Thursday, June 29, 2023

Watching Again: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Here are my thoughts while watching this one again.

  • The opening flashback, to a time when Indy was young, could be a fun idea for a campaign. The players have a chance to work through such an experience, with one focusing on their regular character, and the others playing different ones, like Herman. It wouldn't be anything too dangerous, but helps build background and give insight into a formative experience.

  • The scene aboard the train is a great example of using the rules for Chases. In this case, each card in the sequence can represent one train car, with different obstacles and hazards—crates and baggage, a rhinoceros, snakes, a lion, the magician's caboose—for each card/car.

  • We move from there into a good series of clues, not too hard or too easy, with atmospheric exploration and then another good example of a chase aboard boats.

  • The Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword is a good example of a rival organization—not enemies, but people who opposed to the heroes. They want to protect the location of the Holy Grail, but Indy knows that seeking it will lead to his father.

  • Indy's ruse of pretending to be Lord Clarence MacDonald, followed by a punch, is just the kind of hare-brained impersonation that one of my players might try.

  • We move from there into a series of encounters highlighted by great roleplaying and fast action. There's the confrontation in which Elsa's betrayal is revealed; a fiery escape and motorcycle chase; venture back into Berlin; escape on a dirigible; and airplane chase. The GM does a good job of keeping things moving here. At the same time, the two players do great work playing their characters and digging into their father-son relationship.

  • Then we have another convoy sequence, reminiscent of the one from Raiders, but with more characters and elements in play. Kazim and the Brotherhood make their return, too, showing that Indy gained some allies by showing mercy.

  • I can imagine the tank chase playing out on the tabletop, too. Indy and the tank are moving from card to card, as are Sallah and other vehicles, and there's combat taking place on and in the tank. This is fun stuff!

  • I can imagine that, when the out-of-control tank drives over the cliff, both Indy and Vogel make Acrobatics or Athletics checks to jump to safety; Indy succeeds, and Vogel fails. Henry, Brody and Sallah all fail Notice checks to spot Indy, and we have some more good roleplaying while they respond as if he is dead.

  • That is a cold-blooded moment when Donovan shoots Henry. What a way to sell the villain!

  • Then there are four cool traps/puzzles/tests. Donovan's failure at the fourth test is a nice throwback to the end of Raiders.

  • It's a cool image, seeing Indy with the Grail Knight.

  • Of course, the final test is whether to try claiming the prize, or letting it go. Elsa fails the test, but Indy and Henry are able to pass it. We've moved from pursuing “fortune and glory” in Temple of Doom to seeking “illumination” in this one.

  • And then they ride off into the sunset. That could have been a great end to the campaign, if that was actually the end of it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Watching Again: Raiders of the Lost Ark


Here are my thoughts while watching this one again.

  • I watched this movie many, many times on VHS—so many times, in fact, that the tape broke and we had to tape the tape. When it came out on DVD, it was amazing to watch it on my computer. Now I can see the high-definition quality on a big TV screen, and I love it.

  • The opening sequence is a great example of how a GM could use the end of a previous adventure as the start of a new scenario, kicking off the action in media res before slowing things down t introduce new plot elements.

  • The subtitles help me understand lines that I've misunderstood for more than forty years.

  • The opening sequence also introduces one of the main villains for the film—and Indy's fear of snakes—which is sensible story development.

  • It is fun to see Indy go from fieldwork to the classroom. This could also be interesting in an RPG, with characters having to shift between roles and skill sets in different settings.

  • Yes, the implication that Indy took advantage of a young Marion is discomfiting. There is no getting around that.

  • Toht is just one in a series of excellent villians; the GM did a great job of creating NPCs for this adventure. He, along with Bellog and the German mechanic, are so solid that the German boss villain, Dietrich, does not need to be so distinctive.

  • When Toht unwittingly burns the imprint of the medallion into his hand, it's a good example of how a failed roll can still bring about success.

  • I love the use of “travel by map” as a segue between scenes. It shows off just how much of the world Indy is covering in this globetrotting adventure.

  • We have some great foreshadowing here, when both Brody and Sallah warn Indy about messing with the Ark. This comes up again when Belloq is so excited to pursue it, whether or not he must then turn it over to Adolf Hitler.

  • Indy is presented with a chance for an awesome bullwhip vs. sword fight, but goes for his pistol instead. I could see many of my players making the same choice.

  • We see more use of Bennies to manipulate the story when the monkey gives away the fact that Marion is hiding from the attackers in a basket, and that the Nazis switched baskets before loading one onto the truck that ends up exploding.

  • The map room is a fun example of a puzzle that does not require puzzle solving. As long as the heroes acquire the needed item and made some skill checks, then they can find what they need to learn from this encounter.

  • That is a tough spot for Indy, having to decide if he frees Marion or continues his search for the Ark without her. This is a tough GM.

  • Continuing that theme, the GM clearly plays upon the hero's Hindrance in the Well of the Souls. “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”

  • When Dietrich has Marion thrown into the Well, we see some dissention in the ranks among the villains. That's good writing.

  • Indy's player has to be spending some Bennies during the fight with the German mechanic, and must be making some good Soak rolls.

  • That is the greatest love scene of all time.

  • When the Nazi stencil is burned off of the crate, that should be a warning to the villains.

  • The deus ex machina ending might seem disempowering for the heroes, but in this case I think it is entirely appropriate. After all, the foreshadowing (mentioned above) should make it clear that this is a sacred and powerful relic, not a magical item for them to use or sell.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Reflection on Light of Xaryxis

Earlier this month my group finished playing through this campaign; here are some thoughts from my players and myself. Here's a link to my notes from it. 

Spelljammer Campaign Notes

  • This was the campaign that I needed for this school year. We are still playing every other week, during the school year, which means we have some eighteen sessions for the campaign. That worked well, with one for each part of Spelljammer Academy (four total) and one for each part of Light of Xaryxis (twelve in all). It was exciting for me to see the new Spelljammer books and to delve more deeply into 5th Edition D&D.

  • The storyline was pretty straightforward, with each chapter leading into the next one. My group was okay with this, although I wouldn't want it to be the play style for every campaign.

  • Juggling three books at one time was sometimes challenging. In one scene, for example, the PCs faced some psurlons aboard a nautiloid, requiring me to have all three of them open. I understand why they're organized in that way, but it was a little cumbersome.

  • Along that same line, it would be nice to have the Astral Adventurer's Guide available by itself, rather than requiring people to buy it along with the adventure book and Boo's Astral Menagerie. Players don't need the Menagerie, and certainly not the adventure.

  • Some of my players were surprised by the scope and scale of the scenario. I felt a little guilty running a campaign in which all of Toril was at stake, seeing as I haven't done much with the Forgotten Realms in the past. My players were familiar with the setting, though, and enjoyed the references to it in Spelljammer Academy.

  • It became a running joke when we referred to their “lengthy and comprehensive” training at the academy, seeing as their characters gained four levels in as many sessions and about twelve hours of play. That setup did work well for bringing them to 5th level to start the campaign book, at which point the pace slowed to an advancement every three sessions.

  • I was impressed by the amount of support material that was available from the DM's Guild website for use with this campaign. I only ended up using one of them—a scenario called Mind Flayer Over Matter—but there were many more available. While the Dungeons & Dragons game has long had third-party content available, I'd not previously seen it to be designed intentionally for use with an existing campaign storyline.

  • In the end, my players enjoyed the campaign, and that's what really matters.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Watching Again: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Here is my first reflection on these movies, which were highly influential on the development of Treasure Hunter Adventures


Watching Again—Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Here are my thoughts for the film that comes first in chronological order.

  • What if the engraving of the mountain on the gong in Club Obi-Wan was a treasure map in its own right? That could be a fun challenge, making a copy of the engraving (or even stealing the gong outright!).

  • Lao Che makes a good recurring villain, one who is not crucial to this adventure, but who is powerful and could seek revenge against Indy.

  • Given the tendency in the 1980s to add young kids to aging TV series, one might first balk at having Short Round as Indy's sidekick for this adventure. I disagree, for two reasons. One I will explain later. The other is seeing these two actors reunited during the recent Academy Awards, and recognizing the respect that they have for each other.

  • I'm not sure that I could handle the Willie Scott character for a whole campaign, but she makes a fun foil for Indy on this adventure.

  • The bit about using the life raft to jump out of the airplane may seem silly, but it's just the kind of thing that, if the players wanted to try it, then the GM should let them. I can imagine Strength checks to hang on during the fall, and then Boating to steer it, first down the mountainside and then through the river rapids.

  • It is an interesting plot element, to have the heroes crash land due to previous conflicts, when the locals interpret it as divine providence.

  • Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”

  • I recognize the risk of portraying different ethnic groups as villains and running into negative stereotypes, which is an issue in this film. The dinner scene is evidence of this.

  • The dinner scene does provide an example of a character's previous actions catching up with him, as Indy is called out about his “misunderstanding” in Madagascar.

  • The “black sleep of Kali” is one of those plot devices that can be fun if used once, but should not be overdone. Players don't like having the GM take over their characters.

  • That brings us to the point where the heroes' decisions raise the emotional stakes in the scenario. Once they decide to free the children, this is about much more than finding fortune and glory through treasure hunting.

  • And then we move into a great sequence of set-piece combat scenes. From the fight on the conveyor belt, to the mine cart chase, to the confrontation on the bridge, the story moves from one exciting and dramatic moment to another.

  • I can picture the Chase rules being used during the minecart scene, with the opposing parties finding themselves in better or worse situations.

  • The bridge scene, then, seems like one of those times when the players' decisions have put their characters into an untenable situation, but one of them devises a strategy for turning the tables. Kudos to the GM for allowing the tactic to work, if the rolls confirm it.

  • Short Round's fight with the Maharaja pays its dividends when the ruler—having himself been saved from the Black Sleep—brings Captain Blumburrt brings his soldiers to snipe at the Thuggee archers.

  • The conclusion, given that we don't see Shortie or Willie in Raiders, leaves me wondering whatever happened to those characters. In an RPG, of course, they could pop up once again in future adventures.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Generic Heroes for Treasure Hunter Adventures

Generic Heroes is not available from DrivethruRPG. It takes the eight archetypal characters from the first Treasure Hunter Adventures supplement, adds the Technician from THA6: Expeditions & Excavations, and then reformats them as print-and-play character sheets that players can make their own by adding names, descriptive information, and other such details. 

Generic Heroes for Treasure Hunter Adventures


Thursday, June 1, 2023

Preview of Generic Heroes for Treasure Hunter Adventures

This product takes the eight archetypal characters from the first Treasure Hunter Adventures supplement, adds the Technician from THA6: Expeditions & Excavations, and then reformats them as print-and-play character sheets that players can make their own by adding names, descriptive information, and other such details. 

They are great for GMs who want to let players dive into a treasure hunt quickly, without having them play the Iconic Heroes or other pre-generated characters. 

There's even room for a character sketch.