Gamma World

Hi all! I don’t know how many people are still following me, but if you are, you’re awesome! I’ve been on a gaming hiatus, which turns out it meant that I was on a blogging hiatus as well. Fortunately I finally got some D&D on after a four month break. This past weekend I got to play at little Gamma World, run by my friend and fellow blogger @gamefiend.

If you’ve been under a rock the past few months as I have, Gamma World is the mutant, post-apocalyptic, very weird world of D&D. Rumor has it that it’s been around for quite a long time, but I hadn’t heard of it before it’s current incarnation was announced. The new edition is based on the D&D 4e rules, so jumping in to the game play was straightforward, although the characters are anything but familiar. Instead of the standard race/class combos you get randomly assigned two aspects (although you can probably choose two specific ones). I pulled “Rat Swarm” and “Electrokinetic”. You’re encouraged to develop how those aspects physically manifest themselves. Since “rat swarm” is just the generic name for any kind of swarm, I made my character an anthropomorphic swarm of sentient batteries. The other characters were some kind of radioactive android and a doppleganger. The monsters we faced were violent pig-men, radioactive birds, and gangster cockroaches. From my understanding, this craziness is pretty typical of the setting.

In addition to our random characters, we were randomly assigned Omegas which are scavanged tech items (in this world tech is rare and powerful), which seem to fill the spot of magic items. We also each got an Alpha power, which is a powerful one-use power. When you roll a 1 or when the encounter ends, you get a new Alpha. These represent powers your character has in different parallel universes, and receiving a new one represents that alternate universe crossing to the this one (or maybe it’s the character that is shifting, it wasn’t too clear).

Overall the power levels seem pretty amped up over regular D&D 4e, as we barely survived each encounter. Monsters could kill in or two hits and could out some pretty nasty effects, even at first level. I attribute our party’s survival to my character’s insane near-invincibility due to the combination of tech items, armor, high dex, and swarm resistances.

Overall I enjoyed the experience, but I don’t think I will go out of my way to play this game again. The theme doesn’t really do much for me. I think it’s because the whole setting feels too alien to be relatable. I wasn’t able to get into my character’s head; I couldn’t come up with goals and motivations or even a personality. Most of the species in this world seem to be mutant animals or machines, and it’s hard for me to see why they would be anything other than violent, impulsive monsters, let alone go adventuring. The other issue I have with the setting is the same one I have with Dark Sun, it seems to bleak to be worth saving. Maybe I have too many years of high fantasy to thank for that.

However there are lot of things I do like about the system. The random rolling for scores and gear reminded me of old school D&D. In particular you get a 18 and 16 to put into the primary and secondary skill, and the rest are done by 3d6, no choosing, no rolling a 4th die and dropping the lowest. It’s been a few years since I last had a character with a 7 in any stat. The random mundane starting items encourage creative thinking. It’s amazing how useful a flashlight, a gun, and a canoe can be when that’s all you have and you’re up against a giant cockroach gang. Also the constant churn of random abilities and tech give license to try new and interesting things in an encounter, and the lethality of the world forces you to “play big or go home.”

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Catching Up on Gen Con

Like many people, I didn’t get to go to Gen Con this year. Thankfully there are a number of podcasts that have recorded interviews or whole panel sessions and have posted them for free on their sites. After listening to a bunch, I feel like I was there (at least, in a small part) even if I didn’t get to play or buy any games. Here are my recommendations if you want to catch up through podcasts.

  • The Official Dungeons and Dragons podcast. These guys have recording from their big panel sessions, which is basically like a State of the Union for D&D along with their future plans. The official podcasts seem to have the best audio clarity of these sessions, which is a big plus.
  • Fear the Boot. The guys from this podcast created a series of 3-6 minute videos from the con and social activities outside the main events. My favorite is Chad’s walk through the dealer halls, even if it is mostly his beard.
  • Atomic Array. These Ennie-award winning guys put out a bunch of ~30 min podcasts with 3-4 interviews each episode. The sound quality is pretty good and the interviews interesting with a good dose of familiarity between the hosts and interviewiees.
  • Tome Show. Jeff did a great job getting his panel recordings out while the con was still going on. Unfortunately the sounds quality is not great so go with the official D&D podcasts if they cover the same talks.

Any other good sources of live-recorded Gen Con goodness? For those who were at the con, how do these compare to the experience of being there?

It’s ENnie time again

The ENnies are the annual fan awards for tabletop role-playing game, awarded each year at Gen Con. There are categories for art, writing, products, podcasts, blogs, minis, etc. The awards were originally given out by the EN World site in 2001, and they have been expanding and gaining presitge each year since then. If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you are a RPG fan. This means you’re eligible to go vote now for your favorites. They use a runoff voting system, so you can rank your choices in each category.

Even if you don’t want to vote, you should check out the nominees. They represent the best in this year’s RPG offerings, and I can’t find a bad product or publisher in the bunch. Even the honorable mentions are worth checking out. You have until July 25 to vote.

Most of the nominees are based on the new systems that came out last year. Have any you played them (Shadowrun, Rogue Trader, Pathfinder, etc), and what do you think?

PAX East 2010 Report

Wow… I’m starting to finally recover from nearly 4 straight days of gaming. I have to say that PAX East was awesome. I got to play a ton of board games, video games and of course Dungeons and Dragons. I also had a lot of access to Wizards of the Coast folk to ask questions and bring up some issues. I also had a chance to DM the Dark Sun preview adventure. There was a lot of fun to be had and I highly recommend PAX (and PAX East) as destinations for RPG players. I met a lot of great people that I hope will be long-term gaming friends, but also unfortunately I met a few D&D Jerks (I didn’t know they existed). In the five adventures I played in I came across a whole slew of situations that will make great posts: effective use of skill actions in combat, dealing with bad players and dms, dark sun, organized play, PHB3, the DM’s challenge, upcoming D&D products (like the Player’s Strategy Guide), effective use of encounters and power designs, etc etc…

Highlights
The people. I got to  meet lots of great people: including some awesome gamers from as far away as Portland and Canada. I don’t want to brag and name drop, but so far two the people I’ve gamed with Phill, the Chatty DM (who lived up to his moniker), and Sarah Darkmagic (my regular DM) have written up their experiences so check those out. I also got to meet a lot of local gamers, and I hope to seem around FLGSs and future cons in the area. In addition to famous and/or industry people, there were lots of gamers playing every kind of game in every corner of the convention center. From people like this guy: Lots of fun for all.

The Games. In addition to D&D, I got to play tons of board games, including the new Mystery Express from Days of Wonder, some Magic with the promo decks in the swag bag, got to meet some Interactive Fiction people, see lots of upcoming video games, including Prince of Persia and Civilization V. There were even meta games for the convention, and games for waiting in line (of which there was a lot of).There were also console games, computer games, and classic console and arcade games! I even got meet Luke Crane of Burning Wheel. Must play Mouseguard sometime before the year is out…

The Keynote and Panels. Wil Wheaton brought his A game (along with Pandemic, D&D, and Dragon Age), and really managed to speak to all the generations of gamers there. In addition to Wil, there were a lot of concerts and game industry panels. I didn’t get to many of them, either because the rooms filled up or I was busy gaming elsewhere.

D&D Activities

  • In addition to some unofficial side gaming, Wizards had a big booth in the Expo Hall with “live D&D” which allowed six people to take on six simplified characters and attack a single monster rolling real d20s. It was a fun, especially considering the whole experience with waiting on line was less than 10 minutes.
  • Learn to play d&d: I did not participate in this activity since I already know how to play, but this like all the organized activities “sold out” really quickly, and the people seemed to have a lot of fun.
  • Dark Sun: On Saturday I played the dark sun adventure. I was surprised by how young the other players in my group were and that they haven’t been playing very long. It was a weird switch for me. They seemed to have fun, although I think they were pretty distracted by the time last encounter came around after about 2.5 hours. It didn’t help that the DM was really bad. Thankfully for the group I DM’d the adventure on Sunday I learned a lot from his mistakes. I think my group had a lot of fun as well, and I hope I brought Athas to life for them. Although I’ve DM’d tons before, it was the first for me since 4e came out, and I was glad WotC was short-staffed enough for me to get the opportunity. I hope I’ll get more soon. I’ll blog a bunch about that experience soon.
  • Undermountain delve: This was another event that I did not get to participate in, but it looked pretty cool. Also I think there were prizes for the participants.
  • DM Challenge: There was a poorly advertised contest for DMs to come up with a short adventure based on the Underdark book. About 9 DMs participated in this, including our own Sarah Darkmagic. For me, the adventure started off really fun with a nice dynamic encounter, but our DM kept us there until well after 12:30 when the contest was supposed to only go until 11pm (although most were still going on at 12). He had a wonderful scenario set up and it was the first time I ever saw a complete set of minis where the actual minis represented the monster it was supposed to be. Unfortunately the adventure was one encounter too long and the big boss fight was too complex to deal with at that hour. Here is a picture of Dave the Game’s winning final encounter:
    Dave the Game at PAX East DM challenege
  • Save My Game Panel: The WotC hosts held a live session of save my game. Once again the differences between 4e and 3/3.5 became apparent by the types of questions that were asked depending on which edition was being played. I particularly liked that the panelists also let community members answer questions, and that there were lots of nodding heads along with the points I agreed with. I think this format would be great online as some kind of scheduled and mediated forum. Sort of like newbie DM’s new minicasts, but where anyone can answer. I’m looking at you @trevor_wotc.

It was nice that I got to sample a whole variety of games. I would have liked more time for card and board games, and to have a had the patience to wait in line to get signatures and meet more geekleberties.

Check out my pax pictures on flickr.

Happy New Year

It’s hard to believe it’s 2010. This year will be 4th Edition’s 3rd year (and my blog’s second). I’m looking forward to all new monsters, dungeon tiles, and of course, Player’s Handbook 3.  PHB3 will have additional Psion builds and hopefully some new Psion feats and items to use in my game. I’m also looking forward to the Dark Sun setting. I enjoyed the original novels but not so much the setting when I played it in 2E. Thematically it felt like a mix of  Planescape and Dune, and it never really jazzed me. I’m the only person I know who enjoyed Spelljammer, so you don’t have to follow my opinion. This time I think they’ll do a much better job than before. What I find interesting is how they will adapt the 4th edition philosphy to the setting.

As for this blog, I’m looking forward to trying out some new moves at the table for improving my play and the experiences of my game-mates. I’ll share here what worked and what didn’t, and continue to review player tools, talk about how to handle playing through various fantasy tropes, and how to work with a DM following all the great advice out there on the interwebs.