Saturday, February 28, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
Anyhoo, I've shared crazy critters from other installments of the 'Monster Matrix' column a couple times before. Issue 24's Matrix brings us stats for what is in all likelihood the whimpiest god to ever to appear in D&D. Or possibly any other game. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...
Fire God by Scott Zeppa
Fire God can only be hit by magical weapons. Attacker(s) must withdraw after four melee rounds for one round unless the attacker takes [a] Potion of Fire Resistance or wields a Sword of Cold. If not, the attacker must wait the one round before he/she may return to combat. The Fire God has a pet Hell Hound.
I feel pretty confident that Mr. Zeppa didn't own Gods, Demigods & Heroes when he wrote up stats for this guy, otherwise Fire God probably wouldn't be so weak. A three hit dice god kinda suggests that maybe he ran his campaign with only the Holmes Basic rulebook. Maybe all his deities are three hit dice and PCs who made third level in Zeppa's campaign were considered semi-divine. Holmes put quite a few badass monsters in his edit of the rules, so the gods themselves would have to be pretty careful! (On the other hand, the lack of any attack/damage info suggests pre-Greyhawk OD&D. You're just supposed to know that Fire God does one attack for d6 damage (presumably fire) because almost everyone does d6 damage.)
If you use Fire God with the rules in Deities & DemiGods he could actually still be a pretty bad threat. Even as a mere demigod he would gain sweet saving throws (2 or higher on all saves) and a bunch of at will abilities: command (no save), comprehend languages (including speaking and writing), detect alignment, gate, geas (9"), quest (9", no save), teleport without error, true seeing. The gate ability only applies to members of your own pantheon, so in this case I guess that means Fire God would be able to gate in his dog.
Under the DDG this dude would also get the ability to grant cleric spells up to 5th level. So you could set up this awesome scenario where Fire God hangs out at his sweet-ass temple, living the high life. The High Priest of the faith thinks his deity is a total douchebag and he KNOWS he could take Fire God in a fight, but if the god is slain the EHP loses his best spells, forever. The challenge for a low level party (incapable of a direct confrontation) would be to somehow provoke the EHP to strike in anger. If the priest wins the cult of the Fire God is totally hosed. If Fire God prevails at least the world has one less EHP in it.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The party ended up consisting of two fighters (Grognard Whiplash and Fergus Landry), two magic-users (Wheelz and Reginald Featherweight), a cleric (Deric Holyborn) and a dwarf (Fonkin Wurp). I thought that was a very reasonable mix of character types. It was just big enough that the two wizardly types could concentrate on mapping and holding the lantern, with only the occasional intervention to cast sleep or slay a fake dragon with a thrown dart. Speaking of sleep, under most editions of D&D it only affects human/demihuman/humanoid types. We discovered last night that in LL it affects “creatures”. That was a major difference when the party opened the door on the room full of giant rats. And here I was looking forward to infecting a few of them with the rat pox. Oh, well.
Good ol’ sleep ended up coming in handy in several encounters last night. In the first session against Stonehell most of the fights had been with the undead. Last night the party faced a wide array of sleep-able foes: kobolds, orcs, rats, psychokillers. I think the party was out of MU spells by the time they fought the psychos, but Deric managed to use hold person on two of them. “Psychokillers” is my term for stock berserkers, by the way. When encountered in dungeons I tend to describe them as axe-wielding maniacs from slasher flicks, rather than as Vikings. “You open the door and waiting for you on the other side are two Jason Voorhees and three Leatherfaces. They attack.” The psychos achieved surprise and won initiative on the following round, so I had them pour into the corridor among the party. Two even got swings in at the magic-users, but I rolled really crappily so no mage slaughter. Jim used the Big Purple d30 Rule to overpower Fergus’s counterattack on one of the psychos, totaling exploding the dude and splashing the party and the corridor in buckets of blood. Jim was pissed that the slasher guy had eviscerated his pet kobold.
Earlier in the night the party had beat up on a bunch of kobold civilians working trap reset duty. Before all the slept kobolds could be slaughtered Fonkin the Dwarf decided to spare two of them to serve him as trap detectors. He used his rope as a double leash and in fact the little buggers stumbled into a pit that might have otherwise zapped the party. During the period of their enslavement I kept looking for an opening for the little buggers to get away. When some orcs showed up on a wandering monsters roll I had the kobolds plead, in orcish, for help. Fonkin took offense at this and decided to off the wee gits. After the first one was decapitated the second one fell to his knees and begged for his life. Fonkin was not moved, but his buddy Fergus said he’d take the kobold off his hands. “Do you speak kobold?” I ask Fergus. “No, but I speak sword.” was the reply.
Fergus also made some unsettling comments about the kobold also serving as an emergency back-up food source. This was sort of a theme for the dude, as he also took some choice cuts from the giant lizard the party killed. But the creepiest episode was the aftermath of the psycho fight. The berserkers were also cannibals and in their lair the party found somebody’s torso was roasting on a spit. Fergus had to try a bite, “just to see what it’s like”. Someone at the table worried that Fergus might turn ghoul on them, but I actually rolled a 1 in 20 chance that he would be inspired to become a psycho killer cannibal berserker. No luck. If you weren’t at the table my report might lead you to the conclusion that Jim, the guy playing Fergus, was some sort of freak-o-tron. Just to be crystal clear: Jim struck me as a well-balanced dude who happened to be playing a fighter with some cannibalistic tendencies. He didn’t try to turn every encounter into an episode about cannibalism the way I’ve seen actually obsessed players do with their fetish of choice. Those kinds of players tend to bleed the energy out of a game, but Jim was highly entertaining and adding to the overall mojo.
And Tom was a great addition to the group as well. His dwarf took the initiative in a couple key situations, including volunteering to be lowered by rope into a mysterious shaft leading deeper into the dungeon. That didn’t turn out exactly as planned, as a monster attacked the party while they were reeling the little dude back up. Grognard ended up attacking the foe with an improvised dwarf-flail. He missed, hurting Fonkin instead of the baddie. I wonder if next session they’ll bring enough rope to actually descend all the way to the chamber at the bottom of the shaft. They ended up maybe 20 feet short of the goal last night. So far, that’s the only access they’ve found to anything below level 1.
After finishing off the psychos Carl suggested returning to the surface. We were about 10 minutes from the session’s scheduled end, so that seemed like a good time to wrap things up. Getting back to the stair ups turned out to be a terrible pain in the ass, as the party opted to backtrack through several dungeon doors rather than pass through the Really Scary Archways™. I’m a total bastard about dungeon doors. I don’t care that it doesn’t make sense that kobolds can easily open and close them but PCs have to roll well to accomplish the same task. And then when the kobolds are pressed into the service of good, suddenly they lose this precious ability! Here’s the deal, people: the dungeon isn’t simply a backdrop for the adventure, it’s one of the main characters in the story. The dungeon itself actively hates your guts!
Anyway, Grognard eventually flipped out over all these damn doors and decided to use his Big Purple d30 roll to overpower one of the open attempts. He rolled a seventeen, so he didn’t just rip the door off the hinges, the frickin’ hinges came off too! I adjusted my map to note the ex-door on the floor. When they finally made it out, the treasure and loot XP were divvied up. Reginald Featherweight made third level, while Deric pushes towards fourth. Grognard might have made third level, but he blew his carousing roll, getting the result that nets you no XPs and earning him a reputation as a drunken lout. I swear, that dude may have to switch home bases soon. Eventually the local authorities are not going to put up with all the trouble he keeps getting into whenever he gets back to town with a sack of gold to squander. Jim’s cannibal-killing cannibal also failed to carouse safely and wound up catching a venereal disease. So he got some bonus XP, but now every time his PC takes a leak it burns. That carousing mishap chart has turned out to be the best thing since sliced critical hits.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
MERP, on the other hand, hit the sweet spot for me. Middle Earth Role Playing slimmed down a lot of the more cumbersome rules in its predecessor, but remains compatible enough that you can easily import your favorite subsystems from RM. The original MERP rules are only 88 pages long and in terms of sheer gaming utility it kicks the asses of many rulebooks twice its size. And since Tolkien’s work undergirds so much of modern fantasy, you could easily get away with using MERP to power many other settings. I wouldn’t turn up my nose at MERP+Greyhawk or MERP+Mystara, for instance. MERP+Krynn could work as well, though it's not one of my favorite settings. Heck, I’d probably enjoy MERP+Forgotten Realms more than any attempt to play the Realms with D&D!
If I wanted to something straight Arthurian (you know, with no lasers and stuff) I’d give MERP a serious look. Thanks to the critical hits/fumbles, moving maneuvers and more rigorous magic system, I suspect it would run less like Pendragon’s attempts at literary Arthuriana and more like Excalibur. And now that I think about it, it would be pretty easy to MERP up the first three sandboxes in Points of Light. (If that phrase "MERP up" ever catches on, remember you heard it here first.)
Getting back to Middle Earth, I was reading Rogues of the Borderlands, the module I mentioned last week. The biggest town in the Borderlands, a place called Caras Celairnen, only has about 1,500 inhabitants and all the other human settlements have only a few hundred people. I can relate to that. I grew up on a farm a few miles outside a town of 1,000. Most of the nearby communities had just enough inhabitants to support a post office, a grain elevator, and a bar. But I got to wondering about what sort of people one could find in a Tolkienian town of fifteen hundred. MERP doesn’t have an easy answer for that, but Rolemaster Companion I does. And it involves dice! Yay!
To my eye "Section 8.0 City Design" looks like the direct antecedent to the community design rules that appeared in 3E. That’s not surprising, since several parts of 3E were clearly influenced by Rolemaster. Anyway, the basic deal here is to find out how many Magicians (or whatever) live in a city you divide the total populace by a flat number and then multiply it by a randomly rolled fraction. In the case of Magicians, take the total population divided by three hundred and then multiply it by .02 to 2.00 (2d100%). The city design rules give the formulae for every class in Rolemaster up to that point (which is A LOT by most standards). You also find out about some local institutions, like once you know how many clerics are in a burg you can easily roll up the total number of temples.
In order to give my die rolling hand a rest I put all the numbers into a rough draft spreadsheet to do the rolling for me. Normally I'd throw all the dice for reals but I’ve rolled up about 250 treasure types over the past few days and I can feel it in my wrist. Anyway, here’s what I found out about Caras Calairnen:
- The local garrison consists of 100 low level Fighters (2nd to 5th) led by 5 NCO’s (6th to 10th) and commanded by one officer (8th to 15th). They’re supported in their efforts by 15 Rangers.
- There are seven monks in town. A Monk between 6th and 10th level leads a group of 4 Monk Students (1st to 5th) and 2 Warrior Monk students (also 1st to 5th). They don’t have a formal monastery.
- There are four temples, but only 1 High Priest. The other three are led by lesser clerics. 13 low-level clerics serve in supporting roles.
- There’s a shrine where a Paladin of level 7+ trains 12 squires of levels 1 to 6.
- You can get healed at two different clinics in town, which are operated by 7 Healers and 15 Lay Healers.
- The town’s criminal element consists of a lone thief!
- Eight bards operate out of the town’s only theatre, where they are supported by 29 non-bard types who work as extras and stuff like that.
- There are 19 arcane magical types in town: 14 Alchemists, 3 Magicians, and 2 Illusionists. They do not associate with each other in a formal way (i.e. no school or guild). The rules make Alchemists three times more likely than Magicians, which is pretty awesome for the PCs since an NPC who makes magical stuff is way more useful to them than a (potentially rival) fireball lobber.
- There are also 4 Animists (sorta halfway between Druids and Clerics), 3 Astrologers, 2 Mentalists, 2 Mystics, a Druid and a Sorcerer.
The difference between a Warrior Monk and a Monk is that Monks get all sorts of neat spell effects for their righteous kung fu, while the Warrior Monks stick strictly to kicking ass and taking names. So a Monk could probably instruct a novice Warrior Monk in the basics of martial arts fighting, but it’s not going to be pretty. Basically you’re asking the Cobra Kai punks to learn from Mr. Miyagi. The non-Warrior students are going to be more successful in this environ, frustrating the already naturally belligerent Warrior types. The situation is a ticking time bomb. Eventually those two Warrior Monks won’t be able to take it any more. They’re sick of meditating in the lotus position all day, dammit! When are they finally going to learn the secrets of real, ultimate power?! Will these kids walk out on the sensei and seek out adventure? They could become henchmen, allies, or rivals of the PCs.
Or maybe one or both Warrior Monks get involved in the local crime scene, possibly just for the cheap thrills of getting to beat people up. The one thief operating in the town could use some help! A town the size of Caras Celairnen should normally average a thieves guild of fifteen scoundrels. I just got an outlier result with the one thief. What’s the story here? Is the town one of those super-nice saccharine sweet places where life is so good (almost) no one has any need to resort to crime? Or did the grim Rangers and Paladins get together and burn down the thieves’ hideout one night and now the place that was rebuilt on the spot is haunted? Maybe the sole survivor of the ordeal is putting a new gang together and plotting revenge.
Another thing I noticed is that I ended up with 2 healing Clinics and there just happens to be two different classes that specialize in healing. Maybe the seven Healers (a class powered by divine magic) operate a religious institution that only cares for members of the flock, while the Lay Healers (a psionic type class) operate a secular medical facility which makes you pay through the nose. Sure the PCs dig the free cure light wounds from the gang at St. Somebody, but how many times are they going to be sent on crap holy quests before they start considering the advantages of the more business-like atmosphere at Mind-over-Matter General? And which joint secretly healed the badly burned burglar that crawled into the place the night the “good guys” nearly set the whole town on fire?
Finally, I should note that Mystics and Sorcerers make pretty decent villains. All the Sorcerer spell lists have the word "Destruction" in the title. What else do you need to know? Mystics get both some illusory/misdirection spells and some elemental attacks. Could one of them be an agent of Witch King of Angmar? Who tipped off that dumb Paladin Squire as to the location of the Thieves Guild HQ? Could the same person be whispering to the Warrior Monk Students, trying to turn them to the dark side?
And what’s going to happen when the commander of the garrison finds out that the Rangers, who are nominally under his command, started the fire that his men ended up fighting? Dammit, he lost two soldiers putting that conflagration out and was himself fairly badly burned!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
"A character surprised by a monster may drop whatever he is holding –on a die roll of 6"I just rediscovered this gem on page 10 of Doctor H’s All-Natural Health Tonic Elixir & Shoe Polish, more commonly known as Holmes Basic D&D. Being what it is, no rules are given for how long it takes to retrieve a dropped sword, torch, or map. Or rules for whether you need to make a roll just to find your sword in the underworld gloom. Or whether the torch sputters out or rolls away. Or rules for whether the map happened to land in a puddle and is now ruined. Which means I can be as mean-spirited about such details as my blackened little DM's heart desires. Huzzah!
Here’s a rule that I do remember and use regularly, from the same page:
"Many dungeons contain traps, such as trap doors in the floor. If a character passes over one a six-sided die is rolled; a roll of 1 or 2 indicates that the trap was sprung and he has fallen in, taking one or more 6-sided, dice of damage."I like how the word "traps" is italicized, like it’s some foreign concept being introduced to the public for the first time. Maybe before Raiders of the Lost Ark people didn’t understand how dangerous it was to go into underground temples and steal golden idols? Professor Jones teaches us so many valuable life lessons. "Nazis. I hate these guys." being my personal favorite, and probably more widely applicable than "Don't look into the Ark of the Covenant."
On at least two runs of mine in the past six months an entire party successfully passed over a trapped area without setting it off. One time they even backtracked through the same square later during the adventure and the trap remained undisturbed. As much as it would have amused me to see one or more adventurers fall into that pit, I also really dig knowing how oblivious they were to the danger. It's my little secret.
Here's one last Holmes quote:
"MELEE RESOLUTION -- CONQUER, WITHDRAW, SURRENDER OR DIE!"That's got to be one of the coolest section titles ever.
Monday, February 23, 2009
It's not much, but it's mine. If you want, you can snag your own copy here. It's only caps and numbers, but it's meant as the half-assed script of the lower classes.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
That's a lame attempt to model a wilderness map from Dave Hargrave's old Arduin modules. I thought it'd be cute to drop the whole dang module series into my World of Cinder. My problem now is that I really, desperately want to use a numbered hexgrid. Is there a trick I could use here, besides numbering every frickin' hex by hand?
Play at home time! Assume J. McPhail got every class ever made for D&D. What character type do you think has the most homemade variants? Would it be 35 takes on the Barbarian or 57 different Necromancers or 128 crazy Ninja classes? For extra credit try to come up with the most ridiculous class that would grace the McPhail Collection.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Reaper will sell you a pack of bat-wings, presumably so you can make more of your figures into demons. Everybody needs more demons in their mini collections.
I'm not skilled enough to get away with customizing figures, but if I owned this killer clown I'd feel obligated to snip off that hypno-wheel and replace it with a bigass axe blade.
This one goes out to all my Encounter Critical peeps who might need an infernal ape figure.
Would you adventure with an magic-user who had that monkey as his familiar? Me neither.
The basic deal here is that demi-humans may continue to advance past the traditional limits, but their XP charts don't flatten out the way they do with humans. The numbers above are good for Labyrinth Lord, but similar charts could be easily whipped up for any version of the game where race equals class or where the class list is short.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Sprinkle with what little I remember of Camelot 3000:
Run it with these rules:
So I finally got around to downloading my own copies of City Encounters and Knockspell #1. Matt Finch continues to be totally awesome. City Encounters is exactly the sort of thing I need to help bring a city to life. As a farmboy now living in a college town I have very little actual experience with fullblown cities. Sure, I’ve visited Chicago, Minneapolis and a few farther flung metropoli, but strictly as a touristy affair. I suspect that’s the reason why, despite my love of Conan’s misadventures in a decadent civilizations, I tend towards starting campaigns in pastoral, Shire-like locales. A product like City Encounters really helps me wrap my head around running games in a more Lankhmarian environ, especially as it comes in a format near and dear to my heart: the big-ass random die chart. And I love Matt’s suggestion of rolling up three or four encounters at once and mashing them together to create the confusion of a busy street!
I’m still digging into the guts of Knockspell #1, but I really like everything I’ve seen so far. Cover artist Peter Mullen continues to amaze the hell out of me. He manages to invoke the dark unrealities of Otus without simply aping him, which is something I’ve never seen before. Robert Lionheart’s Random Hireling Generator looks freakin’ great for throwing together a pile of losers for PCs to recruit. Tim Kask proves why he and his kin are called grognards in his delightfully grumpy editorial. I didn’t know about the existence of Jeff Talanian's Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers project until I started flipping through his adventure in this issue. Cool! And any mag with an installment from Gabor Lux is well worth a three buck download price for that alone. There’s lots of other stuff in Knockspell #1, but I’m still in the process of taking it all in. Oh, look! A classified ads section! Just like the glory days of White Dwarf! I’m tempted to submit a classified that says something cryptic like “Lareth, hand over the glaive!” just because I can.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Like Patrick, I first studied the art of dungeon design at the feet of Tom Moldvay and Moldvay Basic is one of the places I go back to when starting such an undertaking. . But the other big influence early on was Gygax. Module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands stands right alongside Moldvay's Haunted Keep in my personal dungeon mythology. And a year or so after leaping into this crazy hobby I got my Dungeon Master's Guide, which contains my alltime favorite mechanical toy, Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation.
Some people dig random dungeons and some people don't and I totally respect the opinions of those who don't. Me, I like throwing a bunch of dice, looking at some crazy charts, and trying to impose some rhyme (and maybe a little reason) to the results. Some of my best dungeons grew out of adding just a little vision and personality to an otherwise nonsensical set of random results.
One of the best parts of Appendix A is this neat little illo:
Man, I couldn't tell you the number of dungeons I've seen where the starting room had one or two avenues of exploration. Weak sauce. A good dungeon is all about presenting the party with a bunch of tough choices, many of which have to be decided upon with insufficient information. Gygax's starting areas provide the party with between five and nine possible routes deeper into underworld. This arrangement gets the party thinking, discussing, planning, maybe even arguing without so much as a single bit of dungeon dressing or a single monster yet in play.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Any gameblog readers familiar with the Runequest product Borderlands? Trying to incorporate that book into this hypothetical campaign world would be the next illogical step.
Monday, February 16, 2009
about a place you don't wanna be.
This ain't no home sweet home,
it's a home sweet misery.
We knew when we got here
they'd try to put us away.
But when they seen us walk down
the street they ran the other way.
Badstreet, Atlanta, GA
Baddest street in the whole USA
Badstreet nasty and hot
The further down the block you went, the badder it got.
Street is a jumping,
tonight there'll be a brawl.
Old Lady McDuffie she done
give the cops a call.
She might as well call the Army or
the United States Marines,
'cause can't nobody handle this
Badstreet, Atlanta, GA
Baddest street in the whole USA
Badstreet nasty and hot
The further down the block you went the badder it got.
17 punks came calling and
they thought that they were hot.
They thought that they were nasty
and could make it down on our block.
But I'll never forget hearing that
ambulance driver say,
"Someone should have told those
boys 'bout Badstreet USA."
So don't you come looking.
on this side of town.
'Cause this is where the Freebirds
live and everything's going down.
If you don't know by now,
we always get our way.
That's the way it is down
here on Badstreet USA.
Badstreet, Atlanta, GA
Baddest street in the whole USA
Badstreet nasty and hot
The further down the block you went the badder it got.
Badstreet, Atlanta, GA
Baddest street in the whole USA
Badstreet nasty and hot
The further down the block you went the badder it got.
We live in the last house on the right. Badstreet baby, anytime!
Sunday, February 15, 2009
I bought another copy because I only have Leviathan in the big landscaped-sized reprint volumes. I love having all that stuff bundled together, but in actual play its a bit unwieldy. Also, the original version uses red spot color on the subsector maps and the deckplan grids. The deckplans are a lot easier to read with the additional color.
Mr. Miller was selling Leviathan and similar book for five bucks each, with a three for ten dollars deal. Since my Trav collection is light on Journal issues, I picked up the first two "Best of" volumes. The Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society was one of the best magazines ever put out in the hobby, and probably the single best mag that covered just one game. A far amount of material in early JTAS issues later wormed its way into main Trav books, but you can still dig up neat-o stuff in 'em. Take, for example, this crazy ass chart from an article about robots:
It is important to remember that rarely will a category occupy only a point on the table; many humans are completely natural, but the addition of fillings in teeth, eyeglasses, replacement joints, or artificial nails prompts some shading into the artificial range. Similarly, surgical replacement of organs with cloned organs dictates shading from the purely natural to toward the artificial.The rest of the article is a pretty dry article on building robots out of things like a Type II chassis and a TL14 brain and other technominutae. Really, I think the robot rules is one of the few places where Star Frontiers actually improved upon Traveller. I just can't get enthused about most Trav robot rules I've seen. There was an old Dragon article that I liked, but I can't recall the issue offhand.
Look back up at that chart for a second. You notice several blank areas? I can't live with a chart like that, so I added some more labels:
Honestly, I can't really tell you the difference between a Bioborg or a Cyborg, or what the heck a Roboborg is supposed to be. I just can't stand those spots being left undefined. Why draw the chart like that if you're going to do a half-assed job labeling it? A cyberclone would be a clone that enhanced beyond the baseline with cybernetics, I guess. By Darwinian Machine Life I mean mechanical forms that evolved naturally, like the Transformers before they found out their home planet was God.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
In reading this book, DMs and players should remember that situations will arise that are not covered in the rules. In these situations, the DM should use personal judgment to resolve any problems. The freedom allowed to players and DMs is one of the strengths of the D&D rules system, and that has been continued here.--Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Adventure Game Expert Rulebook, edited by David Cook with Steve Marsh, page X4 (TSR, 1981). Emphasis mine.
Friday, February 13, 2009
In the main room with the dealers and most of the minis and roleplaying games some guys had this rad to the max 55mm World War II game going. Dig it:
Every table in that shot is part of the same game, except for the one with the white cloth on it to the right. They arranged five tables in a column, with a steel girder bridge between each table. Below is the same set-up from another angle, where I'm standing at one end of the battlefield. The other side of the battle ends just in front of the dealer table at the far wall.
I took eight shots of my Encounter Critical game. This is the only one that didn't turn out terrible:
Joe felt awful that he nodded off halfway through my game and kept trying to apologize the rest of the con. Poor guy, he missed abotu half the game and then felt guilty about it!
I found out later why he was so dang tired. He worked the late shift at his job, then immediately went to help Armored Gopher set up their con booth, then he showed up for my game. Dude had been up thirty hours by the time he started playing.These last two aren't photos, but I thought you might like to see them anyway. I own a Savage Worlds customizable GM screen, which I love loading up with homemade stuff. When the players showed up to my Big Stupid Dungeon Party, this is what was facing them:
That's the Erol Otus cover art for Dragon #55 bordered by S. John Ross's Tombs of Rivulax hand-drawn dungeon geomorph font. I'm pretty proud of the color scheme I used on the custom Labyrinth Lord logo. That was actually a dry run for the logo I made for the Erol Otus art contest. The font for the logo is called Angular. I slightly tweaked it for the art contest logo, but here it's unmodified.
The two side panels of the screen each used four pieces of classic Otus art also flanked by the Tombs of Rivulax. For some reason I can only find one of the side panels on my hard drive.
Check out this post on Chgowiz's blog if you want to see some pics of the Big Stupid Dungeon Party. I was a little distracted by the twelve players and the mummies and the twinkies and what all and forgot to get out my camera.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Remember yesterday when I mentioned prepping an extra dungeon that doesn’t really have anything to do with the larger campaign? I’m really glad I did that, because with the late start I felt like we needed to get right into the thick of things with no screwing around. Joe was still en route but Squirrel was hot and heavy to hit the dungeon running. I suggested that rather than dungeoneer with a lone cleric, he recruit some cannon fodder. His PC’s charisma supported bringing up to 4 hench-weenies along with him, but his light purse only allowed for a single rent-a-goon. And even then he had to sweeten the deal by plying the guy with some wine Deric had on his equipment list. It amuses me to no end that the zealous Lawful cleric only managed to recruit a henchman by liquoring him up first.
Thus was hired Abe, the first dude off of my half-assed hireling list. Back in session #1 as Carl and Squirrel were making their first PC’s I thought to myself “Only two PCs, eh? I better whip up some spearcarriers they can recruit.” On a blank sheet of paper I quickly listed about 20 names, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. Then I randomly determined one stat (roll d6, 1=Str, 2=Int, 3=Wis, etc) which I would then roll 3d6 for. The other stats would all be assumed to equal 10 or 11. Then I rolled d4 hit points for each of these wretches. So here is literally everything I knew about Abe when he entered play as Deric’s sidekick:
Abe, 9 Str, 1 hp
Deric, who you will recall could only barely afford to hire Abe in the first place, bought Abe a spear. That’s it. No armor, no backpack, nothing else. Just a spear. So one PC and literally the lamest henchman I have ever seen enter the depths of STONEHELL. Great gravy, this is a nifty little dungeon. I hope ol’ Amityville Mike keeps making levels until the end of time. Using as his basis Chgowiz’s slick One Page Dungeon Template, Mike packs a hell of a lot of dungeon onto tiny 30 square by 30 square ‘subsector’ style maps, with just two pages of text. I ran 2 hours of well-paced play last night and the party only partially explored the southwest quadrant of level 1A!
Deric and Abe were in the dungeon just long enough for Abe to wet himself over a room ‘haunted’ by a magic mouth when Joe arrived and jumped in with the unstoppable Grognard Whiplash. Two weeks ago I wondered whether Deric and Grognard would be able to get along, since their faiths are diametrically opposed. Today I am happy to report that they were able to set aside their differences to come together in an ecumenical spirit of friendship, brotherly love, and tomb robbing. Squirrel and Joe were later joined by Christy. I’m pretty sure she did not come to the store for the game, but it’s been my policy to ask everyone who comes into the shop if they want to play. And it worked! Huzzah! Christy rolled up a thief that she did not come up with a name for right away, so I announced that until she settled on something else her character would be known as Christy the Thief, simply as a convenience.
When we were joined near the end of the night by Wheels (not my buddy Pat, who is called Wheels by some, but a different guy called Wheels), he ran into the same naming problem. Wheels the Magic-User actually sounds kinda neat, in a “casually break the illusion right in half” sort of way. Wheels, I should note, found out about the game because he was searching online for information about the RPG Zombi. That led him to this old post of mine. He then saw the blurb in the righthand column of the blog about the Labyrinth Lord campaign. Wheels is also interested in Mutant Future. I wouldn’t mind running a little bit of that at some point.
Other highlights of the evening:
- Deric routinely failing to turn skeletons. As a cleric 2 he only needed a five or better on 2d6 and consistently rolled a 4 each time the bone boys showed up. He did turn some zombies though. When a ghoul attacked he either didn’t realize the dude was undead or forgot to try turning. That could have been a disaster but some good rolls and Grognard’s low AC saved the day.
- Grognard Whiplash being demoted a level, due to a bad roll on the Wheel of Fortune. Everyone at the table knew that spinning that magic gameshow wheel was a bad idea, including Joe. He did it anyway, since it had been previously established that Grognard was a compulsive gambler. Fortunately, he earned enough XP to get that level back.
- Christy not relying exclusively on her thief percentiles. When opening a chest she described her precautions to avoid undetected traps, which saved her from a poison needle she had missed.
- Three giant centipedes surprising a party of three adventurers. I had the little creeps drop from the ceiling onto their faces.
- Abe surviving! His morale never quite broke, nothing quite killed him and he contributed to several fights, earning him a half share of XP. I promoted him to a Fighter 1 and re-rolled his hit points. He now has 4 hp. On the downside he’s spending the next ten days recovering from giant centipede poisoning. Under Labyrinth Lord hirelings must check morale at the end of every adventure to continue in their master’s service. I think I’ll have to penalize the roll a point due to the poison-induced misery.
Anyway, I look forward to running again in two weeks and I hope to see some of the same faces again. Carl, Christy, Dave, Joe, Squirrel and Wheels have all been fun people to sling dice with. And the invitation remains open to anyone who can swing by the store in two weeks.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Here's the dungeon map I mentioned above. Click for a bigger version.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
It has become my regular practice to ask people for these sorts of outings to generate their own PCs on the spot. To make this go more smoothly, I handed out a slightly modified version of the 4-page document I use in my new Labyrinth Lord campaign. It has all the information you need to put together a new 1st level PC. Except the price of friggin’ torches. Candles and lanterns made it onto my abbreviated equipment list but I somehow omitted the cost of torches. I suppose it could have been worse.
The people who were a little quicker on the draw took advantage of the fact that I handed out three charsheets per person and made up more than one PC. I’m glad they did because we lost 6 or 7 party members over the course of the session. As far as I can tell no one signs up for this kind of game hoping that everyone makes it out alive. Senseless slaughter is part of the fun of a stupid con one-shot. That’s why I tend to arrange for Total Party Kills when I run Call of Cthulhu as a con game and that’s why when picking an adventure to run Sunday I made absolutely no effort to limit myself to dungeons suitable for first level parties. We’re here for the excitement of a demolition derby smash-up, not the idle pleasures of a casual stroll through the park. Why hold back?
I pitched two possible missions to the party. One was an attempt to wrest the Crown of Power from the Pyramid of Ra’Dok, an evil old pharaoh. The other was to generally knock about the Rat on a Stick dungeon. They opted for Ra’Dok’s Pyramid, as several of them had been present when I ran Rat on a Stick using OD&D a couple years back. Neither of these dungeons is strictly compatible with Labyrinth Lord, the game I professed to be running for the group. I have all but given up on caring about such niceties. There are too many good adventures out there to get in a tiff over how well the stat blocks match up with the rules the party thinks are in play. The adventure they chose seems to be written for OD&D plus Eldritch Wizardry. Ra’Dok’s crown is one of the few magic items I’ve seen outside the DMG/Eldritch Wizardry that was statted up using the canonical artifact/relic power charts. That’s pretty cool. Rat on a Stick, meanwhile, is actually a Tunnels & Trolls adventure. Occasionally I get the urge to actually write conversion notes for the module, but I actually enjoy having to figure out what Fire Demon (MR 75) means with 12 pairs of eyes on me. Weird, I know.
You know what the coolest thing is about running a large group of people? There’s no chance in hell that they’re all going to have the same ‘creative agenda’ as the GNS gurus might say. You just can’t sit twelve people down to play D&D and expect to get 12 hardcore dungeoneers or 12 gonzo ad hoc worldbuilders or 12 serious thespians or whatever. It just ain’t gonna happen. As a con GM, you’ve got to work to accommodate all those needs, as all twelve paid their money to come sit at your table. Again, that might be frustrating to some people, but I think that push-and-pull dynamic of competing interests adds a little extra frisson.
We established pretty early on that dungeon operations like establishing marching order, listening at doors, and providing sufficient lamination were being taken semi-seriously. One player volunteered to map. I personally thought it would be better if two people mapped in case the mapper was killed or the map stolen or something, but I remained silent on that point. The issue came up later in my favorite room on level 1, the quicksand trap/will-o-wisp combo.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about the Pyramid of Ra’Dok as published, but much of it is unadorned. I had to put in or ad lib a lot of dungeon description to make the place come alive. One bone thrown to the DM is a line to the effect that the will-o-wisp in the quicksand room is “diamond shaped”. I decided to push that idea further and actually make the will-o-wisp into a cunning and malevolent gem. Same stats as a standard will-o-wisp, but its intact corpse would be worth 20,000gp. That’s a lot for a first level party but the same dungeon is stocked with a 100,000gp that is both trapped with a heat ray that is almost assuredly fatal AND cursed to kill anyone who touches the gem (no save).
Anyhoo, the PCs open this door and see a floor covered in white sand, with a bigass gem set into the far wall and crackling with electricity. I could see a more focused party closing the door and forgetting about the whole thing. They were here for an uber-powerful crown, not some lightning-powered wall decoration, right? But they decided to mess with the thing. The group did a good job determining that the sand was, in fact, quick (a dead halfling flung into the room solved that mystery, as I recall) and also managed to figure out that you could cling close to the walls to find a safe path around the quicksand. Why the mapper decided he needed to be the one to go after the gem remains unknown. He removed all metal gear to reduce his conductivity, tied a rope around himself and went after the gem. The will-o-wisp waited until he was reaching out his hand to zap him dead.
That’s when I reminded his that he was the mapper and that, not being made of metal, I assumed the map was on his person, i.e. in the room with his corpse next to the electric death diamond. Ah, the howls of protest were like music to my ears! Here they were, on level 1 of a fairly simple dungeon and still the thought of losing the map sent a wave of panic through the party. Sweet. To demonstrate my benevolence as a dictator, I eventually relented to a 3 in 6 chance that the map had been handed to one of the other party members. The die throw indicated that the map was safe. Eventually someone (Shumate, perhaps?) took a shot at the gem with a bow. The party was not expecting it to respond by detaching itself from the wall and flying into their midst to zap people at random. I thought maybe they would route at this point, but instead they got their act together and trapped the poor wisp in a canoptic jar, thanks in no large part to Kathleen shorting it out by dousing it in cheap wine. One of the PCs then carried the jar around in his backpack. I tried to look for an chance to break it open, but no such opportunity ever arrived.
Lots of other extremely cool stuff happened at the table. It was one of those nearly non-stop sessions that leave me exhausted. It felt like 16 hours of fun packed into four. Here are some of the other highlights:
- Kathleen's magic-user distracting some giant bees with a pack of Twinkies she got out of the Deck O’ Stuff.
- Kathleen burning her dwarf’s beard off trying to spit fire using a flask of cheap hooch she got out of the same deck/
- Max’s second PC spending a large part of the adventure riding a donkey and writing haiku (Max, please share!)
- Chris donning the pharaoh’s armor and using it to convince some guards who were in stasis that he is the reincarnated Ra’Dok. Chris ended the adventure with two loyal henchmen, the armor, and the artifact crown. Not too shabby for a 1st level fighter!
- The party’s first encounter being a bunch of zombies. Only then did they discover that by independently rolling up 12 PCs they somehow ended up with nary a cleric between them!
- Joe’s 1 hit point magic-user with Hold Portal as his memorized spell surviving the entire session. Joe was cautious, but no coward hiding in the back and leaching XPs. Shannon also spent most of the adventure at 1 hit point. She was wounded early on and the party never seemed intent on resting or going back to town or any of that stuff.
- Chgowiz collecting PC corpses, which he would tie onto the backs of his mule, Stupid. The bodies came in handy on occasion but it still creeped me out.
Monday, February 09, 2009
Friday night's Encounter Critical game was a blast. I had eight players, more than I've ever had at an EC game. It was an interesting mix of people. Two players, Max Davenport and rogue attorney Chris Tichenor, are guys I know primarily from the internet. Two others, Joe and Marc, are locals that I've gamed with many times before. Max and Chris showed up with their own PCs: Zerok, a mad scientist bionic planetary ape modeled after this guy, and Bizarro #38, a mutant frankenstein with a black hole metal club, photosynthetic skin, and an evil talking magical birthmark on his left hand. Playing the role of the birthmark I kept trying to warn Bizarro #38 that Murderfrog was not to be trusted, but he just wouldn't heed my warning.
The other fours guys, as near I was able to gather, were some 40K players who had no friggin' idea what they were getting into. To their credit, they adapted pretty quickly to the fact that EC is basically the Schroedinger's Cat of roleplaying games, where the rules are in a quantum indeterminate state (alive/dead/phasic). Of course most normal players will react well if you hand them a charsheet with a skill like 'Murder' listed right on it. Long John Silverback, the ape pirate, was all over that one. And the player with the psi witch improvised several good psionic effects. My favorite was encasing an explosion of knock-out gas in a telekinetic force bubble. Of course when he later released the hold on the gas it knocked the whole party out anyway, but it was for a good cause, as it also took out a jungle flower monster straight out of Little Shop of Horrors. Fortunately for the party some of them woke up before the monster did.
The adventure was an Encounter Critical adaptation of the Gamma World mini-module that came with old 1st edition GM screen. Man, dig that classic Erol Otus cover. The adventure comes in three parts. Part 1 involves finding a starport buried in the desert sands. Power is off at the joint when the PCs arrive, so it's a basical sci-fantasy dungeon crawl with lurking mutant menaces (snakemen, sand sharks, giant insects, the aforementioned killer potted plant, and etc.) and vaguely useful techno-treasures. The party managed to get the emergency power up and running, which allowed them to communicate with some of the robots in the complex. They then proceeded to phase two of the adventure, taking an automated shuttle trip into outer space. The main threats here are self-inflicted. The players did not seem to realize that every attempt to manipulated the ship controls could spell their doom. After all, something as simple as accidentally switching off the autopilot would have vectored them off into the endless voids of space.
The other big spaceship hazard was the effect of escape velocity-plus forces on the human(oid) body. Six of the players got wise to the fact that maybe they should strap themselves into the big comfy-looking acceleration couches. The other two hung out in the cocktail lounge even as klaxons were sounding and alarm lights flashing. Even the robo-barkeep putting away all the breakables didn't clue them in. Taking 2d6 damage per round from extreme G forces didn't quite seem to get the message through that they were in danger! One of the two intrepid barflies eventually saved himself by pulling the lever that activated the airbag-like emergency acceleration couch, but not before Murderfrog was reduced to a reddish amphibian paste. That was the only PC casualty of the night, not done in by mutated horrors or rogue robots but by failure to give proper respect to the laws of physics.
The final section of the adventure takes place on an abandoned space station haunted by Canopan Plague Zombies and a few mummies I threw in just 'cause I could. Early into this section of the adventure Zerok found a small sample of Canopan plague goo sans zombie and decided to taste it, giving him a slow-burning case of the zombie plagues. When they later encountered the first of the plague zombies and Zerok understood his eventual fate, he set up an alchemy lab in the starport lounge. Using med's stolen from the starport pharmacy, Romulan ale, various monster bits, and whatever other ingredients he could lay his hands on, Zerok eventually developed an antidote. Meanwhile the others were busy fighting plague zombies. Each hit by the zombies had a chance of infecting them, and every time the PCs splattered a zombie they stood a chance of infection as well. But the dice favored the PCs and no new cases of the plague were reported to the CDC.
After much mucking about in his makeshift lab, Zerok drank his antidote. I told him he was cured by means of vomiting up a stomach full of frothy brown zombie slime. Max one-upped me by noting that his cyborg head was entirely mechanical, so to purge he'd have to unscrew it and puke out of his gaping neck-hole. I'm still kind grossed out by the mental image of a headless gorilla vomiting.
When the party arrived at the station the robo-intercom announced that the shuttle would be returning planetside in two hours. They burned through those two hours pretty quickly, between looting boutiques and fighting zombies. As they hussled towards the spacedock they saw a big glowy techno-pyramid shimmer into view, all TARDIS-like, right up against another docking ring. This triggered a bit of debate between returning home via the shuttle or seeking new adventures in the mysterious pyramid, and then some tense negotiations with a half dozen shotgun-toting space orcs seeking to debark from the pyramid. The call to adventure won the day (huzzah!) and the party agreed to swap rides with the orcs. Thus the seven surviving PCs were whisked away on strange new adventures and the space orcs exploded when the autopilot winked out during the landing back at the starport.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Monday, February 02, 2009
I became a game player when I was 4 or 5 years old. I played with miniature soldiers. In those days, they were a nickel a piece at Woolworth's and over the years, it was easy to acquire a small army of WWI soldiers. With my friends I played the usual toy soldier games. However, very early on I became interested in Ancient and Medieval battles. At the same time, the germs of my own fantasy world were developing through the reading of Science Fiction. So I started working on my own stuff, modifying figures, but eventually, I gave up trying to work with purchased figures entirely. Since I had a little workshop in the basement, I carved my own wood figures. I have over 1000 1.5" tall figures, carve din wood and painted with model airplane paint. They're certainly not marketable quality or anything, but they served their purpose.
Way back in the 30's and 40's, I was playing a kind of fantasy role-playing game. It was not just a series of battles, there was roleplaying with adventures, scenarios, and the whole thing but without the benefit of any particular rules. As we went along, we would work out the scenario and my friends and I would play. If we came to a place where we thought something had a possibility of happening or not happening, we simply argued about it until it got settled or rolled dice solving the issue, usually without too much bloodshed.
The same went for combat. We didn't plan anything very sophisticated, it was mostly dice rolling. We gave points for a person's strength and allowed him so many dice rolls for so many points of strength. The points were actually painted on the figure on the underside of his base. So in a way, I think I anticipated fantasy role-playing games by 20 or 30 years. But, as I said, we had no rules so I can't claim to be the inventor of the present systems that exist. That credit certainly goes to Arneson and Gygax. My own game designing started early in the sense of designing scenarios, BUT, I didn't do more formal things until I got into college or university when I revised Monopoly, so that it represented Mogul India.
That's a brief excerpt from "An interview with M.A.R. Barker", creator of Tekumel, appearing in the October/November 1980 issue of The Dungeoneer Journal. Has anybody ever seen photos of Barker's wooden figures? That'd be cool to see, even if they suck by modern mini sculpting standards.
Also, note the brief section that I have bolded. That's pretty much the way roleplaying works to this day, isn't it? Talk it out or throw the bones.
There's a spot later in the interview where the good Professor reveals that he had possibly the worst royalty arrangements in the history of game publication. Barker claims that in order to get Empire of the Petal Throne into print, he had to agree to a 20% royalty. That is to say for all his future Tekumel products, no matter the publisher, he would owe TSR 20% out of the his take! I am not making this up! The justification for this arrangement, according to TSR, was the exposure Tekumel got by their agreeing to put out EPT. I think the record will show that EPT came out a wee bit before Lorraine Williams got her claws into TSR, so we can't lay this one at her feet.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Left Turn at Alba-Quirky - My Encounter Critical game on Friday night (7pm).
Kingmaker on the Big Board - Fight the War of the Roses on John Satterfield's custom set-up. Mr. Satterfield is an absolute hoot to play with. Saturday morning.
The Dwarven Rail - Saturday afternoon 2nd edition AD&D game. Don't know much about this one.
Arcane Vault of the Magic Goddess - AD&D/OSRIC adventure by Gameblog reader Alex Riedel, also Saturday afternoon.
30th Annual Blind Sniper Tournament - This is a long slog of an event, but because of its hidden movement nature a lot of other boardgames games get played while the ref processes the turns. In my humble opinion the best boardgaming at the con happens at this event. Also a Saturday afternoon, but clearly the best non-RPG event to shoot for if you can't get in on either D&D event.
A Mob Is A Terrible Thing - Old school fantasy adventure using Microlite20, a d20 variant that I would cheerily recommend to the grumbliest of d20-haters. Sunday morning.
Jeff's Big Stupid Dungeon Party - Maybe not the biggest event at the con and possibly not even the stupidest, but we'll try our best. Sunday afternoon.