Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review: The Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies

I saw The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies yesterday in IMAX 3D, and it was amazing.

To be fair, I'd watch paint dry in Middle Earth if it was Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. I am that in love with the way he has brought that world to life over these 6 movies. Do I approve of all the story choices? No. Do I think he overused CGI at some points? Yes. Am I willing to overlook those issues for 3 more hours of hobbits and dwarves, wizards and wraiths? Hell yes!

Should you go see The Battle of the Five Armies? If you liked the other Hobbit movies, yes. If you didn't? No. It's pretty much that simple.

Now, I'm going to discuss a few things below that might count as spoilers.

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Here's a funny picture, but seriously, spoilers below.


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Ok, here they are, the spoilers!

I loved Dain on the pig! I loved the war rams too!! Seeing the dwarves fighting the orcs was great, especially the shield wall. I wish the orcs had been a little less Uruk-like. Thranduil's elk was awesome. "Because it was real" hit me right in the gut. Even though I wasn't a big fan of the inclusion of Tauriel, since I felt the storyline was unnecessary, I appreciate what Evangeline Lilly did with the character, and enjoyed the eye candy! Some of the orc monsters were a little over the top, but the troll with the stone arch as a helmet was fun. The fight against the ring wraiths? Kick Ass!!

I saw it said somewhere that the Hobbit films aren't great by themselves, but are great as prequels to The Lord of the Rings, and I think I'd agree with that overall. The whole 6 movie series really should be taken as a whole. Can't wait to do a mega-marathon with all 6 extended editions!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Battle of the Five Armies today!!!

In a few hours I'll be sitting in what will probably be a mostly empty theater (what do you expect for a noontime showing on a Wednesday?) watching the IMAX 3D version of the final installment of The Hobbit movie trilogy, and I am so psyched!


My thoughts on it tomorrow!  Be warned, I am a total fanboy for Peter Jackson's vision of Middle-Earth, even if I think some of his story choices are questionable. I'd watch 3 hours of characters in Dale or Lake Town or the Shire just walking around...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Iron GM Competition at Titan Games

Titan Games (my FLGS) on Saturday 12/13 hosted a local Iron GM event, which I wrote a bit about back on Thursday. Going into it I felt pretty unprepared. I basically knew I wanted to run it at around 6th level, but beyond that I wasn't really sure. What I ended up doing Thursday night was going through the Monster Manual and picking out some creatures that I thought would be interesting challenges. I chose the Mind Flayer, Night Hag, Helmed Horror, and Nothics to theme my adventure around. The germ of the idea I was playing around with was the laboratory of a Mind Flayer experimenting on local life (think mad Nazi scientist). I figured I could wrap that around just about anything that they could throw at me as the 3 secret ingredients.


The day of, I showed up with my dice, 5e books, Vornheim, a notebook, large flip chart pad, minis, and a battle mat. Looking over the space I'd have to work with, I knew pretty much instantly that I'd never be able to use the battle mat and minis, so I left them in the car.

6 DMs had signed up to play, but there were only enough players for 5 tables, and one of the perspective DMs offered to play. Ha! One fewer I'd have to slay in the SUDDEN DEATH ROUND*!

Just as things were set to begin, the DMs were sent off into the back hall, so that Kurt (the MC for the event) could introduce us one by one. By random pick I was #3. Each DM got a different song to make an entrance by. Somehow I ended up with Let It Go... Oddly enough, it got the best reaction of all the songs. Go figure...

After the introduction, the rules/timeline were reviewed.

  • 1 hour for players to make characters and DMs to modify/create their adventures
  • During this hour, DMs get 3 words they can say to their players. Anything beyond that needs to be said in a kobold voice while hopping on one foot.
  • 2 hours of playtime
  • 15 Minute break, during which there will be player olympics
  • 2 hours of playtime
  • DMs will leave their tables for judging
  • DM's will be called back, and awards made.
  • Any player that rolls a natural 20 is to yell "Banzai!"**and they will be given a prize (a random die). Collect 3 prizes (dice), and get a dice necklace, the benefit of which is upto the DM.

With that complete, the tables were randomly assigned by DM's picking sealed envelopes. The envelopes were opened by Kurt using Andúril, the Flame of the West (a slightly unwieldy letter opener if ever there was one). I got table 5 by virtue of the fact that DM #2 picked that table, but his wife was at that table, and that was seen as a conflict of interest.

Then the 3 secret ingredients were revealed!

  • Red Dragon
  • River Rapids
  • Amnesia

No, I'm not sure why the alliteration broke down...

The DM who stepped out of the running had brought in his massive Red Dragon mini. It was sitting off to the side on one of the unused tables. He yelled out "Whoever grabs it can use it!" Before he finished speaking I had lept into motion and had that bad boy in my hands. The other DMs all failed their initiative rolls, as they stood looking at me dumbfounded. (I really hope they got that on camera... and that it's as I remember it)

And with that, the first hour started! I walked to my table (with the "mini") and said "6th level characters..." paused... nodded... and walked away. One of the players asked how I wanted them to roll up ability scores. I smiled and shrugged.

My players, furiously working on their characters.

I stood a bit away from my table, thinking about what I had "planned" and how to make it work with the secret ingredients while chatting with Sarah, one of the store employees who was helping out with the event. Kurt noted my nonchalance, and I gave him pretty much the same answer I'd given to my players; a shrug and a smile.

Was I feeling nonchalant? Not really. In my head, I was thinking about the other DMs, seeing them work on updating their stuff, and working really hard to be as cool, calm, and collected as I was trying to look. At the same time I was tweaking what I had planned... instead of a mind flayer's lab, what if it was a mind flayer's psionically powered aethership that crashed, damming up a stream, that could then burst, creating rapids that the ship could ride down while the PCs were on it? And a red dragon... well, the PCs would start the adventure celebrating having driven a red dragon from it's lair! Amnesia... One of the monsters would have a poison that caused amnesia. Just need to be sure it got delivered... and that they knew about it. If it didn't, I wouldn't get points for including it!

When the hour was done, I went to the table, moved my seat to the end, rather than the middle, and started by introducing myself, and asking them what their RPG experience has been, and what sort of games they enjoy? Heavy RP, Hack and Slash? The experience of the group varied, but the consensus was that a good mix of RP and H&S was preferred. I then told them a little bit about myself, how I run games, and how if they want to try something that the rules don't seem to cover, I'll give them every opportunity to make it work.



If you're interested in what happened in my session, read on, If you're interested in how the event went without the actual play report, skip down to the Player Olympics, then down to the line under the big Banzai!! below.



I then checked out what they'd created. Joe (bottom left) had Selthis, 1/2 elf cleric of Selune. Nick (top left) made Clara the Wood Elf Thief. Sandy (Top right) Olda "Pock" Zook the gnome fighter, and Jim (bottom right) made Tal Goldwater the 1/2 elf chaos sorcerer of spice. I then gave everyone a +1 weapon (of their choice) and 2 healing potions.

With introductions out of the way, I set the scene, celebrating their victory over the dragon in the local tavern, the strange rumble that grew louder, and then everyone blacking out (as the damaged psionic ship passed overhead, though they didn't know that).

Upon awaking an hour or two later, they saw a streaming cloud of red heading off vaguely to the west. They immediately grabbed their gear and set off deeper into the mountains. After a couple of hours they came across a crater with a large black cigar shaped thing plowed into the far side. Tal the sorcerer cast Fly and began to investigate the crater while the rest of the party watched.

At this point, I decided that his spells were more likely to have a wild surge, and that he'd roll 2 dice for every spell, and 1 for his cantrips.  A broken psionic engine is going to have some weird effects, right?

I described the ship as black, organic, and ribbed, with several sphincter-like shapes along the side. Additionally there was a tear in the side, revealing an inner chamber. The other PCs came down, and entered the first chamber, finding it filled with strange suits that would fit emaciated 7 foot tall humanoids with only 4 fingers on their hands (including thumb). Strange clicking sounds emanated from the ceiling, while the scent of sulfur lingered in the air. The interior walls seemed to be made of the same black organic material as the outer hull.

Around this point I accidentally called it a ship. Probably they'd figured that out, but still...

They played with the suits for a bit, found a door into the main hall, and spotted a pair of robed creatures down the hall. They turned their single yellow eye upon them, and made the same sort of clicking sounds the PCs had heard in the other room. Tal and Olda felt a tickle in the back of their minds, and the creatures hissed "Failure" at them (it tied into their flaws). One of the creatures then went trough another door, and the remaining one attacked. A moment later 3 emerged through the door the one had just passed through. It was a good warm up fight that included a lightning bolt blasting not only 3 of the creatures, but also the door at the end of the hall.

After the battle the creatures were examined, and their one eye was made only more freaky by their 4 fingered hand and their 4 tentacled mouths!***

Skipping the other closed doors in the hall (including the cryo chambers, Succubus prisoner, armory with laser weapons, and Phase Spider transport gate operator) they headed to the blasted door. Beyond it was a second closed (but slightly burnt) door. They opened it and... that was the 2 hour break!

The Player Olympics was a short contest. Each table sent a single representative to guess the monster in a game of charades. Then they had to roar like dragons. I don't remember who won, or if they won anything, but I am kind of looking forward to seeing the video of that too.

The only thing I ended up using the flip chart for...

After the break, we got back to it, and I described the room: large, with a central glowing crystal pillar, occupied by a trio of nude near-human males covered in stitches**** and Granny Kazzy the night hag who invited them in to help. Tal jumped at the chance, while Selthis shook his head at his companion's foolishness. Nearly transfixed by the pillar, he failed to note Granny's approach, until she'd put her 7 spider-like fingered hand on his shoulder and began to caress him and talk about how much she was going to enjoy "probing his energy".

That was enough for everyone, and initiative was rolled. Selthis tried turning the trio of naked things, but they were not swayed by the power of the goddess of beauty. So he did the next logical thing, and cast dispel magic at the pillar.

I was not ready for this, and had to step back for a moment. What happens when an already damaged psionic engine is hit by a dispel magic? Nothing good... I rolled a saving throw for the engine. I rolled a 2. I told everyone to roll saves vs. Constitution and Intelligence. Clara and Tal failed their Int saves, and lost 2 points of Intelligence, and also had their memories wiped. The trio and the hag all died in the blast. The column flickered dangerously, as the crystal was even more cracked.

At this point the captain shows up along with a pair of brain worms***** and just lays into them with his brain blast. While effective, the spread out nature of the party made getting many of them into the blast difficult. The brain worms were dispatched pretty quickly by a very confused Clara (thieves with advantage for the win!), while the captain took a bit more work to finish off.

Just as the fight was ending, the ship shifted violently, and began to move. The red dragon they'd chased off a couple of days ago was back, and he broke the dam, releasing a flood of pent up water. He then landed on top of the ship, and helped it moved in the rapids by rocking it back and forth, bouncing the players around. They ran back to the tear, and jumped free of the ship, mostly in the mud. A couple of rounds later the ship exploded, tossing the dragon off to the side. It pulled itself up and took to the sky, screaming about the puny creatures that thought they'd forced it from it's lair. Clara climbed a tree, and shot an arrow with a line attached to it at the dragon, hitting solidly. The other end of the line was wrapped around her waist. Very quickly she was yanked from the tree, and found herself dangling about 40' below and behind the dragon.

Slethis commanded the dragon to land (another failed save) causing Clara to smack into the dirt... hard. The dragon breathed fire at Slethis in reply, causing him semi-serious burns. Some minor, but mounting damage followed on the dragon, before Selthis again commanded him, this time to "Flee!" so it did, straight up. Clara was still attached, but Tal used flame bolt to break the rope just in the nick of time.

Olda yelled at the dragon, pointing out that they'd already beating it once, in it's own lair, and that they were ready to do it again anytime and anywhere else. Then she rolled a natural 20 on her intimidation check.

Banzai!!

The dragon, already being at about 1/2 it's hit points, and having already been beaten by the group, decided that hide was more important than pride, and flew away to fight another day!



Ours was the last table to finish, with about 5 minutes left on the clock. While I was up on how much time we had left, I hadn't even realized that everyone else was done!

After a too brief moment to catch my breath, the DMs were sequestered away, and voting commenced... The 5 of us chatted with a combination of nervousness, excitement, and exhaustion, and a short couple of minutes later we were called back to wait with out tables.

After the voting was done and everyone was waiting for the results

Honestly, I thought I had a good chance to place, but knowing the prep that the other DMs had put in (including the guy in the pirate costume!) I thought it was iffy. So when 3rd place was called, and it wasn't me, and then 2nd place was called, and it wasn't me... I sighed to myself, knowing that I'd done my best, and was happy with how I'd done, even if I hadn't won.

And then they called my name. I vaguely recall roaring at the camera like a dragon as I went up to accept my award. I'm not sure I'm looking forward to seeing that part of the video!

The Iron GM 1st Place Dice Tower

I am really blown away that my players rated me a better DM than the other groups rated their DMs, I know (since Kurt said so) that the difference between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places was very small... so... Wow! Seriously still blown away more than 24 hours later...

And it never would have happened if Titan Games hadn't hosted the event, if the players hadn't shown up, and if the other DMs hadn't signed up. I had a blast, and I think just about everyone else did too!

A well earned celebration feast!



*There was no SUDDEN DEATH ROUND, sadly... I could have taken them...
**My table got into this, and we all yelled it together every single time (9 or 10 times over the 4 hours of play time)!
***Reskinned Nothics
****Reskinned Scarecrows
*****Reskinned Gricks with amnesia poison that never got used

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Iron GM incoming!

My FLGS Titan Games is hosting an Iron GM competition this Saturday. I signed up to compete, thinking that it sounded fun.



What is it?

It's like those cooking competition shows, where chefs are given challenges or secret ingredients. In this case, the DMs are given 3 secret things that need to be included in the adventure. It could be "Bodak, Banishment, and Boudoir" or "Ogre Magi, Opera House, and Oppression"

I don't find out until an hour before I'm supposed to run, during which time I need to adjust my adventure as needed to include those elements. At the end of the 4 hour session, the DMs are ranked, and a winner is chosen.

When I signed up, I thought the adventure needed to be crafted the day of, so I haven't really prepared anything yet. I thought it was more of an overall improve challenge... At this point, for me, it's going to be! Luckily my usual Friday night game is on hold till the New Year, so I'll at least have the next two evenings and Saturday morning to throw something together.

I think my strategy is to craft some level appropriate encounters, and then come up with a couple of maps that I can use. Maybe a town, village, and regional maps, plus a couple of dungeon maps.Then it's just a matter of making it all work.

I know some people go kinda crazy with props, projectors, minis, etc, but I'm aiming more for a theater of the mind experience with some solid NPC interaction. Too much stuff at the table, and I get too distracted. We'll see how that goes...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mary Poppins and D&D

Aside from the original bag of holding, I think there's a lot of potential inspiration from Mary Poppins that you could incorporate into your game. One thing in particular struck me recently though: not Mary Poppins, but rather Bert the chimney sweep.

Bert is a seemingly itinerant man who works a variety of jobs, yet knows the magical Mary Poppins. What if neither Bert nor Mary Poppins are human? What if they're fay? Mary from the Seelie Court, and Bert from the Unseelie Court?


Focus on the bit from 1:25-2:14.

Or if you want to take it a step further, what if Bert is actually from the Shadowfell, and so thrilled to be in the Prime Material Plane that he's irrepressibly happy? Yet, like the clip above suggests, still haunted a bit by things he's seen... haunted and awed even...

I can't be the only one who's gotten some inspiration from Disney. What have you been inspired by? And bonus points if it's not one of the cartoons!