Monday, December 29, 2008

A quick recap of LL sessions

I'm a bad blogger, there's certainly little room to argue on that front. Heh, let's just clear the air then, I'm in no way near as prolific as Scott over at 'World of Thool', James over at 'Grognardia' and no where near as creative. That's unfortunate I suppose, but I will say that I have just as much passion as my esteemed peers. And therein lies the reason that I maintain my feeble scribblings upon this e-medium.

Picking up where we left off; this entry will be a little less florid and a bit more pedantic for posterity's sake and to make up for my lack of sufficient in-game notes.

Safara and Ember soon discerned the nature of the odd finger bone, it seemed to point to danger! After a bit of poking around through dark corridors and peering into the deeper darkness of archways and side tunnels the heroes heard the 'tink, tink, tink' of metal on stone.

A stealthy approach allowed them to sneak up on a group of strange red-capped miners accompanied by some kind of ferocious wolf-like beast. The fight was bloody and a few casualties were accrued. Sir Pelinor took was taken down by the wolf and one of the henchmen was slain as well. The party was forced into a limping retreat but not before taking a surviving red cap prisoner.

On the way out one of the henchmen encountered a green slime that dropped on her face from above. She was disfigured horribly but survived.

Once on the surface, the party healed up as much as possible, grabbed a few more henchmen and descended again, this time in the hopes that they could recover some of Sir Pelinor's remains in order to properly bury him.

The descent back to the mining area was without incident and as soon as they arrived another nasty little fight erupted with the remaining red cap, his wolf and the party. Eventually the party won out with few casualties and were exploring the ancient wine cellar when the muttering of voices and stomp of boots echoed down the tunnel to announce new comers.

A small detachment of goblins, carrying more rusted and dented mining implements shows up and yet another fight is joined. This one though turns out for the worst, one of the little blighters rushes forwards and plants his pick in Halister's eye. The mage goes down in a heap...dead as a doornail. The party quickly starts tossing what remains of the wooden shelves into the hall way as a barrier while the goblins scramble for their weapons.

As the goblins attempted to rush the quick barricade, a flask of oil and torches were tossed and the whole thing turned into a conflagration. The goblins squealed and ran back. Safara took down the leader with a well placed magic missile and soon the tide had turned. In the end, 5 goblin corpses littered the hallway.

A map was found and on it was some writing in Fae that indicated that digging for the "key" was to commence at the spot indicated on the map. Someone named Melchert had signed the message written on the map.

Again the party gathered up their fallen dead, including what was left of the wolf gnawed remains of Sir Pelinor, and made their way towards the surface and sunlight. There they buried Sir Pelinor and questioned the captive red cap about the map. He told them that Melchert was their master and a friend of Ylfrit, their queen. Melchert was searching for a key that opened the black door, beyond which he claimed lay secrets worthy of the Unseelie Queen. But what those secrets are, Melchert hasn't said.

The red cap is let loose with the promise that he'll never return to this area on pain of death. He disappears into the woods. The remaining henchmen get together and come to Safara and Ember for better pay. It's just too dangerous they claim...too many of them have fallen and only 3 of the original 6 remain. The two leaders agree and it's also agreed that they'll go back to Botkinburg, as they're quickly running low on food and torches.

One day is taken for Safara to hunt, in an attempt to supplement their remaining rations. She comes upon a boar and slays it from the safety of a tree. But unfortunately the noise attracts a strange hoofed beast from the woods (Ilfaren) who thinks that meat on the hoof is pretty tempting. Safara desperately casts charm and then convinces the beast that the pig has been poisoned. He looks at her, nods and then walks back into the woods...

Later during the trip a pygmy rhino emerges from the woods and violently reacts to the screaming of the henchmen as it tromps into camp, by spearing yet another henchman on it's horn. The others climb trees in order to escape the angry beast. Two henchmen left...

Finally the troll bridge is spotted through the trees and the dead boar is bartered for passage. On to Botkinburg.

When they finally set foot on those fields we know...(a little Lord Dunsany there) they meet a halfling decked out for adventure on his way into the woods! This is rare indeed...but this little guy, a retired adventurer from days gone by, claims that an aged priest has come into the village and is in need of aid. He's dying and has spent his life tracking down religious relics that were stolen from his order's temple long ago. He's found many of them but there are a few remaining..and he thinks that there's one out in the woods with the required knowledge to find them: The Hermit.

Well he's invited the adventurers to join him when he returns in 4 or so days...They've agreed.

On into town they venture, and their they find that autumnal festival is in full swing and that most of the village has gathered at the "Tree" for a day long celebration with free food and beer. They arrange for rooms at the Bent Hook, clean up and plan to join the festivities after returning Halister's body to his family north of town.

A short ride brings them to a shallow gulch wherein lies the Halister family tower...apparently the family has been in the business of wizardry for quite some time. As the two approach a low growl comes from a shadowy copse of bushes near the door. They stop and attempt to control their mounts as they call out to the tower.

The window shutter is flung open and a wizened old woman appears...the news is conveyed and soon a very upset mother and father, thin like sticks and dressed in tattered robes, emerge to collect the remains of their son. They thank Ember and Safara and when offered what is owed to Hallister they scoff and say "What need have we of money?!?" and shuffle off.

This is where we end it for now. Stay tuned... they'll be joining the festivities and options will become known.

NOTE: I've come to the conclusion that old school is fun but the girls are heavily invested in their characters...death upsets them. And losing a character is not what they'd enjoy. So...I've decided to muck with the magic system a bit. In a past Castles and Crusades game we used Al Krombach's spell point system and it worked out well. It is a little high powered for this type of game but it certainly affords the girls a bit of a cushion. I might tone it down as we continue on though...we'll see how it works out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Ever sit down to a movie or television show...or even a book, and after you've delved into it a bit you find out it's not at all what you initially thought? Most of those surprises aren't all that welcome. Most are utter shite.

Last night though was an exception. Our Tuesday night 4E group met with the understanding that we'd be starting up a new group of characters. If you've been following at all you'd be well aware that the previous band of dastardly do-gooders had bit the proverbial bullet in a knock down drag out fight with some...wait for it, ghouls! "Ah" you say to yourself, there's the undead reference.

But you'd be mistaken. Back to the point, we sat down around the table last night and started introducing our characters to one another. As you might imagine we started in a tavern; Staid but nearly necessary in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Around the table we went, first the dragon born paladin, then the eladrin ranger, then me... Oops, nope.

That's right when our DM Wes, piped up and said, "The front doors crash open and a man stumbles in holding his hands to a gaping wound on his neck. Screaming at the top of his lungs, 'You've got to help me'." The doors swing shut, and then Boom! back open again. Another human comes hurtling towards the wounded citizen, knocks him to the ground and starts munching. Uh oh!

This is accompanied with screams and madness from out in the streets. What's happening? Bet you guessed by now. Yeah, zombie apocalypse. Soon we're absolutely over run w/ the rutters. They're everywhere; Coming in through the windows, the doors, everywhere. We're surrounded and are forced to make a stand.

We end up doing pretty well. Laying the initial wave of flesh eating monsters low is quickly accomplished. But that's just the beginning. Our paladin crawls out on the roof after our fight in order to recon the situation. The light of dusk reveals that the entire city seems to be over run. They walk the streets now like stately Sunday strollers...unless they see live bait, then they double time it like a drunken sailor on speed. It's pretty grotesque.

Well it's obvious, we can't stay here long. The whole party gathers on the roof to survey the damage and plan how we're going to get out of this mess alive. Not too far off lies the temple to the Raven Queen, it's burning. Drats! To the east of us lies another large church and it looks like there's a bit of resistance going on there. That's our target we decide. And about this time, more screaming erupts from down below in the bar.

Looking down through the chimney reveals that a few of those "dead" bodies have stood back up and are briskly chasing their meals around. The paladin acts in accordance with his creed and leaps down to save the innocent, while the rest of us stand up there scratching our asses and mumbling about getting the hell to safety. It doesn't take long and the paladin's in a bit of a spot.

Our warlord leaps down to aid him and get the three survivors out of there. They're successful but not before the paladin takes a nasty wound to his arm. (more on that later) With their emergence back on the roof it's decided that we'll use the eladrin's teleport ability and go from rooftop to rooftop and see if we can't possibly make sanctuary at that large church.

We're pretty careful as a group and we seem to work well together. Not everyone agrees all the time, which is natural in a large group (6), but we act in concert for the better of the whole. Not a bad way to get things done. Eventually we make our goal and are standing on a roof top across from a boarded up church.

The eladrin sends an arrow wrapped with a message through the stained glass window facing us. Soon a face appears in the hole and waves. We signal back and send another shaft with a rope attached. It gets tied down and off we go. Soon we're standing in the church with about 40 - 50 survivors.

Long story short, there's enough food for about a week, maybe a week and a half if they really ration. There's plenty of water though, as there's a well in the church proper. The clergy is as confused as we as to what's caused this odd outbreak. Oh, there's a star in the sky too...something we certainly noticed way back when we first emerged upon the roof of the tavern. The mage seemed to know something about a reference to some old story of the coming of a star and the end of the world. Great.

Well if it has happened before there has to be some way to turn it back. That wound on the paladin's arm is pretty nasty. Can't be healed with the normal means and even low level magical seems to be ineffective. There's got to be a way to heal it though, so now we've got a couple of quests ahead of us.

First: Get some food for the refugees in the church so that we can make our escape and head for the capital city for help. I'm not sure that they've faired much better but the attempt has to be made.

Second: Find some kind of cure for this disease that these nasty zombies carry. A library or a sage maybe? Not sure...but we have to try, otherwise the paladin's a goner.

By the end of the session I was a grinning fool. I love this kind of thing and personally I think 4e will work well with it. I'm not going to get into it here, but I think that 4e lends itself better to a strong story-type game, and not well to the looser aspects of a sandbox campaign. Anyway, I'm excited. This is going to be a hoot. Kudos to our DM for surprising us like that. Being old and jaded is more of a burden sometimes than it should be, and things like this make me feel young again.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Recap Labyrinth Lord Part 2

Excellent image from Steve Zieser. Go see his stuff!
Safara - female elf lvl 1
Ember - female 1/2 elf cleric lvl 1

As the day wears on the party marches resolutely through the forested hills of the Tangle Downs, questing for the Ruined Monastery, spoken of by the Duke's huntsman. Burnt, stunted and twisted trees demarcate the area that the group searches for, but after a solid half day's march nothing like this is to be seen.

Truth be told, I rolled and the party was slightly off course, instead of trending straight north, as the huntsman directed, they were heading slightly north north east. But as the group broke for lunch Safara decided to climb a tree and get her bearings. She noticed that the distant ridge was slightly further to the south than it ought to be. She was smart enough to course correct and eventually the party was back on track.

A couple of hours later and the vestiges of an old forest fire became evident, they had found their destination. The rocky knoll mentioned by the huntsman was indeed covered by stunted scrub oak and blood brier bushes, the air thick with malice and the rancid feel of death. Old, weather-worn stones, a rusted chain hanging slack between them, mark an old road that winds its way to the top.

Safara, Ember, Sir Pelinor and Halister decide that all but two of the henchmen should stay at the bottom of the hill and tend to the horses while the rest of the party climb to the top to search the sharded ruins for any clues or treasure. After an hour of searching, Ember comes across a partially concealed wooden doorway lying flat upon the old Monastery floor. They check it, ready torches, and throw it wide, revealing worn stone steps that descend into the black.

Safara takes the lead and slowly descends the stairs, her ten-foot pole carefully tapping the way. An archway leads into a large room with massive square pillars supporting a rent roof, an obvious crack lets in light and water. Which, mixed with the dark cool stone, proves the perfect breeding ground for molds, mildews and fungus, which cover most of the surfaces next to the puddle and one crumbling pillar.

Squeaking from the dark corners indicates that the party is not rats, large as dogs, come out squealing, scampering towards the intruders. Swords, staves and knives flash. One henchman goes down screaming as a couple of the hungry rodents leap upon his back and set to eating anything soft. Eventually, after a few nicks here and there, the rats fall to the victorious party.

After a thorough search the group finds a small, finely carved wooden statue and a silver candle holder. Each is secreted away in a backpack and the group decides that they shall continue.

Safara, again in the lead, taps the way south through a short hallway, into a circular room with a stone pool on the floor and a small diameter hole in the ceiling through which the outdoor sky could be seen. Possibly some sort of room in which to worship the sun, moon or stars? Hard to tell. Now though, the floor is covered in some kind of green fungus or slime.

Safara, ever the careful one, pokes the floor with her staff and the slime actually seems to stick and climb up the pole. She shakes it loose, turns and grabs a torch from one of the henchmen and tries to burn the stuff. The goo flinches back and Ember grabs a flask of oil to help speed the process. Soon the room is clear of the nasty menace.

A careful examination of the room (Safara says she's searching the bottom of the murky pool with her pole.) reveals a finely crafted silver globe. It is hinged, and once opened it disgorges a strange yellow stone.  After a bit more fiddling, it turns out that the "stone" is indeed the tip of a finger bone.

Yet more research reveals that it does not react identically to all members. It sits warm and snug in Embers palm, yet Safara feels ill at ease with it. Strange... It's use is not easily discerned and the party moves on, deeper into the labyrinth.

Here ends part 2. Next, a tussle with some ill-tempered Fae.

And finally, this is a pretty neat little questionnaire (culled from a gleemax forum post) to present to the new group before DMing, in order to get a little feedback on what they're expecting from a game:
  1. Role Playing --- Mix --- Roll Playing 
  2. High --- Mid --- Low Fantasy 
  3. High --- Mid --- Low Magic
  4. High --- Mid --- Low Power 
  5. Dark --- Average --- Light Tone and Mood 
  6. G --- PG --- R Rated descriptions and content 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cool stuff

Noisms over at Monsters and Manuals created this neat little random were-chart that I just idolize. You can see it here.

I had this idea that I am going to implement in my girl's Labyrinth Lord game. The Fae in and around the Tangle Downs are a rather rough bunch, in that there are certainly more of an ill intent than of the benign sort. They're an old race, one that was here before the Eld came, but they've never really done much to enforce their will upon others, which means that they're not as instantly obvious as say the old Eld slave races, like Orcs or Hobgoblins.

Saying that though, since humans have come upon the scene relatively recently, the Fae are becoming a wee bit more militant about their elbow room. In the past there was more of a balance, but now that their land is in jeopardy, the Unseelie court and Queen Ylfrit have tipped the scales in their favor.

Anyway, I've got this idea regarding all of the Fae's allies. I was going to utilize all the standards; Things like Ents, Red Caps, Spriggans, etc. But one of the things that I really latched on to was the idea that lycanthropes would be utilized as spies. I mean c'mon, the moon, the Unseelie Court and lycanthropes? It's like kittens and a ball of yarn. They just go together.


This is going to be short, but I thought I'd write down a few thoughts I had about last night's game.

I've been playing in a 4E game with some guys, cause, well frankly, because that's what's available. Anyway, our DM Wes, had set us on a mission to rescue some villagers from the Valley. They had been captured by some hobgoblins and taken into this old abandoned minotaur city. Well, we went after them. Duh.

Turns out that it's not REALLY the hobgoblins that are to blame for this, but rather it seems a crooked group of powerful mages have swiped them in order to use them as blackmail leverage to get us to do some dirty work for them. Some items had been heisted and they wanted them found with as little fuss as possible. We didn't really have much of a choice; Fight the mages, or work for them. Hmmm, option two seemed reasonable.

I'm playing a thief named Thoth Amon (heh...yeah, I love REH and the names he comes up with.), who's this Babylonian looking dude from the darker side of a port town. He's a rough customer who doesn't hold much faith in human nature, but he's willing to give most a chance at "redemption". The first thing that Thoth wants to do is run this mage (The Arcanis) through for forcing him into this situation. But he's convinced by his party members that this isn't a "prudent" course of action.

Well fast forward: There were a couple of quests that were levied upon us; The pay out was of course the villager's freedom. Hrmph... The first quest was completed without much adieu and 1/2 of the villagers were released.

It was the second quest that proved a bit more interesting, to say the least. I'm not going to go into a play by play, but simply put, we were tasked with finding the second set of these stolen artifacts (I'm having trouble believing that all of these things were stolen and spread out amongst all these different factions, but hey, I'm just the messenger right?) which were to be found with a group of gnolls taking refuge in an old abandoned temple to Baphomet.

Sounds kinda shaky to me. Turns out I wasn't too far off. We get through this portal that takes us to the temple and we emerge into this large room with 3 archways leading off of it. (including the one we were currently in.) 5 huge pillars, carved to look like minotaurs stood at random places in the room and in the far corner was a low, square well.

First thing, the paladin steps into the room and sets off these magic mouths, which deliver some type of message to the faithful. We ignore them and he proceeds to the well, looks down, and WHAM! A huge set of tentacles reaches up and nabs him. Boom! We're in a fight for our lives.

Add in a couple of ghouls hiding in the shadows and a few chokers scrambling in from overhead, and you've got a big ol passle of trouble with a capital "T". Can you see any kind of a theme in the above mentioned adversaries? They can all grab, immobilize and / or stun. This was a bit of an issue and turned out to be our undoing.

It didn't take long. 5 PCs bit the dust in quick succession. We made a few tactical blunders, which in 4E can spell doom in a quick way. You really do have to be decent with tactics in this newest iteration of the game. Oh, and I forgot to mention, but we were short a "defender", or rather a fighter, and that my friend was probably the largest contributor to our demise.

So in the end, we got the ass end chewed out and wrapped the evening up rolling up new characters.

My take on this whole debacle? I LOVED it! Seriously. One of the largest complaints I've had regarding 4E is that there's a huge safety net, which sort of fuzzies the distinct edges of danger. And I don't like that. I want my game to be decidedly nasty. I want to know that there's a very real chance that I won't succeed and that if I do, I've done something above and beyond the norm. 

That was one of the huge differences between the earlier games and today's version: Back then there was absolutely no preconceived notion that you were going to make it. In fact it was quite the opposite. IF you made it you knew that it was because you were either VERY lucky or VERY cunning. Or both.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A recap of my LL game

Well, it's been a while since I've written...and that's not right. So, in lieu, I've decided to write a bit of a recap (and background) of the Labyrinth Lord game that I'm running for my daughters.

Background: Each of the girls rolled up stats using the 3d6 method but I allowed them to swap one stat for another. I know, I know, softy. But hey, they're my girls! My eldest wanted to really play an elf, and she rolled like you wouldn't believe. She had an 18 and nothing lower than a 10. I mean c'mon... Pretty amazing.

My youngest rolled high as well, just not quite as high as my eldest. She wanted to play an elf as well but when she heard about the cleric she wanted to play an elf cleric. Hmmmm OK, so how to navigate this? Turns out she just wants to "look" like an elf. She actually sort of looks like an elf in real life (small and thin w/ spritely features).

So what do you do for a wee little one who wants to "look" like an elf? Well, you make her the first 1/2 elf of course!

Safara: Elf level 1
Ember: 1/2 elf cleric of Freya level 1

I opted for a sandbox-type campaign and drew up my own map while borrowing freely from other sources. The "land" doesn't yet have a name but the campaign itself is called the Eastern Verge. Many of the names of areas, rivers, streams, hills, etc. come from other sources. Ben Robbins Western Marches was a great inspiration and I've culled items from Scott over atWilderlands OD&D as well as some wonderful ideas from James over at Grognardia. As you can imagine, it's a potpourri of inspiration.

The small border town that the characters have started out in is named Botkinburg, borrowed freely from Troll Lord's Castles and Crusades setting, which sits nestled comfortably on the western back of the Hreusen river, which itself constitutes the far eastern border of the "Kingdom". Like Ben's setting, all is wild and untrammeled beyond the town. Not many have ventured far into the wilds and no one in their right mind goes looking for trouble.

Generally, the land is in a temperate to tropic climatological zone with foliage and weather much like southern Florida. (minus the hurricanes) There are forested lands hills to the east that rise gently to a broken ridge, that juts out of the ground by up to as much as 100' in certain spots. Along this flows the Hruesen which bends around in a large arc. On top of this ridge lies a different zone, consisting of sparse trees, intense heat and flat expansive lands, much like a massive mesa.

To the north lies a large ancient forest, wherein reside all types of unknown creatures. (duh) And to the south lies swamps and eventually a fetid jungle, wherein lies a forgotten city and the entrance to the "mega dungeon". (I'm using the old JG Caverns of Thracia as my mega.)

Within one day's ride (and closer) lie many different types of features and encounters. I'm using the old JG Judges Ready Ref Sheets and Kellri's excellent Encounters pdf to flesh things out a bit, but beyond the random encounters and events are many set encounters. For instance, the "troll bridge" or more commonly known as the "toll bridge" (most have never actually visited the place) which of course has a resident troll acting as bridge guardian. But this troll is different; He's actually quite old, reasonable, and civilized.

There a very strong contingent of fey living amongst the wilds and therefore many places that are sacred to them as well. Toadstool rings, groves and hidden pools lie in abundance, but not in obvious places.

I've tried to set it up so that it promotes a sense of exploration and adventure. I've seeded it with ancient, dead cultures, mysterious races, malign guardians, forgotten cities and all sorts of oddities...hopefully each of them leads our intrepid adventurers onward, deeper into the wilderness.

Safara and Ember start at the Bent Hook, broke and looking for money. They've both heard that there is much adventure and of course loot to be found to the east, which in turn led them on their far trek here, to Botkinburg.

After hiring a total of 6 henchmen and attracting a few followers; a wayward knight named SirPellinor and his companion, the mage Halister the Grey (I know, I know, hugely creative.), they set forth into the wilderness, heading south along the river Hruesen.

A few hours south of the town of Botkinburg the group comes upon the "Toll Bridge", which in point of fact appears more as ruins surrounding a very old stone bridge spanning a particularly narrow and deep point in the Hruesen. Deciding that this would be a good place to break for lunch, the group breaks out food and spreads out amongst the trees, but soon the strange "snap", "snap" of sticks breaking amongst the ruins distracts the group.

Safara and Ember approach the tumbled ruins of what appeared at one time to be a tower, from opposing directions. They come upon a giant crab dismembering the carcass of a deer amidst the giant stones. It detects them and comes scrambling up quickly, claws swinging wide, searching for fresh food. The henchmen scramble quickly away from the oversize horror as Sir Pellinor and Halister run to join their comrades.

The battle was a tight thing as the giant crab is quite a fearsome opponent. Initially the heroes have a very difficult time piercing the thick chitinous shell and the mighty claws present an even more deadly obstacle. It's a tight thing initially, but after a magic missile from Safara and a critical strike with her staff, the beast is brought to the ground.

Both Safara and Ember decided that since they were so close to the bridge in the first place that they'd check it out... And soon they figured out that it wasn't "Toll" bridge, but Troll bridge, as a grey-skinned beast emerged from  beneath and declared that a toll for crossing was due. This was either 1 goat per traveler, or something similar.

Ember came up with crab meat as an offering and bartered the crossing of the entire party out of the giant crustacean. Not that the group necessarily wanted to cross but hey...the opportunity presented itself and viola! cross the bridge the party went.

Once upon the opposite side they decide to investigate the other tower that guards this side of the ancient bridge. In a more intact state, this tower in fact has an occupant; a giant spider has spun her web and claimed this as her hunting grounds. But Safara is not a fool as she sees cobweb blowing in the breeze through the open archway, she strikes flame to a torch and tosses it through the opening, quickly catching webs alight and forcing the hideous occupant out through the smoking top.

The hairy beast quickly scuttles down the wall and drops directly on Ember, who screams, arms waving as she desperately attempts to dislodge the unwelcome guest. Safara draws her dagger and strikes the arachnid a telling blow as it tries to sink it's mandibles into Ember's no avail. Ember then quickly grabs a leg tossing the spider against the wall where she then brings her staff to bear squishing the nasty beast with one blow.

After the brief fight, Safar finds an ancient skeleton lying amidst the leaves and detritus in the bottom of the now scorched tower and next to it lies a mouldering and rotted leather pack wherein the find a small sack of silver and copper coins of unknown mint. They take these and continue their journey.

The group hiked for a little ways into the forested hills, trending generally northwards, destination unknown. As evening approaches the group searches for a spot to make camp. A rocky knoll presents a tenable location and the party members break out their gear and food after brushing down the horses.

During their evening meal, just as the sun is setting, a gruff voice calls out from the woods. "Ho the camp...Would you mind company for the sake of safety?" A grizzled man dressed in greens and brown leathers emerges from the edge of the woods at the foot of the hill, arms spread wide. He claims that he's one of the Duke's huntsmen and that the party has actually camped for the eve on the huntsman's traditional spot.

Safara and Ember confer, and agree that it would be fine if the huntsman joined. Turns out though that there's more than just one huntsman, as a group of six more emerge from the woods carrying their recent prey between them. There is no danger though, as the Duke's men seem, if not a bit rough around the edges, an honest group.

The head huntsman is questioned later that evening regarding the bridge troll and the immediate area. He tells the two that the troll is benign as long as the toll is paid..The immediate area though is far from benign. Safara and Ember ask if there are any areas close by that might yield some type of treasure, for that is what they are by profession; adventurers.

Scratching his head, the grizzled old huntsman says that this wood, the Tangle Downs, is plenty dangerous, but that the huntsmen steer clear of anything that's obviously not going to produce any game. One of those places is an old abandoned monastery to the north of here, not more than a half-day journey. It sits atop a stony knoll, surrounded by burnt and stunted trees. Just a series of tumbled stone blocks outlining the old abbey, there are rumors of things that roam at night, guarding unknown treasures from bygone days.

Perfect! This is the opportunity that the group is looking for, and with the coming of the sun they set off...

(For James M's Ruined Monastery)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lines and Holes

One of the things that I really loved to do before the advent of the internet was to page through books and photocopy cool images for my Dungeons and Dragons group. When they started adding supporting images to modules I was in love. S1, S4 and C1 were truly evolutionary for me. But the best resource I had besides any image that was included in a module was the magazine "National Geographic". You could find the neatest, most amazing, unbelievable things between the covers of those magazines.

It's true that reality is often stranger than fiction. The old adage "You can't make that up...", nearly always holds true when viewing an odd image out of a "National Geographic". Fast forward to the modern era and toss Google into the mix and Viola! You've got one of the coolest inspirational tools at your disposal. I'm going to mention just two small instances of real-world examples that just beg to be ported into your fantasy campaign: Cenotes and Nazca Lines.

A cenote (Wikipedia link) is basically just a type of naturally occurring hole in the surface of the earth, through which the ground water can be easily accessed. These are for the most part a pretty common occurrence on the Yucatan Peninsula. But they are far from common when you see them in real life. They absolutely scream "Cool access to an underground fairy realm!", or "Portal to the elemental plane of water!". I'm sure that you can think of all sorts of things right? You don't have to view them in real life to be inspired, they're seriously cool man.

Now, the Nazca Lines (Wikipedia link) are NOT naturally occurring, which in fact is one of the things that makes these things so damned neat. Simply stated, these Nazca Lines are a series of "pictures" (otherwise known as geoglyphs) that stood for something to the ancient indigenous peoples of Peru. They're massive, sometimes cryptic, sometimes recognizable images of things that can actually be seen from space. Despite the many rumors that surround these lines, it is widely held that they were in fact quite easily constructed by the technology that was readily available to the people of that time. But who cares? Look at these things...Tell me that doesn't make your mind spin.

You look at a Nazca Line and immediate you're thinking ancient space faring race right? Or some kind of cult that created ley lines pointing to deeply important religious sites. These things of course can be stumbled upon by adventurers...maybe deep in a jungle, or on a high plateau, and they'd be tough to recognize from that angle. What are they? These things that stretch off in impossibly straight lines? Off into the far, dusty distance or the emerald shadows of a jungle, they stretch towards unknown treasures and lost cultures. 

Just like in real life.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working with ancestors

James M., over at Grognardia had a nice little write up on his "Drow", he calls them Eld. And to be quite frank, like James, I'm a wee bit sick of Drow and am in dire need of something a little different. I loved the Drow when they first appeared on the scene in the G modules, but unfortunately R.A. Salvatore and Drizt has ruined it for me. For some reason I associate Drow with WoW or McDrow these days. They've just been run into the ground and are as stale as last week's pancakes.

So it's back to the drawing board. I'm going to borrow a little of James' hard work (His original article can be found here.) as the basis for my elder race and give them a tweak or two in order to personalize them a tad and let them slip seamlessly into my fantasy taxonomy.

Eld: (yes I'll keep the's cool)
The Eld are an ancient race, descended from the deep voids of space, that had originally colonized the dark side of the largest moon, orbiting the "world". A natural hop, skip and jump placed them smack in the middle of a wilderness that had yet to be populated by an intelligent "master" race. The Eld fit that to a 'T'.

By bringing strange technologies from their home world, coupled with their mastery of the arcane forces of chaos, the Eld were masters of all they surveyed. 

And so on and so on... Much like James' Eld, but with a twist. Read on.

The Eld were a race born of the darkness between stars and had descended from a planet that knew natural light only a fraction of the time (Think "Pitch Black"). While direct light wasn't part of their evolution, light did exist and was used....The closest moon to their home world was a luminous and silvery entity that marked the Eld's day and night with its orbit.

Reflected light played a large part in the magic of the Eld, and they became masters of reflections; Travelling through mirrors, pools and any reflective surface the Eld also were able to cast over long distances and discovered much about the dark places by casting their reflections farther and farther into the chaos. And as all things that touch chaos for too long, the Eld soon became warped through close association.

The current Eld now live in the deeper darkness beneath the surface world and there they still cast their likeness and weave their madness-laced spells through flickering light and reflection. A shadow or an errant reflection seen in a mirror is often termed "An Elder Casting" by the common folk of the surface world, but the meaning has been largely lost. Some of the older races know of the Eld but it has been long since they've been heard of...and longer yet since they've been "seen".

Their are a few ancient Eld cities still in existence, now mostly inhabited by degenerate slave races, that lie deep beneath the surface. These cities are twisted and strangely difficult on the eyes of the surface folk. They reflect any light cast upon them into odd dimensions so that the buildings and thin purple spires twist and weave as if they live. Shadows seem to rush and ebb, as if they were the tides of an unseen ocean that crowd the narrow, empty streets.

The Eld themselves are a dying race and it is extremely rare to ever come across one. Most of those that still live are deeply ensnared in a "casting"...and can be found on occasion in front of one of their enormous black mirrors, staring deeply into the depths, as unresponsive as a corpse. Their cities are troves of strange technologies and magics, the likes of which would bend most sane minds, still, these are items of great power.

Who knows what power the Eld still wield as a collective race. They yet might control things on such a subtle scale that none can detect their influence. Or maybe they've been "gone" so long that they've been eternally lost to the chaotic maelstrom. No one living can tell these things. And that may be for the best.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Making hay while the sun shines...

I love that old adage. What it means to me, in this day and age, is that you've got to work while the muse has its talons in you,'s gone. Piffft! Like morning mist under the hot sun, it just somehow disappears.

My daughters (10 and 7) have finally rolled up a couple of characters for a sandbox game of Labyrinth Lord. I was (and still am really) vacillating back and forth between LL and Swords and Wizardry. I finally decided upon Labyrinth Lord due to the existence of the thief. I know that there's a lot of hemming and hawing in regards to the thief and the part that class plays in the game, but I'm a fan. Simple and straightforward.

What I've got so far is a small town called Botkinburg (from C&C's Blacktooth Ridge), which I thought apropos since we've just returned from a trip to Germany and much of what the Chenaults have written seems to be very Germanic in name and feel. Let's just say it's the mood I'm currently in and go with that.

I'm using the Hruesen river from the Troll Lord Games setting as well...since, well it's there. Beyond that though, it's a crap-shoot. I've gathered all sorts of ideas from near and far and have yet to truly place them on a map, not to mention flesh them out. So, I thought I'd try and post a couple of ideas / locations per day (not likely, but hey, a guy can dream can't he?).

Up first, is the hermit from B2 Keep on the Borderlands. I've always loved the Erol Otis illustration and I always imagined that there was a lot more to the gnarly dude than the little snippet mentioned in the module.

So here's my take (apologies to GG if I'm treading on toes or messing with "canon".):

The Hermit of Tangle Downs is of an indeterminate age, as well as race. No one has spoken with him in ages, but he's also been a part of the local lore for as long as anyone can remember. The Tangle Downs is an area rife with danger, and the hermit sits right amidst it without a care in the world, with only a wild cougar to call companion. Now why might that be?

As previously stated, no one knows where the Hermit came from, he's "always been there". Which might seem to be the case, but the truth of the matter is, he's a dead wizard's "familiar" guarding a long forgotten library.

Long before this area was inhabited by humans, a stranger came out of the far east, some say from beyond the ocean, some say from even further. But the exact location has been lost to the passage of time. What is known, through old wives tales or just plain myth, is that he worked in the arcane arts and bent the forces of chaos to his will in order to build an abode. An ebon tower of basalt had sprung up over night. And within? There were none about, not elves, not gnomes, nor dwarves or hobbits, that were brave enough to explore that fell dwelling.

Long years passed, the wizard disappeared and the tower fell into disrepair...decaying quicker than natural. There are those that say that it was chaos claiming its own.

Today the Hermit sits and waits. He guards that which is invaluable; lore of the forgotten ages.

While the Hermit is interesting, what lies below is even more so. The ancient oak that grows twistingly towards the sky was at one time just a seedling in an old crumbling parapet garden, sitting atop the tower of that eastern practitioner of dark arts. The energies released from thaumaturgic circles and night-borne rituals eventually made their way to the tree, and over time fed it in a way that no natural rain or sunshine ever could.

Over the ages the tower crumbled, but the oak endured, as did the servant within. His master had died long ago, but the enchantments that kept him here were strong beyond imagining. Decades, then eventually eons passed and the lure of the knowledge drew him to the shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls. There he feasted upon dark thoughts and ancient, twisting wisdom until he had sated himself.

The ancient tree's roots slowly replaced much of the stone in that top tower room, the only room to survive the passage of time. And in so doing, a vaulted chamber of stone and living, enchanted wood became the resting place of much stygian learning.

These days the Hermit sits in a small, simple room within the tree, above the ancient library. He guards and watches as he's always done. And every once in a while, if the right question is asked, if the right tone of voice is used and the correct offerings made, the Hermit's mind takes fire and it is possible to hold discourse with him....For a short time. His knowledge of the arcane, of the places between places, creatures from the depths of the void and what once stood in the area, are beyond ken. He is truly a font.

But, this slight window does not remain open for long. The chaos of what slithers upon the pages below overcomes the rational, and he reverts, back to the mad Hermit that has forever dwelt in the Tangle Downs.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Avatar

This guy is so cool.... I can't even tell you what Hobbes means to me. He and Calvin were, and are, such an integral part of who I was during the time that the cartoon was nationally syndicated. Bill Waterson is brilliant.

I mean really, there's no one I can think of that's capable of coming up with such a loveable couple of characters.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From a Discussion...

This is weak, I know, but in the effort to post more often I'm clipping a piece I wrote as a comment on The Emperyan that I thought was relevant:

"An interesting thought occurred to me the other day as I sat having a conversation with one of my pals about this "old school" movement; the rules matter. Now that epiphany might seem both blatantly obvious as well as simplistic but it's the way that I came to it that brought it home for me.

After commenting that too many rules constrict imagination my buddy said well why don't we take the approach of rules subtraction and apply old school methodology to our current (4E) game. I've heard this argument before...

In a nutshell, it doesn't work. At least within the construct of 4E. 

Here's an example: Say I've got a thief (er, rogue...sorry.) and he's in a bit of a tussle in the local constabulary. The room is strewn with tables and furniture of one sort or another and he's eager to put his vaunted dexterity to the test. After all, that's what thieves are known for right?

So he plans to flip a footstool into the face of an oncoming assailant and then leap onto the table in order to foil the clumsy attack of the bumbling guardsman. 

OK, so in 4E it plays out rather like this:
DM: Your turn...
Player: I kick the small footstool through the air towards the oncoming guard on my left there in order to slow his approach.
DM: What power are you using to do this?
Player: Power? Uhm...Er...


Scene dramatics fizzle out and fade to grey.

To put it simply, the 4E rules are meant to be used in a very certain way. Granted, a creative group could describe what they're doing and bend the power to the action. But IF it doesn't specifically fit then they're shoe-horning things. And this is a pain. Why do it? Why not use rules that were meant for this style of play?

Thus the resurgence of "old school". IMHO of course."

Friday, October 10, 2008

House of the Worm Part 1

Hey ya, (faint echoes from an empty chamber...) ;-)

I had mentioned earlier that I had run a game of Microlite20 during a fest, and that I was going to post the recap of the session. Well here's part 1. Enjoy:

Players / PCs:
Ben - Human Rogue (Atadus "The Salesman")
Chris - 1/2 Elf Ranger (Duncan Sabastian McLoud..(NO that's not a misspelling of McLeod))
Ed - Lizardman Fighter (Sleeeestak)
Ray - Drow Paladin (Zenin)

DM: Jeff

A bright Fall day dawns clear and crisp upon the small town of Botkinburg. Located on the far eastern borders of the Great Kingdom, the town embraces some of the less savory citizens that the kingdom has to offer. It is as far as an individual might get from the law, and yet still be in "civilized" lands... For not far to the east, in fact just across the Hruesen river, lies the Wilderness. And everyone knows that the Wilderness holds only death and danger.

It is this fact that draws the four adventurers to the small town, for it is well known among that particular sect that danger usually equates to money and glory. The Bent Hook is the only tavern in town, better known as "Ortloff's House of Sludge" (for the thick beer brewed in the basement), it provides a warm place to sleep and incidentally, also some valuable information. Apparently many years ago there was another group of adventurers that had tested the Wilderness to the east, and it was here, the Bent Hook, that they utilized as their base between forays. Unfortunately about 10 years ago there was a fire that burnt The Bent Hook to the ground and killed a few of the adventurers. The catastrophe caused the group to disband...An adventuring party hasn't been seen in Botkinburg since.

A back room of the tavern was where they met, planned and drew what they new of the Wilderness on the wall with whatever was handy. Often as not it was a knife or some charcoal from the fireplace used to indelibly mark their progress. Over time a map emerged. It was not particularly accurate but it was a log of where the adventurers had been, the things they had seen and those area that had as yet to be conquered. This wall became famous amongst the patrons at the House of Sludge, it gave the common man a view into the danger that lies only a short distance beyond their dusty doorsteps.

Fast forward a decade and the only remaining part of the famous wall is a section that Ortloff found amongst the ashes after the fire that destroyed his establishment. This small surviving piece of wall seemed to detail an area called Pike Hollow, somewhere off to the north east of Botkinburg...Maybe a day or so of marching through tangled woods, sloping hills and sharp ravines. In the Hollow though lies a hill, and upon that hill lies the House of the Worm. According to the small section of map, it had never truly been explored, but only just "stumbled" upon. And engraved in the wood next to the map itself was a poem of sorts, some if it burnt and obscured by the fire:

"Below the ground, where pale worms crawl,
lies darkness vast, so cold, and deep.
Lord Ramm holds court at the end of the fall,
and there lies the tool, the treasure we seek.
His mind has sipped chaos at the edges of space,
appease his longing with artifice, lor... (burnt)
... (burnt)... of sanguine will slake."

Ortloff takes the group outside and points off into the hazy distance, "That's 'bout where Pike Holler lies...least ways, that's what them that's been there's told me. You git across that river by way of the Troll Bridge." Each of the adventurers look at one another, "Troll Bridge or Toll Bridge?" 

Ortloff scratches his head, nods and says, "Yeah, that's what I said." 

Meanwhile, Duncan takes careful note and memorizes the landscape as reference in preparation for the march through the dark trees.

A few preparations take all of an hour and the doughty band of explorers are off, heading down the bank of the mighty Hruesen river in search of this "Toll / Troll" bridge. Warm and crisp fall weather accompanies the group on their journey to the bridge, but the landscape changes quite drastically. It's more than obvious that the town's folk do not venture this way, for the banks are overgrown with thick vegetation and there's nary a trail to be seen.

Not long after their departure though the group happens across an old, weathered, stone bridge spanning the Hruesen. This must be it. Sitting in the middle of nowhere this obviously dwarven structure has no roads leading to it nor is anything evident upon the opposite shore. Old Spanish moss hangs under the bridge, slowly dragging it's hoary fingers idly in the water and lichens cover nearly every other weather worn surface. Nonetheless, it looks structurally sound.

Atadus approaches from the side, under cover of the foliage, while using the susurrus of the Hruesen to mask the sound of his approach. The contrast between the shadows and the bright sun makes peering under the bridge difficult, and therefore the thief is taking his time. Zenin is not of the mind to "wait", and he proceeds to stomp across the bridge, throwing caution (and prudence?) to the wind. Sleeestack joins the dark elf, and the noise of metal clad boots on stone reverberates up and down the river.

A dark shape, detaches itself from under the bridge like a bloated bi-pedal spider and clambers up from the dark. "Who walks upon my bridge?" rumbles forth from the creature as it makes its way up. Zenin answers with a query of his own, "Who wants to know?". As the creature finally makes its way to the top of the bridge and stands up, it's full size can be seen. Standing between 7 to 8 feet tall, the hunched grey-skinned brute's hands swing below its knees and nearly drag on the stone of the bridge. Beetling eyes stare from beneath huge brow ridges set in a craggy face appearing to have been carved from primordial stone.

"I want to know....I am the keeper of this bridge. And to use it you must pay." rasps the monstrosity. Zenin asks what the toll might consist of. Goats, replies the guardian. "Well, we're fresh out. I think we'll just pass instead." quips the dark elf paladin as he attempts to nimbly step past the brute.

"No, you NOT pass!" roars the creature as it takes a double armed swipe. Battle is joined, and as hoary as this monstrosity seems, it is no match for the combined might of the adventurers. Sleeeestack's enchanted sword proves to come in handy, as part way into the combat the creature slams its palms down onto the stony surface of the bridge and quickly regenerates all of its wounds minus those made from the lizardman barbarian's blade.

Soon enough the wounds are too much to overcome, and the behemoth topples over. As it's massive body strikes the bridge a resounding "CRACK" splits the air and dust rises from the ancient structure as it starts to shake in its foundations. Seems that the guardian was connected to the bridge in more ways than one.

Atadus, ever the conscientious adventurer quickly grabs a rope from his pack, ties it about his waste and hand the bitter end to his Lizardman companion. With a shout he runs across the shaking bridge, plants a foot and swings over the side, using the rope as a lever...and up underneath near the large central pillar. Quickly surveying the situation through choking dust and falling stone, the thief spies a cleft in the pillar with a small black box firmly ensconced. He nabs it and swings back out. Just as the far end of the bridge on the Botkinburg side collapses with a groan and a splash.

The small worn box is dealt with quickly and opens to reveal 40 or so grey coins. They are obviously quite old, as the face of each is stamped with a frightful lizardlike countenance of a long forgotten king of the Lizard Empire. It is not recognizable by any of the adventurers so they divide them up and pocket their just rewards. Wounds are cleaned, a little food is broken out and thirsts slaked, and afterwards the journey towards the House of the Worm is continued.

The foliage becomes thicker and the travel that much more difficult. Duncan takes his bearings many times, and the party is thankful for that as they make their way through tangles of scrub oak and tight underbrush. As the day passes its zenith Duncan raises his hand as he hears a noise up ahead...

Again, Zenin seems to care naught for subterfuge nor the party's safety as he continues on his noisy way. Sleeeestack shrugs his massive shoulders, and again, follows the paladin's lead. Atadus and Duncan, on the other hand, figure that this is the perfect time for prudence as they disappear quietly into the surrounding brush.

Stepping out of the forest not far ahead comes a group of men...if they can be called that. Rumors and children's ryhmes have hinted at these proto-humans for decades. From the mist shrouded past, these creatures appear man-like but yet again, not like "modern" man. They have jutting brow ridges, thicker jaws and are stoutly built, not to mention the primitive skins they're clothed in and the stone tipped weapons they carry... These are most certainly "cave men".

A brutish character steps to the fore, he raises his hands in the air and stands still, appraising the newcomers. The only sound is the creak of Duncan's bowstring.

No one makes a move as each side sizes up the other. There seem to be nearly a dozen of these cave men and they are obviously on some type of hunting expedition, as small capons and birds hang from crude rawhide belts alongside leathern sacks and other stone trinkets of lesser known use.

Surprisingly, the apparent leader steps forward, hands still raised in the air, and in halting common asks where the characters are bound to. They mention that they are going to slay evil. The leader of the cavemen shakes his head in confusion, but at the same time seems to take particular notice of the metal weapons that the dark elf and lizardman are wielding. He takes another few steps forward and slaps his hand on an obsidian axe, while still looking longingly at the metal weapons. " kill. Good. Last long and long." he says, and he points to the weapons.

On a hunch Zenin pulls one of the platinum coins from the bridge out of his pouch and shows it to the leader. Looking over his shoulder at his wary men, the proto-man approaches and reaches out for the coin. He looks at it with amazement and then bites it, apparently satisfied he puts it in a sack at his waist and fishes around in it for a second. He draws forth 5 small, smooth, black stones. "Fire god live here", he says as he points to the stones, and then he drops them in Zenin's palm. They're immediately warm...warmer than they should be.

Looking closely, Zenin sees a dim red glow at the stone's heart. Their use is determined soon enough...

With a nod of his shaggy head, the leader turns and strides off into the thick woods. His hunters, following in a loose band, disappear with him, like wisps of smoke on the wind. After some dead reckoning by the ranger, the group decides that they're moving in generally the correct direction as they move off through trees.

Time passes and the terrain becomes more ruggedly hilled, with small gullies and ravines appearing, making travel that much more difficult. Eventually, towards evening, a hill is crested and off in the distance the ruins of a tumbled tower are sighted. At last, the House of the Worm.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A few thoughts on differences

"In many ways the steady march away from original D&D has been a sustained effort to remove the effects of a bad GM on the game." - Quote from SquareMans blog

I was reading a few of my "breakfast blogs" while partaking in my brisky mornin munchin (I don't really "like" Gungans btw), and noticed this quote on SquareMans blog. For some reason, maybe it was the right time in the right place, it resonated with me.

I've had the discussion with a buddy of mine about why Dungeons and Dragons has evolved in the way that it has. We're were both pretty sure that it has to do with a couple of things:
  1. Remove the Bad GM (as per SquareMans) from the equation.
  2. Something to do with Gary Gygax (RIP) and his view of how people were playing the game.
  3. Allow people to gather at conventions and be able to play w/out sitting around a table for 3 hours trying to figure out a standardized set of "house rules".
Now I'm not claiming that I know it all. In fact, quite the opposite. I don't claim to know diddly really. I've got a fair amount of years under my belt in terms of playing the game.... but that hardly qualifies me as any sort of an expert. But, like everyone else, I've got an opinion and lordy lou...lookee here, we have a medium for me to espouse that opinion.

If I were to add to SquareMan's quote up above I'd say that in so doing, the game has actually deprecated the DM. What I mean is that the rules have become so encompassing in their attempt at standardization and the "fair" game, that they've relegated the DM to the role of adjudicator and story teller.

Some of you may say, hey, that doesn't sound so bad. But when I say "story teller" I'm also saying that if you laid out a module in front of the group and said "read the text box, nothing else", AND you had a rules lawyer in the group, you could do away with the DM completely. This is a strong statement... I know. But if you think about it, you'll see that there might be a kernel of truth in what I say.

Let's take a modern day game (4E for argument's sake) as an example, it runs very much like a war game. You have "figures" that move in squares. They have powers that they can utilize on a time-managed scale. (Sort of like you could "force march" your troops only so many times / game.) Now take a recent WotC released module. It has everything you need as a DM stated right there. You read out of the boxes (if you like, you're never forced of course) and utilize the monsters given.

A nice neat plot path dictates how things will play out in their entirety. Now obviously things don't always go as planned...but the skeleton, musculature and nervous system have been laid our for you. The players add the skin. Viola, you've got a game!

In the above scenario, given honest gamers, you could lay the module out in front of them and tell them to only read the boxed sections. When they need the monsters they could read all they need from either the core books or the module itself and play against them.

Example (most of this is made up...I don't have a 4e PHB in front of me):
  • Player - "I shift one square and use my daily, 'Positioning Strike' power." clickety clickety roll... Success! Orc takes 2W+Dex and player can move adversary's mini 2 squares in any direction.
  • Orc - (stats and powers listed for player to look at.) Takes a "move action" to reposition and uses its "Octopus from Above" encounter power...clickety clicket...die is rolled. Success! Player takes 2w and is now considered grappled.
  • Player 2 - Rinse Repeat
This is obviously a very "dry" example. But the current game doesn't scream for colorful descriptions...It's all about powers, combinations and tactical movement. This honestly  doesn't require a DM IMHO.

When I was young I used to play Squad Leader a LOT. I often played it solo though... I couldn't find many people interested in playing a game with me. This was a wonderful way to learn strategy and how you could use the rules to win.... Hint, hint.

What ever happened to, "I kick the table over, put a shoulder to it and push it into the orcs coming through the door"? These types of things take a DM to adjudicate. It's a free form style that can't be defined by rules. In 4E I'm consumed with staring at my sheet and powers and trying to figure out what might be the best tactical solution to the current situation. D R Y.

I'm not complaining really. I like 4E for what it is. But it is NOT in any way related to Dungeons and Dragons of yesteryear. Not one bit.

Friday, October 3, 2008


This is a game blog. Mostly about RPGs, fantasy role playing in particular. Dungeons and Dragons, Microlite20, and Castles and Crusades are all my flavors of the day. I like all of them for different reasons.

Dungeons and Dragons 4e: I like it because that's what the group plays. In my experience, it's a good game for a few short sessions. It's fun in a miniatures, wargamey kind of way.

Microlite20: Is tons of fun for an old school, rules (very) lite style game. I've only played it for a short while, so my perspective might be a bit skewed. But man, I had an assload of fun running it!

Castles and Crusades: This was the game that I stumbled upon, and eventually chose, after my disassociation with Dungeons and Dragons when WotC announced the release of 4e. It's a great game, but you know what? I almost think that microlite20 could conceivably take its place. I'm weighing the options.

I digress. This isn't about what system I'm into playing at the moment, but rather this post was spurred by a dragon's foot post about the "first game" you played in. I think I've written about how I started, about Jim and his Napoleonics games and his love affair with everything Tolkein.

But my first game... What was that like? I remember the guys: Fish (our DM), Dave, Wayne, Shawn and myself had all gathered around Fish's kitchen table. I had been introduced to the rules (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook) by way of Fish handing it to me in the Jr. High (I was 13) gymnasium and saying "Here are the rules. Read em."

Now pause for a moment and imagine that. Someone handing you a book like the old PHB with the only explanation being that it's a game about Elves, Dwarfs and Orcs. He told me that the first few chapters were all I needed to read. First few CHAPTERS?!?

I'd been a war game buff for quite a few years at this point, and therefore was no stranger to rule sets that needed a few readings for clarity's sake. I dug into the PHB with relish when I got home that night. I loved parts...and I hated others. I was stunned at the difficulty. The book was pages upon pages of small print. Yeah there were really cool pictures in there too, and that helped motivate me somewhat.

I spent a few days with that book and read the first few chapters, as I was told, and then skimmed the rest. Confusion reigned. I was so completely lost that I thought I'd never ever understand the game. But I went to the first session anyway.

And had an absolute blast. I rolled up a magic user. We used the old 3d6 in order method and I apparently had a high intelligence. I don't remember his name. I don't remember much about him at all, other than he had magic missile and a dagger.

Fish (if I remember correctly) was either using Quasquetron, or that dungeon out of the back of the Holmes rules. He'd expanded upon it quite a bit using graph paper and I think he had numerous levels. The structure was totally cool, it was a maze of rooms and passages, some worked, some natural.

And at the end of one of the levels? A room with a hydra and a secret door, behind which was a staircase leading down to the next level! Oh man...that was seriously the coolest thing in the world to me at that time. I mean, a hydra! Whoa. And it was quite obviously guarding something REALLY amazing.

One thing I'd forgot to mention, I was late to the party. What I mean is, the other guys had been playing for a little while before I joined, they had a few sessions (at least) under their belts and had a slight inkling of what was to go on. I on the other hand, was clueless.

I remember that the most confusing thing for me was initiative. When Fish told us to roll for initiative Shawn picked up a d6 and rolled. I remember being completely baffled at the outcome. We rolled high, we won. But what did we win? It took me some time to come to grips with that concept.

I fell in absolute love with the game though. I was an instant convert. I adored JRR's works and I voraciously played war games when I could. You might say that I was the perfect target market. A 13 yr old boy, from a small cow town, surrounded by brainiacs of like mind, who all LOVED the genre and had VERY fertile imaginations. (Fish ended up getting a doctorate in lasers. Dave an engineering degree then an MBA...and the list goes on. Very very smart folks taught me the game.)

So what happened? I don't remember the specifics. I think we fought some orcs. I zapped one and fought off a few with my dagger. Shawn played a 1/2 orc fighter with an 18/00 strength, he was the rock star of the party, dealing out killing blows left and right. I was back row fodder. I honestly don't remember what Dave and Wayne played.

In the end though I got munched by a giant ant. It must have been either the first or second session. I know it was early on. But holy hannah, what a blast. I rolled up a ranger for my next character and named him Sparrow Hawk. (Can you guess what I was reading at the time?) I kept that character alive somehow and played him all the way through Jr. High school, through High School and on into University. I eventually retired him at 16th level,  but did I ever get some serious mileage out of that guy. I still have that character downstairs in a folder.

It all started way back in '77. To think, I've been playing this game for 31 years, and I don't see any sign of stopping anywhere in the near future...I'm now teaching my daughters. ;-)

Game on.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fest report

Well, the fest happened last weekend and even though we were missing a few folks, it went off without a hitch. I think that I had mentioned in my previous post that our regular DM had to bail at the last moment due to work conflicts. Bummer...

So we had to make due. And make due we did. ;-)

We ended up playing a game of Settlers of Catan on Friday night. It was good fun and Ben won, apropos since it was his "going away" party in the first place. Lots of beer was consumed and we all had a great time. I'd never played the game actually, and I have to say that it was really a cool experience. There's a LOT more strategy involved than I had initially thought.

Saturday dawned bright and early...and we started gaming around noon. Chris ended up sleeping late, as was his due.

We started in on a game of Microlite20 that I had prepared for. I had created a small folder for each of the players that contained rules and a couple of character sheets. The aim was to let the guys experience a rules-lite old school-type game. I don't think that there was anyone in that room that had ever played an edition of Dungeons and Dragons earlier than 2nd edition. This was their introduction to a type of gaming that has sadly gone the way of the dodo.

Rolling up characters took us all of about 20 to 30 minutes, including explaining some of the quirkier parts of the rules. After we had finished with that I placed them in a tavern (of course) and told them about a place called 'The House of the Worm" that was located to the northeast, in a place called "Pike Hollow". (Yes, I borrowed freely from a few be sure.)

The game played quite smoothly and there were very very few pauses for rules adjudication. I was pleased. Most of the game-play revolved around a more free-form style which was new to most of the guys. They are all experienced role players though and picked up on the spirit of the game and had a bunch of fun.

I won't go into detail about the game itself other than to say that I had a complete BLAST running the game. It was so ad-lib and free flowing that I was ecstatic. I tried very hard for a swords and sorcery appeal, something that just dripped old school flavor. I think I succeeded, the guys all raved about the game when we broke for dinner.

Unfortunately we didn't continue, but instead decided to give one of the other guys a chance at running Star Wars. Which was fun.... But a little more "involved" than the microlite20 game.

It was funny, as I started rolling up and creating my Star Wars character I was immediately lamenting the heavy-handed approach to running a game. And Star Wars isn't all that rules intensive compared to other systems. Still, it was a HUGE difference from microlite20.

The guy running the game, while good at making stuff up on the fly, was definitely into the rules and a little less into the "game" and flavor. I'm not complaining, I had fun, I'm just making an observation.

I'd like to run another game of microlite20. I'm not sure that it will ever happen though...sadly the guys I play with are REALLY into the WotC thing right now. "Sigh", what's a guy to do? The upside though is that I finally got to play a rules-lite, old school session with some grown ups AND one of the guys playing totally dug the game and setting and was talking about trying to run a sandbox game with me sometime in the future. Yeah!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A short one shot

So it's "fest" time. A buddy of mine that I regularly game with is heading to Japan in November and we're trying to give him a send off. Truth be told, he's a great guy and it's a shame to see him leave. But hey, real life. We all know something about that.

A "fest"? you ask... Yes, this is an extended gaming experience. We started it in University. Actually that's not completely true. When I was playing way back in Jr. high and High school we used to have sleep overs and play nearly all night, wake up the next day and play some more.

In University though we'd officially named it "fest". We'd gather a great big group of guys together (sometimes up to a dozen) and play all Friday night into Saturday, take a small break and play into Sunday. Then we'd pass out. Ohmanohmanohman...It was BIG fun. I was young, had the time and energy and we ALL had the passion. This was back in the 80's.

Now I'm older, have a family, commitments and all sorts of other things. Truth be told, my old group (most of the guys I'd gamed with in University) continued on with this crazy tradition for quite some time. But it's been years since that group has done this. It's a shame really.

But I have been gaming with another group of guys in the last few years and we've actually revived the tradition. So I'm back in the saddle per-se. 

The coming weekend is a fest. It's Ben's send off party. We'll be converging on a friend's house up in the mountains (neutral ground works well for these events, no interruptions.) and bringing lots of food, beer, games and just general good will. Our game of choice is going to be the current campaign we're playing in; A 4E game. We're all having fun in it even though it wouldn't be my rule set of choice. (But that's fodder for another post.)

Years ago we used to set up the fest as either an introduction or finale to a campaign. OR we'd create power monger characters for a one-shot. Big fun... But not this time, we'll be continuing in a campaign we've been playing in for the last few months. It's all good. It's a send-off so it'll be fun no matter what we do.

On to the title of this blog, "A short one shot". As mentioned above, we have a fairly large group of guys descending on a remote location in the mountains in order to play a game over a weekend. We'll be gaming from Friday night through Sunday afternoon. One of the logistical issues with something like this is getting everyone to the same place at roughly the same time. And to be honest, I think our DM might be having issues with his car.

So, in lieu, I've decided (all by my lonesome...i.e. no input from my comrades.) to throw something "old school" together, just in case. The question is "What do I throw together"?

I mentioned "old school" for a reason. That type of rule set is conducive to quick character generation and a light hearted romp through some kind of encounter. It's what OD&D was created to do. Am I going to use OD&D? In all honesty, I doubt it. I'm just not familiar enough with it to run a smooth, fast, enjoyable scenario. I'll quite likely be using my Castles and Crusades rules. They're fast. Not quite as fast as OD&D, but I know them better.

This type of game (very short, maybe a couple of hours max) lends itself well to the swords and sorcery pastiche. And that's what I'm going to try and leverage for this particular game. Now, I don't even know if this is going to come about, like I said, I've entered into this w/ no one else's knowledge. It's all my own doing. But it's fun. I'm enjoying the little exercise and I can re-purpose whatever I create for my sandbox game I plan on running one of these days.

Here's where we get to the gist of the post, what do I run? I've been looking at a few things, and here are some of the ideas:
  1. Gabor Lux's fantastic "The Tomb-Complex of Ymmu M’Kursa" in issue one of FightOn magazine.
  2. Thulsa's rendition of the timeless Conan classic "Tower of the Elephant" (from Footprints magazine number 13)
  3. Gabor Lux's "Isle of the Water Sprites" for the JG Wilderlands setting.
  4. Davis Chenault's "The Slag Heap"
  5. And truly any number of older things from my JG collection. (I've even thought that maybe I'd use a small portion of "Caverns of Thracia")
Anyway, I'd have to do a bit of converting on most of those things listed but I could honestly do much of it on the fly. I'd like to have something that's very focused and short to run the guys through. I'd have a set of characters premade for them and a list of magic items from which to choose. I think that I'm going to run something anywhere from 3rd level through maybe 9th or so. I'll have to see.

As an aside, I had my daughters rolling up pregen characters last night. The old 3d6 in order method of course! LOL

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why NOT 4e?

I'm a self professed fan of what many have come to call "old school" gaming. I LOVE the older versions of some games. They were amazingly well suited for the type of gaming that I fell in love with.

It was 1976 (I was 12 or 13 at the time) and I had been painting Napoleonic miniatures for a guy named Jim, a work-mate of my mom's. This guy played wargames...and I was entranced. He knew I was a big fantasy fan, we had spoken many times of the Hobbit and how I adored that book. One day he lent me his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I returned it soon afterwards and just gushed about it to him. He laughed, knowing that I'd be drawn in. About a week or so later he delivered my next box of minis to paint via my mother. I opened it and "What?!?"... I was staring at 4 lizard men. I had NO idea what they were at the time, and I couldn't for the life of me, imagine what they could be for.

But man, they were soooooo cool! I can remember them as if they were lying in front of me today: Each was carrying a round shield and curved scimitar, standing splayed-legged with their swords over their heads, long tails trailing out behind. I immediately phoned Jim to ask what they were. He told me that they were miniatures to a new game he was trying out with his buddies called Chainmail. He invited me to come over and check it out the next weekend.

Well I don't remember exactly what happened after that, but I do remember that I started playing after being introduced to a super brainy group of guys in 7th grade; Fish, Dave and Wayne. We hit it off immediately.

Now, this all took place in a pretty small cow-town, I knew Wayne via his father, who was a basketball referee and baseball coach. I had played against Wayne in baseball for years. You have to remember that back in the 70's there wasn't really a stigma attached to Dungeons and Dragons yet. EVERYONE played...Or at least wanted to play. It was a "cool" thing to do.

We four (Fish, Dave, Wayne and I) played every chance we could get. We even played in the stairwell at school once during a fire drill. We were very much entranced by the game.

Initially we played with the Holmes set with a bunch of rules thrown in out of the LBB's, which Fish owned. In fact, the game was introduced to Fish via a girl he was infatuated with who had family in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She had heard of this game during her summer break and she brought it home, to Loveland. Where she showed Fish. And then viola! Viral marketing at its best.

So anyway, we played and played and played. Most of my Jr. High and Highschool experiences were with AD&D, we had left Holmes behind because of the level restrictions. On into university we played this crazy game.

It's now the 80's and our group of friends in Boulder is ALL about Dungeons and Dragons. We often had 10 to 12 people at the table. It is with great fondness that I remember those insane nights and weekends, playing AD&D until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. We even went so far as to take the game with us on Spring Break.

So there you have a brief history. I started with an amalgamation of Holmes and the LBB version of the game and very soon afterwards moved naturally into AD&D. We completely skipped the Mentzer editions...and I sometimes regret that. I'd be willing to bet that we would have loved that version. But in all honesty, Fish, our DM, was a very detail and rules oriented kind of guy. Not that he was a rules lawyer, what he said was law. And we all knew that sometimes you couldn't find those "laws" in the book. That's just the way it went.

Flash foward to modern times. I've played nearly every version of the game (Not Mentzer), and have had fun with each and every one. But one of the things that I noticed over the years is that the game had somehow changed. Now of course the long tread of years have also left their indellible mark on me as well. I've changed too.

But the game, it seemed to bog. And the DM just wasn't a DM any longer. How can I explain this? The rules had been codified to the point where there was an entry in the books for nearly anything you could think of doing. And unfortunately I wasn't playing with my best friends anymore. I had moved on to play with different people. And some of them were REALLY into the rules as written.

Turns out that since there was a rule for nearly everything, the DM wasn't really needed. He / she was there strictly to read out of the module and roll for the monsters. And even then, the players dictated nearly everything. That fine balance that was responsible for so much of the experience of yesteryear was completely missing.  It was all player driven now.

Don't get me wrong, I undersand what part the players take in a game. But the game was now all "plot" driven, rules spelled out, souless muckery. 3.0 and 3.5, while initially shiny and pretty, soon lost their lustre. I played them the entire time, I didn't really have much choice in the matter due to my compatriots, but the game grew boring. This was a first.

I had played the game for over 20 years and I don't ever recall growing bored with the game. What was going on? Had I just grown jaded? Enter my daughters.

My two little girls were just getting to the age that they were asking to play "Dungeons and Dragons". My eldest had read nearly all of the fantasy (appropriate for her age of 9) that she could get her hands on, and the youngest always wanted to play as long as it was a game.

So I thought, I can't introduce them to Dungeons and Dragons in it's current incarnation. It's just not made for people of that age. So I went out and looked around. And I came up with Castles and Crusades, a game from Troll Lord Games. (Troll Lord) It was just what I was looking for. A game who's main guide included both player and DM rules, was hardbound and cost less than $20. Oh, and the serious selling point? It was compatible with ALL of my older stuff.

I sat down with the rules and had them basically down pat in the span of 2 hours. The girls and I rolled up characters and within an hour we were playing. It was honestly THAT simple. And guess what. That feeling of joy had returned. The game was fast, free-flowing, and simple. That was all it took.

Now, there was the problem of my regular group. We had invited a new guy into the fold (6 of us) and he was now DMing. He is in all honesty and EXCELLENT DM. Very creative and quick with rules adjucation. He was also a very big fan of WotC and the newest and greatest iteration of Dungeons and Dragons: 4th Edition.

We we tried it. And frankly, I liked it. Initially. It was, and continues to be (after roughly 10 or so sessions) a miniatures based tactical war game. There is a little bit of story and plot in there somewhere, but it's nearly all centered on encounters, powers and squad-based, coordinated combat.

I won't malign our DM. I think that he's still getting into the swing of things and the game has the potential of changing once we all have a decent grasp on the new rules. (They are NOT at all similar to the old rules. It's a different game completely.)

My enjoyment of the game now stems from playing with a group of contemporaries. But in all honesty, I really like the game with my daughters a little more....It's much more free-spirited and less "heavy". No huge plot lines. No constant battles that run on and on. I'm at a loss here, I don't know what to say. The game that I'm playing with my daughters seems to embody what "old school" means to me.

Why NOT 4E? Well, to be truthful, it's not nearly as fun as other systems out there. Mainly Castles and Crusades. I'd be willing to bet though that I could insert Mentzer or Holmes and we'd have just as much fun.

I wish I could get our group to try it out. But unfortunately I don't think that would be at all possible. Well, that's OK, my daughters are turning into fantastic little players...and their best years are still in front of them. ;-)