Over the past few weeks, I've had three very different RPG sessions, and there's another scheduled for this upcoming Sunday. Since they were all so different, I thought it'd be fun to blog a bit about them. I haven't thought about this too much ahead of time, so it'll be interesting to see if anything particularly insightful arises in terms of the types of games I prefer to play.
The first session was for my World of Samoth game, held on April 17th with my friends Brian, Cal, and Nick. This game is mostly Pathfinder rules, with some add-ons from Trailblazer and a few holdovers from 3.5 that we've all been a little too lazy to change. When I say "we all", I really mean me, since I'm the DM for this particular game. I know all of you old-school types are making notes to roll over in your graves at some point in the future because I'm playing the supposedly rules-bloated Pathfinder, and honestly, there are times when I can see that argument. The rulebook is huge and there's less room for player or DM "punting." There are rules for almost any imaginable scenario, but the thing is, I think that's a feature for this particular set of rules.
As an example, I was thinking about 3.x/Pathfinder era feats. If you don't know what a feat is, well... basically, it's a neat little action that your character can do that makes him a little better at one particular thing. "Two-Weapon Fighting" is a feat that means that your character takes a smaller penalty to trying to hit with two weapons on one attack (usually trying to wield two weapons during one attack action is difficult, resulting in some pretty steep penalties to hit). Spellcasters can take feats that do cool things to their spells, like maximizing the damage (so it always does the maximum), but it takes up a higher spell level. So, you can maximize a fireball (a 3rd level spell), for example, but then you have to prepare and cast it as a spell three levels higher (a 6th level spell).
A lot of the feats involve combat, and really only make sense if you're using miniatures or counters and a battlemat during combat encounters. I was thinking about this because as a group, we've started to move away from using the battlemat because it's cumbersome to carry to peoples' houses when we play, I personally hate having to draw out the encounters because it stops the game action while you draw the room that the characters are in, and I never have the right counters or miniatures (which are a pain to store... a whole other argument). But, as I thought about it, by not having a pretty accurate depiction of what's happening during a combat, and exactly where each character is in relation to the enemy combatants, etc., starts to negate the usefulness of a lot of feats. And the thing is, a lot of the feats are really cool and fun to use.
I don't really think Pathfinder is one of those games that can be "stripped down" and run as a rules-light system. Really the entire 3.x system is designed that way. The "rules bits", while lengthy, really do work well together. I haven't tried Castles & Crusades yet, which I understand is an attempt as a rules-light 3.0 type of D&D, so I could be wrong. But, for now, I'm content to run Pathfinder as is, out of the box (or book, in this case).
The second game that came up happened on one of our Friday night "beer and pizza" sessions. This is the night that had been reserved before for Call of Cthulhu or my AD&D "one-shot" game through S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. But, originally this night was set aside for my friend Brian's home-brew campaign, the World of Andalusia. Brian started his game using D&D 3.5 a few years into my World of Samoth game because he wanted an outlet to tell these stories he was creating based on some novels and game books he'd read. We played what Brian refers to as "Andalusia I" a few years ago over the course of 13 sessions that Brian scripted out before we started playing. When the game wrapped up, our characters were all put into positions of power within our respectful character types (my guy, an Arcana Unearthed Champion of Light became the king of the entire kit-and-kaboodle, while other characters ended up being mayors of important cities and what-not).
Brian has decided to write a sequel to his story called "Andalusia II" in which we'll all be playing the same characters as before, but five years after the events of the first campaign. There will be one new character in the group, too (our friend Cal who has joined the Friday night group). Before we start up Andalusia II, Brian has written two of what he calls "one-ups" (one-shot adventures). We played the first of these two one-shots on Friday 5/13, and we were all evil characters. The session took place 750 years before the events of the first campaign. I decided to create a Pathfinder alchemist character because I've always wanted to play an alchemist and I really wanted to see what such a character was capable of. One of the things that Pathfinder alchemists can do is create and throw items called "bombs", which are basically not all that different from flasks of alchemist fire, but they can have different effects and the damage scales with level. They have a splash radius for damage, so if you throw them into an area where your comrades are fighting your enemies, you could potentially damage your comrades with a bad throw. I actually had this written into my character's design because I figured, "He's evil! He doesn't care!" I was prepared to throw my bombs wherever I wanted and let the chips fall where they may.
As it turns out, the way that Brian scripted his adventure ahead of time, there was only one very short combat that was actually way too difficult for our level of characters, so we ended up fleeing before my alchemist could actually throw any of his bombs. When the session ended with the death of all of our characters (we were betrayed by the guy who hired us to carry out a mission, which is a turn of events that we all saw coming, because of course, we're evil. We expected to be betrayed), I sadly lamented the fact that I wasn't really able to do anything fun or interesting with my alchemist during the game. So, I still don't know how they'd do when matched up against the more common classes. Hopefully I'll get to play one again some time in the future.
Last night, my friend Cal resurrected his Tuesday night game night, which has always been a favorite of mine. This game started out years ago as a D&D 3.5 Dawnforge game. There were about six players including my friends Wil, Victor, Shane, Pat, and Nick, and Cal had kind of allowed a "kitchen sink" approach to classes in the game, so we had people playing classes from Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed as well as the standard classes from the Player's Handbook and of course the custom classes in the Dawnforge campaign setting. If you're not familiar with Dawnforge - basically, it's one of the few campaign settings that doesn't assume that the adventurers are living in a world that's in the decline, after the fall of the superior ancient civilizations. In Dawnforge, you're starting out at the beginning of the world. The great civilizations haven't been built yet. The races might distrust each other a bit, but the outright hatred between, say, dwarves and orcs, hasn't happened yet. So it's conceivable that you'd have both races as part of the same adventuring party. The authors very cleverly worked in little hints so you can see where, if things go badly, why the dwarves and orcs end up hating each other. But it's just as conceivable that the players might end up creating a world in which those two races get along. It's a neat hook and it's fun for the players to actually feel like their actions can make a difference in the world, rather than being told by the DM, "This is the way things are."
Anyway, the Dawnforge game lasted for a while, but slowly people dropped out - first Victor and Wil, then Shane and Pat, until finally it was just Nick, Cal, and me. Nick and I each created one additional "back-up" secondary character, which included one of my favorites, Nick's gnome scout who belonged to the "Orange Party", a fringe political group devoted to trying to get people to plant more pumpkins. He carried a pouch of pumpkin seeds with him and passed them out to anybody our characters met. He was an annoying little git, but I thought it was hilarious.
Eventually, that game ended up being more about Nick and me showing up late, after a long day of work, and Cal and his wife graciously serving us homemade dinner and wine. We'd sit at the table, talking, eating, and sipping really good Central Coast wines, and then realize it was 10:30pm and we should probably take off because we had work the next day. After a few months of this, the "game" stalled and never came back.
Cal has decided to resurrect Tuesday Game Night, but with an entirely different structure: we're using Savage Worlds rules, the game is set in ancient China (with some fantasy elements) and since I'm the only player that can seem to get out to Cal's house on a Tuesday night, it's a solo game. I'm playing a martial artist type character. Cal has loosely based his campaign on a video game, which I think works with the solo player concept. Last night was our first session and my first time playing Savage Worlds. It really was a blast. I can see why I've read so many good things about it. I'm really looking forward to continuing the campaign and learning more about Savage Worlds.
So there's a little bit about my most recent RPG activities. They range from the very highly structured (Brian's Andalusia games) to very little structure (my World of Samoth and it seems Cal's Savage Worlds game might be like this) to very little actual gaming (our old Dawnforge game).
What have your recent games been like? What systems are you playing?