Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Almost EPIC weekend!

Well, what a long weekend!

This May long weekend the Pirates of the Plains held their "Almost Epic" weekend of gaming. Yours truly was there of course with my level 18 Wizard (D&D 4th), Terron Elanese. The weekend started right away for us with a "double round" adventure (8 hours) broken into 2, 4 hour "slots" Friday night and concluding Saturday Morning. It was a really well written adventure with some very challenging fights. In the end our table sided with the Frost Giant Jarl instead of an insane god fighting NPC (non-player Character). The other table did decide to work with her so each table had different encounters and rewards at the end of the adventure.

I love adventures where there are different avenues to go and 2 tables can have completely different experiences. It makes for some interesting table chat later in the day! I find with the Living Forgotten Realms adventures that authors fall into 2 categories- storytellers with good direction and "no nonsense" writers that like a basic story to get the players where they need to go quickly (we refer to this as an "A to B to C" adventure).

The only problem with LFR adventures is they are built on a time restraint train of thought. We have 4 hours to complete an adventure (8 for a double round) with a 30 minute time period for getting all the paperwork completed. Yes, there is some tracking involved with RPGA campaigns. Gold and XP as well as the items adventurers collect need to be tracked.

So some authors decide to make the story very simple (go rescue person X from location Y) and make the combats very challenging. My largest "gripe" is when authors are not well versed on rules and they "box text" rules that are illegal or incorrect. Our DMs are usually very good at spotting them and adjusting the adventure accordingly.

Back to the weekend. When I noticed how busy the store may get over the weekend I called in my Minion, Dayna, to run the store on Saturday. This helped my tables keep on pace with the games. Sunday was a bit slower so I pulled double duty running the shop and playing D&D (sometimes it's good to be the boss!). Our next adventure was the conclusion to the story arc started in the previous adventure. We swapped players around so some of the players had a "major reward" for completing the main plot while a couple of us did not (this ended up being beneficial for my girlfriend, Gwen). My wizard was now 19th level and had a couple more fun powers to toss around the battlefield! The game ended just before midnight and we had to be back Sunday morning at 9:30am to get the next adventures running!

So we got back to it bright and early Sunday morning with another double round adventure. Our table had once again changed players around (the beauty of LFR) so we got to play with some of the guys from Edmonton that came down for the EPIC weekend. What a grind! The combats were very complex for the DM and very frustrating for the players (well, not me, I take this stuff in stride!) with many of the monsters Dominating, blinding and otherwise making combat slow to a halt. This again is not the DMs fault and I do understand from an authors POV that players are now 19th to 20th level and need a challenge, but there is a difference between a challenge and frustrating the players until the literally let out a scream in frustration (true story!).

Again, this adventure was a very well written story, but the author was not the best at rules (you can tell) and had some really crappy interpretations written in the adventure for the DM. But we all survived and Terron hit 20th level.

Now you may be thinking, one level in a single adventure? Not really. It's just the way my XP was working as to where my character flipped. And remember we are talking about 12 hours of adventuring to get this level. That is pretty average in LFR. 3 adventures and you should level. So by Sunday evening we had already played through an equivalent to 6 regular adventures.

Sunday night was by far my favourite adventure in the lot, CORM2-4 Fury of the Queen of Thorns. This adventure was the final piece in the Queen of Thorns trilogy which I had already played. My Wizard is a "War Wizard of Cormyr" and ever since Forgotten Realms came out I've always wanted a character to become a War Wizard. So when the new LFR came out and that Paragon Path was announced I was in. I made Terron my focus as much as possible.

So this set of adventures has been very well written, both in story and challenge of combats. This one was no exception and by far the best adventure I've played in recent memory. The whole plot of this story Arc is that the "Queen of Thorns" has been prophesized about returning and will destroy Cormyr if the current King or any of his line sit in power when she returns. So the heroes have been asked to help with the preparations of the coming invasion of undead, beasts and plant creatures when the King calls us into his private chambers.

He explains that there is a law on the books that if the current King is killed in battle that there is a 1 day "mourning" ritual and at that time, there is no king or leader in Cormyr. So his plan is simple. He must die in combat!

Now, I'm not a huge role-player, but there are some adventures that really can throw me into the the story and if the DM is really into the story then so am I. Well, our DM, JP, is a big story and RP kind of DM. I've also known him for 12 years and he is a great friend. So I really let my role-playing go with this one.

Players around the table were really taken aback by this and I in particular as Cormyr has a "special" place in my heart when it comes to D&D. I was appalled and came up with a multitude of arguments (nearly calling the king an idiot!) and trying desperately to figure out better options. But as all things, the King had made up his mind, but he also had a way out. His plan was to fight and have us beside him on the battlefield. We were to make the combat "look good" and let him die a heroic death. He had a ritual cast on an amulet that would allow him to be raised later, but this would leave the Kingdom without him or his lineage on the throne for 24 hours. This would give us the time we needed to defeat the Queen of Thorns.

The combat was very well written but had very special rules with it. Basically there were points to be scored for making the battle "look good" and convincing. JP determined that for added challenge we needed a score of 20+. There were very specific things we needed to do and more importantly things we had to avoid (such as blooding or killing any of the monsters until the King died). Well, we put on a show! We scored points for using Action Points and Daily Powers and we unleashed hell!

The best part of the combat was the King attacking a mutated Treant and scoring a Critical Hit. This bloodied the creature and the next time it went, down went the King! We mopped up the creatures and then it was on to the Queen! Again another well written combat with really unique creatures and the Queen was no pushover.

For me the "coolest" part of the adventure was the Reward. Terron is already a "Knight of Cormyr" from previous adventures and was granted an "Advisor to the King" and a seat on the "Council of War Wizards". Now that may seem really geeky, but after playing Terron for 4 years this was the best reward he could have received and I am personally proud of the accomplishment.

Now Terron is 21st level and we are getting ready to play the 1st EPIC adventure at CampCon 11 in July (the Pirates rent out a group camping site and play D&D all weekend out in the wilderness of Sibald Flats!). I'm looking forward to this as well. It should be a blast!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

More about the blast furnace!

So now that I am back from vacation I can tell you a bit about the Blast Furnace for Khador.

Once again this is scratch built using some ideas from Terrain Thralls and some techniques I've learnt along the way. It's your basic foam core building with plasticard roofing and siding. The one thing that never occurred to me was to actually use the pieces I cut out of the building for the windows as the actual shutters! The fit perfectly and a couple small bent pieces of plasticard for hinges and done!

I placed a couple "out buildings" to give the building varied shape and size. Again this is because of a pet peeve of mine in WarMachine where players can use a terrain piece that is built "square" to guess their ranges better. Well this thing is nowhere near an even number when it comes to overall dimensions (esp with the furnace) and that is the way I am building all my WarMachine terrain from the Cryx board forward. (Eventually I will be rebuilding all of my "forest terrain" with odd shapes as well.)

The biggest thing I had to do was learn to cut the plastic tube for the blast furnace to fit the back of the building with a sloped roof. Never have done that before and without a lot of proper tracing tools I had to "eyeball" it and it turned out fairly well I might add! ;-)

The only thing left to do on it is weathering (rust, snow etc) and glue it down to its base. Should be done before the weekend and ready for the players on Friday.

Next up on my list:
-Finish off the Cygnar Terrain pieces (includes a small house and a few walls).
-Create a base plate for the Khador Avalanche Cannon so that we don't lose the parts!
-Begin the planning for the Menoth Board. Stealing the blueprints from Privateer Press No Quarter.
-Begin planning the forest city of Retribution

Hope to get another table or 2 of terrain done in June. July I would love to get 2 tables of Hordes themed terrain done. August will be a write off due to Myth-a-Con in September

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Khador Terrain begins!

Terrain building is something not everyone can do. At least that what a lot of my players tell me. But honestly before I opened this store, I never built terrain for anything (okay, my G.I. Joe base out of my mom`s Avon boxes does not really count!).

A lot of things you just have to try out and see if it works. Sometimes it does, other times.... not so much. But you learn by failing or succeeding (half XP mind you for failing!) and then you adapt and try again. Things you learn like: "Super Glue is not the answer for everything!" and "bigger brushes make painting large pieces easier".

So luckily we have a very enthusiastic group of players here in our WarMachine/Hordes league. They are loving the new terrain and are really keen to learn how to build more. This is fantastic for 2 reasons:
1- I can't build all the tables for Myth-a-Con myself and
2- I really like to teach and pass along skills and knowledge (that's why I've been into games since I was 12....lets not do the math on that)

So on June 4th I am running a terrain building day. More than likely we will concentrate on the Menoth table as there are many buildings and alters that need to be built and a lot of different techniques for each project.

This brings me to my Khador Terrain. Now I will freely admit I am "cheating" on a peice by using the Avalanche Cannon, but we will get to that another time.

For Khador I planned:
1- A Mine, a BIG Mine.
2- A Blast Furnace
3- The supply depot
4- A water tower
5- Multiple Guard posts (walls for WM purpose)

This was a lot of fun as it normally is. The first peice I wanted to tackle was the mine. This is basically a hill (for WarMachine terrain rules), but it's a freaking big hill! I wanted more than just a peice that was on the board and not really interactable. This one players can climb all over the hill using the ramps. There is a crane (we'll be making up some special rules for it) and lots of space to fight. But this thing is a monster. It measures 18" long and 10" wide. It's meant to sit in the corner of the deployment zone or along the side of the table.

The finshed peice looks wicked (if I do say so myself!) but was very easy to put together. Some 3" thick styrofoam, 1" styrofoam, popsicle sticks, balsa wood, toy parts a gear and some train tracks. I almost forgot my favorite terrain stuff - Sculptamold!

As you will see in the pictures, lots of cutting and glueing (white glue) to put the bulk of the project together. Once all the peices were glued I added a lot of wieght (books are geat, but really heavy board games are the best!) and let it dry overnight.

Next day was Sculptamold day! This stuff is fantastic to build with. It does not shrink like regular paper maché and leaves a great "Rocky" textrure. Then came the balsa wood posts and popsicle sticks. I wanted to add a platform that would be functional and "make sense" for the peice. Luckily I sitll have toy parts from the Cryx terrain and the little toy crane and brace worked perfectly.

Once that was all dry (one more day) then it was time to prime. Important note. Even though I own the store, I'm not carless when it comes to pricing out projects. A can of "no name" brown primer from Rona cost me less than a can of my Army Painter primer (and I mean my cost, not retail price). When doing up terrain, there is no real need to use expensive primers. There is a huge selection of colored primers at Home Depot/Rona/Lowes that do the job. Would I ever use these on my miniatures? HELL NO! They are not formulated properly for minis and you will more than likely wreck them or make them unpaintable.

So once the primer was on time to drybrush. This is a technique where you apply a small amount of paint to your brush, wipe a lot of it off on paper or a napkin then lightly brush over top of the basecoat. This picks out the highspots. I planned to make the areas where people would naturally walk much lighter. So a few layers and all was ready for the next step. Looking at the level of my top terrain, I noticed that there was a steep drop off near the platform. So adding my train tracks would not work properly without a base as the track would "dip" and logically a cart being pushed on it would simply roll off the mine. Luckily I have some old sandblasting sand from my father's machine shop (I've had this jar for 20 years) that is much coarser than real sand and very symetric (each one is a little bead) so it would look perfect for my tack base. With a liberal use of white glue and sandblasting beads I was able to "build up" the slope like a real person would do. Then the track was laid.

Adding snow flock was pretty easy. More glue and then drop the snow flock on it. Make sure you have a newspaper under the project! You can reclaim a ton of the flock because not all of it will stick. ;-)

More on the Blast Furnace later!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Weekend Winners 4-29 to 5-1

Well, this weekend we had a lot of fun. Lots of events and of course lots of winners!

Let's rewind a bit to a week back when the HeroClix crew came in on Wednesday. We have a clix event fee to play on Wednesdays (either players buy something, or they buy an event ticket) and their names go into our draw box. The winner gets another entry. So over time we collect these tickets and when the bin is sufficiently full we draw for something "cool" that is Clix related. So when we drew last, Corey D won himself the Colossal Dr. Manhattan!

Friday was 2 Headed Giant Sealed for Magic the Gathering. We run that when we have the occasional 5th Friday in a Month. Teams purchase 7 packs of cards and build their decks and then go head to head (to head to head) with other teams. To make sure that everyone can play we make the teams a random pick. Lots of fun for all!

Our winners were the Team of Paul H and Devon B after 4 rounds of play and the cut to the top teams!

Then our big Magic the Gathering Nationals on Saturday! We started bright and early with 28 players duelling over 5 rounds. The top 8 were determined and playoffs began. Finally at 7:15pm (8 hours after we started) Sean H won 2-0 to claim his invite to the Nationals! Well done!

This was the first "competitive" event we have ever held. I'm quite proud that after only a few years of hosting FNM, Pre-releases and Launch Parties that we were given 1 of 3 qualifiers for Calgary. That's quite an accomplishment if I do say so myself (and so did our DCI head Judge Darren). I was very happy that we had no deck problems, only 2 minor penalties and a handful of judging questions at our event. Darren even commented that this was one of the smoothest running events he has been a judge at!

Finally we had our Sneak Peek for Yu-Gi-Oh on Sunday. 28 players made their way out to try out the new cards from "Extreme Victory". Konami has us run this event as "open play" which means no structured matches. Players just play who they want and as much as they want. I'll get more feedback from them later, but it's not really that interesting to me, and I would love to hear from the players if they would rather do a structured format next time. There were complaints that the prizes were lacking, but we only get so much from Konami that we are allowed to give out with the Open play format. Again, we will see what the players want and go from there.

There were 3 Extreme Victory playmats handed out and a Large format Yu-Gi-Oh deck box (and I do mean LARGE!). When I get the names of the winners I'll edit this and put their names up.

For now it's back to building Khador terrain for WarMachine! I may get a full terrain table built for Friday night! It will be a busy week with the release of Tomb Kings and 2 Pre-release events for Magic the Gathering (one Friday night 12:01am and Sunday at 12:00pm).