Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The darkness

I actually think that Beacon plays better in the dark.  When we were camping, we played at night and it was pretty dark.  In addition to the central Coleman lantern, I just used a little LED reading light clipped onto my GM screen so I could see my notes. The players either used a quick shot from a flash light or leaned a bit into the lantern light to reference or update their character sheets. All their dice were from a shared pool that they rolled in that circle of lantern light.

It totally rocked.

I've played with music or general sound effects and I've played with props like minis and battle mats, and I have to say I think that darkness works better than any of these approaches.  Maybe we're just hard-wired to imagine better while sitting around the fire encircled by darkness?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Back from the wilderlands

Fire up the Coleman it's game time!
Beacon in a screen tent via Coleman lantern and clip on reading light went very well.  I had five players, which is the best number of players I think, two fighters, a cleric, a druid and a rogue.  We played three short sessions and after a bit of a slow start I think it went really well. We had two players entirely new to RPGs playing and we dived right into play which I think was the best way to handle the situation.  I had rolled up two characters, a cleric and a fighter and the newbies picked which of these they wanted based on a very brief description.  I have to say they filled out their characters very well, the Fighter was Fitomashika a tough lady 'not from these parts' and Hamiltaniousopholis a holy man with a big heart and a very small head.

The kids were super eager to get things rolling, having played their characters before (now slightly updated but essentially the same) but I started things out a little slower as the old hands met up with the new folks via a traditional meeting in the Scarlet Archer, the 'just right' tavern in Milham.  Introductions were made and stories of past adventures were told.  Finally, a strange old man in the corner couldn't help but introduce himself and make mention of possible adventure to be found in an old abandoned monastery to the south.  At first he mentioned an interest in providing quick cash in exchange for holy relics, however once  Hamiltaniousopholis revealed himself to be a holy 'persuader', the gentleman became quite pious and expressed his concern that any relics be safely rescued for the church.  Evening passed as simple plans were laid and the next morning and a quick trip to the market later, the gang was tramping south along the road lured on by vague rumours of valuable relics and treasures.

There were no woodcutters, goblins or giant scorpions on the south road through the hills.  They journey was pretty uneventful.  My sister-in-law wanted to know how I figured out what happens and I showed them the encounter charts on the Beacon GM Screen which probably didn't explain much but it does look nice and official.  I think one of the hardest parts of the RPG experience to explain to new people is the role of the GM.  Some people like to know the rules of the game and having a 'rules arbitrator' is a little foreign to them.  Again it was more show and not tell and I tried to keep away from suggesting options or examples of play.  It really helped that the kids chimed in with advice and suggestions on how the game worked.  My youngest was especially helpful and kept saying that 'you do what you want to do and he tells you what to do' as the mantra for the first evening.  They barely made it to the monastery the first night, their time mostly spent searching for the monastery hill and an entrance to it while I failed to roll up an encounter. We had to play in short chunks as we only had about an hour and a half to play each evening after we had finished all the night jobs around the camp and before we crawled off to sleep.  I was a bit worried that we'd not pick the game up again the next day, but the kids were pretty eager to play and the adults did not seem to mind trying it again.

The second evening was pretty fun.  The gang got to chat with some giant ferrets, beat up some goblin guards and scare off an attacking gang of swamp dudes before finally finding the entrance to the monastery.  The combats went well and the non combats went very well as both kids and adults instinctively tried to work encounters to their advantage and use violence as a second resort.  I think the two phase combat round worked pretty well but it was a little hard to explain why they could throw a dagger in the missile phase but had to wait to melee phase to stab someone.  I think it's just one of those things where the game rules are going to serve the game and are not going to be realistic.  Realism is not the goal anyway.  I did like how casting had to be declared during missile combat, and the phased combat really prevented the problem of intitative being so decisive, especially with a five character group.  They pretty easily dispatched these small mobs, but they also took a suitable amount of damage doing it, and everyone got in a shot or two.  Also a lot of the damage that they did take could have been avoided had they played the terrain more or tried for surprise.

I was eager from the beginning that they get to the monastery because up to this point the kids had only ever encountered goblins or large animals in game before.  I had wanted to up the ante a little and so the first time they encountered undead it was going to be especially exciting!  I ratcheted up the room descriptions and the scenes of charred tapestries and long dead monks were obviously creeping everyone out a little. When my older daughter went over to check out a old corpse for some lootz she nearly jumped out of her seat when it reached out and grabbed at her (and I grabbed her hand at the same time!)  Everyone was excited and dice flew as they sliced up the zombie.  I was worried the gore might be too much for the kids, but in fact they loved it.  It was a great place to end the second night and everyone was talking about the monastery and all the 'dead' monks they might yet encounter all the next day.

The third night it was all business as the party came together to figure out the history and to stomp some monster butts.  So far they had not found any treasure (I don't generally give wandering monsters treasure - the ferrets had offered them a dead rat and the goblin guards had nothing more interesting than some string and a hunk of sparkly quartz) and although they had only just started exploring the monastery they knew that it would soon be getting dark and goblins and other things might arrive to cause even more trouble. They started to explore and piece together some history of the place, however they did not make a map.  I didn't draw out any rooms for them either, all they had to go on was descriptions by lantern light.  They were pretty good keeping spatial relations however and a couple times I was surprised with astute observations they made about how the rooms were related or where a corridor should continue past a ruined wall. I'm not going to go into the specifics of the encounters because I would like to use them again*.  Suffice to say that there were traps and monsters and everyone seemed to have a very fun time playing. We didn't finish the adventure before the camping trip was over and my in-laws had to head back home, but I think the prevailing opinion was that we would be continuing this game at a later time.

All in all I think it was an unqualified success.  I have to thank my fine wife, my persistent children and my sister-in-law and her husband for the great game.

*Spoilers for my players but of interest for other readers: for this adventure I basically bolted a 2012 One Page Dungeon called Hellmarsh's Monastary by AndrĂ©s Cuesta onto the roof of Dyson's Delve with a little narrative glue and a name change from marsh to mount.  (I'll leave the links off to take away the temptation to peek - you can google it folks).  I'm being pretty liberal with the history of the monks, cherry picking from both adventure sources, but figure that they were an old order that was wiped out some 50-60 years ago.  Pretty much all my Milham Beacon games are using short adventures or location materials found on the web.  Thanks to all them folks that publish them.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Shields and DEX

Rolling up some pre-generated characters for next week's CampCon with the family and I noticed that I'm not happy with the way shields modify DEX.  It's too fiddly and it sucks.  The intent was to make shields a little bit less attractive but really that is stupid.  The real reason not to use a shield is so you can use two handed weapons (and get the +1 and full strength bonus to damage.).  Also magic users can't use them while casting and further limiting them is dumb so who cares if the rogue carries a shield?  Rogue is a lot more general now than it was in the beginning anyway and can just as easily be a tricky swashbuckler as a sneaky footpad.

Also DEX is not a purely physical attribute - it also doubles for reaction time and other things and it shouldn't be linked so heavily to having one arm occupied. Bad design.  I think I'll just take the DEX modifier right out because I don't like how it makes you have to keep two sets of stat calculations on hand since you can go from shield to no shield and vice-versa pretty quickly. Maybe I'll put in a Minimum Strength value to separate the large shields form the small.

Taking it out next update - you can pretty easily choose to ignore it in the current rules too.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Going Camping

Way back when I decided to hop back into role-playing I was looking for something I could play with my kids.  The first criteria was that they could get it, that they could at around the age of 6-8, look at the character sheet and get an idea of what dice they needed to roll or what spell or ability they wanted to use.  I totally ruled out the big d20 books and I even ruled out stuff like Savage Worlds because they were too complex (I might have been able to train them in Savage Worlds but it would have been a thing).  Basically I wanted them to deal with some simple math and a couple concepts without having to deal with powers, skills, chargen optimization tactics or tons of lookup rules.  The second criteria was it needed to be a game I could take camping, something modular that I could run with a small sheaf of papers, a few pencils and some dice.  I gravitated towards Microlite because it satisfied both these criteria.

Meh, I'm not playing unless I can be a halfling...
It was a huge success.  So much so that I started working on Beacon which is essentially a re-factor of Microlite but maybe a bit more complete (Microlite leans heavy on SRD resources) and still compatible with d20 mechanics.  I've slowly weaned my kids from Microlite to Beacon, but to be honest we haven't been playing a lot lately.  Oh we're still gaming, were playing a lot of board games and video games and  my oldest has started to run her own games of Laser Ponies.  But we haven't played any serious Beacon for a while.

Well in two weeks we're going camping, and I am going to see how well it all stacks up now.  I'm going to grab a couple one page dungeons, my Beacon 5.1 print out (42 page booklet format on legal paper), some dice and pencils and a bunch of character sheets.  We're going with family so I'll try to get the adults roped into it too.  The Dragon Gulch they started out adventuring in has kind of morphed into the town of Milham over the past few years, but in the good way.  We're going for a week so we'll have some time to play as the fire crackles and I examine my notes by lantern light.  They are a bit older now, a bit wiser and I'm hoping to pull off the kid gloves a bit and lets see what happens.