Saturday, October 25, 2014

Remembering Jack Bruce

I learned to today that Jack Bruce has passed away.  It was reported in the main news media and on his official web site.

Jack will be primarily remember for being one third of what was arguably the greatest power trio rock band ever, Cream.  As a bass player myself I was heavily influenced by this man.  Though while in Cream he was often overshadowed by Eric Claption, Jack's contributions are undenyable.

I was not old enough to have seen Cream live, but I did manage to see Jack on tour with one of his 'Friends' groups.  It was 1980 and I saw Jack Bruce and Friends at the Main Act in Lynne Massachusetts.  Friends on this tour were Billy CobhamClem ClempsonDavid Sancious.  I remember arriving early and getting a table (imagine that, a table to see these legends!) dead center a dozen feet from where the band would play.  And did they ever play.

As we waited we watched the roadies set up Cobhams drums.  I remember being amazed at this huge mound of percussion being arrayed on stage and every cymbal imaginable around the set, each gleaming brand new.

We were treated to a raucus spectable and some amazing music.  These four played songs from Cream, some Cobham jazz/fusion numbers, Humble Pie from Clemons, and E Street band songs from Sancious.  I was mezmorized watching Jack Bruce not so much play his bass, but attack it with fury and passion, and drive the music frenzy.  Sweating profusely, he pranced and played, sang and hollered, and if he was the pied piper I would have followed him anywhere.

So thanks Jack, for that one night, and for all the joy I get listening to Cream recordings and other recordings I have of yours over the years.  Rest in peace for a job well done.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5E Lost Mine of Phandelver: our 3rd game night

This continues my thoughts and experiences with 5th Edition D&D started here.

We are right on track with having a character drop to 0 hit points each session.  He got to roll one death saving throw before my character was able to get to him with a potion.  Each of the three sessions it has been a different character.  Since my character has not gone to 0 hit points yet, this statistics would imply I have a 50% chance next session of going to 0 hit points.  Heh.

We setup an ambush, and performed it horribly.  Amazing that a bunch of experienced players would botch
an ambush, but we did.  We did manage to win the encounter, so we did not play it as bad as we could, but there was definitely a number of mis-steps.  A spell was cast from 'cover' which basically alerted the enemy there was something going on and then people just pored out of the hiding spot before the enemy reached the optimum and agreed spot.  I think this was a combination of not being familiar with the rules and no plan survives contact with the enemy.  There is no confusion about getting a surprise round of actions.

A player fell victim to a minor trap and was 'surprised' there was no saving throw.  Even though this player cut his teeth on 1E, the last 15 years was spent playing 3.5E and typically getting saving throw.  The damage was minor so I think this was a good reminder that if you do something risky (stupid) you will probably just pay and not get a lucky saving throw.

During this adventure it feels like whenever we talk to an NPC for information, we also get another clue/quest to follow.  Now, I know it is not every time, but it is happening alot.  I don't know whether this feels like a sand box, with lots of choices, or a video game where only NPCs who have another quest for us appear in the story.  We'll see how this develops further.

I personally had some confusion about the Disengage action.  Reading it again, it is quite simple, but at the table I thought the action gave me a sort of disengage/dash combo - which really makes no sense and would make dash superfluous.  Nothing wrong with the way it is written up in the rules, just me not fulling grokking it yet.

We had more fighting in 5 foot corridor experience.  It is clear we need some more practice to optimize our performance with the new rules.  Split your move around actions, different attacks of opportunity, and still sorting out the power of cunning action feels like we are leaving opportunities on the table.  I am committed to get better at this.

 Pacing remains good.  We had two combats, an additional encounter where we talked through it rather than fight, some role playing, and three extensive conversations with NPCs in about a 4 hour session.

At first the ability to make ranged attacks through other creatures as cover seems somehow off.  I have been comtemplating some sort of house rules about how many cover creatures and how much cover plus the chance to hit the creatures who are providing cover.  So far I have come to the conclusion that is much effort for little gain and will leave things be.

The potential for 'abuse' of the fighter's second wind ability has me thinking about potential house rules for limiting it to addressing damage taken in the most recent encounter and must be done during or right after the encounter.  However, it does cause more accounting.  Perhaps the harm for abuse, essentially letting the fighter use more short rests and completely avoid spending hit dice is not so bad.  Since I am not the DM in this module, I will be quiet about it and watch it in play.  It may or may not get a rule in games I DM.

That is all for now.  The dice never lie.

Friday, October 10, 2014

5E Lost Mine of Phandelver: our 2nd game night

This continues my thoughts and experiences with 5th Edition D&D started here.

Pacing seems good.  We played for about 3 1/2 hours which included role play of party bickering, several NPC discussions, some searching and three combats.  I feel like it will go even quicker once we are more comfortable with the rules, maybe even a couple of sessions from now.  Between the two sessions we have had around 6-7 combats and I really like the balance of simplicity and flexibility of the Action, Move, Bonus Action economy.   There was some delay as we bought some goods because we only have one copy of the rule set to share.  I will have to print out the basic rule set from the PDF so we can speed that part up a bit.

From WotC
As a Rogue I have not yet used my Cunning Action, but I can already see I will have to make good choices on how to spend my bonus action.  I managed to purchase some darts on the first night and I have been using my bonus action to throw one whenever I could squeeze it in between other actions.  I mean why not maximize my output?  Now I will have to choose between that, and using the Dash, Disengage or Hide.  Just enough choices to be interesting but not so many as to bog down in indecision.

When we leveled up, it was a quick and easy affair.  For my rogue it was hit points, hit die, and get the Cunning Action feature.  I am thinking Cunning Action is going to be huge and great fun.  One of the fighters assumed he was going to have to do all kinds of math to level up (as he was accustomed to 3E).  Learning he was not, I don't know if he was disappointed or relieved.  He seemed to be satisfied to get Action Surge.

I had an inspiration coin, which is how our DM is giving out inspiration, and had intended to use it against the bug bear who had nearly surprised us.  However, a couple of well rolled hits by the cleric and fighters negated the need for my rogue to attack the bug bear.  At that time I felt perhaps I was holding onto the inspiration too long.  After all, I cannot earn another one until I use this one up.

Hmmm.... maybe some spoilers in this paragraph:  It turns out I rather enjoyed the chance to use it back
in town.  I had been keeping a low profile so as not to be notice by Red Brands until I wanted to be noticed.  Our group left the inn and ran into a pack of four of them in the street who demanded we hand over our 'stuff' and get out of town.  My character hissed out from under his hooded cloak, "Get out of our way or die!" and furtively drew two darts.  The DM took the opportunity to have that Red Brand recognize me, "You have a lot of nerve to show you face around here."  To which I responded, "You won't be telling anyone." and threw the darts.  I did manage to critical with one of them and next round use my inspiration to shoot my bow with advantage at the same guy and take him down.  I liked how the rule mechanic allowed and encouraged me to use it in a way that tied to the role playing.

The wizard wanted to experiment with his spells so he ran right up to the Red Cloaks and cast Thunder Wave.  They were tougher than he thought, and although he did some damage and knocked one down they quickly brought him to zero hit points.  I don't think that is the scenario where that spell shines, and certainly seemed foolish to me but hey - chaotic folks gotta experiment.

The wizard did not even need to roll a death saving throw as the cleric had him back up with channel divinity that he split between the wizard and a beleaguered fighter.  So each night of play we have had one character go to zero hit points, or about once every three encounters.  No one has been close to dying yet but that may be in part because we are being a bit cautious.  We will see.

So far, the group concensus = fun.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Barad joins a D&D 5th Edition game

Cover Art from Wizards of the Coast
My son and his friends wanted to run the D&D Starter Set game and needed some players.  In need of a game I recruited a couple of my friends and off we go to Phandalin.

I do not intend to give away the module, but inevitably there will be spoilers.  I'll try to minimize them, and certainly not give away key facts.  You have been warned.

Mostly I will talk about random impressions and how we enjoy or do not enjoy the 5th Edition rules.  It seems funny to call it 5th Edition as Wizards spent so much time calling it 'Next'.  However it seems appropriate to me to call it 5th Edition because it gives perspective, not accuracy.

My view is colored by my FRPG gaming experiences.  As noted elsewhere on this blog, and in my profile, I have mostly played D&D.  The games with which I have the most experience are:

  • Holmes basis RAW
  • AD&D/1E RAW and house ruled
  • D&D 3E RAW, D&D 3.5 RAW and house ruled
  • D&D 4E RAW
  • D20 Modern/Past
We gather and introductions are done. Two of us know everyone.  Six people around the table, half under 30, half over 55.  It will be interesting.  Characters are handed out.  Three of us gave preferences for a particular class and with no objections we got those characters.  The remaining two players choose from the fighters.  I had requested the rogue, without having read the character sheet.  I have interest in exercising the rogue character because to me it gives the fastest and best view into the game for me to be able to DM a game later on.

Some of us have read the basic rules PDF, so we review some of the changes we feel will be most helpful to reduce confusion and player disappointment.  If I am remembering them correctly the main discussions were around:

  • Advantage/Disadvantage
  • No flanking
  • Change in Attacks of Opportunity
  • Action economy - Move, Action, Bonus Action
  • Moving before and after attacks
  • Hit points and healing
  • Saving throws and skills
Character sheets were briefly read and off we went.  There was no complicated "you meet in a tavern" awkwardness, we started in the caravan to Phandalin - our connection only that we all knew the Dwarf NPC somehow.  How we knew him was up to us, mostly.  I was fairly pleased with the pre-generated character sheet.  It was not hard to find most information with the exception of equipment was not quick to find items, and the inclusion and focus on Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds & Flaws made jumping into character quick and easy.

Half of the group was playing D&D before the other half was born, and we were quite comfortable with role playing on the fly so the in character discussions started right from the beginning.  Referring back to the traits etc was helpful, but did not eliminate the need for the detailed back ground on the back of the sheet.

Combats were quick, easy and fun.  I still have to remind myself when my rogue gets advantage vs when I get sneak attack, but that is more edition confusion than rule complication.  I definitely recommend people have two sets of dice to keep the rolling moving quickly.  Two twenties to deal with Advantage/Disadvantage, and two damage dice to deal with critical hits.  I found with all the action going on at the table, if I picked up the damage die to re roll for the additional critical damage quickly forgot the original roll.  Of course that memory challenge could be age related....

Goblins from Wizards of the Coast
I agree with what I have read elsewhere regarding monsters being more challenging.  Our encounter with goblins was very dangerous and could have gone badly for our little group of would be heroes.  One of our fighters went down to zero in the first two rounds and was clearly in danger of perishing.  Quick action by the rest of the group got him back in the game and we managed to handle the encounter.

1st level Characters are definitely more fragile than in 4th edition, but much more sturdy than in 1st & 3rd edition RAW.  So far my opinion is this is a good thing.  Characters in 1st edition could and did die on randomly good rolls; we house ruled additional hit points in our game.  We did similar adjustments in 3rd edition.  Although I have had only one game outing so far (excluding a play test game), my feeling is the starting hit points is about right compared to the monster challenges.  I like the idea of fledgling heroes who need to learn to survive, but not so fragile they would die if locked in a closet with a house cat.  Those long time players will understand the reference.

That is it for now, more soon.  Share your experience in the comments.
The dice never lie.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Nacho Punch Hipster Beer

I like craft brews, however I don't think I have tried any of these yet.  Still looking for them at my local pub.

YouTube Video - Hipster Beer


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Motels... thirty years later

My wife and I went to see the Motels (band web page) in August at the Tupelo Music Hall.  The last time we saw the Motels (wikipedia) it was over thirty years ago, and was at the Hampton Beach Casino.  I was looking for something a bit special for my lovely and talented wife on her birthday.  I was hoping to do something which harkened back to when we were dating or just before we got married, as this year was our 30th anniversary.  Our first big date was the Motels concert at the Casino, and around our anniversary I had even looked into seeing if the Motels were still around, to see if they were playing anywhere.  Serendipitous, a few months later there they are right near home.  Sweet.

Flash back a little over thirty years ago.  My wife and I had met and gotten together a few times, but had not had any special big date yet.  Around comes a band I had seen a year or two earlier in a Boston club by the name of the Motels.  They were an LA style new wave band with a notable sound, a crisp delivery, and were led by a very charismatic woman by the name of Martha Davis.  They were coming around again, I got tickets, the show was terrific and we had a memorable first big date.

So, here we are over thirty years later, having our first big date again.  Sort of.  The band is now called Martha Davis and the Motels.  Martha, my wife and I are all thirty years older.  However Martha has a band full of young guys half her age none of which are original.  We enter the venue and sit down.  As we look over the crowd, there are very few people in the room who were not around to see the original Motels thirty years ago, and those who were not look to be the children of those who were.  Not a few people in the room dressed in clothes you might expect new wave fans thirty years to dress... except it does not look like costumes if you get my drift.

The band comes out.  Martha seems a bit out of sorts and flashes a bottle of wine she was carrying under her arm, "Why try to hide it."  The crowd hollars and hoots in approval.  I am not so sure this is a good sign.   We have a treat tonight, the original sax/keyboard player for the incarnation of the Motels with which I was familiar is travelling with the band.  So, we have two legacy Motels members instead of one - promising.

The jump right to it, playing songs from most of the bands early albums.  If I had met Marth on the street I may not have recognized her with the weight of thirty years on her - - but as soon as she started singing there was no question this was The Martha Davis of Motels fame.  Sure, here voice was a little deeper and more scratchy than it was three decades ago, but she still had feeling in her voice and those unique inflections which made those songs unique and compelling.  The new band was pretty good, though the sound mix was not up to the caliber of a band which was once top 40 material.  The sax player was as good as I remembered him, and I was glad he was touring with them.

Random thoughts

  • The band was not as tight as I thought it should have been, Martha seemed nervous at times, and there might have been some dissapointment in her glances at some of the band members at times.
  • Martha has not translated her previous fame to a new generation yet.  Everybody there was there because they knew the Motels of old
  • Most of the crowd was very adoring of Martha.  She could have screwed up royally and they would have still applauded.  She didn't though.
  • If you listen to the words of some of her songs you might think she has some issues.  There are lots of songs about a woman being abused, feeling powerless, striking out, etc.  Given how she behaves on stage, it might be true.
  • There was a big difference on how she looked at her current band, and her old sax player.  The later gets looks like those of an old dear friend.
  • Martha's stage presence was not as charismatic as I remember it from years ago.  
  • I learned later this was the first night of the tour.  It may explain the jitters.

Overall, we had a great time.  The tickets were very reasonably prices, and it is small intimate venue.  Even not at the peak of her former dynamic self, Martha is still a talented and entertaining performer.  A dance down memory lane was very welcome, though our memories might be through rose colored glasses or whatever the equivalent is for ears.

If you have never heard the Motels, give them a listen.  It is worth it.

Only the Lonely


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Barad plays in a 3E gestalt character game

I joined a game recently where they are using gestalt characters in a third edition with house rules campaign.  Gestalt character definitions can be found in the Unearthed Arcana book.  There were only two players before I joined the game, so the DM chose to use Gestalt characters.

What is a gestalt character?  For a more robust description, look here at the d20srd site.  Short answer: to
support high-powered campaigns, characters essentially take two classes at every level, choosing the best aspects of each. The process is similar to multi-classing, except that characters gain the full benefits of each class at each level. If the two classes you choose have aspects that overlap (such as Hit Dice, attack progression, saves, and class features common to more than one class), you choose the better aspect. The gestalt character retains all aspects that don’t overlap.

Don't ask me to explain how the name links to the word as used in psychology - I don't get it.

If you are running a game, and have only 2-3 players, this is a way to have them cover more capability.  I think it takes a more experienced player to handle one, and certainly takes a more experienced DM to attempt to setup encounters in some sort of balance.  I think the write up in the Unearthed Arcana is spot on: gestalt characters are more powerful than regular characters but NOT twice as powerful.  You still only get one character's worth of actions per round, and even is you have more hit points due to using best in class, it still is not the amount two separate characters would have.

So, in the attack/capability area, you suddenly have more choice which is very powerful.  However, since the DM is hitting you with a larger challenge things can get swingy.  Our experience so far has been if we play well, and the the opponents hard, we do very well.  If we stumble a bit, if we lose the tempo, or get on the defensive things can go sour very quickly.

Most of 'monsters' are just that, regular monsters.  The DM may use higher challenge ratings, which can be dangerous if we don't have the necessary capability to take them down, or more often just use more monsters.  The DM does occasionally include gestalt opponents, but of course we do not know that until they do something unexpected.

All in all the game is fun.  There have been some awkward moments, but I think the DM has done a pretty good job of keeping the party challenged.  And there are times, gestalt character or not, we should just run away to fight another day.  Alas, that does not always happen, and death has occurred.  Usually happens when people get cocky or bored.  We may be powerful, but we are still just three in the action economy.

So, in summary, gestalt seems to be a viable choice if:

  • the party is 2-3 players
  • players and DM are experienced
  • you do not mind additional swingy-ness in the game
  • you do not get hung up on potential rule collisions and let the DM rule quickly and move on

The party consisted of a Paladin-Sorcerer, Fighter-Rogue, Fighter-Wizard, but the Paladin-Sorcerer perished in the last game. (...know when to run away...).  We'll see what he brings in next.  I find the Fighter-Wizard I am playing to be quite flexible and potent, and I am quite pleased that I always seem to have something useful and dangerous to do.  Have a big bad guy in front of me - go all fighter on him, then be suddenly surrounded by lots of troublesome little cretins - how'd you like that flaming hands.

That's it for now.
The dice never lie.
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