Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Session 41: Saving Lives, Exposing Demons

Vivuli: "Fuck everyone else!"
Innominus: "That's our motto."

This session took place on Thursday, August 18 and included PCs Innominus (Clr 6), Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 4), Yor (Dwf 5), and Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 2). 

We picked up right where the previous session left off, in the King Hargon Inn, the dwarven dining and drinking establishment in Fortinbras, on the morning of Day 149 of the party's Arandish adventures.*

Last session, the party decided that their over-arching plan would be to venture back to Farn Junction and attempt to purchase the "haunted" (and currently shut down) Frigglestone Brothers' mine. However, since Farn Junction lies a couple days' travel north of Fortinbras, the party started out this session talking over their immediate next move, and decided to head out east of town to Prince Arkus' country manor house (formerly the late Baron Kaminster's country manor house).

No sooner had they decided upon a course of action and headed eastward out of town than it began to snow rather heavily.**  By the time they reached the stone-walled country manor of Prince Arkus, acting Baron of Rogaland, visibility was limited by snowfall and the PCs drove their wagon up to the Manor Gate through four inches of fairly dense snow.  Just before the group reached the area of the Manor proper, Hazel turned herself invisible, a state in which she would stay for the remainder of the session.

Baronet LeForge, a local aristocrat and soldier, met the party at the Manor's heavy iron gate and asked their purpose for being there.  Yor stated that he was there to see the Prince on behalf of the most prominent local Dwarven families (e.g., the Grimmbricks, the Frigglestones, and his own), to which the Baronet replied that Prince Arkus was ill and could not receive visitors.  Innominus then stepped forward and offered his services as a Divine healer, here to help the Prince.  After sending a runner into the house to make an inquiry, Baronet LeForge ordered the Gate be opened and waved the group into the circular inner courtyard. 

Arkus' servants took their wagon and horses around to the stables, and the party was shown into the Manor.  Entering the front hall, Hazel immediately noticed, at the top of a stairwell to the second floor, a robed man she felt sure matched the description of the wizard who had followed her on the town streets the night before.  Vivuli also scanned the whole area with his X-ray vision ring as he passed through the foyer; he spotted a secret door hidden in the wall to the left of the stairwell. That secret door led to yet another stairwell leading down, underground, underneath the Manor.

While the rest of the party were shown into a parlor [marked with "X" on Map 1], Hazel, still invisible, sneaked up the stairs and followed the familiar-seeming robed man left down a hallway.  Beastarr, Innominus' bobcat familiar, lingered back and distracted the foyer guards so they would not hear Hazel's invisible passing and ascent.

MAP 1: A hastily composed map of Prince Arkus' country manor's foyer.  X marks the parlor where most of the PCs waited for Grand Vizier Krock, and circled x's indicate posted guards.    

The robed fellow entered a door on the left side of the hallway and sat down at a table therein, picking up a book. Hazel cast ESP in anticipation of invading his thoughts.  Once she arrived at the door, cracked it open, and scanned his mind, she found that he was thinking about what he was reading: a turgid romance adventure novel about an aristocrat who goes around in a mask, fighting sea pirates and sea monsters and having steamy sexual encounters with all manner of ladies he encounters.  Nonplussed, Hazel retreated back down the hall, looking across the second-floor landing to the other side: an ornate archway leading to the plushly carpeted Regal Apartments, flanked by two heavily armed Royal Guards.  Hazel sneaked back down the stairs.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party was joined in the downstairs parlor by Grand Vizier Krock, Prince Arkus' closest adviser and also, incidentally, one of the world's most enthusiastic Uncle Junkal fans (see Session 35).  And while the much-beloved rodian bard was not actually present this session, Krock nevertheless recalled Innominus, Yor & Co. from their prior heroics in Farn Junction.  So he was just thrilled to see the PCs, and asked how he could be of service.

Yor and Innominus convinced Krock that they should be allowed to see the sick Prince and try to help him, even if (as Krock tried to explain) Father Azamondius of the Kaladarian Temple of the Brothers of Carcoon was on his way to Fortinbras for the same purpose, expected to arrive that very afternoon. Innominus, insisting that there was no time to waste, persuaded Krock to let he and Yor upstairs into the Royal Chambers. They went, accompanied by the Vizier.

Vivuli, meanwhile, asked one of the guardsmen where the crapper was, and was told it lay just off the kitchen and banquet hall, just across the foyer [see room marked "WC" on Map 1].  Vivuli went into the "chamber pot closet" and then cast Conjure Familiar, attracting a small monkey (an Emperor Tamarin to be exact) named "Fu Man" to be his new animalistic compadre.  Accompanied by Fu Man, Vivuli sneaked silently out of the toilet, approached the area of the secret door under the stairs, and investigated, inspecting the latch mechanism etc.  It appeared free from traps, just hidden. 

Upstairs, Innominus cast detect magic in the chamber where Prince Arkus lay bedridden. A plain-looking ring on Arkus' bedside table glowed, as did all the weapons and armor used by the four Royal Guards posted in the room.

Next the cleric of Endra cast detect evil, and the only thing in the whole room that glowed were the small black pockmarks all over the Prince's neck and face -- they radiated very strong evil indeed.

Downstairs, an invisible Hazel joined Vivuli at the secret door, and, after the assassin / magic-user popped the door open, stumbling clumsily against the wall to make it appear accidental, the fighter / magic-user and the monkey slipped through the secret door and onto the unlit stairwell below. Hazel closed the door behind them and they quietly descended as Vivuli continued his stumble, concealing their passage from the guards.

At the bottom of the flight of stairs was a three-way intersection, with passages headed left (south), straight ahead (west), and right (north).

MAP 2: The underground passages beneath the Manor, also hastily drawn.

Hazel stood still at the intersection a moment and listened. From the south passage came the faint sound of someone playing a clarinet, practicing the same five-note progression over and over. From the west, a faint but steady dripping noise.  And most ominously, from the north, the dull, irregular sound of someone being choked or strangled.

UPSTAIRS, while Innominus of Endra prepared to work his healing magic on the inert Prince, Yor pulled Grand Vizier Krock aside and raised a delicate but pertinent matter: "The Prince is a very sick man.  Who would succeed him as Lord of Minoch should he not survive?"  The Vizier replied: "Since Prince Arkus has no blood successors, the Right of Succession passes to the highest ranking nobleman in the land, which at present would be Count Dooku."

Innominus, not having direct access to the cure disease spell, prayed a divine prayer to Endra, his diety, beseeching the demigod for the power to heal Prince Arkus. Due to the power and conviction of his prayer, his wish was granted, and Innominus cast cure disease upon the fallen prince.

The black spots on Arkus' face and neck began to congeal together under his skin, oozing up toward his mouth, then spraying out of his mouth like animated black vomit. The black vomit-thing protruding from the prince's gob took on, for a split-second, the visage of a horrible, fiery demon, then vanished completely. The bedridden prince regained some color to his previously ashen cheeks, and everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief. Innominus had saved Prince Arkus' life. The Vizier rejoiced and offered the 10,000gp Honorarium originally intended for Father Azamondius of Carcoon to Innominus and the Temple of Endra instead.

Meanwhile, UNDERGROUND, Hazel approached a door down the north passageway, from whence the strangling sound came. By the time she silently opened the door to peek in, the sound seemed to have changed to a horrible chewing or crunching. Indeed, inside a dark chamber beyond were two gargoyle-like demons, winged and black with four arms each and faintly glowing red eyes. They were hunched over the carcass of a Royal Guardsman, eating lustily. One of the demons glanced up when Hazel cracked the door open, but she was invisible and the gargoyle-demon seemed not to care.

Hazel closed the door, retreated to the intersection, and pointed her wand of trap detection down the north hall. There was indeed a trapped door down there, which Hazel declined to investigate further. She instead went upstairs to report her findings to her compatriots.

Innominus warned Grand Vizier Krock that he had a serious problem on his hands here, and advised him to allow the party to explore the whole house and "purge it of demons." The Vizier consented, and the group descended into the underground level and returned to the door behind which Hazel had seen the black gargoyle-demons.

Innominus kicked the door open, holding up his amulet of continual light. Vivuli held a vial of Holy Water on high, while Yor readied his deadly New Steel dwarven axe. Hazel kept an eye on their flank, flame tongue at the ready.

Combat ensued immediately, with the demons viciously clawing at Yor and Innominus as Viv chucked flasks, Innominus cast prayer, and Yor hacked and slashed at the demons to his heart's content. After a few rounds of bloody battle, one demon was dead and the second was attempting to escape the chamber via a gate it had summoned. Acting swiftly, Innominus cast dispel magic upon the demon's gate; the gate collapsed, spitting the demon back out onto the floor. Then Yor hacked it to death.

The Vizier, who had pissed and shat himself in terror upon the appearance of the demons, climbed out of the pool of excrement in which he had been cowering and thanked the party profusely.

There, more or less, the session ended.

"I have no problem chucking a guard up front to take the first blow."

DM's Notes
Fun session! And our first with four separate online (Skype) video chat participants (that's me at the bottom of the screen). 

Viv Summons his Familiar in the Crapper
What an inventive piece of business. I had to let him do this, so here is the "back story" of Fu Man the Emperor Tamarin: He was traveling with a troupe of vaudevillians, whom he did not particularly like, and the group passed through Fortinbras on its way to Farn Junction. Fu Man escaped the caravan and then got caught out in the snow, and headed in the Manor window for warmth. There he met Viv in the crapper and became his new familiar.

Fu Man, Vivuli's monkey familiar.

Random Manor Generation
The reason the above maps are so hastily drawn is because no specific maps of the Manor interior existed until the PCs showed up there this session.  Of course, I knew a few facts about its general layout, and obviously I knew the broad strokes of what was going on there, but I mapped it on the fly and even used the Dungeon Alphabet p. 32 "Random Original Purpose of Rooms" to determine what was where once Hazel started prowling around upstairs.  Along this line, I also generated a couple of the sounds Hazel heard in the downstairs corridor intersection using the "Random Sounds" table on p. 148 of the AEC.

* With one (rather gratuitous) continuity error: as we started this session, the players and I both forgot that they were holding a wizard captive in a rented room at the King Hargon Inn.  We have since ruled that the PCs simply left their gagged captive at the King Hargon, under the supervision of some reliable dwarves.
** I have decided to deploy a d12-based "snow check" for every day of the Arandish / Minochian winter.  High numbers (10, 11, 12) indicate heavy snow, midrange numbers (5-9) mean light snow, and low numbers (1-4) mean no precipitation.  This session I rolled a "12."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Digital Orc's Dad's Pepper Dish Recipe

From the kitchen of thoust Spawn of Endra:

I'm not much of an innovator in the Old School blogosphere, but I think I may have finally come up with something original*. I'm not a DM and I've never felt qualified to give a review of anything Old School, until now. I AM a proven Old School cook, so here's a review of a recent recipe for Gaming Grub posted by Mr. Digital Orc a few weeks back -- his Dad's Pepper Dish. I've recently moved to central Pennsylvania and Saturday evening I was bored and hungry, waiting for the Irenic apocalypse:
The hellish view from my back porch Saturday evening (slightly altered)
While looking for a recipe for ajvar I saw that I had bookmarked DO's recipe. I have been greatly impressed by the pickled banana peppers I get on subs around here, and so I'm on board to start working with these vegetables. And maybe Irene was coming inland and this would have be my last home-cooked meal for a while. Who knows?

The recipe is simple: 1/2lb bacon; 3lb red potatoes; 15-20 banana peppers; S&P to taste. That's it. Cook in phases in a covered skillet. Well, I looked at my skillet and could not see all this fitting in there, nor did I have a lid for it. So I went to the next biggest heavy implement: my Dutch Oven. Seriously. It took me a few hours to realize how weirdly appropriate this was. I started in simmering the bacon and then adding in the red potato wedges:

I strirred/tossed this every 5min or so to spread the browning love. While this was going on, I was dealing with the peppers. I used Hungarian wax peppers ... presumably the same thing? But DO's instructions were confusing:
Remove caps and seeds of banana peppers, cut into 2 inch rings, add to skillet, allow to cook for 15-25 minutes until banana peppers cook down.
Being the type that will always play the system as written before house-ruling it, I cut the peppers into 2"-long, er ... tubes? In the end, I don't think this matters, but removing the seeds and membranes (my habit, not strictly in the recipe) from these is a real pain in the ass. But eventually I prevailed:

Very pretty. I let it cook away for about 15 minutes and then by that point there was a fair amount of browned bacon/potato residue on the bottom, so I pulled it off the stovetop and finished it in the oven at 350F for ~10 min to avoid a charred blackened mess. By the time I got to the peppers, all the stirring/tossing had pretty much gotten it to a chunky mash consistency. In the end, after adding some black pepper and 1-2 tsp of salt, I had a right mash if there ever was one:

I'll admit, as this thing moved along I had some doubts. The recipe looked like it had some serious gaps, and the fact that it was turning into a hash/mash ... well, maybe that's right but who knows? DO doesn't say how it should look. Then I'm thinking, "If this sucks, what kind of an asshole am I to write a negative review of somebody's sketch of a favorite recipe on a blog about gaming? That's the worst possible Old School blogosphere asshole imaginable!" Indeed, such a creature will appear on the cover of Raggi's new Random Blogospheric Asshole Generator, due out this Fall from Goodman Games.

But all of this worry was for naught. I have no idea if this is the correct outcome (i.e., the hash format), but this dish was DELICIOUS. The bacon of course is going to be nice, but because of the potatoes it doesn't make the dish overly salty (you still need to add salt at the end). The bacon fat makes the potatoes creamy but not heavy, and the juices from the peppers permeate the dish and add a really nice noticeable but mild, clean heat to the dish. The tanginess of the peppers adds a distinct flavor and if you've got good bacon these two things provide all the seasoning you need outside of S&P.

Okay, it's good, but how good? Well, at the end of the night here's what the dutch oven looked like:

That's right. I ate the whole damn thing all by myself over the course of 4-5 hours, right off the stove top. 3lbs of potatoes, 1/2 lb bacon and 15-20 peppers, down my gullet. Could not stop and didn't want to. Such a simple and sublime dish. Having this on your stove top is a sign of good living. I think if you were to cook this for game night, probably double the recipe.

In Conclusion: Digital Orc's Dad got this dish right and is presumably a genius. It embodies everything I love about rustic one-pot cooking. 4.5** of 5 stars


*   I've been looking at some older posts from Grognardia, The RPG Corner, Jeff's Gameblogs and DNDWPS lately and it's shocking to see how many ideas I think are new have been circulated in the OSR back in fucking 2006 or 2008. Prog rock RPG setting? Yes, it's been done.

** I need to leave open the possibility of something even more awesome than this dish; otherwise, 5 of 5.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mobile DM'ing Equipment - Combat Mat

Now that I have DM'ed my first Con game, I find myself thinking about my equipment needs a bit differently. For example, in the olden days (the 1990s), I used to use a huge, classroom-sized white board for drawing maps and diagramming complex tactical encounters for my home RPG'ing group. Now that I DM exclusively from Skype, I don't do that anymore -- my big whiteboard is down in the garage.

For OSRCon, I acquired a mini-whiteboard, and it worked really well during Con play for quickly drawing a room layout or diagramming a combat scenario.

But then I got back from Toronto and saw the above picture of James Maliszeski's Crystal Caste "combat mat" and then read this comment where he tells exactly where to buy it [and more recently, some other folks have jumped on the trend].  I got really inspired by this, for I realized that a flexible mat like that would be great for on-the-road DM'ing, and it even has gridlines and hexes on alternate sides to boot.  So now, thirty bucks (with shipping) later, I have a flexible combat mat on its way to my house.  

Oddly, at the time I ordered the mat, the revelation I share in the next paragraph literally did not occur to me at all.  It was not until after I ordered the mat and reflected upon my consumerist victory that this related idea emerged and I realized (too late!) that I may have inadvertently taken a step toward creating a huge monster.

For the purchase of this combat mat inevitably leads me to the topic of miniatures, an aspect of our beloved hobby with which I have never directly engaged.  Yes, you read that right, I have never owned nor painted a single miniature.  I have gamed a small handful of times using them, but only when someone else brought them along.  I don't dislike using them if they're on hand; I have just never felt the need to actively seek them out.  I have an ambivalent relationship with fantasy miniatures.

But now I have that damn battle mat coming, and there's also this recent news about a line of miniatures being released specifically to complement Labyrinth Lord. I have to admit, that second set of soon-to-be-released minis shown here, the "Level Two Monsters" box, looks kind of badassed:

Includes 3 Gnolls, 3 Ghouls, 3 Zombies, 4 Troglodytes, 2 Shadows, 3 Large Crab Spiders, 3 Berserkers, 1 Green Slime, 1 Yellow Mold and an Evil Magic-User.

So should I invest in a few minis (for practical purposes if nothing else) since I have already thrown down for the combat mat?  Or is this how a horrible obsession starts?  It just seems like having a few minis to accompany the mat would make a smart combination of practical materials for quickly sorting out combat situations at Cons and the like, when (real-world) time is a factor. 

I think the biggest down side to my collecting any minis at all is that I have no interest in painting them.  Sitting around painting minis does not (at this juncture) strike me as much of a good time.  But then again, once you buy them, have you not taken that critical first step toward the dark side? 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tales from OSRCon - The Tower of Death

Okay, now it's time for me to report on a central part of my own OSRCon 2011 experience: writing and running The Tower of Death.

As I originally announced I would do prior to the Con, I ran "straight" Labyrinth Lord (no AEC, minimal house rules) for adventurers of levels 3-5, in an exciting scenario entitled The Tower of Death. I initially gave a PC level range (i.e., 3-5) because I thought I would "norm" or "equalize" the pregen characters by giving them equal experience point totals; but once I got there, I simply opted to roll up all the pregens as level 3 PCs, regardless of class, disregarding xp. Was that fair? Do other pregen-creating DMs stick to straight xp equality? It worked fine for me to do what I did, but as a neophyte Convention DM, I welcome suggestions, critiques, wisdom, and/or dissenting voices.

"Ye Fast Pack," three ready-made packs for D&D adventurers provided in Tom Moldvay's The Lost City.  I distributed a copy of this sheet to my players at OSRCon.

PC Preparation
So I went with 3rd-Level Characters and simply rolled up an array of pregens to cover the bases: a few fighters, two dwarves, two clerics, two elves, and one each for magic-user, halfling, and thief.  Then when I got to the game table, I let the players pick, on a first-come, first-served basis.  I rolled attributes, chose class, rolled hit points, and chose primary weapon(s), armor (chain mail for those permitted to wear it), and / or items (e.g., spell book).  I also gave each PC 25gp to start with in addition to all the equipment (including magic items) I gave them automatically.

Players named their characters, chose a Fast Pack option, and chose two magic items, one from List A, one from List B:

List A
+1 weapon
+1 ring of protection

List B
potion of healing
potion of climbing
potion of speed
scroll of ward against undead
scroll of ward against magic

Players were further allowed to swap out one primary weapon for another (i.e., I arbitrarily chose long sword for all the fighters I rolled, but permitted players to trade in the sword for a different melee weapon), to spend their 25gp as they wished, and to talk among themselves as they did all this.

Those B4 Fast Packs worked great! I am sure those will remain a staple of my Con game repertoire.

The dry-erase board I used at OSRCon.*  Here you see the Tower, the Well, and (on the left) an insert map of part of the upper floor of the Tower.

The Adventure
As at the playtest, I had a blast running both OSRCon parties through The Tower of Death. I am not going to describe the entire adventure scenario here -- see below for my future Tower of Death release plans -- but I will discuss some broad strokes of each session in order to convey a flavor of how each of my groups (including the playtesters) responded to the module's challenges.

Friday's players (counterclockwise from DM's right): Rene, Marc, Greg, Rob, Theo, JC, and Steve.

OSRCon Session One 
Friday, August 12, 9:30am - 1:30pm
My Friday morning Labyrinth Lord table filled up; I had five players registered ahead of time, and seven players total on the day.  I think most of them had played early-edition D&D before, though I know I had a few newcomers to Labyrinth LordI got my handouts distributed, reminded them of the two house rules (Multiple-Round Searching for secret doors and Shields Shall Be Splintered!), gave them five or ten minutes to equip and introduce themselves, and we were off!

While my pre-Con playtest group explored the "Haunted Well" only after they had already checked out the top floor of the Tower, my Friday AM OSRCon group -- Eric the Dwarf (Rene), Caraxis (Clr, Marc), Lars the Shadow (Thf, Rob), Dalkanarian (Ftr, Theo), E'bn (Ftr, J.C.), Mia BrookLaughter (Elf, Steve), and Sheltor (Elf, Greg) -- zeroed in on the well first thing.  Lars iron-spiked the Tower door shut, then lurked in the doorway keeping watch as his associates inspected the well.  Soon enough they had scaled down the well shaft and, like my playtesters, attracted the attention of some huge ogres in rowboats who came at them from across a large underground lake. Most of the Friday party's session was spent interrogating, hiding from, and doing battle with the ogres who lived in the caverns at the east end of the underground lake. The PCs learned that a powerful wizard-like personage named "Sorak" was a figure of authority in the caverns, and they surmised that he might be the kidnapper of the missing villagers. They found and rescued two of the hostages from the underground ogre lair, but never actually tracked down Sorak. Then, on their way outside via the ground floor of the Tower, a giant black widow spider viciously killed at least one party member (Eric the Dwarf? Mia the Elf?) as they made their bid for freedom.

This group rescued two hostages and killed or neutralized nine huge ogres, three adolescent ogres, and two (?) giant black widow spiders. 

Saturday's players (counterclockwise from DM's right): John, Gary, and James. 
Not pictured: Garfield.

OSRCon Session Four 
Saturday, August 13, 3:30 - 7:30pm
My Saturday afternoon group had four players altogether, only one of whom was pre-registered for the session.  The biggest difference between my Friday AM group and my Saturday PM group, besides sheer numbers, was that this second group contained at least one complete D&D novice, and one guy (Gary) who only knew 3.5 and 4e. This necessitated some introductory words from me about old-school style play and a bit of extra guidance for those players during the character tweaking phase, all of which is good practice for my fall public Labyrinth Lord game at Lift Bridge Books.

Yet once the adventure started and the dice started rolling, none of these players had any trouble keeping up, and play moved along at an enjoyable clip.  In fact, this four-player group was able to move through areas and situations in the module a bit more quickly than my Friday AM group, simply due to there being far fewer cooks in the kitchen, far fewer voices to be heard in discussions of "what to do next."  I think this fact, plus its being the last session of the last day of the Con, contributed to a heady, humor-filled atmosphere throughout this particular session.  Besides, I believe that a bit of levity and laughs can help novice players feel more at ease and less intimidated by what they don't yet know, rules-wise.

Unlike both of their predecessor groups, this bold foursome  -- Brother Grimwolf (Clr, played by John), Thorian (Dwf, Gary), Astoris Shadowstep (Thf, James), and The Great and Powerful Bob (MU, Garfield) -- stayed completely away from the "Haunted Well" and instead focused all their efforts upon exploring the Tower proper.  Like my pre-Con playtest group, Thorian's Marauders** entered the Tower via the hatch on the roof, and encountered the mummified magic-user buried in his ransacked study right away.  Once they defeated this undead menace and found the 8,000gp in the mummy's coffin, the group did something that was (for me) completely unexpected: they left the tower and headed straight back to the nearest village.   

You see, the adventure presumes that the adventurers assemble in the nearby village of Kerkymer Hill, and, in the case of a PC death, it is permissible to send out for reinforcements / replacements (i.e., a new PC shows up to replace a dead one after one hour of in-game time elapses).  So this particular group of players took that as license to return to the village with their newfound loot and re-equip themselves, which actually made a lot of sense given that they were a bit short staffed.  After re-equipping and spending the night in the village, they returned to the Tower the next morning, searched the rest of the upper level, and ultimately rescued two of the module's four hostages, as good as any other group did.  They killed or neutralized one mummy, one "purple slime," four purple skeletons, and four bugbears, and took 8,000 gp worth of mummy's treasure.

Playtest Group
The playtest group for The Tower of Death followed more or less the same course as my Friday AM group, focusing more upon the well and the ogres than upon the Tower and the purple slimes. They rescued two hostages and killed or neutralized one mummy, three bugbears, seven ogres, and an ogre-like being in arcane robes (okay, that's Sorak).  They also found the mummy's treasure as I recall.

Future Plans for The Tower of Death
I plan to release a written-up version of The Tower of Death as a free pdf, maybe as capstone to the Lands of Ara Compendium 2011, due out in early 2012!

Next Year at OSRCon
Maybe, for variety's sake, I will not run a homebrewed module next year, but rather a custom-stocked and slightly tweaked Old Classic . . . perhaps adjusted for adventurers of level 6 or 7 . . .

Does Quasqueton await?

All OSRCon photos copyright 2011 Garfield Noyahr.

* This dry-erase board worked great at OSRCon, but then when I got back I saw this picture of James M.'s Crystal Caste "combat mat" on this post and then read this comment and now . . . thirty bucks later . . . well, more about that in a future post.
** This group moniker did NOT arise out of game play; I am imposing it now for the hell of it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Wait 'til Name Level to Build a Skateboard, or a Stronghold for that Matter?

From your itinerant Spawn of Endra, now living in PA.

So I'm now living in the mighty state of Pennsylvania, where a singular legacy of democracy and freedom somehow sits comfortably with Kafka-esque liquor laws. I may eventually tell of a few of the highlights of the journey from Oregon, but my sense of humor about that last 4 weeks no longer exists. Don't move, folks. It sucks.

Last night I pulled out my Lab Lord stuff and was trying to figure out what sort of a stronghold, or even just a house that my PC Innominus, the Level 6 Cleric of Endra, could build with the ~6300 gp of loot so far accumulated. I looked over the table of construction costs on p. 127:
I figured, well, maybe I can just get a 100' of castle wall 20' high, and then I can put a moat around that, and just pitch a tent in the middle for the time being. I started sketching this on a new pad of A5 0.5cm graph paper (Wuh-whoa! I'm suddenly making an LotFP supplement!) and quickly remembered from 9th grade Trig that a circle encloses the largest area of a given circumference. Then I saw how a castle wall is 10 feet thick! Great! I sketched out something that looked like a donut:

That was mildly amusing, considering there are no gateways or doors ... and I hadn't even put the moat on there ... but then a morbid feeling began to grow and I thought "This is such a stupid thing to do, you should save up your money and do it all at once. What good does a castle wall with no doors do you? You can't do anything with that." Huh, that sounds familiar. And unbidden: a scene from 1984-85 came to me, when I was dead set on buying a single wheel for my skate board, despite the attempts of several people to dissuade me. Compare:

Ring any bells? Useless cylindrical thing? No function on its own? Tower with no door? Right. These are not the exact Bones wheel I was trying to buy, I think it was the Bones III, even bigger and fatter things. The wheel was for my Kamikaze skate board. "Oh!", says my generous reader -- who thinks far too highly of me and over-estimates how rich/cool I must have been in early 80s Fresno -- "you had a Sims Kamikaze! That is so old school, gnar-gnar, etc.!"
Ah ... no. It was the cheap-o Action Sports Kamikaze that my mom bought at Gemco for me:
BUT! It was not the NASH 1970s banana board that they still sold at Gemco and was owned by this kid we knew to be white trash from Parlier or Turlock or Coalinga. As long as there was someone else to shit on, then one could maintain his or her dignity. I know I did my part to maintain the dignity of some neighborhood shitbuckets. But I also severely sabotaged their BMX bikes, and paid them back in other ways. Such was life in Fresno.

Anyway, one time I had $8, and my friend Reggie had held up his end of some deal with his parents and so was going to get a new board or something ... maybe just the deck. So I went along to probably Wavelengths, not the one in the mall, the other one off Blackstone (at Griffith? Maybe Telecanter remembers the fair city then?) and was determined to buy some non-cheap stuff for my board that would give me status and cred (for a 10-11 year old). In the event, $8, even then, would not go far in a shop like that. After the obligatory T&C yin-yang stickers, the sex-wax pucks that smelled like coconut oil and served no purpose to anyone in Fresno (but were reputed by my friends to be an aphrodisiac if you ate it ... both for males and females ... for males, at least, I know it doesn't work folks) there's not much to buy.

But I gradually narrowed it down to some Bones III wheels. I think they were at $6 each. I had $8. The guy asked me what I wanted. I said one wheel.

He said: "Why do you want one? If you buy four you can get them for $5 each."

SoE: "No, I just want one. I've only got $8 dollars. I'll buy the rest later."

Reggie's mom weighs in. "But you can't do anything with one wheel. Just save your money."

SoE: "No, I can put it on and use it."

Store guy: "But you'll wear it down before you get the other three, then you'll need to buy four anyway."

SoE: "No, I just want that one."

Store guy: "Okay. Here it is." Plops it on the counter.

SoE: "Wait this is different. How does it go on my trucks?"

Store guy: "You need bearings to put in 'em. That's a dollar each and you need two."

(These were, I should add, genuine Powell/Peralta bearings, and as much as the price burned me, I was glad to get the good stuff.)

SoE: "Okay"

The total price was then $8. Fine. I had my wheel with bearings. It was a hard won victory but a victory nonetheless.

Store guy: "That's $8.48."

SoE: "What?!?"

Well, yes, that was the era where I didn't figure taxes (6%) into things. Crap.

I managed to borrow 50 cents from Reggie or his mom, and dealt with the disapproval and being berated not only by her, but by my MOM when she got home from work. I had to explain why I had wasted HER money. She always thought my money was her money back then ... crazy.

SoE: [To his mom]: "Yeah, maybe I'm 10 and I don't have a job, but you GAVE me the money and so it's MY money now."   [Living with this crazy Mutternweltanschauung (as it were) is probably why I stole my first d30 and several Go-Bots that same summer rather than paying for them.]   "Fine, mom, I'm not spending YOUR money, I'm just shoplifting! So these aren't YOUR Go-Bots now and you can't take them away from me!"

My latent mutant power was Jesuit-like argumentation, it turned out. But it was stupid. I bought the Bones III wheel, but I never used it. I remember the receipt sitting there for quite a long time, but I never returned the wheel.

Back to D&D
Anyway, what does this do for me now? I'm not going to build Innominus a stupid fortress like this, because neither Innominus nor I are that stupid nowadays. But I like the idea of building a dwelling and connected dungeon piece-meal, as the builder could afford to do it, say at 3000-15000gp at a time, and see what comes of it. The builder may not be mad, but is single minded, obsessed. Maybe the Winchester Mystery House is a useful model. The builder (s/he) is also not name level, and has to devote a great deal of time to getting loot to support the project. Because s/he is away so much, the construction supervision is often lax in the early stages. At any rate, any available money is put into construction. If there's only 450 gp for the month, all that is built is one 10x10x10' passage of the dungeon.

That's the longer term project. I'll sort out the details in ensuing posts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: Swords and Wizardry White Box

This review refers to the Brave Halfling Swords and Wizardry White Box, which I have owned for over a year.* When I bought that (literal) white box, I didn't know for sure how I was going to feel about the rules inside, I just knew I was innately drawn to their rumored simplicity (being an emulation of the original LBBs).  I also knew I liked the "Imagine the hell out of it!" slogan I associate with Swords and Wizardry, and, like many of us, I consider Matt Finch's Old School Primer, included in the box, to be one of the most succinct and accurate descriptions of what makes old-school gaming what it is. 

But why White Box?  Why not Goblinoid's Original Edition Characters or the original 1974 LBBs themselves?

Well, I have read but never played any pre-Holmes edition of D&D, and much as I love the original LBBs' idiosyncrasies, I somewhat dread the idea of having to rely upon them during play.  I can imagine myself fumbling around looking for a key passage; these books' baroqueness makes fascinating reading but potentially cumbersome in-game reference material.  I admire James Maliszewski and other DM's who swear by the LBBs, but I am not ashamed to admit -- being more McCartney than Lennon as I am -- that I prefer my rulebooks to be well-organized and easily searchable in the heat of a session.  As I recently confessed, I am more pragmatic than visionary.

Part of my Dungeon Master's pragmatism extends to making sure that the game's rules are easily available to the players, and in this sense a retro-clone with a free rules pdf like White Box is vastly preferable to something truly out-of-print like the LBBs.

Regarding the Labyrinth Lord-compatible Original Edition Characters, I resist using those rules because I do not like the "take things away" approach to house-ruling or system-mashing.  If I want to run stripped-down, 1974-ish D&D, I want something that really is stripped down, not an aftermarket graft onto a more 1981-ish system that I am otherwise quite familiar with.  I want something new and wholly minimalistic.

Plus I am a bit of a product-hound and was drawn in by the pretty box and the dice!

Photo courtesy of Lord Kilgore.

In any case, I have Swords and Wizardry White Box, and I love it.  Here is a highlights reel of what I found between its covers:   

- Marv Breig's writing style is fast-paced and engaging.  No wasted words here.  I wonder how this would work for a neophyte roleplayer?  Is there enough information here to understand the game if you've never played it before?  I cannot judge, but as for me, I love it.

In fairness, the text issues a warning about this very thing, on p. 1 of "Book III: Monsters":

"If you’re not a good storyteller or if you’re not up to doing a lot of creative thinking on the fly, it might be better that you try a different game—one that provides more rules and guidance for every little situation that might arise. But if you’re a good storyteller, creative and fair, SWORDS & WIZARDRY: WHITEBOX’s small, Spartan rule-set frees up your creativity to create a fantasy role-playing
experience completely different from the type of game that depends on a multitude of rules."

Huzzah! That's for me!

- I also like the "Alternate Rule" sidebars and text boxes peppered throughout.  Some of them are purely practical, offering a straightforward rules variation, like the one on the Experience Point Bonus on p. 7 of "Book I: Characters."  But other ones suggest a rule and at the same time offer insight into the different historical versions of the game, as in the "Saving Throw Matrix" sidebar on p. 33 of "Characters" or the "Note" on Weapon Damage on p. 23 of the same (discussed below).

Next I want to highlight some ways in which White Box differs from Labyrinth Lord and the other post-Holmes D&D variants I have played to this point. These features stand out to me because they represent 1974-ish D&D rulings that I am curious to play and experience:

- Fewer classes: just Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. No thief!

- No across-the-board non-XP-related attribute bonuses; DEX grants a missile fire bonus, CHA affects number and loyalty of retainers, and high CON gives a bonus to each hit die, but that's it (pp. 7-8). I knew the role of attributes in White Box would be further scaled down from that of Labyrinth Lord, and I am interested to find out what a game without STR bonuses for smashing down doors feels like. (Luckily, if I end up REALLY missing them, I can always houserule them back in -- "Imagine the hell out of it!")

- d6 Hit Dice for all character classes!

- Rather than array of saving throws divided by type (Spells, Wands, Poison, etc.), S&W White Box deploys a single saving throw per class. Saving throws are therefore listed on the xp table for each character class. However, each class gets specific bonuses to certain types of saves, e.g., Fighters get +2 vs. death and poison, Magic-Users get +2 vs. spells, wands, and staves, and so on. I like the sound of this -- we'll see if it is easier or screwier than the Saving Throw Tables given in Labyrinth Lord.

- No thief!

- Clerics get no spells at first level. A year ago, I would have said that this is harsh, but as a lover of the undead who DMs a party that includes a damn effective cleric, I can speak of the raw power a cleric wields. At least in LL, clerics are something of a triple threat: they have relatively decent melee combat ability, a fairly wide array of spells available, plus the ability to Turn the Undead. So I approve of this small limitation upon the cleric's power curve, and am eager to see how it plays out.

- I thought that White Box was going to use straight d6-only, non-variable weapon damage, and indeed there is an "Alternate Rule" sidebar about d6-only damage on p. 23. But the default system, which I like, is a slightly modified version of the LBBs' non-variable d6, i.e., some large weapons do 1d6+1, and some small ones do 1d6-1.

After reading and enjoying the four booklets included in my Swords and Wizardry White Box set, I became so inspired to play this ruleset that I ordered the single-volume hardback version of S&W White Box available on lulu.com.  I like the convenience of having all the rules in one easily-referenced volume.

Now that I've finally read the Swords and Wizardry White Box rules, I would urge you to do the same if you haven't already -- the free pdf is downloadable here. If you are interested in running 1974-ish D&D, but are daunted (as I am) by the presentation of the rules in the original LBBs, this could easily be the ruleset for you!

And anyone playing in my forthcoming ConstantCon game will be getting familiar with these rules for sure!

* Yes, it sat on my shelf for quite some time.  I looked through it cursorily a few times, and felt glad to have it, yet I also felt a bit badly for not using it and playing games with it.  In fact, I even momentarily considered responding to Michael Curtis' request to take it off my hands -- but in the end I'm SOOO glad I didn't.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Answering Beedo's Challenge

Here is my contribution to the "Three Best DM'ing Practices and How They Work" challenge instigated by Beedo via Hill Cantons:

1. Name three “best practices” you possess as a GM. What techniques do you think you excel at?
2. What makes those techniques work? Why do they “pop”?
3. How do you do it? What are the tricks you use? What replicable, nuts-and-bolts tips can you share?

1. Play a ruleset you like.
I really don't want this to become a bitch session about rules preferences or an incitement to edition disputes, but I do believe that each DM should run games using a rules system that s/he is comfortable with and that s/he likes. My all-time worst DM'ing experiences were the result of ruleset mismatch; I was trying so hard to accommodate my players that I ruined the fun for myself. Since as DM you are the main person interfacing with the rules, you get to pick the rules. And you should always pick rules that inspire your imagination and get your juices flowing. If that means a lot of houseruling, so be it. Much as I think rules should "disappear" once the game gets going, that will only happen if the DM is super-comfortable with the rules and rulings s/he's chosen.

How to fulfill this practically? (1) Buy and/or download as many different rulesets as grab your attention and/or interest you. (2) Read them. (3) See how reading them makes you feel. Full of adventure ideas and far-reaching campaign possibilities? It's a keeper. Bored, off-put, overwhelmed? Don't bother.

Here's links to a few (free) starting points:

Labyrinth Lord
Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion
Swords and Wizardry White Box
Swords and Wizardry Core Rules
Lamentations of the Flame Princess "Rules and Magic"

2. Set the tone.
This one sounds ephemeral but I think it is incredibly crucial, not to be overlooked. As DM, you have an immense amount of control over the tone and vibe that exists at your game table. You are the one person everyone else defers to and looks up to for guidance, not just for rulings and world-description, but for everything. You are the boss of the table, and in that sense you serve as a de facto host of the gaming event, even when it does not take place in your own home or space. Therefore you need to be welcoming, inclusive, and, well, fun. Sure, you want to be able to spook your players at times and to always keep them on their toes, and those things require some restraint and a good poker face, but you cannot play things too seriously or be too subdued, or else no one else will feel comfortable acting zanily or bringing their full energy and gusto for adventure to the table.

My practical recommendation for this one relates to NPCs: play every one to the hilt.  Or, as David recommends in his second piece of DM'ing wisdom, "Ham it up." That's what Elminster would do! Even if you tend more toward the non-actor side, remember that your NPCs are the main vehicle (outside of location descriptions) through which you convey the feel of your game-world to your players. I would probably argue that, outside of the amazing things that occur due to direct player action, well-crafted and -acted NPCs provide some of the most memorable moments in an adventure or campaign. So my advice is to attempt to shed some of your inhibitions and "ham it up" a little.

3. Keep die rolling (and math) simple.
I know this one will put off the math-heads and crunch-lovers, but I was really inspired by something Ed Greenwood said at OSRCon: that the reason we're all here is to role-play, not rule-play. I like that way of putting it because while it does not dismiss the existence or importance of rules, it emphasizes that the real essence of what makes our hobby special is the synergy that takes place when everybody is there immersed in the game-world during a session.

One way I have been working to simplify die-rolling on my side of the screen is to fall back on two or three simple die mechanics that become my "default" or "go-to" dice when some unexpected event arises. In my case, the die I overwhelmingly reach for above any other is the single, trusty 1d6. With few exceptions, my rolls for on-the-fly occurrences and snap rulings are all made with the single six-sider. I think to myself, "okay, this has an x in 6 chance of happening" and then I go for it.

Another event resolution mechanic I use in a wide array of situations these days is the "Reaction Roll," a 2d6-based system originally intended for hiring retainers (see Labyrinth Lord p. 46). I use that mechanic/table for almost any situation where negotiating, haggling, bluffing, or persuading is called for and where the result is not immediately clear strictly from roleplaying it out. For example, if the PCs want to haggle with some unfriendly goblins, and yet after what the speaking PC says I am unsure whether or not the goblins will go for it, I roll a 2d6 reaction roll, factoring in the parlaying PC's Charisma bonus and adding or subtracting from the roll based upon the roleplaying dimension (i.e., what s/he actually says) as well. This has been working really efficiently for me, and is a good "go-to" for a guy DM'ing a group who likes to negotiate and bullshit their way out of a great many in-game situations.

So I guess my recommendations largely center on finding ways to make the rules disappear during game play so that role-playing can fluidly occur.  Those are the types of games I like to run and play in, so as DM I always try to create conditions that encourage and facilitate those outcomes.

Fight On!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

d20 vs. 3d6 Attribute Checks

Hey math-heads! Maybe you can help me figure out what the difference is between attribute checks rolled using 1d20 as opposed to those rolled with 3d6. I can figure out the first part since the d20 provides a linear probability curve.*

For example, if I have a 14 strength, pretty good, and have to roll 14 or under on a d20, that's 14 chances in 20, or a 70% chance of success.

If I am a weak little fellow with a STR of 6, my 6 chances in 20 = 30% success rate.

STR 11 = 55% success rate on a d20 attribute check, and STR 18 = 90% success rate on a d20 attribute check.

Got it.  Pretty reasonable-seeming mechanic.

But while I understand the concept of the bell curve and know that the results of several 3d6 rolls average out toward the middle of the range over successive rolls, I cannot quite conceive how that impacts the chances for a STR 18 attribute check vs. a STR 11 attribute check. Here is Gygax's table:

Am I correct to interpret this as meaning that a STR 11 fighter has a 13% success rate on a 3d6 attribute check, and that a STR 18 fighter has a 1% success rate?  I love d6-based mechanics like 2d6 Thievery and 2d6 Bardery but this 3d6 vs. d20 attribute check thing seems kind of extreme -- like a 3d6 attribute check mechanic would be way unfair to characters with attributes in the 12-18 range.  


* I'm no mathematician -- I stole everything I know about how dice generate probabilities from EGG's discussion of the topic on pp. 9-10 of the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Session 40: Travel, Maimings, Espionage

This session took place on 8/8/2011. In attendance were PCs Hazel (Ftr 4/M-U 4), Yor (Dwf 5) and Dak (Dwf 5). These three intrepid adventurers were assisted by Hazel's follower Fuzz (Ftr 3) and Dak's follower Rodney (Ftr 3).

The action resumed at dusk on Day 147 of the party's Arandish adventures, with the group standing around the corpse of a recently slain T-Rex atop a rise at the extreme northeastern end of a place I'll call "The Valley of Danger."*

Looking back southward along the length of the valley, the party noticed a tall, flat-topped mesa out in the valley center. This feature was not visible to the group when they passed through the valley itself -- they surmised that they missed it when they veered off the trail to pursue those neo-otyughs to their hidden cave.

Hazel sent her kestrel on a flight over the mesa, and since she can see what her familiar sees, she saw a switchback leading up the mesa's south side, and several huge nests atop the table mountain, one of which currently held a toothed pteranodon. The party decided there was no reason to go back and mess with the mesa.

Night fell. The PCs camped near the corpse of the T-Rex, posting watches. During the night they were visited by a group of three large, amorphous shamblers that approached from the northeast. Guessing that the shamblers were interested in the Rex corpse, the party retreated several yards to the southwest. Indeed, the big things gnawed and feasted on the dead dinosaur, and were soon joined by three more of their kin. This feasting lasted most of the night; about an hour before dawn, the uncannily quiet quasi-humanoids shuffled back the way they came, and were not seen again.

The next day dawned cold, and the Minochians in the group (Fuzz and Yor) knew that the snowy season could commence any day now.** They hurried northeastward toward the frontier town of Fortinbras.

As they traveled, the party members discussed various possible plans for the immediate future, including:

- using one of their treasure maps as a pretense for engaging in some seafaring adventures

- pursuing the mystery of the origins of the saurian balrogs from Session 35, including possible uses for the obsidian key and teleporter chits*** those demons carried

- buying and exploring the "haunted mine" in Farn Junction

This last plan won out, in part because Yor had previously dispatched his associate Darvey to visit the mine (currently owned by the Frigglestone Bros. of Farn Junction) as a consulting inspector. The party figured with Darvey on the inside, it would be a cinch to convince the Frigglestones to sell them the shut-down mine.

Central Minoch.  The town in hex 2116, to the right of the "H," is Fortinbras.  The larger town of Farn Junction is in hex 1915, above the "O."

Late in that travel day, Day 148 of their Arandish adventures, the party was attacked by a couple of undead yeti, which were swiftly dispatched in part due to a fortuitous critical battle axe strike by Yor. That night the group camped out about a day's travel southwest of Fortinbras, in hex 2016.

The next day began colder than the previous one, and the party could see snow on the higher slopes of the surrounding hills and mountains. Pulling their furry winter garb closer around them, they climbed aboard the War Wagon and made for Fortinbras, which they expected to reach that afternoon.

However, just a few hours outside the Fortinbras town walls, Hazel, who sat in the back of the wagon, saw a fin cutting through the dirt of the road behind them, swiftly gaining on them. She cast speak with animals and attempted to convince the fin's owner -- presumably a landshark -- that there was better prey to be had further up the road, to no avail; the voracious beast kept coming their way.  Hazel raised the alarm just as the fin passed underneath the War Wagon and a terrifying bulette emerged from the earth to attack!

The Bulette, a legendary monster I have literally never used nor encountered in a campaign before.

Yor reined back the horses and stopped the War Wagon, readying his dwarven axe for combat.  Dak drew his weapon and took a stand near the horses, meanwhile ordering his follower Rodney to man the War Wagon's ballista.  Yor, still loosely gripping the reins, leaped to the ground, and he and Dak ganged up on the breaching landshark, taking a couple of nasty claw swipes but evading its deadly bite as they cut it down over the course of four rounds.  Yor finally dispatched the thing by rolling his nightly d30 roll, getting a natural "12" result for the damage, to which he added his significant strength modifier.

The party removed the bulette's fin, claws, and teeth, and resumed their course along the road to Fortinbras, arriving in the familiar town just after nightfall.  They proceeded immediately to their own house, noticing along the way that Prince Arkus' royal guards were posted at nearly every street corner, and were patrolling the streets in groups of two or three.  These guards looked like they had been in town awhile and were getting comfortable with their situation.

After dropping off gear and horses at their house, the party split up: Dak and Yor headed for the King Hargon Inn for some dwarven ale and to boast about their recent exploits, while Hazel dressed in some fine city clothing and made her way to The Crown, an Inn on the northeast side of town catering to the affluent, aristocratic set in Fortinbras.  She sought news and information about the recent activities of the Prince, and decided to utilize her power of ESP to that end.  She cast the spell and surveyed the bustling main room of the upscale Inn.

Most of the assembled minor nobles and rich townies were thinking about the recent disappearance of the middle son of Lord Margoth, an eleven-year-old boy vanished for three days now.  But one nobleman in particular, a tall fellow with white hair wearing a fine black cloak, was thinking other thoughts entirely, mostly reflecting upon what seemed to be memories of things he'd seen. His mental attention oscillated between two key recurring images:

- a young boy tied up in the fetal position in a dark, anonymous cellar

- an older humanoid figure in a concealing brown robe, being hanged from the neck in a wooden shack, doing a "death twitch" dance as it dangles

Furthermore, this white-haired nobleman seemed to take pleasure in dwelling on these images, though he did not show this on his face.

Hazel waited around a couple hours, during which time she used her ESP to pick the name of the white-haired noble -- Count Dooku -- out of the mind of one of the other patrons. When Count Dooku decided to leave The Crown for the night, Hazel followed him out onto the street. He turned east; she followed at a block's distance, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. After a few blocks of tailing Dooku, Hazel noticed that she herself was also being tailed, by a gray-robed figure, possibly human.

Marshaling all her espionage skills, Hazel swiftly ducked down a relatively empty side street, passed her own cloak off onto the back of a stranger headed the same general direction, donned her bear suit, and circled the block to hopefully outflank her own pursuer. She succeeded; the gray robed chap followed her decoy for a couple blocks, and Hazel followed him. Then she ran up behind him, zapped him with her wand of paralyzation, and carried his inert body into a dark alley to frisk him.

She learned that he was a member of a local wizards' guild, since under his robe he wore a telltale brown sash embroidered with the guild's rune. He also carried an ornate dagger in a sheath and 5 gp in a coin pouch. But nothing to concretely identify him.

Dooku himself soon circled back as well, and when Hazel emerged from the alley she saw him, accompanied by two of Prince Arkus' guardsmen in their yellow and crimson liveries, at the far end of the street. Hoping they hadn't seen her yet, she wrapped her paralyzed ex-pursuer in a bolt of fabric she kept in her bag of holding, ducked into a peasant's bar, and sent her kestrel to retrieve Dak and Yor from the King Hargon. They came, and Dooku never found any of them in the scuzzy little serf hangout. Eventually they snuck back to the King Hargon, took a room, and tied up the paralyzed wizard.

HAZEL: "Why were you following me?"

WIZARD: "Go fuck yourself."

The PCs took turns standing watch over their prisoner, and the night passed.

Thus ended the session.

* As I revealed last session report, "The Valley of Danger" is an alias; I cannot yet reveal the true name of this locale.
** Devotees will recall that there was a light dusting of snow on the ground when the group reached the village of Wellspring at the end of Session 38, but the "Valley of Danger" was several degrees warmer than the surrounding area.
*** Warren the Black identified these chits as "Morag's Gate Keys" during Session 36.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First FLBS Game Meeting in One Month

Well, summer has quickly slipped by, and today marks the one-month countdown to the first meeting of my FLBS Labyrinth Lord game at Lift Bridge Books here in Brockport, NY.  The store's manager, Joe, has kindly posted an announcement of the Old-School Basic Dungeons and Dragons Group's initial Sept. 18 meeting on the store's website, and just today I put the finishing touches on a paper flyer to post around the town and at various locations on the nearby college campus.  The flyer, with acknowledgement for the helpful input provided by Il Male, looks like this:

Now I'm working on my first-meeting pitch along with some visual and textual aids -- I will post about those developments soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Me and Orson Welles

No, my post's title does not refer to the Richard Linklater film of the same name, although I have been planning to check out that picture in the near future.  Rather, I intend to briefly comment on an actual parallel that exists between Welles as a theater director and myself as a DM.

You see, I am currently reading Simon Callow's superbly written biography of Orson Welles, The Road to Xanadu, and am at the point in the mid-1930s when Welles (working with producer John Houseman) is making his first significant mark on the American theater scene with his all-black-cast adaptation of Macbeth.  Callow writes of Welles that:

"He was not, in fact, a great innovator at all; he was a great fulfiller.  Pragmatic rather than visionary, he was supreme as a doer."  (p. 242)

I think this aptly describes me (and perhaps many others) as a DM: a cobbler together of ideas, a hybridizer, a fulfiller.  I like that word.  Because while I am in awe of innovators and folks who can think "outside the box," what seems to matter most at the game table (or at least my game table) is an ability to flex with what you are given, to mix and match elements borrowed from anywhere, and to pragmatically address the narrative and game needs of the players and NPCs as they arise.  True innovation can be quite inspirational, and innovative ideas often provide the fodder that we doers work with, but at the end of the day, I am not ashamed to stand with Welles as a workmanlike borrower and weaver of other people's innovations. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Zak's ConstantCon Revolution!

While I was away at OSRCon last weekend, one of the other attendees asked me if I'd yet gotten wind of Zak Smith's proposals about online RPG'ing via Google+. It so happens that I am laptop-less so hadn't been reading blogs since my departure to Toronto. But now that I am back, I am catching up on OSR blogosphere happenings, and I think what Zak is instigating and facilitating over at his blog is tremendously exciting and possibly paradigm-shiftingly significant for our hobby -- see quote at bottom of post.

In addition to providing a venue at which Google+ DMs and players may announce and schedule games, Zak encourages cross-pollination between our various campaign worlds by instituting the FLAILSNAILS Conventions, a series of protocols meant to "Establish this set of Free Location And Inclusion Laws Supporting New And Interesting Leisure Situations." This dimension of the undertaking excites me a great deal, and lends creedence to Laowai's notion that Google+ virtual gaming could "[warp] us to a virtual space not unlike Arneson's fast-and-loose 1970's Blackmoor campaign where Dave was reportedly co-ordinating a hundred player characters at the same time in six dungeons with different DM's." Wow!! Sign me up!!

Zak is additionally working to provide helpful updates like this one in order to assist participants (especially "technologically challenged" ones) in running their Google+ games smoothly and efficiently.

This "ConstantCon Revolution" is generally well-timed for me. As regular readers know, I have been keeping my original Oregon-based face-to-face group together via Skype since August 2010, when two of our people (including me) moved to new states. Therefore I am already quite comfortable using online video chat to run D&D games. Much more recently, Greg, one of the players in my Friday morning Labyrinth Lord session at OSRCon, proposed to our group that we attempt to stay in touch and game together via Google+ in the future. What this makes clear is that the idea is out there, it is taking hold in a palpable way, and lots of folks in our corner of the hobby are picking up on it and running with it.

Zak's initiatives have opened a door in my mind relating to my longtime desire to play Swords and Wizardry White Box. As Theo has recently suggested, simple, rules-lite systems may work best for purely online play, and this assertion (whether true or not) dovetails with my desire to try out a ruleset even more stripped-down and 1974-ish than Labyrinth Lord. I do not want to switch gears on my home group at this point; so maybe an alternative campaign could be established via Google+, using S&W White Box in the Lands of Ara setting. I have some specific ideas already, but will wait to unveil them in a future post, once I am closer to going "official" with this.

In the meantime, may the Roleplaying Gods smile benevolently upon Zak S., and guide the FLAILSNAILS participants in all our future endeavors! I look forward to gaming with many of you folks online in the near future!

"I'll be absolutely honest here: I consider online games to be, at best, poor substitutes for meeting with friends in one's home every week. However, I'm also rather keen to give this a whirl, since I've seen a number of people speak well of it."
--James Maliszewski, 8/2/2011

"I like the energy that Zak has been channeling into his vision of a "Constantcon" on Google+. If enough people get on board, I think this could reach critical mass and revolutionize the hobby. It could be a virtual resurrection of the good ole days when high school gamers gathered during lunch break to play casual pick-up role-playing sessions. Something like Google+ has the potential to get us close to this freewheeling gaming space, which strikes me as much more Old School than the biweekly scheduled meetups that most adult gamers are constrained to. I can see a Google+ Constantcon warping us to a virtual space not unlike Arneson's fast-and-loose 1970's Blackmoor campaign where Dave was reportedly co-ordinating a hundred player characters at the same time in six dungeons with different DM's."
--Laowai, 8/2/2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tales from OSRCon - First Thoughts

My journey to Toronto for OSRCon 2011 this past weekend was so action-packed, stimulating, and out-and-out fun that I hardly know where to begin.  Trying to capture the essence of the event in words will be challenging enough; to express the various ways it has impacted me personally is a whole other matter, and will no doubt spin out over the course of the coming year and the years to come.

My Friday morning Labyrinth Lord game gets underway.

The first word that comes to mind as I reflect on my OSRCon experience is: magic.  Another way of putting it would be to use the word synergy.  Whatever the descriptor, there was a palpable enthusiasm and harmony and momentum in the air across both days of the two-day event.  I felt a relatively high degree of group cohesion amongst the attendees, and the vibe was overwhelmingly positive and fun-o-centric.  As Chris alludes to in his blog post, that gaming room got loud!  People really got into their games, gave it their all, and as a result a deliriously enjoyable time was had by everyone.  

And while all the players and DM's and Guests of Honor "brought it" to the game tables and to the Saturday panel, surely Chris Cunnington's expert planning and orchestration of OSRCon was the pivotal factor in the Con's overall success.  Never have I attended an open-to-the-public group function of this particular size and scale that was so well organized and executed.   The facility was TERRIFIC, the fridge was always stocked with cold soda and water, there were some really classy prizes given away at the between-session raffles, and -- most amazingly -- Chris kept us all on schedule.  That's right: virtually every event started and ended exactly when it was supposed to.  That is something of a rarity for events like this, especially for one like OSRCon that is in its very first year of existence.  Chris clearly knows what he's doing, and it showed in the calm, gracious, and efficent way he brought OSRCon off this year.


Chris Cunnington, OSRCon's fearless leader.

Deep gratitude is also owed to the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, the sponsors of OSRCon and co-providers (along with the Lillian H. Smith Library) of the fine facility in which the Con was held.

Deserving of a special shout-out is Kris Kobold, the very capable and engaging DM of the two contiguous Expedition to the Barrier Peaks sessions in which I played. The two things I'd like to say about Kris are:

(1) Yes, "Kobold" is indeed his REAL surname. No frikkin' joke. If that doesn't signify that Kris' best destiny lies with fantasy RPG'ing, I don't know what does.

(2) Kris is at the same time one of the most efficient and most playfully humorous DM's I've gamed with. He has a real sense of fun about him that draws players in and distinctly raises the level of engagement -- and, at times, hilarity -- at the table. And he really knows the AD&D rules, so game play at those sessions flowed fluidly and easily.

For me, those two Barrier Peaks sessions flew by really quickly and were quite eventful and action-packed. No dull moments there at all.  In short, I had a complete blast.


"Dammit! Why won't you guys enter the froghemoth's lair??"

The view from my seat on Day One of Barrier Peaks.

Saturday morning: Part two of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, with talented (and fortuitously named) Dungeon Master Kris Kobold.

There is so much more I could say, and indeed regular readers should expect to see more Tales from OSRCon pop up here over the next several days and weeks. For one, I want to post separately about how my own Labyrinth Lord sessions went. (In a nutshell: GREAT!!) Details will follow as soon as I re-gather my wits, calm down a little from the weekend's excitement, and gain some perspective from which to reflect more insightfully upon those sessions.

That said, I want extend a SPECIAL THANK-YOU to all the players who came to my Labyrinth Lord table and faced The Tower of Death over the course of those two days: Rene, Marc, Rob, Theo, JC, Steve, Greg, John, Gary, James, and Garfield.  You were all simply terrific, I had a great time playing with you and couldn't have done it without you!

Lastly, thanks to Marc for the lunches, the great talks, and for lending me a much-needed spare copy of the LL rules during my Saturday session; and to Theo for the KILLER DICE.  Great memories, guys.

Theo wins Steve Jackson Games' Illuminati at a between-session raffle. Fnord!

All photos by Garfield Noyahr.