Saturday, December 26, 2015

What's Next? Or, 2015 in Review

This year I restarted my blog after nuking my old one due to how long it had lain fallow and how outdated most of its ideas were; in hindsight, probably should have kept it around for posterity. But alas, what's done is done, and this new blog has given me the opportunity to start fresh and tackle the latest tabletop games.

Since starting anew, I've made attempts to bring a couple of settings up to date and tried to tackle the reimagining of a class that was struggling to find its identity. The first two I'm pretty happy with, though I'm still unsure of how the variant ranger I proposed would pan out in actual play. Purely mathematical comparisons don't always accurately portray how fun something is, and when your happy fun times roleplaying game activity with friends becomes a flexing contest then it kind of loses its meaning.

I'm really fortunate in that regard; my gaming groups are pretty boss. This year saw a great number of roleplaying adventures in which I was lucky to be a player for at least a couple of them (yeah, I'm the guy usually DMing stuff).

First up was a Pathfinder game that made use of the Ultimate Campaign features so our party of miscreants could help the founding of a small nation that was created purely to skirt the tenets of a treaty between the lords of Brevoy. As a player, I got to mess around with Pathfinder's cavalier class and act as the political figurehead of the nascent nation.

Unfortunately, as fun as the game was, it highlighted my general dislike of how crunchy that system has gotten. There are just piles of ancillary, optional rules that you always find excuses to include, and the system still carries so much baggage from its progenitor 3rd Edition D&D. While I don't begrudge those who love Pathfinder (and I'd still probably play Core if I was asked), I may be turning the page in my gaming days where I just want to sit down and play and not have to worry about keeping spreadsheets.

Concurrently, I was in the throes of my first 5th Edition campaign with my group of online gaming buddies. I mentioned how great Roll20 was, right? In this game, my players managed to thwart the machinations of a dream-projecting green dragon under the throes of an enchanted sleep, settle rising tensions between the colony of one nation on the fringes of another's territory, and reveal a traitor in a faerie court before he could scour the isles of all its human population.

On the downside, this game showed me how cumbersome trying to work within the boundaries of established settings could be. The location of the campaign was the Moonshae Isles of the Forgotten Realms, and boy is it difficult to find sources on that area that don't contradict one another, fail to describe helpful details, or fail to elaborate on the personages alive during a particular time period. I managed once I finally gave up all pretense of running a game in the "canon" Faerun; I renamed some rulers, created heirs and political figures that don't technically exist as of Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (oops), and said, "Screw it!" to the wikis, books, and old boxed sets.

The lesson learned is to not try too hard to conform to what you think people had in mind for the setting. I knew this lesson already, but I do always at least attempt to run games in the "familiar" version of the world. Also, the 1450 DR and beyond continuity really needs to be unsnarled, because I can't seem to make heads or tails of it.

After a brief break, that same group of players, running different characters, continued adventures in the world of Faerun. This time, the setting was good old Baldur's Gate, where I ran into the same continuity issues. The events of the first game drove things going on in the second one, so I had more justification to change names, rulers, and organizations to suit my needs.

In this campaign, my erstwhile adventurers arrived in the city in response to a job posting for extra sword arms to keep the peace in the city. The two feuding powers from the previous game were in town on invitation of the Grand Duke to help hash out a reparations agreement in neutral territory. The players, unfortunately, ran face-first into a Zhentarim plot to influence the outcome of the proceedings.

The Zhents, in the meanwhile, hoisted themselves by their own petard and made a deal with a local black dragon to help supplement their agents. While she willingly supplied her own offspring to act as guard beasts and shock troops, the dragon replaced the Zhent's chief wizard and started turning the whole affair into an attempt to drive the city into chaos so she could plunder it for her hoard. One routed Zhentarim cell and one dead black dragon later, and the heroes were triumphant; a fitting end for an eight month campaign.

Here I learned to stop making my plots too complicated. Knowledge retention between weekly sessions, especially for busy working adults, isn't always the best. That two paragraph summary only scratches the surface of the stuff I had them doing (raiding illegal menageries, traipsing through Banite temples, threatening arms dealers, and dealing with belligerent watch commanders). It was probably too much, and my next game for that same group will be less convoluted so the goal is always clear (e.g., "in this game, we do X").

Homebrew settings weren't left out of the adventures, of course. A coworker is about to finish out a quest where we are trying to seal away the curse of an ancient mountain stronghold that is barfing out corrupting shadow fog. In this game, I play a mountain dwarf rogue, and I am very pleased with how the dwarf's innate toughness helps complement the rogue's combat kit. Being able to wear a mithril breastplate isn't hurting either.

This has been a good year for tabletop gaming. I'm fortunate to have the time to juggle it among the other stuff I do, and it gives me great inspiration for what I write here. Speaking of which, 2016 should be just as productive in that regard, but the question remains as to what I should be working on! I love converting settings, and I feel like I do a better job at that than I do coming up with classes or archetypes.

Presently, I am deliberating the usefulness of converting Dark Sun mechanics to 5th Edition, something I poked at earlier this year but abandoned when I realized that Wizards of the Coast is still feeling out what they want to do for this edition's psionics rules. Planescape probably runs just fine without any mechanics work, though it might do for an entry or two to convert some races over and do some faction backgrounds.

I want to stay as far away from the minefield that is Dragonlance licensing as possible, because I don't know what will get me a pat on the head and what will get me slapped with a C&D. Best to just leave it there. Way over there.

That leaves uh. Um. Hmm. Spelljammer?

Just kidding! Maybe.

Here's to a new year of gaming for all! Have a great holiday, and I'll see you in 2016.

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