Posts Tagged ‘bloodstone’

The Bloodstone Disaster, Part 3: What’s my motivation?

March 1, 2015

I’d like to digress for a moment,to touch upon the plot of Bloodstone, and hopefully make clear where many of the issues lied.

From what I recall, the first part, “Bloodstone Pass,” begins with the party arriving in the titular area in the wake of a war that has left many homeless and penniless. Soon, the town is under attack by an army consisting of humans, orcs, giants and other nasty doings, and it’s up to the heroes to save the town. Eventually, they discover where the enemy is camped, and crush them, ending the threat, only to discover that Bloodstone’s real woes began when their mine had been overrun some time before…

In “The Mines of Bloodstone,” the group must enter the mines beneath the town, in order to restore them to production. What starts as a pretty standard cleaning operation quickly turns ugly, when it’s discovered that the Duergar- the dark dwarves were using a passage from the Underdark to overrun the mine. This leads the party deeper, into the massive underground world, including a giant temple, carved in the shape of the head of Orcus, the demon lord of the undead. Eventually, enough threats are stamped out, leading to the mines being restored, and Bloodstone becoming a regional power once more.

Enter “The Bloodstone Wars.” Here’s where my details get fuzzy. I know it involves the group coming under constant attack, for they have become the leaders of Bloodstone in a previous entry, The Grandfather of Assassins, whom they’ve thwarted before, has returned to put an end to their threat, and powerful enemies gather at their borders. Eventually, the heroes discover that the force behind all of the attacks was none other than Orcus himself.

Finally, in “The Throne of Bloodstone,” you must venture through enemy strongholds, fight for access to the Abyss, find Orcus’ home plane, steal the symbol of his power, the deadly Wand of Orcus, and, finally, defeat the dark god Tiamat, using her blood to destroy the Wand. WHY you’re doing any of this is beyond my understanding.

Along the way, there are all sorts of outlandish things: An entire fortress of assassins, massive dragons, cities filled with zombies, a treacherous cruise down the River Styx, mercury pools that summon demons… It’s all the lovely shit that makes me such a fan of RPGs in general, and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Seriously, the Bloodstone Series has potential.

Which leads into my big problem with how Yoni ran things: All we ever got was a glimpse of this potential. We were being lead on what was effectively a room-by-room tour, with us craning our necks, desperate get a better view of what must surely be a fantastic place.

Instead, as I described previously, “We want to do this!” was met with denial, time and time again. Leading me into the final phases of Bloodstone. After a year of being railroaded, and trying to get Yoni to do a better job, only to find him pretty much unresponsive to criticism time and again, most of us were done, and just wanted to see where it all came tumbling down.

That wound up being “The Throne of Bloodstone.”

This adventure was designed to end campaigns: Deadly encounters, fiendish traps, an inability to heal once you reach the Abyss, and the Abyss itself being a maze of corridors, tunnels and dimensional portals, where the wrong turn meant an almost certain death… And there were almost nothing but wrong turns. Seriously, almost every major demon lord and dark god who was active at the time Bloodstone was printed could show up in this chapter.

It would take a Dungeon Master of great prowess to hammer this thing down into a workable adventure. We didn’t have a DM of great prowess. We had Yoni. He continued his strategy of trying to run the adventures as printed, just with minor changes for 4e stats, and while that worked to some extent in previous entries, it fell completely apart here. The adventure was just not designed to be run this way.

The most egregious event would have to be the fight at the Abyss portal. You were meant to fight an ancient Lich, an undead spellcaster of terrifying power. The problem is, there weren’t any 4e stats for a lich of that power level. Anyone who’s prepared a game for any edition of D&D knows that you can build almost anything, it just takes time and effort. Effort Yoni consistently refused to put in. Instead of building a Lich for us to fight, he attempted to use the highest level lich in print for 4th Edition.

This would be Vecna. Vecna is a god.

Yes, most gods in 4th Edition were statted at Level 35- of a maximum 30 levels- and their stats are usually quite bad. I don’t know how any party is supposed to defeat them. Hell, I don’t even know how most parties were meant to HIT them; Their defenses are too damn high. Vecna was nine levels above us at the time. He would have wiped us out. Yoni eventually lowered its stats by a bit, giving us a fighting chance. Well, it turned into what I termed “dice-rolling exercises,” where we’d spend an hour trying to whittle down the Solo monsters he kept throwing at us.

Oh right, forgot to explain this. See, 4th Edition is a game I generally liked. It was simple to run, fun, had some nice flavor, it just suffered from ludicrsly poor management from Wizards of the Coast. It also suffered from a tier system for monsters, where they were given ranks, such as Minion, Elite, Leader and Solo.

You know. Like in online games.

Solo monsters were meant to challenge an entire party by themselves, they were designed to be huge “boss monster” encounters that were a legitimate threat, the equal to four heroes of the same level as it.

Problem being, they didn’t work.

Most Solos, as designed, had no way of mitigating the absurd number of debuffs and status ailments a 4th Edition party could dish out. Over the last seven years, numerous people online have tried to rework the Solo rank into something that actually, you know, functions. While many of their experiments were interesting, I fear none were terribly successful, and it’s not their fault. The Solo is just that goddamned bad. I eventually stopped using them AS Solo encounters, instead using weaker Solos with some muscle for backup. It was effective, and my group didn’t at all mind. Besides, I’d already seen what would happen: The party would pop all of its stuns, holds, slows, and so on, and debuff the enemy into oblivion. Then, the Solo was often nothing more than a meat shield, and the party just had to chip away at it, like a giant Jawbreaker made out of hit points. That last line sums up most of Yoni’s combats for much of the campaign, not-Vecna fight included.

Eventually, we reached the end. Oh and what an ending it was.

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The Bloodstone Disaster, Part 2: The War on Fun

February 28, 2015

A few weeks later, the game began in earnest. As my job often had me closing on Thursdays, I was present for only parts of H1, H2 and H3, not being able to consistently attend until H4, so my reports will be fragmentary.

But I think they’ll be enough. I’ll speak to the players who attended more of this, and see if I’m missing anything too important.

But for now, here’s what I know.

H1, “Bloodstone Pass,” like the others, was written for what I THINK was 1st Edition, but it kind of doesn’t matter. What matters is what it WASN’T written for, and that, obviously, was 4th Edition D&D.

This would require conversion.
Conversion requires effort.
Yoni did not put nearly enough effort into converting the adventures, and we’ll look into this in greater detail once we get to H4, but for now, the big problem with H1.

BattleSystem.

A mass combat system, designed for use in D&D, I know very little about it, save for the fact that module H1, “Bloodstone Pass,” required use of it. Many of the scenarios in question could only be meaningfully resolved through BattleSystem.

This is a problem, and became the first real sign of Yoni’s limitations as a DM.

A smart Dungeon Master would, say, cut out the mass battles completely, finding ways to scale them down to more personalized combats the characters are directly involved in.

A clever DM would find, or create, a system that simulated mass combat while streamlining the experience. Burns, one of my players and one present for this game, had at one point designed such a system.

Yoni did neither of these things. Instead, he first attempted to run BattleSystem under 4e, an endeavor which bored our players to tears. He then attempted to graft on a number of systems to 4e, in particular, a Warhammer Miniatures conversion… One he never bothered to read himself, and expected his players to explain it to him.

It’s a good thing I was working Thursday nights, because, had I been present, it’s around this time that I would have lead a mutiny.

You might be asking yourself, “Wait, why did he have to do ANY of these things? Why use mass combat at all, if the players weren’t feeling it, and the game couldn’t support it?”

And the answer is quite simple, really.

“Because that’s how the adventure was written.”

Yoni’s views on the Bloodstone Series were as follows: They were among the greatest adventures ever written, and, as a result, had to be treated as holy writ; as canon, in the strictest sense of the term, something to be read and pondered over, but never questioned and, Mima forbid, never altered in any meaningful way.

You’re probably already seeing where the logic in refusing to update modules written nearly 30 years and three editions ago might run into some snags. The way I understand it is, most sessions went more of less as follows.

Players: “We want to do this.”
Yoni: “You can’t.”
Players: “Why not?”
Yoni: “Because what’s actually next is this.”

And then, he would point to the book, and proceed to read off whatever “this” was, including things he probably ought not have been reading, as they were primarily DM-only material.

This meant that roughly nine of the eighteen months the campaign took to play out consisted of listening to Yoni droningly reading off canned exposition.

Anyone who ever made a joke about putting “Detect Boxed Text” on your spell list, I have now found the DM that made this choice worthwhile. Myself, I got a Ring of Dull Exposition, which had a constant Detect Boxed Text effect…

This however meant that we had very little agency- Our characters were who we were told they’d be. We did what the DM said we would do. We went places and wandered about on maps, all to a schedule Yoni had put into place before we’d even begun.

So, I suppose the real question is, if we were all so displeased, why did we keep attending? Partially because it was something to do, but also, because at least three of us, myself included, were waiting for the train wreck. We were waiting for the moment that it all went wrong.

That only happened when Yoni’s train reached its last stop, at the corner of Irony and Justice, that dread station known as Inevitability.

Opening the Eaves

February 26, 2015

My computer’s been down, see, so I haven’t had much to do. I have an Android tablet a friend so graciously (re) gifted to me at Christmas, and an iPad Mini purchased back in 2012 so I could play Pinball Arcade (I am dead fucking serious… You ever suffer from buyer’s guilt for three years straight…?), so I’ve not been completely despondent.

One of the things I’ve done was look through my old posts here at Long Exile Gaming.

I reviewed music, I made some commentary on gaming, I made impolitic statements about the giant robots in Pathfinder, I wrote apparently the only negative review of Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game on the entire internet (and probably should have written Green Races as positive to balance this out), and snarked to my heart’s content.

Yeah… we had a lot of fun here, didn’t we?

Why don’t we get back to that?

I can’t promise I’ll always have something to write about, and indeed, you can probably expect more Standard Apologies.

But I’m back. And I think we’ll lead off with the only thing you can lead off with: A sign of how much has changed in five short years…

Join me, won’t you?