Monday, November 29, 2010

Coolest. RPG. Videos. Ever. = "DM's Discretion"

Over Thanksgiving Break I finally started catching up on some blog reading, and came across a video review of The Dungeon Alphabet over at the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope.  I missed this post back in July because I was, well, packing up all my worldly belongings in preparation for a cross-country move at that point.

However, I am so glad I went back through the archives and found this little gem, which is merely one installment of an ongoing RPG'ing video series called "DM's Discretion."  The series' creator, "Slathazar," is a disarmingly genuine and charmingly self-deprecating video host who is an unabashed fan of both 1e AD&D and  And clearly he has an investment in spreading the word about the Old Ways amongst a younger generation of RPG'ers and potential RPG'ers.  A man after my own heart!

Along that line, I admit that some of the appeal here is surely narcissistic -- his guy reminds me a great deal of myself from a long-past era -- but his dedication to the Old Ways combined with his deadpan, ironic humor just KILLS me.

So check out the DM's Discretion Introductory Episode:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Session 22: Back to Stonehell

[Note: Some of the early events of this session report -- up until the party reaches the box canyon housing the entrance to Stonehell -- actually took place at the end of the previous session, but for reasons of dramatic effect and narrative coherence, I saved them for this session report.]

The party awakened in Fortinbras early on the 47th day of their adventures together, ready to head up the slopes of Greystone Mountain and re-enter Stonehell in an attempt to rescue the dwarf Gark and his party, presumed lost or otherwise detained somewhere within the megadungeon's depths.  For this purpose the party -- Hazel (Ftr.-3 / MU-3), Innominus (Clr.-5), Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard-3), Dak (Dwarf-3), Yor (Dwarf-4), and NPCs Gorgo (Dwarf-3), Darvey (Dwarf-1) and Garvey (Dwarf-1) -- hired a couple new NPCs -- Marko Halfdagger (Thief-5) and Rolfe the Barbarian (Ftr.-3) -- to aid them in their noble task.

However, before they could even leave town, Brother Albert, one of the Clerics of the Temple of Carcoon, sought them out at the Drunken Yeti in order to inquire as to the whereabouts of Brother Camus.  The latter had not been seen since the night before, when the party accompanied him to Bandit's Knoll to sell off Uncle Junkal's accursed mirror.  The party had last seen Camus leaving the Drunken Yeti, presumably headed for the Temple.   This they reported to Brother Albert, who asked what exactly they had been doing that night, which they also told him.  It turns out that nobody at the Temple of Carcoon (including the high priest) possessed any knowledge of Camus' side dealings in necromantic artifacts, and upon hearing the PC's report, they grew rather alarmed.  Suspecting that perhaps Brother Camus had staged the mirror exchange with the mysterious rodian in order to secretly procure it for himself, Innominus suggested that the Healers of Carcoon begin investigating recent withdrawals from their own treasury.  The Carcoonian treasurer, Brother Norbert, said it would be a couple of days before he could definitively determine whether or not the missing cleric had illicitly withdrawn any funds; the party, having nothing further to contribute, left town in their recently acquired wagon, reaching Greystone Mountain in a day and a half.

Late in the afternoon of their 49th day of Arandish adventuring, the PCs re-approached the box canyon high on Greystone Mountain, to see dark smoke billowing up from somewhere on the south ridge, and to hear the nearby marching of multiple, heavily booted feet.  They set Marko to investigate the sounds; he came back minutes later and said it was a patrol of 14 Hobgoblin warriors, marching in two columns down the mountain -- in broad daylight.  This was alarming news since Arandish Hobgoblins are typically severely debilitated by exposure to direct sunlight, whereas these ones showed none of the expected signs of skin-burning or fatigue.

Pressing on without confronting the daylight-impervious hobgoblin patrol, the party reached the mouth of the box canyon at dusk.  There they observed that the hobgoblin encampment atop the southern canyon wall was even bigger than it was when the PC last saw it seven days before; said camp also seemed to be source of the column of thick, black smoke billowing into the sky.  The PCs entered the canyon as stealthily as they were able.

However, they must have been spotted, for a crossbow bolt whizzed out of the darkness from somewhere on the southern canyon wall and struck Garvey the dwarf.  The party instantly ran for the nearest cover: a cave entrance in the south wall of the canyon.

They found themselves in the middlemost of three interconnected, dark chambers.  Innominus investigated the chamber to the west, finding within six undead skeletons, which he promptly turned.  Meanwhile, Dak and Uncle Junkal searched the eastern chamber, while Hazel turned herself invisible and headed sneakily back out into the twilit canyon.  Yor and the NPCs stood guard at the cave entrance.

Out in the canyon, Hazel saw a troupe of heavily armed hobgoblins descending the canyonside toward the PC's cave; she rushed back inside to warn her companions.

In the eastern chamber, Dak and Uncle Junkal found a central hemispherical cenotaph inscribed with chaotic etchings; the bard studied these writings while the dwarf searched the eastern room's wall mosaics for some sign of secret doors.  A couple of turns later, Dak found a hidden door-latch on the south wall, and Uncle Junkal had deciphered a portion of the cenotaph text that described a "colossus" that "lies beyond the dark ocean."  Meanwhile, Hazel had reentered the complex and warned the party that a hobgoblin patrol was on its way.  Deciding to open the secret door and hope that they could evade the hobgoblins by plunging into whatever chambers lay behind it, Dak pulled the latch.  There was a flash of blue light and Dak took some shock damage, but the door opened and the party fled en masse into a roughly-hewn tunnel beyond.  They closed the secret door behind them.

They soon came to a door, spiked closed from their own side.  They un-spiked it and opened it; three rock trolls bared their fangs at them from the other side.  The party gained initiative; Innominus Held one of them, Uncle Junkal charmed a second, and in the split-second that bought them, Yor slammed the door closed again.  The party re-spiked it and continued further down the rough tunnel.

Reaching a small chamber with a spiral staircase leading up, Hazel -- still invisible -- climbed up, to find herself standing in the middle of a 20' wide underground road, which headed off to the east and the west-southwest.  At the top of the spiral staircase was a a spike driven into the floor with a human skull on top, identical to the one the party saw inside Stonehell during session 18.  Etched into the skull were some words in hobgoblin, which Hazel could now read with the help of her read languages spell: "Area Patrolled by the Skullface Occupational Army.  Stay Out!"  Hazel called for her companions to come on up, then Yor used his +1 Crowbar to pry the Skullface sign out of the rock; in its place the PCs left their own sign, depicting a hobgoblin being sodomized by a kobold.

Heading west-southwest along the road in an effort to locate some alternative entrance to Stonehell proper, the party soon emerged from the underground tunnel.  The road from here westward was cut into the side of a towering cliff; an almost 90-degree cliff wall loomed above them to the north, and a similar cliff plummeted to unseen distances below to the south.  The party was soon approached from the west by a 9-hobgoblin patrol; after a bold and daring skirmish, the party triumphed.  Looting the bodies, they found vials of black oil on almost every hobgoblin; the hobgoblin's breath smelled of it, too. Uncle Junkal found that the oil burned slightly less well than standard lamp oil, and had a more pungent sulfurous smell.  Dak drank a small sip of the oil and reported that his infravision seemed ever so slightly sharper. . . .

To Be Continued. . .

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Skype Will Keep Us Together

As I have previously reported, my Labyrinth Lord group is now gaming via Skype.  Four of our players are still on the West Coast (where the campaign began last January), one player is in the midwest, and I, the Labyrinth Lord, am now in northwestern New York state.  Skype is our friend!

 Me in New York state. . .

. . . Hazel's player in the midwest . . .

. . . and the rest of the gang in Oregon!

We use the three-way video conferencing function, which is currently available on a free-trial basis.  The rumor is that Skype will start charging for this particular service in the future, though given how reasonable Skype's rates are for calling landlines etc., I don't anticipate that the expense to our group will be very substantive when / if they do start charging.

I have also used Skype on a couple of occasions to participate in Carl's Mutant Future campaign, also taking place on the West Coast.  Recent schedule changes have made this difficult -- they are starting sessions later, so late that it is too late for me to be awake on East Coast time -- but in theory, I could still be gaming with that group as well, thanks to Skype and a couple of well-placed webcams.

In some ways, I am surprised more RPG'ers don't use Skype in this fashion, especially when I hear folks bemoaning their difficulties in finding other gamers to play with locally and regionally.  Skype eradicates the geographical barrier!  Maybe some gamers simply resist this option because it feels too "weird" or their internet connections are not speedy enough to make Skype video conferencing feasable.  It might also be difficult for those that rely on miniatures and battle maps -- I have no truck with that stuff, our combats are all processed verbally, so no hassles there for us.

Is anybody else out there doing stuff like this?

Belated Session Reports 20-21: Investigations in Fortinbras

When we last left our intrepid party -- consisting of Hazel (Ftr.-3 / MU-2), Innominus (Clr.-4), Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard-3), Dak (Dwarf-3), Yor (Dwarf-3), and NPC Gorgo (Dwarf-3) -- they had exited the Stonehell Dungeon on Greystone Mountain and had trekked the three days back into the Minochian town of Fortinbras.  Besides selling off some miscellaneous loot and generally re-equipping themselves, the group mainly spent Session 20 fishing around for local/regional rumors and engaging in a most interesting investigation into the nature of Uncle Junkal's mysterious Death Cult mirror.

The mirror episode began with the PCs visiting the Temple of the Healers of Carcoon, the same group of clerics who Raised Uncle Junkal from the dead in a neighboring town some sessions back.  Innominus hired the Carcoonians to cast dispel magic and dispel evil on the sealed iron strongbox he'd been lugging around since he found it in the abandoned Chapel of Korath in Stonehell.  The former spell had no effect; the latter made the strongbox momentarily smoke and crackle with sparks, and reduced its evil emanations slightly.  But the Carcoonians' Dispel Evil spell could not negate the strong evil emanations coming from within the strange, hinge-less strongbox.  The mystery endures.

Next, the Death Frost Doom mirror.  Uncle Junkal brought out the odd mirror he had pilfered from the death cult's cabin, and the priests of Carcoon reacted quite strongly to it, calling it a "cursed abomination" and asking the party to immediately remove it from the premises.  The Carcoonians on hand said they had a holy man among them who specialized in studying necromantic lore; they would send that man, Brother Camus, to the party's inn at dusk to inspect the mirror and to offer what assessments he could.  But they forbade the party from bringing the mirror back onto the Temple grounds.

Meanwhile, the party's dwarves, Dak and Yor, partied at the local dwarven establishment, the King Hargon Inn.  Dak spent vast amounts of gold on booze and prostitutes, permanently endearing him to the King Hargon's clientele.  Yor also drank, but simultaneously kept his ear to the ground for local rumors.  He was particularly interested in discovering whatever he could about the mysterious wagons the party encountered traveling through Fortinbras several sessions back; and on his second day in town, after the evening's revelry, Yor visited the local farmer's market to make further inquiries.  There he learned that local farmers had indeed seen the weird wagons as well, mostly traveling at night, and one local advised Yor about a particular stretch of road where the wagons could be observed passing by each evening.

That evening at dusk, Brother Camus showed up at the Drunken Yeti, the tavern and inn where Innominus et. al. had rented the best suite.  Camus told them that Uncle Junkal's mirror, thought to function as a portal to the undead realms in proper hands, was indeed cursed.  He stated that any object removed from the death cult's property tended to bring dire effects down upon the persons who took it.  The party confessed that they had been especially harried by undead creatures since leaving the death cult's cabin and underground crypts -- recall the ghoul attack in Farn Junction, the mummies and wraiths coming after Uncle Junkal in various areas of Stonehell -- and Brother Camus confirmed that that would be par for the course so long as they kept the mirror.  He offered to act as a middle-man in brokering a deal with a collector of unique evil artifacts; he said he thought he could make the necessary arrangements by the following evening if the party wanted to sell it.  They did.

Later that night the party decided to lie in wait for one of the strange wagons, and after a brief skirmish with its hobgoblin driver and his attendants, determined that the hooded figures traveling with the wagons were enslaved morlocks; hobgoblins had captured them from the nearby mountains and now made them haul these wagons to and from Stonehell.  Innominus used his Speak with animals spell to question the horses about their route after the party killed the hobgoblin driver and caused the morlocks to flee.  The wagon the PCs ambushed, which was headed southbound toward Greystone Mountain, was filled with empty oil flasks of Kaladarian manufacture.  The PCs appropriated the wagon and sold the flasks off the next day.

Session 21 saw the party buying magic items from local Enchanters in Fortinbras and preparing for their meeting with Brother Camus and the cursed-mirror-buyer that night.  Dak and Yor learned while hanging out at the King Hargon Inn that a very popular local dwarf named Gark Steelsnout had recently ventured into Stonehell with a mixed-race group led by a human knight, Sir Boren of Achelon, but that that group had not returned from Stonehell in over two weeks.  Deciding then and there to mount an expedition to seek out and possibly rescue Gark & Co., Dak and Yor recruited two local dwarven brothers, Darvey and Garvey, to join their rescue mission as volunteers.  The rest of the PCs agreed to dedicate their planned return to Stonehell to the cause of locating Gark, and set about hiring a few extra hirelings besides Harvey, Garvey, and old hand Gorgo to accompany them.

That night -- their third night in Fortinbras -- the party was led by Brother Camus of the Carcoonians to a secluded vale south of town called Bandit's Knoll; there they met a cloaked and hooded rodian who bought the Death Frost Doom mirror from them for a tidy sum of 9,000gp.  Brother Camus and the party returned to Fortinbras as the mysterious rodian rode off into the night.  Brother Camus bid them good-night at the Drunken Yeti and headed back to his temple.  The party bedded down, planning to start early for Stonehell the next morning.

To Be Continued. . .

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Belated Session Reports 18-19: Yet More Stonehell

At the conclusion of session 17 of Arandish Campaign 2010, Innominus the Cleric and Uncle Junkal the Bard both leveled up, so the party now consists of:

Innominus, Follower of Endra (Clr.-4)
Uncle Junkal, Rodian Bard (Bard-3)
Hazel, Human Warrior (Ftr.-3)*
Dak (Dwarf-2)**
Yor (Dwarf-2)**

Gorgo (Dwarf-2)
Harry (Halfling-1)
Uncle Junkal's charmed Rock Troll 

*As of Session 17, Hazel began mysteriously manifesting arcane spellcasting abilities, and is therefore leveling as a Magic-User for the next three experience levels -- thereafter she will multi-class according to the rules in the LL AEC p. 24.

**Dak's and Yor's players missed session 18 but returned for session 19.

And so:  The party began Session 18 (day 41 of the campaign, game-time, and the party's third day in Stonehell) in a small room with a central well wherein they rested for 8 hours.  During the last watch of the night (I think - my notes on this are sketchy), during which Innominus kept guard, a faint scraping sound was heard emanating from deep inside the well.  Investigating, Innominus spotted a stone being pushed out of its place along one side of the well, as if something was tunneling its way into the well from some adjacent subterranean space.  Innominus waked his comrades, and upon peering into the well, the others observed a large piece of stonemasonry get pushed and fall with a splash into the depths of the well, and a ghastly humanoid head wrapped in bandages was now poking into the well shaft from the opening thus created.  A smell of musty death pervaded the air, which the party recognized as likely belonging to a mummy.  As this first mummy crawled out of its hole and began climbing up the side of the well toward the party, a second bandage-wrapped head poked out of the opening as well.  However, sadly for these two mummies, Hazel had a ward against undead she acquired somewhere along the way, and she activated it now.  The mummies were unable to proceed up the well shaft or get anywhere near the party, and were stymied.

The party then headed south, into a section of the dungeon they had never visited before.  After bypassing a dangerous scything blade trap, they came across a spike driven into the floor with a human skull perched on top.  Etched into the skull were some words in a language no party member could read, and an insignia they had seen before: that of the hobgoblinish Skullface Occupational Army. The party proceeded southward with caution.

Soon they came to a partially caved-in section of corridor, and Uncle Junkal persuaded the rock troll to dig through the rubble.  They broke through into a large chamber with a white tile floor and two large 8' pillars encrusted with glowing gems of different colors.  One of the PCs -- my notes don't reveal whom -- stepped out into the middle of the tiled room, only to be struck by a beam of yellow light that made the character feel refreshed and healed.  Close inspection of the pillars --was this Innominus? -- revealed nothing beyond the fact that the "gems" were in fact multi-colored lenses set deep into the pillars.

Proceeding west, the party came to a corridor section with doors on either side -- careful prowling reveled these to lead to rooms of various kinds inhabited by hobgoblins: a kitchen, a small infirmary, a mountain lion wrangler's cat-pen.  Stealthily bypassing these areas, the party penetrated further east, reaching a hobgoblin sentry post manned by three hobgoblin soldiers standing near a wall-mounted gong.  Innominus swiftly cast Hold Person on these three hobgoblin sentries, and NPCs Gorgo and harry began dismounting the gong from the wall.  Thus ended the session. . .

Session 19 opened with four hobgoblin patrolmen approaching the sentry room from the east.  Battle ensued after all four hg's saved vs. Dak's poison, and despite this early coup for the hobgoblins, thanks to some oil-flask throwing by Uncle Junkal and a critical mace hit by Innominus, these monstrous defenders were quickly dispatched by the PCs.  For some reason this battle carried onward into the small hobgoblin infirmary, and Dak (blindly swinging his battle axe) and Uncle Junkal were able to kill the hobgoblin medic and dispatch his two wounded charges without alerting the hobgoblins in the nearby kitchen.

Next, while Hazel, Innominus, and Yor explored a corridor leading south out of the sentry room, Uncle Junkal and Harry the Halfling searched the sentry room for secret doors etc. (Dak was on hand but still blind -- Gorgo and the rock troll stood guard).  The only unusual thing found was a group of strange etchings scratched into the north wall -- no character on hand could read them, but when Hazel returned to the room from the south a bit later, she identified the scrawlings as being an arcane code that listed a numerical calendar date, the word "Mulek," and a mention of something called "the Black Well."

The southern corridor terminated in a floor-to-ceiling bas-relief of a hobgoblinish face with an open mouth -- some careful searching by Hazel and Yor uncovered a secret door inside the mouth.  Beyond was a dark, gloomy room, which Yor entered and searched, only to be instantly attacked by two shadowy, ghost-like figures.  Innominus leaped to Yor's aid, and even Uncle Junkal dashed down the southern passage to assist in the battle.  In fact, the intrepid bard held up the strange mirror he previously pilfered from the death cult's cabin, and while the sight of the mirror did make the shadows flinch, it was ultimately Hazel's and Innominus' combat prowess that laid the two vile spirits low.  In the wake of the battle, the PCs searched the cluttered room, and Yor found a heavy iron strongbox buried under some furniture and rubble.  Then Hazel, Yor, et. al. closed the secret door and returned north to the sentry room.

Once the party was reunited in the sentry room, Harry the halfling, the group's (relatively unskilled) de facto thief was instructed to pick the lock on the strongbox, which he did, only to be pricked by a poison needle trap and instantly killed.  R.I.P., Harry the halfling.

Meanwhile Dak and Yor heard some tapping noises coming from the other side of the west wall of the sentry room.  Yor exchanged brief words with a male voice coming from the other side of the wall; they both spoke in kobold. Yor claimed to be "Mulek" and the anonymous voice told him that "Stanthor perished."

Taking the loot accumulated so far, plus the riches found in the strongbox that cost poor Harry his life -- lots of sp, ep, gp, and gems; a few valuable pieces of jewelry; three potions; and two scrolls containing wards against undead -- the party decided to leave Stonehell and return to the nearby Minochian town of Fortinbras, to regroup, rest, re-provision, and re-equip.  They made the exit from the dungeon and the return trip to Fortinbras without physical incident, though they did see a newly established hobgoblin military camp perched atop the southern ridge of the box canyon that houses the entrance to Stonehell.  But they were able to slip past the hobgoblins unseen and were back at the Drunken Yeti Inn in Fortinbras by the end of the session.

To Be Continued. . .

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Edition War vs. Edition Preference, or, Form Matters

Reading James M's recent post about the significance of D&D III in his evolution as a gamer, I was struck by the parallels between his story and mine.  In brief, the narrative runs something like this:

* I begin my RPG'ing career as what would now be called an "old-school" gamer.  I never play (and  to this day have never played) with the LBBs, but get caught up in the hobby in my teenage years with the 1979 Holmes box set and AD&D.  I get out of playing AD&D in the late 80's right around the time 2e is released.  I actually have never played 2e.  I have absolutely nothing against it, having never played it, but suffice to say that my baseline for understanding what D&D is (or "should" feel like for me) is based upon Holmes and 1e AD&D, i.e., skills do not exist in the game. 

*  After many years of playing other RPG systems including a completely homebrewed one, I return to playing D&D a few years ago, in the mid-2000s; the group I join is playing D&D 3.5, soon to become Pathfinder.  I tolerate 3.5 and it is great to be role-playing again, but I never feel "at home" in the system (more on this in a moment).

*  D&D IV is released, and my 3.5 group, after sticking with Pathfinder for a couple more months, switches to 4.0.  I fucking hate it.  I leave that group and begin to lay groundwork for my own campaign using Labyrinth Lord.    

As this mini-narrative makes clear, I am no great fan of 3.5 or 4e for me personally, but let me state at the outset that I am NOT interested in instigating or perpetuating any kind of "Edition Wars."  Ultimately this hobby is about having fun, and I am genuinely happy for those players (including my beloved ex-gaming group -- and I mean that "beloved" earnestly, they were a great group of players) who are getting a kick out of Pathfinder and D&D IV. 

What I want to address, however, is the fact that form matters.  That is, it is not simply enough to have a good group of players or an awesome DM -- though those things obviously matter a lot.  Yet the particular rules systems we choose to play with are every bit as important as the genre, setting, dice, and, yes, group chemistry in determining whether or not a given RPG'ing experience is fun.

Perhaps I am a bit of an extremist here, but if so, it is how I am "hardwired" and I can't seem to do much about it.  The truth is, even though I loved that 3.5 group, and was able to stomach playing in it for a couple years DESPITE my aversions to what felt like unnecessarily cumbersome rules, I NEVER LIKED THE 3.5 RULES, and that aspect of the experience, while not a deal-breaker, did somewhat diminish the fun for me.  What I ended up doing was ignoring / refusing to acknowledge the rules that seemed pointless (i.e., almost everything to do with skills and feats) and charging on ahead as if they didn't matter.  This mostly worked out, but there were many times when I simply wanted to be able to DO something, and would be reminded by other players that I had to roll against some feat or other, or that I couldn't do that thing (or at least hope to do it successfully) because I had no applicable skill.  This was frustrating.  And my general aversion to the 3.5 rules made me always feel like I was trying to move around underwater, that is, there was this big wall of rules that was making things happen sluggishly, in slow motion, again, diminishing the pacing and the fun (for me).

The less said about 4e the better, but my main point is that while I am sure that some DMs do an awesome job of making 4e feel more "old-school" than the (highly tactical and combat-oriented) style of play it seems to encourage, the form still matters -- i.e., different rules sets make different styles of play easier or harder to achieve.  The two evenings I played 4e -- albeit, possibly not with the world's greatest DM -- I was utterly bored.  Part of that may have been the way that DM used 4e as a vehicle, but part of the blame indeed lies with the vehicle itself.  I found little in the assumptions of 4e that excited my imagination or made me want to play it.  On the other hand, when I crack open the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, or leaf through the booklets in the Swords and Wizardry White Box, I drool.  The rules themselves suggest possibilities get my mind going, get me jazzed to play the game. 

I think one of the points of confusion that leads to "Edition Wars" is the tendency to conflate the form and structure of the rules themselves with the corporation that produced them.  A great many of the anti-4e posts I have read (with some vicarious glee I admit) end up boiling down (at least in part) to a condemnation of WotC, Hasbro, or some combination thereof.  And while I confess myself to be a fan of fringe art, a supporter of grassroots creativity, and open to the idea of "sticking it to the man" etc., I truly have nothing against those companies per se.  Hell, like James M., I am immensely grateful to WotC for giving D&D a shot in the arm and especially for the innovation of the OGL that made Labyrinth Lord et. al. possible.  If Hasbro put out a game or rules system I liked, I would buy and play it, just as I would refrain from buying or playing a shitty or mediocre product that happened to be released by an OSR publisher I love.

So this may ultimately boil down to taste, but my point is that the rules really do matter -- they certainly matter more than corporate politics, and they may even matter more (or at least exert a profound influence upon) all the wonderful, ineffable stuff that contributes to the "feel" of a campaign: house rulings, campaign setting, player inclinations, party makeup, etc.  The rules provide the container for all that great, creative, spontaneous stuff -- they are the form that shapes the substance of our campaigns and our gaming experiences. 

This is why I am a "rules-light" OSR loyalist, and will happily leave 4e and Pathfinder to other types of gamers.

Lands of Ara Ranked #119!

Back on November 2nd, when I was somewhat shamefully allowing this blog to go temporarily to seed, Cyclopeatron was busy ranking all the Old-School gaming blogs he could find -- 234 in total -- according to their number of followers.  The Lands of Ara came in at #119, with 37 followers!

Actually, since that ranking was posted, we have gained three more followers, bringing our total to 40!  This allows us to claim the named blogger "Level Title" of Thinker, according to Trey at From the Sorcerer's Skull. We're Level 5 bloggers!

Heady stuff and certainly very exciting in terms of what these rankings say about the active nature of the OSR blogging movement.  For me, it has always been about quality, not quantity -- an ethos I assume I share with other Grognards, since our chosen passion constitutes a tiny minority (old-school gamers) within another minority (tabletop RPG'ers) -- yet it is fun to see our efforts and achievements quantified from time to time.  Thanks, Cyclopeatron!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Non-Variable Weapon Damage in Ara?

I have always played D&D with variable weapon damage, having moved quite rapidly from Holmes (which does feature non-variable damage) to AD&D (with variable damage) in the olden days.  Yet of all the characteristics of OD&D that differ from my personal habits and traditions, it is perhaps the concept of non-variable weapon damage that intrigues me the most.  It may be awhile before I would make this switch in my own campaign, particularly since I've got a couple players in my group who are brand-spanking-new to the hobby, and I don't want to confuse them at this early stage of their learning curves by switching gears.  Yet I remain intrigued.  In this I am indebted to a recent post by Al at Beyond the Black Gate for re-raising this issue, and I should refer my own readers (as Al does) to a superb and comprehensive post by JB that explains the logic and philosophy behind non-variable damage quite brilliantly.  If I were going to adopt non-variable weapon damage as my own campaign standard sometime in the future, I would probably go with a close approximation of JB's system, which Jim Pacek encapsulates nicely in his comment on Al's blog:

I'm using d6 for all weapons but daggers/darts -- they do d4. Two-handed weapons do d6+2 in trade for the lack of shield. (Shields add +1 to AC -and- I use the "Shields will be Splintered" rule too). Fighting with two weapons is best of 2d6. This all seems to be working for my group.

Hmm. Thought-provoking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Belated Session Reports 16-17: Stonehell Continued

It has been awhile since I posted a session report, but that does not mean that my adventurers have been inactive!  Far from it!  Delving deeper into the perils of the "Stony Hell," they have vanquished lizardmen, encountered hobgoblins, been harried by various undead, and have made a few startling discoveries.  So, galvanized by their noteworthy deeds and further inspired by this really terrific post by JB on the fun of recounting the tales of our adventures after we play them, I now present belated session highlights from Arandish Labyrinth Lord Campaign 2010, Sessions 16-17.

Last we saw our intrepid party, they -- Hazel the Fighter, Uncle Junkal the Bard, and Innominus the Cleric, along with Dwarven newcomers Dak and Yor -- were standing around a buried mummy's crypt, occupied by a huge stone sarcophagus filled with treasure, including gold, jewelry, potions, scrolls, and a +1 Flame TongueSession 16 opened with the party searching around the burial chamber, Dak the Dwarf soon noticing an interesting glint of something shiny hidden in a cobwebby corner.  About to investigate, he was interrupted by yet another onslaught of enraged Lizardfolk -- fairly quickly dispatched by the party due to great damage rolls by Uncle Junkal (who threw flasks of flaming oil) and a natural 20 critical attack roll by Dak with his mighty battle axe.  About the worst damage the party suffered in this fracas was Innominus' shield being splintered by a Lizardman's thrown trident (see the recently updated Arandish House Rules for a description of the Shield Splintering Rule).

After dispatching this last desperate group of Lizardfolk defenders, the party returned to checking out the interesting glint in the corner of the mummy burial chamber.  Lo and behold, behind a somewhat weakened and flickering illusion of cobwebs was a small lever in the "down" position.  Dak pulled up the lever and the bottom of the stone sarcophagus dropped out, revealing a vertical shaft with a ladder down 50' to a large chamber with a minotaur statue in it.  The party quickly scoped that chamber and decided not to tangle with an area that might play home to minotaurs.  They climbed back up, pulled the lever back down, re-closing the sarcophagus trapdoor, and left the area, heading north out of the Lizardfolk caves and into a more architecturally "refined" area of the Stonehell dungeon.

As they headed north, then west, the party began encountering hobgoblins.  I will leave it to my collaborator to fill in any noteworthy details I may have forgotten, but suffice to say that the PCs made their way past one small group of three hobgoblins, turned south, and ended the session in a small, octagonal chamber featuring a central statue of a lizard-like serpent with an open mouth.  Just as the party began inspecting this statue, two wraiths swooped into the chamber from the south!  The leading wraith pointed at Uncle Junkal and hissed "Give it back, Bard!"  Thus ended Session 16.

Session 17 opened with Innominus attempting to Turn the wraiths, and electing to use up his once-nightly d30 roll (see Arandish House Rules) in the process.  He rolled a 30!  The wraiths were instantly Turned, and the party returned to their inspection of the lizard-serpent statue.

Dak the Dwarf discovered that the statue could be rotated on its vertical axis, so he spun the whole thing 45 degrees clockwise (to the east).  The statue spat poison gas into the room, instantly blinding Dak (the other party members had either cleared the room or made their saving throws).  Dak's player, Carl, has fairly recently blogged about Dak's blindness, so I will refer you to his post for more juicy details on that.  Suffice to say that in the wake of being blinded, Dak simply trooped onward, figuring out (with the help of Yor the Dwarf and halfling NPC Harry) that a hatch at the base of the statue could be pried open and the tank containing 17 more doses of the blinding poison could be removed.  For the next few sessions, Dak would be carried around from place to place by Uncle Junkal's charmed Rock Troll, carrying his container of poison at all times.

This poison came in handy a few rooms later, after the party doubled back and came across an as-yet unexplored chamber in the lizardfolk caverns.  Therein they found a lizardman shaman, his guards, and his followers, and had it not been for Dak's entering the chamber first and liberally spraying the blindness-poison everywhere, the party may have been sufficiently outnumbered as to have finally taken some much-deserved licks from the beleaguered lizardfolk.  But alas, three lizardman were instantly blinded, and one more killed outright by a well-tossed flaming oil flask from Uncle Junkal.  Then the rest of the party (Hazel's player had to quit this session a bit early so missed this final combat) moved in, Yor the Dwarf being particularly effective with his battle-axe, dispatching two foes and presenting such a formidable aspect that three lizardfolk broke ranks and fled the scene.  The PCs chased down and killed these poor lizardfolk retreaters, Yor killing one with his battle axe and Uncle Junkal scoring yet another critical hit with a flaming oil flask to dispatch the remaining two!

Finally, all the lizardfolk in a wide radius having been slaughtered, the party hunkered down for the night in a small room with a well.  The well-room had but one entrance, so Innominus spiked the door and the PCs got some much-needed rest.

To Be Continued . . .

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Newly Revised Arandish Campaign House Rules

In the spirit of "everything old is new again" that seems to be sweeping over me lately, I have looked over my January 2010 revision of the Arandish Campaign House Rules and realized they need one more slight overhaul. A few things have changed since game play began, so here is the latest scoop:

Newly Revised Arandish Campaign House Rules

Generating Attributes
Attribute scores are generated by rolling 4d6 and discarding the lowest die roll. The player then orders them in any way s/he chooses. 

The following list of the six available Arandish alignments is originally borrowed from here, and is also posted here.  (Please also note this succinct breakdown of the meaning of alignment terminology and a follow-up post for first-edition gamers by James Raggi.) 

Chaotic: Inimical to civilization and possibly reality itself – the alignment of demons, Faerie, and the insane.

Neutral: Apathetic and/or unconcerned with the battle between cosmic forces.

Neutral (Balance): The philosophical stance that a balance between Chaos and Law is necessary for the well-being of the cosmos.

Lawful (Good): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to foster the common good.

Lawful: The philosophical stance that civilization, regardless of how it is organized, is preferable to other alternatives.

Lawful (Evil): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to allow the strong to lord it over the weak.

Critical Hits and Fumbles
Any time a player rolls a natural ‘20’ on a to hit roll, it is a critical hit. Damage is doubled.
Likewise, if a player rolls a natural ‘1’ on a to hit roll, it is considered a critical failure or fumble. Typically, this means the combatant hurts himself, drops his weapon, breaks his weapon, or just plain falls down – Labyrinth Lord's discretion.

The optional encumbrance system in the Labyrinth Lord rulebook (p. 44) will be ignored; if how much a character is carrying becomes an issue, it will be dealt with intuitively.

Except in special circumstances, NO individual initiative is rolled (see LL p. 52), just initiative for each group, rolled on 1d6 once per combat encounter, NOT once per round as per LL p. 50 – that is too much die rolling for me!

Item Saving Throws
YES, see LL p. 55.

Ability Checks
YES, see LL p. 55.

I prefer high-powered monsters with little fear, so I am leery of morale checks for any but the weakest or most disorganized Arandish monsters.  But since so many old-school RPGers I respect seem to favor morale checks in D&D combat, I will use this rule when the combat circumstances warrant it (see LL p. 56). 

Multiple Chances to Detect Secret Doors
As James Raggi IV has written:

Apparently the Moldvay Basic and Labyrinth Lord state that a character gets only one try to find a secret door, and if that fails, pffft, tough shit! I have never played like that, and as I said was never aware that such a rule existed.

Doublechecking yesterday morning to make sure I haven't been playing wrong for a quarter of a century, I did confirm that OD&D, Holmes Basic, Mentzer Basic, AD&D, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry do not have this "one try only" language in the rules for secret doors.

I'm truly flabbergasted that a game that so features exploration as a primary activity would have such a limitation. To me, secret doors are time sinks, and if a party wants to take the time to make an extra check (or five) at the cost of a turn each, running down their light sources and risking wandering monsters, that's great!

I agree with Mr. Raggi and hereby waive the "one try only" rule as printed in LL.

Shields Shall Be Splintered! 
This brilliant set of concepts originates with Trollsmyth, but I like this nice encapsulation by David at The RPG Corner, from whom I horked many of the best of my own house rules.  Here's the rule:

Shields provide the usual +1 bonus to AC. However, they may also be used to "soak" damage from a single attack, thereby reducing damage to zero. Soaking damage destroys the shield.

Shields may also be used against any attack that allows a save for half damage, such as a fireball or dragon's breath. In that case, the shield is destroyed, as above, and the save is considered automatically successful, thereby guaranteeing half damage.

For magical shields, each +1 enchantment bonus gives a 10% chance of surviving a damage soak.

The D30 Rule
Once per session each player may opt to roll the referee’s d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the d30 must be made before any actual rolling has occurred. The d30 cannot be rolled for generating character statistics or hit points.

Awarding Experience Points
Experience points are gained from two sources, treasure and monsters. Characters only gain XP from treasure of a non-magical nature, at a rate of 1 XP per 1 gp value of the item.  As James Raggi has discussed, this only counts treasure/money gained during adventuring, NOT from opening a profitable inn or becoming a ruler and taxing one's subjects. All defeated monsters (either outsmarted or killed), grant XP based on how powerful they are (see LL p. 49).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

+1 Crowbar and Arandish Messenger Service

Two interesting tidbits from recent sessions:

1.  Two sessions ago -- Arandish Campaign 2010 Session 20 -- the party left Stonehell to re-provision and re-equip in the nearby Minochian town of Fortinbras.  One of the PCs (I forget who - possibly Yor the Dwarf?) asked if the local Enchanters' Guild could imbue a crowbar with magical properties -- in other words, could the party buy a +1 Crowbar?  Of course I said yes, charging the PC in question 202gp and a 2-day wait for the privilege of obtaining this custom item.  The +1 Crowbar gets a +1 bonus to certain tasks, like prying open doors and treasure chests, and functions as a +1 club in melee combat.

2.  Messenger / Courier Service in Ara:  Around the same time that Yor the Dwarf was buying his magic crowbar, another PC made an inquiry regarding the availability and cost of messenger service in the lands of Ara. The party's cleric, Innominus, wanted to get a message back to his Order, the Followers of Endra, about recent hobgoblin troop buildup activities in the area of Stonehell.  I ruled that since his Order, whose main temple is located in the distant Western Lands, must have at least a small shrine or sub-chapter in the nearby Free City of Kaladar (since everything can be found in Kaladar!), his request would only necessitate a courier willing to travel approximately 7-8 days from Fortinbras to Kaladar along well-traveled, well-patrolled roads.  I reasoned that such a service could be had at a rate of 2gp per travel day for the courier.  That rate would go up to 8-10gp per day if the route were through a monster-infested wilderness area, a war zone, or some other particularly dangerous region.

Does that sound reasonable?  Have any other DM's / Labyrinth Lords out there ever worked out a rate schedule for this type of service in your own campaigns?  I assume these charges are for the courier only, NOT for any armed guards/mercs to accompany the messenger.  I also assume the rate would go up significantly if the courier were asked to convey anything more heavy and /or valuable than a written (or verbal) message.

In Innominus' case, I assumed that he only needed to pay to have his note delivered as far as the shrine of the Followers of Endra in Kaladar -- his brethren in Kaladar could subsequently be counted on to relay his message onward to his parish in the Western Lands at no charge, kind of like free inter-office mail for clerics.

New Contributor Joining The Lands of Ara!

So much has changed since I last posted!  Obviously, I have been away from the blog for many months, for multiple reasons.  The main ones are: (1) I moved across country to take on a very busy full-time job as a Film Studies Visiting Professor in northwestern New York State, and (2) my current campaign in the Lands of Ara -- "Arandish Campaign 2010" -- is humming along nicely (despite my move -- THANKS SKYPE!) and so, swept up into the day-to-day duties of being an active Labyrinth Lord, I rarely have much creative "oomph!" left over to put toward keeping this blog going.  But thankfully, in a brilliant move I should have taken the initiative to suggest myself, one of my players has volunteered to join me as a co-contributor to the Lands of Ara blog!

I will leave it to that player to self-introduce, but suffice to say that this player has already been doing an extraordinary job as a record-keeper, mapper, and general party leader in the context of the ongoing Arandish campaign, so I am sure that the blog will take on a lively new existence in the coming weeks and months.  And maybe, just maybe, I will get re-inspired myself and will once again start pulling my own weight around here.

Thanks for your patience, dear readers, apologies for the long hiatus, and stay tuned!