Friday, June 28, 2013

End-of-Week Elmore (6/28/13)

As I was digging around for my weekly Elmore offering, I came across the image to the left above. Did Elmore do an update of Aleena the cleric?! Compare the image to the left with the classic Aleena illo from Mentzer's Red Box. Hmmm, interesting.
If I'm totally behind the times on this revelation, I wouldn't be surprised, and I apologize for being way too excited about old news! Anyone got some context for the more recent illo above? I'm curious about where it was used...
Anyway, speaking of Red Box, I think my recent fit of manic nostalgia for Basic D&D has cooled down over the last week or so. Probably because I've got no time to dither between systems, and because I actually did some reading of the Red Box books, and that interaction with the object of my obession seemed to satisfy said obesssion for the nonce.

Most importantly, I don't want to subject my great group of gamers to rampant campaign and/or rule set hopping. While I don't think I've jumped around too much over the last couple years, I have indeed run a couple different campaigns, and alternated between Castles & Crusades and Labyrinth Lord. That reminds me of a thought I had: sometime in the future, I want to ask my players choose their favorite characters from my prior campaigns, and use those characters in an "all-star" campaign of sorts. Just brainstorming...
At any rate, the Labyrinth Lord rules are working quite well for my current purposes, thank you very much! Speaking of which, we had a pretty cool session three of my Beyond the Westwall campaign this past Wednesday! I'll post a session report as soon as I can. Until then, have a great weekend, folks!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Beyond the Westwall: Session 2 (6/5/13)

At the end of the first session, the party once again encountered a yellowish-green slime creature (or at least half of said creature) below the town of Westguard. They were running from a group of orcs, which had somehow dug their way to a secret entrance in a mysterious burial chamber that the group had discovered. Note that only two players were able to make it to session two: Mark (Umitsu the elf) and Josh (formerly Gerard the fighter, now a cleric named Jarith). I took control of Bill's halfling Bogo and Vela, Pam's thief, for the session.

The elf, Umitsu, was the only one of the party that lingered in the burial chamber, in order to see what the orcs were doing. The elf hid herself in a niche, burrowing under the skeleton therein, and waited. She watched as a rectangular block of stone, which had been the "false" back wall inside one of the tomb's niches, fell with a crash into the chamber. Out stumbled five orcs of the Blood Fist tribe, who proceeded to search the chamber. They quickly noticed the depression in the middle of the floor, which the party discovered had contained what looked like a scroll case sealed with a kind of combination lock. The orcs began arguing even more urgently among themselves when they realized someone else had been in the chamber before them.

Meanwhile, Jarith (Josh's new character), cleric of Phaeton, was making his way through the snowy streets of Westguard with two of his fellow holy men. They were going about to make sure that none of the townsfolk were suffering under ill effects brought about by the harsh winter conditions. Suddenly, one of the town guard came up to the clerics to ask for aid at the Wailing Banshee inn. They agreed and went to help.

Just before Jarith arrived at the ancient burial chamber, Umitsu decided to cast Sleep over the orcs, causing all but one of them to fall asleep. That made it very easy for the fighter Gerard (now under my control as an NPC) to kill the single still-conscious orc while Umitsu dispatched the sleeping humanoids with quick dagger thrusts. It was about this time that Jarith arrived on the scene (having dowsed the slime with dwarf spirits and set it aflame in order to gain access to the tunnel below the Wailing Banshee), and was aghast at the scene of slaughter in the tomb.

Unconcerned with the cleric's discomfiture, Umitsu crawled through the niche through which the orcs had entered the chamber. On the other side she found another burial chamber, very similar in design to the one she had just left. She noticed a jumbled pile of snow-covered masonry at the center of the chamber. Looking up, Umitsu saw where the chamber's ceiling had been broken open from above. Somehow, the orcs were drawn to an exact location above the burial chamber (and less than 200 feet outside the town's wall!) and proceeded to dig.

Then, Umitsu heard more guttural orc voices above, drifting down to her from the hole in the ceiling. She cast Floating Disk to plug the hole temporarily, much to the frustration and confusion of the orcs above.

Meanwhile, once he got over his initial shock, Jarith inspected the chamber while Umitsu looted the orc bodies and investigated the niche. Jarith saw an inscription on the chamber's mosaic that read "Phaeton shall return with the rising of the Great Sun, and will bring the Reunification." Curious to decipher what this might mean, the cleric returned to Westguard's temple of Phaeton to seek possible answers among the priesthood. A senior priest named Father Durnos received Jarith's news regarding the inscription with a sort of rushed introspection that was unlike the older priest. Indeed, Durnos seemed to drop the subject very quickly.
By that time, Umitsu had retired to her room in the Wailing Banshee, to see if she could puzzle out the combination for the mysterious cylinder/scroll case the group had found in the ancient Bright Empire burial chamber. She noticed almost immediately that the last dial to the right had one character that was different, a replacement for a symbol that was on the other six dials. She decided to start with that symbol and work from there, trying out combinations in a systematic, trial-and-error method (a prospect that could be very time-consuming indeed).

As the elf fiddled with the dials, she began to see dark shapes that seemed to lurk at the edges of her vision, and these shapes disappeared when she tried to look directly at them. Then, Umitsu began to hear wordless, sibilant whispering. Eventually, she fell under some sort of compulsion, and some force took control of her.

The room became colder and colder despite the fire in the room's wood-burning stove, and a window across from Umitsu frosted over. Then, as if written by an invisible finger, a sequence of symbols appeared on the glass. The elf, still under some powerful compulsion, used the sequence to open the cylinder. Inside she saw a small repulsive thing floating in some water-like solution, a thing that looked like a thumb-sized brain with several barbed tentacles radiating out from it. The force controlling her began to lift the cylinder to her mouth, as if to make her swallow the tiny brain-thing. With a last burst of willpower (i.e. Mark made his saving throw!), Umitsu was able to resist the force long enough to seal the cylinder once more and stow it away safely.

The session ended after that titanic psychic struggle. Hopefully, session three tomorrow night will find our group back together at the table-top, because I'm excited to keep the adventure rolling! 

Friday, June 21, 2013

End-of-Week Elmore (6/21/13)

Imagine this white dragon saying "Chill out!" with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. 

Happy first day of summer, folks! I hope that, like the cleric pictured above, you "stay cool" during the upcoming hot months. Well, I suppose that since he's cast "Resist Cold" on himself he's not really cool because of the white dragon's breath. BUT, his stoic demeanor in the face of a dragon's breath attack does, in fact, seem to be cool. So, it works.
Anyway, speaking of cool, I was in Minneapolis earlier this week for a work conference (an awesome little city, if you ask me). Thus the lack of posting. However, I'm still obsessing over Mentzer. My desire is to go back and read the Basic, Expert, and Companion sets individually (I've no real interest in the Master and Immortals sets, and according to other blogs I've read I won't be missing much if I skip those). THEN, I would love to read my copy of the Rules Cyclopedia. Because, you know, I have SO much free time to do all of the aforementioned reading. Uh yeah, not so much. But tell that to the irrational segment of my brain.
If somehow I finally fulfil my urge to do a comprehensive reading of Mentzer, I want to do some posts regarding my impressions, especially how it stacks up against my experience with Labyrinth Lord. At this point, I love the utility of LL, but balanced against that is the nostalgia and gravitas that come with the thought of playing "actual" D&D with D&D books...and of course, the associated blasphemy of enjoying Elmore's art.
But who am I kidding right now? As it is, with everything going on in my life right now, it's all I can do just to plan and run my current Labyrinth Lord campaign! Speaking of which, I need to do a recap post of session 2...not to mention finish up some proofreading for a *ahem* certain OSR client I will not name here. Gotta get my priorities straight and get some stuff of the old plate. Oh well, I guess life would be boring if it wasn't so busy, right? 
Well, that's all for now, people. Have a great weekend! 

Friday, June 14, 2013

End-of-Week Elmore (6/14/13)

"Oh my god! He killed Aleena!" "You bastard!"
I think I'm shallow. At least, when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons. Or maybe I'm not.
Perhaps I'm just nostalgic. Or maybe I'm not. Or maybe I am, and that's just friggin' fine.
You may be wondering what in the world I'm talking about here. Well, I know I've talked on this blog before about a yearning to run some Basic D&D action using the original rule books, specifically the Mentzer version of the game. At the moment, I'm running the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh analogue that is Labyrinth Lord. And while I'm having a good time, there's still something missing.
Once again, I'm thinking that I have a nagging, internal insistence that I use the Mentzer-era books I own to run/play Basic D&D. Note: when I talk about my Mentzer books, I'm referring to spiral-bound print-outs of the Basic and Expert books, and my old cherished copy of the Rules Cyclopedia.
You know, for a little while I was feeling sorta ashamed to say that my yearning is perhaps born, at least in part, from nostalgia. We all know that the n-word is indeed a dirty word to some members of the OSR community. But you know what? I don't give a damn. Who the hell am I trying to impress? I'm not trying to win a popularity contest here. I'm trying to play some f-ing Dungeons & Dragons (and who plays D&D to be popular, anyway)?
Why do I want to use the original rules, Mentzer in particular? Here's why:
  • I want to see Elmore's art while I'm flipping through the books (unless I'm using my copy of the Rules Cyclopedia, which means I'll be seeing Terry Dykstra's art, which is also just fine by me). His art is closely tied to my gaming origins, and I get a deep-seated, positive visceral feeling when I see his work. Nostalgia, perhaps, but I don't really care.
  • I want to read the game in Mentzer's vernacular, and experience the "archaic" layout (and damn the vaunted streamlined organization of retroclones!). Nostalgia, perhaps, but I don't really care.
  • I have the old books (or printed PDF versions, at least) and want to use them.

Ok, so there, alright? Screw it, I want to use the old books and it's probably from some sort of nostalgia as well as a bit of practicality, since I want to use what I own.

The only real reason I'm not running a game with the old books right now is the fact that I'm running games at my FLGS, and the proprietors want people to run games that are in print (and therefore can be purchased from the store). I respect this requirement entirely, but it doesn't mitigate my desire!

I want the "gravitas" and the "warm and fuzzies" that come from playing Classic Dungeons & Dragons with the actual books from days of yore! And I don't care who knows!

Friday, June 7, 2013 which I create a Young Woodsman for Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures

OK, here goes (a note to my fellow “BtW experiment” bloggers: I hope you don’t mind that I pulled some intro content from some of your BtW blog posts. I’ve been uber-busy with my new job, so I needed a bit of help in getting this post together. Apologies for taking so long to get around to this):
Rob Barrett over at the Vargold: The Wolf Time blog asked for volunteers to roll up characters for the really cool Beyond the Wall andOther Adventures (BtW) RPG by Flatland Games. If you haven't heard of BtW, go check it out right now, I say! Oh wait, maybe check it out AFTER you read this blog post...
Now, BtW is what I suppose could be called a "neoclone" or a "second generation retroclone." It was created with the premise that it can be used to simulate the adventures of Young Adult fantasy such as the Prydain Chronicles, The Earthsea Cycle, etc. I loved the premise of the game, and the previews I saw, so I went and bought the hardcover/PDF bundle from RPGNow.
Back to Rob Barrett's request for volunteers. BtW has a unique cooperative character creation process that includes setting creation: as the players generate their fantasy heroes, they simultaneously build and populate the heroes' home village. Rob said he “thought it would be interesting to go through this process publicly, and…asked for some partners-in-crime over at the Google+ OSR community.”
Our premise is that the participants' blogs are actually players sitting at a table and going through Beyond the Wall character creation. Each blog is "seated" to the right of another blog, so the character it creates will take part in another character's backstory, per the BtW character creation process. In addition, the locations and NPCs generated by the process will be combined into a single village map and NPC key.
BtW gives you “playbooks” that establish a character’s class, and includes tables that one uses to generate your stats, background/life events, etc.
Here's the list of participants, blogs, and playbook choices in the order in which they're seated at the virtual table:
This post will go through the initial die rolls in my selected playbook, the Young Woodsman character archetype. Then the other players will comment on each other's posts. Later posts will flesh out the characters, village, and NPCs. In particular, Pearce Shea’s character creation affects mine, and my creation process will affect Mike Lizardi’s character in some way.
So, with all that introductory stuff out of the way, here’s my Young Woodsman:
The playbook intro text says “it takes a brave soul to wander the woods. You go where few in your village would dare, and, moreover, you feel at home in those places. You are agile and insightful. Your Dexterity and Wisdom begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.”
Next, there’s a table that establishes what my childhood was like. I roll a d12 and come up with…5. Which means my father was the local smith and taught me both the hammer and the bellows. This gives me +2 STR, +1 DEX, +1 CHA, and the Smithing skill. In addition, there's a map symbol on this table, which means I get to add a location to our group's home village. I guess this means that my character adds a smithy to the village!
Next, I roll on the “how did you distinguish yourself as a child” table (d8). I roll an 8: everyone has something to teach, and you learned a little from them all. This gives a +1 DEX, +1 INT, and +1 WIS.
The next table states that the other player characters were my best friends, and asks who else in the village befriended me growing up. I roll d8 and get a 4: the village elders taught me the ancient game of chess. This gives me +2 INT and +1 DEX. Also, there's a hand symbol on this table, which I believe means that the "village elders" become NPCs...I think.
OK, next is some text that tells me “the woods called to you, and you spend most of your time away from the village now. You become a level 1 Rogue (the other two classes in the game are Warrior and Mage). You gain the class abilities Fortune’s Favor and Highly Skilled, and the skill Survival. The tables below will give you all your bonus skills from your class abilities.”
So, the next table asks “what sort of woodsman are you?” I roll d6 and get 5, which means I am a “tireless tracker,” and this gives me +3 CON and the Tracking skill.
Next table asks “what is your hidden talent?” Roll d6 and…1, “a soulful voice.” +2 CHA and Singing skill. There's a map symbol on this table...but the table doesn't give any pointers on how results pan out into a new village location...unless I'm missing something. I think I remember the rules saying the roll result doesn't necessarily have to be connected to a new village location...
The table after that asks how I make myself useful to the village. This table states that the player to my right (in this case, Mike Lizardi) often helps my character. So, I roll d6 and get 4: “sometimes armies from the south move on distant roads. Unseen, you watch them when they do. I get +2 DEX and the Stealth skill. Mike’s character “stayed with you last summer, watching just such a movement of troops, and gains +1 DEX.”
OK, one more table, this one asking “what did you find in the woods that no one knows about?” Roll d6 and…2: a deep cave complex with many entrances hidden in a vine-covered stretch of rocky riverside. I get +2 INT and my own “little cave”! This table also indicates NPC creation, but gives no real input as to the nature of said NPC. Since this is out in the woods beyond the village, I guess this could be some sort of hermit...or something more sinister?
So, my young woodsman who became a rogue has the following:
INT 14
WIS 11
DEX 15
STR 10
CON 11
CHA 11

(UPDATE: my INT was 13 at the end of my creation process, but during Pearce Shea's creation process, I received an additional +1 to INT!)
Skills: Smithing, Tracking, Stealth, Singing
His own little cave!
That’s it for now. The next step is for me to read my fellow participant’s posts and start collaborating with them on the nature of our home village, the NPCs therein, etc! I hope you continue to read about our little experiment on our blogs, and check out Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures for yourself.

End-of-Week Elmore (6/7/13)

Is this a rematch?

An illo by Elmore where we see the back of a warrior who's facing a red dragon? Hmm, seems familiar... 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beyond the Westwall: Session 1 (5/29/13)

Well, I made my return to the GM's chair as of last Wednesday night (5/29/13), and it felt damn good! I'm running a new campaign using Labyrinth Lord (augmented by some house rules). As for the world which my players are exploring, I'm using a combination of Rob Conley's Points of Light and Blackmarsh settings.

Our story begins in the hamlet of Westguard, which lies to the west of the Grand Kingdom. Indeed, the hamlet is currently the only outpost of said kingdom in the frontier beyond the Westwall mountain range (and thus the name of the campaign). Scattered across the landscape are the ruins of a much older civilization called the Bright Empire, which fell centuries ago.

It is deep winter, and the region has been under a heavy pall of clouds for weeks. During that time, snow has fallen almost continuously. Thus, Westguard has struggled to keep its lanes free of mountainous snow drifts, and the locals find it difficult to move about the town without great difficulty.

The first session opened with our intrepid party of adventurers (seemingly) safe and warm in (where else?) the common room of an inn called The Wailing Banshee (very original, no?). The PCs include a female thief named Vela (Pam), a female elf named Umitsu (Mark), a male halfling named Bogo (Bill), and a male fighter named Gerard (Josh).

The thief proceeded to case the crowd in the common room and cut the purse from a drunken sailor as he caroused with his fellow seamen. Bogo distracted the sailors with some halfling drinking songs to make Vela's work easier. The elf amused herself by putting rats to sleep in the common room. Gerard was fixing for a good brawl.

Umitsu decided to ask the lascivious proprietor, Tanner, if he needed any help with his rat problem. After leering at the elf and getting slapped on the head for his trouble by his wife Cecilia, he agreed to pay the elf a small sum if she could clear out his cellar. Umitsu agreed, but when the proprietor continued to leer at her, she slapped him hard enough to knock him out. The wife, Cecilia (who, rumor has it, was the inspiration for the inn's name), applauded the elf's actions and bade Umitsu continue on her assignment to clear the rats in the cellar. Umitsu took Gerard with her, in order to keep him out of trouble if nothing else. This all occurred while the thief and halfling were robbing the sailors.

The halfling, Bogo, also took it upon himself to listen in on conversations. In this way, the group heard rumors of a dungeon built by the decadent Bright Empire centuries before. It's said that the dungeon was used by the ancient emperors to torture enemies of the state for entertainment, and is supposed to be filled with all manner of deadly traps...and perhaps riches. Bogo also learned of a recent rash of disappearances among the townsfolk. Four people have gone missing, with one elderly woman returning as suddenly as she had disappeared. The woman has been in a coma since her return, with no one able to wake her (not even the priests of the town's temple to Phaeton, the god worshipped in the Grand Kingdom).

In the cellar, Umitsu found a good many rats and put them to sleep...but then noticed that one back wall of the cellar was pulsing. Gerard lit a torch and, to their horror, they saw that a ten-foot-square section of the cellar wall was covered with some sort of yellow-green slime. When Gerard tried to take a closer look, a pseudopod lashed out from the wall and slapped against his armor.

It was then that Vela and Bogo went down into the cellar to check on their allies. Reunited, the group decided to do something about the wall-clinging slime. In short order, they managed to melt away sections of the slime with a torch, but not before the slime split into two halves: one of which slipped behind a rack of ale casks, and one of which sucked itself into a crack in the wall. Upon inspection, the group felt air flowing through said crack, and decided to break through the wall.

Before they could finish, however, two town guards came down into the cellar, looking to arrest Umitsu. They had been called by one of Tanner's daughters, who happens to be a barmaid at the Wailing Banshee. The party told the guards about the slime, and when one of the guards poked a sword between some ale casks, a pseudopod lashed out at him. The guards were spooked and ran off to obtain the help of a magic-user on the town's payroll.

The party broke through the cellar wall and found a tunnel, but no sign of the slime. They moved down the length of the tunnel and came to a circular chamber. In the walls of the chamber were carved niches, each of which held a human skeleton dressed in decaying rags that once might have been fine robes. The floor was covered with a mosaic depicting the face of Phaeton, surrounded by the faces of other ancient gods including Sarrath, who the ancients believed ruled over the underworld (Phaeton eventually became the primary human god, with the other gods become "angels" or, in Sarrath's case, the equivalent of the Christian Devil).

Closer inspection of the mosaic found that one of Phaeton's gemstone eyes was actually a sort of button. When pressed, the circular section of the floor depicting Phaeton's face dropped a few feet into the floor. This revealed a small hole in which rested a tiny ornate chest. Inside the chest was a strange cylinder similar to a scroll case. This case, however, seemed to be protected by a combination lock of sorts: along the length of the case were seven dials with seven symbols each (the symbols being letters from the language of the Bright Empire).

As the group was inspecting the strange cylinder, they heard a grinding of stone. To their shock, they saw one of the skeletons was rocking in its niche. This, they discovered, was due to the rear section of the niche being pushed inward. They could also hear guttural voices that, as Umitsu discerned, were speaking the language of goblins and orcs.

As the party began to leave hastily from the chamber, the elf watched as the stone at the rear of the niche fell into the burial chamber, revealing the forms of five orcs fighting over who would enter the chamber first. They spoke of an orc named Orog, presumably a chieftain of their tribe, and how something in the chamber had been "calling" to him and driving him mad. Orog had received visions of the chamber's location, and the orcs had somehow tunneled to it, despite the frozen ground.

As the majority of the party drew near the cellar, they noticed a disturbing sight: the yellow-green slime had stretched itself across the opening in the tunnel. It seemed they were now caught between the slime and some angry orcs...