Saturday, 21 May 2016

Conversation with JesterRalin - On Running Multiple Campaigns

Originally Posted by JesterRaiin View Post
Side note: I'm reading your blogs (I pay closer attention to SS campaign), and I must say that I find it quite impressive that you manage to control 4 quite difficult and complicated campaigns at once.
Wow. Well done. I'm flattered. 
4 campaigns at once is really too many I think; I'm planning to rest the weekly online Ghinarian Hills one (5e S&S) for a bit until I can conclude the fortnightly Loudwater (4e Epic) one in August. I can't rest my weekly Mentzer Classic Karameikos game since I love the players too much & my son plays in it & would kill me.  Also one of the players is a brilliant instigator, her renegade Claudia Morrigan Thief PC is returning with plans to wreak horrible revenge on erstwhile Cleric PC comrade Roseanna 'the White Dame' and I'm keen to see how that plays out. My 5e Shattered Star game is trucking along nicely fortnightly, wisest thing there is not to mess with it.

To the extent I have a secret for running 3-4 games, it's minimal prep - only the Pathfinder AP ones ever take much work. Taking good post-session notes is the main thing I do. Generally it's just as easy to create material at the table as beforehand, and simple published adventures (eg Basic Fantasy stuff) make just as good a canvas as complicated ones.

Originally Posted by JesterRaiin View Post
It might be only me, and I'm not particularly resourceful kind of guy, but still, 4 full-scale campaigns at once... Minimal preps and simple notes can't be the complete answer - the amount of elements, plot seeds, NPCs, items, places, not to mention ideas about where to push the story next must be really staggering.

I'd appreciate learning that your memory is far from "common level" and/or you posses great multitasking capabilities. If not, then I'll have to rethink my opinion about my own Gamemastery.
Hah. My memory is crap!  I often ask players to remind me of stuff; or in the online game minutes pass while I go look stuff up (usually stats). There's a lot of duck-paddling going on too. 
A few good resources are important - for Wilderlands that's the Ghinarian Hills campaign page and the NPC stats blog. For Karameikos it's GAZ 1 Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Plus published old school modules for both, simpler the better. The d6 is my friend, rolling to see if something happens - on a '6' X happens, which might be a wandering monster table roll but equally well could be the Griffon Riders of Highaven swooping in to aid the heroes' battle, or interception by the undead war fleet of Neo-Nerath - whatever looks plausible. 
There is a lot of not sweating the small stuff, plus a lot of "God I wish I'd taken 30 minutes to do some prep before running this session". 

Originally Posted by JesterRaiin View Post
the amount of elements, plot seeds, NPCs, items, places, not to mention ideas about where to push the story next must be really staggering...

...great multitasking capabilities...
I guess I'm quite good at multitasking, which really means "do X quickly, then stop doing X and do Y" - and only do as much as you need (I usually do too little & too late). I do very little 'push the story', I have some very very broad general ideas about enemy threats, but the main trick is getting into the head of enemy NPCs so they act and react naturalistically in the moment. This means the players are often taken by surprise - the antagonists' agendas rarely focus around the PCs so they often act unpredictably, in pursuit of their own goals. Villains don't just sit there, but neither do I have piles of notes on what they'll do next, I have a very simple basic idea of what eg Warlord Yusan wants and what he'll do to get it.

Originally Posted by JesterRaiin View Post
I agree that all that helps - a lot, especially helpful, forgiving players are godsend. Still, impressive achievement.

This isn't an empty flattery, I know what I'm talking about: I ran SS for PFRPG, an additional SF scenario and participated as a player in one more, and while none was neither particularly detailed nor complicated, it was enough to keep me occupied for a time being and deplete my creative energies a bit.
Shattered Star AP is nice - plays much better than it reads - and blending it with Rise of the Runelords AP will keep it fresh for me, I know upfront I'm not likely to use everything (eg might never use Book 6). Crimson Throne AP was really tough though; read well but really hard to run. Running SS in 5e so I know to ignore most of what's in the stat blocks helps a lot. I am feeling depleted since restarting Loudwater though (plus my non-gaming social life is getting busy) so planning to rest the Wilderlands campaign after one more session. That will leave me with 3 games, 1 weekly & 2 alternate fortnightly, which has been ok so far. I think I'm going to try to keep it to maximum 3 campaigns in future.

 Originally Posted by JesterRaiin View Post
Out of curiosity: what do you feel is the biggest challenge in PFRPG -> D&D 5th conversion? Aside of numbers, of course.
Grabbing an appropriate monster stat block out of the 5e MM. Sometimes the 5e version is pathetically weak, eg the lemures in book 1 of SS. A bit of variation is ok but a whole dungeon level of trivially weak critters got the players complaining. So I hit em with an ooze/hellhound combo and nearly killed one of them, they shut up then. 
In general running SS in 5e has been far far easier than running Crimson Throne with Pathfinder. Paizo's tendency to include obscure monsters from Bestiary #5 without bothering with a PF statblock is annoying, considering how much space they waste on other stuff. Eg the Fiendish Seugathi in book 2 has no parrallel in any D&D creature. But this is still a minor issue compared to the brain-scrambling effect of trying to run a 3-page 3e/PF stat block off the page in Pathfinder rules.

Quote Originally Posted by JesterRaiin View Post

Well, they have to justify their 99$ worth yet-another-monster-pack books somehow. 

I think I've seen a fanmade attempt to create enemy tables for PFRPG, 3,5 some OSR (I don't recall its title) and most recently 5th. It was a huge Excel spreadsheet where you could select a creature from one system and see some "close enough" alternatives for other systems. Wasn't perfect, but worked just fine. I wonder whether the project continues...
I generally just pick the closest with similar CR. So eg I use 5e Black Pudding stats where the PF adventure says Gray Ooze, because 5e Gray Oozes have a crappy CR and 5e Black Pudding has a similar CR to PF Gray Ooze. Last session PCs fought a Cave Giant 'CR 6, see monster book XX' - I just looked for a 5e giant with similar CR and decided the 5e MM CR 7 stone giant was close enough for my 5 PC, 5th level group. I could have used hill giant stats if my group was weak.

I think in future I may just substitute entire monsters, eg that CR 8 Seugathi could have been any old demon or devil of similar CR. The trick is to select a monster of similar-ish CR, rather than one that looks the same but is vastly weaker or tougher.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Progression Rate and XP

I'm running Classic, which is very similar to 2e except that the XP to level requirements top out at about half those of 1e/2e, so eg a Fighter needs 120,000 to level not 250,000 and a Wizard needs 150,000 not 300,000. The Classic Rules Cyclopedia recommends 5 sessions to level (2e I recall says 10 sessions?) which I think is a good aim point and is midway between 2e and 3e-4e-5e's indicated 2-3 sessions/level. RC suggests handing out enough gold that PCs get 20% of XP from the monsters, 80% from gold. I can't see any real reason to hand out artificially inflated amounts of gold, so instead I increase monster XP, give normal gold XP, give quest and discretionary award XP - the RC recommends these awards be 1/20 the amount needed to level, again about half the recommended amount for such awards in 3e/4e/5e.

I noticed that I could take 20-30 minutes calculating XP and it would come out within a couple hundred of what I'd have given as an arbitrary session award (eg 20,220 calculated vs 20,000 I'd have just handed out), so now sometimes I do arbitrary awards BUT I periodically do the full calculation to make sure I'm not drifting/inflating awards. I'm aiming for around 20,000-25,000 XP for a successful session, varying from maybe 8-10,000 for a light session up to around 30-35,000 for something really big. That way the PCs are leveling up about every 5-8 sessions of play currently; later as they get higher level the awards will increase somewhat and progression rate will likely increase a bit.

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