Adventures In Wonderland (1-4)

Last October our family started this fun series of children’s adventures. We had an ESL student we had hosted some time ago visiting for a few days, and it seemed like a great activity we could all enjoy.  We shared a review of Adventures in Wonderland #1: Chasing the White Rabbit at that time, and the kids loved it. So much so Kelly ran the second adventure the same night with only a quick scan of the PDF before playing. The third was played the next day.

Then a long time passed. Our former student returned to Japan. The kids begged and begged to find out what happened to the white rabbit. We played another fun kids adventure. And eventually a new chapter in the AIW series came out.

With Rugrat #3 old enough to not be napping, but young enough she can’t quite grasp everything that’s going on, we set her up as Kelly’s animal companion. She sat on Kelly’s lap, rolling her own set of dice randomly and chiming in to repeat what people said.

“Perfect summer day.”

Chasing the White Rabbit

Adventures in Wonderland #1

It had been a long time since we’d played, so we presented the rugrats with the idea of starting over. Rugrat #1 wasn’t too sure about it; he wanted to move on to the next part. We asked if he wanted a friend to come join us, and pointed out his friend might want to start at the beginning, and so it was agreed.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it starts like this: “On a lazy, do-nothing day the relaxed cloud-gazing of a group of young adventurers is interrupted by the mysterious appearance of a strange, teleporting white rabbit. What follows might be the oddest game of tag ever played, as the adventurers chase the white rabbit through a peculiar and colorful wood only to run afoul of an angry tree.”

This initial part is run much like a board game, introducing kids to their character sheets by way of skill challenges. Once players reach the end of the path they face off against the large tree, giving everyone a chance to test out their combat skills.

This first adventure is a great primer to games in general, not just roleplaying games. It gets the players used to rolling dice and moving their miniature across a board that is not unlike the board used to play Snakes and Ladders. Along the way, they will be introduced to Pathfinder RPG game terms, such as saving throw, attack roll, and skill check, as well as being introduced to the game’s central mechanic.

The rugrats remembered this from last time, and our 5-year-old barbarian grinned as he got the final blow (again).

When we finished this adventure, we asked the kids to summarize what happened.

Friend: “We landed on magic things.”

Rugrat #2: “I landed on a paw!”

Rugrat #1: “The tree picked up the rabbit.”

Down the Rabbit Hole

Adventures in Wonderland #2

“After chasing a white rabbit through the wood, a group of young adventurers find themselves falling down a peculiar rabbit hole! Can they puzzle their way out of the hole by feeding a hungry dictionary and playing the oddest game of peek-a-boo ever?”

Words for the Dictionary

Kelly and the kids were sucked in the rabbit hole and Rugrat #1’s friend looked a bit nervous. Then he asked if he could tie the rope in his inventory to an arrow, and attach that to the wall in case they started to fall. As written, there is no real threat here, but it was inspiring to see the problem-solving in action, so we had him roll it up. He looked so pleased when he succeeded.

And so we began the dictionary challenge. Friend recognized the weasel song the dictionary sings right away and bobbed his head along to the song. Rugrat #3 just continued to repeat what I said about the book.

Rugrat #3: “It flies out! It looks crazy.”

Rugrat #1, who loves to read, enjoyed this challenge immensely, and even Rugrat #2 confidently chimed in with a few words.

The part with the potion and the cake was a little more troublesome for the kids. Our rugrats have been lectured extensively to never consume anything that isn’t food and that we didn’t give them (there were a few too many cases of them chewing their nails, biting lego, and licking shopping cart handles). It took a bit of urging, and Kelly going first, for the kids to try the consumables, but in the end they did, and through the door they went, into the next adventure.

The second adventure is really fun and reinforces the idea that the players can use their imagination and their wits to overcome challenges. Clever players can likely make their way through this adventure never needing to roll dice. The module is also tame enough that even the most sensitive person will have no problem playing through it.

We don’t want to spoil all the surprises in this adventure, but once again we asked the kids for a summary of the journey so far.

Rugrat #1: “We met the diary!”

Friend: “We met the Peek-A-Boo!”

Rugrat #2: “We saw the book.”

 

The Dodo’s Race

Adventures in Wonderland #3

The third adventure has the players run the Dodo’s obstacle course. There are dragonflies, representing tally marks, following the characters around; anytime they were addressed, I had them respond by saying their names were all Mark. Rugrat #1 loves puns, and the idea of the dragonflies being called “Mark” was hilarious to him. When I said there were pictures of large dragonflies on the ground where they were meant to stand, and that their names were “Mark” as well, he looked amused.  When they started saying “Hey, I’m Mark” too, he broke into hysterics.

Honestly, this whole adventure had the kids in stitches once they figured out what was going on. At first the dodo’s strange way of speaking and constant misuse of words confused the kids, but once they figured it out, they just kept giggling.

Adventures in Wonderland #3: The Dodo’s Race has the PCs face off against some gelatinous blobs.  When we played the adventure the first time (in late 2016), Kelly made Jello jigglers; this time she opted for a bag of candy. The small pieces of coloured sugar stood in well for the opponents on the battle board, and the kids were able to eat them once the foe was defeated.  Needless to say, this was a hit with the kids.

By this point in the adventure path, the kids had the hang of some of the common RPG terminology and the dice, including which one was used for which purpose.

Kelly: “Roll your initiative.”

Rugrat #2: “Or your d20, whatever you want to call it!”

Rugrat #1 and his friend both wanted to heal Rugrat #2 when he got hurt. They started asking around the table who had the best heal and were super concerned, but thrilled they won the prize chest from the Dodo.

Friend: “Is the chest full of gummies?”

 

And this adventure’s summary?

Rugrat #1: “Hey, I’m Mark!”

Friend: “We wanted to eat jello. We saw jellyfish.”

The Dodo’s Race is another good installment in this series. It promotes team play, and reinforces that each character is going to have strengths and weaknesses, and that we work together to deal with situations as they arise. It also does a good job of giving the players choices. At no point are they forced to combat the various jellys, but they will make the subsequent tasks easier if they do. It’s a great mini-module for young players.

 

Message for the Duchess

Adventures in Wonderland #4This was new for the Rugrats, and for us, which brings us to the biggest disappointment of this series – it takes forever to be released. There is amazing art, fantastic maps, and a great story, but the huge gaps in release dates makes it difficult to keep the momentum going in any campaign, but especially one with kids.

The players made their way into the duchess’ home and eventually found their way to the ball pit where they were set upon by the snake-like baby mimics, who seemed to come out of nowhere.

Rugrat#2: “So it’s camouflaged in the balls?”

We rolled up initiative again, each time easier than the last as the kids were getting the hang of where to find the information. Rugrat #1 remained the best at adding the necessary numbers, but with a little encouragement, he gave his friend a chance to work on his own arithmetic helping out only when he or Rugrat #2 got stuck.

Friend: “I use snake attack! Snake attack! Oh wait, that’s sneak attack.”

We used the candies from the third adventure to represent the baby mimics, and once again, the kids were thrilled to defeat them. When the first one was destroyed (aka: eaten), the kids all chimed in saying it would be a great idea if each of them defeated a snake (and ate the corresponding candy). The thoughtfulness of that admittedly surprised Kelly and me who expected them to just fight over the candy. It also worked out really well that each child did take out their own snake, with a little help from Mama Witch who used a sleep hex on each of them. There was, of course, a bag of candy just in case the barbarian took out more than just his share.

We were running short on time at this point, so I truncated the search through some small tunnels and moved everyone along to the final encounter of the module (skipping the mirror ray encounter), which Rugrat #1 crushed due to his knowledge of the colours of the rainbow. The players then discovered the Duchess’ message around the neck of a cute stuffed bear. The bear is intended to be given to the characters as a reward, but the Duchess decided against giving it to them, since they opened her message without permission… whereupon the roguish friend decided to steal it from the narcoleptic woman, reasoning that it was okay because the game is just pretend. The party then moved on in the direction that the Duchess told them she saw the white rabbit move in, and the game ended.

A Message for the Duchess is a fun little mini-dungeon for new players to romp through. None of the challenges is too much for clever players.

What was your favorite part of the whole adventure?

Rugrat #2 & Friend: “Eating the gummies!”

Rugrat #3: “The bunny!”

Rugrat #1: “Hello, I’m Mark!”

I would highly recommend these adventures for new players. The way they gently increase the learning curve is excellent, acclimating the players to each mechanic as its introduced. On the whole, the only negative aspect of this mini campaign is that the modules are coming out slowly, and that the kids ask daily when the next one will be released.

What’s your favorite thing about playing Pathfinder?

Rugrat #2: “Being a character and all the stuff you can do, like sneaking!”

Rugrat #1: “The funny parts in the story, and the voices.”

 

Do you play any RPGs with kids in your life?

Have you checked out the Playground Adventures line of products before?

Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

doorway to another time

Way of the Worlds – A Design Journal

Last week I detailed my thoughts about Paizo’s new Starfinder Roleplaying Game. While the game itself is competent, if uninspiring to me, Kelly and I decided to use it to run a new campaign, partly in order to test the game out and see how well some ideas we have for products might fit. It may not be my favourite game, but hey, if you want to earn a few credits, you sell material for the systems that people will buy products for, right?

Here we go again…

Instead of taking the easy road and running straight from pre-existing material, Kelly suggested running a game inspired by a show she’s devoured on Netflix: Outlander. This is nothing new; Kelly works from home and occasionally the television is on in the background while she goes about her business.

If you aren’t aware of the premise, Outlander is about a young, married nurse who travels from 1945 Scotland to 1743 Scotland where she meets and falls in love with another man. The show is beautifully filmed, and is full of drama, intrigue, brief bouts of vicious brutality, and, of course, romance. It is well worth watching, if you are looking for something in the vein of A Game of Thrones with 100% more men in kilts and 80% fewer naked young women standing/writhing/being… seductive(?), during expository scenes.

But wait, there’s more!

While Outlander is a great place to start, I don’t want the game to primarily take place in the past with only framing sequences and flashbacks in the present. So looking at other stranger in a strange land tropes, I have taken inspiration from the DC Comics character Adam Strange, particularly the Adam Strange: Planet Heist miniseries by Andy Diggle and Pascual Ferry as well as, to a lesser extent, the Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds (which I believe is just called Adam Strange in its original mini-series release) story by Richard Bruning and the Kubert brothers. Adam Strange also led back to his sword and planet forebears, John Carter (of Mars!) and Carson (Napier) of Venus, both created by Edgar Rice Burroughs of course. As an aside, I’ve always preferred Carson to John Carter.

What do we do now?

So, now we have our premise of a young, affianced diplomat (yes, she is an envoy; our frustrations with this class are pretty well tested) who randomly travels from 317AG to 4717AD Korvosa on Golarion where she will meet another appealing young man who is completely different in temperament from her fiancé. Plenty here to create romance and drama, right? But what will the characters do? Where’s the adventure?

Here I look to pre-published material. While the first Starfinder adventure path is far from complete, I can look to the description of the adventures that comprise it, and adapt from those plot to literally collapse the Pact System via a weapon of mass destruction (called the Stellar Degenerator in the AP, but which I have renamed the Maw of Rovagug for… reasons). From here I have sketched out a solar system spanning series of events, full of action and tense negotiations.

starfarer's companion coverWhile in Korvosa, I am adapting the mostly fantastic Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path to the Starfinder system (with a little help from the Starfarer’s Companion by Rogue Genius Games). There’s a lot of drama already baked into this adventure path, and set in a pre-Victorian England and France inspired Korvosa, with sharp divides between social classes and plenty of unrest, it is already proving to be exciting! Having the two adventures running concurrently also allows me to move the action from one setting to the other when Curse of the Crimson Throne hits a portion Kelly is less likely to enjoy (namely anything involving a dungeon), or when there is extended travel through the Pact System.

What’s your inspiration?

I really enjoy adapting material that I enjoy into game material, and the rewards thus far have been immense. This has been a great campaign so far, with a lot of drama, and possibly some hard choices looming. It feels a lot like Outlander by way of Battlestar Galactica.

Does it sound appealing to you?

What material have you adapted for gaming, successfully or not?

What material do you think is ripe for adaptation?

Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

space

5 and 5 for Starfinder RPG

Now that Paizo’s new hotness, the Starfinder Roleplaying Game has been out for a couple months and we’ve had a chance to read the rules and take them out for a spin in our new, ongoing, Way of the Worlds campaign, I’m ready to expound on my favourite and least favourite aspects of the system.

Without further ado, the awesome:

1. It’s pretty. It’s really pretty.  With nearly a decade of being a top dog in the RPG industry, Paizo knows how to make a good looking book. The Starfinder Core Rulebook  is well laid out and is full of gorgeous art, with only a couple of clunky pieces, and no terrible ones. In particular I love the look of the chapters dealing with the races and classes, as well as the gorgeous depictions of the weapons, and the pulp sci-fi fishbowl helmets the space goblins (we’ll talk about that name later) wear make me smile.

2. The Pact System. When I did my 5 and 5 of the Pathfinder RPG, the default setting of Golarion made it onto my list of things I don’t like, and I expected the same of Starfinder’s Pact System. I find actually the reverse is true; with an entire galaxy to play with, each world (be it a planet, moon, worldship, or other) has room to be strongly themed without feeling forced or stepping on the toes of other locations in the system. I enjoyed the setting portion of the book more than I thought I would and am anticipating the release of the Pact System book next year.

3. Character themes and universal archetypes. Starfinder replaces Pathfinder’s traits with themes which are more akin to Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition’s backgrounds, albeit with a bit more mechanical weight. There are a decent number of themes in the core book, but these are easily expandable; I anticipate that the number will grow rapidly as Paizo releases new material.

Archetypes are now designed so they can be applied to any of the core classes, rather than being class specific as they are in Pathfinder. I like this change as it recognizes the fact that certain themes are fairly common, such as seafaring characters in a nautical campaign, and separate archetypes don’t need to be created for every class in the game to promote the theme.

4.  Familiar rules have been streamlined. The Starfinder rules framework is over seventeen years old, but Starfinder has found places to streamline and round off the edges to meet its idea of a sleek science fiction… sorry, science-FANTASY future. Iterative attacks have been removed in favor of a flat -4 penalty to each attack if a character wishes to attack twice in one round. Flat-footed armour class has been replaced with a much easier to apply flat-footed condition. Attacks of opportunity have fewer triggers. There are a ton of small changes and tweaks that largely smooth the familiar gameplay.

5. There is already plenty of support. While Paizo’s own support has been decent for such a young game, with an adventure, GM screen, pawns, and a free mini bestiary, there is already a respectable amount of third-party support from some of the bigger Pathfinder 3pp publishers such as Rogue Genius Games, Legendary Games, Fat Goblin Games, etc… I expect that the support from both the first and third parties will only grow, given the success this game has already achieved.

the moon

 

Give yourself to the dark side…

 

While there is certainly plenty to enjoy about Starfinder, I have an active compacter room full of complaints as well.

1.  Half the classes are lame. While the operative and soldier are clearly better versions of Pathfinder’s rogue and fighter, respectively (seriously, it feels like the design team looked at D&D 5e’s rogue and realized that the class is in fact supposed to be amazing), and the mechanic doesn’t offend me, the other classes fall flat.

The envoy, the class I was most looking forward to, is… not good. At all. Where I was hoping for a class that could awesomesauce its way through social situations using a new robust set of social rules, I got a cruddy bard that doesn’t even have magic to make up for the lack of facility present in the class chassis. Partly this is because there is no robust set of social mechanics, new or otherwise – there is Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate, the three Charisma based skills extant since the dawn of D&D 3.0, and despite the name of the class, the envoy isn’t necessarily better at any of those skills than any other class. The envoy can’t use words as weapons to erode his opponent’s resolve (his opponent likely doesn’t have resolve, that resource is mostly reserved for PCs). The envoy can’t even decide to point at an enemy to say, “go get ‘im, guys,” while moving thirty feet and shooting at said enemy in the same round. The envoy, in short, is a sucky pile of suck that would have been better served as an operative specialization, or an archetype.

While the mystic and technomancer are probably fine in their roles, and I do appreciate that there are only six spell levels thus far, neither class is particularly compelling to me, and honestly, the magic in the setting feels more tacked on than integral, so I found myself wishing this was a pure sci-fi game. Further, technomancer just feels like a stupid name for what essentially amounts to a sorcerer (they deemed it necessary to call out the in-space nature of space goblins and space pirates, why not just call them space wizards?), as they don’t seem overly great at tech type stuff… nor are they better at creating EDM or breakdancing, so… what gives with the name?

Finally, the solarion is a very specific peg in the otherwise generic hole of Starfinder’s classes. While Starfinder’s Jedi stand-in feels like it was dreamed up by the band Muse, with their black hole and supernova inspired powers, in reality, most members of the class will struggle for at least four levels as the default character generation method for the game doesn’t supply enough points to make their Charisma high enough to be survivable (via resolve), while also making their Strength, or Dexterity high enough to hit things regularly. And don’t make the mistake of creating a ranged combatant out of a Solarion as I did, because the class’s “stellar revelations” either promote melee combat or the imposition of negative conditions that will have a low save DC due to your Charisma probably being low despite it being your primary ability….

Starfinder RPG cover2.  Stamina, Hit Points, and Resolve. Prior to release, I was excited to read about the system’s dual use of stamina and hit points to denote life force and survivability, and of the ability to spend resolve (a “new” mechanic… that is essentially Pathfinder’s optional hero points) after a ten minute rest (shades of D&D 5e’s short rest and hit dice mechanics) in order to refresh all of a character’s stamina. In reality, stamina and hit points are the same thing, with stamina being reduced first prior to hit points being affected. Do critical hits bypass stamina to damage hit points directly? No they don’t. If a character has full stamina and is “hit” with a weapon coated in an injury poison, does she have to make a saving throw to avoid the effects of the poison? Yes she does, despite the fiction that stamina represents energy level/fatigue and hit points represent blood and gristle, so the poisoned weapon didn’t hit her at all. As for resolve, while it’s great that it can be used to refresh stamina or get a character reduced to 0 hit points back on her feet, some classes also use it to power abilities, leaving players with the choice of doing something awesome and class specific, or surviving the next fight. I know how my players will choose every time.

3.  Combat… is still a slog. For all of its rules tweaks and adjustments, Starfinder combat is even longer and more drawn out, in my experience, than it is in Pathfinder. Primarily this is due to creatures having more hit points (most monsters and NPCs don’t have stamina) than equivalent Pathfinder monsters, and the fact that the ranged weapons favoured by my player do what I consider to be ridiculously little damage at low levels. I am not certain what issue the design team takes with adding a character’s Dexterity modifier to ranged damage, but I wish they could get over it. The Weapon Specialization every class gains at 3rd level adds character level to damage, excepting small arms and weapons with the operative property which add half character level to damage, and grenades, which add nothing, but given that my player favours small arms and grenades, the damage boost doesn’t help much. In addition, melee combat is still a boring game of rush in and stand still while moving no more than 5 feet in a round because moving out of a threatened square still provokes attacks of opportunity.

4.  Everyone rides the gear train! I really like that many weapons in Starfinder inflict an additional effect on a critical hit, and as noted above, I think the illustrations of the weapons are outstanding, but otherwise, I’m not in love with gear in the game. Weapons and Armour in Starfinder are each given a level; the higher a weapon’s level, the more damage it deals, the higher a suit of armour’s level, the more protection it offers. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but I can’t name a sci-fi or fantasy novel I’ve read where the characters are constantly ditching their old stuff so they can pick up new stuff. This is likely just my issue, but I like the idea that a character can use the same weapon through their entire career, give it a name, build a legend around it… and Starfinder doesn’t let me do that without houseruling level based damage boosts.

5.  Where’s the beasts? Paizo’s copy for the Starfinder Core Rulebook states that it contains “all of the rules you need to play or run a game of Starfinder.” This is not true. The core rulebook does not have the rules to make monsters or NPCs, and as of this writing, the game’s bestiary has still not been released to retail. The Core Rulebook fails to even have an appendix with stats for basic creatures or animals; the only stat block in the book as far as I can tell, is the Space Goblin (really people… why isn’t it just a goblin?) Monark… which has a CR of 20… yeah, it’ll be a while before I throw that at anyone. Of all my complaints, I think this one is the most disappointing. Undoubtedly, all the monster and NPC creation rules will be evident in the Alien Archive, but really, they should be in the Core Rules.

Trust your feelings…

 From the complaints, you might think I really dislike the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, but that isn’t exactly true. There is a lot of game here, and a lot to like. Starfinder represents a further tightening of the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 ruleset; the gameplay is familiar but has been constrained in a mostly appealing way, though I do feel that a lot more of the rules adjustments found in Pathfinder Unchained could have been adapted for the new system.

At the same time though, from its rules, to its classes, to its races (I really think its time to start calling these species, or even ethnicities instead of races…) Starfinder feels safe and uninspired. The game largely fails to move beyond the classic D&D trope of killing monsters and taking their stuff.

While you could use the system to play involved investigations, or roleplay heavy campaigns of intrigue and skullduggery, and I certainly will (Our Way of the Worlds campaign will be the subject of next week’s entry, for real!), these will be successful despite the system, not because of it.

two happy people

5 and 5: One to One Gaming

We’ve all been there; you’ve just picked up a shiny new RPG that you’re really excited about, but you’re currently in the middle of an extended campaign with your current group, so getting to try out this new amazingness is impossible. Or maybe you’re not already in the midst of something, but getting your players to buy-in is proving difficult. Or perhaps something else is getting in the way of you playing this new game; regardless, you aren’t getting the chance to play something you want, and it’s frustrating you.

What is one to do?

Luckily we live in an age where a plethora of options exist to facilitate our gaming; today, I’m going to address some of the pros and cons of an option you have perhaps not given a lot of thought to: gaming with a GM and a single player, otherwise known as one to one gaming.

One to one gaming seems to be gaining some traction in recent years, with Pelgrane Press’s recent release of Cthulhu Confidential, Sine Nomine Publishing’s Scarlet Heroes, and Expeditious Retreat Press’s 1 on 1 Adventures line for the Pathfinder RPG coming to mind.

Kelly and I engage in one to one gaming on a regular basis (minds out of the gutter folks, we’re talking dice and character sheets here), and find it to be a great way to enjoy time with one another, but there are a few pitfalls to keep in mind as well.

The Good

1. Scheduling

Getting a group of four to six people together to play a game regularly is challenging, especially as players get older and their priorities and responsibilities shift. My group is comprised of six players as well as myself, all in our late thirties or early forties, and it is rare that all of us are attendant at a game session with work and family obligations understandably taking precedence. Finding time to get together to game with one person is undeniably easier.

2. Character Arc

How many times have you had a killer character concept that either didn’t work at all because of the other characters in the party, or just fell short of its potential due to being lost in the crowd, or for some other reason. This shouldn’t happen in a one to one game. The PC is the protagonist. There is no sharing of the spotlight because the campaign is all about them. In a one to one game, the two people playing should be able to focus on the aspects of the campaign that really appeal to them. Want to play a game that focuses on debate and intrigue, where the mere act of drawing a blade means something has gone horribly wrong? Do it. Want to play that campaign where the PC wanders the countryside on a quest to become the best swordswoman in the land? There’s no other players there to stop you.

3. Less Conflict

We always get along with our fellows, right? We’re adults after all. Sure. The more people there are in a group, the more likely that tensions will erupt. Everything from varying rules interpretations, to interpersonal issues, to resentment over who grabbed that last Dr. Pepper can lead to arguments. While there will certainly still be disagreements over some things in a one to one game, it is much easier to be reasonable and discuss things when it is just you and one other player rather than having a myriad of voices jumping in to add their two cents, or just as bad, have the rest of the group just sit there awkwardly while two people verbally (hopefully just verbally) spar.

4. You Can Just Play

I sometimes think that my gaming group spends three minutes goofing around for every minute they spend focusing on the game. In reality it probably isn’t so bad, but I still feel frustration when someone interrupts to tell a joke, or show another player something “hilarious” on Youtube, or spends more time looking at his phone, or my admittedly awesome collection of comic books than listening to what is happening in the game. One to one gaming doesn’t allow anyone to do that though. With only two players, the focus is primarily on the play experience. While there will always be small interruptions, an anecdote here, a brief discussion of some errand there, one to one play offers a much speedier experience.

5. Inspiration Abounds

Anywhere you look, you can find inspiration for a one to one campaign. Did you love playing through Dead Space? Me too. And translating that video game into a tabletop experience for one player is as easy as finding the game maps and a walkthrough online, and deciding which monsters you’re going to reskin as the game’s necromorph enemies.  Are you a big Harry Potter fan? One to one gaming allows you to be the Boy that Lived without having the rest of the group pouting that they aren’t as special.

So that’s all good, right? Well it isn’t all puppies and unicorns…

The Challenging

1. Heavy GMing 

One to one play can be awesome, but it has a heavy load for a prospective GM. With only one player, the GM needs to prepare more material than for a group, because it can be played through rapidly. The GM also has little downtime in play because there are no other players to discuss matters with; The GM is almost always “on.” While one to one games can be very rewarding, they can also be exhausting.

2. Paradox of PC Choice 

Similarly, the player in a one to one game needs to make every substantial choice; there isn’t anyone else to bounce ideas off of, and a GM rarely wants to use an NPC to tell the player what the best option is. Players that have difficulty making decisions may find a one to one game gets bewildering and stressful.

3. Some Game Aspects Are Problematic 

When you only have one player, certain things need to be avoided. Commonly used fantasy tropes such as mind-affecting magic and fear need to be designed around or avoided entirely. Any effect that takes the control of the character away from the player can only be used sparingly as a plot device if it is used at all.

4. Most Adventures are Designed for a Group

Most published adventures, regardless of system, are designed with an expectation of a group of players and altering them for one player can often be more work than just designing your own scenarios from scratch. GMs that want to be able to just run a game from published material with minimal fuss may have difficulty doing so in a one to one game.

5. It Can Get Real

I’ve found that one to one gaming can occasionally trigger unexpected reactions in one or both players. It shouldn’t be a surprise really, there is an opportunity to really delve into the characters and world in a one to one game that I rarely find in typical group gaming. Players that really get into character, so-called method actor players, can find themselves dealing with real emotional trauma as a result of situations in game. One to one gaming can demand that the two players involved trust one another more than typical group situations do.

Grab a Dance Partner!

I personally recommend gaming with one GM and one player, at least some of the time. It has been very fulfilling for me, and has offered me the opportunity to play some campaigns that I wouldn’t have been able to with a group.

Have you played an RPG with just one player and one GM? If so, tell us how your experience was in the comments below.

Wish

Ken’s Gaming Bucket List – Campaigns

I turned forty this August. Despite it being a landmark of a sort, at my request it was a quiet day spent with immediate family and a couple of close friends and their kids. It was near perfect.

A birthday like this, of course, has led me to assess my life to date, to revel in the victories and throw another coat of spackle over the parts I’d rather put far behind me (in reality, I’m prone to constant self-critique, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s pretend that isn’t the case). While I’m certain that a reckoning of my neuroses and an itemized list of things I have yet to accomplish would be a riveting read, let’s get to the meat of this article: the RPG campaigns I want to run but have not yet had the chance. What has made this storied list? Well, for starter’s there is:

Eyes of the Stone Thief – Pelgrane Press (13th Age)

I’m not a big fan of megadungeons. A series of keyed encounters heavy on combat but light on role play just doesn’t do a lot for me. Eyes of the Stone Thief is a different beast though. The Stone Thief is a megadungeon, certainly. But it is also its own character, and if the GM does their job even reasonably well, their players will hate this vindictive and evil place.  The fact that Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is one of the best adventure scribes in the business helps as well; if it will help make the GM’s task easier, he has likely included it. From adventure hooks, to icon relationships, to campaign structure, to dungeon configuration changes, to a chart that makes it easy to track when the titular living dungeon will/should dive back into the bowels of the earth, the tools are close to hand.

Chance of Playing: Good. Eyes of the Stone Thief will be conquered by my players one day. Or it will consume them. It is just a matter of time.

Zeitgeist: The Gears of Revolution – EN Publishing (Pathfinder RPG)

Zeitgeist is likely the most ambitious campaign produced for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to date. In its twenty levels, the player characters will advance from being lowly constables attempting to prevent dockside riots to key players in their world, defeating nigh-godlike fey titans and, ultimately setting the course for the next age of the world. The world deserves some mention as well; despite the relative brevity of the Campaign Guide, Zeitgeist’s world, calling it a fey-steampunk marvel doesn’t do it justice, is compellingly well drawn. Zeitgeist is a campaign full of heavy themes, that will demand the best of the GM and players, but if it plays half as well as it reads, it will provide one seriously epic campaign.

Chance of Playing: Excellent. I will likely run this as a solo game; the intrigue and emphasis on role play over dungeon crawl will appeal to Kelly.

The Darkening of Mirkwood / Tales from Wilderland – Cubicle 7 (The One Ring)

When it comes to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (other than The Hobbit), I prefer the films to the books. Yes, I am a godless philistine, I’ve come to terms with it. My current favourite fantasy RPG, The One Ring, however, hews much more closely to the literary source material than to the shield riding shenanigans seen on the big screen. While it may seem to be a bit of a cheat to list two adventures here, there is a good reason: The Darkening of Mirkwood is a sprawling campaign frame full of lightly sketched adventures that cover thirty years (!) from 2947 through 2977. Tales from Wilderland, on the other hand, offers a handful of discrete, excellently designed scenarios that a Loremaster (GM) can slot into the above campaign. There’s a lot to like in these books, but I think my favourite aspect is the expectation that the PCs be heroic. After playing RPGs with largely the same group of people for twenty years, I’ve seen every flavour of douchebag mercenary behavior (“I’m just playing in character, Dweazel the Hamstringer would totally burn down the orphanage just so the populace could see him rescue the orphans from the blaze. How else is he supposed to get a special ladyfriend…) it would be nice to have them actually be the good guys, just this once.

Chance of Play: Moderate. Though ToR is not a difficult system to learn and use, it isn’t D&D or a derivative thereof; getting my players to buy in will likely be difficult.

 

Eternal Lies – Pelgrane Press (Trail of Cthuhlu)

 Eternal Lies is a monster that spans generations as well as continents. While I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, it is a horror-mystery after all, it is safe to say that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) come home to roost, forcing subsequent generations to fix their forebears grave mistakes… or die trying. The nice thing about this campaign is not just that it’s a compelling story; this book is laid out in a way that makes it easy to use. Information is clearly called out. Keeper (GM) material is clearly delineated from player information. Designer notes and anecdotes are copious. The campaign is also open, so while there is definitely an overarching plot, the investigators are free to go where the clues take them without worrying that they’ll miss out on something important.

Chance of Play: Good. When the stars are right, I will run this. Depending on her leveI of interest, I can run it solo for Kelly if necessary; Pelgrane Press does have rules for one Keeper one player play after all…

 

The Dracula Dossier – Pelgrane Press (Night’s Black Agents)

Pelgrane Press hits my bucket list for a third time, as does designer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. There’s a reason for these trends: Pelgrane Press makes fantastic system-seller material for their games, and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is a top-tier RPG designer. The Dracula Dossier is two books, The Director’s Handbook, which, as the name implies, contains all of the material an NBA director (GM) needs to run the campaign, and Dracula Unredacted, which is the “real” story as transcribed by Bram Stoker. The two books are extensively cross referenced and both serve to build not just an epic GUMSHOE campaign; they are simply the best RPG adventure I have ever read. I’ve read a lot of adventures over the last thirty-two years, and none of them matches, let alone exceeds this. Honestly, nothing else even comes within spitting distance. The best part isn’t the extensive research the authors obviously did. It isn’t the almost excessive work done to make such a sprawling sandbox easily playable for the director. It isn’t even that whoever gets to play in this campaign is in for something truly epic. The best part is that I could hand (or more likely send a PDF) a copy of Dracula Unredacted to my players and say, “Read this in whole or in part… and tell me where you want to start.” This campaign can be completely driven by the investigators, and the material is presented in a way that the director won’t have any real trouble in adapting to their moves. I’m not sure how Pelgrane Press, or any other company for that matter, will be able to top this.

Chance of Play: High. One way or another, I will run this campaign eventually.

 

So there it is…

While there are other campaigns I’d be happy to run, these five are the ones I’d be most excited to. I was hoping that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition would have produced something to add to the list, but no luck so far. Not that there aren’t good campaigns for 5e, all of the ones Wizards of the Coast has produced so far have been good, some very good, but none of them are superb in my opinion. This is still better than 3.5 or 4th Edition which had one excellent adventure each (Red Hand of Doom and Madness at Gardmore Abbey respectively) and a bunch of dreck otherwise. Despite producing some of my favourite campaign settings, 2nd Edition AD&D has no memorable modules or campaigns I can think of off the top of my head…

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Which campaigns are on your bucket list? Let us know!

Inclusivity… It’s a Good Thing

I recently read this article, which coalesced a lot of thoughts I have about parenting and geekdom. The TL;DR is that a mum took her Dr. Who loving daughter to a convention and some middle-aged jackanapes took the opportunity to… um… ensure that said daughter was geek enough to show her love for the Doctor.

Which, What or, Who is Best?

Sadly, in my experience, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence, nor is it a new one, though I feel that, as geek culture increasingly becomes pop culture it is becoming more widespread. I remember being snubbed by an older comic enthusiast as I eagerly bought back issues of Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, and Uncanny X-Men when I was twelve years old. Apparently I should have been reading Swamp Thing and Love and Rockets instead (incidentally, I have rarely been impressed with the work of Alan Moore… coincidence? Who’s to say). I remember being ridiculed for purchasing the Tome of Magic for 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Apparently only losers played D&D; all the cool geeks were playing RIFTS. Yes, I said “the cool geeks.”

These days we don’t even need to go to the local game store or a convention to be taunted or mocked for our loves and enthusiasms, we just need to go to our favourite website of nerdity and there will faceless people with silly names who, emboldened by their online anonymity, mercilessly troll any and everyone that doesn’t agree with their point of view. I’m not saying that everyone online is like this, of course, or even that most people are. I imagine that the vast majority of online geeks are just as awesome as I am. But we all know about bad apples and the effect they have on good apples.

Anyone who has read this blog before knows that Kelly and I are gaming geek parents looking to bring our rugrats up in the culture, and nothing makes that less likely than having some… uber-geek start questioning why they like something and suggesting they’re wrong to like it. Not everyone has a skin thick enough to shrug off the slings and arrows of self-appointed geek gatekeepers, and they shouldn’t have to.

Live and Let Love

It’s time to take the gates down and let everyone in, because there isn’t a right answer to who the best Doctor is. Or which issue of Action Comics has the most emotional value. Or whether or not Luke is too whiny in A New Hope. Or even if you should take a feat or an ability score increase in 5th Edition D&D. It’s just awesome that more people than ever before have access to the sundry geek properties that we love, and hopefully, will help ensure that we still have them in the future. Continuing to pretend that geekdom is some members-only club, however, will eventually have the opposite effect.

Sound off!

If you have any thoughts on this week’s post, or want to know why Wildats Version 3.0  is one of my favourite comic series’ produced in the last 20 years, or want to politely disagree with me that Veronica Mars was television gold (quality and story-wise if not in viewership) please do so in the comments below.

Gaming and Family Values – A Quandary

As gamer geek parents to a trio of rugrats, Kelly and I are always looking for ways to get our kids involved in our hobby. Something that troubles me however, is that the methods that most RPGs use to resolve tasks are pretty much the exact opposite of the values we are trying to instill into the ‘rats. It isn’t that we are utopian idealists; the ‘rats are still pretty young. The whole fantasy-reality divide is still a pretty complex notion for them. Rugrat #1, age 7, is sweet and sensitive; he finds violence scary and wants to find a diplomatic solution to every in-game challenge (this is not mirrored in his interactions with Rugrats #2 and #3; violence and disdain are his go-to methods for handling disagreements with them). Rugrat #2, age (nearly) 5, wants to hit everything. Hard. Finding the balance point between the two styles of play can be a challenge. Additionally, we frequently tell the Rugrats that violence isn’t a solution to their problems, but in most RPGs, the reverse is often true. How do we instill the value of discussion, compromise, and compassion in real-life while laughing at the slaughter of innocent, imaginary kobolds in-game?

Nonlethal combat isn’t really an answer; it is still violence after all, and while I’ve seen plenty of suggestions for pitting kids against non-humanoid adversaries, in the real world it is no more acceptable to beat up a dog, cat, wolf, or rat than it is another person. Many games feature mechanics regarding the use of social skills, but they can also be troubling, as often they revolve around intimidation (bullying) and bluffing (lying).

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of answers to the issues I’ve posed above; mostly I write this because I’m trawling for ideas. However, listening to the kids’ entertainment selections does provide me with a few ideas.

Environmental challenges are great to pit children against. While I’m not certain that I’ve seen a full episode, I’ve heard approximately one billion episodes of Octonauts and Paw Patrol. Often the drama and challenge faced by the protagonists is provided by the environment: some innocent creature is caught up a tree / has fallen in the water / is lost… you get the idea. While I’m not keen on having them slay dragons quite yet, I can definitely see the value in having them rescue people from a village that a dragon is burning down.

Stealth based challenges are also quite nice for kids. While I don’t want to teach them that sneaking around is a good thing to do, I think that letting them attempt to tiptoe around a table full of goblins who are dozing due to drinking too much bug juice is fun. It also helps to teach the rugrats that, dire as they are, there is real value in looking at a problem from all angles and selecting the best resolution method at their disposal. To further this, I think there is a benefit in placing obvious items in a challenge environment that will allow the protagonists to trap, avoid, or otherwise neutralize a threat without resorting to beating it with a stick. If the players don’t catch on to the obvious items, mention them a few times. Be obvious. These are kids. Teaching them this lesson now could very well lead to more excitement at the game table when they are older.

So What’s Out There?

white rabbit coverBefore I wrap this up, there are a few companies making quality RPG material intended for a younger audience. In the Pathfinder and D&D 5th Edition space, Playground Adventures has released a number of excellent modules that we’ve run for the rugrats (The Chasing the White Rabbit series by J Gray has been very much enjoyed with repeated queries from the kids regarding when the remaining parts will release). I particularly like that PGA offers adventures with diverse challenges and offers non-violent resolution methods in many cases.

Legendary Games also offers the Legendary Beginnings line of adventures in both PFRPG and 5e. Legendary Games’ offerings, such as the Trail of the Apprentice Adventure Path have a more “traditional” presentation than PGA’s, and hew a bit more toward classic RPG tropes such as dungeon delving. It needs to be noted as well, that Legendary Games’ adventures spend less space than PGA’s on suggesting non-violent task resolution. All of the above aside though, and Trail of the Apprentice is a really nice series of adventures that I’m looking forward to running when the children are a bit older.

Outside the big two of fantasy RPGs, No Thank You, Evil! By Monte Cook Games strips down the already lean Cypher System even further to present a family friendly game that I haven’t read but know I will get to sooner than later; No Thank You, Evil! has great word of mouth, and I really like Monte Cook Games’ other games.

young centurions cover

Evil Hat Productions’ Young Centurions is a FATE Accelerated game of teenage pulp heroes. Young Centurions is a great read and an exciting setting for those who are looking for something other than typical fantasy/sci-fi. FATE Accelerated is also a fantastic system for first-time players. It provides the structure that the game needs while keeping out of the way of the story being created.

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Do you have suggestions or ideas regarding this topic? Any favourite kid-friendly roleplaying games or adventures? Let us know in the comments!

broken car

Help, I’m Alive! – Deadworld Design Journal 1

As with so many things, this all started with Kelly telling me she had watched something she really enjoyed. In this instance it was Van Helsing, a television series that details the activities of a mysteriously badass woman who kills vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. She then had me watch it as we worked in the evenings after the rugrats had nested for the night. I liked it well enough. As Kelly suspected, it gave me a few ideas I could translate into RPGs.

She then started watching Z Nation, which she really got excited about, so, once again, I started watching it with her (she kindly allowed me to start at the beginning). I was leary at first.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead to the end of the seventh season. I read the first hundred issues of the comic book. I stopped both because I found them wearying. Their relentless bleakness made me wonder why any of the principal characters wanted to survive aside from sheer masochism. I liked Z Nation more than TWD (or Van Helsing for that matter). It was cheesy, had some bad acting and questionable production values, but its bones were good. And the scenarios and ideas in play seemed like someone had translated their zombie apocalypse gaming sessions into an awesome series of short B movies. In short, its makers remembered that sometimes its okay to be fun or silly, even in the midst of death.

Shortly after I started watching Z Nation, Kelly asked if I wanted to change campaigns while we were on vacation; switch from our Supernatural inspired modern occult investigation campaign to one set in the zombie apocalypse. Sure, I said, thinking that this would be a short term thing. I should have known better….

Location Matters

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I lightly sketched out zombified North America. The best zombie entertainment, in my opinion, begin in the aftermath of whatever apocalyptic event brought the world to its knees, so I decided to set our game four years after Z-Day. Our game would start in Virginia, at the University of Virginia per Kelly’s character’s background. A portion of the University has been turned into a secure compound under a chauvinistically tyrannical thumb. The rest of the campus is kept free of the dead and other riffraff by the compound’s soldiers, who also make scavenging forays into other less friendly territories. Women, children, and the elderly take care of the compound itself, ensuring that it runs smoothly and that the soldiers are comfortable.

Beyond the compound’s environs, the US is a patchwork of disparate factions vying for limited resources. The larger a community was, the harder it was hit on Z-Day, so there is marginally more safety from the dead in the less populated regions of the country.  Much of Kansas is controlled by a charismatic clergyman and his chosen Redeemers. There is a roughly triangular region anchored by Chicago, Springfield, and Indianapolis where the sun no longer rises. Locals of this area have taken to calling it Neverlight, outsiders merely say that it is Always Dark and avoid the area. It is rumored that there are… things… in the dark. Texas is reputed to be free of the dead and is ruthlessly controlled by four Oil Barons. The waters have reclaimed southern Louisiana; New Orleans is now generally known as The Sunken City. There are points of light as well: the southern tip of Vancouver Island has been walled off and is free of the dead, if rumours are true, though one must endure eight weeks of solitary quarantine if they are to join Utopia, as it is called by the desperate. There are other safe zones out there, somewhere.

Alert Status Red

Being set in the zombie post-apocalypse, zombies will of course be well represented. Regular, lurching zombies, fast zombies, plague spewing zombies… they’re all in there. People with their myriad array of abilities and allegiances of course will likely pose the biggest threat, ultimately. But there needs to be more… Taking a page from Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, tyrant and nemesis-like undead menaces will present themselves from time to time.

The dead are comprised of more than just zombies as well. As described above, there is a region that never sees daylight. What kind of undead creatures could thrive in such a place? I can think of one or two.. or perhaps more. And… and this is my favourite part… there are ghouls. Yes. Ghouls. What is terrifying to people inured to the horror of the zombie apocalypse? Dead things that are social, intelligent, and ever-hungry for living flesh are. The ghouls, and their queen, have plans. And while they would love to see the population of humans increase, it would certainly be to the detriment of the general quality of life…

The End is Here

I think that is enough to chew on for the time being. Next time, I will discuss the system, resources used, and some house rules that have been implemented to better simulate the system’s implementation of the theme.

Comment below!

What have I missed? What kind of things would you like to see in your zombie apocalypse? Sound off in the comments.

3 Things for Young Gamers to Read

My love of roleplaying games was ignited when I received the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (Mentzer/BECMI) for my eighth birthday. I imagine my mum picked it out for me because she knew how much I had enjoyed reading The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia the previous year. The truth is, while I truly had enjoyed these newly discovered (by me) fantasy classics, I was not a fussy consumer of the written word. I could, and did, read almost everything I could get my mitts on, from Greek myths, to The Great Brain, to the Babysitter’s Club, I read it all. And once I was introduced to D&D, all of it informed the kinds of games and characters I wanted to play.

Our eldest rugrat is approaching the age I was when that iconic red box with the Larry Elmore painting was seared into my psyche, and he is as voracious a reader as I was. We have played a few, mostly successful, sessions of Pathfinder RPG, and I am eager to keep him enthusiastic between adventures. The following is the first in a series of musings about stories that are universally excellent, and will appeal to both kids and their RPG loving parents – in my opinion at least.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizards of Oz coverLong before Narnia, Middle Earth, Prydain, or Hogwarts, were committed to paper, Lyman Frank Baum introduced the world to the land of Oz. Bordered on all sides by desert that will reduce anyone who sets foot upon it to dust, Oz is a kitchen sink land wherein Baum mashed together fairy tales and fables with a healthy dollop of imagination and a pinch of good, old-fashioned psychedelia.

I’m not going to write at length about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; you likely already know the story (or at least the classic film’s version of it). It makes my list because it is the first of a fourteen book series Baum wrote about the setting. That’s right. Fourteen. (Not including the dozens written by other authors after Baum’s death.) Each of which is better than this first one (in my opinion, of course), and all but one of which have numerous beautiful illustrations by John R. Neill.

It is also worth noting that, for a series written in the last years of the 19th and first years of the 20th centuries, the Oz books are remarkably progressive with regard to gender equality. There are numerous female protagonists, among them Dorothy, Ozma, the Patchwork Girl, and Betsy Bobbin, all of whom are the equal of any of the males in the series. In the interest of full disclosure, however, the human characters are largely, though not entirely, white and there are a few troubling ethnic stereotypes evident (which have been stripped out, along with those gorgeous illustrations in many modern editions of the books).

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the series that followed, offers young readers hours of reading that will ignite their imaginations and give them plenty of fodder to fuel their roleplaying adventures.

Bone

Jeff Smith

Bone cover imageJeff Smith’s Bone is a marvel from its hilarious beginning to its heartbreaking conclusion. The series begins with the titular protagonist, Phone Bone, travelling through a wasteland with his cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, after being run out of their hometown due to Phoney’s most recent scheme. The Bone cousins soon find themselves driven into the Valley by a massive locust swarm, where they meet one of the best casts of characters ever evidenced in a comic book, and get drawn into a tale of legacy and destiny.

Bone introduces its plots very deftly, drawing the reader in with humour and appealing artwork, but peppering the trail with questions and mystery. Who is the Lord of Locusts? Why is he obsessed with Phoney Bone? Why is the Great Red Dragon watching over Phone Bone? Where did the rest of the dragons go? Why does that one rat creature love quiche so much? How did Kingdok get so BIG?

Further, from the perspective of a role player, the protagonists model the general dysfunction of every single party of PCs I’ve ever experienced. Phone Bone (neutral good) wants to help Thorn (neutral good) and Gran’ma Ben (lawful neutral) but scheming Phoney Bone (neutral evil) ropes Smiley Bone (chaotic neutral) into his capers and inevitably leads everyone into danger.

I have no criticisms of Bone. It is one of the few comic series’ that I have purchased as individual issues, collected black and white trade paperbacks, the massive black and white one volume edition, and the colour Graphix/Scholastic trade paperbacks. I don’t have the colour hardcover collections, but there is still time – don’t test me. Better yet, go get them for your kids (and read them yourself if you haven’t already).

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Carolyn Keene (pseudonym for various authors)

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories coverYou could replace this with Hardy Boys Mysteries if you wish, but I always preferred Nancy Drew. She was the gateway for my lifelong love of girl detectives (shout out to Veronica Mars and Liv Moore). Like many of the books I read in my childhood, I stumbled upon my first Nancy Drew mystery, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher in my grandparents’ pool (as in billiards) room. Nancy was talented, intuitive, and sassy; it was love at first read. In my first exposure to her, Nancy solves a number of mysteries, via means that would likely be considered quaint, if not antiquated, by modern standards, that eventually lead her to the Nazca Lines in Peru.

The story kept me captivated throughout, and had me scouring my grandparents’ bookshelves for other Nancy Drew Mystery Stories… of which there were several, along with mysteries featuring those aforementioned Hardy Boys. Nancy has been solving crimes since 1930, so there are hundreds of novels featuring her just waiting to be placed in your kids’ hands. I was recently perusing the shelves at a local used book store when I noticed they had a massive collection of Nancy Drew mysteries; it may be time for me to go pick some of them up.

How about you?

So there there it is, the tip of the iceberg. What material do you recommend for kid gamers? And were any of the above favorites on your childhood bookshelf? Sound off in the comments below!

For the Hive Image

For the Hive – a Review

For the Hive is an adventure for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, published by Playground Adventures for their “Fun & Facts” educational adventure line.

In this module, for four 2nd to 3rd level characters, the sprite Bzzercup approaches the PCs to help her liberate a fairy bee hive from Chuft, a pugwampi gremlin, and along the way, they learn a few things about real-world bees. By default, the adventure takes place in Playground Adventures’ village of Glavost, which has been showcased in several of their other adventures, though the village doesn’t play a prominent roll and the adventure could be transplanted to any other village or town with no fuss.

Details for Potential GMs Only

The adventure begins with a visit to the library where the adventurers meet up with apprentice wizard Owen who introduces them to the aforementioned Bzzercup. Once she has described her dilemma, the PCs need to solve the first problem: making themselves small enough to fit in a beehive. To accomplish this, there is a puzzle to solve which will net them a potion that allows them to “be the bug.” The puzzle comes with two levels of difficulty, which is nice for GMs with younger or less patient players.

When the young adventurers solve the puzzle and shrink themselves down (and get sprayed with bee pheromones), they must deal with the next challenge: crossing the yard to the hive. The yard is represented with a gorgeous full colour map (with a player friendly version at the back of the book), and allows the players to determine their route to the hive, with the chance for action during the journey, depending on the route chosen. Travel across the yard is well portrayed, with challenges appropriate to the PCs’ state. From an encounter with a now giant-seeming mantis, to escaping the “river” created by  a watering can, to evading a hazardous field of flying dandelion fluff, there are plenty of iconic Honey, I Shrunk the Kids moments.

Once the yard has been crossed, it’s time to get into the hive, but first the PCs must contend with Chuft’s minions, which take the form of origami paper wasps. The wasps are neat foes, and allow the players to unleash the full weight of their characters’ combat abilities without worrying about hurting anything. Defeating these foes lets the PCs enter the hive which is a linear five room dungeon, with a small challenge to overcome when transitioning from area to area. My comment about the linearity of the hive shouldn’t be taken as a complaint. This adventure is for children as young as four; the focused nature of the dungeon is appreciated.

At the end of the dungeon, the PCs meet face to face with Chuft and two or three paper wasps. I personally have a few reservations about pugwampis… I ran Legacy of Fire Part 1: Howl of the Carrion King for my regular group and the pugwampis bad luck aura caused men in their thirties to have tantrums… this adventure is for kids… fortunately, in play, the one pugwampi didn’t cause any emotional outbursts. Once Chuft is defeated, the adventure is over – save a bit of wrap-up.

Summary

For the Hive is a well written adventure that isn’t too taxing of a read and, as written, doesn’t look too taxing to run. The read-aloud text is copious and the challenges are varied; both do a good job of making the players feel like their characters have shrunk down to the size of insects. The combats tend to be against insects or constructs (that look like insects), so there isn’t too much worry on my part about the level of violence in the adventure.

Formally, the module is gorgeous, with thematically appropriate graphic design, beautiful maps, and nice artwork, all in full colour, though a printer friendly version would be nice for those that print their pdfs out.

There is an instance of layout weirdness regarding the puzzle mentioned above: the simpler version of the puzzle isn’t located where the text indicates it is, but rather three paragraphs later, which is confusing. I think it would make sense to box the puzzle text, which would dispel the confusion.

The adventure is stuffed with tidbits about bees, so teaching opportunities abound. If you are a parent looking for a nice adventure for your young kids, you would do well to pick this one up. Five Stars for For The Hive!