Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rise of the Runelords - S&W whitebox

Wow, it's been a very long time since I've actually written any of my thoughts on my daughter's game. But I thought that maybe I'd better write this down in order to keep things straight. And what better place than here?

The characters:
  • Coral, a fourth level Elven Adventurer.
  • Quick Silver, a fourth level Gnome Adventurer (I've modeled this as a mix between a halfling and dwarf, something more akin to 1E AD&D's gnome.)

A quick recap of past events: Sandpoint has been saved from the goblin incursion but now a murderer is loose. And it turns out to be none other than the foppish noble, Aldern Foxglove. For the twist, he has fallen for Coral.

The depravations that he has enacted upon the innocents of Sandpoint are clearly some type of twisted sacrifice to "his love", Coral. It comes to the fore that not only is Aldern a murderous maniac, but also some type of horrid undead, a ghast by all estimations!

His murderous spree in the surrounding countryside has created an army of ghouls, which over the course of a few weeks provides no end of action for Sandpoint's militia. The only known cure for this horrid outbreak is to figuratively cut the head off the snake, and that means that Aldern must die.

Help is sent for and a iron-hard holy man of Pharasma is sent from Magnimar. A certain Solomon Kane (I know, I know...I just couldn't help myself. Could you, if your audience had never heard of this wonderful character?) shows up on the front stoop the church in Sandpoint, calling for Coral and Quick Silver.

His specialty is the hunting and slaying of abominations, specifically the undead. He is also interested in hearing what the two adventurers have found during their escapades earlier in the area. Apparently he's also a high ranking official in the Pathfinder Society, and an invitation to the two is given, provided they prove their worth in the upcoming fight against the ghast.

Gathering up the necessary supplies (plenty of oil and holy water) the group, consisting of Shalelu the Elf, Mock Rockson the dwarf, Coral, Quick Silver and of course Solomon Kane, ride of at first light, heading for Foxglove manor, better known as "The Misgivings".

Arriving a few hours into the morning, the group finds the horrid abode surrounded in odd-acting ravens and crows, chasing them away is not hard though, led by Kane's faith in his goddess. Yet, they don't go far. And this is troublesome.

Figuring that the best way into the house is either through the back, or down into the well, the party follows their noses, figuratively. And thus select the well due to the taint wafting up on the air currents.

Mock is first down due to his aversion to heights and climbing. He makes it w/out difficulty, lights a torch and secures a "beach head". The others follow quickly and they slowly make their way into the darkness.

As the natural tunnel widens out into a limestone cavern, they are beset upon by an enormous bat. The battle is brief though as the group ply their bows to good affect, bringing the beast down w/ nary a scratch. One of the bodies in the cavern proves to be a well known criminal, known by both Shalelu as well as Solomon. A bounty of 500 gold can be collected for proof of his demise. They take his ring, gold, sword and hat as proof. His rotted carcass is well beyond "ripe" and no one is interested in carrying it.

Further in the group runs afoul of a pack of ghouls. They quickly slay them but not before the noise brings four more. Solomon proves his worth and destroys three of them as they approach w/in 30'. (Turning range in my game) Carefully the group moves yet further into the dark, mold strewn caverns.

A huge natural ampitheatre is stumbled upon, wherein a ramp winds its way down to the surface of the water. And along this ramp opens the mouth of a tunnel as well as a stone door. But the group has not the time to explore much beyond a glimpse as out of the dark come howling yet more ghouls. These were once goblins, but are yet fierce opponents.

Arrows take down the first few while the last two are brought low by Solomon's turning. (He can do this but three times / day) Breathing hard the party takes stock of their situation and in the course of this a door is heard to bang open... Light spills forth as Aldern steps out, calling for "his love" to join him.

Coral sneers and throws curses his direction. This enrages Aldern, screaming obscenities, he sprints up the ramp towards the group, waving his gore encrusted razor the entire way.

Solomon steps forward and turns the ghast at the last possible moment! Yet Aldern strains as if against an invisible force to reach is one true love, Coral. And then, he spins on his heel and disappears back down the ramp, the door slamming in his wake.

The group rushes down in pursuit to find the door locked from the inside. Not having anyone in the group who can "force" a lock, they use their hammers, pitons and climbing picks to quickly chew through the rock holding the hinges. Soon the door is laying on its face upon the floor...Revealing a horrid sight.

Once used as some type of laboratory, the room is now a mess of trash, body parts and even stranger, a mass of black and dark blue fungus growing in the shape of a man on the far wall. The overwhelming stench that roils forth causes Shalelu and Quick Silver to collapse to their knees, retching.

By this time Solomon's control over the powerful ghast has ended, so both he and Mock rush into the room to put an end to this abhorrence. Cackling and asking Coral to "join him", Aldern lays into Solomon and instantly paralyzes the holy man. Spinning and kicking him over with his heel, he then faces off with the stout dwarf.

Coral hurls her knife with a curse, but the ghast sees it coming and easily avoids it. Mock and he trade blows with neither seemingly getting the upper hand. Shalelu and Quick Silver shakily get to their feet and advance. Quick Silver pulls her sword and slides beneath the table to take a hack at Aldern's exposed legs...she lands a blow but nothing telling enough to cripple him.

Meanwhile Shalelu stands astride Solomon's body, guarding him from further depredations. She slams home her blade (rolled a 20) and deals the ghast a horrid wound, nearly severing his arm...The creature snickers and lashes out w/ his grisly razor, only to have it pass harmlessly over her head.

Soon though the ghast succumbs to the combined attacks of the four assailants and dies w/ a curse on his lips. Mock brings Solomon back but the fever is running its course through his veins and the priest has already cast his cure disease for the day. He knows though after looking about the room that this was a failed attempt at lichdom and that the abomination on the wall is what is left of Vorel Foxglove...

This place must be cleansed by holy water, fire and then blessed. But is there time? Solomon knows that the disease in his blood will soon take affect but he also knows that this MUST be taken care of. So they quickly make preparations and after two solid hours the job has been done. Though it was not easy, as the house above seemed to groan and moan in protest.

As soon as they are finished they leave as quickly as possible and are greeted by the sight of a collapsing "Misgivings". Apparently the house was held together by the sheer hatred and evil force of Aldern's great grandfather, Vorel.

The trip home is nondescript and they get Solomon to Father Zantus in time as he hurries him into the back to cast the disease from him.

Healed, Solomon pulls the two heroes into his room the next day to officially invite them into the Pathfinder Society and to ask if they would accompany him to the great city of Magnimar, where there are murders taking place that are eerily similar to those perpetrated here in Sandpoint. Coral and Quick Silver agree to go and pack their meager belongings...

It is here we ended. Great session. It was a load of fun and I can't say enough about how wonderfully the Swords and Wizardry White Box rules seem to work for the girls. They love the flexibility and simplicity.

Friday, February 18, 2011

DCC RPG Report

I have just returned from Genghis Con here in Denver, and as promised, I am writing up my impressions of my first time playing Goodman Games' newest effort: The DCC RPG.

First off let me say that I had the particular pleasure of having the dynamic Harley Stroh as a DM...And I'll tell you right now, if you EVER get the chance to play in a game that this guy is running, do NOT hesitate to drop the dough (or whatever) and jump at the chance. I've been gaming for many many years (since the late 70's) and I can count on one tentacle how many DMs were better. (I don't actually have tentacles, in case you're wondering...That'll give you an idea how many I've encountered. That's right, none.)

So, saying that, this report might be a bit biased. Because, like all games 90% of the energy, pacing, setting, etc. comes from the DM. But I will in all honesty give you my most honest impression of the game.

I played in the second session of the day, a scenario called Beyond the Black Gate. Some of you have probably already read a bit about this at the Goodman forums...Douglas Keester wrote quite a nice review as well <>, go check it out. Yeah, Douglas and I played in the same game.

On with the review then. Our pregens were 3rd level and I got lucky enough to grab the Elf. I say "lucky" for a couple of reasons:
  1. I wanted to check out race as class and see if it had much of an effect.
  2. I wanted to sling some spells and see that dynamic in action.
  3. I didn't want to be a "squishy", and just stand in the back. I also wanted to mix it up in melee.
Oh, I must also premise this w/ the fact that I didn't roll all that well in the game (two '1's along w/ some basically lowish garbage), so keep that in mind. Yeah, you pay for poor rolls in this game. Which ROCKS on TOAST! I'm terribly fond of games where you react to situations, where all is NOT known and very little is truly under your control. Good fun. Very old school in "feel".

I'm not going to actually get much into the module part of it, just in case Harley and Joseph are thinking of publishing any of what we went through. Which btw, I certainly hope they do. This had such a cool feel to it. Sort of a mix of Greek myth that draws in a Persephone and Hades vibe as well as a few other things that were just flat out wicked backdrops.

As most of you already know, the character sheets were very brief. The standard things, attributes (named a bit differently), an ascending AC, hit points, some spell stuff, a few stats on how you hit things, some special racial or class abilities (e.g. I could see 60' in the dark and I wasn't affected by sleep and charm. Definitely old skool there.) and that's really about all the mechanical things on the page.

Now of course the spell slingers each got a small pamphlet of spells, which of course will likely be in the book when it's published. Each spell description had a few different little doo-dads on there that were kind of cool. The famous spell affect tables, listing what your spell roll actually netted you. (I'll explain a bit more about that in awhile.) There was also this area for how it manifested... I think that's what it was called, I don't actually have the spell sheets in front of me at the moment.

But under that manifestation area there were affects that you could roll for and it would be a cool descriptor of how the spell .... uh, well manifested. Duh. Kind of a neat "flavor" piece I thought. It reminded me a bit of that Savage Worlds mechanic of "trappings".

There are many different places that you can read about how casting works, but briefly you have only a few spells (I was third and I think I had a total of 5 spells). But the cool thing is that dependent upon the roll, those 'X' number of spells can last all day long, could fizzle out in a heartbeat (as I quickly found out), might grow in power and effect (thus actually nearly becoming something completely further for more on this.), and of course it might turn you into something pretty nasty if you roll poorly.

A cool mechanic I hadn't heard about before though was the arcane ability to burn a physical attribute point to regain a spell you've lost (usually by rolling poorly in the first place), which was kind of cool. And mechanically it really tied the casting to the affects of magic on the caster's body. I liked that.

Let me give an example: (No spoilers I hope) We were beset upon by some rather nasty beasties and were between a rock and a hard spot. So we decided to activate this item we had found. Now in order to activate it you had to have 3 successful arcane rolls. OK that's fine. BUT, we knew that the power of the item wasn't going to do exactly what we needed it to do in order to get us out of this situation. So, we decided we'd spell burn (spend physical attribute points on a one to one basis in order to increment your spell roll.) in order to change the parameters of the spell. (So in other words, the spell usually only effected one person, we needed it to effect ALL of us.)

Already the game had me. I mean how cool is that? You're able to change a spell on the fly in order to bend it to your will. You just have to pay for it.

So my elf dumped 12 points into his roll. Twelve. If you're counting, that's a lot. I was obviously betting the bank on this roll right? Well I rolled a '10'. Average, but it netted a 22, which was good enough. (It was actually the second 22, so we were cool there.)

But right before it was triggered I attempted to put the hurt on this prone opponent. Here's where things went south. And I actually said as I rolled the dice, "Why shouldn't I try and kill the bad guy on my way out?"... I rolled a '1' on the die, and said, "That's why." Ooops.

Bad things happened and we ended up in a bad place once the other item triggered. Magic is super fickle in this game.

We were lucky as all get out that our cleric was rolling like a champ. He didn't roll anything lower than a 15 on any of the heal rolls! Amazing.

Oh and speaking of rolls, our barbarian (a fighter w/ a barbarian background) missed one roll all night. Seriously? Glad he was on my side.

Another situation where things went sideways for us was near the end of play when our mage rolled a perfect 20 on a Prismatic Spray! The results ended up knocking out all the bad guys as well as the entire party, minus the mage. This might sound bad, but in all honesty it was a way out that didn't even exist right before he rolled that dice. So the game dramatically changed because of that roll. It was so cool. You can't script stuff like that.

Alright, so my impressions of the game. I liked it a lot. I'm an old school guy at heart. I play Swords and Wizardry Whitebox w/ my daughters here at home, and I love it. I play in a Pathfinder game every other Tuesday night, but I'm not in love w/ the rules. Way too much fiddly stuff for my tastes.

The DCC RPG ran incredibly quickly. Combats were fast. I mean really fast. Fewer spells to choose from might have given you less "flexibility" but it also makes you think creatively as well as speeds things up in terms of available choices. One attack per character made things go fast.

No minis really caused everyone at the table to be completely engaged in what the DM was saying. Therefore no one was doing their "own thing" while someone attacked, and relying upon the battle mat and minis to "tell the story" when they refocussed.

While I think the game would play just fine w/ minis, it plays VERY well w/out them. I don't use them in my games if I can help it.

Melee for warrior types is kind of neat. You get one of those wacky dice to roll w/ your d20 when you roll to hit. The number of sides goes up every "X" amount of levels. It reminded me of the wild dice in Savage Worlds a bit. Except w/ this system you actually added the two together.

Joseph had just come up w/ a new mechanic for the fighters as well. If you were descriptive enough in your attack, wanted some type of cool outcome (not on the scale of critical) and if you rolled above a certain number on your extra dice, the DM would come up w/ some mechanical advantage. (e.g. -4 on the monster's next dice roll due to blood in the eye, etc.) It worked out well I think. It may be a bit vague on the differences between a critical and this "cool" affect. I worry that it might not be clear cut enough for some groups who just don't trust their DM enough, or are too much the rules lawyer type.

Now obviously w/ Harley at the helm it wasn't an issue. We just rolled w/ it. Rule zero baby. Very old school.

The neat thing about this game was that it felt "loose" enough to add a ton of creative play w/out feeling like you were breaking some rule or another. Yet at the same time, it was well structured enough so that guys who had been playing 3.5, 4E, and Pathfinder felt as if they were in "good hands". Which is a pretty decent accomplishment if you think about it.

At times though I wondered how I might have felt if I were playing the straight up mage, while I was rolling so poorly. Here's the 4E trap: They attempted to give everyone something to "do" every round. In other words, no mage would ever "run out of spells". With the elf I had options, I could attack, I could fire my bow. I had things to do. The mage on the other hand was pretty much screwed if his spells didn't seem to be working right. (or in my case, my dice.)

But on the plus side, w/ the mechanic where you can burn attributes in order to regain spells available, you'd be pretty hard pressed to run out of stuff to do. Magic items are obviously rare in this game. We ran across one... And we were all third level. So you can't fall back on those.

I might like to see some kind of Gandalf rule though. Let the mages carry and fight w/ swords. Although, to be honest, I didn't see anything saying you couldn't as a mage. Hmmm.

It's getting late here so I'm going to wrap this up. I apologize if it's all over the place, but I'm tired, and I honestly wanted to get as much down as possible before I forgot. So there you are. I'll try and write more later as things sort of percolate and ideas bubble up.

Cheers and again, thanks Joseph and Harley for a tremendously fun game. I'm sold. I'll definitely be knocking on your door (figuratively of course) when that game is released.