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Aug. 25th, 2008

Moving To The Country, Gonna Eat A Lot of Peaches

So I'm moving, to Google's Blogger.

My new blogging home is at http://runningwithdice.blogspot.com/

I've migrated all my stuff from here on LiveJournal over there.

Why/how/etc? Maybe a little boredom with my current digs, I suppose. I don't have any major gripes with LJ, but I'm moving anyway.

So, if you're interested in staying tune to my rambling entries, please update your feed reader or links. It'll be more of the same, I promise. Long posts about Dungeons and Dragons and role playing games, me whining about or bragging about running, depending on my level of motivation, some politicking, and other assorted randomness.

I intend for this to be my last post on this LJ. The journal will remain, and I'll continue to read my friends list, for the one or two folks who do friends-only entries.

See you on the other side!
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Aug. 22nd, 2008

While I'm on hold

I'll entertain you with the following:

Keyboards can be a source of mild entertainment.

rwxgbiqFGro

There! That is a (not actual) example of my password, typed when my fingers are on the wrong home keys! Yay touch typing! I always catch it almost right away, but there's always half a second of confusion, where I wonder if I've had a stroke, or if someone has randomized my keyboard.

Speaking of home keys, a great prank to play on your friends that rely on hunting and pecking is to move the keys around on the keyboard! You can even do this with just a couple of letters on the keyboard to totally throw them off. Ahhhh good times.

Besides, I'm sure your hunting and pecking friends needs a good excuse for punching you in the face. Everyone wins!

Aug. 20th, 2008

A little bit more Actual Play

I meant to make a long rambly post some time ago about "Actual Play" posts and so forth. A clever person once said that all of the "in game action" posts in the world do not interest them, but what gets them going are details about how the game works around the table - what are the players saying or doing, how are they using or abusing the system, and how are they interacting with it, on a metagame scale.

My posts regarding the D&D games that I've running have attempted to kill two birds with one stone, getting both "in game" stuff, and "actual play" stuff, but I have always come down more on "in game" stuff, I think because it sticks in my mind more. I have more difficulty remembering the details of how everyone is interacting with each other and the system, probably because I'm so focused on running the game, and only have so much attention.

Anyway. In response to my last post about our most recent D&D game, Matthew asked "How did the players use the game system outside of combat?"

My first response is an observation, take it how you will: D&D (all of D&D, 4e is no exception) is 80% rules about killing orcs, and 20% other stuff.

Much of the players interaction with the game world outside of combat is not governed by hard and fast rules, the same way that combat is. This may be more specific to my own style of running it, than the way its written, I'm not sure about that. To take a very basic approach in building an answer to Matthew's question, let me outline it like this.

Just as with combat situations, I begin by outlining "what's happening and what's here." I try to aim for somewhere between "So you're at a city, what do you do?" and "The crumbling limestone walls of Wyvernsbrook, loom menacingly over you, the scars of many previous sieges and battles evident on their surface .... [30 minute exposition]". In a combat situation, the rules kick in right away. The players start moving the number of squares that they're allowed to move, and start hitting things, as outlined by the rules. Non combat encounters, whether investigative or dialogue based, I'm happy to free form as long as is possible.

I try really hard not to keep clues and information from the players, but I also make an attempt to have them do just a little work for it, instead of simply handing it all out, totally free. When they arrived in Illyes and began to poke around looking for information on the kidnappers and farm family, I inquired as to how they were going about it - who are they asking, where are they going to find out this information? John and Andrew, being the most vocal at the time about the search, both ended up making dice rolls. John, beat me to the punch, and went ahead and rolled diplomacy as we were discussing his investigation, while I asked Andrew to make a streetwise check. Certainly, I could have not even had them roll the dice, and handed over the information, but as I mentioned, I don't want to simply hand it out, I think that my players expect the kind of play in which they'll need to do a little dice rolling and talk to some people before getting what they're after. What if they got terrible rolls? Well it would influence the information that I gave them. At worst, I'd tell them that they'd come up empty, but that Shadowy Bob might have some information, if they can track him down... To get more game-philosophy-y, I think that's part of why the dice are there, in their randomness, to provide easier or more difficult routes to victory.

When the party made it to Drugen, they were again looking for information, and digging around. In situations like these, I tend to not role play every bar tender and street urchin as they're pumping them for information. I find that it eats up huge amount of time, can create lots of red herrings, but most importantly, I'm just not that strong of a role-player myself, and it seriously taxes my creativity and quick thinking. "Um, yeah, the urchins name is... Galanon...en.. Galanonen. He's short, and about yay high, and looks pretty dirty. He stares at you sullenly." I should also mention that its been pointed out to me by more than one person that my "default NPC personality" is that of "Surly Asshole", who is annoyed at you for wasting his or her time, and not very interested in helping you out. Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked.

In Drugen they did more investigation, and again, after we'd spend a few minutes discussing what kind of things we were trying to do and how we were trying to do them, I went to dice, letting the dice be a barometer of success/return.

Now - I feel compelled to mention that there are more mechanics for things outside of combat. There are skill challenges, and all manner of diplomacy/bluff/streetwise/etc. But I tend to play fast and loose with the rules, when the game and my players will let me get away with it. Bluff jogs my memory. Both Andrew and John did a little bit of lying to Athurn, John giving him a fake name, ("Did you just tell him that your name is Beverly?"), and Andrew posing as a drunk, trying to get into an advantageous position when he thought that they were about to do bloody combat, and then settling for swiping the guys money pouch when he realized that it was not the time for fighting. And so in both cases there was a dice roll to determine their level of success in their lying.

Some dialogue and encounters I'll actually play through. Two that come to mind are their meeting with Nusak (immediately named "Nut Sack" by the players, thank you, random name generator, and not having enunciated them once first before telling the players the name). He was the guy who was hiding in the barn. It was really more of a monologue, not that I didn't let anyone interrupt me, but he gave his story, they asked a couple of questions, bad guys came up into the trees, Andrew knocked Nut Sack out, presumably to keep him from running away, they fought the bad guys, then sent Nusak on his way to Illyes. I also played their meeting with Roric and Athurn in more detail, playing each one. I guess it comes down to importance, and likelihood of someone "doing something". For folks who are important, or who have something important to say, I try to role play them as best I can. Usually I'll quote their dialogue, but occasionally, especially if we're wandering off topic or if they've already given their Important Information, I'll start third-personing it, "Yeah, he says that he's never seen the guy, and doesn't know why those other guys were there." Also, if I think that the party is likely to spring to the attack or something of that sort, I'll speak the dialogue, it lets us do better for accounting for time, order, and so forth.

So... that's perhaps about 1,500 words more than Matthew was looking for, and I'm not 100% confident that I answered the question fully, but that's my stab at it. Also, I love me some exposition, sometimes.
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D&D Session 7: Cat and Mouse

So the gang was gathered for some more D&D.

Krissi and her ranger were suffering from a headcold, and so they were not with us.

This week's adventure was a change of pace for all of us. Our previous sessions have been spent either in the underground or in the wilderness. Aside from a few villagers, most everyone they met was interested only in a good fight. So, our previous sessions could easily be categorized as Dungeon Crawling. This week, they got to test their diplomacy and socializing.

When we'd left off last week, the group had just arrived at the gates to the town of Illyes. Of the three towns that form the majority of this community, Illyes is the religious center. Pretty much all of the good and neutral aligned deities have a temple of some size here. Jerry's cleric went off and spent a little time at the temple of Pelor, Maddie's paladin went and spent some time at the temple of the Raven Queen.

Jerry and Maddie both asked at their temples about jobs - side quest time. Which was totally cool, but left me in the lurch for just a moment. As I mentioned, this week was a pretty serious change of pace for us. I'd been a touch anxious about exactly this, leading up to our game. Maddie wanted to secure a holy symbol of some kind for her Paladin. Jerry wanted to build up some good karma with his people. After a moment of quick thinking, I explained that the head mistress of the Raven Queen's temple wanted Maddie to go to the down of Drugen to pick up the unclaimed corpses of a family that died in a fire. The disciples of the Raven Queen took it upon themselves to handle the unclaimed or unwanted dead. Jerry's cleric meanwhile was asked to take a minor relic to Drugen and bury it, in the hopes that it would help to hasten the coming of spring, since winter was turning out to be particularly harsh this year.

The gang also spent a little time going around town, some to the temples, others to the barracks to inquire if any unusual travelers had come through recently - as they were tracking the missing farm family and their kidnappers. They were told that yes, an agent from one of the well-placed families in Drugen had passed through recently. Obviously, all signs pointed to Drugen.

We also noted that the party was pretty close to third level. In an effort to encourage my players to come up with background stories for their characters, I'd offered a reward of 1/10th of a level worth of XP for a background. Jerry and Jeremy had taken me up on it, contributing toward the entire parties advancement, and with level 3 being just about 30 xp away, John and Andrew both quickly committed their backgrounds to paper, and bumped the party over into level 3. Woo!

The party headed for Drugen, and managed to provide some security for a large train of wagons carrying grain. This netted them some cash. They all looked a little disappointed though when I did not spring an encounter on them. Noted.

The party started digging around in Drugen while the cleric and paladin went about their side quests. Andrew's thief and John's warlord kept their ear to the street, while Jason's fighter passed the time sparring with some of the militia. Nate the thief put out word that he was interested in slaver activity, and they waited to hear from someone. They didn't have to wait very long, as a page boy approached them, and said that someone wanted to meet them at midnight in a disused barn outside of the town.

The party headed there early and staked the place out and waited for Midnight. Andrew's thief and John's warlord headed inside, while the rest of the party stayed outside, hidden in the nearby trees. Soon, a fellow named Nusak showed up, and told Nate and Devlin that he was on the run and hiding from someone people that he was certain wanted to kill him. He'd been invited by someone named Osric to a "secret meeting". He went, along with a couple of other first timers, and found that the meeting had people in long red robes with masks, who brought in a young man, killed him, and drained his blood. He left, and was not interested in going back, neither were the other two first timers there. And he'd learned that they'd both been killed, and that someone was staking out his place. He fled, and contacted the characters, hoping that they could help him. About this time, Maddie's paladin noticed a group of armed people moving in toward the barn, and the fight was on.

The party dispatched most of the bad guys, capturing their leader, a guy named Roric. He was a simple sell-sword from Drugen, who said that he'd been hired by a guy named Athurn to come and kill Nusak. The party learned or was already aware that Athurn was a retainer for house Lathien- the patriarch of which was the head judge in the town, and his son, the subcaptain of the town militia. Devlin (John) convinced Roric to head back to Drugen with them, and to tell Athurn that the job was done - the party would pose as the other sell-swords that were with Roric. He agree'd, and they headed back to Drugen and staked out the Fiery Griffin tavern, a working-class drinking hall frequented by rough necks, sell swords, and town militia. Soon, Athurn and some of his men showed up as expected. He conversed with Roric, who assured him that they'd done the job and killed Nusak (who they'd actually given some money to, and sent away to Illyes to lie low.) Athurn seemed pleased, and bought them a round of drinks. Devlin gave Athurn a false name and asked if he had any work available. Athurn said maybe, and that he'd look him up if he needed people. Athurn and his men left. Roric and Dzur (Jason) drank up, and they went their separate ways, the party sending Roric away to Moore's Creek.

A day or two passed, and Dzur became very ill - apparently from poison. With the help of Father Kreuz (Jerry), he pulled through. Sorrow (Maddie) got a message that she had a package at the north gate. Upon arriving, she was told that some farmers had brought in a body that they'd found along the way, and they wanted to turn it over to one of the Raven Queen's disciples. The body was that of Roric. Dead by poison, presumably.

The party decided that their next course of action would be a meeting with Athurn, who they'd been keeping tabs on.

More notes:

As I said, this was a real change of pace. This session differed greatly from the previous ones in that our previous sessions have largely been combat with cut scenes/travel/dialogue between. Like I said - kinda Dungeon Crawl. This session was mostly talking and intrigue. I think that it took everyone a little bit to shift gears, I know it was a transition for me. It felt a little strange - I've run tons of games, mostly Werewolf and TSOY, and done tons of unplanned dialogue and city stuff, and not had any qualms about it - but this felt a little different somehow, I assume just because its D&D. But it went down really without any problems that I observed. Intrigue games can be tricky, one wants to be careful that they clues aren't too subtle or difficult to find, cause then the players sit around and get bored/frustrated. The clues and/or action should pretty much come to them, which is what I did. But again, it was a transition. Combat heavy games just require a little tactical planning, and so when you switch to requiring deduction, reasoning and a little cleverness, it can throw folks for a loop. But I'm going on about it, only because it made such an impression on me. My players seemed to run with it.

Good side quests are a little tricky though. I was kindof on the spot, and so I just threw out the first things that I came up with. I'll have to writeup some ideas for this kind of thing so it doesn't blindside me next time. I want to try to avoid "Uh, yeah, the baron needs you to deliver a letter to, um, a priest." Cause carrying letters and packages back and forth is boring, and more the territory of CRPGs. I can do better than that. :)
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OH YEAH

This will mean little to most of you, but still I celebrate.

http://www.bluesnews.com/cgi-bin/board.pl?action=viewthread&threadid=90563

Hearts of Iron 3: late 2009.

OH YES!
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Aug. 19th, 2008

Roundup

So... I haven't had the blogging bug lately, it seems.

On the running front: things were good for a week or two, then late last week I got de-motivated, and didn't run on thursday, saturday or sunday when I should have. I got back on it this morning with 8 miles, and it was a good run, and I'm glad I did it, but I can't say that I enjoyed it. Just not feeling motivated. I'm really quite lazy at heart, you see.

I need to get my ass in gear and do my session writeup for D&D for this past week.

I got together with Michael and Kelly and ran some Jedi in the Vineyard the other day. I started to do a longish, somewhat detailed writeup, but I got two or three paragraphs in and then got tired of writing and busy at work. In brief: it was pretty cool. I like the "* in the Vineyard" system, but its pretty tricky. I said the other day that every time I run it, it feels as though I've just donned a super shiny and sleek and awesome space suit, and that its about two sizes wrong and stiff in some uncomfortable places, and just needs to be broken in and grown into. Enough analogies. Moving right along.

I have kinda been in a computer gaming funk - like some people are with books, I'm never not in the midst of playing some computer game. I played a few real time strategy titles, before dusting off my copy of Fallout 2 and cranking it up. Such fun! (I'm serious. Fallout 2 rocks.)

I'm sure there are some other things that I'm forgetting about, but that's my roundup for now.

Aug. 15th, 2008

Y'know, I was thinking the same thing

So, blogging is slow going for me lately. I'll have some content again soon I'm sure.

Meanwhile, here's more fuel for my "The Media and Politics are mind numbingly stupid" thing.



(Image from Todd Alcott's livejournal)

So.... McCain is totally right. It is wrong for one nation to invade another. Wait - why does this sound somehow familiar?


(Image from Frostfirezoo)

This is dumb, but not altogether shocking. I'll call it "We Are Winning The Olympics!" spin.
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Aug. 11th, 2008

Running Roundup

So, I'm off to a pretty good start with my running.

As I mentioned, I've taken to getting up early and going out for a run.

Last week, in addition to my semi-disastrous 3.5 mile run, I managed a 6 on Tuesday morning, an 8 on Wednesday morning, another 8 on Friday morning and a 4 on Saturday.

I had a long run scheduled for Sunday, and I got up at 6AM and hit the streets in the light ran and cranked out 12 miles in 2:07. I'm pretty pleased.
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D&D Session 6: Food for the Vultures/The Road Home

The gamers assembled and soon we were playing!

We transitioned almost immediately to an encounter, as the party continued their journey south and west toward their destination with the villagers in tow. They'd come out of the rugged hills into more gentle terrain. Ahead, they saw carrion birds gathering, and soon came upon a scene of carnage. There was a pile of a dozen or so orcish dead, and another five staked out on the ground and slit open. Most of the dead, and all of those that were staked out had their faces painted with ash and coal to resemble a black skull. A few of the dead had a large red handprint dyed onto their armor. Amidst the dead was a broken banner, baring a large skull. They sent two still-living orcs on to meet Gruumsh, and then saw a party of Red Hand orcs come over the crest of the hill nearby. The largest among them called out "Blood for the Blood Lord!" and they charged into battle. Maddie's paladin was closest to them, with Andrew's thief not too far behind. The paladin charged right up and engaged them, as the rest of the party began to close in. The orcs swarmed around the paladin though, and very nearly brought her to the ground.

So, the Paladin was in the thick of things, but the rest of the party swarmed in and kicked some Orcish ass.

They pressed on, and soon came to a farmestead, not far from the village that they were headed to. They made it to the village, and made arrangements to leave their charges here, to be incorporated into the community. Illgiliant made sure to leave some gold with them to help them out. There was a feast held, and it was revealed that something was stirring in the Shadowdeep, a forest nearby. Recently a family had gone missing from their farmstead not far from the Shadowdeep. Smelling a quest, the party was soon headed in that direction, after Father Kreuz spent a little time healing sickness and illness among the villagers.

They entered the Shadowdeep, and were soon set upon by a greeting party of kobolds. The kobolds were hidden in the dense foliage, and it took a little doing to get out there and engage them. Once they'd dispatched the kobolds, they wanted to know if there was any sign of tracks, to see where the kobolds had come from, hoping to track down the missing family. The kobolds tracks led into a low, narrow tunnel carved into a huge and thick hedge. After a bit of hesitation, the party went hands and knees into the hedge.

They moved along for some time, before coming out and landing right in another ambush. This time, a number of minions and a couple of dual wielding kobolds attacked them. Between Andrew's multiclass Thief/Wizard, and Jason's Dragonborn breath weapon, the minions fell quickly, and soon it was two vs seven, and the remaining kobolds fell.

Moving quickly between encounters, they pressed on toward the center of the forest, and found a circle of huge trees, obviously not just mundane. Within the circle waited a group of heavily armored kobolds. The wind whispered through the trees, and they heard a voice on the wind, "Kill them, my little ones." And the party leapt into combat.

Again, the party wiped out the five armored kobolds pretty much without breaking a sweat. Then the Witch stepped out of the tree. She darted *out* of a tree, across the grass, fired off an attack at the party, and leapt *into* another tree. Smelling a tricky fight, the party began to spread out to the trees in the circle, to try to catch the Witch. As she'd dart from one tree to another, she'd beckon large tree branches to sweep down and smack some of the characters, or she'd whisper on the wind to one of the characters, and that character would turn and strike his or her companions! At one point, she reached out of a tree, grabbed Father Kreuz, and pulled him into the tree. Half a second later, he fell from the branches overhead. The party soon caught her in the open, and worked desperately to keep her from vanishing into the trees again. They swarmed around her, as she fought fiercely against them, turning two of them into trees, and dealing out powerful attacks. When the paladin bloodied her, the entire ring of trees began to flail with their thick branches, striking most of the party and knocking many of them down. Finally, despite the trees healing her wounds, the party brought her down. One of the trees gently lowered its branches and gathered her up. She spoke to the party, telling them that the stars carried portents of the Blood Lord. Also, that the family that they sought went West, with their kidnappers. The kidnappers had bought passage through the Shadowdeep, and she gave them the mace that they'd use to buy their way through. With that, the tree carried her up into its branches and out of sight.

After resting, the party carried on west, and after another few days of travel, they made it to the gates of the three communities that they called home.


Now some notes and thoughts about the game.

During the first encounter I realized that we'd failed to mention whether any resting had occurred between the last session and this one. Quick mechanics: characters can take a short 5 minute rest, which recharges their "encounter" powers, and lets them use healing surges and such to regain lost hit points; or they can take a "long rest" that will regain all healing surges, all hit points, and recharge "daily" powers. They can only take a long rest once per day. After a long rest, action points, which they can accumulate after successive combats, reset to 1, which means that unused action points can go to waste.

A few times before I'd forced long rests on the characters, due simply to in-game time progression and lack of bad guys to fight. This seemed somewhat unfair for the players, so I offered to let them take a mechanical/metagame long rest that would recharge them, but also reset their action points, or to let them take a long rest, that a bunch of people would normally do once per day - but would them them keep their action points, and would not reset their surges or dailies. They liked this, and we're going to run with it.

The other thing that I really noticed in the first encounter, and through the rest of our session, had to do with the balance of characters vs bad guys in a fight. Maddie's paladin ran in, got surrounded, and got pretty beaten down. Obvious point: a character, even a defender, is pretty quick work for the concentrated attention of three or four or more bad guys. This is pretty normal, and I only mention it because I'm picking the mechanics apart. On the other hand, I noticed repeatedly during this session, that the party seemed to make incredibly short work of the opposition. To the point that I am going back and closely looking at encounter setup, trying to make sure that its' appropriately balanced. I won't say that the combats have necessarily been a cake-walk for the party, but at least two combats were over pretty much within two rounds.

I think I've mentioned before how simple monster design is. I love how easy it is to change and tweak beasties. For instance, there are orcs in the monster manual, but none that are 2nd level. So I just took the orc "types" that I wanted, and reworked them for the appropriate level. Took maybe 5 minutes to do. Its easy to create "powers" and abilities and such as well. Instead of using a bunch of stock powers and such for monsters, I'm creating my own with no hassle, just coming up with some cool fluff description, thinking about what I want it to do, doing a quick comparison with similar level stuff for power balance, and I'm done. Again, five or ten minutes max. The Witch that they fought - not in the book. Made her up whole-cloth. And she was a fun fight.
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Aug. 5th, 2008

Running in the Morning

So after my hard-learned lesson, I endeavored to get up early, before 6AM, and go for a good 5 or 6 mile run.

I made it to bed after some hard core rock band drumming last night, around 10:30. I oozed from bed this morning when the alarm rang about 5:40. Got my running gear on and hit the streets. It was just starting to get light out, so I wore my bright yellow reflective vest, figuring that being clipped by an inattentive driver would not be a fun way to start my day. I did a little bit of brief stretching before, but it took about 5 minutes and half a mile for my body to get warmed up and my legs to stop complaining. It felt hot and muggy out, but in truth, it was around 75 degrees.

It was a really good run, I cranked out 6 miles in 57 and a half minutes, without too much difficulty. I'll be curious to see how it affects my energy level today, whether I'll be good all day, or totally crashing around 3pm.

I figure I'll need to keep this up while its ridiculous hot outside, so maybe for a couple of weeks. I'm slightly terrified about the marathon in December, and I desperately want to train adequately. I'm technically already behind, and off to a slow start. I'm going to push it, while being careful not to overdo it. Wish me luck.
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