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Ancient History
Invincible Overlord


Joined: 18 Aug 2010
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 12:03 am    Post subject: Play-By-Post Autopsy Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've Mister Cavern'd a couple PbPs on the Den, which people have largely enjoyed. The most popular have been:

Back to Basics (AD&D 2nd) IC / OOC

Shadows Over Stygia (Conan d20/Call of Cthulhu d20) IC / OOC

Crypts of Chaos (d20 3.+) IC / OOC

What I'd like to do, in this thread, is to take a look at each one and try to see what worked, what didn't work, and if possible why it did or didn't work.

Now, the general problem with PbPs is that they tend to run long, and it's hard to hold interest, so eventually they just peter out (or lurch around in undead fashion, one or two players still posting while others drop off the face of the internet). I would consider these three games largely successful because there was an ending, and most if not all of the players managed to make it through to the ending. Now, the individual endings might not have always been great, but they were usually sufficient, which I think is important. The dungeons might not all have been explored to 100% completion, but the dungeons were crawled. Big Bads were slain. Key objectives were met.

On my particular MC style - I like to think that in general I am a very accommodating MC. I want my players to have a good time, and I want them to contribute to the game and even the game world. I don't usually like to get into one of those situations where there is only one right way out of any given situation, and I think the points of greatest weakness in my game has been those situations were I sometimes have been a little too literal and unforgiving about PCs stuck in not great-situations. On the other hand, some players seem to like it when traps and fights are extremely brutal. But I think in general the ability to work with players on what their characters do helps keep the game moving, and posting.

I don't do much with maps or illustrations. I probably could do more, but it's a lot of effort and I almost prefer describing the scene as accurately as I can. A large part of this has to do with my open sandbox/pull-it-out-of-my-ass approach to MCing. I like to give players great freedom in what their characters do, and adjust the plot of the game to fit. I have some events and particular locations laid out, but I don't always go into the trouble of working up elaborate maps that are correct down to the in-game inch (the large exception being Back to Basics, which started life as an auto-generated dungeon which I then modified with generous helpings of flavor text.) One of the benefits of this is that I can work a plot to fit the players' plans, but still find ways to throw them a curve ball or work in an event/location/NPC I really wanted them to interact with - such as the fat princess in Shadows Over Stygia.

One thing I do try to be very stringent about, however, is that any rules that apply to the PCs also apply to my NPCs. So in Crypts of Chaos, this involved some occasionally-unsubtle muckings about with the way magic worked - I tried to be as consistent as possible, and the same things that handicapped the PCs also handicapped the NPCs (sometimes moreso, because the PCs pulled a few tricks I didn't expect).

Anyway, thoughts welcome, but I'm going to do a post each on Crypts of Chaos, Shadows Over Stygia, and Back to Basics over the next few days.
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JigokuBosatsu
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 8:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Observing for great justice.
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Red_Rob
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 9:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Firstly I'd like to say that as a player in Crypts of Chaos I thought you did an admirable job of managing everyone and keeping the game on track, particularly with the tendency of the players to run off in opposite directions at a moments notice. I don't think it's a coincidence that your games have largely avoided the curse of most PbP games, which do tend to taper off when someone doesn't post for a day or so.

I've actually been thinking a little about PbP just because it has such a different dynamic from face-to-face gaming. I think much of the traditional RPG experience doesn't really work all that well over a forum. The main thing is the time lag between posts. This means that really you want to aim for a few information dense posts rather than a lot of back and forth wherever possible. It is better for the DM to spend a few paragraphs describing a situation and then the players lay out what they are going to do rather than the players asking lots of questions that might take 8hrs to get a response. Similarly conversations need to be more

I'm not sure 3.5 is a great fit for PbP to be honest. The whole combat system is designed for careful positioning, in-sequence actions and reactions, and it just seems like a poor fit for the forum post paradigm. At the very least I think you want to use whole party initiative rather than individual so it doesn't matter what order players declare their actions. Really I think a game designed for PbP would look quite different to 3.5. It might be a fun design challenge.
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Prak
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 10:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Crypts of Chaos was a lot of fun. I know I have a failing when it comes to PBP gaming, where if I'm not in combat, I sort of go off and do my own thing. Usually poking things with a stick or making crap. Probably has a lot to do with my real social ineptitude. CoC was good though, and it broadly kept my attention. Dungeon Crawls help me focus, there's usually something in front of me to work with.

Your openness to weird concepts helps a lot too. I think a lot of DMs would, at least, chafe at the transformer idea. You didn't just allow it, but actually worked it into the game.

As for a system better suited to PBP than 3.5, I'd be very interested in seeing Fate used for it. The zone-based combat would help, but then aspects would be at least a bit tricky, since you have less ability to interrupt things.
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Ancient History
Invincible Overlord


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Back to Basics
Back to Basics was designed to take what I had learned from running Crypts of Chaos and try to apply the lessons learned, such as they were, but with a focus on the old-school dungeoneering and the admittedly shapeless AD&D 2nd Ed ruleset. Designed to be a quick-and-simple dungeon romp for 4-6 1st level characters, it turned into a 7-player, five-month grind that ran from 21 August 2014 to 7 February 2015.

The dungeon itself was auto-generated and populated using random encounter tables, then fluffed up nicely by me; like with CoC, we went for a "choose your own sourcebook" approach which gave the players as many options as they wanted and forced me to get a little creative. The PCs did eventually defeat the dungeon, though not quite the way I thought they would, and not without their little hiccups along the way.

What Went Right
There was no conga-line of death; 4 PCs bit the dust (3 before they even entered the dungeon), but once safely within the dungeon walls and away from the random encounter tables, the PCs managed by force of arms and wits to acquit themselves rather well against opponents and traps.

The appearance of the myconids ("Bro, welcome bro.") was greeted with general approval, and I think it might qualify as one of my best portrayals of non-human races/cultures so far, especially with the little joke of the elixir of cola. PCs also seemed relatively intrigued by the history of the dungeon, suitably creeped out by the zombabies, and suitably annoyed by the gnomes.

The idea of evenly awarding XP for foes fought across the entire team also worked relatively well, moreso than in Crypts of Chaos, and a house rule I think I would definitely use again if I were to do another meatgrinder.

What Went Wrong
Well, the PCs very nearly died before even reaching the dungeon. This was my own fault, I should probably not have introduced the gnomes, much less the owlbear. The players also insisted on fighting the owlbear, which resulted in about half of the party being wiped out. This was a severe tactical miscalculation on my part.

Also, there was one complete party-death which we retconned to keep the game moving. This one I consider my fault; I was using the default rules written for an electrical trap and probably should have skipped it, especially when the players began arguing it. While I think you could run a Tomb of Horrors type game where the players just generate a stack of PCs and conga-line through the traps, I wasn't going for that and it almost killed the game early.

Player momentum started to stall out near the end, especially when Sam stopped posting, and my ungentle GM ass-pulls to get the PCs out of some sticky situations probably didn't help morale either. Also, random magic item tables reinforce how much I hate AD&D magic item guidelines.

The tunneling team was another encounter which, in hindsight, was probably more infuriating for the players than fun as it should have been. I think I kept overestimating their ability to do anything at the levels they were at.

Why
I wanted to run a very basic dungeon. This was it, but...I probably should have generated it myself rather than done auto-generate, and I probably should narrowed the focus a little. The deadly owlbear encounter is a good example of a situation that shouldn't have happened, not because I was being railroady, but because players who know they're going into a dungeon as opposed to "oh fuck, I'm in a dungeon" take a completely different approach to things.

As far as keeping players motivated, I did, at the beginning, try to give individual characters private motivation through one-on-one scenes via PM, getting them to go after specific treasures for greater personal rewards, but I think the players largely forgot about that as the months rolled by. In hindsight, I probably should have harped on this more, offering clues and follow-ups in the art and tomb-trappings; I should also probably have autorolled a lot of the history proficiency skillchecks and stuff, to get players to focus on doing stuff instead of asking a bunch of questions which hampered the flow. Likewise, initiative-based combat in a PBP game is just a pain in the ass, and I should have gone for team initiative.

Ironically, I think the PCs liked the "challenges" they could talk their way out of better than any of the actual combat; whether this is a credit to my ability to write dialogue (ha) or a failure on their part to min-max (hey, they're honest), or maybe just a deficiency in the AD&D rules, I'm not sure of. Maybe a mix of all three. But I think if there is a take-home lesson, I'd include more opportunities for parley instead of action beats in the normal course of things.
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Avoraciopoctules
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 10:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Red_Rob wrote:
Firstly I'd like to say that as a player in Crypts of Chaos I thought you did an admirable job of managing everyone and keeping the game on track, particularly with the tendency of the players to run off in opposite directions at a moments notice. I don't think it's a coincidence that your games have largely avoided the curse of most PbP games, which do tend to taper off when someone doesn't post for a day or so.


Definitely agreed, Crypts of Chaos was well done. Wasn't around for the other two games, but I think you did a great job keeping things engaging and adapting to all the crazy we threw at you.
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Shady314
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 12:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
Ironically, I think the PCs liked the "challenges" they could talk their way out of better than any of the actual combat; whether this is a credit to my ability to write dialogue (ha) or a failure on their part to min-max (hey, they're honest), or maybe just a deficiency in the AD&D rules, I'm not sure of.


As a DM and Player I've noticed that on both sides of the table and in every system I've played. I think there's a lot of reasons for this.
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Lokathor
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
The idea of evenly awarding XP for foes fought across the entire team also worked relatively well, moreso than in Crypts of Chaos, and a house rule I think I would definitely use again if I were to do another meatgrinder.


I'm confused. Isn't an even split how XP normally works?
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Ancient History
Invincible Overlord


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 1:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Not always - some people award XP/Karma by how the characters participate in events, especially in the case of Crypts of Chaos where the party tended to be split more often than not, and new characters came in at 1st level. So in Back to Basics I declared that all XP was split among all members of the team, and new PCs came in with XP equal to the average XP of the group (because AD&D 2nd. has an XP boost for individual classes based on high attributes...look, it was old skool.)
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 1:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Quote:
The players also insisted on fighting the owlbear, which resulted in about half of the party being wiped out. This was a severe tactical miscalculation on my part.


Quote:
Also, there was one complete party-death which we retconned to keep the game moving. This one I consider my fault; I was using the default rules written for an electrical trap and probably should have skipped it, especially when the players began arguing it.

This is exactly why I now restrict my D&D gaming to popular published modules and adventure paths that have been out for a while. Not because Paizo is great at avoiding "oops, TPK" encounters (far from it), but once a module has been out long enough there will be plenty of people to point out the danger spots.
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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 3:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Thanks for making this thread, I had alot of fun playing in your Conan d20 and Back to Basics game and wanted to know more about their inner workings.

With Back to Basics I'd say most problems just come from the swingy nature of low level AD&D play and general indecisiveness in myself and how to coordinate with veryone else.

Say that owlbear at the start. My initial reaction was to run away and I successfully got that stone door to close just enough, but then I waffled on what to do next and got my minotaur killed. There's also the swinginess of the game at that level, where there was a fair chance that the party's combined efforts could kill the owlbear in one turn and a good chance of it ripping through us (the latter happened).

The statue electric trap and gnome tunneler also had a lot of party indecisiveness as we weren't quite sure how to proceed.

Quote:
Ironically, I think the PCs liked the "challenges" they could talk their way out of better than any of the actual combat; whether this is a credit to my ability to write dialogue (ha) or a failure on their part to min-max (hey, they're honest), or maybe just a deficiency in the AD&D rules, I'm not sure of. Maybe a mix of all three. But I think if there is a take-home lesson, I'd include more opportunities for parley instead of action beats in the normal course of things.


Part of that is 'cause parlaying had more of a middle ground where there was some back and forth with different party members contributing, while the combat and trap portion of the game was "You die/you don't die" from the get go and anyone without relevant abilities hides around the corner. That's just how level 1 D&D play is tho' (the owlbear massacre also reinforced that), if the game was level3+ PC's you'd have different behavior.

The mushroom bros were great, highlight of the game for me, the fight with the veggiepygmies to uncover the cola machine also felt the most 'fulfilling' of the set in the way they were introduced. From what I remember it was...

1) We knew we were in dangerous territory before the vepi's appeared
2) We killed a small number of them, giving us confidence in our abilities before they appeared in huge numbers
3) When they did appear in huge numbers we were also in sight of our objective

The success/failure of reaching the objective felt like it was up to our tactical planning and unique class abilities, not just the initial roll to hit/damage.

Details like the giant talking serpent guarding the paladin's tomb also made the world feel alive. Was that randomly generated?

-----

Overall I remember exploring the Back to Basics dungeon more vividly than the Conan d20 adventure, I figure a large part of it was backtracking. In that Back to Basics we'd go down the same hallway to check out different rooms, and eventually made our way back to the entrance after beating the badguys. With the Conan d20 game we traveled from place to place with lots of scenery changing which is cool, but we didn't really revisit anywhere.

D&D3e is also more fiddly with character creation and advancement... but that's more a complaint of the system than anything else. Being a non-magical grappling specialist against large monsters was also ineffective, if I could time machine back to that game from the start I would've made a sneak attack archer type to just kill stuff from afar. But that's expected of playing Monk type characters in a 3e based system.


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Ancient History
Invincible Overlord


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 10:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

OgreBattle wrote:

Details like the giant talking serpent guarding the paladin's tomb also made the world feel alive. Was that randomly generated?

One of my personal rules is to always plant a BFS in every dungeon. The Elder Snake happened because I wanted to put an Elder Snake in there.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 11:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Shadows Over Stygia
I am an unapologetic Lovecraft fanboy and own more Conan the Barbarian comic books than most people realize exist, so I was well aware of both the d20 games based on those properties...and because of the shared setting elements, and the different takes that both games took on the d20 system, I became aware that the rulesets were more or less compatible, and even in places could be seen as complementary.

In hindsight, starting with a hypothetical and untested system mish-mash might not have been the best approach, but the setting pretty much wrote itself: it's set after the adventures of Conan the Barbarian, where an elderly priest promises you an obscene sum of money to go find a magic book and stop an evil sorcerer. Dead simple thing for six adventurers, right? Wrong. Again, a "short game" went on from 7 July 2013 to 17 August 2014 - over a year! What stamina these players had.

What Went Right
The players all seemed really into it, even the ones that were dead-set on playing evil snake priests, which provided a good energy, especially early on. There were some very memorable scenes - the fat princess, snakes in a harem, the infamous deal with the man-eating tree women in the oasis, the absolutely metal leap of faith that sent the armored knight and his serpopard mount into the maw of a tentacled abomination, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well that bits I stole from Lovecraft's "The Nameless City," Tim Powers' Declare, and back issues of Conan the Barbarian worked. The fact that the PCs gradually became distrustful of anything remotely female I personally thought was hilarious, but might have been a bit too much, like the run-on joke about urine as medicine.

What Went Wrong
Everything else? Neither I nor the PCs were terribly overfamiliar with the Conan d20 rules, which means we both made plenty of mistakes - erring on the side of caution, I think the PC sorcerers' defensive blasts turned out to be a little too powerful, as it was basically the go-to get-out-of-whatever-fucking-mess-we've-found-ourselves-in card. The adventure itself managed to keep on up a good momentum about until we hit the Temple of the Toad, where things got...confused. This was in large ways my fault, as I made the sorcerer's entourage a bit too damn powerful (again) - what was meant to be "challenging" turned into "closet troll." By the time the PCs had gone through an unexpected side-quest for a camel-woman and a small temple/shrine/crypt, the momentum was largely gone from the game, and the ending was definitely more than a bit forced, particularly for Korgan0's character, which I felt bad about.

Why
Well, starting off from a mechanical viewpoint, Call of Cthulhu d20 is lipstick on a pig. Yes, you can sort of use it with Conan d20, but it's still not really any easier to learn Cthulhu Mythos spells, and we as a group borked up the magic system quite a bit, and even with me being relatively generous in interpreting spells and rolling dice, the PC sorcerers were rather upset at the limits to their abilities. Still, I managed to avoid the CoC "your PCs are all insane" thing - all the PCs survived to the end - so that's something.

From a story perspective, it was literally more of a sandbox than any PbP I'd run before, with the PCs told to go from point A to point D with their option of routes - it's one of those occasions where I probably should have put more effort into a map, but more than that it meant that there was more a disjointed "series of scenes" than a straight dungeon crawl or linear adventure. In hindsight, I maybe should have capitalized on that and separated the game into distinct "chapters," glossing over the difficulties of travel even more than I did and presenting the PCs at the given locations/situations.

The game started to drag around the Temple of the Toad, which was a bit too complicated. Again, hindsight 20/20, I probably should have forced a confrontation with the sorcerer then and there and given the PCs a fighting chance to take him down. As it is, the game went on a bit too long (13 fucking months); there were still good moments, but fewer and farther between, what with the drugs and ape-women and whatnot.

The final conflict was way too much of a bad set-piece on my part, a lot like the end of Crypts of Chaos in that I was trying to establish some kind of closure for the PCs, a "big moment" to end the game on, and didn't manage to effectively pull off. Part of that is for some reason I find that giving players more time to plan out a combat tends to not work out as well as I'd hope - I guess in my head I was thinking the PCs would go all out with traps and whatnot a la the end of Conan the Barbarian, but they went for slaves, sacrifices, and undead instead. I'm not complaining, but I think a large part of it is either the lack of desire for tactical planning, or the lack of resources I provide (maps, etc.) to facilitate tactical planning.

I think as a whole the game worked well enough for what it was, but it could have been planned and executed better on my part - tighten up the plotting and transitions, lower the power levels to keep the PCs challenged but not overwhelmed, and the "big battle" at the end - which in hindsight really should have been far quicker and simpler - but the rules really were clunky. Maybe if I had made the Cthulhu Mythos spells more accessible, by letting the PCs just read them out of a book, it might have helped a bit, but overall I think I tried to go for too much scope on this adventure - something closer to the Tower of the Elephant instead of a trek across half of Stygia would have worked out much better.
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Prak
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 12:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I think the defensive blasts are more of an symptom of the problems with how Conan handles magic than a problem in and of themselves.

I understand why Conan scholars are limited the way they are. It does a lot to drag casters back down to the same playground as everyone else. Btu possibly too much. Power points are limited, and spell effects are seldom useful. Summoning is rather explicitly calling, and not even a helpful "Calling from the Plane of Snakes" but a "Calling something from the actual terrain you're in." This might be fine in non-desert terrain, but anything in the Stygia book or with Desert as their environment in the main book was generally too powerful. Plus, if I recall, it took transit time, which is not something you want to deal with when you're a frail scholar about to get their face caved in with a knife. I frequently fell back on Chill of the Grave because it was the only useful spell I had, and even then it required me to tell people to herd enemies toward me so I could hit as many as possible in the first go, because there wouldn't be a second.

Playing Egyptian Snake Sorcerer House MD was a lot of fun, but with the fact that Scholar didn't give me a lot to do in a fight, and the fact that, as I previously mentioned, my attention drifts outside of a dungeoncrawl...
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Winnah wrote:
No, No. 'Prak' is actually a Thri Kreen impersonating a human and roleplaying himself as a D&D character. All hail our hidden insect overlords.


FrankTrollman wrote:
In Soviet Russia, cosmic horror is the default state.

You should gain sanity for finding out that the problems of a region are because there are fucking monsters there.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 12:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Something I should mention: the thing about being Mister Cavern, you don't blame players for how they play. That's like blaming the weather. Weather just is. You adapt to it. Maybe if I had really terrible players that did terrible things and were just trolling everyone it would be different, but I haven't had any of those in these games: people came to have a good time, and not at the expense of anyone else. So when I look at these games, it really is from the perspective of "what could I have done different?" not "what could the players have done different?"
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Prak
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 12:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Actually, I'd be interested in some suggestions as to what I can do differently as a player, since social shit is my trouble spot, in gaming as it is in life.
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Dean, on Paranoia wrote:
The book is a hardbound liars paradox.


Winnah wrote:
No, No. 'Prak' is actually a Thri Kreen impersonating a human and roleplaying himself as a D&D character. All hail our hidden insect overlords.


FrankTrollman wrote:
In Soviet Russia, cosmic horror is the default state.

You should gain sanity for finding out that the problems of a region are because there are fucking monsters there.
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Nebuchadnezzar
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 6:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

On S.o.S.
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I suppose the thing I'm most interested in, which may be outside this thread's purview, is simple ways to keep people posting. Cajoling is only so useful, and calling players out is as likely to induce ragequitting as renewed contribution. A stab in the dark would be to give a minor bonus on the order of a bonus Hero/Victory/whatever Point per week of not holding the game up.

Edit: Oh, and the running joke was about the use of dung as medicine, not urine, although I would argue the line that hadn't actually been crossed was somewhere around mentioning a crocodile dung pessary.


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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 7:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

croc dung and virgin's urine are ingredients mentioned in Egyptian ancient texts tho: https://books.google.co.th/books?id=3SwyAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=egyptian+virgin+urine+medicine&source=bl&ots=t9oGPyiXgA&sig=pjTV4dnbqJibfsFYnEPsFZDb4RM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAGoVChMIy4CDz-r_xgIVAhqOCh3HDwAC#v=onepage&q=egyptian%20virgin%20urine%20medicine&f=false


Yeah clothes-lining the snake knight and his snake horse into the horrible river was the highlight of my PC's time in that campaign. I didn't know what the actual odds were of success/failure and just hoped I had stacked enough.
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Prak
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 9:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

If I recall correctly, we started at 4th and I did spend a spell known slot on Chill of the Grave. So, we did observe it, and it didn't help.
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RelentlessImp
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 6:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Quote:
The players also insisted on fighting the owlbear, which resulted in about half of the party being wiped out. This was a severe tactical miscalculation on my part.


This is a problem of AD&D 2E and Random Encounter Tables in general. BECMI and AD&D both assume that party members are metagaming and know when to run away. Part of the fault was yours, part of the fault was the party's, and it was a letdown of the system that they should have known they had no chance against an owlbear at their levels so it was a failure on the part of the system assuming the players' metagaming knowledge.


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Blicero
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 7:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

RelentlessImp wrote:

This is a problem of AD&D 2E and Random Encounter Tables in general. BASIC and AD&D both assume that party members are metagaming and know when to run away. Part of the fault was yours, part of the fault was the party's, and it was a letdown of the system that they should have known they had no chance against an owlbear at their levels so it was a failure on the part of the system assuming the players' metagaming knowledge.


I don't know if that is really a failure of the system. "We are puny level 1s, if we meet something bigger than we are, we gtfo" is a decent heuristic that isn't necessarily metagame-y in nature. Alternatively, you have a rumor table or whatever with entries like "The Company of the Bright Sword ran into an owlbear yesterday and it wrecked their shit". A lot of older adventures had that sort of thing. It doesn't really work with proc gen dungeons though.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Prak wrote:
Actually, I'd be interested in some suggestions as to what I can do differently as a player, since social shit is my trouble spot, in gaming as it is in life.

I don't usually have much feedback for players, aside from "Be proactive." It's very hard to instill a sense of urgency in players, especially through PbP, and when they form a group they seem to instinctively want to clear what they do with the rest of the group before they do something - or, probably worse, they talk about what they can do but take fucking forever to put forward a post that actually amounts to "My character does such-and-such, like a badass." As an MC, the worst part sometimes is waiting for players to make up their minds about what their characters are actually doing, or needing to ask and clarify if the PC is actually taking said action, or just talking about it.

Most players also don't realize that the faster they move, the faster the MC has to move to keep up, which means less time for the MC to think of oh-so-clever obstacles and complications. You saw that a lot in Crypts of Chaos, where to enliven the action a bit there were a lot of relatively quick random encounters.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2015 11:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Crypts of Chaos
Quote:
Room 00
The echo of mad laughter fades and the shadows fall from your eyes, and you find yourself...somewhere else.

Around you stand others, blinking and confused as yourself, likewise apparently transported here against their will.


This was intended to be an experiment in open-minded meatgrinding, good-natured munchkinism, and old-school fuckery. It turned out a little different.

Spanning seven players and fifteen characters, five of whom survived, this game ran for 235 in-character pages and countless PMs from 3 July 2012 to 3 May 2013 - just shy of a year. The robustness of the campaign was due largely to the heavy involvement of the players, the accessible nature of the campaign, and the fact that I could post from work.

It's really hard to know where to start with this game. It was by design highly agglutinative, picking up elements as it went along. The initial outline was of a fairly sizable dungeon, based in part on some mazes I had drawn up and notes for four previous dungeons I'd run under different groups. But the heart of the game is probably the "3.+" concept - the idea that any d20 book was game, but that the GM would be restricted to those books as well. I had intended it to act as a sort of metagame for players - a way for them to say "okay, we don't want to face that, so let's not use that book" - but it worked out to be more along the lines of opening the players up to deciding what their own options were, which expanded the type of characters they could play. Add that together with a fairly open setting where no character concept was taboo.

What Went Right
People had fun. I know I did.

There were a lot of great, well-received moments and characters. There were some revelations that brought actual reactions out of people. Some great surprises.

I think the players really embraced the game when the deck of many things entered play early on, the cards shuffled and dealt out in secret by a mechanical wight on the other side of a secret door, accompanied by an eerie prophecy. It set the tone: this wasn't designed as any sort of a balanced dungeon. This was crazy, and the players responded to it well.

Random threats would pop in and out of Room 00, basically whenever the action dulled or the PCs lingered too long or went away and came out again. There was a half-fiend cat whose stitched-on hide kept slipping off it's frame. A small, furry ninja hiding in a tree. An undead elemental weird who lived in a pool of flame. A centaur pregnant with a half-dragon foal, who became the group's adopted mascot (sometimes with pretty dresses!)

They faced unexpected challenges - an iron golem built as a chain of keys. A room where every wall and floor touched released a rod of wonder effect. Old-school traps like the fake hand of Vecna. A treasure map. Bargaining with forgotten gods. A tomb for dead Transformers with a warning echoing nuclear semiotics. Elder Thingol, a mindflayer patterned off Yag-Kosha from "The Tower of the Elephant." Personal transformations. A three-eyed tyranossaurus smith and its pregnant wife. Orcwyn. The utterly mysterious and unpredictable Cube. Julius Goldwhiskers, the amiable wererat thief. Demonic slot machines. A paladin that used a matched pair of holy avenger pistols. A transgendered drow. Antigravity rhinos. And, of course, the sudden yet inevitable betrayal of their own party members.

I think the sojourn in Blue Town was perhaps the highlight of the session. It was a society that defied expectations, with critters that behaved in ways the PCs didn't expect. (Kothre got laid - and XP for boning! Berry got cursed, and a magic dagger.) I'll never forget the reaction to the Mauve Ones, especially the Mind Flayer in a gimp suit, or how the librarians would whip and flay anyone that broke the rule of silence.

And, I think, as long as it went on, it kept fresh, and it ended rather well.

What Went Wrong
It almost ended before it began. Again, I sort of made the mistake of introducing a monster (gelatinous cube) at the beginning that was too big for the party to handle on its own; it was more luck than skill that let them defeat it. Koumei couldn't keep up the pace and folded early too.

Because we were using different products, there were some kinks and hiccups in the ruleset, which provided unexpected issues (mainly because Avoir seemed dead-set on raising an undead army - a goal I don't begrudge, but which the game wasn't set up to handle very well), including any number of efforts to abuse the summoning rules to mill XP. That was my bad; I wanted to avoid some particular planes-hopping shenanigans that I knew were issues with dungeoneering, so I set the whole thing in a separate demiplane with a few different rules on how magic worked, but I hadn't realized some of the emergent issues.

The game did slow down a bit, despite my best efforts; this is usually when I would try to revive interest with another random encounter. The actual dungeon sections were probably, by contrast, the absolute weakest link - while some of the traps were okay (the giant gold coin became something of a running gag), the PCs spent much less time actually trying to dungeon delve than interacting with the various people and critters they found in (and, progressively, outside) the dungeon proper. None of these encounters were scripted and some of them just didn't come across as well as I would have liked; I was keenly aware at some of the frustration Avoraciopoctules was feeling at times (and at one point he suicided his character and was set to take a break from the game - something I felt very responsible for, as I should probably have handled the situation differently), and the tendency of the group to split up and wander off made it really difficult to attend to all of them equally.

Likewise, some of the "transformations" and situations were forced, more than they should have been. Seiko Kai's "magic tattoos" for example, were designed pretty much to make his monk a more viable character in the dungeon, but with one thing and another never really played the part I thought they would play.

The ending, when it came, was a bit rail-roady on my part. I had mapped out a road to "win" at the dungeon, but by that point player participation was starting to drag, a lot of the dungeon still hadn't been explored (and everyone seemed allergic to mapping, including me), and so I sort of precipitated the end-game a bit fast. The PCs still had an impact - an important part to play - in how it unfolded; they made it happen. But I definitely rushed things along at the end, when I maybe could have let them play out at a little more natural pace.

Why
There were some hidden factors at play in all this - that is to say, design principles behind the dungeon that I never told the players about. Largely these reflected my own prejudices; I was having fun playing around with different ideas and concepts, as I do in any game system. Things like magic firearms and a society that largely uses psionics when the PCs are all magic-based are fairly par for the course. There was also a largely random element, not just in the deck of many things, but in the Cube, which though the PCs never figured it out was primarily a rod of wonder combined with rolls on the Wild Magic table (along with a few other functions they never really explored much).

Pacing was an issue I was very much aware of; by luck my work hadn't blocked the Den at that point, so I could pretty much post all day, but I largely tried to keep from letting one player drive all the action, as much as I could. I was...partially successful.

A lot of it was just the sandbox concept - a large part of the scripted material for the dungeon had to be adapted to the characters (Aracanis' inclusion of the Transformers brought on the whole Primus/The Fallen aspect), so a lot of the fluff was being made up (and kept straight by me) as things went along. There was much hinting, and letting the players fill in the blanks on their own, which they did rather ably. Really, I think it was the players as much as anything that kept the whole dungeon fun, right down to Aracanis flirting with Berry, or Chip fighting a bit of mold and losing his boot.

And, it has to be said, I think I gave it the best summary-ending that I could. The PCs deserved that.

I've often thought of doing a sequel - even scripted out some bare notes on a possible dungeon design - but I don't have the ability to update things all day like I did then, and I don't know if it would be up to expectations. It's been a long time since 2012/2013.
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Koumei
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2015 12:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
Koumei couldn't keep up the pace and folded early too.


Story of my life :/
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2015 12:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Just bad luck, I think.
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