Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Platoons, My Favorite Adventures, Debates

Greetings, all! Time for another exciting edition of Atomic Battleship Dragon! This week, a word about my new campaign, adventures I’m proud of, and the down-to-the-wire presidential race.
But before all that… As you know, I’m a big Phillies fan. I’ve been thinking for weeks and weeks now that the 2013 Phillies would be smart to set up a couple of strong platoons rather than finding expensive everyday talent. Right now platoon players are undervalued in the big leagues, but platoons can outproduce single players who cost more than both platoon players put together. I don’t see why Ryan Howard should start against lefties, or why John Mayberry ought to start against righties. Anyway, it turns out a very serious analyst has put together a great piece on this very topic, and I recommend it to any baseball fans who happen to be reading (and doubly so if you’re also Phillies fans):

 Gaming: Just last week, I did something I hadn’t done in years: I stepped up to the DM screen and started a new D&D game, with Yours Truly as the DM. For a long time now, I’ve been pretty lazy about volunteering to be the DM. Most of the time, my excuse was that I was working all day on D&D stuff and writing D&D novels at night, so finding the extra little bit of creativity or energy to run a game too was hard. Well, since I am now my own boss and I’m spending most of my time working on non-D&D things, I figured it was time to step up again when the Thursday night group decided it was time to go back to the dungeon.
We had a good discussion of which edition of D&D we wanted to run, and I settled on 3.5 with some small tweaks. (I like running 4e, but we’ve spent the last few years pushing minis around on the map and using encounter powers, and I wanted something that felt a little more sim-driven than gamist.) I intend to run the game without a combat grid as much as possible, and re-emphasize roleplaying and exploration… and yeah, I got those ideas from my exposure to the early stages of D&D Next when I was still in the shop at Wizards. I stole some no-grid rules we’d worked up for a canceled game, and made a few adjustments. Then I made the crazy offer to set the game in the world of the Birthright setting. My players leaped at that one, so that’s where we are. I haven’t run a Birthright game in oh, about fifteen years or so.

Naturally, after everyone expressed interest in playing in Cerilia, I had one player tell me he wanted to be a ninja. And another player wanted to be a warlock-like magical assassin that he saw in some anime or another. And there’s one more complication: I think I’m going to be lazy and shamelessly raid adventures I wrote across various editions to form the basis of the campaign, so I’m starting with Dark Legacy of Evard, a 4th Edition Encounters Season adventure, and I may move on to Reavers of Harkenwold next. Okay, so we’re playing Birthright, a 2nd Edition setting, with 3.5 rules, D&D Next sensibilities, and the Book of Nine Swords, and I’m running 4th Edition adventures. I don’t see what could possibly go wrong with this plan.
I find that when I do run D&D games, I’m strongly inclined to run adventures I wrote. I think it’s simply a matter of familiarity and confidence. It’s good to be comfortable with the material; you’d like an adventure you run to feel like a well broken-in shoe, easy on the feet and ready to take you to your favorite places. Because I often used home games for playtesting adventures I was working on in my day job over a long career of working on D&D, most of the adventures I gained that familiarity with were the ones I was working on for publication. I guess that’s a weird narcissistic side effect of being a professional adventure designer.

Since this might turn into a campaign of Rich Baker’s Greatest Hits, I thought I’d take a moment and share a short list of the adventures I’m most proud of. I think most of them are worth a play, but of course they’re in very different editions these days, and your mileage may vary. Anyway, here goes:
10. Dragon’s Crown: I only wrote part of this Dark Sun epic, but I was the lead designer and had the job of herding all the cats. A cabal of super-powerful psionicists want to take over the world, how fun is that?

9. King of the Trollhaunt Warrens: My cowriter was Logan Bonner. The whole time I was working on the Trollhaunt, I was thinking of the Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven and the misty planet haunted by giant hostile humanoids.
8. Prison of the Firebringer: This Dungeon magazine adventure began as a high-level FR homebrew for the game group I was running at the time. It’s about the only time I ever ran the process in reverse, starting an adventure as a homebrew and turning it into something I published.

7. Prism Keep: My first Dungeon adventure, a take on the classic “castle in the clouds” adventure. I wrote this because I had a horrible tax bill looming and needed a thousand bucks, but for all that I think it’s a fun little sandbox and puzzle-solving adventure.
6. Dark Legacy of Evard: A 4th Edition Encounters Season. I’m proud of this one because it oozes flavor, and it’s maybe the best ghost story I’ve managed to frame as a D&D adventure.

5. Rana Mor: The middle of my three Dungeon adventures, written early in 3rd Edition. Kind of based on the Jungle Cruise ride in Disneyworld, the part where you go through the ruined temple in Cambodia or India. There aren’t many good Angkor Wat adventures in D&D, so I took a shot at writing one.
4. Cleric’s Challenge: The basic premise is a tough challenge for an adventure design—write an adventure for one PC, specifically, a cleric. I like this one because it’s a good story that works well for a whole group as well as a solo PC.

3. Red Hand of Doom: Co-written with James Jacobs. I sort of feel that the D&D universe can always use adventures that capture classic tropes. For RHoD, I decided I wanted to write a good stop-the-horde adventure, which I hadn’t seen anyone try to do in a while. Most of my work is in the very beginning, and the event-encounters early in part 2.
2. Reavers of Harkenwold: The adventure no one knows about, I would guess. It’s in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Kit. This time, I took a shot at writing the Robin Hood adventure. It’s a classic fantasy adventure bit that gets you out of the dungeon for the bulk of the play, and culminates in storming the castle. Chris Perkins gave me a hand when the format changed a bit, and did it so well that I can’t tell which parts are mine and which parts are his.

1. Forge of Fury: Probably my most widely-played adventure. All I wanted to do here is hit something right down the middle of the fairway, since it was very early in 3rd Edition and we wanted people to experience classic dungeon delving. My editor’s the person responsible for the succubus; it was a quasit in my original draft. But if you’ve ever been killed by the dragon Nightscale—and I guess quite a few of you have—yeah, that’s all me.

Oh, and if you’re curious about adventures I like by other people: I’m a big fan of Night Below, Return to the Tomb of Horrors, and Desert of Desolation.

Politics/Current Events: Beats me if I know what’s going to happen in this election. Part of me thinks this is 1980, and Mitt Romney is Ronald Reagan. Part of me thinks this is 2004, and Mitt Romney is John Kerry. I suspect that Romney has a strong lead at this point, and is going to score a big upset of a sitting president, and if I had to make a prediction, that’s how I would go. But he’s got to do well in so many states to make up the ground Obama claimed in 2008.
Put me down as a big fan of last week’s debate: I can’t remember the last time the two candidates were able to really talk to each other and were given time and elbow room to fully develop their points. It was far and away the most instructive and least artificial national debate I’ve watched since I started paying attention to presidential politics. It will be really interesting to see how President Obama comes back for rounds 2 and 3 over the next couple of weeks; I doubt he will make a better impression by trying to be less polite or by insisting that Romney is lying. He’d like to show America a truly pissed-off Romney who looks less presidential, or lead Romney into a mortal gaffe (“Eastern Europe is not under Soviet domination”), but you have to believe that Romney will be ready for that. We’ll see how it goes.

The Finer Things: A fine fall day. We’ve had a spectacular run out here in Seattle, with crisp, clear afternoons and the best fall color I’ve seen in the Northwest. It’s not quite like fall in Wisconsin or New England, but it’s still pretty good. On the downside, I think I missed my last chance to go hike at Rainier for the season—I was just doing too much writing.



  1. Great to hear that you're getting back to Birthright - please update us here how it goes from time to time!

    I think it's a shame you're not going 4E, because that means no 4E BR suggestions are likely... (OK, OK - a rather selfish objection, but so it goes). Regardless, it sounds fun.

    Reavers of Harkenwold is an adventure I rather like; it would be lined up for my next 4E campaign, but I have a conversion of the old SSI "Pool of Radiance" lined up for that as a nice, sandboxy-yet-focussed setup.

  2. Rich, thanks for the top 10 list. It's great to see what the actual game designers think their best work is.