ARPG-Con DCC Session Report (Pt. 2, Evening)

The second DCC session I was in on Saturday at ARPG Con was a run through the level 0 module The Arwich Grinder.

Unlike other DCC modules I’ve played, this one was rather story and role-play heavy, but that wasn’t a bad thing at all!

We had three players and were allowed 6 characters.

The Arwich Grinder is a bit of a fun-house module that is bigger on building atmosphere than instant kill traps. A local family is your typical Lovecraft villain family: reclusive and prolifically inbred with a penchant for the occult. But they’ve got some good will in the town because during a famine they provided everyone in the town with foodstuffs. Well, it turns out they were breeding meat-men; a couple meat-men got out, including one who had the bonnet of “Bessie”(the one young pretty member of the family) in its hand before collapsing dead in the middle of the tavern.

There were a few things that were odd about this session:

  • We were playing as about 10% of the town’s populace, going to check in on the Curwen family to see if everything was all right, in turn-of-the-century America, but none of us had any fire-arms with us. This made it a bit hard to suspend disbelief.
  • It was always a strong point of discussion among the players about meta-gaming vs. roleplaying. While we always opted for the latter, it was funny, because we were all “The obvious solution would be to burn their house down, but we’re here to check on our neighbors and we’re convinced that they need to be rescued from something”.
  • While we “Lost Characters”, they didn’t die—in wargamer parlance, they “successfully exited the map”.

Even for DCC, we had pretty impressive manpower, but we used our resources wisely, treating our characters as the normal townfolk that they were trying to do a normal townfolk thing in the face of otherworldly horror.

  • The meat-man eating pig-slop and brandishing a human rib-cage? The poor retarded lad had to be put down, he was a danger to the community and our neighbors the Curwens!
  • The crazy lady locked in the upstairs? When she came running and shrieking at us, we subdued her, talked her down, put her on a cart and had a few characters drag her back to town for medical treatment.
  • The giant invisible baby in the attic? The characters who saw it were convinced it was a ghost, those who didn’t didn’t believe them or decided it was best not to muck with; we were there to save the Curwens!
  • The crazy old man downstairs? He’s hungry and senile and not a problem; we gave him some food and were all “We’ll come back for you.”
  • In the under-area we run into one of the Curwen couples. “Horrible stuff’s been goin’ on! We’re here to rescue you!” Husband attacks, gets killed because there are still a dozen of us after a few folks went back with the crazy lady. We subdue the wife, because it’s not gentlemanly to kill one of the ladies you’re trying to save. She tells us what’s going on, that the chanting we hear is the patriarch with Bessie and “he’s gonna fix it”. A few characters escort the wife into a room where she’ll be locked up for a minute; we’ll come back for her once we know Bessie’s safe.
  • Patriarch is gonna sacrifice Bessie, tossing her into a pit of boiling mud; a couple folks grab Bessie while we D’Onofrio the Patriarch.
  • Another Curwen couple shows up; we knock out the husband but were unable to apprehend the wife and toddler.
  • We continue sending Curwens back to town in waves, having “rescued” them. Our best characters stay to mop up and look for survivors. Characters going “off-the-map” run into the Constable and tell him they need to send a rider or telegraph to the city, get out the state militia, somebody who actually has guns.
  • We kill a couple of out-of-town cousins who didn’t believe that we’d solved the problem by not letting them summon a tentacle monster and calling up the militia.
  • While we’re unable to find the one woman who escaped or her child, we consider it a job well done that we saved most everybody, our neighborly duty was fulfilled, and G-Men could handle the rest. Also, it seemed like a good time to pack up and move out of New England.

Maybe this was an “easy” module? Or maybe we just “did it right”? The GM was impressed with our run, saying she’d never seen anyone play it the way we had; usually folks would either burn down the house, kill everybody inside, or mess with the giant invisible baby and get killed. I liked it, though, because even though it wasn’t hack & slash, the story emerged from the setting and things we could interact with; nothing felt forced. The GM rolled with our ideas of sending “rescued survivors” back with PCs for medical attention or to jail. The module had a story, but it was non-linear and could’ve played out any number of ways. For us, it played out with no PC casualties, minimal NPC death, and no eldritch horror “fixing” the problem. Ironically, had we NOT investigated, other than at the cost of Bessie’s life, the problem would’ve fixed itself.

It was a great Halloween horror module, even if it wasn’t a particularly good “Funnel”. I don’t think any of our characters would become Level 1 Adventurers following the escapade, but given that no one died, it’s probably the closest you could get to a “flawless victory” in a level 0 module.

Still, I’d like to see this with guns. “Giant nekkid deaf-mutes are shamblin’ into town? A bonnie lass may be in danger? Let me fetch the match-lock from me mantle…”

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ARPG-CON DCC Session Report (Pt. 1, Morning)

Over the weekend I attended the inaugural ARPG Con and played in a couple of DCC games. Funnels, of course, since that’s what most folks are into and surviving a funnel is something that you can do in the time-frame of a con one-off and leave the table with a sense of accomplishment.

I don’t know the name of the first module, or if it was even a full module or a portion of a whole, but the second session was The Arwich Grinder. They were good sessions, and I had fun in both, but they were very different. Most significantly, one of them was a story-driven Call of Cthulhu module and I didn’t hate it!

Morning game was framed as a “Mystery” adventure. It was set in the Sutterlands or something. There’s a wedding, the PCs drink from a mystery jug, and they wake up on a haunted farm. It was less of a mystery and more of a puzzle; a puzzle that had to be solved before ghosts killed you.

Table was myself, an experienced gamer who’d not played DCC, and two kids who were experienced players (parents were DCC Judges, and I think they may have been niece & nephew of the folks who organized the con). We each had 4 characters.

Deal was there were 4 farm-houses, a well, a graveyard, and a cornfield. One house had an instant kill death-trap that made no sense so could not have been avoided by smart play (seriously, who would have expected a ramshackle wood cabin would instantly fill with flesh-burning acid in a single round the moment you stepped inside it?). Another house was a “safehouse”, with sigils on the doors that keep the ghosts out, plus two halves of a broken hawthorn staff that you could actually hit the ghosts. Third house had a spellbook that would’ve been great if we were using this to launch an ongoing campaign. Last house had images depicting the puzzle’s story. Cornfield had a pile of corpses around a scarecrow, Graveyard had a pair of earthhounds in it, and the Well had a debris monster.

So, we wake up in the middle of these houses and are almost immediately set upon by ghosts from the woods. Not wanting to make things easy on the GM, we all sent our characters in different directions. Two of my characters got instant killed by the trap (was it a Trap House or an Acid House?) while the other two headed for the house with the sigils that seemed to hold. Other players’ characters ran around in all directions; some with me in the safehouse, at least one other killed by the trap, one triggered the earthhounds, others ran for the other two houses, while one found the scarecrow and the pile of bones. All over the course of a couple rounds.

So, the “story” of the site was that the people who lived there were evil (natch), and a priest had gone to visit them. They killed the priest, broke his staff, threw his holy symbol down the well and left the body as an offering before the Corn Lord.

The solution to the puzzle was to go into the well, retrieve the holy symbol (the debris monster was entirely optional), and place it in the out-stretched hand of the dead cleric. The cleansing rain would destroy the curse and dissolve the ghosts (but only after they got to attack for a couple more rounds). I got a “bonus” (free mini-dice bag!) from the GM for being the first to suggest improvised weaponry (I started with a mithril ingot that my dwarf fastened to his hammer); we were supposed to fashion improvised weapons from things like the hawthorn sigils, the broken staff and at least one silver key to fight the ghosties.

It was a puzzle and we solved it. There was some satisfaction to it, but not a lot of real resolution. Who gave us the jug of magic liquor? Why was there a jug of magic liquor that would take us to redneck Ravenloft? There was not a massive sense of accomplishment, but as a funnel to kick off a campaign, I guess it got the job done.

I did like its scale, however. It felt like the right amount of adventure that would take a character to first level. One of the things that bothered me about Sailors on the Starless Sea was that the upper-castle should’ve reasonably gotten characters to level 1, and level 1 characters would’ve stood more of a chance against the last set-piece encounter. All but the very end of Sailors could be smart-played, which damn near made it a cake-walk for our group, and therefore an ineffective funnel, other than the fact that it expected you to roll up on the last fight and just slug it out toe-to-toe with a(n admittedly weak) chaos avatar and his army of beastmen. With the exception of the instant-kill acid trap that could not have possibly been foreseen, this adventure could be smart-played to a degree where you’d only lose a few characters. Less experienced players would probably finish this one out with at least one character alive apiece, with some smart-plays mitigating character-death.

  • Go straight for the safehouse and wait for the ghosts to leave
  • Burn any corn-husk dolls; this should’ve been a no-brainer, especially as a one-off, but I kept my characters’, and, of course, they attacked me during the final fight.
  • Without pressure from ghosts (whose raids are intermittent), you’d probably only lose one character to the acid-trap
  • Earthhounds are a tough fight for someone who just stumbles into them, but you have economy of action on them like a mo-fo, especially if the ghosts aren’t attacking.
  • You don’t even need to fight the debris monster.
  • At worst, you lose a few characters in the final ghost attack.

All-in-all, much better than “here’s 40 guys, fight them and the characters who live are your level 1”, at least in terms of giving players as much agency as possible over the outcome.

Next, I’ll talk about our power-house, flaw-less victory run of The Arwich Horror!

DCC’s Sailors on the Starless Sea

DCC’s Sailors on the Starless Sea went from “This is way too easy for a funnel” to “How the hell’d they expect 0-lvl characters to finish?”*

“Uh… Agatha Agartha, my chaotic alchemist wearing the chaos robe and chaos torc kneels in obeisance and hopes for the best… She uh.. was clearly drawn here to serve the chaos lord–it’s her destiny. Also, she pushes Varra, my elven falconer, into the lava.”

With 30 beastmen, a beastman shaman, a chaos avatar, and no win-state in sight, we settled for a non-standard game-over cutscene. Thing is, if we’d had a standard group of level 1 or 2 PCs, I think we could’ve wiped the floor with them.

 So, I’d say that Sailors may be a good 1st or 2nd level module, but was NOT a very good funnel…

I’d like to take a look at the module myself and see just how bad we screwed up, going from unscathed to unconditional surrender.  Ironically, just as predicted, Stinky Pete the Cheesemaker, my -5 character, was the only PC to survive by virtue surrendering to the tax collectors and not hopping on board the stupid dragon boat. As a local, they assumed he’d been captured by the rest of the party, who they’d believed were chaos cultist due to us wearing chaos robes and, in our cockiness, attacking the search party.

The tax-collectors probably weren’t in the module; I think they were there to keep from whittling away slowly and going back to town. The logic was that a) the Barron doesn’t like people messing around the castle, and b) there was some missing tax money, so we had to leave town or get blamed; the tax collectors would eventually look around the keep for the missing money (which was actually either stolen by beastmen or stolen by villagers/thieves who were turned into beastmen, or the thieves who stole it were captured by beastmen). Otherwise we were all “Well, we’ve solved the mystery of the missing new pairs of boots; your sons are dead, Hiram the Blacksmith. Good job, everyone!”

I think that the problem with a lot of funnels may be the lack of incentive for 0-level characters to risk life and limb. Best Funnel I was ever in, we started as prisoners and conscripts of a sewer militia that was a front for cultists. A quick intro, a tough fight with environmental stuff to take advantage of, and a spooky fungus-filled sewer to avoid the stuff in while escaping. One session and we had our 1st level characters.

Someone has recommended to me that it’s a good idea to intentionally kill subpar characters at the first available opportunity, in part because if they do survive, they’ll wreck your campaign experience, but that’s definitely not something I could subscribe to.

I love my crappy sub-par characters! First game, my crappy thief ended up the longest lived and genuinely scariest party member. By the time we ended that game, she’d made it to level 4, had 9 hit points and a collection of faces she’d cured and turned into masks. Plus, with the way the Thief skill tables work, they can be pretty good at doing their jobs regardless of stats. It’s a great class to dump mediocre characters who survive the Funnel into.

But when it comes to funnels, the downside of killing sub-par characters intentionally is that it reduces your economy of action.

Still, as much as I want to like DCC and still want to play more of it, there’s something about it that leaves me feeling a little let down. I like a lot of DCC’s concepts, but every time we put them into practice, we’re all “Gee, I can’t imagine why we ever stopped playing this system D:<” Clerics suck, the magic system is clunky as hell, the crit tables are dumb and don’t work… Really the concept of the Funnel is the one part that my group actually finds appealing (which is why we ultimately rebuilt WHRPG around the concept of a perpetual Funnel).

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*:Ranged characters. If we’d all picked ranged weapons and not lost a few party members to the tax collectors, we probably could’ve taken the hordes with slings and javelins. Also, given the module’s name, I would’ve expected a more nautical theme, not just the train ride to the boss-fight involving a boat.

A Case For Perpetual Low-Level Adventuring

I’m a fan of the knife’s edge of low-level adventuring. I even dummied up an OSR system called HALLS (High Adventures for Low Levels System) based on the premise of a B/X-like system that caps out at level 4 but allows for a handful of XP sinks. I don’t think what I was doing scales well, however, and the vast amounts of XP required to level up in HALLS put a bit of a drag on that play-reward feedback loop that makes levelling such a focus of gaming.

I really think that the system my friend has cobbled together, loosely based on Warhammer Fantasy RPG, really manages to capture what I was unable to with the D&D based HALLS – a system that allows for constant and continual character development/improvement while maintaining that rain-slicked precipice feeling of the first few levels. Almost every session, we’ve been able to gain enough XP to put a point in something, but every adventure has a substantial amount of risk that doesn’t require massive scaling of monsters, NPCs and treasure hoards. Even my character, with whom I’d only missed a couple sessions over the course of maybe 20 now, while incredibly good at doing what they did (throw knives, steal things, do massive damage, and plan really great parties) I always had to stay cautious, because two solid hits would kill me; when I stopped being cautious, two hits killed me. It’s a system where you can’t afford to get cocky.

The new character I rolled up, though substantially weaker in many regards, was not so much weaker than the rest of the party that I was a load; on the contrary, my new character held his own and killed a cultist or two before fleeing to the back ranks after taking a crossbow bolt to the shoulder.

The way the system calculate character HP (grit), 1d4+3 + CON mod (max 3) + Profession mod (max 2), you’re never going to get a character who take a lot of solid hits. Weapon damage is all d6 based with modifiers (usually -1, occasionally -2, sometimes +1, very rarely +2). Armor reduces damage rather than detracts from to-hit rolls (allowing for a minimum of 1 ‘ping’ damage). You end up with combats where most characters can take at least 2 hits, 3 or 4 if a few are glancing, but you don’t have those long, drawn out mid-to-high level combats where everyone is slowly whittling away at dozens of HP in 1d8 increments.

The relatively low HP means you can throw weak-to-average monsters or opponents at the players, and it will ALWAYS feel like a challenge. Foe creation is incredibly quick. A monster statblock would consist simply of Grit, Movement, Melee, Ranged, Init, and a base save.

A human mook would be something like this:

Grit: 6, Move: 5, Melee: 10, Ranged: 6, Init: 0, Save 10

Let’s keep him simple by giving him a sword that does a flat 1d6 damage.

  • The mook could take 6 damage; any damage putting him below 0 would force a roll on the dismemberment table (for mooks, it’s easier to go with ‘not killed by the wound’/’killed by the wound’).
  • The movement of 5 translates to whatever scale you’re using. 5′, 10′ squares, 5 yard, 10 yard hexes, whatever – he moves five of them.
  • To hit in melee, he’d have to roll equal to or under 10. To hit with ranged, he has to roll equal to or under 6.
  • No mods to initiative, and if a situation forces a saving throw, he has a 50/50 chance to save.

Now, let’s try something more interesting; a spitting spider dog:

Grit: 6, Move: 5, Melee: 12, Ranged: 10, Init: 1, Save: 10

On the surface, it’s not much different. And that’s good! Because it means it’s easy to create new, weird things. But players will be terrified of it, because it’s a spitting spider dog. Instead of biting, the spitting spider dog might use a ranged attack that will incapacitate a victim with saliva. The target would get to make strength check at disadvantage when their initiative came up to break free. I just came up with that monster completely on the fly; took me 2 minutes thinking of something weird and gross that we’d probably run into in the setting. We’d probably fight half a dozen of them; if we got lucky, we’d get away with some scrapes, bruises and one or two broken limbs.

To give you a bit of comparison for what a PC looks like, my character who died looked something like this:

STR: 7, Con: 11, Dex: 18, Int:11, Cha:11, Luc:11

Grit: 7, Move: 4, Melee: 6, Ranged: 17, Init: 5

That 17 in range meant that I was good enough at throwing knives that I could attack at disadvantage every time to ‘buy’ an additional d6 damage (for 1d6-2 + 1d6), and the Init 5 meant I could make that attack twice per round whenever I rolled a 3 or higher on a d6 for initiative (0-7, where 8 or higher gets a second attack on the modified initiative roll -8; so, if I’d rolled a 4, I’d attack on 9, then again on 1). Now, I was a bit of a fluke, because I a)had a 17 natural dex that I bought to 18, and poured all of my XP into maxing out my ranged skill profession mod (combat skills can’t be modded higher than +8, and you have to have the advanced profession that allows you to reach those caps). But that’s what a character with nearly 1200 XP looks like (session XP was usually in the neighborhood of 70). Yes, I’d point-by-point built a killer who could put a knife through someone’s throat and skip off into the crowd before the guards showed up, but certainly wasn’t going to be able to take more than a couple blows. In a previous fight, she took a crossbow bolt to the arm; like most folks who take a crossbow bolt to the arm, she was done – time to hide behind the wall and hope her friends could finish the fight without her. The most I could’ve ever got my grit up to was 10, which would’ve taken a classes that would let me raise my Con by 2 and my Grit by 2 (possibly requiring anywhere between 400 and 800 XP depending on how I ultimately went about it). But that could’ve been the difference between suffering broken ribs and the disemboweling she ultimately succumbed to.

Every fight was life-or-death. It was exhilarating!

My DM is working on codifying his core rules into a consultable player’s guide. I’m hoping to convince him that this will be a worthwhile marketable system and offered to help him put together something if he were ever interested in commercially publishing it. I’ll admit, I had a few issues getting used to it at first, but I have a hard time imagining enjoying another system as much.

When a Plot Related PC Dies

Last Friday, my character was killed in a near TPK fighting against fungal hounds and a fungal goat; the party had been cornered in a sewer tunnel and picked apart; if I’d left them behind, I probably could’ve survived (I’d previously gotten out of a worse-looking scrap by doing parkour over the heads of nearly a dozen two-foot tall demonlings; hey, Cecilly was an acrobat with 18 Dex). But I didn’t, and we almost all died. One of the two surviving characters stopped berserking just before he killed the other.

It really sucked losing Cecilly; I don’t know what equivalent level she’d be in D&D (we’re using a levelless system), but she had nearly 1200 XP sunk into stats, classes and abilities in a system where we’ve averaged about 70 XP a session. Superficially, she was a lot like my previous character (a quirky waif from the streets), but while Elyse would hide at the first sign of danger, Cecilly was a combat monster; she could hit with ranged attacks on anything lower than an 18, and could roll at disadvantage for an extra d6 damage*. Plus, she was fast enough with her knives that she could almost always get two attacks per round. In a party as large as the one we frequently roll with, though, losing her combat strength is not a game changer. The fact that she had become a plot relevant PC in a high-casualty sandbox game is.

Much as I loved playing Elyse, she was as unimportant as she was weird and creepy. Cecilly, on the other hand, had become the “face” of the gang we’d started, was largely responsible for recruiting, managing finances, planning expansion and enterprise, and had connections with nobles, street people, and various revolutionaries. A couple PC gang members from early sessions as far back when we were still associated with the Blackbirds are either on the lam or dead. With Cecilly dead, there are only two “heavies” in the gang being run by players interested in the gang stuff, and those players don’t have the in-game connections with their current characters**.

So, what does this mean for the game? New opportunities, of course! A couple players had been uncomfortable with doing gang stuff, but for the longest time, a majority of our group (myself included) were both loving the River City Ransom hijinx and considered fighting street gangs for turf was less dangerous that mage owls, mystic mice, grease dogs, fungal beasts, deep ones, golems, feverlings, demonlings, human faced centipedes, and bone beasts.***

The new character I rolled up was a “zealous” member of the watch; he ended up helping solve the murder mystery by helping in another bloody fight against cultists where we managed to take one in alive. The irony was, we realized, that none of the characters who ended up solving the mystery were ones who’d been particularly invested in either the gang or the mystery the gang had staked its reputation on****; “so, the people who thought we should come down here are both dead; we should honor their memory by solving the mystery!” With half of the NPC gang members killed after an extraplanar demon invasion during the night of a festival and two thirds of the PC gang members dead or in hiding, it looks like the Stone Cats are on their way back down after a brief, meteoric rise. Perfect opportunity for the party to go legit.

So, instead of things falling apart, significant PC character death allows for a chance to try new things in the story. Sure, we may wonder where things would’ve gone if we stuck to the gang of performers who were securing turf and were on the verge of getting a noblewoman’s support as benefactor. But now, we’ll have new opportunities opening up to pursue that we wouldn’t have had before. Plus, the players who are less comfortable with doing the gang stuff can have a chance to move the game in directions they’d like. In the meantime, I look forward to playing a character who will be less important.

*: The system has a pretty hard limit on PC HP, with the typical range being between 5 and 9. The upside of this is that our DM doesn’t have to worry about encounter balance and can simplify his monster creation process. He can throw a mob of something at us with 8 hit points and one unique ability, give it a description like “It has mushrooms growing in its fur, its head is a goat’s skull and the body of a dog”, and we’re terrified of it, even though we’ve fought several things before that are more or less the same mechanically. Even though my combat abilities were kind of an exploit, and some rounds did upwards of 15 damage, two solid hits from anything would, and did, kill her. The chances of getting a character with a +5 initiative bonus and that good a hit chance again are slim to none.

**:three gang characters are for real dead, including one who was our main contact with the less radical of the two revolutionary groups, and at least one or two characters are semi-retired because they can’t be seen alive on the inhabited side of town.

***: and our DM wonders why we’re unconcerned about the Deep Dwarves…

****: One player did have a character who was a gang heavy, but that night he was running his character who had been turned into rat to better serve the Rat King as a liegeman; he can’t adventure in the inhabited part of the city often, since he looks like a giant rat man, so this sewer dive was a rare excursion for him. Another player is relatively new to our group, so his character doesn’t have as much history with the group (especially since his first couple died).

Free RPG Day Follow Up

Despite the relatively slim pickings for Free RPG Day, I had a hell of a time on Saturday.

I only picked up a couple of the Free RPG products, as there was very little that caught my eye.  The one offering I could muster any real excitement for was the new DCC Lankhmar product, which I hope I can convince my DM to run for our DCC characters.  I grabbed “The Dark Eye” because the art was pretty, but I haven’t had a chance to really read it.  I also grabbed a copy of “Faith”: a comic is a bad way to try to present quick-start rules, especially if you’re going to leave out character creation – somehow Burning Games released a rules-lite RPG in a format that took up around 20 pages and didn’t have enough rules or present them well enough to pick up and play; great job, there.  The art was neat, though.  Notably, there were no copies of Slugs out, so either everyone snatched them all up before I got there (which seems unlikely, considering how many copies of everything else they had) or my FLGS doesn’t put out any Lamentations of the Flame Princess material.  One of the other disappointments regarding Free RPG Day and its offerings was that there were no groups devoted to actually running any of it or even the products they were promoting; I would’ve loved to show up and get to actually play the Lankhmar game, but this year the FLGS had not even organized any games with signup sheets as they had last year, much less actively tried to promote the FRPGD games.  Luckily, there was a gargantuan game (18 players and 3 DMs) being run and I managed to make the sign-up and get in on it.

Saturday was my second time playing 5e, and I still remain unimpressed and thoroughly convinced that everyone who proclaims that it recaptures an oldschool feel and style of play is either lying or doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about.  Because we live in bizarro universe, someone actually thought that my issue with the system might have been that it didn’t have enough crunch and complexity!

-I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – 5e feels like a Supers game. Everyone does ridiculously high damage (by most D&D standards), but everything has obscenely high HP; 5e is for people who like rolling lots of dice and seeing big numbers come up; it feels inflationary.  Like, Superman crits an alien monster and throws him through 3 sky scrapers; the alien brushes off the rubble and renews the attack because he’s only down 20%.
-It’s not the Thief’s (the player’s) fault, and I know he was just playing how you’re supposed to play Thieves, but I kind of wanted to punch him; it was all, ‘I try to sneak, I try to hide in shadows, I run up, I attack, I use (some thing that lets him not take an attack of opportunity), I run away’ every freaking round.  It’s like “Dude, we’re in a well lit 15’ x 45’ room with nothing in it; what the hell are you trying to hide behind!?”  Even the DM was eventually like “Look, there are no shadows for you to hide behind.”  This was exactly like the Thief played in the other 5e game I was in; it was like bringing all the unfun tedium of cover-based shooters to your game table. This is also why B/X’s melee rules are important and good; if a monster is engaged with a fighter, the thief doesn’t have to go through the motions of half a dozen idiotic mechanics to attack without worrying about being hit.
-Rounds took a really long time for those of us playing non-fighty man characters, as everyone had to describe a lengthy sequence of movements spells, abilities, and actions every time their initiative came up.  I’m glad that there was still a Barbarian pre-gen left for me to use at the table I was seated at; my turn was usually “I am still raging; here are my 3 attacks ::rolls::; 15 damage, miss, 12 damage.”
-The bard class is frustratingly stupid.  How a musical taunt can damage undead is beyond me.  I’m glad that our bard was just some guy who got stuck with it because it was the last pre-gen and not someone who really likes bards; I don’t think I could’ve dealt with that.

I made a point of not expressing dissatisfaction with the system beyond my initial moment of deflation when I learned that 5e was the only thing that would be at the table on Saturday, and even though I still hate the system and would rather be playing dang near anything else (even 3e is less fiddly in the parts where you’re not twinking your character), I had a great time and was glad I played.

As much as I’m prepared to slag on 5e as a system, I would not dare insult what these guys pulled off.

The setup was a pretty basic one-off situation; evil necromancer has created a plague, turning people into corrupted undead, each of the three races (humans, elves, dwarves), and we were the champions of each race who’d been sent to his trans-dimensional magic fortress to kill him, find the macguffins and stop the plague.

Each table was running simultaneously in one dimensional layer of the dungeon.  Certain checkpoints would result in a dimensional shift of one of the characters (a player would be dumped into another party and switch tables).  This first part had some hack and slash and was mostly to find clues as to what the end-game would entail; the human party didn’t spend any time doing thorough searching and just made a bee-line for the heart of the dungeon.  Luckily, our players who had been in the elf and dwarf parties told us all of the stuff we missed.

The session ended in a HUGE battle – each of the three parties was squared up against an undead squadron, with two reserve undead squadrons raining arrows on us, and as the battle progressed, three more squadrons, an undead war mammoth and a 150 HP necromancer showed up.  For the first few rounds, each table would run through the round, fighting the squadron they were facing; dead were marked off the giant white-board, troop positions were updated, and the master DM called out who was being hit by ranged fire.  After a few rounds and a few undead squadrons routed, things were getting too mixed up to do it by table (and by this time, the first two waves of undead reinforcements had shown up), so we ended up all gathering around the big table and did stuff war-game style, running through all 18 players and all hostile NPCs.

It’s the sort of tabletop experience that one doesn’t get a chance to have very often, in no small part because it takes a lot of people to pull it off and make the execution work.  I can’t imagine running a battle this size with this many people without multiple DMs, so the organization and time-commitment required to do something like this is tremendous.  Even using a clunker of a system like 5e, I’d leap at the chance to participate in anything like this again.

Later, I will maybe try to muster the courage to talk about Black God’s Kiss.  I need to write up my impressions of Panzer Leader, post pictures of issue 2 with Jabari Weathers’ cover, rattle the coins in my change jar to remind folks that the Kickstarter is half over, and if I am not completely drained write an article for an SFF magazine from scratch because my initial premise was rejected. Geez, I almost forgot that I need to talk about how prophetic The Zanti Misfits was (alien criminals dumped into the US with a complicit Federal government acquiescing to threats of “do what we ask or suffer the consequences”)!

Good work is being done by Misha Burnett and the other writers in his Eldritch Earth Society group.  If you think you can write a good Burroughsian adventure story in a pre-historic Lovecraftian setting without resorting to Cthululz, you should ask to join and maybe you’ll end up in issue 5 of Cirsova.

 

Thiefy Stuff

Playing DCC, thieves have become one of my favorite classes, particularly since DCC’s weird, wild and woolly system of magic kind of puts me off of playing any caster classes.  Though DCC works on the d8 Hit Die rather than the d6 Hit Die, meaning Thieves are d6, my character – with all of my really lousy HD rolls and negative modifier to Stamina/Constitution – feels like a d4 Thief!

Naturally, the thing that makes Thieves fun to play is the opportunity to do Thiefy stuff.  The problem is, for both players of Thieves, DMs and the rest of the group, that Thiefy stuff is typically best done without half a dozen guys with swords, chainmail and magic wands derping around and making noise.  Sometimes dungeons provide opportunities to flex those Thief muscles, disarming traps, opening locks and chest, but what you really want to do sometimes as the Thief is some truly daring late-night breaking and entering back in town.  Who hasn’t wanted to relive the thrill of Bafford Manor heist in their D&D game?

The problem is multipart: the Thief usually wants to run this sort of job solo – no sense in having half a dozen guys banging clanking and wisecracking while you’re trying to sneak through a temple or a mansion – which means that most players will have nothing to do while the Thief does his thing.  At most, some members of the party may be wrangled into being look-outs.  The best time to do Thiefy stuff is when only a small group has shown up, if you can’t wrangle your DM into some solo time.  The other issue is that the DM is now obliged to actually map whatever temple or manor you’re hoping to rob.

Where am I going with this?  You’ll find out tomorrow when I post my review of Castles of Mad King Ludwig!