Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Really grotesque method for animating the dead...

Illustration by Michael Bukowski
If you don't know Michael Bukowski's really awesome Yog-Blogsoth, you are missing out. Today's feature is the Rolang, and you really have to check out this post.

Why? Because it contains descriptions of the most horrible animate dead ritual I've ever read! If D&D magic users had to use the time consuming and disgusting process described, there would probably be a lot less zombies in D&D games.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Paragons of Waterdeep: Session 16

(Note: we had a gamer named Mark stop by and ask to join in on our Wednesday night adventures. Me and the gang gave him a warm welcome, and he agreed to take on the role of NPC elven fighter Otiver for the session. Player Jamie stopped by to let us know he had landed a good job, and we cheered the good news before he and his girlfriend headed out to celebrate. So Bill, Pam, and newcomer Mark picked up the adventure.)

At the end of the last session, the party was retreating from a surprise assault by several assassins in dark cloaks. Our heroes managed to kill one of their attackers but they were in turn suffering serious wounds. When the party slipped back outside the farmhouse that they had entered, they found that a half-dozen men who appeared to be common drovers had taken NPC Leela hostage, and were also threatening to kill the party's comatose wizard Keseim (Leela was eventually released).

The man holding a knife to Leela's throat addressed the group in smarmy tones, telling them that they had better agree to become unwilling couriers for the Shadow Thieves. The guild of thieves had been pushed out of Waterdeep a century before, and was now making a move toward total domination of the city. The party was handed a black iron box and told not to open it, but rather to carry the box into Waterdeep and wait to be contacted by another Shadow Thieves agent. If the group didn't cooperate, the guild would kill the wizard Keseim. The party watched helplessly as the Shadow Thieves agents left with the unconcious wizard.

Trying to hold their anger in check, Kale and Oisin decided to investigate the farmhouse (along with Milo the rogue, who I used as an NPC with Jamie out of the game for the night). Mark decided that Otiver was going to stand guard outside. Before the rest of the party could explore much of the house, they heard the sound of monstrous roaring from outside. They came outside to find Otiver locked in mortal combat with a nine-foot-tall, twisted-looking bear. It was obviously the beast that had been killing cattle and had killed Mrs. Winterburn.

The party was able to fight off the beast. After dealing a goodly amount of damage to the thing, it faded from existance before their eyes. The Shadow Thieves were using the summoned bear-thing to terrorize the area, and it seemed they had no qualms about sending the thing after the player characters despite a stated desire to use the party as unwilling smugglers!

After the battle, the group turned once again to investigating the farmhouse. They discovered Old Man Willets in a bedroom, laying face down in a pool of blood. The old man was still barely alive, and they began questioning him while trying to keep him alive. The stubborn greybeard refused to talk at first, but moaned about how he was betrayed. Finally, as death neared, he revealed that he was more than just a cattle farmer: he was in fact a wizard from Cormyr, though one of modest power. He had been working for the Shadow Thieves for some time, helping them to spread their influence across north-western Faerun.

The orb in the black iron box had been Willets' most recent acquisition. The artifact had come from the east through a trader. Willets had shown the orb to the Shadow Thieves, hoping to use it to curry more favor. Instead, they had decided to kill him for his efforts, for reasons unknown (perhaps they had decided that he had reached the end of his usefulness).

It was then that a young man came into the house calling out for his father. This was Willets' son, Gregor. When he came upon the party standing around his father's bloody body, he was of course instantly devastated. Then he attempted to cast a spell at the party, but Otiver (Player Mark) moved quickly to interrupt the spell. The party explained what had happened to Gregor, and he cursed his father for not revealing more about the dealings with the Shadow Thieves. That was when Old Man Willets drew his last breath.

After mourning the death and laying the old wizard to rest (with proper rites led by Oisin the cleric, who has had to preside over far too many such funereal rituals), the party asked Gregor to inspect the communication scroll from Mrs. Winterburn's room. When the young man read the runes, a golden face appeared above the scroll and spoke in fond tones for a moment. But when the face realized that it was not being summoned by Mrs. Winterburn, it quickly grew angry and demanded to know who was using the scroll.

When the party tried to explain, the face said that it knew who they were, saying that they were the group responsible for a certain apprentice disobeying the rules of the Archmage of Waterdeep, Khelben Arunsun, also known as The Blackstaff! The party quickly realized that were in fact speaking to that powerful wizard. The archmage told the part to wait for the arrival of an ally of his, then broke the contact.

Not long after, the sound of great wings could be heard outside. When the party investigated, they saw several gryphons wearing complicated saddles landing in the yard. Astride one of the majestic beasts was an elven female of the Summer Green clan, allies of Kale's own clan. However, this elf, who called herself Jana, was not known to the ranger. Jana asked the party to mount the gryphons and accompany her to Waterdeep. The party did as requested, and in no time took to the air and began a flight toward the City of Splendors.

To be continued...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Early D&D and Feeling Left Out

I feel like there's something of an "inner circle" in the OSR. There's guys steeped in the early editions/versions of the game (OD&D/the LBBs, Holmes, Moldvay) and early supplements, and I am just now scratching the surface of that era in the game's history.

As I explore, I'm becoming more and more interested in stepping away, at least for a while, from my AD&D roots (which I'm currently expressing through AD&D's modern counterpart, Castles & Crusades). I'm becoming more interested in using the old rituals, so to speak, of Basic D&D.

Besides a yen to actually play in/run games using Basic D&D rules for the first time, I've also wondered about the reality behind names like Tekumel, Empire of the Petal Throne, and Arduin. I see the veneration for these items that some people have expressed, and I feel a certain envy, not having been exposed to those things when a young man starting out in the hobby.

Now, I've read up on the meat of Tekumel and Arduin, and further study has not garnered any particular interest on my part. Some of the mystery has been stripped away and I guess I wasn't too impressed. The same goes for my delvings into OD&D and Holmes...they just don't seem to do too much for me. Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X is where I really seem to start liking things, and on through the Mentzer era culminating in the Rules Cyclopedia.

As far as clones go, I like the style and passion that comes from Matt Finch's Swords & Wizardry, and also the magic that seems to be infused into the pages of Dan Proctor's Labyrinth Lord. As for "second generation" clones, I really like Adventurer Conqueror King, and Newt Newport's Crypts & Things is up there too.

But I'll always feel like I missed out on something as a kid, for not having experienced Basic D&D all those years ago, during my formative time in the hobby. Ah well. Here's to making up for lost time! GAME ON!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Question: Leveling Up?

I've been running some searches in the blogosphere, and came across some interesting old stuff in the community. This post got me thinking once again about my issues with the millions of experience points needed to reach high levels in D&D.

I've gone back and forth on this topic. Sometimes I wonder if I want to stick to good old XP in order to play as close to rules-as-written as possible. But I've been playing with the idea of letting characters level up after their players have participated in a certain number of sessions. I was thinking of setting it at five sessions. I think this depends on the group and how frequently it meets. I've been pretty lucky to be able to game for a while now almost every week (once a week). So if you can do about 50 sessions in a year, that's 10th level in a year for all characters involved. Not too shabby, I think. Thoughts?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paragons of Waterdeep: Session 15

(Note: this session included Jamie and his rogue Milo, Pam and her elven ranger Kale, and Bill and his Lathanderite cleric Oisin. Much to our sadness, Player Wes seems to be tied up with important life matters, so will be away from our table indefinitely. We hope he can join us again sometime in the near future. Until then, a seat is always open for him!)
After our intrepid band of adventurers took their meals at the Watchful Knight Inn in the frontier outpost of Beliard, they turned in for a good night’s rest (the first time sleeping in beds for some time). Despite the meager accommodations, the cots on which they slept felt like feather beds.
The next morning found them strolling to the common room for breakfast (while back in a room an NPC, Leela the cleric who has lost her faith, took care of Player Wes’ wizard character Keseim, who was still under some sort of sleeping curse). At once they noticed that the wizened and irascible proprietor, Mrs. Winterburn, was not at her usual perch on a stool behind the bar. Instead, her halfling servant Yollo was bustling about the common room, trying to serve the patrons there as best he could. The halfling, however, was unused to running a business, so was greatly flustered, as were the cook and the barmaids.
The group managed to get Yollo’s attention, and he told them Mrs. Winterburn had not come out of her room that morning at her usual early hour. When the halfling went to check on her, he found her door unlocked. While her bed showed signs of having been slept in, the old woman was nowhere to be seen.
At this point Milo and Kale investigated the room, while Oisin (accompanied by NPC elven fighter Otiver) asked the patrons for any clues that might be gleaned (this questioning produced nothing of note). A search of the proprietor’s chamber at the back of the inn yielded no sign of struggle, but Milo and Kale did find a seemingly blank scroll hidden in a secret compartment in Mrs. Winterburn’s wardrobe. Oisin and Otiver joined Kale and Milo in the room, and Oisin cast Detect Magic. This allowed him to see arcane runes written on the scroll. Bereft of their wizard, no one in the group could read the scroll.
It was then that screams were heard from the common room. The party rushed back to find the common room filling with worried and angry townsfolk, and the barmaids wailing in anguish. A young cattle drover had come to the inn, breathlessly telling how he had discovered the bloody remains of Mrs. Winterburn just north of the town. Apparently, the mysterious beast that had been killing cattle had moved on to human prey. The party went to investigate, and they were followed by a large group of locals.
When they arrived at the scene, they were aghast at the state of the corpse. Mrs. Winterburn had been torn to shreds. The ground surrounding the remains was a churned mess of bloody mud, with no clean tracks to be found. There were also no tracks of any creature discernible leading to or from the site. There was speculation that some flying beast was responsible.
Oisin decided to call on Lathander’s aid in speaking to the spirit of the dead woman. Announcing his intentions to the crowd raised some murmurs of disapproval from some of the more superstitious locals, while others gasped in awe of what was about to happen. The cleric was able to contact Mrs. Winterburn. She revealed that she was a former student of Khelben Arunsun, Archmage of Waterdeep. She left her apprenticeship many years before due to lack of desire to rise high in the ranks of the Blackstaff’s service, in addition to having fallen in love with a man. She left Waterdeep and settled in the relative backwater of Beliard, where she raised two sons (Aron and Bran), whom she now mourned for treating them poorly when they became men (they subsequently left the outpost years ago).
Though Winterburn had left the Blackstaff’s tower, she had not left his service. She used the communication spell written on the scroll the party had found in her wardrobe to contact him, and vice versa. Khelben sometimes asked her to keep an eye on the situation in the region, particularly when it came to the potential activities of organizations such as the Shadow Thieves (a guild that had been pushed out of Waterdeep years before), the Zhentarim, or others.
Though it seemed that Winterburn had been one of the Harpers, the semi-secret organization dedicated to the cause of justice across the Realms, she said that she was not a part of that group. With regard to her death, the spirit did not know what attacked her, but she knew that it had seemed to step out of thin air, as if it was a summoned creature from another plane. She had been out investigating the recent cattle mutilations the night before when the creature set upon her suddenly.
Meanwhile, due to his focus on his conversation with the dead, Oisin was not aware of the rising tensions surrounding him. An angry contingent of rough-looking men, led by a local ruffian named Rand, pushed through the crowd and began threatening the party for disturbing the spirit of the dead woman. Kale, Milo, and Otiver stood their ground and drew weapons to defend Oisin. There was a tense stand-off before Rand and his thugs turned and left, but not before Rand warned the party that their business was not finished.
The people that remained were sympathetic to the party’s desire to put Mrs. Winterburn’s spirit and body to rest. The party and the townsfolk brought the woman’s remains to the back of her inn, where they buried her as Oisin said Lathanderite last rites.
Not long after they returned to the inn’s common room to discuss their next steps, a commotion on the street outside the inn brought them to the windows to look outside. Rand and a larger group of cronies were out in the street, armed with weapons as well as torches and oil. Rand called for the group to leave Beliard, or he and his men would burn them out.
The party readied for possible battle, and Kale took a warning shot that took the torch out of one of the thug’s hands. This, plus the appearance of obviously skilled adventurers ready for battle, caused several of Rand’s men to flee. Rand retreated once more, swearing that he would return with even more men next time.
The party then decided to go and visit one of the nearby farms that had experienced cattle mutilations, in the hope of getting more details on the nature of the creature they were dealing with. They also decided to pack up all of their belongings (and put the sleeping Keseim in a wagon with Leela) and prepare to leave the town on short notice. They also wanted to avoid having the inn become collateral damage in the escalating conflict with Rand.
When the party arrived at the farm of Old Man Willets, a group of six drovers told them to go on up to Willets’ home beside a large barn. The group knocked on the door to the house, but there was no answer. Fearing something foul had happened to the man, they went through the unlocked door with weapons ready. Inside was a large room filled with farm implements and riding gear.
Before the group could advance to the door across from them into the next part of the house, four cloaked and hooded figures stepped out of a shadowed corner of the room. Each bore a wavy-bladed kris knife forged from some reddish metal in each hand. These strangers attacked immediately, and the group soon found themselves hard pressed in combat. Their attackers scored several hits, and the bite of their blades seemed to cause a strange weakness in those they struck.
The party managed to kill one of the attackers before deciding that they needed to retreat, after the NPC Otiver was gravely wounded (and Milo was stabbed and failed a save against a Strength-draining effect). The group began a fighting withdrawal, backing out through the door they hand originally entered through. Once outside, they were greeted by a disturbing sight: Leela (who had stayed outside with Keseim) was being held by one of the drovers the group had met earlier. The man, with his five fellows behind him, was holding a dagger to Leela’s throat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why do I love the RC? XP for Roleplaying (and More)!

It seems like lately I've been reading some blog posts blasting D&D for not having rules for earning XP beyond killing things and taking their stuff (don't ask me to point out specific blog posts, I can't do it, so you'll have to trust me on this one).

Perhaps these bloggers were referring to OD&D or Moldvay/Cook/ Marsh BX. Why do I say that?

Because the Rules Cyclopedia (a consolidation of Mentzer's BECMI) has an experience chapter (Chapter 10) that breaks down how characters earn experience thusly:

1. By Role-Playing Well
2. By Achieving Party Goals
3. By Defeating Monsters and Opponents
4. By Acquiring Treasure
5. By Performing Exceptional Actions

So, as you can clearly see, earning XP from killing monsters and getting treasure are numbers 3 and 4 on the Rules Cyclopedia list! The chapter goes on to give the details on how exactly XP of all types is actually determined (I can't get into it now, sorta busy with work and all).

Thinking back through the misty fog of my memory, I seem to recally that, though I never played using the RC rules (again, being firmly an AD&D kid) I nonetheless read the Cyclopedia and mined it for information. This includes the experience chapter.

My love for the RC grows and grows...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ok, there ARE some things that bug me about Castles & Crusades...

...such as the extensive armor list. It's a bit of that "AD&D complexity" filtering through, I think. It's not as onerous as the AD&D polearm list, thankfully.

But I mean, come on. Greek Ensemble? I really just want the good old list that includes leather, scale, chain mail, banded, plate. Done.

Sorry, it's Monday morning. I'm mourning the weekend.

Maybe this is all just fueled by my recent readings of the Rules Cyclopedia as well as my PDF of the ACK system (the latter of which I am really liking, and not for the domain control rules either).


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Paragons of Waterdeep: Session 14

Session 14 was the first session of 2012, and I found myself with three of my four regular players, which was great! Due to the holiday season and various other reasons, we’ve been missing some game nights, so it was nice to have most of the gang back together.

So therefore, this session was something of a regrouping adventure. After the group shook up the nest of troglodytes under an abandoned elven tower in the High Forest and were subsequently overwhelmed, they retreated back to where they had left the rest of their party. On the way, they met up with Player Jamie’s thief Milo. Together, they found that the rest of the party they had left behind had gone west to return to the Spring Dawn clan. The players (Pam and Bill in addition to Jamie) decided to take their splinter group and return to the clan as well, as they felt they had done all they could in their effort to divert the Autumn Blade clan’s raids.

Their journey back to the clan was uneventful, and it was a happy reunion once the party rejoined the Spring Dawn encampment. Kale the elven ranger was once again reunited with all of her fellow Daughters of Mielikki, the clan’s elite group of rangers. And Leela (an NPC), the cleric Oisin’s fellow Lathanderite, was there to greet them. She seemed in much better spirits, somewhat more recovered from her traumatic injuries suffered when fighting an ankheg in a previous session.

The party discussed the future of the clan, and quickly realized that a new leader (or voantir) had to be chosen soon. There was some difference of opinion among who should take on the position. None of the surviving family of the last voantir were willing or prepared to assume the mantle. Though the members of the group had traditionally sworn not to take any role in the politics of the clan, the Daughters of Mielikki (Kale included) thought that the current circumstances called for a break with tradition. The obvious choice would have been Breonna, the leader of the rangers who had been de facto leader of the clan since the voantir’s death.

But Breonna was reluctant, and some of the other rangers thought others among their number might be better serve. This included Kale, who found that several of her sisters would support her should she choose to seek the position. There was some more discussion and eventually a vote, and Breonna was designated as the choice. She left the group to speak of the decision with the dead voantir’s family.

With the clan now in a much safer place, and with the promise of a new and stronger leader, the PC’s decided it was time to head back to Waterdeep. They decided they would head west to the City of Splendors, from which they had been absent for almost a month. The next morning, after the announcement to the clan of the truth of the voantir’s demise and the ascension of Breonna as the new leader, the party departed. They made their way to a small trading outpost called Beliard. The rough settlement boasted only one inn, The Watchful Knight, the largest of the wooden structures in the outpost.

The inn’s proprietor, a grizzled old human woman, was quite vociferous about her distrust of elves, so she kept a squinty eye on Kale. The old woman insisted that elves had stolen her child as an infant and has left an elven child as a changeling. Kale was none too pleased with the old woman, but her anger was somewhat placated by a halfling named Yollo. The halfling is the proprietor’s helper, and showed the party to their rooms. Along the way, Yollo regaled them about a recent spate of cattle slaughterings. He told them of large and strange tracks found near the carcasses, and then left them to unpack their belongings and then take meals in the inn’s common room.

To be continued…

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Blogosphere is a Harsh Mistress

So, this post is an attempt on my part to get some more attention for two other recent posts I wrote! As I stated in the title of this post, the blogosphere is indeed a fickle bitch. Sometimes you'll work hard on a post and it gets no love from the good readers (i.e. comments). Other times you'll write a post in five minutes and a dozen people comment on it. I know all this depends on the vagaries of time of day, availability of readers on a day-to-day basis, etcetera.

But I'm raging against the dying of the light, here!

So, I'll shut up now and give you the links to the two recent posts that I humbly request you read and comment upon, should you so choose! You're feedback is much appreciated! Thanks, friends!




Monday, February 6, 2012

Fantasy from Across the Pond

I'm something of an Anglophile. I pretty much love all things British. Lately, this love affair has (once again) come to include British RPGs, specifically those that would be considered old school.

Perhaps the most famous British RPG, Warhammer FRPG, has been on my shelf for ages. I have a copy of the 1st editon with the awesome cover below (I've always thought that the wizard guy to the right looks like Jack Palance):

I picked it up years ago, but I've never played it. Everyone around me was so into D&D, Palladium games, or Amber Diceless RPG that there was never any interest to do anything else.

At Free RPG Day a couple years ago I grabbed the Dragon Warriors introductory booklet put out by Mongoose Publishing. This was my first exposure to that game, and I acquired the Mongoose editon of the rule shortly thereafter. Again, I haven't played it, but it looks really cool.

Something about having a British RPG has always seemed so exotic to me. Perhaps this feeling started when, as a teen (who had already been playing D&D), I found a copy of The Forest of Doom in a used book store, one of the Fighting Fantasy game books. I still have my copy, and it's still in great condition (cover image below):

Here was a game (albeit with a rather simple game book system) that WASN'T D&D, with mechanics not at all based on the D&D engine. What a concept! And the fact that it was British?! Even better! The simplistic nature of the mechanics wasn't lost on me, but I was enchanted nonetheless (Note: I encounted Fighting Fantasy before Warhammer).

I enjoyed playing The Forest of Doom, but I never tried to find any other Fighting Fantasy books. D&D and, later, other games were so prevalent in my life that they overwhelmed all other concerns.

These days, I'm once again curious about British RPGs. Newt Newport over at Sorcerer Under Mountain (the mind behind Crypts & Things) has been posting about old school British RPGs, and this post alerted me to the existence of Advanced Fighting Fantasy.

I'm really intrigued by Advanced Fighting Fantasy, and I'm working on getting myself a copy of the second edition of the rules. And this time, I'm determined to not let a British RPG just sit on my shelf. I'll let you know what I discover, once I get my hands on that book!

In the meantime, everyone feel free to share their own experiences with British RPGs, please!

Edit: It wasn't until recently that I acquired my second Fighting Fantasy game ever: Wizard of Firetop Mountain for my iPhone. I'm trying to picture what would happen if my current self was able to time travel, and tell my teen self that one day I'd be playing a gamebook on something the size of a calculator. Sorry, the passage of time wigs me out most of the time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Take this Gaming Survey!

So, JB at the awesome B/X Blackrazor blog has put out a call for people to complete a gaming survey. I've already completed it and sent it back to him. I think you should as well!

Take the survey!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Question of the Day: To House Rule or Not to House Rule?

Greetings, all! I don't have much time today, but I wanted to ask another question (geared mostly toward D&D and its spawn):

What is your stance on house rules? Do you avoid them totally, or do you use them to some degree? If you do use them, how extensive (or not) are your house rules? And what are the aspects of the game that you house rule?

For myself, I like to keep house rules to a minimum. I've limited myself to one 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper for house rules for my C&C campaign. And actually, only one side of the sheet has the house rules. The other side has rules from the Castle Keeper's Guide that I am using to augment the rules from the C&C Player's Handbook. So again, just one page of house rules.

My criteria these days for choosing a rule set to use is how much I would have to house rule to get a game I want to play. C&C is one of those games that I don't want to/need to house rule too much for it to do what I want it to do. When I find myself house ruling a game too much, that means (to me) that it's not one I want to play.

There is, however, something to be said for remembering to try playing a game for what it is (rules as written). Lord knows I have a hard time putting that into practice. I just dive automatically into tinkering for some reason. I'm trying to resolve/rethink that impulse in my mind right now with regard to Labyrinth Lord. I want to potentially run some LL games but I keep trying to house rule it too much (in my opinion). But I think I'm reaching a point where I'm accepting the game for what it is, rules as written.

Anyway, looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

P.S. I know JB at B/X Blackrazor has written about house rules, and his opinion is pretty clear, I think!