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Friday Night D&D – Tower of the Gods Session 3

Friday Night D&D – Tower of the Gods Session 3

We were back at it again last night with the third session of Tower of the Gods. Previously, our “heroes” Barrai, Bokken, and Thrain had gone through the test of the Tower with Steve as their fourth, unfortunately, Steve didn’t make it. Upon exiting the…

Pillars of D&D (Part 4 – Exploration)

Pillars of D&D (Part 4 – Exploration)

About a week ago, I started on a series talking about the three pillars of Dungeons and Dragons, Combat, Social Encounters and Exploration. I’ve talked about the first two, Combat and Social Encounters already and we’re onto the Pillar of Exploration Exploration might be considered…

Beyond the Box Cover – Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

Beyond the Box Cover – Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

Now I was tempted to just go straight into a TableTopTakes review of Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game because the first case lasted about three hours, but I do want to get another case under my belt before I do that, just to see how the experience really repeats with a new case.

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is a card driven and website assisted mystery game from Portal Games. In it you are a team of former detectives, FBI analysts, and others related to law enforcement who are trying their best to solve a series of related cases to the best of their ability. You do this by looking up clues on the Antares Database, reading information off a cards, and researching history of real world events and things that are tied together with the case.

Some light spoilers to come just in the general plot. In the first case you are tasked with figuring out where a golden watch came from that showed up at an Auction house near Richmond, Virginia, that was stolen from Poland during the Nazi occupation. Obviously, Poland is interested in getting this watch back, and the team at Antares has been been tasked with tracking the history of the watch back from when it was stolen by a German name Blutholz to how it ended up in the hands of a petty criminal Rupert Owens.

It gives you a few leads, a few things to look up in the database as you can look up Kurt Blutholz to see what you have on him and then Rupert Owens in the Antares database as well. That is going to give you more leads as you can push further into various lines of questioning, checking out the watch in question and taking it to the lab for testing to be done on it, or even checking out things like Rupert Owens law firm when you interview Rupert to see where he got the watch from. From there is branches out even further and you’re given more and more options to do, so many in fact that you won’t get through all 35 cards, guaranteed, because you’ll run out of time. And you can push yourself and work overtime, but that means that you’re going to dock points at the end of the game when you answer questions and get scored by Antares.

Let’s talk about that a little, is the end game good? There’s no card that says, congratulations, you’ve figured everything out. There’s no final bit of information that is going to make everything click into place, and in fact, you probably are going to hit a point where you just know you won’t be getting everything and you’ll have to guess, or not answer questions at the end with any level of confidence. Is that okay for a game like this or does it lessen the enjoyment level? For me, I personally thought it worked just fine. We weren’t given unlimited time to find information and to track the provenance of the watch, this was an attempt to get ahead of information coming out about how it ended up in the US, that was it. So the time constraint made it work well.

Image Source: Board Game Geek

The next big thing is the blend of technology and cards, which I think generally worked quite well. They tell you not to rush through the cards, and I don’t think that we did much of that, but we did a little bit of it, and that probably hurt us in the end. We were also doing this in May of 2020 in Minnesota with a Shelter at Home order, so we were playing via Zoom. I think that’s certainly possible that it made it a bit more difficult than if it had been in person. But I don’t think it was massively more difficult. We were able to share screens and I could hold up cards and other things so that the other players could more easily see them on camera. It required that the person with the game, myself, had to repeat what leads were more often, but that wasn’t an issue of the game itself, it was more just a situation from having to play via zoom.

I want to touch on the length of the game. The first case, we got through it in about two hours and forty-five minutes or so, maybe a little bit less. We went through probably slightly faster than you are supposed to go through everything, but I think that it worked just fine to do that. And I don’t think that the time is an issue in this game. It took us almost three hours, and I was engaged the whole time and didn’t realize it was nearly as late as it was when we wrapped up. I would have guessed a couple of hours because my old fashioned was gone and had been for a little bit, but beyond that, time moved by really quickly. I have to give credit to Portal Games for creating such an engaging game, the story was well put together, we got a lot of the information, but not all of it that we needed, and we felt, for the most part, that we didn’t go down too many rabbit trails. And the fact that the five cases in the core box tie together is amazing. In the first case we got an additional four cards to add to other cases that could help us then.

Finally, replayability is going to be a question about this game. Is it worth it for five cases at three hours per case, is there value in getting the game, or can cases be replayed? Now, I think if you wanted to min/max your score, you certain could play again. With that said, a case is not extremely replayable, at least not in rapid succession. I could see playing it again as the case runner where I’m handling the cards, reading out information, and answering questions about the game in general, but I don’t think I could sit down and replay the case answering stuff myself and tracking down a particular order for quite some time. So that is a negative to the game. However, this game as an event with a group of friends works really well, and it depends on if you want a game that maybe doesn’t offer as much experience in the story and deduction as this does but that you can replay again and again. For me the experience just through one case has been very much worth it.

Let me know your thoughts on the game in the comments below.

Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!

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Back or Brick: Hel: The Last Saga

Back or Brick: Hel: The Last Saga

The north is a cold and dangerous place where monsters roam the lands, but the Vikings are hearty folk but even this might be too much for them, will they be able to survive the horrors that await? Pros Established Company on Kickstarter Pedigree of…

Pillars of D&D (Part 3 Social Encounters)

Pillars of D&D (Part 3 Social Encounters)

Just a quick recap of what’s come before, there are three different pillars to Dungeons and Dragons, according to Dungeons and Dragons. Those are Combat, Social Encounters, and Exploration, you can find an overview of everything here. Then I went on to talk about what…

10 Minute Marvel Episode 44 – The Hunted – The Amazing Spider-Man

10 Minute Marvel Episode 44 – The Hunted – The Amazing Spider-Man

Light week on news, but I dive into an Amazing Spider-Man story from 2018, The Hunted. It’s an interesting story as it’s not a direct follow up but has some parallels to Kraven’s Last Hunt, even though they are set decades apart in terms of when they were written.

If you have any news that you see come in during the week, let me know in the comments below. Or you can tweet me the articles @TheScando or share them using #10MinMarvel. That’ll help me stay up to date on all the latest news and be able to share it with you. Or, send me suggestions to Marvel characters to cover or comic book stories to read on Marvel Unlimited.

And if you are enjoying the podcast, first of all, thank you for listening, and secondly, please consider leaving a rating and review. Those help more people find the podcast and join in the 10 Minute Marvel community. The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play Music.

I’ll see you next time!

Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!

Email us at nerdologists@gmail.com
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Visit us on Facebook here.

Top 10 – Games That Are Best With 2 Players

Top 10 – Games That Are Best With 2 Players

Probably should have done this list sooner with people needing to shelter in place during Covid-19 pandemic, but better late than never. I’m talking about games that work well with 2 players versus 2 player only games because I’m not sure that I’ve sat down…

Friday Night D&D – Hell’s Run

Friday Night D&D – Hell’s Run

Like always, I’m borrowing from things when creating my idea for a D&D campaign, this time I’m looking at a couple of shows that I have enjoyed Helix and Nightflyers, both are about a group of people, set alone either in Antarctica or in space,…

Pillars of D&D (Part 2: Combat)

Pillars of D&D (Part 2: Combat)

Dungeons and Dragons is built upon three pillars, Combat, Social Encounters, and Exploration. Now, these pillars don’t always evenly share the load, nor should they. I talk some about why and what the basics of these pillars are in Part 1. But now I am diving into each of the three pillars starting with what’s often the biggest pillar, Combat.

Combat is often just looked at as swinging your sword, shooting an arrow, a spell or two and you beat the bad guy. It’s a chance to roll dice and use most of your character sheet that’s focused towards combat. And that’s certainly some of what you’ll be doing. It does give you a chance to show off your character and what everything on the sheet says that they can do. But when it’s just that, even though it’s the generally the pillar supporting the most weight, it can be a fairly uninteresting pillar, unless you’re just there to be the best fighter that you can be.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Instead, combat should be part of the story, not a break from the story. Though, there may be times with random encounters that a combat doesn’t have a big story element to it, it should always be informing something going forward. Even a random encounter should be used to highlight how dangerous an area is, if there’s a chance of an encounter popping up. It should be a reminder to the players that the world isn’t safe, and while it might not progress the story, not getting in a long rest is going to stress out the players.

So, to build up Combat as a pillar you can do several things to keep it from just being the same thing over and over again, or from feeling like combat for combat’s sake.

  1. Make the Combat Encounter Important To The Story
  2. Use Alternate Combat Objectives
  3. Use Smart/Engaging Monsters
  4. Don’t Over Use Random Encounters

1 – Make The Combat Encounter Important To The Story
Already started talking about that a bit, but this is one of the biggest things that you can do to make combat interesting. I ran a one-shot recently where the players had to fight a group of bandits. Now, that wasn’t all that interesting in and of itself, they were just level 1 characters, the bandits didn’t put them in that much danger. However, they found, in the merchants wagon that had been stolen, some interesting documents. Combat was simple, but the documents are now something to lead them further into a story if we decide to continue that game. It’s nothing massive in terms of changing up the combat, but it makes the combat feel like there was a reason for it greater than just killing the bandits. And that bandit fight, since there was a new player to D&D, was mainly to give them a bit of all three pillars not because it was going to be super exciting, but because it was a combat. Only because there was a payoff at the end did it make it all that interesting.

2 – Use Alternate Combat Objectives
This one is one of the biggest, possibly as big as it being important to the story, things that you can do to improve your combat pillar. Not all combat has to be about killing everything. And most of the time you don’t want to kill everyone is because of some story reason. An example of this that you see in Video Games as well as RPG’s is the escort mission. Technically your goal is to get Ms. X from point A to point B without her dying. Now, you can do that by killing everyone you encounter, or you can do that by sneaking herself and your self around. That’s easier to avoid most of the combat in an RPG that way, but you still may have to fight to create a path for Ms. X to get through to complete the mission. Or it could be that someone might escape with something you want if you don’t get through their goons in a certain number of rounds. Or you may need to kill the High Priestess in a certain number of rounds before she can complete the ritual and summon a monster, end the world, whatever it might be. While the players are still using their combat skills throughout, it is going to feel like it’s different than just a hack and slash until everyone is dead.

Image Source: Wizards of the Coast

3 – Use Smart/Engaging Monsters
You can always just do combat as mob of goblins attacking and then mob of bandits rushing in and attacking, and then mob of hobgoblins and so on as the players go up in levels, but that’s going to cause the combats to feel similar. It is kind of a blank canvas fight where you have two sides meeting in an arena or an open field, rushing at each other, fighting, and then one side wins when the other is dead. But goblins, bandits, and hobgoblins should all be smarter than that. In fact, even animals will often attack more intelligently than that. If they are facing off against an Owlbear and it takes down one of the PC’s (player characters), that Owlbear is probably going to try and take that body somewhere safe so it can eat it, not attack the players. So allow the monsters to do smart and interesting things, like run away. Now, maybe the players will shoot the fleeing goblins in the back and none will make it away, but what happens in your story if the goblin escapes? Do they come back with more goblins, do they try and set a trap after a straight forward assault doesn’t work, do they move on somewhere else and now the players are responsible for goblin infestation somewhere else? You can do a lot of interesting things, not just in combat, but after combat with smart combatants. Even in combat, the PC’s are in a bar fight, have whom ever they are fighting hide behind tables after flipping them over, swing from the chandelier (there’s always a chandelier), take a drink in the middle of combat or spit alcohol into a PC’s face. Basically no intelligent combatant is going to just rush straight in to their demise, so don’t run them like that, make the players have to get creative in their combat to beat them.

4 – Don’t Over Use Random Encounters
I already talked about this some, but random encounters generally have more of that animal stalking you while you sleep, rushes in for a kill, and then gets slaughtered, or dragon shows up randomly now PC’s need to run away or turn into ash. However, there are reasons to use them, and that’s because you want to show off what the players might be coming up against on the mission that they’re on currently. Or that the players might need to run or be worried about going through a certain area. I, in the Dungeons and Flagons campaign, used a few giant random encounters, they were meant less as combat but to show the players that they were taking a very dangerous route, shorter but more dangerous, to get to where they wanted to go. But if you’re making the players set-up traps, guards, and anything else they can do to protect themselves each night and it’s more about survival of the night than progressing the story, that might be too many random encounters, unless they are very meaningful.

So, I said I was going to give some examples to steal. Things you can do in your campaign, or interesting combats that you can possibly work in. And I’ll admit it, combat isn’t my specialty so these are going to be a little bit vague. That’s also so you can adapt it to your own game as well.

Combat Encounter 1 – Death of a Salesman

Set-up: The shop owner the players always go to has had something important stolen from his shop, in fact something that was very important to an important client that they’d ordered in especially for that client, the PC’s need to get it back. If not the client will have the shop owner killed.

Combat:
I’d set this in a thieve’s guild or some sort of organized crime set-up, give the players a house to explore and kill the bad guys in the rooms. But since the shop owners life is on the line, they can’t just kick the door down. This is a sneak from room to room and kill as quickly and quietly as possible so that the MacGuffin isn’t moved somewhere else.

This is a chance to do a longer combat where the players never really drop out of combat because it’s such a contained space. They might never be fighting more than two or three thieves or guards or whomever at the same time, but it would ratchet up the stress. Also, with there being a MacGuffin for them to get at the end, there is also an alternate objective. And they are fighting on the mob or thieve’s guild’s home turf, so their combatants would be smart in what they do.

Outcome: Either they get the MacGuffin or they don’t and the shop owner dies or is seriously injured. I’d also use this moment to let them find, no matter what, some information that helps them on their main quest.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Combat Encounter 2 – The Witches Circle

Set-up: There is a coven of witches (hags) who the players need to deal with, mainly because they’ve kidnapped someone for a sacrifice or an animal. This works well for a one shot, stop this thing or something bad happens.

Combat:
I’m throwing undead in here, I think that the witches have raised zombies or skeletons and the players need to fight through those to get to the circle of witches to stop the spell that they are trying to cast.

The witches themselves are in a circle, and killing a witch just makes the circle smaller and the spell have less of a chance of going off. But the main goal for the players is to stop the spell and rescue the person, let’s say not animal in this situation. So the players are going to need to fight through the undead, kill some witches, and all of this should be timed. Give them a certain number of rounds, and after that the spell happens.

Outcome: Either the players save the person, or if they don’t and they haven’t killed any witches, the spell goes off without a hitch. But for each witch from the circle that they’ve killed, say there are ten to start, there is a chance, and an increasing chance that the spell doesn’t go off. So I’d set the target number as rolling at or under a 20 to start, every witch that’s killed, subtract 2, and if all are killed, that means you’d be rolling to get under a zero, but if there are five of the ten left, that means if the witches roll over a 10, the spell fails, though the person still dies.

Combat Encounter 3 – The Beasts

Set-up: Players are out exploring on their way to some mission and they start to notice a presence stalking them. But not just one presence and not just once, several over several times.

Combat: This is an animal ambush, I’m thinking use something like Dire Wolves if that’s an appropriate level for your PC’s, and make them a little bit smarter. Have the wolves run in and out of the shadows and of the woods biting at players, make it so that most of the players clear shots at the wolves are going to be reaction attacks, so pretty mundane attacks. And have the Dire Wolves, beasts, focus on the smallest character first. Not the weakest, it might be that you have a gnome fighter so they can handle it better, but whatever looks like the smallest prey to the beasts, once the beasts have taken their prey down, the smallest prey, they’re going to try and leave with it.

Outcome: Players defeat the beasts who are clearly hungry or the players lose one PC to the wolves.

You can see how in none of these are the players just fighting for the life of their party. Yes, in the first encounter, they might very well all die, but that’s not the only losing condition. For both the Death of a Salesman and Witches Circle, the bad outcome isn’t death of the player characters, it’s death of someone else. In the last one, it’s about losing one player character. So even though they’ll be fighting, we have all sorts of different styles of whom their fighting, the end goal of the fights, and how they should go about fighting.

And that’s what good combat can really be in a game, instead of just hacking and slashing. Now, I don’t think that hacking and slashing is always a bad idea, but it can be lacking and it more so can get old. So be creative as the DM and create interesting combat encounters for the story that aren’t always just about killing everything.

What are some of the best combat encounters you’ve taken part in, either as a player or a DM?

Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!

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Teaching Board Games

Teaching Board Games

There are a lot of videos and thoughts on how to teach a board game well as it can be a hard thing to do. Especially for bigger games, it can take a long time or it can be a lot of information dumped on…