Thursday, February 26, 2009

What troubles me about our "tribe" (*An Opinion Post)

There's been some disagreement circulating amongst our little corner of the blogosphere regarding what I might term a general "intolerance".

It's been around for awhile, hell, for as long as there's been a hobby to criticize, there have been critics. I suppose it's our nature as humans; we just love to use our evolved brains like sledgehammers. But when the sources of cool, creative and wonderfully entertaining material, start taking up all their time arguing about minutiae and personal preference then I get a bit bummed out.

Who cares if I'm bummed out you say? Well, I'm a follower. I'm already "in", hook, line, and sinker. I read this stuff pretty religiously and have played the game(s) for over three decades, so for a person as passionate as me to get discouraged, it might be a sign that this stuff is headed in a self-destructive direction. Imagine a newbie stumbling upon this kind of thing?

I understand that the blog is a fantastic medium to "air it out" as it were. I get that...but maybe we ought to think about compartmentalizing this stuff a little more efficiently? If you want to wax philosophical and ruminate on days of yore then do so, but maybe under a "section" of your blog that is set aside for just this reason.

Now, some tools (blogging applications) don't allow this type of functionality. So how about labeling your posts appropriately? I'm going to start avoiding these long, strung out teeth gnashing sessions. There's enough vile shit going on in the real world for all of us, why add more tension and stress? This is, after all, a hobby. And weren't hobbies meant as an escape from those daily stresses we all experience from time to time?

Meh...One of the things that really bothers me is when people chime in with obvious derisive and destructive intent. If you're one of those folks who likes to make snide personal comments then do the world a favor; Write your virulent opinions down, hit "save" rather than "publish" and call it good. Or better yet, do it on your own turf and label it as such. Just warn the folks who read these things that they might possibly be stepping into a cesspool.

You know what really bothers me? The fact that people even take the time to deride others over their personal choices. I'm ALWAYS amazed and astounded at this type of behavior. It's like criticizing a type of music. You can certainly say that you don't prefer one type of music and it's understood. You don't need to get into some type of soap box diatribe about WHY you don't like it. It's going to be baseless.

Sure, you can state that in your personal opinion Rudolph Schenker has a way better voice than Rob Halford, and IMHO you'd be justified in doing so. But to say something as silly as Gregorian chants are dumb because they're "boring"...Is just plain ignorant. OK, fine, you don't like that style of music, but to try and pick it apart based on your personal tastes is just an exercise in futility. Don't waste your time on insulting people on their choices.

And PLEASE, don't waste ours.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Favorite 10 Monsters

Alright, I'll bite. This has been going around and I think that I'd like to add my two cents.

10. Vampires: One of the most versatile monsters in the game, and therefore one of the most worthy foes, if played properly. I loved vampire movies as a kid, I guess that's carried over, along with a few other things eh? ;-)

9. Wererats: I'm going to have to agree with Amityville Mike on this one. Another monster that's got so much neat potential. I just love sneaks, thugs, cowardly attacks from the dark, and things of that ken, add in a dash of shape shifting and minor resistances and what's not to like?
*Also like Mike, one of my very favorite authors is Fritz Leiber.

8. Lizardmen: There's a bit of history behind this one. As a young teen I used to play Napoleonics and did a lot of painting for the group. (I wasn't all that good but I was willing.) Well the guy who ran the group knew I loved Tolkien, so he sent me this figurine that went to a game called Chainmail, and yeah you guessed it, it was a lizardman. I'd never seen anything like it and was immediately intrigued. The rest is history. That and the monster lives in one of the most difficult terrain types for characters to operate in. Love it.

7. Trolls: A giant, regenerating, eating machine that can rend a person limb from limb. They're so ferociously confident and ravenous that they never stop coming. Death wont stop these creatures...I remember the first time we put one of these things down and were walking away. Hint: Never turn your back on a troll, unless it's in a flaming heap.

6. The Venerable Red Dragon: Something about a reptilian, fire-breathing, intelligent, ancient, covetous creature that can snuff an entire town out in a fly-by just screams COOL! to me. I suppose it was Smaug that started it all, but the game was named after one of these creatures after all. Staid? Sure...but still awfully awe-inspiring.

5. The Evil Giant Tripartite: Hill, Frost and Fire. Against the Giants was a series of modules that I will never forget. I cut my teeth on these, and the giants therein were so vividly portrayed that I will forever think of Nosnra, the Frost Giant Jarl and of course King Snurre Iron Belly when running giants. Maybe it was Tramp's art...but it was certainly the magic that Gygax infused into his descriptions. If an evil human can be spooky, imagine a giant one!

4. Clay Golem: There's just something inherently creepy about this slick, deep-earth stinking, murderous automaton. A creature that can, all of the sudden, just go ape-shit and start delivering an up-tempo beat-down. And the fact that the wounds can't be healed by normal methods? That send chills down most adventurers spines...I know it certainly does mine.

3. Ghoul / Ghast: Tell me that eating the flesh of the dead just does not make your skin crawl. These are the penultimate threat at lower levels. The idea that they're never sated; the more they eat the more they hunger, just simply strikes a chord of fear deep inside me. That they're so accursed the charnel smell simply follows them wherever they go.

2. Effreti: For some reason when I think of an otherworldly, demonic creature, I think of these. Sure the fact that it was on the DMG might carry some weight with me, but overall these guys have power in spades at their beck and call, and the fact that they live in a City of Brass? Aw man...just too cool for school.

1. The Lich: I have a thing for the undead, maybe it's all those horror movies as a kid. But you add that with the fact that this creature is probably the baddest boy on the block, a serious power-lover's wet dream, you get something that's at the top of the food chain and at the bottom of all the vile deeds ever perpetrated.

I look over this list and I realize that it's pretty pedestrian, especially when you compare it to some of the others that are currently floating about, but you know what? I have a history with these guys listed above, and it's that they strike a chord of fear in me as well as a sense of history. These monsters might cause a few of the jaded folks to yawn and roll their eyes, but if they're smart, most of those same folks have a little alarm bell go off deep inside when they run across any of these...



After reading Philotomy's postings on his Lost City games I was really intrigued about a small detail that he added to the module: Ventilation. Now this might not seem like a topic of much concern but it took seed and germinated...and this is what I've come up with.

Ventilation in a dungeon makes perfect sense in many cases. Now I'm not saying that it has to be present everywhere, but it's an absolutely perfect avenue for infestation from the outside as well as a vector for travel and attack. The way I envision this can run from anywhere between something simple like just plain ol shafts, to stuff that's cleverly hidden in the decorative stone work. (Philotomy's idea actually...)

I've got a few thoughts about the ventilation and how it might affect the dungeon as a whole. The upper levels would be supplied air through a cleverly engineered dcut system that transports air via the surface. Lower levels are a different matter though. There's a Fritz Leiber story (Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser) that involves both of the heroes being employed in an ancient but massive underground realm. The lower portions are supplied air by a whole crew of these specially bred slaves. They're one of the last surviving artifacts of the ancient race that built the place.

Their job is to constantly walk on these massive tread mills located on a completely dedicated level, which in turn run huge turbines that supply air through a duct system. In the end the creatures are eventually freed via a war between the surviving sides.

Wouldn't that be kind of neat though? Include a deep sub-level that's sole purpose is to supply a "service" to the rest of the dungeon? I know that people have talked recently about a group of neutral merchants, a slew of cleaners and general custodians or a group of runners. This is something a bit different...

Maybe initially it's not evident what they do. Imagine a massive cavern with hundreds of these blind, docile, long-lived creatures endlessly walking on tread mill-type devices. And attached to these are long belts that stretch up to a ceiling far overhead. And located there, are the massive turbines...hidden by darkness but the susurrus fills the chamber along with the dull thumping of the ponderous but ever enduring slaves.

Now of course an operation like this would require some type of support. Food, custodians and technicians, etc. Imagine a race of creatures who can nimbly climb the walls and work upside down upon the turbines and drive belts. Another group of creatures that take care of the "walking brutes", a group of farmers who tend to the penned insect farms and the wall-clinging fungus gardens, and then of course there's the overseer.

Who knows what the overseer is or does. But it's also long-lived and communicates to the masses via pheromones and scent. This could very well operate like a colony of insects. Or not.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday Night Game

We played our Labyrinth Lord game again last night and I thought I'd write another small recap in order to keep things straight in my mind.

The PCs / Players:
Isabella - Female Human Fighter level 2 (my wife)
Ember - Female 1/2 elven Cleric level 2 (youngest daughter)
Safira - Female Ice Elf level 2 (eldest daughter)

We pick up w/ our heroes at the bottom of The Hermit's hill, it is late morning and a discussion ensues over the next destination. Isabella and Ember think it prudent to head straight for the Ruined Abbey, while Safira would rather stop in Botkinburg first in order to restock before moving on to the Abbey.

*DM Note: I think the convincing item was that they would have had to re-cross the river Hruesen again if they were to go back to Botkinburg, and that giant gar still makes them all a bit nervous.

Although they had never traveled through the Tangle Downs this way to get to the Abbey, with the combination of the map and general knowledge of the surrounding terrain features it wasn't a monumentally insurmountable task. Isabella helped lead the party and as they camped for the first night it looked as if they were still headed in the correct far as they could determine.

About an hour and a half into the first watch Isabella feels the touch of cold metal on her neck and hears a heavily accented voice in her ear "Don't move...and don't make a sound." She doesn't.

It turns out that the group has inadvertently cut through elvish land and they elves are at a heightened sense of alert due to the riled up Bloody Eye Orcs to the north. Once the party is awake, the elvish scouts ask their business, and once they're content that the party isn't a threat they ask for a passage fee. Apparently Moonsilver, the elvish leader isn't pleased with humans trespassing on their lands...the elves are no big deal, but the humans are a different story.

*DM Note: A funny thing happened during this encounter (random btw). The elves attempted to disarm the sleeping characters...Safira awoke during the attempt and in reaction she hissed at the perpetrator. My wife was outraged that she should just sit and do nothing while watching the elf disarm her. There was a bit of a tiff between the two (wife and daughter). Needless to say I've got some very headstrong women in the house. It was interesting to say the least.

5gp a head seems to be the going rate, which adds up to the hefty sum of 50gp for the entire group! Luckily Ember thinks of the tiger eye gem acquired from battle with the orcs, it's 50gp. The elves check it and accept it as payment. Isabella finagles a passage back through the territory as part of the bargain, should they need it.

Moonsilver, the leader, says that if they should like the party can get some rest while the elves are in the area...nothing will sneak up on them. At this one elf pulls a small reed fife out of his pack, sits cross-legged upon the ground and begins to play a quiet tune while the others silently fade back into the surrounding darkness.

The morning comes and Safira is first awake, the musician stands, looks at the sky and says "There's a powerful storm coming." With that he nods and walks off into the forest.

*DM Note: This "warning" from the elf has a bit of double entendre connected with it. ;-)

As the day progresses the overcast sky thickens and around 2pm the skies open up and a deluge soaks the party to the skin in a matter of minutes. The rain continues unabated throughout the afternoon as the group looks for some sort of shelter.

An hour and a half of searching produces an overhang sitting about 10 feet above a gully. It doesn't appear that the water will reach the dry area so the party agrees that this will do for the evening. All 10 soaking wet, miserable adventurers bed down for the night and in shifts attempt to dry their cloaks out over a small fitful fire as they stand guard.

The next day dawns grey and rainy. While the volume has abated somewhat, it is still a miserable slog through the woods and at about 3 in the afternoon they finally catch sight of the long hill upon which sits the Abbey. Isabella though notices three thin tendrils of smoke curling up amidst the rain...It appears that there are some new tenants upon the hill.

Safira, being the most adept and moving silently through the woods is the natural choice as a scout and she moves off to discern who these newcomers might be. At the top of the rise she smells pipe smoke which diverts her attention the her right. She spies what looks to be some kind of bear sitting on the opposite side of a tree from her.

She can't get a clear view but it smells and appears as if the smoke is coming from the bear! Silent as a shadow she slides back down the hill and proceeds around the back of the hill to get a peek at the fires. She's joined then by Ember and they both spot what looks to be about 6 orcs shuffling about the fires. At this distance they can't determine if they're Bloody Eye tribe or not.

*DM Note: This was a very tense moment for my eldest daughter. She has an emotional attachment to her characters (lots of off-game time spent on imagining them) and therefore she takes great pains to make slow well-informed decisions. She HATES not knowing...and the "bear" was a serious source of consternation.

On the way back, Ember decides that she's got to identify the "bear" so she goes creeping back up the hill, with Safira at her heels trying to dissuade her. They move into position and slowly take a look at the "bear". It turns out to be an orc, albeit a VERY large one, sitting against a tree with a bear skin thrown across his shoulders. He was smoking a short stemmed pipe while looking down the road. A large black iron bow sat across his lap with a quiver of arrows lying beside him.

Ember then convinces a VERY hesitant Safira to put him to sleep with her spell. She does so and as she's casting the orc somehow hears her voice, he grunts spins with the bow in his hand but not before Safira releases the spell. He lays his bow on the ground and falls asleep.

The rest of the group comes up and plans the assault on the rest of the orcs. The plan is that they'll get Safira into position in order to cast a sleep spell. As they advance under cover of the crumbling Abbey ruins they hear two voices from INSIDE the ruins they're using as cover!

Safira finds a crack in the wall and peers in, seeing 4 orcs guarding the stairs leading down into the dungeons. She casts her spell while under cover and the orcs are none the wiser. They all succumb and she moves in to slit throats.

*DM Note: I'm going easy on the girls. My wife, while quite smart, doesn't have much tactical or strategic knowledge. Instead of keeping the orcs inside of the building quiet and having them leap out in surprise, I let them hear them and therefore attack the orcs in small chunks. They'll learn to do that as time goes on but for now...I think it's probably necessary. Also, I do plan on introducing a coup de grĂ¢ce rule, I think it will likely be a free hit doing critical damage and then a save from the creature v. massive damage.

This is where we broke it off...I hate stopping things in the middle of an encounter but my eldest was hitting the wall and it was a school night. Nonetheless, it was a great session and there were a few pretty tense moments. Overall, lots of fun.

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday night gaming

We got together for a little over an hour of gaming last night, the first time in a couple of weeks, and we had a terrific time. I'm just loving running this game due to a few reasons.
1. The players, my daughters and wife, are new to everything. This brings back that sense of wonder that's been missing for a long long time.
2. The rules are really fantastic. I'm loving the Labyrinth Lord rules for their simplicity, speed and flexibility.
3. The setting is an offshoot of the Western Marches type game. I hesitate to say "sandbox" because I think it's been overused, but this is pretty wide open. I'm adding a few small hooks for mini-quests in order to get them out into the wilderness and bumping into new (or rather old) and interesting things.

On with the recap:

Isabella - Female Human Fighter level 2 (my wife)
Ember - Female 1/2 elven Cleric level 2 (youngest daughter)
Safira - Female Ice Elf level 2 (eldest daughter)

Evening was falling as the three female adventurers finished their discussion with The Hermit, and camping away from their companions, on the steep sides of the crumbling pyramid was not very inviting. So descent was the best option.

As they clambered down the rotting, vegetated sides of the ancient structure, darkness fell and the flickering light of torches could be seen through the canopy of the trees. The awaiting remainder of the party welcomed them and eagerly asked questions regarding the conversation. This all took place as the group slowly made their way into the forest, searching for a secure spot to camp.

They quickly located a small clearing, built a fire and continued their discussion over a supper of rations and tea. Fura was especially interested in what The Hermit had to say regarding the lost artifacts of St. George Gyxag. With supper finished the group chose guards and rotations for the evening and turned in.

Two and a half hours from dawn, during the third shift, Ember hears rough voices in the distance. She crouches down and listens more intently. As they approach she distinctly hears two individuals arguing over something in orc, and just as she determines to turn and wake the rest of the camp, she hears them stop and one say "Hey, look, what's that light up ahead?". The other voice responds that it doesn't see a light and the argument proceeds.

Alarmed, Ember quickly puts the small fire out and wakes the rest of the group. The argument continues unabated in the darkness not more than 50 feet away. Those that were sleeping quickly and quietly attempt to slip on armor while the others take up position on the far side of the camp, hiding in the brush while covering the approach with bows.

Two of the Krieger brothers, while moving around in the dark stumble over a pack and a "crunch" of broken pottery ensues as the smell of alcohol fills the air. One of them curses loudly...and the orcs in the brush instantly fall silent.

A few tense moments pass. Nothing can be heard but the slight breeze in the treetops and the imagined whoosh of the high clouds as the pass the face of the full moon high above. Darkness, occasionally punctuated with sporadic moonlight makes spotting the dangerous orcs difficult at best for the humans. The elves keep a close eye on the brush...

Just as Isabella buckles the last strap on her chain mail 6 burly porcine monstrosities, bearing wicked black morningstars and crude wooden shields, burst out of the brush and come shambling quickly into the clearing.

The heroes have the drop though and the Krieger brothers let their arrows fly. Only one strikes the leading orc, which hardly slows the obese creature as it slams into Isabella, its morningstar swinging. The chaotic press of battle ensues with blows traded freely and curses filling the air.

Fura dodges in and out quickly but the orcs are quicker yet, as they dodge back out of the halfling's reach. Isabella and Ember though rain down terrible blows upon their opponents, felling two orcs in short order. Safira, hiding in the brush to the side, chides an orc in its own language, confusing the dim creature into thinking there are more adversaries coming. The elf darts out, slim curved sword flashing, but the orc deflects the blow on its shield and squealing, comes back swinging.

The morning star connects and Safira feels blood flow under her padding, she quickly skips back in response, holding her shoulder. Ember is also in dire straights as one of the larger of the orcs smashes her arm with its weapon, the sound of a broken bone and Embers ensuing groan accompanies the cacophony of battle.

Belinda has pulled the other two non-combatants further into the brush at this point, guarding them with her large maul, while the Krieger brothers angle to get a clear shot in the spotty light. The deciding point in the battle comes as Safira lets loose on her sleep spell. The remaining orcs immediately succumb and lay their weapons down, yawning widely they curl up on the ground for a comfortable slumber....That lasts forever. The party quickly dispatches the dangerous foes.

After searching the bodies by torchlight they discover a few gems and surprisingly, a couple pieces of very fine jewelry. (A filigree ring made of platinum in the shape of two intertwined fishing nets with two miniature fish captured within. And a belt buckle of silver and gold, elvish make of two bucks coming together.)

Wounds are healed by the cleric Ember, the bodies of the orcs are dragged off a ways into the woods, and after the charge of battle has calmed a bit, the party beds back down to wait for morning.

The next day dawns hazy and breezy. After a quick meal, Ember, Safira and Fura scale the hill to speak with The Hermit. The old man greets them and after they answer a riddle, (a tradition of his order...keep reading.) this is the information that he imparts upon them:

It seems that St. George of Gyxag is indeed familiar, for the Saint was a hero nearly 200 years ago of the same god that The Hermit worshiped at one time: Bochnoi, the Red God of Knowledge. The order of Bochnoi is one of quiet contemplation, scribes, and quiet study by candlelight. But, every once in awhile an individual joins the order who doesn't fit this mold. One was St. George Gyxag, who was a very rare paladin naturally imbued with the wanderlust and desire to right wrongs.

At the height of his fame it seems that the paladin wandered off East with two of the church's artifacts; The Red Book and the Sword of Truth. Both potent artifacts on their own, these were sorely missed but it was deemed at the time that they were both necessary for St. George's quest. He was never seen again.

The Hermit then filled in the rest since he's lived in this area for many many years. Seems that the wayward paladin came across a place of ancient evil and decided to kill two birds with one stone by plugging access through the erection of an abbey to his god, Bochnoi. This lasted for many years but after the Saint's passing, the order fell to sloth and soon they paid the ultimate price. The abbey was burnt to the ground and was never heard from again.

Now, the black key, although this is not certain, would likely be a means of opening the crypt to Saint George Gyxag, and therein might certainly be found the sword. Now the book is a different matter. It might lie in the tomb but then again, the order would have found much use in its pages, so it could be ensconced elsewhere.

The Hermit was then informed of the Red Caps and their leader Melchert's attempts to find this Black Key...and in turn, their connection to Ylfrit, the Alfar Queen. He was indeed dismayed to hear of her return and was adamant that she should NOT find the Red Book, for it would be used for evil in her hands. No good would come of it for certain.

As they thanked The Hermit, Ember asked if there might be another way into the lower catacombs of the Abbey, he said that he couldn't be positive, but yes, there would quite likely be another way in to such a complex. The trick was in finding it.

They thanked The Hermit and made their way down the ancient structure and as they did he called after them that if they came across any rare information that he'd indeed love to hear of it...

And this is where we wrapped it up. Until next time, adieu.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Big time!

Hey, this might be a bit late, I'm not the world's most observant person after all, but guess what? I've made it to Grognardia's "Links of Interest"!

I'm sure some of you are scratching your heads and saying "So what?", well I just have to say, James Maliszewski is the godfather of the Old School movement, and to be recognized by him is of great import to me. I place a lot of stock in James' insights into the roots of the game. And simply put, I really love reading what he has to say.

Anyway, I just thought I'd say Thank You to James. I doubt very much that he'll ever read this, (that's the penultimate accomplishment in this crazy old school gaming blogosphere) but nonetheless, there it is.

"Ma! Look at me, I made it!"

A thought about calendars and fantasy games

I was over at Valley of Blue Snails (Great work btw, go check it out if you haven't yet.) and noticed a posting about calendars. This is a topic that has always sort of bothered me.

I agree that saying February 23rd in game is always a bit of a disconnect. But on the other hand, I also loathe some of these convoluted creations that are used instead. They're completely confusing and are a pain to deal with. It seems to me that the effort one takes in creating a "calendar" system might better be spent elsewhere. I don't honestly think that I can remember a time when any of my players were specifically interested in the date. Maybe that's just a result of my play style. I don't know.

What I do know is that seasons make a LOT more sense in terms of in-game time keeping. Terms like: Approximately two moons left in the rainy season... The end of the grain harvest... Dead of winter... seem to ring more true to me than some made up date. After all, the majority of the populace in the middle ages had absolutely no way of knowing the date, nor did they give a hoot.

Maybe clergy members might care about the date. I could see wizards being interested in some arcane system of dating via astronomy and the study of entrails, in order to keep track of important events "elsewhere" (distant planes and such...). But for the common everyday adventurer, how is "The 23rd day of Plestance, in the 5th age of the Great Wyrm" going to make any difference in play?

Sure, this might be nit picking, but I've always run my games using weather and seasons as markers of time, and it's yet to fail me. I even had a case of the PCs traveling to a different plane where time ran at a slower pace. When they returned it was still high summer, but two years later. They figured it out via NPC reactions to their return and odd comments about dogs that had passed away of old age, of a failed harvest due to early snows, and things like that. No mention of time, just events. They caught on pretty quickly.

That's just my Wednesday $.02.