Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A hat trick? Is that right?

This post is more than a month overdue at this point, but I'm a-tryin' to catch up. I may well forget some details, but, you know, nothing important. I hope.

Above is a map of GRISTLEHELM so far. Actually, I'm cheating a bit because I forgot to take a picture for this particular session. So, this map is actually from Session 9, which we played just this last Sunday. Confused yet? Ah, just look at the map---it's a thing of beauty. T.J. even colored in the spaces...

This was a crazy session from the get-go: my brother and sister-in-law were going to be in town for a concert on Sunday (the day we played), which I knew, but they decided to come the night before (they live in Omaha) and surprise me by showing up to play! Which I was! Too cool.

So we ended up with a huge party: nine players---the largest since our very first session. Will played the ever-present Melvin; my son Max made a new goblin character named Spike-of-the-Death, who fought with two daggers; my sister-in-law played a hobbit Thief named Catgut Dogskin; my brother reprised his role as Loric the elf, acting as a Fighting Man; Larry played Nimfitz the elf, acting as a Magic User; Carl played Mondlach the Magic User; T.J. started out playing Punka (are you guessing where my title comes from yet?) the Fighting Man; Steve played Mardias the Fighting Man; and Jesse (aka giantbat, our newest player!) played Saas the Cleric. Whew. I played the DM.

Some Highlights
  • In one of the first rooms entered, both Punka and Saas were killed in a savage melee with hobgoblins (what is it with hobgoblins?!) I'm pretty sure Jesse in second place for quickness of new character death (right behind my friend Bill, who's character died in the first moments of the first room entered in our very first session...) This was sad, but Jesse...simply flipped to the next page of his notebook. He had come prepared with three characters! Pure old school, ladies and gentlemen. His next character was another Cleric named Marjoram, and T.J. rolled up a thief which, when he carried over his experience from Punka, turned out to be 3rd level (Punka had been 2nd level.) Death sometimes has its benefits...
  • In another previously explored room, an old wine cellar, some of them thought a bit of a drink might be good. Marjoram, devotee of some jolly Finnish deity, broke off a bottleneck, took a swig (DM rolls a d6), failed a save vs. poison, swelled up, choked, and died. "She's dead?", someone asked. "Yup." Other characters quietly put the bottles back or stuck them in backpacks to use on gullible monsters...
  • Jesse's third (and final) character, Pelf the Thief (you know, T.J.'s new Thief, Guppy, caught up with the party at some point, too, I just don't remember when...) found the rest of the party just after they had opened a tightly stuck door. Once dislodged, it expelled strange fumes; most of them failed a save vs. poison, which allowed me to roll many more d6s: Mardias and Melvin both suddenly not only believed that they were the last Lord Gristlehelm, but found they had perfect knowledge of the entire dungeon. Both immediately took off for parts unknown. Catgut and Nimfitz's hireling Veri both believed they were dead, and so collapsed to the floor. Nimfitz believed that he was a boa constrictor, and so began trying to constrict the "dead" Veri. Spike-of-the-Death believed he was a tree frog, and began making hopping leaps at the wall, trying to stick to it. Alan, Melvin's hireling, believed he was a gorilla, and so thumped his chest and tried to groom Catgut. Loric, Mondlach, Guppy and, soon, Pelf, looked on bemusedly. I'm pretty sure they stopped Nimfitz when he tried to swallow Veri... The room itself was bubbled, burned, charred, and empty.
  • Melvin and Mardias came back to their senses in complete darkness. Luckily, Melvin's magic sword glows, and so they saw they were standing in what looked like a corridor with two dead-ends. Melvin concentrated on Alan, I believe, and proved without a doubt, as the sword pulled him forward, that part of its magic was locating objects... they did eventually find the secret door and the rest of the party.
  • In a niche in an otherwise unassuming corridor, they found a gigantic golden head, a bust of the evilly leering last Lord Gristlehelm. About six feet high and four feet in diameter, T.J. calculated via iphone that it probably weighed in the neighborhood of 45 tons. Catgut climbed up on top of it, but couldn't find anything useful. Much discussion ensued about what the hell to DO with the thing. Finally, Melvin decided to chop off the nose with his magic sword. This worked, but his failed save vs. spells resulted in his face drawing up into a mirror-image of Gristlehelm's awful leer. Net result? His already low charisma was halved (down to three, I believe...) At some point here they were attacked by an ogre and a wolf, but took them down, with a sleep spell and some arrows. Man, adventurers are savage...
  • They discovered what must have been a wizard's workroom, which ended up having a strangely thin wall on one side. Pelf broke through into a corridor where the mournful ghosts of dwarves stopped their work and pointed to a finely made dwarven hand axe, embedded in the wall. Pelf picked it up, and the ghosts faded away...
  • Two doors in the room had complicated glyphs carved on them. Both were locked. When Guppy tried to pick one, it blasted flames at him, which he mostly avoided...
At this point, with our Real World time running out, they decided to leave and return to die another day...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mantipedes, you say?

I guess they're getting to know us at The Source... They even spelled it right!

I've got to quit posting these logs three or four weeks after last playing 'cause, you know, I'm getting old, and my memory fuzzy. Plus, this last time, I tried to reorganize my gaming briefcase, and it didn't work out so well... I ended up losing the piece of paper on which all the characters' names were written; not so good.

So, I apologize in advance those of you with new characters last time---feel free to fill in what I've forgotten.

Playing this time was Will with Melvin the Fighting Man; Will's wife Susan (a first time gamer!) with a Cleric; Trevor with Narpet the Magic User; my son Max with Fireskull the skeleton Fighting Man; my brother Josh with an elf (remember the Holmes mindset now, so almost race-as-class); Chad, an old friend (like, from elementary school) with a Fighting Man; Carl, fresh from Dragonsfoot, with a Magic User. Trevor still had Octague the evil Cleric charmed from the last session, but I think Melvin let Alan One Hit, his surprisingly robust hireling, have the day off. Geez, when I look at that, it was a big, noisy party...

Some Highlights
  • They really wanted to find the kobolds who'd ambushed them last time, but no luck...
  • Narpet, hoping someday to become a lich, is hoping that Octague was looking for something in the dungeon that might help him achieve that goal. After an inconclusive conversation, he did, however, agree to paint his face white, "In honor of Father Orcus..."
  • After kicking in a door, they attracted some ghosts. Most of the party failed their saving throws and took off in fear, hiding behind broken furniture in the room beyond the door. The ghosts went away eventually, and Fireskull, being undead and therefore not subject to being afraid of ghosts, got bored. He went wandering about nearby corridors while the others recovered, breaking down locked doors and shouting "It's just me!" to the rest of the party. He discovered some stairs leading down and, amazingly, was unmolested by wandering monsters...
  • They found what appears to have been some sort of arena, with risers, a dias, and six locked grates in the floor. Peering into the grates, they saw sparkly things, but also heard slight moans and the scrape of metal and bones. In true old school style, they decided to leave well enough alone for now.
  • Through a secret door in a nearby corridor, they found a strange, felted hallway running behind the seats in the auditorium, with small holes at head height. For servants of House Gristlehelm to spy, or worse, on guests?
  • In a distant room that appeared to have been part parlor, part prison, they roused the ghost of a once-beautiful young woman, horribly disfigured by torture, who attacked them by flinging freezing blood from her wounds. Susan immediately said her cleric was going to fall to her knees and pray to send the ghost's soul onward. I thought this was so cool---she didn't really know about "turning", so she just tried what seemed natural for a cleric to do. I gave her three chances, getting harder each time: 2d6, 9 or higher/11 or higher/three dice, all the same number. It didn't work, but that wasn't the point (I mean, she is only first level, after all!) See, in the room description, I had written: "Mutilated, broken, maligned, wrathful. A cleric of a loving GOD might be able to lay this tragic wraith to rest." So, there you go... Defeated only through the agency of Melvin's magic sword, a diary found amongst her bones revealed her to have been Gwyneth the Pale, beloved daughter and heir to House Hyacinth, mortal foes of House Gristlehelm. If I'm remembering correctly, they took her skull with them, though it may only have been the diary.
  • In one room, a pool was bubbling up from somewhere, filling about a third of the space. The wet walls and floor were crumbling and corroded. Strange movements and sounds near the pool turned out, on further investigation, to be literally hundreds of thousands of centipedes. When someone came too near the pool, furious motion in the swarm resolved into two roughly man-shaped forms composed entirely of centipedes, which came lurching out towards the characters. They managed to scatter the mantipedes long enough for Narpet, using his ring of water walking, to skim out on the pool and find the robed bones of what was apparently once a magic user. They left the room with a potion of healing and a scroll.
  • And then there was the column of garbage...

Announcement: Otherness, Session 8

Otherness, Session 8 will be played, well, I guess tomorrow(!) at The Source Comics and Games, from 12-4. It's a Free Campaign, which means anyone can show up and play at any time. We have four confirmed players, one of whom is brand new, so they just may survive!

The depths of GRISTLEHELM will be further explored. Our intrepid adventurers ran into some odd stuff last time, and they're only just getting started...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fight On! 6 released

I'm a bit tardy in posting this, but Fight On! 6 is available for consumption. And trust me, you will want to consume...

Dedicated to legendary publisher of Alarums and Excursions, Lee Gold, it is packed with delicious old school goodness. Some highlights:

  • Erol Otus Art Challenge color-entry Grand Prize-winning cover by Mark Allen. Never have stirges seemed so cool...
  • Sandbox Prepartation by the "Chicago Wizard" Mike Shorten
  • I Need a Dungeon Right Now! by Jeff Reints
  • Another installation of Baz Blatt's Tekumel-themed The Devil's in the Details (for which I had the honor to illustrate an ahoggya...)
  • Another massive level for Fight On! community-created mega-dungeon The Darkness Beneath
  • Enharza, City of Thieves by crazily creative Argentinian Santiago Luis "Zulgyan" Ortis
  • World Creating as a Hobby by Lee Gold (who should certainly know something about it...)
  • Naked Went the Gamer guest editorial by The Forge creator and indie-game iconoclast Ron Edwards, which has, not surprisingly, garned some controversy amongst participants in the Old School Renaissance.

So? What the hell are you doing still reading this? Go and buy it!

(and then go check out EVERY SINGLE LINK in this post---you won't regret it...)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Announcement: Otherness, Session 7

Otherness: Session 7 will be played this upcoming Sunday, August 30, from 12-4 at The Source Comics and Games. This is a Free Campaign, which means anyone can show up and play at any point. I already have five confirmed players, which is great, and even better 'cause it includes my little brother, with whom I haven't gamed since 1990 or 91. And I believe we played Rifts...

Adventurers will once again be braving the subterranean halls of GRISTLEHELM. It seems unlikely that all of them will be leaving intact...

On a side note, we're switching over to using the Holmes Blue Book as the rules-base of our campaign, along with a good dose of Greyhawk and Fight On! articles. This can be laid at Will's feet, since he printed out a nifty bookletized form of the said rules for me, which caused me to actually read them all the way through and realize how just how tasty they really are...

Friday, August 14, 2009


I guess they were busy at The Source last time we played---usually we get some sort of plasitic stand-up with flashy 3e heroes exposing their thighs to hold our table. In the end, though, this is more appropriately old school...

Our last session, played I believe three weeks ago this Sunday, was a first: they took a run at the first full dungeon I've created since high school! Called GRISTLEHELM, it's the underground coilings of House Gristlehelm, the scions of whom were rumored to be werewolves. The last Lord Gristlehelm and his wicked brood were driven below, presumably to perish, and their castle thrown down. The ruins now are peaceful, twined with flowering ivy and birdsong. However, any who look for it can still find the thick wooden door with the spiral stairs leading down into darkness, the golden Gristlehelm wolf head snarling in a flaking scarlet field at its dark, scarred center. Some say the door was sealed with silver and magic. If so, such is no longer the case. The door ratchets open for any wishing to enter...

We had a medium-sized group this time: Will, of course, playing Melvin the Fighting Man, accompanied by his hireling Alan One-Hit; T.J. playing Punka the Fighting Man; Trevor playing Narpet the Magic User; and my son Max playing Fireskull the Skeleton Fighting Man. That's right---a new character race in Otherness. Skeletons may be Fighting Men, Magic Users or Clerics of gods of death (obviously!) They only take one point of damage from arrows, but take an additional die of damage from fire. They're also vulnerable to being Turned by good clerics or commanded by evil ones. Otherwise, they're just like you and me... This all sprung from Max buying and painting a set of undead miniatures in his own expressionistic fashion. He's made several characters now, all directly based on particular miniatures. Two of them (Bloodarex and Mudskel) have even stormed the Ruined Monastery before it was ruined, but that's another post...

A Few Interesting Things
I find I'm still using the General Conflict table from my abortive Judges Guidelines. I mean, I could do something similar with only one die, but I like the curve of two. I actually tried another iteration of these rules with Max one day and, though it worked better, still left me going "meh." I can't say I'm done with tinkering (and lately I've been thinking pretty seriously about switching over to the Holmes rules---that lies on your shoulders, Will!), but the general ODD rules are just so wonderfully SIMPLE...

I'd been perusing my pdf copy of Fight On! 5, and so floated the idea of using Paul Vermeren's Dungeon Motivations. They bit, and I ain't never going back. This is now de riguer for delvers in Otherness. Our results:
  • Trying to impress a love interest
  • Chronic underestimator of danger
  • Has terrifying dreams commanding the character to awaken a sleeping god (Max got that one...)
  • Crazy old uncle has filled PC's head with glamorous nonsense about dungeon crawling
  • And (drum roll please) an actual score of 100, made by a drop-in player who was simply wating for his group to get there: A deity in disguise, visiting the dungeon as a sightseer. He had made a magic user named Exi Dor (ya get it?) and, when his group showed up, Loki (that's who he really was, you see) quipped "Well, I think you've got it from here" and vanished... Perfect.
I'm missing one there, so if one of you is reading this, please fill me in.

Oh, and btw, Wuukys, from the same FO! issue, are now a totally playable Otherness race...

Some Highlights
  • In the freakin' entryway, the characters found a loose stone with treasure hidden behind it. Lucky bastards!
  • They found a room, painted all gold, with a big crack in the floor that disgorged a giant ant. They killed it and left quickly.
  • An ambush by a group of kobolds forced them to leave the dungeon, rest for a few days, and return. It wasn't until later that I remembered that both Melvin and Fireskull, as 2nd level fighting men, should've both gotten multiple attacks against their .5 HD foes... Oh well. Of course, they didn't remember, either...
  • Stumbling upon an evil cleric and his orcish henchmen, they killed the orcs and Narpet charmed the cleric. Since this was apparently once a wine-cellar, they also decided to drink some of the wine. A random roll found it to be extremely intoxicating...
  • Now that the cleric (Octague) was Narpet's best friend, he showed them them the way he'd gotten in, which led through a room featuring a warm, algae-scummed pool with a demonic statue cavorting in the middle of it.
  • Octague led them to a large room filled with old chains, hobbles and muzzles, including the skeleton of dire wolf. Large double doors to the west were ignored, and instead they followed the cleric out the doors to the east, up through a worked cave mouth and into the woods outside. In hollow were many rusted cages, which was all they had time to see before getting bum rushed by a sparrow-headed birdbear (see Fight On! 4).A quick melee saw the charmed cleric actually kill the beast, rolling a natural 20. Go figure.
  • Melvin just made 3rd level: now officially the highest level character in the game! See what showin' up gets you?
It was just too much fun to run my own dungeon. I'm hopeful we'll head back down next time. We have only barely scratched the surface of GRISTLEHELM...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Debut of Exis Hammerfist

Our last session, played back in the middle of May(!), was a big deal for me---my five-and-a-half-year old son Max played his first real game of D&D! The picture on the left is the miniature he chose for Exis his dwarven Fighting Man, and the dice he bought before we left the game store. Not that he needed new dice---he rolled four natural 20s. But more on that in a bit...

Another reason this session was a big deal was, of course, the descent into Level 2 of Xylarthen's infamous Tower. We had an unusually small group for such a serious undertaking. Will was playing Melvin, now 2nd level (I'll talk about that in a bit, too), R.M. was playing Kohenim the cleric, his son Max was playing Redwood the elven Fighting Man, and my son Max was playing the aforementioned Exis, also 2nd level. Melvin acquired the services of two thugs, um, I mean hirelings, named Alan and Zech. They chose the stairway in the former guardroom, aperoom, what have you, and down they went.

A Couple of Tangents
A while ago, Will mentioned to me his idea for xp's, that maybe it's not a bad idea to think of them as being given to the player as opposed to the character. He expanded on it in a post here. Actually, that whole thread was full of fiber, as it were. Go read it. Anyhow, after thinking about it a bit, I agreed with him. Especially given the "play once/month, Free Campaign" model we've got going on here, it seemed fair, especially to players like Will, who show up a lot. So, I grandfathered in the experience he'd built up with his other characters (there have been soooo many, after all...), and lo, Melvin was well into 2nd level.

Max's character I started off at 2nd level. I mean, c'mon, he's five...

As for Melvin's hirelings, I generated them using Robert Lionheart's excellent "Random Hireling Generator" from Knockspell 1. This is a great magazine, and a worthy colleague of Fight On! I bought the pdf of issue 1, but it's another that I'll eventually start collecting in hardcopy as well. Go read and buy!

Some Highlights
  • More giant weasels. I don't know what it was about Xylarthen and weasels,I'm pretty sure someone's gotten hurt everytime they've mixed it up with these large, mean, smelly rodents...
  • In one room a door was opened, which disgorged a hideously cackling skeleton doing a good impression of the Grim Reaper. He laid about with his scythe until Kohenim turned him, at which point he leapt back through the door and slammed it shut. Perhaps judiciously, the party decided to leave it shut.
  • In another room, while searching, they heard sounds outside a door they hadn't yet opened. It became clear it was a group of kobolds. The door was yanked open, revealing an exploratory horde of somewhere close to 10 of the little blighters. Negotiations began, until Exis became impatient. Striding up to the hobgoblin leader, he punched him solidly in the head, dropping the doglizard in his tracks. Needless to say, the rest panicked and ran. The backstage of this was Max saying, "I'm gonna punch him in the face." Pan to group of players looking confusedly. Says I, "Are you sure?" Max: "Yeah!" "Okay," says I, "Roll that 20-sider." Pan to a natural 20. Wide-shot: Whole table cheering a grinning 5-year old. Too cool.
  • In yet another room, some cheeky hobgoblins demanded a toll to pass through the room. Again, negotiations were in hand when Exis decided he'd had enough. Another punch in the face. Another natural 20. Naturally the hobgoblins tossed out their toll-box and took off.
  • Eventually, the kobolds were cornered and dispatched. Another nine hobgoblins were encountered, a fierce battle ensued, and Redwood the Elf was slain. The wounded party decamped with his body, and thereby mostly survived their first foray into the deeper levels of the Tower.
We play again today, and hopefully there won't be anymore long hiatuses (is that a word?)

Max has just rejected going over to a friend's house in favor of coming with me, so I think another gamer has been born... :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Announcement: Otherness, Session 6

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Actually, as a few of you know, I got a "real" job in the middle of May, and it's taken awhile for things to shake out in my Real Life schedule. Thank you for your collective patience!

Otherness: Session 6 is happening, no surprise, at The Source Comics and Games from 12-4 this Sunday, 7.19. We shall, I imagine be heading back down into Level Two of Xylarthen's infamous Tower, perhaps to kick around some more humanoids, perhaps to DIE. :)

Alternatively, I've finished the first level of my very own dungeon, the first full dungeon I've made since high school. It's called GRISTLEHELM, and it'll kick the asses of any wussy players who dare to risk the "lives" of their precious little characters in its hideous depths.

I dare you not to be there.

I will also, I promise, post a recap of Session 5 before then...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Erol Otus Art Challenge, or OMG!

I submitted an illustration to this contest right under the wire of the deadline and, lo and behold, I placed in the Honorable Mention category! I cannot possibly communicate how thrilled I am by this!

The announcement itself can be found here. My entry is 6th from the top. And, like you'll be able to stop yourself, but be sure to peruse all the other entries---it's simply astounding how much great artwork is being cranked out around the Old School Renaissance.

Thank you, Calithena and Fight On!, for this opportunity.

Thank you, Erol, for a body of work that made me believe in the reality of fantasy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

White apes, gnolls, and the beckoning stairs...

This is the players' map so far for Under Xylarthen's Tower, Level One. With no immediately obvious other routes, at the end of the session it was decided that next time, they'd be heading downwards...but I'm getting ahead of myself. One cool thing about this map is that they've numbered all the rooms and, in a key (outside the picture), identified them by what they felt it was important to remember about each one. Awesome.

We had the largest party since the first session: Eight characters, two hirelings, and two charmed berserkers. Steve was a brand-new player, and R.M. brought along not only his son Max again, but his daugher Ruby. Steve made a Fighting Man named Mardias, Max brought an elf named Redwood, who functioned this Adventure as a Fighting Man, and Ruby brought a Magic User named Rose Petal. R.M. brought a Cleric named Kohenim (that's an in-joke for all you fellow Jews reading this...) The usual suspects rounded things off, with Will playing Melvin, Larry playing Nimfitz Niraxis (now 2nd level!), Trevor playing Narpet, and Sean playing Gorlim.

We also tried out my newly-minted Judge's Guidelines. I'll post my thoughts about this seperately, but the short version is: Meh. I couldn't keep track of the plusses and minuses people were getting, and it actually seemed to slow down combat, with one notable exception: When someone (I'm forgetting who at the moment) killed a white ape with a single arrow shot! I think I'll keep using the general  conflict resolution section, but otherwise we're going back to normal next time. In some ways I think I just needed to get it out of my system...

Some Highlights:

  • Upon entering the dungeon, the party decided to check out the previously discovered secret ladder-shaft. However, upon listening at the southern hallway that leads to what I now think of as "The Room of Variable Death", Rose Petal heard some strange noises. Deciding to investigate, as they got closer, they all started to hear a banging, clanking and scraping of metal on stone, as well as an eerie screeching. Melvin busted down the door, uncovering a terrible white ape chained to a post newly-sunk into the middle of the room. As it rushed him, someone, I'm pretty sure it was Nimfitz's hireling Veri, shot it with an arrow. The first test of the new combat rules proved devastating for the blanched simian: It died instantly with a arrow sunk deep in its eyeball.
  • Nifitz volunteered to climb down the ladder-shaft. Taking a torch, he descended into the dark. And kept descending. And kept descending. About the point where the flickering lights of the party were just a pinprick above him, he started hearing noises reminiscent of those made by the previously slain white ape, and the air in the shaft became foul. He finally saw the bottom of the ladder, which came out the open ceiling of a room. Suddenly a clawed hand attached to a shaggy, white-furred arm grabbed the ladder and shook it, while a hideous shrieking echoed up the shaft. It was obvious that there was more than one creature below. Nimfitz, decidedly unsuicidal, headed back up. The party, after some discussion, decided to leave well enough alone for the moment, reasoning that the long descent implied an entrance into significantly deeper levels...
  • Returning to the room where they had previouly battled three orcish wights, they carefully checked out the door that the trio had apparently been guarding. It opened onto a stairway leading down into unusually cold darkness. This they left alone for now in favor of filling in the gaps on their map.
  • While filling in these gaps, they found a smallish room containing nothing but a bronze statue of a heroically proportioned, nude man with a face of demonic aspect. It was pointing straight at the door, but missing the pointing hand. Many smart adventuring tricks were tried, but to no avail---the statue didn't move, come to life, or kill anyone. Not yet, anyway.
  • Approaching a mapped room, they listened at its closed door and heard arguing. Busting in, they surprised an exploratory band of six gnolls. Combat ensued and dragged on for awhile, with neither side gaining much of an upper hand. Finally, Rose Petal stepped into the room, surveyed the stamping, yelling melee, and promptly put all the remaining combatants to sleep. Final fatalities included Reni, one of Nimfitz's hirelings, as well as both Shieldbiter brothers. The gnollish loot included a carefully wrapped sword which, when Melvin unsheathed it, glimmered in the dim light and seemed to fit nicely into his Lawfully-aligned hand...
We also used miniatures for the first time. I had a bunch, bought the last time we played, still unpainted, and Will brought his painted version of the same set. I had forgotten how  aesthetically pleasing it is to use painted miniatures. I need to get to work on my own! They were, of course, helpful for clarifying the one combat we had.

Overall, this session felt a bit like the calm before the storm of heading down to lower levels. I'm excited to see which descent they choose. It also reminded me that running a game with eight people is a lot more challenging than playing with just three or four...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Announcement: Otherness, Session 5

Otherness: Session 5 will take place this Sunday, May 17th, at The Source Comics and Games, from 12-4. This is a Free Campaign, so anyone can show up and play at any point, though if you feel certain you'll be there, I'd love to know ahead of time.

Having canvassed, perhaps, all of Level One, I imagine we'll be heading (deeper) Under Xylarthen's Tower. There are still many wights, and probably an army of zombies lead by Chaotic zealots. Anyone want to play a cleric?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Judge's Guidelines

I've just completed a seriously houseruled resolution system for the Otherness campaign. It can be found here:  Judge's Guidelines

It's adapted from The Games of War by John Bobek. This excellent wargaming book includes a short account, which I can't imagine has been published anywhere else, of the time in '71 or '72 when Bobek, who was friends with Ernie Gygax, got to play in a proto-D&D dungeon adventure run, of course, by Gary. His character died, but he went on to develop these Guidelines as a way to recreate the dungeon experience for up to 30 8th grade students at a time(!)

I'll be premiering this houserule on Sunday, and would love to field any comments or questions.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Announcement: Otherness, Session 4

Otherness: Session 4 will take place this Sunday, April 26th, at The Source Comics and Games, from 12-4. This is a Free Campaign, so anyone can show up and play at any point, though if you feel certain you'll be there, I'd love to know ahead of time.

I was considering running Castle Blackmoor by the late, great Dave Arneson; however, I've decided against it for the moment. Given some email I've recieved, it looks like we might have a bigger group with a few first-time ODD players, so we'll be heading back Under Xylarthen's Tower. Level One still holds dangerous mysteries (like up to six wights!), and several downward passages have been discovered, one at least used as a thoroughfare for two clerics and a group of zombies...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The flame of love doth always burn...

All the denizens of and Adventurers in Otherness raise a cup in celebration---Will, aka coffee, aka Melvin the Magnificent, aka Sneerglaw the Balrog, aka Bahb the Draftee, has lit a torch in the Temple of Venus

He and his darling fiancee were married yesterday, and are now prowling the bright decadence of Las Vegas, testing the limits of randomizaion. May they always roll true!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New School-->Old School-->Open School

I’m back, after a completely unexpected hiatus—Real Life™ has been demanding most of my time lately. Thanks for your patience!

The title of this post originates as the result of some interesting discussion that flared briefly in the blogosphere a couple of weeks ago. It started on The Lord of the Green Dragons in a post by EN Shook, then split off onto Mike’s Cgowiz’s Old Guy RPG Blog and Benoist’s The Citadel of Eight. All three posts are well worth reading, including the comments, but if you’re lazy or pressed for time, here’s the gist:

Shook expressed concern that “Old School” as a term for a nascent “movement” was ultimately doomed to fundamentalist pigeonholing. Seeing a stultifying lust for a particular “original” ruleset, he worries about the trees getting in the way of the forest. He feels that a subtle revisionism is happening in the form of people slapping later assumptions onto the original text and creating a false “new canon” of how the game should be played. His recommendation is to take up the term “Old Guard” instead, to focus attention on the method of play and the resulting product, the building and those who live there instead of the tools used to build and maintain it. To quote him, “The coin of the roleplaying realm should be the world.” Mike and Benoist’s posts amplified and discussed a couple of those main points.

For myself, I agree with the core of his argument but not at all with his premise. I hear no voices clamoring for strict adherence to any iteration of the rules, let alone the Original D&D rules as they stand (for which you can make a pretty strong argument that they must be interpreted to be used.) While other-edition assumptions can certainly color someone’s encounter with ODD, and I speak authoritatively from my own baggage here, it was actually constant exposure to others struggling with those same assumptions that helped me finally release the ballast with a simple realization: Old School isn’t about a rule set; it’s about a mind set. A method of play used to grow a particular world or milieu, which is why I agree with his essential conclusion. “The coin of the roleplaying realm should be the world” is now engraved on my +2 pencil of dungeon-scribbling.

Given that insight, I really don’t think it matters what the hell you call “it,” whatever “it” is. Due to a newfound interest in Napoleonic wargaming, I even like the term Old Guard! But I don’t think this is a movement per se; it really seems more like the actual Renaissance, where the collision of a critical mass of new and old knowledge literally changed the landscape forever. I know it’s changing me.

You see, I started fresh with RPGs a bit over five years ago when my last group imploded, and I was dangerously close to chucking it all. By pure chance someone directed me to The Forge, and it was like a bomb went off in my head: Here was a whole New School of gaming. I devoured it, as only a geek and a theory-junky can. I read, wrote, designed and played. It was like an interactive, game-design college degree, and I learned an amazing amount from a lot of brilliant people, some of whom I keep in contact with. However, after about 3.5 years of it, I found myself obsessing over creating games composed of rules to create a particular kind of story. It was all about constraints. I realized that this had sucked all the simple fun out of the game, in favor of what I was viewing as artistic necessity. This was a terrible irony since my strongest memories, which I had been trying to recreate with my tightly bound rule sets, were of the fun had when first playing the game. I had to let it go.

Enter quick and dirty, ocr’d pirate copies of all the ODD books. I’d actually first found them about eight years ago, and had read and ruminated, but only found Knights and Knaves and, soon after, the ODD74 board, about 1.5 years ago, to give me some guidance. I now considered myself Old School. I did indeed start with the idea of using the rules “as written,” but that soon faded. I started posting, then Fight On! took off, and then I started actually (gasp!) playing again, after an almost 1.5-year hiatus. I’m not agreeing with the Old School Renaissance, or believing in it, or even supporting it. I’m participating in it. And I’m doing it with a mindset I haven’t had since I was an entranced 11 year-old making Silverclaw the Werebear, my first ever character. And then soon after another character named General Wolfe, who was a skeleton and fired lightning bolts from his bony hands. Which isn’t supported by any written rules except

We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing.

This is from the last page of the 3rd Little Brown Book, “The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.” And really, it’s the only rule that ends up mattering. It trumps all the other rules, and underscores another one of Shook’s points questioning the possibility of a movement cohering around guidelines. He’s right. It can’t. That rule won’t let it. When Gygax decided to change the game with AD&D, he had to very explicitly erase that rule: If you followed it, fine, but you were then playing something other than Official D&D.

Maybe you don’t buy my last paragraph. Maybe that quote doesn’t strike you as a rule. But if there’s one thing I learned in all my time at The Forge, it’s that the most important rules for these games we play are often unspoken, implied, or simply unassuming. On the other side of my +2 pencil, I now inscribe: “Decide how you would like it to be, and then make it that way.” This to me is the guiding principal of the School that, in my mind at least, I like to think of as not New, or Old, but Open. I use the ODD rules as my base because I like their aesthetics, I like their historicity, I like their tropes, which are deep in my blood. They are an Open School in which I strive to learn how to Have the Most Fun Playing the Game.

Whew. That ended up being a lot longer than I had intended. Next post, I’ll walk the talk and present my first truly major houseruling, which will do away with Hit Points, the Combat Matrix, and the standard way of making Ability checks. :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Alas, poor Sneerglaw...and Arp...and Dolph...and Otto...

This is the nifty box of plastic miniatures I bought after Sunday's session. See the tag line? Well, our Heroes had some trouble with the forces of evil this time...

There were in fact three fast and furious melees, all of which would've benefited from the use of miniatures, so they will be added next time. I would like to point out that this particular box included one gigantic troll, which I now feel obliged to include in the dungeon. Though not soon, since they still have an ogrish wight and five more orcish wights to deal with, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

As the title indicates, it was a bit of a slaughterhouse this time out. We had a new player, my old friend Trevor, with whom I haven't gamed in FAR too long. He added a rather resourceful magic user named Narpet to the party. Paul also returned, making a successful roll on the Table of Despair to pull his cleric Torren (Praise Sol Invictus!) from the current limbo of The Ruined Monastery, only to send him, naked and bereft, into the wightish hell Under Xylarthen's Tower. They were rounded out by regulars T.J. (Arp, then Punka), coffee (Sneerglaw, then Melvin), and Larry (Nimfitz).

Which gets me to the title of this post: We had no fewer than FOUR character deaths this time---two PCs and two hirelings. A record so far! A couple of hasty player decisions were compounded by numerous 17s and 18s rolled on my part.

Some Highlights:
  • Upon reentering the dungeon, the group decided to head right back to the room where they'd previously defeated the ogre. They were fairly convinced that an unexplored doorway led to a treasure room. I'm not sure why, but they were. Opening a door somewhat less than cautiously alerted four new hobgoblin guards who were apparently inspired by the gods of war. Arp brought one down with a thrown handaxe, but then almost immediately Dolph, one of Arp's hirelings, got speared to death, followed shortly thereafter by Sneerglaw. Never let it be said that a balrog goes softly into the dark night: I gave him a chance for a "death immolation", which he succeeded at, and burned his slayer to ash. After a bit more rough-and-tumble, the rest of the hobgoblins followed. The treasure room turned out to be a stairway leading down, down, down.
  • Narpet, upon viewing Sneerglaw's blackened skeleton (his flesh had also turned to ash, in the way of all true balrogs...), decided to take his skull since, "it might come in useful!"
  • A corridor was passed from which a faint moaning could be heard.
  • Upon entering a previously unexplored diamond-shaped room with a door in each point of the diamond, they stumbled upon the eerie tableaux of three pale figures, with their backs to the party,apparently just staring at the door on the far wall. Upon closer inspection, they turned out to be three orcs with torn-up clothing who looked a lot like wights...OH CRAP!
Interjection: As they were getting ready to go back into the dungeon, no one seemed to be remembering anything about wights. Like, anyone killed by a wight becomes a wight. Which meant that the eight orcs so cleverly dispatched of last time were now wandering around the dungeon, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Possibly being directed by a master ogrish wight. So, like any good DM, I decided to help them out. Under the guise of asking if they thought it was a redundant statement, I read the following, from pg. 9 of Monsters & Treasure: "Men-types killed by Wights become Wights. An opponent who is totally drained of life energy by a Wight becomes a Wight." We decided it wasn't redundant. Ah well. I tried. :)
  • Since the wights were completely ignoring them, Melvin (coffee's new character) decided to try to hack off one of their heads. Thus was it also discovered that magic weapons were needed... Still, the orcish undead remained unmoved until anyone came within 10' of the door at which they were staring.
  • A decision was made to set the wights on fire. Otto was directed to douse them in oil and light them. He (morale check) agreed, and was immediately grabbed by a howling, flaming wight and sucked dry of all his life force. A desperate battle ensued, wherein the party remembered they had some vials of holy water, which they used to good effect. Unfortunately Arp was also sucked dry of his single level, though Torren did get to prove his worth to Sol Invictus by saving the life of one of Nimfitz's hirelings. In the end, a band of five first level characters, along with a few hirelings, managed to kill three wights, with no magic or silver weapons, and only suffered two fatalities. Not too shabby!
  • Upon leaving the dungeon with their two wight-slain comrades in order to ensure their quiet rest and stock up on silver daggers, Narpet found the local sorceress, named Jezebel. He successfully traded her Sneerglaw's skull for a (randomly rolled) scroll of Protection from Evil, definitely useful in this current dungeon. Thus did Sneerglaw prove himself a true companion, even from beyond the grave...
  • Upon once again venturing into the depths, the party came near the moaning corridor again, only this time managed to hear conversation and footsteps. Dousing their lights and hiding in the dark, two armored figures marched out with six zombies in tow, muttering cryptically about how "these are the ones he wanted" and "we need to get back down right away." Followed by the brave Narpet, they went into the diamond room, through the southerly door, apparently another stairway leading down, down, down...
  • They also discovered another large, chained coffin, much like the first which had released the ogrish wight. Amazingly, they decided to mess with it, albeit creatively. Thankfully, it was empty of all but wightish dust and a bit of treasure. Nimfitz, who wanted no part of the  proceedings, staked out the nearby hallway and was able to alert the party to an approaching band of four berserkers. He and Narpet each charmed one, who then slew the other two. Thus did the Shieldbiter Brothers join our intrepid group for the foreseeable future...
Alas, it was time to leave so the party also left the dungeon, vowing to return. Again, a lot of gaming got done in three hours!

Coffee and I had a discussion about why exactly we keep having such good sessions. He then went on to blog eloquently about it here, under the title "Ruminations". You should all go read it.

I'm leaving for Arizona tomorrow to burn myself several shades browner, carcinomas be damned. I'm not sure what sort of IntraWeb access I'll have, so if anyone leaves comments, I'll respond as soon as I can.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Don't give up---Fight On!

Fight On! 4 was released last week. My print copy is on the way, hopefully arriving before I leave for Arizona in a week and a half. In the meantime, I've been perusing my contributor pdf, and my very first impression is, Holy Crap, the art is fantastic this issue! I don't know where Calithena keeps finding people, but man, they're good.

I contributed a few illos myself, plus a Knights and Knaves article featuring a couple of nasty NPCs players might encounter in Otherness, in either the vicinity of the Eastern Tradeway between Ult and Badabask, or the endless alleys and canals of the Obsidian City. This, however, is only the tip of a 124 pg. iceberg of dullness-crushing oldskool goodness. 

Click on that link and buy your copies NOW. You won't regret it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Announcement: Otherness, Session 3

Sorry for the short notice, but it was dicey enough getting a session scheduled this month at all, let alone two weeks in advance. We must all thank my beautiful wife who is actually letting me game on her birthday. I knew there was a reason I married her! :)

So, Otherness: Session 3 will take place this Sunday, March 15, The Ides of March, at The Source Comics and Games, from 12-4. This is a Free Campaign, so anyone can show up and play at any point, though if you feel certain you'll be there, I'd love to know ahead of time.

We'll be heading back Under Xylarthen's Tower, as only the tiniest fraction of it was explored during Session 2. I'm super excited because, having been entered and exited, the dungeon may now be considered alive, and things will not necessarily be as they were left before...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A coffin, some orcs, and thee...

Session 2 of the Otherness campaign happened on Sunday and, I must say, it went swimmingly. We had only  three players to start with this time: Coffee and T.J. from last time, and my friend Larry, with whom I haven't gamed in far too long. In the last hour we were joined by another friend of mine, R.M. (no, I'm not trying to protect anyone's identities...), who brought along his 9 or 10 year-old son, Max. The players headed down Under Xylarthen's Tower (by the indefatigable Jeff Reints) and made a good run of it: everyone got out alive! 

Interesting Stuff

  • Coffee and T.J. both attempted to retrieve their characters from the last Session by rolling on The Table of Despair, as found in Fight On! #3, since it seemed unlikely that that particular group would be reforming anytime soon. T.J.'s character Arp the Dwarf received a result of "You emerge unscathed!" and promptly became known as Arp the Lucky. Bahb the Draftee, however, was not so lucky; he was "Lost to time and space," with all that implies. Coffee shrugged it off, however, probably because he was eager to spring his new Balrog character race on me. :) 

  • Indeed, his well-thought-out race (which can be found written up here) was, unbeknownst to him, exactly the Hargrave route down which I'd been hoping to eventually head. The Spirit of ODD moved in the room and lo, Sneerglaw was born! A man-sized balrog complete with whip, sword and the ability to act as a walking torch headed down into the depths with a dwarf, an elf and four hirelings. 

  • This was actually the first time I've used hirelings, maybe ever. Arp hired two Fighting Men and Larry's elven character hired two elves functioning for this adventure as Fighting Men, though they were actually women. I had them roll a d6 to see what type of armor their respective flunkies had, and I rolled HP and Loyalty (pg. 13 of Men & Magic), modified by Charisma in Arp's case. We decided on weapons, including a bow for one of the elves, and we were ready to go. 
  • We also had the first actual play-test of The Devil's in the Details articles I wrote as a column for the first three issues of Fight On!. These tables help players flesh out the three core demi-human races, and T.J. rolled on them for Arp, while Larry used them for his elf, Nimfitz Niraxis. They seemed to work pretty well. Each ended up with some details that piqued their interest, which is just what I was hoping for. The one that got the most running commentary was Nimitz’s “Breeds new animals in pursuit of a singular vision.” Much possibility for future character activities… 

Some Highlights:

  • One of Arp’s hirelings, Dolph, managed to kill the giant snake in the first room (which then put smack-down on Sneerglaw in its death throes…) He immediately began referring to his spear as “Serpent  Slayer”. 
  • Sneerglaw freaked out an enormous pack of giant rats by snaring one of their number with his whip and then toasting it as he immolated himself. He later got to cook a couple of giant centipedes as well. I think he also ate some orc thigh... Damn balrogs are almost as useful as a gelatinous cube...

  • When joined by two new adventurers, Ballantine the Fighting Man and Redbeard the Dwarf (both detailed a couple of posts ago), played by R.M. and Max, respecitively, Redbeard almost immediately found a secret door. It consisted of nothing more than a shaft with a rope ladder descending into darkness, and they decided to leave it for later, but Max was quite pleased with himself. Almost as proud as in the next room when he quite probably saved Nifmitz from being a snack for a giant weasel by promptly chopping the beast in half. Guess we gotta let the new generation play a bit more often!
  • Early on, the party discovered an oversized coffin, secured with chains and a padlock. After some deliberation, they decided to leave it alone. Later, as they walked towards the dungeon entrance, an exploratory band of eight orcs came trooping down the stairs right for them. Some words were exchanged, and as the leader of the orcs raised his weapon to charge, Nimfitz successfully charmed him. The rest of the orcs were understandably confused at their leader’s change of heart, but became more interested when Nimfitz mentioned huge box full of treasure that was chained shut in a nearby room. He admitted that he and his fellow elves and humans were “too weak to break it open”, but surmised that it’d be a snap for a few strapping orcs. The orcs agreed and, as they began working on the chains, the party surreptitiously blocked the door shut with a couple of spikes.
  • The orcs did indeed break the chains, and something came out of the coffin. There was a terrible moaning, then much orc-screaming and pounding on shut doors. Then, suddenly, everything was silent. They listened at the door until they heard the coffin room’s far door creak open, pulled the spikes, dodged inside and checked out the coffin. Indeed, there was a decent treasure, including a very valuable golden necklace. They scooped it up in time to hear another door swinging open in the tense silence. Redbeard splashed out an oil flask on the floor of the previous room and tossed a torch on it. The burst of flame showed them an awful sight: An ogre who’d been turned into a wight, naked and bone-pale like some kind of gigantic nosferatu, staring at them over the flames. They did what any good first level adventurers would do: They ran like hell right out of the dungeon. And Larry got Nimfitz a 400 XP bonus (half of what eight orcs were worth) with the blessings of his fellow players.

Under Xylarthen’s Tower is a great adventure, full of oldskoolisms, and they’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m really beginning to see how even a single mega-dungeon could become the focal point of a whole campaign. 

Again: Too. Much. Fun.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh yeah... experience points.

I'm blushing as I write this: I almost forgot to hand out experience points for our last adventure. Now, maybe it's because I'm the DM, so I don't get XP, but more likely it's because it's been a long time since I played a game where killing things and taking their stuff was, well, the point. The thing your character (and thus the player) gets rewarded for.

Reward cycles are critical to rpg design; if they're done well, they make it perfectly clear what characters should be doing. The reward is really the secret engine that drives the game, and you know what? Gygax and Arneson nailed it. How much more clear could they be? And that was one of the problems as time went on: Someone(s) decided that characters should be rewarded for role playing instead of rolling to play, which the game's fundamental structure refutes. I mean, sure, you can change it, houserule it, whatever. But you should at least realize what you're doing. Understanding this earlier would have saved me YEARS of frustration. :0

Back to XP. I'm following the "100xp/hd" rule, evenly divided out amongst all surviving characters, with a small bit of adjustment for Bill's second character of the afternoon, who joined the party after their epic battle with the giant rats.

Here's the breakdown:

  1. Giant Rats: 7 x 50 = 350
  2. Goblins: 7 x 50 = 350
  3. Tunnel Wolves: 2 x 200 = 400
  4. Skeletons: 4 x 50 = 200
  5. Evil Cleric: 1 x 300 = 300

Total: 1600

Divided: 1600 - 350 = 1250 / 8 = 156.25 each. I'll be nice and round it up to 157.

Also: 350 / 7 = an additional 50 each for all characters except Mob.

Plus: Any characters that have high enough Prime Requisites should add the appropriate percentage.

And don't forget: The small bits of treasure picked up here and there. I didn't keep track of that, but they all split it up immediately, so it's already on the character sheets.

Hm. Not much. The first thing that occurred to me was that it's actually a tactical decision to not take a huge party into the dungeon. Had only five characters gone down, assuming they all survived, their XP would've been effectively doubled.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Announcement: Otherness, Session 2

Session 2 of my Otherness campaign will be happening on Sunday, February 22 from 12-4 at The Source Comics and Games. Looks like the Gaming Room's gonna be full o' punks, but I says we shall sonically whelm them! WHELM them, says I!

Possible endeavours: 

  1. If somewhere around 90% of last time's players show up (which strikes me as unlikely), we can try and find out just what the cleric wanted with that mysterious door in The Ruined Monastery.
  2. Level 1 of mega-dungeon The Darkness Beneath by Hackman, as found in Fight On! #2.
  3. Level 1 of mega-dungeon Under Xylarthen's Tower by Jeff Reints.
  4. Level 1 of mega-dungeon The Mines of Khunmar by Stefan Poag.
Do you see a theme??

This is a Free Campaign, so all players are welcome. Those who show up determine what we'll play and which characters are subjected to horrible deaths.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Randomness and Differentiation

Sorry it's been so long since I posted, but the Shadow of the Plague fell on House Kesher. Yea, it fell, but has passed on, may it not soon come again...
A few years ago I came to the realization that I was sick to death of character histories. Some of it stemmed from the cliche that, really, no back story I had ever created had really been used by any given GM. Although, if I'm being honest, I was usually the GM and, while I encouraged back stories, rarely did I do anything with them: Mea culpa too.

Some of it also came from years of playing indie games where mechanically-relevant back stories were created during play, sometimes by the player alone, sometimes with the help of the group (Polaris is a really good example of this, as is In a Wicked Age, mentioned a few posts ago); this all made the "Orcs killed my family" clunker seem less than useless.

So enter my first attempt to let go and roll up a character for ODD completely randomly, right down the line. My task was to create a character out of whatever the dice gave me. Here were the results:

Str: 10
Int: 12
Wis: 9
Dex: 11
Con: 6
Cha: 7

Hm. Not too inspiring. Years ago I would've whined about it. However, that wasn't an option here---whining to yourself is usually just silly...

So, I thought, he may as well be a Magic User, even though that Con score is going to mean a -1 to all HP rolls. Except I had a sudden flash: Oh no---even with the Con, he's going to be a Fighting Man. He constantly drinks wine to deal with a persistent hacking cough that has sapped his strength and soured his disposition. His alignment was obviously Neutral at best, sliding toward Chaotic. I bought him a scimitar for pure color, a quart of wine for character and who knows what else, decided he could speak both Gnollish and Elvish, named him Ballantine, and he was ready to go. I'd play this guy in a second. And you know what else? I would make Con rolls after every fight to see if he didn't double over in a coughing fit. And if he did, well, that'd start to shape the rest of his actions. There's no way I'd ever have come up with that had I rolled 6d6takingthebestthreeofeachrollandputtingthemwhereIwanted, or allocated points, or whatever.

Ballantine's patron god is Randomness.

I was so excited I rolled up another character on the spot:

Str: 14
Int: 9
Wis: 7
Dex: 10
Con: 13
Cha: 15

Okay. Better scores on the surface. So, as the rules allow, I knocked his Wis down to 4 and raised his Str up to 15. No mechanical effect, but it does get him the 10% bounus on XP earned if I make him a Fighting Man. Anyone with a Wis of 4 is obviously Lawful, and probably a dwarf. So, a Lawful Dwarven Fighting Man, almost foolishly devoted to some kind of cause, most likely (given his Cha) with a couple of devoted followers. I named him Redbeard, made sure he was wearing platemail, and would defintely load him down with first hirelings, then henchman, for him to awe and boss around. Not bad either!

And the thing is, these details aren't really "backgrounds", per se; they're more like hooks upon which to hang some quick and dirty characterization during play. Each of these characters, of the uber-generic classificaton "Fighting Man" are already starkly differentiated from one another, all through the simple, built-in game tool of Randomness. Oh, Randomness, how I used to loathe you.

And how I love you now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Something for the Fighting Man

Hmm. This wasn't what I had planned to write about next, but there's a great discussion going on at ODD74 about something for the Fighting Man that's syncing with my thinking, as it were.

Snorri mentions the idea of the FM being able to attack one HD of foe/character level. So, for example, a 7th lvl FM could attack 7 orcs, or 3 bugbears, or a single troll, etc. I used to favor this approach, but after reading Chainmail with opened eyes, decided that any creature with more than a single HD should be considered "Fantastic" and needed more attention from the embattled hero, regardless of their level.

However, I'm all for the the "one attack/character level on any foes of one HD or less", as confusingly demonstrated in the second or third issue of the Strategic Review. I also like, from the thread mentioned, the idea that whenever a FM kills an opponent, he gets a second attack on someone else, until he runs out of foes. Nice and pulpy. Plus, it has the cache of being suggested by Dave Arneson himself!

There's a lot of other good ideas there, too; however, most of them have more crunch than I care to deal with. When it gets down to it, I just believe a higher-level FM should be able to plow through a crowd of goblins with no real problem...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rules & Reflections

I went into Sunday's game with only one house-rule in mind: All characters start with maximum HP. This just makes sense to me. Life is already hard enough for a first-level character without him suffering the most likely fatal indignity of starting the game with one or two hits.

Now, once people started making characters, there was some light consternation expressed about, shall we say, the prevalent lack of differentiation between characters. And weapons. So, with the wisdom of Philotomy in mind, I offered up the possiblity of two-handed weapons and arrows rolling two dice for damage and picking the best result. After thinking about it a bit, for the next session I'll add that those using two-handed weapons will always lose initiative unless gained through surprise and that arrows, if a round is spent aiming at something other than point-blank distance, will do two dice of damage. I'm a firm believer that arrows need to be more than just a nuisance. Actually, after writing all that, I can't see why it wouldn't apply to any missle weapon...

When play began, an interesting thing happened: I started making decisions about outcomes on the fly. Now, I had promised myself that I wouldn't fudge the dice--I suffered from that affliction all through my youth, and it was now time to put childish things aside! So, I never did fudge a roll, but I started making some choices based on random dice rolling having nothing to do with anything in the rules. For instance, there were a number of times where a decision needed to be made quickly and so I just rolled a d6: low=bad, high=good. I mean, this is no earth-shattering mechanic, but the thing is, I didn't plan to do it. The die just sorta jumped into my hand and I threw it and we kept on playing. Latent gaming instincts? Desperation? Genius? You decide. I'm just happy it happened, as the French say.

I also, on at least one occasion, let Prem, whose Int happens to be 16 (maybe the highest overall score of anyone?), figure something out without making a roll. Again, not ground-breaking except... I spent four or five very active years in the indie game community and learned many, many wonderful things. One of the wonderfullest was simply this: Say yes or roll the dice. This can be paraphrased as "Only roll the dice when it really matters." Back to Prem. His score was high enough that it seemed pointless to risk him failing; the stakes just weren't important enough. I love that this clicked in my mind while we were playing because, although that maxim became second nature to me in many of the indie games I played, I've never followed it while playing Dungeons & Dragons. Ever. Until now.

See, and I'm not going to get too detailed right now 'cause this deserves its own post, I have a terrible crust built up in my mind where D&D is concerned, and that crust has only recently begun to crack.

I learned at The Forge, but ODD is my hammer.

I can't wait to see what's underneath...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pictures from Sunday

Thanks to Bill for being such an artsy cameraman!

Also, fellas, I think Dawn set a new standard for sheer COLOR of gaming attire...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And So It Began

It all began this last Sunday at The Source Comics and Games, inspired by TARGA's International Traditional Gaming Week. I sent out an email on Friday afternoon when it finally became clear that I could pull this off; I also called and bugged a few people directly. In the end, I walked into the Source with two confirmed players, Coffee and Dawn, and two "possibly/probably" players, Bill and T.J. However, St. Gygax must've been smiling down upon me---already in the store were three fine fellows I know from the Minnesota Indie Game scene: Chris, Shane and Paul. They were there to play a very cool game called In a Wicked Age; however, one of their players didn't show, so they joined us. I also put up a sign inviting anyone interested to join us, and thus we gained Autumn. Finally, just as we were getting started, Bill and T.J. did indeed show, so in the end we had 8 players. Not too shabby!

We used the 3LBB, pretty much straight up. Characters were made simply by rolling 3d6 down the line and only then deciding what class to play. No rerolls, no whining. There was some disbelief at the lack of concrete ability bonuses, but everyone soldiered on, and we ended up with the following initial list (in no particular order):

  • Paul: Torren the Cleric (lawful)
  • Chris: Prem the Magic User   (chaotic)
  • Shane: Gorlim the Fighting Man (lawful)
  • Bill: Albar the Cleric (lawful)
  • Dawn: Delara the Cleric (chaotic)
  • Autumn:Steel Leaf the Elf (neutral)
  • T.J.: Arp the Dwarf (neutral)
  • Coffee: Bahb the Fighting Man (neutral)
Steel Leaf started off as a Fighting Man, Arp was of course a Fighting Man. I kept it to the basics, but in the future I fully plan to let players play whatever race takes their fancy. Everyone started out with max HP. Also, I forgot two bits from Men & Magic: 
  1. Players can shift spend some ability scores to increase others, usually at a 2 or 3:1 ratio. I'll let anyone who so desires correct that next time.
  2. Intelligence over 10 allows for extra languages. So Prem, who has an Int of 16, can actually speak 8 languages. Goodness. We'll fix that next time, too.
We played through almost all of James Maliszewski's excellent The Ruined Monastery, found in Fight On! #1, in three hours of racous fun. Seriously, we had customers and staff from the store wandering  over just to watch us play. Some highlights (WARNING--SPOILERS AHEAD!):
  • Albar bit it in the first room, in the third round of combat, killed by a giant rat who really, really wanted to eat his eyeballs. So much for platemail. Needless to say, his fellow Adventurers made sure his equipment went to a good home. Bill made a new character (Mob the Neutral Fighting Man, who had a helmet) and joined the group before they even left the room...
  • Mob set a tunnel wolf's head on fire.
  • In the old dormitory, where there's a long, narrow crack in the tiled floor, it became obvious that something is creeping around on the level below. Something large with a horrible, deep moan that had no compunction about biting Gorlim's 10' pole in half when he poked it around down there.
  • Prem, frustrated with three less-than-forthcoming goblin prisoners, threw one on a pile of books covered with yellow fungus. Not an attractive death. Needless to say, the remaining prisoners were suddenly more helpful. Well, until Arp kicked one in the head...
  • Steel Leaf, obsessed with moss, was mildly burned by green slime while trying to collect a speicmen in the Moon Pool room. The group followed Bahb's suggestion to burn a path through the slime to the pool, in order to see if there was any treasure to be had. Indeed, a relic of St. Gaxyg the Grey was uncovered which, in Torrem's hands, proved helpful in later encounters.
  • Prem, though handy with a knife and a tossed goblin, held on to his single spell until just the right moment, sending a feisty chaotic cleric to dreamland in a room with  a mysterious door...
And thus we ended. 

Too. Much. Fun.

ex nihilo...

...or something. I only pretend to know Latin so's I look cool! Anyhow, I'll keep this introductory post short and sweet:

I decided I had to stop thinking about RPGs and start playing them again. Revolutionary, I know, but there you have it. This blog will follow the campaign begun this last weekend, inspired by International Traditional Adventure Game Week. The world will develop as we play, thus the title of the blog: For those of you not clued in on the growing lexicon of oldskool lingo, "sandbox" style play starts with a vague concept of a world and grows in detail as the players make choices about where to go and what to do. Or at least that's my interpretation.

I have no idea how often I'll be posting, but my plan is to make it often enough that it'll be worth your while to follow along.