Category Archives: General

Maybe Lego is Eevil too

For the sake of writing some blogs related to D&D, I liked the idea of pointing out some of the awesome products Paizo has produced, calling them “eevil” as a joke, because DANG IT STOP TAKING ALL MY MONEY GIVE ME THAT NEW MAP PACK AND THOSE MINIS.

Today, as a favor to my two older boys, we went to www.Lego.com in order to sign them up for a free magazine.

One of them is obsessed with Ninjago — a fighting game with Lego men holding weapons on special bases that spin like tops.

One of them is the true Lego maniac, the boy who grabs me every day and pulls me to his room to show me the new robot / spaceship / pirate / helicopter / Firefly-class playset he’s built.

Yes, really. My son and my daughter cooperated to build themselves a Serenity playset.

Sooner or later, I’ll post about our attempts at Lego D&D, and I have several pictures of some of the pieces we used to make that possible. I’ve included one as an example.

Lego Kaalistera
Lego D&D Assassin

Anyway, I made a horrible discovery on the Lego site.

As if Lord of the Rings sets — with a little Lego Gollum (squeee!) —

Let’s try that again.

The link is worth checking out, if you’re interested in the sets at all. They have videos describing the sets and all the special features meant to match the movies. The designers (some of whom seem hilariously out of their element doing that whole “trying to interact with people” thing) even take some time to play with the sets.

And again, Lego Gollum.

As if those weren’t enough reason to waste all my disposable income for the month, now I find that they’re going to be putting out a line of Lego Monster Hunters.

There are vampires, swamp things, mummies, ghosts, werewolves, mad scientists with stitched-together animated flesh creations (a la Frankenstein)…

And zombies, just in time for the Zombie Apocalypse of 2012. (Lego Bath Salts not included.)

Briiiiiiiicksss….
Briiiiiiiiiiickssss….

And there are of course heroes ready to hunt these monsters and stop their evil plots (hence the name of the line). The heroes struck me as kind of “meh” but their vehicles and gadgets looked pretty sweet.

For the kids, I mean. They looked sweet to the kids.

Think of the children.

So, while tooling around the website, showing my kids all the things they will probably never own, my son points out the word “Video Game.”

ORLY?

Yes. LOTR has a Lego game coming out at some point.

And there’s Lego Batman 2, the mere sight of which was enough to explode my six-year-old’s mind.

And there’s a bunch of others that I won’t get into, because I haven’t looked at them yet and I don’t want to because that leads to using credit cards down at GameStop and children whining at me asking for the 360 controller so they can play while I “check out the game” as a responsible parent should, and then my wife has to intervene because “Why are the children crying and what happened to Justin’s birthday present–are you playing his game?”

Bad all around.

Of course, looking at these amazing sets coming out soon, I asked, “How much does blood plasma sell for and how much can I survive donating?”  And I had the natural “old parent” reaction of, “You kids don’t know how good you have it! Back in my day, we never had stuff like this!”

I actually remember the very first Lego set I ever saw or paid any attention to: it was probably 1983 or so, and as part of some church function, there was a gift exchange. I received a sweet little Lego space set, from the glorious days before Lego even had actual horses with their Castle sets.

Check out the steering wheel!                                  Every spaceship needs one.

 

In my search for a picture of the model, I found Brickipedia, which was a sweet stroll down memory lane.

I spent hours at my friend’s house orchestrating the destruction of Lego City. He had a few of the huge building play sets, like the gas station, police headquarters, fire department, and some kind of house. We got together a bunch of vehicles and began plowing them into the buildings from a distance. The game was that you couldn’t simply smash the vehicle into a building. You had to roll it from a few feet away. Bricks flew everywhere, but those sets were built sturdy. It took quite some time to bring those buildings down.

I remember working really hard to earn a prize from Sunday School in 4th grade. The deal was that the winner would get a $25 gift certificate at Toys’R’Us, and this was when the Lego Castle sets with Robin Hood style minifigures first came out. I ended up getting a camouflaged fortress that looked like a small hill with a tree, but had a secret door and hatch you could open up to reveal the hidden shelter inside.

I recall seeing new Kingdoms sets at the Base Exchange a few years ago, with giant trolls and angry orcs and and skeleton armies arrayed against the forces of good. On top of that, there was a dwarf mine, with a pulley and a forge and a little track for a mine cart to roll on. My wife surprised me by purchasing pretty much every set, and we had them built on the coffee table for a little while until the kids destroyed them.

Lego has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember.

So if I’m willing to call Paizo “eevil” because I keep buying their products…

Then Lego must be the Devil, sparkling like a vampire from Twilight, with a Hitler mustache and Rick Astley’s red hair, singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” while dancing the Macarena in Nazi jackboots.

And they’ll still get my money.

So how about you? What’s your first experience with those eevil little bricks?

Drudgery and Drag-on

Giving up some of the structure of the game you’re playing can sometimes make for more interest in the story you’re telling.

So we finally got a gaming table set up in our living room (a sweet hexagon table we picked up for cheap… reminds me of BattleTech), and the entertainment center next to the table is filled with all things D&D.

Time to put it all to use!

For my birthday, among other things, we decided to finally sit down as a family and play some D&D for the first time since our move. I had some new Eevil Paizo products, and I wanted to try them out! I whipped up some generic notes to form a very rough (and thus flexible) plotline, got character sheets and minis and map packs ready, and laid out sets of dice.

We got started, but we’re not the traditional table-top RPG group. I’m dealing with a 12-year-old and an 11-year-old, who both pretty much “get it.” My wife is also playing, but our 1-year-old is requiring attention RIGHT NOW. And then I’ve got a 6-year-old who wants to play but also starts thinking about Angry Birds any time there’s a second of silence in the game. So… how to cater to the needs of this group?

It has been a while since we played. I mention terms like “Perception” and then have to explain where on the character sheet to find the skill. We talk about powers and attacks, but they’re not remembering what all they can do. We go over generic descriptions of the characters they’ve chosen, and what sort of decisions they might make.

*snore*
Can I just do some math homework instead?

I figure, start with action rather than with non-combat role-playing, or else the 6-year-old is done. Sure enough, he’s pretty well into the combat, even if he needs coaching on how his character can participate. “You can shoot your crossbow at that rat, or you can run over, pull out your sword, and slash at it.” His first attack goes well, but the second misses. He seems kind of overwhelmed, and his character gets stung by a scorpion. I try to put it in terms he understands. “Remember when you were crying today because your sister hit you SO hard? That’s what this felt like for Clayface. He got stung in the shoulder just like you got hit. He could take maybe another three or four hits like that before he gets knocked out.”

So he’s mad at that scorpion, and still kind of unsure about what to do. Then my wife uses her warlord to give my son a free attack. Basically, the warlord opens up, vulnerable to attack, drawing the attention of some enemy… then one of the warlord’s allies gets to use that distraction to his or her advantage, making a free attack. Justin rolls his attack…

…and gets a 20.

I use the GameMastery Crit Hits deck (and the Crit Fumble deck) for additional description and excitement. I have seen exactly zero players complain about the fun of finding out what specifically their crits accomplished, and sometimes the random cards fit the story in ways far better than I could come up with on my own. So my son’s rogue, Clayface slashes at the scorpion, doing only modest damage, but permanently blinding the poor creature. Now he’s completely excited.

Still, this fight is taking a long time, and the kids are barely familiar with their characters and the rules. They get the idea that “you say what you want to do, you roll a d20, add some number off the sheet, and then figure out if that’s enough to succeed.” It hits me… do we all really care that the AC for a Giant Centipede is 16? Does it really matter that they have a Mandible attack that is +6 to the roll, with a chance for 1d8+4 damage on hit? No, none of that matters. What matters is, do they get the feeling they can contribute in a meaningful way?

Very quickly, we’re doing guesstimated math. If a number is readily available, I’ll use it. (My wife’s warlord’s AC is 17, for example). If not, I have a good guess in my head. Maybe I’m not doing the monsters justice, or maybe they’re slightly more powerful than they should be.

So what! We’re playing this for the kids, not just for me. They’re completely satisfied with this system.

We finish the fight and it has gone longer than I planned (1 year old distractions!). For whatever reason, in my haste, I never bothered to think of the party capturing the last evil creature for questioning. They ask a bunch of generic questions, and decide to use the goblin as a bargaining chip for when they meet the rest of the goblins that might be attacking the town the heroes came from. (Little do they know that the goblins have no loyalty at all  and won’t care… but that will be for next time.)

By now, it’s 9 PM, and it’s time for bed for the kidlets. But I learned something important in this short gaming session: as long as your group is fine with it, you can speed things up significantly by reducing the strictness of the rules. I didn’t have exact breakouts for every monster’s stats or make the kids do all the math required to play by the rules. We just got the story and the fight going, and kept it moving fast enough to keep them interested.

Yawn
You can be strict with these… or not.

You roll a 5 when you make your attack? You miss. You roll a 16? You hit. Figure somewhere about 11-12 as the cutoff and then just go with it. Is it a tough monster with thicker armor or swifter reflexes? Maybe 13 or 14 is the cutoff for that one.

The attack does 9 damage? Ok, then this level 1 or level 2 monster is probably bloodied now. Do you really need to make sure that Dire Rat #2 gets its full 12 HP worth of actions before getting bloodied? No, not really, not for this particular group.

Your group dynamics are going to tell you very quickly if you can get away with this sort of thing. I’ve often had at least one player in the group who wants the specific numbers. “Wait a minute, I rolled a 13 last time with a +6 to attack, and I hit… she rolled a 14 with a +3 to attack and missed… so this thing’s AC must be about 18…”

That player is probably not going to be satisfied with this option.  I’d suggest being honest and up-front with your players about it. Ask if it will bother them if you try to speed combat and skill challenges along in this manner.  It may take some of the pain and concentration away from strict dice math, and focus the concentration of your players on the story developing in the game.

And I think that’s where you want it to be.

Paizo is Eevil, pt 2

Seriously… STOP TAKING ALL MY MONEY! (Except I’ll puchase a few of these and one of those… and a set of that.)

DM: “You approach Torhalin and inform him that–“

Ranger: “Wait, who’s Torhalin again?”

Rogue: “I thought he was the guy we killed last session.”

Paladin: “No, that was the other dwarf… the one we used the Jar-Jar mini for…”

Ranger: “Oh yeah, I hated that guy. So who’s this guy?”

DM: *sigh*

More likely than not, if you’re playing a tabletop RPG campaign, you have a few non-player characters (NPCs) that show up regularly. It could be the innkeeper who offers free room and board based on some favor the adventurers have done for her… along with juicy gossip full of quest hooks. It could be the kindly noble who needs heroes willing to stand up to insurmountable odds in order to save his town. Maybe it’s a favorite villain whose presence sends your players into a frothing rage. (Using a Jar-Jar mini helps with this.)

In any event, a name and brief description only gets you so far. Using an accent or particular speech pattern might make the NPC more memorable, but you still can only hope you are making an impression on your players.

Friends & Foes
Worth a thousand pennies!

A picture is still worth a thousand words.

And a deck of pictures is apparently worth about ten bucks.

The Friends and Foes deck comes with 54 full-color face cards, each with a space for notes on the back to aid with keeping track of just who the heck Torhalin is in your campaign. When you introduce an important NPC, you give your players an immediate image of what he or she looks like along with your description and roleplaying. Each time they encounter that character, they get the visual reminder that says “This is who you’re talking to, remember?”

GameMastery has at least two others: Enemies and Urban NPCs. I’m not going to bother looking through their store to see if they have any more… because I might buy them.

On top of having a visual cue, the deck of various pictures might inspire new ideas for characters, situations, interactions, or encounters… maybe even key campaign arcs.

herp de derp
…and you know you wanna play THIS guy!

Of course, the downside is that you only have so many cards, and the variety means you only have so many of particular types of NPCs. It might seem strange if all the bad guys start to look just like the first villains the heroes encounter.

But the decks are a great start… IF you want to spend ten dollars.

There are cheaper ways, of course.

If you have any artistic talent (or if one of your players does, and is willing to volunteer the effort), you can make your own cards, tailored specifically to the needs of your campaign.

You know what you want the diabolical politician and her powerful magician advisor to look like.

Corrupt Politicians
Corrupt Politicians

You have an idea of how the ancient ghost in the ruined city will appear.

Ancient Ghost
Ancient Ghost

What about the crafty assassin your party has chased throughout the realm?

Crafty Assassins

Show the players exactly what you want them to see. (Try to have better handwriting than I did, though.)

This also works great for scripted events. You have the chance to show rather than tell.

Poor Archmage Danethral…

Danethral before
Danethral, before…

At some point he was doomed to get twisted inside out by one of the villains. I did my best to describe this, and a few of my players at least said, “Ew, that sucks.” Then I showed them the card,

after
…and after

and I got more than one cringe or grimace. Win!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so you’re not an artist. (I barely qualify as one anyway, so don’t feel bad. Paizo’s not banging down my door asking me to draw stuff for them.) What are you supposed to do?

Though stick figures might be good for comic relief, that’s not a sustainable option. Likewise, if your “art” becomes a distraction, it will take the players out of the game to try to figure out if that’s a picture of the troll or the damsel in distress. No bueno.

Oh hai Google Images.

If you use a computer as a DM screen, or even if you just load some pictures to your iPhone or cell, you can easily show your players a decent representation of what their characters are looking at. Load a few key NPC pics, and you can easily remind them of who they’re interacting with, while paying nothing but a few minutes’ of image search in the process.

And of course, your rulebooks probably have a few pictures in them as well. Flip to a page if you have a hardcopy, or bring up an image if it’s a softcopy, and there you go. Obviously, that’s less than desirable, but it’s better than nothing.

And if all that fails, and your players stilldon’t remember your villain, break out the Jar-Jar miniature. They may not know who it is or why they’re out to kill him, but they will unleash all manner of fury in their effort to destroy him… especially if he says, “Meesa gon’ die!”

Jar Jar