and managed to creep up on the orcish defenders completely unawares (which took some doing, considering that there are two mules and a clanking cleric in the party – all of whom were told to stand well back until the stealthy stuff had been done).  The orcs had sentries and a rather elaborate arrow slit trap they had adopted from the dwarves, but a combination of Angus’ (human rigue) and Sandrine’s (elven ranger) stealth managed to bypass the lot, gain entry into the fortress and hit the orc archers from behind,

Nicely done.

The farce started when they were confronted by the dwarves’ next line of defence – a rope bridge across a very deep chasm.  Sandrine was the first to make her way across.  Frankly she could have done it with her eyes closed. Then rotund cleric Nick had a go.

It didn’t go well.

At one point, Kat (human paladin) was clinging onto the bridge, upside down, gripping Nick by just one hand as he dangled over the abyss, while Angus tried to get past both of them tie a harness around Nick to enable a slightly safer passage across.

Then a couple of wandering orcs thought this would be a good time to attack.

I was faintly amazed no one died over that bridge, but they forged onwards, quickly finding the orc’s ogre chief and his wolves.  He was dealt with quite easily, but the party almost fell apart when surprised by several orcs – half the party stayed to fight, while the other half ran into the blades of another group of orcs.

Again, they survived.  Just.

The party managed to explore its way to what was once the main dwarven court, which had been rigged by an elaborate fire/napalm trap.  Angus expertly poked and prodded at the door they had assumed was trapped, while everyone stood well back (some much for friendship).  A prodding tool slipped, and fire washed over the area where Angus had been standing (lucky for him, he has Evasion, and can make saving throws – or he would have been burnt to a crisp).

Batting aside some stirges, the party descended to the next level of the fortress, a mixture of natural caverns and carved stone.  Dealing with yellow mould-covered corpses, the party managed to retrieve one of the smith’s legendary weapons, a nice two-handed sword that Kat (as a paladin) duly appropriated.  Then, somehow, the party managed to get split.

They were investiagting an immense cavern, but while Nick, Sandrine and Kat were fighting for their lives against some lizards in a pile of boulders, Andy and Angus thought it would be a good time to break through a locked iron door a little way off, bypass a trapped chamber, pass through a secret door, and explore another set of rooms.

And ran straight into a group of Duregar that were not looking for a fight – though Andy’s actions in ‘calling them out’ guaranteed one would start.

So, Andy and Angus were now outnumbered, fighting enlarged and invisible Duergar, while the rest of the party were blissflly unaware of their plight, scratching heads, wondering where they had gone.  Nick, Sand and Kat managde to find the trapped chamber but not the secret door in one of its walls.  The trap, involving false doors, statues and ruddy great big axes managed to deal a lot of damage to Kat and, by this time, Angus was already down on the floor and out for the count.

The sound of battle managed to penetrate the secret door, aiding its discovery, and the party finally reunited, getting Angus back on his feet and routing the last Duergar.

After a brief stop, the party started exploring again, happening upon more Duergar working in a forge.  BAttle quickly erupted again, and a tough fight it was.  Quite aside from the enlarge and invisibility abilities of the Duergar, they had a fairly skilled illusionist on their side.  It was this grey dwarf that gave them the most trouble, skittering around while invisible, buffing himself before letting loose a colour spray at Nick (dazzling him for a couple of rounds), but low hit points are a mae’s bane, and the party soon rallied to bring him down.

And that is where we left things for another month, about halfway through the adventure (looking forward to polishing off this one, as the campaign starts kicking into high gear after that).  The party just scraped through 4th level, and their powers are beginning to shine through.  The next session is in three weeks’ time (ish), so we should finih Forge of Fury, hit 5th level, and then see what lies eyond the party’s home town…

In other news, progress on miniatures has been pathetic, if I am honest.  I had sort of convinced myself that the small Flesh Tearers army I described in an earlier post was viable, but I still have the same bunch of Tyranids sitting on my painting table, staring at me, that have been there for three weeks now.

Oh, and there is a Traveller Open Day at the office this coming Saturday, but I’ll be running the event, not playing.  Still, if you can’t be in games, you can at least be close to them, eh?

A Mixed Bag

Haven’t had any actual gaming in since Saturday’s ‘painting day’, but I haven’t been completely idle (though getting all 1,000 Gamerscore Points on Mass Effect 2 did sap a little time over the weekend).

First up, the Girls (as I call them) said they would be interested in a small but long-running D&D campaign, just me and them (ahh, sweet).  As they got fired up about characters (a Dragontotem Shaman and Warlock, it looks like at the moment), I started sketching out a campaign.  It had to be one that relied mainly (or, better, purely) on published adventures, for reasons I have covered before, so I hit my collection of old adventures.  I thought I might find something in the old B-series of Basic adventures to kick things off – maybe Horror on the Hill, the very first scenario I ever bought when I was a wee nipper.

As it happened, I actually came up with two campaigns, and possibly a third if I decide to delve into Mysteries of the Moonsea.  However, at the moment it boils down to either a desert-based campaign (perhaps around Mulhourand in the Realms), underpinned with the Desert of Desolation and the Desert Nomads series of adventures, or a sea-based one, which will feature, among others, War Rafts of Kron and, an old favourite of mine, the Isle of Dread.  Both campaigns will only go up to 10th-12th level with these adventures (though the Girls will go rocketing up in level as the XPs will be divided only between two of them), but I figured after that we could have a play with Expedition to the Demonweb Pits, and perhaps go seriously planar after that by pulling in some Planescape stuff.  We’ll see.

If all that happens, I will actually have three regular campaigns on the trot – which is more roleplaying than I have ever done in my life, I think.  And they say the hobby is dying!

On the miniatures front, I finally sat down and started some serious work on my jungle terrain board.  I thought the individual trees and vegetation would take a serious amount of time, as I was planning on doing them the same as my miniatures bases (PVA, sand, brown paint, drybrush lighter brown, clumps of static grass. . .).  Then it suddenly hit me – the bases should be mostly green, not brown! Anyway, this project should now be completed a lot sooner than I thought, and I’ll see if I can get some piccies done over the coming weekend.  The one fly in the ointment is that I used MDF as the bases of the terrain pieces, as I did not want them to warp from the glue or get damaged over the years.  Brilliant idea, but MDF soaks up Goblin Green like it is going out of fashion.  One pot managed to stretch to just five terrain bases, which is not so good.   I am awaiting delivery of more Goblin Green, but this could hold things up for a few days.

Anyway, I think you’ll like what I have done with the jungle terrain, and I believe the final effect will be quite stunning.  It is really easy to do, and I’ll give you the full skinnie on how I did it, hopefully in a few days.

A New Campaign – Old School D&D

A bit topsy-turvy, this – I have some miniatures news to update you with, but I have just got hold of a decent camera, so I’ll have some pretty pictures for you within the next day or so.

Anyway, on with the roleplaying.  This weekend, we started a new campaign, Forgotten Realms powered by D20 3.5.

There were a number of ‘grand’ campaigns published for 3.5 D&D – Shattered City, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, the Witchfire Trilogy, Drow War, etc, and I have been itching to run at least one of these for some time.  Of course, our regular gaming slot had been taken by up by Star Wars and the Dawn of Defiance campaign, so I hit upon the idea of playing less often but for longer – enter the plan for running games for eight hours on a Sunday, once a month.

I was going to run the Drow War campaign, but some of the players had played at least the first part last year. I was going to run Shattered City, but wanted something ‘less Greyhawk’, if you know what I mean.

Humming and harring about this, I recalled a campaign I ran a few years ago.  Taking the characters up to around 18th level, it was set in the Bloodstone Lands (Damara and Vaasa) of the Realms and, dubbed the ‘Snow Vitch’ campaign, it created some pretty memorable adventures.  Long after the Wytch-King fell and Sir Gareth Dragonsbane was crowned king of Damara, an evil snow witch had come to power in Vaasa and, using mighty magicks, was threatening to bring a permanent winter to all the Realms (but it would never be Christmas, oh no. . .).

Last year, I picked up all four of the original Bloodstone adventures (H1-4).  It crossed my mind that I could wind time back somewhat, and have a right rollicking campaign. . .

So, the plan became; set the campaign in Impiltur (part of the Unapproachable East, just South of Damara), and have a nice easy start to get the players used to their characters.  Taking them up to 4th level-ish I would run The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury.  Then I would get one of the ‘grand’ campaigns out of my system, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.

So far, so good.  Now, the Elemental Evil campaign takes characters up to about 14th level, give or take, and the first Bloodstone adventure, H1, starts at 1st edition 15th level.  Perfect!

However, my GM planning truly knows no bounds.  The original H1 used the old Battlesystem.  After some helpful gamers on EN World’s forums reminded me of the Miniatures Handbook, I was all set to run the huge battle at the end of that scenario with a full miniatures set up – over 1,000 painted miniatures played out on a 6′ x 4′ table! It would certainly be a game the players would not forget!

There were some issues  – the first was finding a set of miniatures rules that were easy and compatible with D20 (no way was I going back to Battlesystem!). The Miniatures Handbook took care of this.

Then there were the miniatures themselves.  Battlesystem recommended using a 10:1 ratio for models vs. actual people on the battlefield, which I have always hated in wargaming.  One to one is the only way to go, and if you need more people on the field, drop down a scale!  28mm scale was clearly not going to be the right one here, as most units in that battle have over 100 models a piece (yes, I did start seriously considering 28mm, God’s Own Scale, but I wanted a serious horde look for the battle, and I didn’t want to cut the number of combatants).  15mm was briefly considered, but a unit of over 100 models is still quite unweildy at this size.  In the end, it looks like 10mm is the way to go.

I placed an order with a couple of 10mm companies to see what their models looked like in Real Life – I’ll post my thoughts and a few piccies here when I get them. 10mm models usually come in strips of 5 models a piece, which are supposed to go two to a base (so a base has 10 man-sized models).  This requires some fudging of the rules in the Miniatures Handbook, but in practice it should not be an issue, given the rate at which normal creatures die on a 15th level battlefield. A spare coloured dice to mark any extra casualties before an entire base is removed should suffice nicely.

That just left the battlefield itself, shown here.

Now, being a lazy gamer, I was not about to make an entire board from scratch just to play this battle (I am quietly ignoring the fact that I am painting two complete armies for just one game, and an RPG at that. . .), but nor did I want to pay huge amounts of money to get someone else to do it.  Fortunately, I know the chaps at Total System Scenic, and they happen to be a local company who can make up boards and other terrain pieces to your own specifications.  They are very low cost as well, so that takes care of the lake, river, roads and maybe even the hill. 10mm buildings of a fantasy/medieval theme will be relatively easy to pick up, and I reckon I have at least a year before we get round to playing out this battle!

Anyway, that is the grand plan for the campaign. After H4 is done and dusted, maybe the campaign ends, maybe we carry on into Epic levels and have the players run their own kingdom. We’ll see.

This Sunday, we kicked off with The Sunless Citadel – I have probably run this adventure more than any other, for any game system. It really does have all you need to kick off a campaign if you are looking for that ‘quiet village guy’ start.

Eight hours play saw the players create characters;

  • Sandrine playing Fo-Fo Lay, a Wood Elf Ranger
  • Kat playing Elethiel, a Human Paladin (gotta love having a Paladin in the party, if you are the GM)
  • Andy playing Zail, a Wood Elf Sorcerer
  • Nick playing Brosius, a Human Cleric of Helm (and son of the local town’s baker)
  • Angus playing Gelph, a Human Rogue

And then go on to pretty much complete the first level of the dungeon.  I reckon in the next session, they will pretty much sweep the second level before lunch (especially as they all levelled up and Kat now has 31 hit points on her Paladin – can you say Monster Bait?), and get a good start on the Forge of Fury.

They played pretty well, it has to be said.  There were glimmers of plans being made and actually followed, though we did have a constant repetition of Angus checking doors for traps.  That was fine, showed caution.  However, every now and then, Kat would insist on opening a door without consulting the rogue first, and every time she did that, a trap blew up in her face.

On the first level they made friends with Meepo and the rest of the Kobolds, recapturing the dragon for them in return for a key that let them into a secret part of the dungeon.  They promptly fled from the tomb of the dragonpriest, though Andy was pleading for the rest of them to show some nerve and at least open the sarcophagus.  However, one look at the size of it, and the massive dragon carvings on the side, and they all decided they would be better off fighting goblins.

They have found the body of the Ranger that went missing before them, as well as the signet ring of one of the Merchant family’s adventurers (I’ll assume you are at least familiar with this scenario). That said, both Nick and Andy were bitten by Dire Rats and contracted a hideous disease that has savaged their Constitutions (and Andy, playing a Sorcerer, was not exactly covered in hit points to begin with). They have now decided that the magic fruit that cues all ailments reported to lie somewhere in the dungeon must be found within 24 hours before they start really suffering from the disease. This means they are planning to hit the second level of the dungeon at full speed, with very little healing left and no chance of resting up for 24 hours to get hit points and spells back.

Should be interesting.

Anyway, that is for next month. Tomorrow we continue with Star Wars as the players try to make nice with a Hutt, and I’ll grab some photos this week of my latest ‘creations’ – a Dark Angels Dreadnought, an old Ork Dreadnought, and my bug’s first Carnifex.