Free RPG Day 2012


Today being my first day off since Saturday, I can finally talk about what was my second RPG day ever personally, and my first RPG day at Dragon’s Den in Poughkeepsie.

My friends had talked it up for weeks. You roll a giant inflated d20 and win prizes at the door. There’s hot sales going on all day. And they run the games for you all day long so you can try out the games and meet new gamers and have a good time.

I was kinda impressed, since my last experience at the Bookery was akin to a hit-and-run: grab two-to-three modules you like, maybe buy something else while you’re there, leave, go get Jeet Indian buffet for lunch afterwards. And getting to play instead of GM would be a welcome addition.

We got there early and stood with the crowd of about a dozen other gamers eagerly waiting for the store to open, but when they finally got the gate up and they dug out the sign-up sheet that had been misplaced, we were dismayed to see that all of the fantasy slots had already been filled. “Oh, you should have signed up ahead a time.” “Well, we live 45 minutes away…” “So call ahead!”

I guess if finding GM’s is difficult, it makes sense, and the regulars ought to get a headstart on the rest of us, I guess, but it sure did suck to get there exactly at 10am and literally not have any game to play.

Dungeons & More Dungeons

So I ran a “pickup session” of the D&D offering, “Dead in the Eye”: an Adventure for Characters of Levels 8-10. One of the store waifs was kind enough to print up six eighth-level character sheets for the four of us plus one other player who had missed out on the signups and we had at it.

You can tell by that face she’s enjoying mercilessly slaughtering her players in an unbalanced encounter.

By “pickup session,” I mean Kat goes out into the mall proper to get away from the noise and tries to focus long enough to read through the first few pages of backstory and encounters, memorizing the monster’s tactics and the lay of the land as there were no maps to be had–a stark contrast to the beautiful packet that came with Bloodsand Arena some years back. Neither were there any pre-generated PC’s to use. Again, in previous years WotC had included encounters-style half-sheets that featured source material out of the latest books (then Dark Sun, or last year’s Shadowfell and Heroes of Shadow books). One blogger suggested they tie it in to the Underdark event that is pretty apparent right now, making it a side quest from the Encounters series with carry-over rewards, and in that respect they missed out on a huge opportunity. (I can’t remember where I read it, if anyone knows please link them in the comments so I can credit their idea!)

Spellplague in my Beholder? More disturbing than you’d think.

“Dead in the Eye” itself is a pretty lame adventure, all told. The first encounter is brutal on PC’s if you don’t have five or they weren’t powergamed/optimized (e.g. if you printed them up from the DDI character builder’s selection of premades). Spoiler alert: it features an abberant/mutated Beholder that had a bad case of vagina dentata and the wimpy group that’s been tracking it down ever since it and its foulspawn massacred a nearby city. Because every minion’s at-will teleports another nearby enemy adjacent to it, even the minions took a long time to resolve, and in an hour and a half’s time we didn’t even get to Event 3, the Far Maze, which looked like it could have been interesting, if unsolvable depending on the creativity of the group at your table.

We stopped mid-encounter for want of time, and couldn’t quite decide whether we had a TPK on our hands or whether the last one standing and only good character in the group, the Blackguard, could have clinched the victory on behalf of his fallen compatriots. We probably won’t be going back to the adventure anytime soon, either.

The Galaxy’s Alight and Everyone’s got a Headache

Next up was the demo for the yet-to-be-released Warhammer 40k RPG, Only War: Eleventh Hour, which features Imperials Guardsmen and all the attendant atrocities and propaganda. I’d forgotten just how fun it is to role-play an expendable in the grimdark future that holds only war (get it?), and was surprised to see that I was the only one interested in playing the tech-priest, who was clearly the best character of the bunch. In addition to Thelias, we had two Ogryn, two Weapons Specialists, and one Heavy Gunner in our party, and the six of us managed to get out of the region alive.

Welcome to the Jungle

Design wise, there was an interesting mix of challenges and locations, ranging from a corrupt Supply Officer to traversing deadly swamps, from salvaging parts to facing an Ork Kommando on a bridge in our makeshift transport. I wish our Narrator had given the Commisar more of a voice, as they’re terribly entertaining and usually another antagonist for the guardsmen, but otherwise she did a fine job of adjudicating our antics and keeping the story going. Even just skimming over the rest of the adventure, I can tell we only scratched the surface of what was there, and I definitely intend to run it for my group at some point and utilize the bonus content off the Fantasy Flight Website: two more characters (plus a revision of the Ogryn). Previous Free RPG days saw one more adventuring continuing where the previous left off, so I’ll be hoping one appears soon.

Besides from getting to yell, “I hear the Machine-spirit’s voice!” and “For the Emprah!” here and there, it was good to play a skill-based character in an adventure that really did reward cleverness over pure bloodthirstiness, but as veterans of the games and universe we all knew that we would probably be in over our heads if we dared take on more than a small handful of Orks at a time. The characters were all pretty balanced and interesting to role-play, you definitely got a sense of the disparate power level (between them and, say Chaos Space Marines), and the jungle world setting evoked movies such as the Predator and Rambo well. I wasn’t sure about getting it before, but due to my love for Imperial Guardsmen and the sheer pleasure of playing in the world, I may have to invest in the core book come August.

Whaaat? Kat’s not GM’ing this time?

More Steam for you Punks

Last, we bailed on the Mutants & Masterminds game (since we were the only players) and joined the Steampunk LARP for the Brass & Steel system which I had seen crop up on DriveThruRPG during my searching for material for my Steampunk Lady Blackbird campaign. I got to play the hostess, Lady Sibyl Rocksavage, while Eric played an American Millionaire (Vanderbilt, I believe), Ledlie played the Policeman and Otis walked around drunk as the Airship (Pirate) Captain.

Pop! Six! Squish! Uh uh, Cicero, Lipschitz!

Overall, I wasn’t really impressed. For simple rules and a wonderful concept, see Lady Blackbird and her Companion for a free RPG that’s superbly crafted. For more setting and crunch, there’s Victoriana by Cubicle 7. Brass & Steel falls somewhere in between them, but the d20 system we utilized for LARP wasn’t explained very well (so you roll under your Ability+Skill?) and there was essentially no rolling needed given all the role-playing we did. I’d rather use the Blood & Tears LARP rules, if anything, since the Style Bids give players a level of control while rewarding failure, which is important with big groups, I feel.

The adventure itself was best described as “Steampunk Clue” and had a hard time keeping all the characters invested in what was going on, not to mention wasn’t particularly surprising (somehow either too much character background was revealed early or it was just that predictable). The Policeman agonized over the order in which the three women each exacted their own revenge on the poor Mr. Howie (I can only hum, “He had it coming!”), which didn’t make logical sense, as it was implied that he had to “prove” it to the players whereas you would think that, given the day and age, he would take all suspects into custody and be done with it.

Other Games & Modules

Nobody ended up running either of the Dungeon Crawl Classics modules, so they handed that one out freely, but the rest of the modules were only available to the players who had taken part. Because Pathfinder had filled up immediately, it was only because someone didn’t want theirs (or left it behind) that I got my hands on “Dawn of the Scarlet Sun.” With a gaming group filled with Pathfinder fanboys and girls, I’m sure I’ll end up using it one night when we don’t have enough players for the regular campaign but still want to play something. The map contest for Goodman Games’ Free RPG Day offering next year also looks enticing, and I plan on drawing from my early run-ins with fantasy to try and evoke that “Appendix N” feel (Neverending Story, Record of Lodoss War, I’m looking at you).

Dragon’s Den wasn’t running any sales of any sort, which was fail, but I did pick up the Urban Underdark Dungeon tiles and applied my $10 reward coupon to it, so I ended up only spending $2.50 for an accessory for my Drow campaign. Sorry, guys, you’ll have to do better than that to get me to let go of my money (at least, if you’re not gonna offer any Indie RPG’s on your shelves for me to try). Still, at least they offered Free RPG Day at all, or I would have been completely out of luck barring a two hour train ride down to New York City, which I wasn’t up to doing.

This year was fun, but let’s go for a little more pomp next year. Hell, I’ll even sign up to run games if you’re that desperate. Especially if I get Q-workshop dice for doing so.

One Response to “Free RPG Day 2012”

  1. I managed to totally miss free RPG day, but there was one game I really wanted to try, so I just downloaded it direct from source, and me and a few friends rocked Only War a few weeks past. It was good fun, but I think I’ll wait for the full release before passing judgement. http://shortymonster.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/eleventh-hour-an-only-war-play-test/

    I do wish I could have taken a shot at Brass and steel I know you weren’t enamored, but I just get a kick out of steampunk…

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