Gaming 2015 in Retrospect and looking forward

Looking back at my 2015 gaming year, the grand event was the end of my long Warhammer Fantasy Role-play campaign. It ended magnificently. We tied up many lose ends. The characters saved their home town from a chaos horde as commanders of a large army, and they brought their long standing rival, Baron Pleskai von Wallenstein to justice, after he sired a child on a demon-worshipping witch.

IMG_1206
This is what my 6 years of notes look like. I was also awarded a Purity Seal by my players for my efforts. It is one of the best gifts ever. 

The satisfaction of ending the campaign is immense. My players have enjoyed it a lot, and we’ve really explored the game world and the system. At the end, they were among the most powerful individuals in the Warhammer world, and even those with more individual strength hesitated to tangle with them. At the same time we retained the low-fantasy mood in their day-to-day lives, and by playing some of the NPCs.

It was, intentionally, a relatively rail-roaded campaign with a set ending – the consequences along the way were not cut in stone though. When people meet on a Wednesday night every other week after work, many with kids and family at home, I think there is a lot of merit in playing an action-packed campaign, where the amount of intrigue and investigation is relatively limited. My players really need to roll some initiative and have some memorable moments in order to stay focused and entertained. I will bring that to my D&D campaign.

In 2015 we also had 9 sessions playing the original Temple of Elemental Evil module with D&D 5ed rules. It was more popular than I anticipated and often we were 6-8 people around the table. It is very much a ‘kick in the door’ style of play, and we add a few beers and lots of minis to the mix. It is well suited for Friday night! I think we will continue with more sessions throughout 2016.

Looking at 2016
I started my D&D campaign in 2015, before my Warhammer game was done, because I thought a core player from my Warhammer group was supposed to be in Asia for a couple of months. But as that didn’t happen (due to a snapped collar bone), we got it started, but then reverted to Warhammer to finish it. I would have liked to have kept the focus on one and then the other campaign, but for 2016 I can keep my mind on this D&D homebrew and really get cracking. I do love world building, but it is a lot of work! And as we are expecting our first child in a month’s time, I will have to figure out how to manage it in the best way. Less video gaming will probably be a component!

My D&D homebrew is much less railroaded than my Warhammer game. I have to improvise more and run with it, and try to be a little less detailed in my planning. To do that, I’ve decided to work with the 5×5 Campaign Design method [Read more on 5×5 Campaign Design]. In essence, you have a matrix of 25 adventures, where you know the basic plot for each one, but the characters can shift from one to the other more or less as they see fit. It should help me always have a plot thread ready, so my players experience freedom, but never are in doubt about what they could spend their time on.

In 2016 we also have to play many new board games. And replay some of the old ones. Hmm. Maybe another bout of Twilight Imperium – a favourite in my gaming group?

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Awesome game. But don’t believe Fantasy Flight Game’s claim that you can play it in 3-4 hours. That is silly. Twilight Imperium home page

Thanks to the all the people who I had the pleasure of gaming with during 2015! I really look forward to 2016.

 

Temple of Elemental Evil is moving forward

Our casual campaign where we play Temple of Elemental Evil is moving forward faster, and with more enthusiasm, than I had anticipated. We’ve played a total of five sessions by now, and we’ve had many players joining for one or more sessions. My strategy of keeping the group of players relatively fluid seems to be working. 12 different players have participated with a total of 14 different characters (two died at the final encounter of the Moathouse). The fact that they are a bit on the low level side matters less, when we have 6 or 7 players participating in each session. They are now mostly level 3 with a couple still level 2. There is also the communal meta game element I had hoped, with maps behommleting shared in the Facebook group we created and a big loot list kept up to date and shared. I hope the long term consequence of having rotating players will be that no-one tires of the dungeon style game. As the conversion notes from Brian C. Rideout assumes 4 players, I usually use the number of monsters more or less as written in the original adventure, or wing it, if it is too crazy (e.g. 144 giant rats! – how would you play that Gary G.??! and who would bother??). As they are also more people who needs to share the loot and magic items, that is also kept on the modest side, which I like, and which I think works better for 5ed, as the +1 modifier has a BIG impact at the lower levels.

The Temple Design I really enjoy the design of the temple. With the many roads to the same room or encounter, you don’t know as a DM what will happen, which is cool, and I simply let things happen, depending on their decisions. A fault is though, so far at least, there could be more history/information concerning the NPCs included in the design. There are also some quite odd design curiosities, which I both find charming and annoying. In Hommlett for example some important NPCs are named. Others are not. Some have a few physical characteristics described, but most have none. And the head-line for each location are things like: Large Building with a Sign (instead of inn) or Open Shed and House behind (instead of Smith) and so on, which makes the browsing experience really bad. What is cool though is the amount of detail in the room descriptions, which makes it hard for the players to guess what is important and what is not. They really have to think and check it out, and they do miss things from time to time.

Converting Temple of Elemental Evil to 5th Edition

I’m using Brian C. Rideout’s conversion notes to 5th Edition, which can be found here:

http://newworldscoaching.ca/downloadable/toee.pdf
It is a very well done conversion. There are a few minor errors (for example on xp for monsters), and it has to be adjusted to fit with the group size to some extent. My first session had a massive group of 7 players, so I to add a few monsters to most of the encounters.
I also made individual names and equipment for the brigands (bandit NPCs from the MM), as it was likely that one or more would be captured and interrogated.

That leads me to the mention: I find it puzzling, that the original module has names for some NPCs, but not for all of them? Why would one give the name for all the village councilors, except the village elder? Why give a name for a main boss, but not for the brigand leader?

Bringing the world to life:

Mr. Rideout also added some encounters and events that add flavor to the settlements of the campaign. These small events and encounters are very valuable, easy to run and can easily be scaled. It is a great addition to the conversion material.

I used the first, when one of the characters (1st level Cleric of Olidammara) wandered alone around Hommlett, and ended up rescuing a kid from a Giant Tick, which had set upon his dog. It gave him a nice solo xp-bonus, and gave them something to talk about and the cleric a boost to his reputation in town.

Change in treasure amount
I differ somewhat on the treasure level of the conversion. The original module perhaps suffers from a lack of variety and higher power level than Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, as Rideout also notes (there are several rings of invisibility among the NPCs, which is high powered).

But even with Rideout’s edits, I estimate that the level is still a bit high, when I look at the campaign we normally play. For example – the main boss in the Moathouse has 3 permanent items in the original version. One is a magical plate armour. In my view, the plate armour, which costs 1,500 gold pieces, and is quite hard to obtain in Hommlett, is a treasure in itself, and does not need to be magical to be seen as a very nice treasure. I will keep a permanent item, and add a scroll and a potion.

That said, as the party composition changes, depending on who attends from my large pool of players, I can be a little more generous, as the items will be spread across a much larger than normal amount of players.

We will be playing again next weekend, with some changes in party composition and size. I look forward to seeing how it changes the group’s approach to the adventure.

Temple of Elemental Evil as a casual campaign

We’ve decided to play a casual campaign using the AD&D 1ed. Temple of Elemental Evil (TOEE) mega-adventure. I’ve grown to become fascinated with the ‘old school’ style of play. And the great thing about TOEE is that it takes place in a geographically small area where many adventurers gather, which makes it easy to have characters come and go, which enables me to set up the campaign in a more casual format.

I’ve set up the conditions for the campaign differently from what I normally do:

  • I have a pool of 12-14 players who would like to participate when they have the time or is in town.
  • The adventuring group consists of whoever can attend that game day.
  • Each sessions ends with the group retreating to a town or campsite outside of the dungeon (unless hindered completely in-game). This enables a more ‘episodic approach.
  • The players can make maps and learn things inside the game, which can be shared between the games to create a working meta-level to the campaign, where the real-life talks about what happened in the game, can be useful to people when they gather to play next time.

So why have I set the game up this way?
When I was younger, I scoffed at the mega-dungeons, and thought them to be almost unplayable, and that my players would become bored with one single dungeon they need to map and go through (oh! Another 5 gnolls in a 20×20 foot room…).

I still think that constant dungeon-crawl will get boring, but there are a few reasons, why I think this will work better than I used to think:

  • First of all, we’ve come to appreciate the more ‘old school’ play style. We enjoy just sitting down, killing some gnolls, gain some xp and drinking a couple of beers.
  • The emergent game-play and how the dungeon should react to intrusion make exploration more fun.
  • We don’t play as often and players will rotate to some extent, so it will stay fresh.
  • I can better see how the module intends for the DM to create a lot of extra material in addition to the published material.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is better suited to this type of module. It can resolve combat quicker than previous editions, which makes this kind of combat heavy game run more smoothly.

We will have our first session April 12, with 6 players. I hope to play 5-8 times per year, but we will see how much time we have, and how popular it is (I respond to popular demand).