Anyone who knows me and the store will know I love RPGs. They are my first passion. I have played a ton of them over my 28 years of playing them. I started on the end of D&D Red box and delved right into Advanced D&D. I still have my original PHB, DMG, Monster Manual and Fiend Folio (with the Elder God stat blocked!) I have played twilight 2000, Top Secret SI, Marvel Superheroes, WhiteWolf, Gama World (both Editions) and many, many more.
We have been playing 4E since it came out 4 years ago. I play and DM with the Pirates of the Plains Fellowship. This group has been playing "Living" games since 1999. Yup. 13 years. Damn that's a long time. We have run Living Greyhawk (to the point where we petitioned WotC for our own "region"), Living Arcanis, Living Spycraft etc. Currently the system is Living Forgotten Realms under the 4E banner.
The unfortunate part with LFR has been the lack of new adventures. WotC has taken a complete "hands off" to the LFR campaign and it has suffered. Before there was reporting your results after an adventure so the authors and PtB could move the campaign along a plot using the "majority" of decisions to steer new adventures. So for instance, 100 tables played an adventure and 75% of them killed the main bad guy. Although 25% may have saved him, majority rules and the bad was killed off. Nowadays, the LFR group is completely volunteer run and that always leads to problems. The largest is authors lack of motivation to get their adventures out on time. There have been adventures late by nearly a year. And I completely understand. People are busy and if there is no "real" motivation for getting these done (like cash, or saying you are a published author) then their enthusiasm wanes. Sure we can replay adventures, but how many times can players be expected to replay the same adventure? I personally lost interest in LFR last summer when the adventures were late and we were trying to slot LFR tables at Myth-a-Con*. What a headache! DMs had to be reassigned adventures with little to no prep time etc.
So the Pirates decided in September to expand their offerings from just LFR. We added in Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Arcanis and Pathfinder Society (PFS) play. Recently these tables are bringing in more players than the LFR tables and I completely understand. The new systems have fresh adventures. They change every time. They are not repeated (okay, I ran the Pathfinder Into Adventures twice for brand new players) and the stories are linked into an overall arc. it "feels" like a real campaign you would play at your house. And that I have missed. LFR just seems like a hodgepodge of random adventures that leave continuity on the back burner. LFR does have "larger" story arcs, but they are so inconsistently released that you forget what the heck was happening last time as it may be months in between adventures that have the same story arc.
A couple weeks back I was GMing a Pathfinder Scenario. I have been quite enjoying GMing again (something I lost interest in with LFR) and I GM 2 PFS a month, one on each game day. This allows me to also jump into Shadowrun and Arcanis on the other "slots" that we run**. So the adventure takes place on a boat. Luckily I have some cool dungeon tiles from WotC that did just the trick. The group consisted of a rogue, samurai, cleric, and a monk. All sitting at 1st or 2nd level. So this is low level stuff which I do enjoy running as the characters are not all Feated up and have weird combos of prestige classes that can lead to several Advil when running an adventure. But I digress.
The players were fighting not only the creatures that set upon them, but the boat itself. Seems that the Pathfinder Society couldn't spare a trained sailor for this adventure so it was up to the PCs to steer during the battles. "So anyone have Profession: Sailor?" no response from the table. "How about Knowledge Nature?". "Our wizard with that skill is not here." was the response. "Okay, Wisdom score?" "15" was the answer from the Cleric.
So the first battle hits and time to start making those checks. Each round the Cleric had to spend a move action to steer. Brett never rolled that elusive "20" he needed and the boat was rocked, stopped and beached over several combats. Hilarity ensued! Players were tossed around (nearly overboard) and it added just a bit more chaos to the fights. Nothing deadly, but a definite twist to what the players were expecting. The adventure had a great RP section as well and they had a fantastic time interacting with the NPCs.
The final battle was intense. I knew that as written, the adventure would be nearly impossible so I dropped a couple of the bad guys. There was a few monks and a caster NPC to deal with now. A good blast of Color Spray dropped 2 of the party members. This basically took them out of the fight for 6 rounds. An eternity when you are facing 2:1 odds as the other 2 players realized. Dropping the first 2 just as the others were coming out of the Color Spray effect was more good timing on my part, lucky dice rolls and bad ones on their side.
As a GM I prefer to roll in front of the players, not behind a screen. I let the dice decide the player's fate, good or bad. I even have a flashing d20 from thinkgeek that lights up when you roll a 20. They love and hate that dice. I think it lends more drama to the rolls when the players can see it. They know I'm not "fudging" my rolls to either save or kill them. I let the dice fall where they may. So in doing this the players and I were down to the last PC and the Caster. I had all the others down and unconscious. The Samurai was the last standing. Low on HP and desperate he took what would be his last swing at the bad guy. It was either his Samurai or my Caster. Both were down to "one good hit" and the game was over. Dayna rolled.... and missed. You could see the players at the table slump a little in their seats. My turn. Caster rolls to hit with a ray. I think the number was 16 or higher. At any rate, it was a hit. Dayna had 1 HP left, so down he went.
The table was silent for a minute or so. I could see all the players trying to desperately figure out a way out of this. Then Dayna yelled "Wait! I HAVE A HORSE!!" Yes, his Samurai is a mounted combat type character. His trusty warhorse was in the bow cargo hold (the adventure even stated that the space was for player's mounts) and I started to giggle. The idiocy of explaining how the horse got onto the deck be damned! It was too great of an idea to say "neigh" to (yes, bad puns are free folks, line starts to the left). So the horse jumps onto the deck and proceeds to kick and bite in a fury of teeth and hoof! The horse managed to hit my caster 2 out of 3 times. More than enough to drop the caster to the deck.
Miraculously, the horse was "also trained" to administer a potion to the samurai (you can all discuss this at your leisure) but it fit the finale made the game a blast and I have not laughed that hard in a long time. The players won (well the horse did technically), they completed the mission and saved the day.
I think next time Dayna has to play the horse and his Samurai remains in the cargo hold.....
**slots. We run 2 adventures per day. A slot is the 4.5 hour time period we have to play the adventure.