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Month: January 2010

3. Bravos, Perfumes, and a War God (MYRE 1-1)

This was the first of what’ll probably be a series of MYREs set in the Windrise Ports, which is of course my favorite chunk of the Forgotten Realms. It is perhaps significant that the bit I like the most is the bit that wasn’t there until this edition. Ahem.

Players: Susan, evil Tony, good Tony, Mark, Hudson, and Kirby. First LFR table with Kirby, who trucked up from DC to Legends for the game. This was also the first time one of my game days has been oversubscribed, so that was a minorly tragic moment. Tom sat out.

It went well and I’m happy with my format for my notes. I’m using minimal encounter notes, a page or two for outlining the adventure, an NPC list with some traits for each NPC, and a big list of names for ad libbing. I write out a few paragraphs for the skill challenges so I know where I want to go with them.

I wove in the Peerless Champions, although Myrelas was off on a secret mission, and I tossed in the Burning Incense as a throwaway line. The players appeared to approve. I feel awesome about my structure for skill challenges, which is basically “here’s the complexity and difficulty, ask players for rolls as appropriate.” I established a few villains and a patron for the next adventure. Feeling good.

2. Building the Pyre (MINI 1-3)

I’m running a small local group through the Embers of Dawn mini-campaign; today we did Building the Pyre. Susan, Peter, Mark, Jon, and Noah played. It’s a remarkably fun group of people – there are a lot of fun possible groups in the Baltimore LFR circle and this is definitely one of them.

I knew it’d be a good time given the players; I was not really anticipating a great module. Building the Pyre doesn’t read as well as the other Embers of Dawn modules. The combats are OK, if a little disjointed, but the skill challenges are fairly blah and over-long. I’m firmly of the opinion that interrogation skill challenges should not be more than 4/3 complexity. 8 successes? That’s a long, painful interrogation.

The first skill challenge, however, was better than I thought it would be. I’m not just saying that because the PCs failed it. So that sort of made up for the other two; and the penultimate fight was awesome good times. Noah crit with his daily and I dragged Mark’s avenger into lava twice. Both times he probably would have died if they hadn’t gotten him out before his turn. That’s what I call entertainment for all.

Also this is the module where the plotline starts to weave back on itself, which IMHO is the real strength of the mini-campaign. So that was awesome too. We’re doing Coaxing the Flame in two weeks and I am tremendously stoked.

1. Arts (DALE 1-7)

This was my second run-through of Arts, both times as a GM. Last time I ran it on high; this time was on low, as expected. I was kind of looking forward to finding out how deadly the final fight was on low, but this wasn’t the right group for that, which is perhaps for the best.

I ran down at the Games and Stuff game day for long complex reasons – can’t make it down there usually, but for special occasions I can. It’s nice to meet new folks. The table was Susan, Tom, Trevor, Nina, Frank, and Zach – two newcomers, four fairly experienced players. I’d only run for Susan and Tom before. We had a nicely balanced group with two leaders, a controller, two strikers, and a defender.

I still like Arts a ton. It caters to my tendency to stretch the roleplay. I think we ran about an hour and a half before the first combat, which given that Games and Stuff has limited time available was a touch long. But man, hamming up Torleaf and the teachers is totally worth it. I played him differently than I did the first time – a bit more fey, a bit more snotty – and it was equally fun.

The transition out of the first skill challenge was, once again, tricky. If I ever run this again I need to make sure I really get why the NPCs are going where they’re going, because it’s really easy for one of the PCs to short-circuit the skill challenge. This is allowed for in the text but I keep tripping over the order of certain events.

I DME’d the first fight down a notch to allow for two completely new players. If I’d had more time I might have stretched it out more but I knew I was short, so easier to avoid bloodying the entire party. I then ran the second skill challenge – which is consistently awesome; the effect on players when they realize what just happened to them is priceless. Skipped the second encounter (really sorry!) and hit the third encounter hard. It turns out a non-optimized group will still beat the low level encounter handily if they win on initiative.

So that was still fun for everyone. Lots of rampaging around the room. I kept dazing Frank (newcomer) which I felt guilty about, but then again it’s not my fault if he misses three saving throws in a row!

Someday I will run Arts for a kitted out group of level 4s and I will rock out the final encounter challenge with all my might. But no matter how I run it, it’s great on so many levels: lots of roleplay, excellent combat.

“Mother Hen”

We started a new year of glorious movie-going with Sherlock Holmes. It was better than I expected, but it did not rise to brilliance.

The raw material is pretty raw. Checking — yeah, fairly inexperienced screenwriters who haven’t written anything great; I don’t imagine the script gave anyone a lot to work with. I give the writers credit for knowing their Alan Moore, though. (Blackwood is Gull. Ritualistic killing of women in order to bring about a future in his own image? Been there, read that.) Despite stealing from the best, though, the story was simple and uninspired.

Guy Ritchie is Guy Ritchie. Things explode. On the whole it was a touch more subtle than anything else he’s ever done, which may or may not have been due to the acting. I found his camera work on the frenetic side, and I’m usually highly tolerant of quick cuts. It wasn’t a work of great craft, really. The epitome of this would be the Holmesian fighting style.

There’s a fun bit in the first five minutes where Holmes pauses for a split second, maps the fight out in his brain based on his observations of the target, and then executes. It occurs to me tangentially that perhaps the writers know their Grant Morrison JLA as well. Shades of Prometheus? I may be overanalyzing. In any case, Ritchie gives us the sequence twice: once as imagined, once as enacted. It ought to be great, but it isn’t, perhaps because there’s never any payoff. It’s just a thing, and it’s only used in the trivial unimportant fights. You’d expect him to use it and fail to demonstrate how scary an opponent is, or at least to use it, but nope. It vanishes a third of the way through the movie, never to be seen again.

So obviously and in retrospect unsurprisingly, it’s up to Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. to elevate the thing. Which of course they do. Downey’s Holmes hooked me in the sequence where his need to show off undercuts his friendship, because it’s played for laughs — ha ha, look at Holmes get pissed off and incisive — until he’s actually wrong about a key point. Which leads to bitterness. Which transitions directly into a sequence of self-destructive Holmes. Which is perfect.

I loved this vision of the characters. Holmes is a dangerous, angry, haunted man. Watson is compelled by his friend’s brilliance, and is also pretty dangerous. Ex-army, so he should be. Great work from both actors.

The women have much more thankless tasks. Kelly Reilly’s Mary is surprisingly strong, and is one of I think two characters in the film who ever get the best of Holmes. I think this is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the Holmes/Watson/Mary love triangle, but still, it’s a good bit. In fact, I think she has the edge on him twice. Still and all, it’s a very slight role.

Alas, Rachel McAdams is stuck with the “major” female part, in which Irene Adler is relegated to a helpless pawn. For a master criminal, an awful lot of people out-think her, and she needs rather a lot of saving. I was disappointed.

One line review: rompity romp romp romp. I liked it.

Goals for the Year

My goal is to play in and DM a grand total of 50 LFR games or more during 2010. One a week, no big deal, right? I run a game day every two weeks, which covers half of that; I have a few more Embers of Dawn sessions to go; I go to conventions, which means a lot of games in a short timespan; and I do home games.

The goal behind the goal is to get one of my characters to paragon tier and foster paragon tier play in the Baltimore area. Right now, play at the two major Baltimore locations is 95% 1-4 and 4-7. Pump up the volume!

I’m using this bloglet for tracking. I will try to record each game, with light notes on how the game went, what I thought of the module, and so on. It’s an experiment in short-term focused blogging.