Wednesday, September 6, 2017

RPG A Day In Review

I was planning on writing a retrospective of RPG a Day as soon as it was over, with some thoughts fresh in my mind. I ended up not following that course of action, because I was so burned out from answering questions, I didn’t want to think about it for a while.

 
That said, it’s not because it is a bad event. It’s just really hard to stick to something, every day, for a whole month. That’s a lot of work.

Part of why I wanted to stick with it is that I’ve been trying to be more consistent with what I do, relating to my RPG hobby these days. I want to finish campaigns. I want to evaluate books that I purchased cover to cover. I want to follow through on what I start. Sometimes it may not be possible, but when it is, I want to ride it out.

As A Concept

I love RPG a Day as a concept. I enjoy sharing anecdotes and perspectives on the hobby, and in turn, seeing other stories and perspectives. I love anything that gets people to communicate more, and find more common ground.

Because of that, I liked the questions that allowed for more of an exploration of experiences. Sharing character moments and types of campaigns are great for this. Finding moments in the hobby that worked well and that didn’t work well. In those moments, we learn who our fellow gamers are, and sometimes we learn things about ourselves.

Execution

Some questions just fell flat. This happens every year. I don’t blame anyone for this. Coming up with a question a day for an entire month would be a terrible challenge. That said, I think the best questions were the ones that were open enough for a detailed answer, but focused enough to point the person in limited direction to draw from.

Asking a question that is too easily answered in a single word or phrase isn’t really starting a discussion. Asking too broad of a question, especially in the middle or at the end of a month of questions, is just going to shut someone down from too many options.

I also think that any “absolute” questions automatically start off on the wrong foot. Asking the “best” or “worst” is almost always going to be subjective, and it also invites the person answering the question to make a declarative statement, instead of asking them to start a discussion. If you ask someone their worst experience with something, they automatically know that the answer is from their perspective. If you ask them THE worst experience with something, and they answer in the spirit the question is asked, its very easy for people to view engaging with that answer as adversarial.

Reception

I have noticed it in the past, and it happened again this year, but some people seem to have a very strong reaction against this event. I guess I understand if all you see are responses to this event all day long. But if you follow someone, and you see value in following them the rest of the year, even if this event isn’t your thing, maybe its worth noting that they are getting something out of the participation.

I completely understand not wanting to participate. I understand not enjoying the event and not caring to see the responses. I’m not as keen on people actively railing against it, or even actively railing against people participating in it.

Next Year?

I’m not sure if I’m going to participate next year. It takes a lot of effort, and if I start, I feel obligated to finish. I definitely get something out of participating, and there are a lot of people that provided answers that I was not expecting, or that found depth or nuance to questions where I didn’t see it. I can appreciate that.

My wishlist for next year would be:

  • Fewer questions that utilize absolutes like “best” or “worst”
  • Fewer questions that assume a play style for the answer (i.e. that people have played long for campaigns or two hour sessions)
  • A little less cross-over between the types of answers a question might generate (day 7 and 13, for example, could have a lot of redundancy between them)

But for all of my wish list above, I don’t want to be overly critical. It can’t be easy coming up with these questions, and I think the result is a net positive for the community of RPG players.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bedlam Hall Review Up At Gnome Stew!

Wondering where my latest review is at? This time around, I'm going to graciously ask you to direct your attention to the illustrious and venerable Gnome Stew blog, where the gnomes have allowed me to post a guest article on their site.

Gnome Stew--Bedlam Hall Review

I'm very excited about this, as Gnome Stew has been one of my favorite sites for years, and I have tremendous respect for all of the regular writer that post there.



The review is for the Powered by the Apocalypse game, Bedlam Hall, so if that sounds like something that interests you, please head on over and give it a read.



Again, a tremendous amount of thanks for the gnomes for hosting the article.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Future Review Standards

In the past, I have mentioned that I need to have some kind of standard to keep in mind when I'm doing my reviews, but I've also mentioned that I'm not interested in measuring the overall worth of an RPG product as a creative endeavor, just giving recommendations and observations. Unfortunately, the star system I was using always felt more like later rather than the former.

After some thought, I came up with this new system. It roughly correlates to the stars I was previously used, but I think it puts the actual review more in line with what I'm trying to bring across with my observations and opinions.

Not Recommended--There isn’t much in this product that convinces me to tell others to pick it up.

Tenuous Recommendation--The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

Strongly Recommended--This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests. 

As with one star reviews previously, I'm not expecting to do too many reviews that end up with a "not recommended" rating. I'm hoping that by doing my due diligence, I'm not going to spend too much time on a product that I wouldn't recommend at all.

As with the five star rating, I'm going to reserve the "strongly recommended" rating for for those products that really don't come along very often, and that I feel have broad appeal, even beyond what may seem to be the target audience of the product.

Hopefully, this will make what I'm trying to communicate a bit more clear.

Thoughts on Storm King's Thunder--Structure and Pacing (Spoilers)

I just wrapped up my Storm King's Thunder game last night, and I have a few follow up thoughts on the adventure now that I have finished running it. This isn't quite a full post-mortem treatment, but rather the ideas that are most prominent in my mind as I wrapped the campaign.



Pacing

You can travel all over the North in this adventure. Tracking the exact number of days feels very anti-climactic, but hand-waving travel also seems to diminish the feel of how large an area the adventure encompasses.

The exact distances may vary, but Adventures In Middle-earth game me the idea that instead of precise tracking, you may want to break travel into short/medium/long trips. A trip that takes less than three days doesn't even count as a short trip.

  • Short trips--1 encounter
  • Medium trips--3 encounters
  • Long trips--5 encounters

Characters without mounts make a con save based on how rough the terrain is at the end, and have a level of exhaustion until they can rest up. Characters with especially fast mounts or transportation move the length of the trip down one category.

For each long trip (3 short trips = 1 long trip, 1 medium trip + 1 short trip = 1 long trip, etc.) add in a specifically giant centered encounter. Several areas have planned giant encounters, but its really easy to end up going a really long time without giants being a big deal, and that makes the threat feel less imminent.



Quest Givers

As written, there are several quest givers that ask the PCs to do a thing, and when they get there, or on the way, they run into the plot. The problem is, the plot is suppose to be threatening the North.  

There really needs to be more faction members or local NPCs that are handing out quests that actually have to do with the main plot. Storm King's Thunder starts to feel a bit like Skyrim, where there are plenty of things to do if you wander around the North, but if you ever want the players to see the plot unfold, it's easy to get lost in minutia.

Since I had a PC that was bethrothed to a half-giant, I made Harshnag her uncle, and brought him in a bit early to nudge the party towards the main plot, but as written, we could have ended up doing a lot of unrelated adventurer busy work. That's fine, if you don't want the giant threat to be a consistent theme, but it seems to leech some of the impact from the back half of the adventure.

The Uthgardt Mounds

In my campaign, the Uthgardt Mounds all incorporated the giant relics in a more obvious manner, instead of burying them. For some reason, having the PCs spend time digging in multiple places felt less exciting that noticing weird things incorporated into the altars or totems at the mounds. Your millage may vary.  

 

Changing the Climax

It really feels like the pacing of this adventure is based on King Hekaton disappearing, and giants running wild, and the PCs finding King Hekaton. But then the resolution is another chapter after King Hekaton's rescue, where the PCs fast forward across the entire North to engage in a short dungeon crawl in an abandoned city to kill a dragon that could teleport in one encounter but not in the final battle (there is a note that she's too proud to abandon her lair and will fight to the death here, but that seems out of place for how she's been portrayed up to this point).

Given that the Oracle can possibly reveal the main villain, and she's even given a specific bit of dialogue meant to allow the PCs to expose her in the throne room scene, it almost makes more sense to deal with her in that chapter. The final chapter already assumes the PCs will have giant allies, and the storm giant traitor angle plays better here, where Iymrith might end up with the two princesses AND a guard on her side. Just yank her ability to teleport, and come up with a plot reason that she can't use it in the throne room. I'd think an ancient storm giant fortress might be warded against such things, and the only access point would be where the conch shell delivers visitors. You might even make the fight with the dragon a race through the fortress to the one area not covered by the ward.

If she escapes, it almost makes more sense to play down her future threat to the giants. She's been exposed, they know what to look for, and the traitors in their midst have been uncovered. If they failed to pin her down and kill her, you can use her as a recurring villain in an ongoing campaign, but for this adventure, it feels like an epilogue.

Finding King Hekaton feels like the actual end of the adventure, and if I ran this again, I think I would shift things around to end on that note.

Clues

The Kraken Society isn't even really hinted at until you get to the last couple few chapters. That makes them feel a bit random. Seeding in their interest earlier would make sense.

By no means do I think this makes sense for every group, but when my adventurers visited Luskan the first time, they ran into Jarlaxle, who "gifted" them with some mercenaries to help them. Those mercenaries were suppose to feed him information, but were actually subverted spies by an illithid working for the Kraken Society.

My PCs got the idea that there was something more going on outside of the giants and the dragons, but they misdirected their attention to Jarlaxle's mercenaries. Even though it was a misdirect, it was a clue that there was another factor involved, and after the party sent an army of Treants to besiege Luskan to claim Jarlaxle's head (long story), Jarlaxle got to drop, at least a chapter earlier than in the adventure, that the Kraken Society had something to do with everything going on, and that his agents had been compromised.

Advancement

Depending on where they wander in this adventure, especially early on, leveling by normal XP awards may get tedious. I switched halfway through the campaign, but the milestone advancement felt a little at odds with the partial sandbox approach as well.

Had it been introduced earlier, the XP system recently introduced in Unearthed Arcana, on WOTC's D&D site, seems to be a really good fit for this campaign. Under that system, PCs are going to be getting XP for visiting important sites in the North, talking to NPCs relevant to the plot, and finding lost relics. If they have a stretch of running into goblins or kobolds randomly, but then happen on one of the Uthgardt mounds, they would still be keeping a steady advancement pace.



Would I Do It Again?

I really love the Savage Frontier as a setting. I really like giants as monsters. I would love to run this adventure again, with the tweaks I have in mind, for the right players, that are interested in exploring and engaging the setting. It's not the best adventure for people that are looking for discreet dungeons and a steady flow of action.

That said, I have so many games I want to run, I'm not sure I want to run it again with enough passion to displace some other adventure or game system on my list of things I want to run for the first time.