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 1 
 on: May 30, 2020, 12:49:30 am 
Started by Phonics - Last post by OddlucK
The jailbreak is the (default at least) opener for OotA. I agree it works best as a starting point. If you want to do it later, I think maybe having at least one PC manage to be outside can work, but that takes some setup.

OotA does look more on the Wild Escape side of things, but you're right that CoS is far more four. I can see how it'd be too easy to make it too oppressive to enjoy. It's more or less written that way, with room for the DM to make it sit somewhere on a sliding scale of suck for the players (and memory tells me they spell it out that you should adjust it to the needs of your players).

I agree with you on not wanting to have too many "cutscenes" where the players have no chance/input. I've used them sparingly, which at first led my players to be a bit more reckless than I wanted. So I started introducing NPCs they had little chance against, including an ancient black dragon, a succubus with PC levels, and a Rakshasa/Tabaxi (not sure yet) trickster rogue with illusion magic they've been completely duped by and means of being undetectable.

Trapping them in an illusion relatively early in the campaign made them second guess a lot of other things, see through a trick or two, but also assume something was an illusion which actually could and did hurt them. If you haven't yet put your players in an illusory situation, I strongly recommend it. Keeps them on their toes and, for my newer players at least, was a great way to get them to focus more on what was happening, rather than just sitting around waiting for their turn to fight. I might share the story in another thread, but after I check my notes.

 2 
 on: May 29, 2020, 11:29:59 pm 
Started by Phonics - Last post by Phonics
I learned post campaign that our DM deviated a good deal between the major plot points in Out of the Abyss. The core of our experience was pretty intact from what I gather though.

I especially hate break out of prison sequences in general, and OotA begins the game with that. If you are going to do it, opening the game with that sequence is best in my opinion. The characters have not developed any yet and it's a great way to build character and forge alliances with unlikely companions. The DM laid down a myriad of NPCs in our jail cell as cell mates and he definitely spent time learning who they are and how he would have them act and behave; it paid off in spades. We particularly became attached to Jimjar the Deep Gnome, which may or may not have been his creation. I've never read the book at all.

Something else I tend to dislike as a player are huge story events happening that my character cannot influence. These happen frequently in OotA as the Demon Lords trounce about unchecked in the under dark. I feel this works in OotA as the under dark is so claustrophobic and desperate that it's hard enough just to survive. Playing the oppressive Drow and Duergar factions right is key in making the party resent everything, but also learn some empathy for these hostile societies down under. The party will feel great catharsis at any opportunity they get to strike back and win even small victories.

Here's a couple of great setups our DM did for OotA that I felt paid off with regard to the Drow. I do not know if either of these are written in the book.

First, he setup a recurring Drow NPC named Shoor that would shape shift into an Elf and try to "help us get back to the surface." We bought into his story fully never realizing he was a Drow and were utterly betrayed when he set up a huge sting for us. He even brought this character back to life after we killed him, which from then on lead us to not trusting any Elves dark or light skinned pretty much ever again.

Second, he set up a Drow hunting party that were like the evil/dark version of our party. We would run into them whenever shit was already looking bad and would often have to work together to escape whatever danger the demon lords were providing at the time, only to be ready to draw swords again the moment we had escaped the threat. It was fun, but I imagine it's tricky setting up situations appropriately where you can ensure they won't get murdered by the PCs.

In pretty much all cases we were always running from the Drow who wanted their slaves back at seemingly any cost. This made any encounter with Drow all the more heated and had the side effect of us not trusting any of the big players in the end game where you are intended to ally with a Drow wizard. We did ally with him, but betrayed him and summoned the Demogorgon right inside the Drow capital city. Not a hero move in many regards (No Paladins in the group though so no surprise?). It also meant that we were able to overlook most of the awful shit the Duergar were doing because at least they weren't trying enslave and kill us specifically.

OotA is also a great opportunity to test the player's general survival skills. In the under dark just getting clean food and water is really difficult. Maybe go easy on them with regards to some details though. I cannot tell you how sick I got of the arguments at the table about how much water you need to survive and the like. Test their survival skills when it can add good drama, but be reasonable once the group has shown repeatedly that they can hack it down there.

There are so few allies in the under dark. I could ramble on about OotA for a while though and I can certainly attempt to answer any other questions you would have about it. I'll end my OotA statements on this, if you play that campaign you are in it for the long haul. We played every other Saturday for about 5 hours and it took nearly a year and a half to get through it all. 


They played Curse of Strahd on the off weeks I did not join them for OotA, but eventually I caved and played in both games, hence why I joined late. As for CoS, I did not enjoy the campaign as much. I think I might have liked it a lot more had I been there from the beginning. The DM for that game was a different member of the group and by the time I joined up the player characters hated each other and every thing about Barovia. Strahd had a way to undermine every victory they would achieve and it clearly took its toll. I think the DM just repeatedly beat down their will and I could feel it, especially as a new PC. I made a light hearted Ranger halfling who liked to prank and stuff. I was constantly acting as a mediator for the group's struggles with each other, but sometimes was the focus of their anger as my character made light of the situations they were in.

The biggest take away I have from CoS is that it seems easy to make it too serious and dire, which might be exactly what you want to do. I can't believe that compared to OotA, CoS felt so heavy, but it certainly did. Castle Ravenloft was really cool, but for a plethora of reasons we did not feel we could afford the chance to explore it and take in the setting. When we were ready to go in (I guess the second time, they went in and met with Strahd once long before I joined) it was a surprise assault to end the Count and we did not take any time to fuck around and explore that huge, awesome castle. Kind of a shame.



 3 
 on: May 29, 2020, 09:46:18 pm 
Started by Phonics - Last post by OddlucK
Of official things, I have played/run little. I own a copy of Out of the Abyss, and have that digital copy of Strahd. My exposure to that was in watching and loving Dice Camera Action, Wizard's first official stream (DM'ed by Chris Perkins). They ran through a slightly altered version of Strahd and I loved it.  I've shifted my local crew into Death House to give them a taste of the setting and see if they may want to try the whole thing some day.

Out of the Abyss looks awesome, but I am daunted by trying to follow someone else's story, to be honest.

I'd love anything you can share on either.

 4 
 on: May 29, 2020, 09:37:54 pm 
Started by Phonics - Last post by OddlucK
Hey, I'm all about sharing DM ideas, resources, and experiences. I'm still relatively new to it, having only run the two related campaigns.

Thanks for sharing resources! I'll look over them asap. Hope you found something useful in my mess. We use custom character sheets I found on DMs Guild, tailored to each class. Helps keep things organized and gives my players a glimpse what lies ahead for them if they stick with the class.

I've also downloaded everything I can find for Pathfinder, since it's free (not that I legitimately own most of the DND stuff I have, to be honest) but it's a lot to take in, having grown accustomed to (and even more "raised" my players on) 5e.

My nephew has asked me to run a Starfinder game for him and a couple friends, trying to replicate Warhammer 40k, but that's a pretty daunting system too.

I might give FG a shot one of these days, but I have to do as much for free as possible.  Money's always an issue for everyone, I know, but money for hobbies just isn't really a thing in these parts. I'm hoping that'll change soon, but we'll see.

I haven't really done anything with miniatures since highschool, but I'd love to learn. I'm all for sharing stories, too. I say bring on the threads!

 5 
 on: May 29, 2020, 06:29:01 pm 
Started by Phonics - Last post by Phonics
I see from our first thread on this board that you are familiar with Barovia which is its own hellscape. I figured I would make a thread about the adventure modules we've played in for discussion. Here is pretty much the entirety of official Wizards and Paizo modules that I have played in.

So here's what I have played in 5e.

  • Out of the Abyss - Complete from start to finish. My favorite 5e experience.
  • The Curse of Strahd - I played only in the last third of the campaign, DM made it grim as fuck, though we "killed" Strahd and skipped 80% of Castle Ravenloft by sheer luck in our navigation.
  • Tales from the Yawning Portal - We completed 1-5 and did/stopped the big heist. I loved Volo.
  • Whiteplume Mountain - It's short, but I think we ran the whole thing? Decent dungeon for our use which was a 2-4 session game between big campaigns. Also neat playing Greyhawk.

And what I have played in Pathfinder

  • Rise of the Runelords - After a year and half we were barely at the 1/3 mark. Solid game though. We had 6 players at the time and it got bogged down by lots of RP and shenanigans.
  • Emerald Spire Superdungeon - Pretty good for what it is, but it can feel brutal.
  • Crypt of the Everflame - Short introduction campaign for new players. Decent amount of lore on Golarion for how short it is.
  • So much homebrew in my world of Ada. We have a whole history of the PCs leaving their mark on the world for centuries of in-game-world time. I love letting the actions of past PCs becoming the lore for new players to learn. They write half the game for me!

I have not ran a module or adventure path myself so I have been a player in all of these outside of the last mention.

It looks like you're very interested in Ravenloft? I was given a huge stack of old Ravenloft books from AD&D through 3.5 if you're interested in some history of the setting.

 6 
 on: May 29, 2020, 06:09:43 pm 
Started by Phonics - Last post by Phonics
I uploaded some maps, tokens, and other things to your shared drive. Outside of the FG Modules all of it should be compatible with R20. Many of the maps I made myself, though most of the buildings are stolen from the web zones. Anything Savage Coast or World of Ada is for my home brew world. TP1-20 is the most useful of the token bundles I found and shared.

My thoughts on the cost of Fantasy Grounds cost; It's $10/month or $150 once, I chose the monthly option, and the players never have to pay a dime. Having an easier time managing the game and having a better experience is worth $10/month to me. I plan on canceling it once we're back to playing in person so $30-$40 total. I regularly spend more than that on minis, books, and other crap. It was also almost necessary for us because we are a Pathfinder table and I found running PF on R20 to be a huge burden. No one but me owns any 5e material so they would be compelled to shell out for more books and the like.

On that note, and I completely get not changing systems for a group that meets rarely, but having the contents of every Pathfinder book available for free online is primarily why we play Pathfinder over 5e. If you are frugal type it's an amazing value. The Archives of Nethys and D20pfsrd have pretty much every piece of Pathfinder material available for free outside of campaigns and adventure paths. Classes like Gunslinger and Alchemist are all there made by Paizo, the Publisher, and overall designed pretty well. The Masterwork App is fantastic and free as well.

I can see based on your history that Roll20 is probably the right choice for you and your group. But knowing your options and why another DM does what he/she does is always good knowledge. The combination of webcam support, free option, and history of playing 5e makes Roll 20 a good fit and I hope that the materials I uploaded to your shared drive can be of help in some small way. My second group's custom character sheets are also in that upload under the 5e stuff folder. I kind of like the minimalist design of some of their sheets more than the original 5e sheets. 

I'm seeing from this thread 2 new thread ideas. Mini painting and talking about adventures we've ran.

 7 
 on: May 29, 2020, 12:27:30 am 
Started by Phonics - Last post by OddlucK
Biggest problem I have with Fantasy Grounds is the whole lack of a free option (as far as I can see).  I really want to give it a shot, but that slows me down big-time.

My players (primarily nieces and nephews) are all still pretty new/inexperienced.  They largely sit and wait for the story to unfold, at least when playing with me, and only reply when prompted, so seeing their faces is a -huge boon.  That's changing with a couple of them, at least in part due to my more improv-based DM style.  I've only one "story" I'm really trying to follow (I just put my more local group into the Death House part of the Strahd campaign), but overall I tend more to have the world in mind, as well as some of the bigger players/enemies and when/how they'll interact, and just give them threads and see where they'll want to go, adding to the world as needed.  It works out pretty well and, selfishly, gives me some of the improvisation opportunities I enjoy as a player and was afraid I'd miss out on as a DM.

Really, I kinda got the idea from Chris Perkins' "one sheet" method.  If I can find that, I'll share it later.

I'd write more, but it's late and I'm kinda losing my train of thought.  Suffice to say, I love DM'ing, but do wish sometimes my players were a little more proactive.  We've just started a campaign with one of the kids DM'ing and I'm playing a very no-nonsense, get the job done, intimidating, chip-shouldered sort, which is far from what I usually try to do.  It's fun.  Cheesy

Shared info coming through email (completely understand you not sharing yours here, didn't really expect you to).

 8 
 on: May 28, 2020, 05:45:41 am 
Started by Phonics - Last post by Phonics
Fantasy Grounds also lets you hide the map, or rather just show areas you highlight. The feature is called masking and it makes dungeon exploration a breeze. It's one of the features of online play that will make going back to the table hard; not having to draw the map in real time. I guess you could also cover it up with pieces of construction paper or something and just reveal it room by room, but that assumes your group is actually going to go to the place you prepared for them to go to.

Similarly, characters have access to both a portrait and a token. Although the tokens are neat and I still use them for the bad guys, my group likes their portraits so much that I just use the portraits as a token. The head shot portraits clearly define their characters on the maps better than the tokens which inevitably look similar to the bad guys since there is little to no facial detail.

Discord recently included webcam support. Without dual monitors that seems difficult to use. I will give Roll20 the advantage there for having the little webcam windows. Though in my Roll20 group everyone just uses their profile picture anyway. I actually have to say that as a player in that game on Roll20, where no one can see my face, I have been emboldened to make character choices that I might not have made in person. I generally err on the side of making a likeable or funny character with that group, but without having the immediate knowledge of everyone's facial expressions judging my role play I have been playing a bit more on the dramatic side rather than comedic. Though deadpan humor still slips through on purpose from time to time because I cannot disregard comedic opportunities.

Likewise, I feel as a GM that reading my players' pauses, tone of voice, etc. is plenty in gathering their reactions. I can still tell exactly how everyone feels as scenes unfold. Though I am not good at reacting appropriately to strike up a good balance.

Actually, it's been a while since I have GM'd and this game is making me rife with anxiety. Two of my players love it and the other two are bored, boarding on being upset by it. I have always had issue with the 2 veteran players actually being incompatible player types and causing me great amounts of anxiety and drama in the past. Now with 2 new people playing since I last GM'd, each joining in different campaigns ran by these veteran players at various points, I can see a schism has formed. The newest player joined during the reign of the dungeon crawler's campaign and the other joined during the role player's campaign... and since we've been in the dungeon crawl campaign for over a year it has been a long time since we had good role play opportunities. I let the players run with any and all RP opportunities and town shenanigans they wish to pursue (consequences are mandatory of course); much to the dungeon crawler GM's dismay.

I personally love both RP and monster slaying, though as a player I pretty much hate traps and pointless dungeon exploration of hallways and empty rooms. On the RP side I hate when a grand storyteller GM throws the players into no win scenarios for the sake of capturing the players and running a prison break session.

It doesn't help that my players are very vocal about every little thing they dislike. I appreciate constructive criticism, but to please one side you almost have to piss off the other. All I see is a group that would have a better time if they were to split into two separate groups. We're all friends though so no one wants to admit that. And mostly, I just needed to vent.

I'll PM you my email address. Even though this forum is closed to the public, I'm not exactly trying to throw that information onto the interwebs.


 Fail I missed this emoticon.

 9 
 on: May 26, 2020, 10:55:11 am 
Started by Phonics - Last post by OddlucK
Thanks for the info, Phon!

My experience with Roll20 pretty well matches yours, except less thorough, as we've only really played with it... once?  Maybe?  But, I completely get being daunted/turned off by the DM setup.  I've imported maps there with some success and honestly find its map usage to be its best feature, i.e. the ability to let the users see only exactly as much as I want them to see is fantastic, even to the point of using sight-lines, though that's far from automated.  I also used a token/icon generator to make the character portraits I dug up (Google) into cool headshots.  I'd like to use it more, but the time required to make it fantastic is more than I really want to give, unless it was actually my job.  *shrug*

You're right that Discord (or similar) is required.  I'd lean toward wanting video chat, as a GM, if for no other reason than that I play with a younger crowd and the ability to read their reactions/interest to what's going on.

I'm all for sharing resources.  In fact, if you'll let me know whatever email address you're currently using, I'll happily share some with you, too.  I have... a few.  Cheesy

 10 
 on: May 25, 2020, 06:45:10 am 
Started by Phonics - Last post by Phonics
It was getting hard to read the shout box so I thought why not make a new discussion board and post a new topic! Exciting times we're living in! 2020 gets a classic Phonics wall of text!

 Fail

This is a general run down of my experiences playing Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5e online during Covidia in Spring 2020.

Playing online has been a mixed bag in regards to whether or not it is "better" than playing in-person. It's certainly different. I think online play lends itself well to smaller groups. I have gotten to enjoy a more intimate game than we are used to on roll20 with just one other player and a GM. Other players from that group opted not to play online. I have also gotten to run a game on Fantasy Grounds for my main group with 4 players and myself as the GM. Neither Roll 20 nor Fantasy Grounds is an all-in-one package, though Roll 20 probably could be with enough investment. With that I'll run through all the tools and how we have used them.

Roll 20
Pros:
  • Runs in the browser, no software install.
  • Has some features FG is missing, such as pinging the map, shared audio for music or ambience, webcam support, and status icons for tokens.
  • Character sheet the GM found/made for us to use was pretty intuitive overall.
  • Had a convenient advantage/disadvantage toggle.
  • Seems to have great support for 5e.

Cons:
  • System was so convoluted to start GMing that I immediately looked for alternatives for my own game.
  • Support for Pathfinder felt very lacking. If you play in systems other than 5e it might be hard finding the things you need.
  • Combat tracker is non-existent or very poor. My GM did not take the time to learn it and use it if it is there. This leads to zero transparency in game play for the players. Great for GMs who want to fudge rolls I guess.
  • In many places automation mechanics seem to be missing from Roll 20. This does make it feel more like pen and paper to some degree since so much needs to be tracked by the GM. That said, it might all be there. I got discouraged from trying to learn it because it was not an inviting experience.
Fantasy Grounds
Pros:
  • Supports many systems and older versions of popular systems
  • Combat tracker is superb
  • Character creation is drag and drop, even in bloated and complex Pathfinder. Find your race, class, feat, etc. from the library and drag it to your sheet. I use this to create NPCs and just mark them GM owned.
  • Adding and using conditional modifiers is really simple (Once you find the box for them)
  • Aesthetically pleasing and easy to get started. Its interface feels like classic D&D. That said, FG Classic, which is what I ran, also looks like it was made in the era of Windows XP.
  • Some publishers (Paizo at the very least) will let you link your PDF library to FG for discounts on the official content. Almost a con because you still have to buy said content twice. Large collection of supplemental materials and official campaign scenarios on the store.
  • Modules let you add tons of content to your game free of charge. Anything OGL (Open Gaming License) has free modules available, though they can be hard to find.

Cons:
  • As easy as it is to get started due to the design of the GUI some functions are un-intuitive as hell. Get used to right clicking everything to find extra options, even just closing out of the program.
  • Features missing from Roll20 require work arounds, such as drawing shapes on the map for simple pings.
  • No free version, though getting the ultimate license will let your players join for free.
  • You have to battle with Windows folder structure within the App Data folder to drop in your customized portraits, maps, etc. I find this easy enough to deal with, but many would not. It's also confusing because there are multiple versions of these folders, for instance 2 portrait folders, one for your campaign and a generic one.
  • We are constantly fighting with the tokens and grid not being synced up right for everyone. Though this could be because we have a player without internet using her phone's hotspot to connect.
  • The character targeting system is not intuitive. It's easiest to just Drag and drop dice from a character sheet (or combat tracker for monsters) to the token you want to target. Shift clicking works best for groups. The automation is REALLY nice though. Protip, always add everything you want to the combat tracker and then drag that token to the map.
  • You need screen real estate. Low resolution monitors do not give you enough room to work in Fantasy Grounds. I would say 1080p minimum is a must for the GM, maybe 1600x900. There are just too many windows to juggle and the FG classic system does not let you collapse them; they're either up or they're not.

Discord

It's really a must have. Skype or Zoom would probably work just as well. Could even go old school and use Mumble or Teamspeak. No matter which platform you choose, the caveat is that everyone needs voice chat etiquette. It's very easy for one or two people to dominate the airtime since you cannot really have multiple conversations going on at once. Zoom has "Breakout rooms" but they might be limited to paid licenses. Likewise, people can take the effort to move around to separate voice channels on Discord if you need to temporarily split the group to allow more simultaneous conversations. We have not used webcams in either group. After playing this way, I actually think the webcam would just be distracting for everyone.

Maps

I made most of my maps at https://inkarnate.com. There is a free version and it's amazing for over world maps, but it's quite limited unless you pay for the license. The pen tool for crafting the borders of the land and water makes everything look random and uneven, just like real coast lines. There is also https://www.dungeonographer.com/ which has a free version. I think this is better for dungeons. Each of these two tools really has its place, though I have not used dungeonographer yet, opting to make really low detail grid maps with inkarnate or stealing from the Googles.

FG does not have a map maker built in, though it does come with some sample maps. Stealing from a Google image search works well when I need something generic like a tavern. I cannot speak to Roll 20 on the matter of maps, but my 5e GM did say he made the town map we use the most in Roll20 and it looks great.

If you buy a campaign in Fantasy Grounds it should have every map, dungeon, and token you need and I assume the same goes for Roll20.

My thoughts and recommendations:

If your group is already comfortable with theater of the mind and you are playing 5e than Roll20 is easier to approach for players overall. Its extra web friendly features might make it the better deal even. It might be capable of the automation Fantasy Grounds provides, but I just have not seen it and its GM interface was a huge turn off in getting started.

As a GM, there is no contest though. Fantasy Grounds is far more approachable for building characters, encounters, story notes, inventory... everything. If you run a combat heavy game with minis and intricate character builds and spell effects and the like than Fantasy Grounds just offers so much sweet, sweet automation. While FG was far more approachable, I easily spent 5-10 hours really learning it and another one or two hours practicing combat and skill checks with one of my more computer savvy players before we played our first session.

If you end up getting into either system I can drop you some zip files of token packs and maps I have both made myself and gotten from the web. FG's grid system works better if you use maps that do not contain grid lines so most of mine do not have them. If you wanted the FG modules for all of the Pathfinder splat books I can drop you those as well.

This video by Matt Colville is what inspired me to try out Fantasy Grounds in the first place.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFj48x0c4EM

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