Margaret Weis Drops #MarvelRPG #RPG #gaming cc:@GamingMeerkat

I’ll miss you, old friend … until I play you again a week from Saturday.

Despite my many hours playing Dungeons & Dragons since 2005 (after a 24-year absence from the game), I’m really not much of an RPG gamer. I love FASA Star Trek RPG, but what do you expect? I loved Enterprise! I’ve played Gamma World 4e, Legend of the Five Rings (3rd edition) three times, Dragon Age RPG (Green Ronin Publishing) a few times (mostly as Game Master), and Star Wars Saga Edition once (again, as Game Master). I enjoyed all of those games but played Call of Cthulhu d100 twice and hated it. If I’ve played any other RPGs with dice, I don’t remember it off the top of my head, so apparently they didn’t make much of an impact.  (I’ve also played the diceless RPG, Fiasco, which was great.)

I’d like to broaden my horizons as far as RPGs are concerned, so when my friend, Rishi, offered me the chance to join his new Marvel RPG game, I jumped at the chance. I’ve heard good things about it, so I was intrigued even though I never read comic books. (Come to think of it, I’m not a good geek in general. I don’t play video games, and I find Dr. Who to be retardis.) I wanted to play the mechanics everyone was talking about, so I agreed to play for a couple of sessions before gracefully bowing out.

I don’t think I’ll be bowing out. Our first session was a lot of fun for me. My approach to RPGs has always been to focus on a character concept, where the character has some interesting, overriding character trait, usually but not always a flaw. I then play that trait to the extreme. With my group, that wasn’t only tolerated but welcomed with open arms. As comic book fans, the other players liked the fact that I played my character’s traits so faithfully, even to the detriment of the team, because these are the characters the players love.

Clearly, I’m the baddest ass of the bunch!

Incidentally, I played a guy by the name of Hank Pym, a.k.a., Yellow Jacket. I’d never heard of him but am sure that means something to a lot of you. It also meant something to my cousin, Tom, who still collects comics. When Rishi gave me a list of characters from which to choose, I passed the ones in favor of the Super Human Registration Act to Tom, who told me to pick Yellow Jacket. It’s worked out so far. An insecure, nerdy guy who 1) supports government registration of people, and 2) gains experience points by blaming his own major failing on a loved one? Yeah, I can do this.

Mechanics

And that (finally) brings me to my first point. The mechanics of the game have their flaws, but overall it’s an fun system, especially for someone like me.

The Bad: The dice rolling is unnecessarily convoluted, requiring you to figure out which types of dice to roll (d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12) and in what number every single time you roll. Once I’m used to it, it’ll probably become second nature, but it creates a barrier for entry. If I were the rule rather than the exception, the group probably would have moved on and never played it again. Instead, I was the odd man out. I was the only one that didn’t have experience with the game and wasn’t a comic book reader. Keeping this game going will be easy despite the unnecessary complexity, but I don’t think that will be the case for all groups.

The Good: Rewarding me for domestic violence? Brilliant! I know that sounds bad, but stay with me. No one’s perfect, not even superheroes. We all have flaws, and a role-playing game that doesn’t hide from that fact, even among the heroes, is exactly what I need to make me happy. (Also, I don’t actually have to beat my wife in the game. It’s not necessarily that specific.) Needless to say, this doesn’t always go over well in other systems. In 4e D&D, I have a stereotypical, senile old man, Luigi, who’s great for comic relief, but when I play him in character during combat or role-play, he usually makes bad decisions. It’s never once actually hurt the group when all was said and done  — he was responsible for winning a “social skill challenge” in one adventure despite his eccentricity — but while it’s occurring, it’s tough to convince the other players of that. Some people get very annoyed by his erratic behavior. With Marvel RPG, no one is complaining, and I doubt this is a characteristic of my group itself. The mechanics of the game actually encourage me and them to act the fool at times. And it works.

The Good but with a Caveat: The initiative system is fantastic, but it wouldn’t work in a game like D&D where building a character to go first has so many advantages. Other game systems would have to be tweaked dramatically to allow for the Marvel RPG initiative system. Still, it’s something every game publisher should at least consider.

It’s All About IP

My second point is, as always, that the world lives and dies based on intellectual property law, and this is the more important of the two points. IP law governs everything, and there’s a lesson to be learned here. RPG publishing is a low-profit exercise. It’s tough to do well in it, and whether most publishers will admit it or not, it’s ability to succeed as well as it has depends a great deal on the continued success of Wizards of the Coast. WotC produces Dungeons and Dragons (among others), and does so with the mighty weight of Hasbro behind it. They’re able to do things no other RPG publishers can do, and the entire industry benefits as a result. However, even WotC could hold on to the Star Wars license for only so long. With such a low profit-margin in the first place, having to give up a non-negligible chunk of that in the licensing fee reduces the profit margin even more. Also, unless you’re willing to give up and even bigger chunk of the profits, you have to settle with a non-exclusive license (if it’s even offered), meaning you won’t even be the only game of your kind available. It’s a no-win situation over the long haul.

With that in mind, be disappointed but not angry. I’ve never met or spoke with Margaret Weis, so I have no inside information here, but I’d put good money on the bet that she had a very good reason for letting the license go. This isn’t the fault of Ms. Weis, or of Marvel. It’s just the nature of the industry. The game was selling well, but the numbers just don’t add up in the long run. Everyone needs the core rulebook, but sales of add-ons will always be at least a little less, and often will be much less.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of material out there with even more to come, and many gamers will put together supplemental materials in the form of PDFs freely downloadable from their private sites. This game won’t die anytime soon, and that’s a good thing.

The End

Despite my optimism in the two sentences immediately preceding this one, it feels like there’s been a death in the family (not that bad, though; on the level of a step-cousin). 🙂 I just wanted to offer a eulogy of sorts, if for no other reason than to make myself feel good about it. It’s a good game, we’ll all continue to play it, but like all good things, eventually it must come to an end, and no one is to blame for that. Gaming will go on.

As always, happy gaming!

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Hit Point Charts and Pregenerated Characters for War of Everlasting Darkness

More than a couple of you were appreciative of me sharing my hit point charts I use for running D&D Encounters (or D&D generally), so I’m sharing my next set for this season of Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness. Please reference that past article for explanations as to read the document.

Hit Point Charts

This season, for lack of a better term, is weird. This isn’t a criticism, but it means that, among other things, I didn’t adjust the combats for parties of four or six players. Each encounter is actually better termed a “mini-adventure.” I suspect adjustments are a bad idea, even if you have seven or eight players, because you won’t have the time to finish the session if you increase the number of NPCs as well (unless you’re cheating and running this at home). Just run the encounters as written, adjusting on the fly as you see fit. If I see that adjustments are practical — I usually have 6 players at my table — then I’ll update the document.

As before, at the time I’m first posting this, I haven’t read the entire adventure. Please let me know if I need to perform edits for any reason. My schedule doesn’t allow me to make any edits during the week. Any changes will have to wait until the weekend.

Pregens

Because some of my players are kids without access to the character builder, and because the season takes the characters from levels 1 to 8 in eight sessions, I needed to create pregenerated characters as well, spanning those levels. I’m creating only two that are specifically designed for the players at my table. They use inherent bonuses, which is suggested by the adventure itself, and they’re designed to be very simple to run. Accordingly, if you like to optimize your characters, these will be disappointing (especially because I took so long to give Darthon Superior Will — I’m not redoing the work :)). However, I’m providing the character builder XML files as well, so if you sort of like what you see here, you can make some adjustments fairly easily.

The Links

Hit Point Charts

1st 2nd 3nd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
Slayer PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML
Sorceror PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML PDF  XML

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Hit Point Charts for Council of Spiders

For those of you running the Council of Spiders adventure for the latest season of D&D Encounters, I’d like to provide you with a game aid I like to use when DMing: D&D Encounters Council of Spiders HP Charts. These charts provide an easy-to-use format for tracking hit points and recording whether encounter powers have been used without requiring you to mark up your adventure book. If you’ve seen my 4th edition stat blocks for the gods of the Egyptian and Central American pantheons, this will be familiar to you.  Each creature has an entry that provides the creature name; the creature’s defenses; the mini being used to represent the creature; check boxes to record whether they’ve used their recharge, encounter, or daily powers; and their hit points, accompanied by columns to track damage.

First, I have some general comments for you. If the number of players varies at your table, you’ll  likely be adding or removing certain NPCs from the encounter. Those characters have their hit points provided in bold, italicized fonts to indicate they’re optional characters. Also, a recharge power is indicated by the American trademark symbol followed by a number (if applicable). Thus, the power Ricochet Shot, recharge  , appears as Ricochet Shot®5.

I generally use charts for minions only when the creatures have encounter or recharge powers; however, I’ve included them for all encounters in case you wanted them.

I’ve also included the DC charts that I stole from Sly Flourish. (Click that link. He has a lot to offer the D&D gamer.) I use them often enough that it’s useful to have them on hand on the same sheet of paper as the encounter charts. They’re in the footer of every page.

Finally, you’ll note the copyright notice at the bottom. I can’t help it. I’m an attorney focusing my practice on intellectual property law (and real estate law). I have to include it. Note that there’s also permission to use this for personal use. Basically, all that concerns me is the idea that someone might sell my work product. I doubt that’s a problem, and unless it’s your intent to do so, you won’t have any complaints from me. Don’t make money off of my work, and we have no issues between us.

As a final note, I’ll mention that, as I become more familiar with the adventure, I might add some notes to the pages that help remind me of key elements of the encounter that are easily forgotten or hard to reference quickly when buried in the adventure booklet’s write up. (For an example from last season, I had an italicized, underlined sentence that spelled out the schedule by which teams of skeletons animated as the combat progressed.) Feel free to come back here to see if I’ve updated the document or if you have any such suggestions.

In any case, I hope you find these useful. I’ve provided specific notes for each encounter. Mild spoilers follow.

Encounter 1

As mentioned above, the minion chart might not be useful here. If not, just ignore it.

Encounter 2

It seems strange to eliminate the Ambusher from this encounter if only 4 players are present, but technically he’s the appropriate one to eliminate. Again, the minion chart might not be useful here.

Encounters 3, 4, and 5

No notes.

Encounter 6

This is not likely to break out into combat, so stat blocks aren’t provided in the adventure package. I created stat blocks and placed them here so you wouldn’t have to bounce back and forth between encounters.

Encounter 7

The encounter is level 4, so but there’s only 1 level 4 character on the board: the Drow Acolyte. If you have 6 players, add another Drow Acolyte. Simple enough. Because of the importance of that character, though, removing her isn’t the best option if you have only 4 players. You’re obviously free to do so, but I chose to design the encounter blocks to eliminate 2 of the Drow Templars. YMMV.

Again, the minion chart might not be useful here.

Encounter 8

It makes absolutely no sense to eliminate Valan Jaelre from this encounter, though I guess it makes sense to add another character of his type. Nevertheless, to keep it simple, and to keep the spotlight on Valan as unique, I treated the Hex Knights as the NPCs that should be added or removed from the encounter to adjust for the number of players. They are also of level 4.

You’ll note that the recharge symbol for Valan’s Webbed Miasma power doesn’t have a number after it. That’s because it doesn’t recharge on a die roll. You’ll just have to reference the stat block or remember that it recharges when he’s first bloodied.

Again, the minion chart might not be useful here, especially considering there could easily be no Bone Spiders appearing during the encounter, and even if they do appear, there could easily be no more than one on the board at any one time.

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