Tag Archives: digital

Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar

Like many adolescent geeks, I fell in love with my first computer game back when I had lots of time and very little money.  I mowed lawns for many weeks (probably around 12) to save up for Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar to play on my Commodore 64.   The game came on, I believe, four five inch floppy disks, and a nifty metal ankh and fabric map were included in the box along with two instruction books.  I felt like I’d got my money’s worth.

The object of Ultima IV is to live well and in accordance with eight virtues:  Honesty, Valor, Honor, Compassion, Justice, Spirituality and Humility.  This leads to becoming the “Avatar” of those virtues and positioning your character as an example to the rest of the world.  I was just impressionable enough to invest quite a lot of myself in the game’s core principles.  I took it so far that I stopped reloading at previous save points, when I made a mistake and lost some rating in the virtues.  A simple typo when dealing with a blind vendor would cause me to lose ‘an eighth’ of my avatar hood.  One cannot be the avatar of honesty if one rips people off.  It wasn’t a terrible hardship:  even if you took a step backward, you could always redeem yourself, though this took hours.  I probably added 50 hours of game play by compensating for typos provoked by an interface that I wouldn’t tolerate for ten minutes today.

After I completed the game, naturally I took my tricked out party back and slaughtered town after town.  At that point even the town guards presented little challenge.  After all those weeks spent tightly following a path of virtue, it was quite a relief to just go evil for awhile.

This reminds me of life in a long term Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  I like playing and developing the same character over long periods of time, but sometimes it’s fun to change things up by creating a character who thinks a less and cares little for authority.

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Last Session’s Nuts and Bolts

June 2010 Session

Days have passed since the attack of the Shadar-Kai.  The PC’s can spend the time as they wish.  Presumably they found the camp, gathered the loot, got their reward and have arranged for re-equipping and upgrading.

One midnight, Nightcloak escapes and his group kidnaps a child from the village:  Jeff’s daughter.  The sheriff puts Drale on the case.

Shortly after, Clintok sends a messenger – a crow-mask wearing halfling.  He would like to see the group immediately concerning the missing child.

  • Fortified, wooden wall, stone building
  • Salvador Dali art
  • Everyone wears a mask, Clintok wears the Ibis

Clintok wears an Ibis mask – “what did you do before the Zain-kin came?”  “Before we talk business, let’s have refreshment…”

  • Gives exotic fruit, liquor, lemon water.
  • Warriors draw weapons and attack – See Clintok’s Rangers Encounter
  • Clintok does not engage unless absolutely forced.

“Congratulations, you passed the audition”

For parcel 1&2 and whatever salvage, pursue the bandits and bring their treasure to me to examine.

They’ve gone into the 100 Acre Forest, you’d best leave immediately.

Gives a magic compass that will track The Egg.

Arcana check to use the compass
Any Point in direction
Medium success or better See through eyes
Hard  success Know limited thoughts of Egg’s owner

  • Shadowcloak has The Egg
  • Hates the PCs
  • Hates Westfall
  • The new boss will give him new power

The woods are dark, weird, sprites flitter about 15 miles (three hexes) from town, the sprites coalesce into a swarm and Doc and his pets attack the intruders.  See Outside the Hag’s House Encounter

The thick forest leads further to a house of gold, platinum, copper, jewels, magical knowledge – all of the dreams of player characters.  When the PCs approach the door opens and a beautiful, elderly elven woman in a fine gown appears.

Clintok’s Rangers

XP #
1250 1 Clintok
38 5 Burly Halfling Sellsword
38 5 Halfling Slinger
1630



***********

Outside the Hag’s House


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Birthday Haul

I had a birthday last week and received a gift certificate for Paizo Publishing (thank you, Zobmie!).  Much of Paizo’s recent efforts have been in support o f their Pathfinder Role-playing Game, but they sell many kinds of gaming goodness.  Since my group is strongly (and happily) entrenched in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, I steered away from the Pathfinder stuff and took it as an opportunity to take experiment with some other kinds of items.

I ordered Issue 3 of Level Up magazine by Goodman games and Issue 13 of Kobold Quarterly by the Open Design folks.  I was a long time subscriber to Dragon Magazine in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and have been curious about the current generation of gaming magazines ever since I returned to the hobby with 4th edition.  I also purchased a Game Mastery Map Pack: Ancient Forest set.  I have some of Wizards of the Coast’s Harrowing Halls and Fane of the Forgotten Gods Dungeon Tiles and was looking for something I could use for outdoor encounters.

I’m pleased with my haul:  I had forgotten how nice it is to have a gaming magazine to leaf through and read at leisure.  I appreciate what Wizards is doing with their online content, but I miss a Dragon Magazine that’s an actual magazine.

Kobold Quarterly has a notably higher print quality than Level Up, with an expectedly higher price point:  $7.99 and 3.99 respectively.  Kobold Quarterly covers a variety of games, mostly of the 3.5 and 4E spectrum, while Level Up is 4E specific.

The Game Mastery Map Pack will definitely suit my needs.  The pack is made of 18 different 8” by 5” cards.  The cardboard isn’t as thick as Dungeon Tiles, but I think that’s okay.  How thick does it need to be?  These cards come ready to use: none of the perforation punching and associated waste that you’ll find with Dungeon Tiles.  The colors in this set are a little dark and muddy; I wonder if something was lost during the design translation process.

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Encounter and Initiative Tracking 3.0

When I started as an occasional dungeon master in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, I used initiative cards to track initiative, defenses and passive perception and insight for players and defenses, initiative and some powers for monsters. Gradually I simplified things (using the plan-do-check-act cycle that I’ve written about previously), and when I purchased a laptop last fall, I thought it was time for a change.

In version 2.0, I used Excel tabs to track initiative and other key elements. This worked pretty well, but led to lots of toggling between tabs and felt a little complicated in larger combats with more than two monster types. Before long I trialed initiative tracking onto a single worksheet. After some reflection and adjusting, I’ve prepared my brand new and improved encounter tracking system in Excel.

I learned in 2.0 that I absolutely like to have image captures of my monsters from the DnD Insider Monster Builder. While I also prefer to have the book open for the knowledge check information, tactics and art, the stat block gives me everything I need for the round-to-round combat. I have the initiative tracker grid also ready to go, along with the hit point calculating formulas. When battle begins, I will simply record the damage, as incurred and Excel will do the math for me. I was an English major: I hate doing math. I have some extra cels associated with each monster where I’ll note conditions and which mini is which.

If you’re a player in my group, don’t look too closely at the image until after Saturday’s game; it might spoil some of the fun for you.

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The Game before the Game

The Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition game I dungeon master for meets about once per month. It’s challenging to develop my skills and tricky to keep the story moving. Over the last year, my game preparation has evolved and will undoubtedly continue to evolve.

After the last campaign ended with the Elite Mad Wraith incident, I made some creative decisions about the new campaign. I recently started re-watching Firefly, which helped form some key components:

1) Each session will be mostly self-contained and episodic, in addition to moving the meta-plot forward. Television and comic books work best with this similar structure: each issue or episode contains a complete product, with a beginning, middle and end. Every element should move things forward, without filler; everything should exist for a reason.
2) The campaign will have an American western feel. This is still Dungeons and Dragons, so there won’t be six guns or cowboy hats; I probably won’t even have horses. Instead I’m aiming for the middle ground between law and anarchy. When the sheriff is the only law in town, a weak one opens the door to chaos and a corrupt one can ruin a town.

When I begin to prepare for a specific session, I first consider the primary story for that specific game and what I’d like the climax to look like. Last month focused on the player characters’ escape from prison, and culminated with clearing a hidden base of bandits.

Next, I break down the specific high level beats and start thinking through the skill challenges. I try to consider the pace and to integrate skill use with the rest of the session. Last session’s skill involved fleeing from the posse; the more the player characters succeeded, the more advantages they would enjoy when the battle began. I firmly believe that skill challenges should not determine whether a battle happens; instead, they should influence how an encounter happens.

Finally, I pull together the encounter specifics. I use the Monster Builder (sometimes in conjunction with the Monster Manuals) to assemble the bad guys according to budget, then I sort out the terrain. For the last session, I knew I wanted to use my new Harrowing Halls Dungeon Tiles, but it wasn’t until this step that I decided how they would work best.

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Excel is this Dungeon Master’s Friend

I probably have an above average comfort with Microsoft Excel, but I’m no expert.  While wrestling with how best to track initiative in my monthly game, I thought I’d try using Excel.  After a few sessions, I’ve made some adjustments, added a few things, and am happy with it overall.

Here is my standard template, and every participant in the battle gets one, except for minions.  They usually have to share.  The top half is for key information.  For the player characters I document defenses, passive perception and insight, character name and a note about the mini.  When battle begins, I’ll enter the initiative into the appropriate box.  I don’t track PC hit points.  If this were a monster, I would enter the damage as it is incurred, and Excel does the subtraction.  It’s important to note that when I set up those formulas, I didn’t tell the ‘bloodied’ and ‘surge value’ cells to round.  In standard math ‘16.5’ rounds up to 17, but, as we know, in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, we always round down.

After all the initiative values are entered, I rearrange the tabs accordingly.  When a monster dies, I can either delete the tab or shuffle it off to the side.

Here is what it might look like during a battle.  The green tabs are the PCs, the black is a dead monster.  The Zain-kin Centurion has taken 12 points of damage, which happens to equal his surge value.  Trackless went first, then Anafos, then the Centurions etc…

Another advantage of using Excel is that I can insert other DMs helpers into some of the other tabs.

This tab helps me track my experience budget, so I can adjust to player absences or additions on the fly.  I often paste in images of information from the Monster Builder, especially if I’ve customized them for my game.

On a whole, I’ve had great success using Excel, but I only recommend it for those already familiar with the software, and to those who don’t have to pay for it.  How do you track your encounters?  Do you use index cards or other software?  What ideas for improving my system do you have?

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Podcast Round-up

Here are the gaming related podcasts that I’m following, in alphabetical order.  All are worth a listen.

  1. Atomic Array – well produced, general hobby gaming podcast
  2. Dragon’s Landing – focuses more on the creativity side of role playing games
  3. GeekNights Tuesdays:  Gaming – fun duo who talk about the gaming that interests them at the moment; mostly video games, but with board gaming (especially German Board Games) and card games too.
  4. Dungeons & Dragons Podcast – from Wizards; features interviews, product previews and the occasional live game play sessions in connection with the fellows over at Penny Arcade and friends.
  5. Open Design Podcast – focused more on mechanics and game design and making gaming better.   Includes third edition content.
  6. The Power Source – solid 4e podcast, with great guest hosts
  7. Radio Free Hommlet – consistent 4e podcast, well thought out with a focus on mechanics
  8. The Tome Show – Well produced podcast that provides a good balance of 4e product reviews, interviews and advice with frequent guest hosts.  This is probably my favorite.

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