Sunday, December 29, 2013

Announcing Henchmen Week

I spent a long time last night working on a post for the old blog here about henchmen. Running several different old school-style games at the same time often means that I end up cobbling together several different rule systems into a whole that's only cohesive so long as I keep it all in sight at the same time, which means that whenever I switch systems, I tend to lose sight of some of the particulars of my loose alliance of vaguely compatible rules and occasionally end up contradicting myself or creating opportunities for the more nit-picky among players to try to find loopholes. So, I decided that I need a single Unified Henchmen Theory to straighten out the parts that need straightening out to help me keep my eye on every part of strange -- though often useful -- whole.

Last night, I tried to write that Unified Henchmen Theory, but I realized I had far too much to say for a single post. How can I confine all the tools I'd need to handle henchmen in each different system to a single post? Instead, I decided today (in my frustration over my inability to keep it down to one post) to a whole week of posts about henchmen, not that it's going to end up terribly complicated or anything, just that I've got a lot of ground to cover. And while we're at it, I'd love to hear your ideas as well.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Game Night Wish List

I've talked before about starting up a monthly game night at my favorite local watering hole, Ypsilanti's classic Tap Room. So far, the only detail that we've (we being my wife and a few friends, including a few of the Tap Room's staff who want to make sure it's their night off so they can attend) gotten straight is that it will occur on Wednesday nights and will be at most once a month. Exactly what games will be played by whom with whom and for how long are all up in the air. It should be obvious that I plan on running at least one something each month, but there are plenty of other folks who have volunteered to run or host something (including +Donn Stroud). Now, a lot of the stuff that people want to play is boardgames and probably some card games, which is cool and all, but those aren't the sort of games that I'm looking forward to. And so, here's my wish list of games that I'm hoping to play at these shebangs. Maybe I'll run some, maybe I'll get to play, but whatever.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

This one really shouldn't be much of a surprise to folks. It's been awhile since I've run DCC in public (GenCon anyone?), and I always have a blast with it. There's something about the confluence of DCC and booze that's like peanut butter & chocolate. Funnel adventures (especially with my Deck of Many Zeroes, which always features 52 unique 0-levels) are a great way to introduce folks to old schooliness. Also, most of the rules are pretty easy for folks to get a handle on at least in funnel games, which might be all we ever do. Or maybe just some short adventures like the two +Harley Stroh joints, Tower of the Black Pearl and Well of the Worm. Fun, short stuff like that to really show off the fun parts of gaming.

Arkham Horror/Elder Sign

I've never actually played these ones and am feeling like I'm missing out. I, of course, wouldn't be running it, but I'd love to play. So, pals of mine in SE Michigan, if you have a copy of either AH or ES and are willing to teach it to a group of drunken louts, let's hook it up.

Call of Cthulhu/Trail of Cthulhu

While we're on the subject of Lovecraft-inspired gaming, lets talk about the classics and a pretty good reinterpretation of that classic. Game night rpg sessions seem to be ideal for the death or dementia outcomes that are commonplace in CoC-style games. I haven't had the opportunity to play CoC... ever. Nope, not once. I ran the hell out of it back in the 90's, but never once was able to play. That having been said, I'll gladly do either.

Oldhammer

Lately, the idea of the OSR being things other than D&D clones has been gaining more traction, which is good, because I think that's a pretty lame distinction. D&D wasn't the only awesome game back in the day, and old schooliness should encompass RQ, Gamma World, Traveller and all that sort of awesome stuff that I dig from back in the day. Yeah, I know that's selfish, to want to include all the cool old stuff I dig, but it turns out that other people dig the same stuff too, so the discovery that there's a whole mess of old school Warhammer aficionados out there playing the edition that got me excited about wargaming back in the 80's and love the same classic models and grotty art that made me fall in love with White Dwarf and the idea of sending tons of 25mm warriors off to their demise. The idea of gaming with the open platforms that are WH3e and 40k1e, with (or even without) classic lead just makes my wobbly parts go all tingly. So, I'd really enjoy finding a few other folks interested in low point-value skirmishes with a round robin structure for GMing and scenario design. If it ever happens. Who knows. It'd be badass if it did, though.

Car Wars

Remember Car Wars? Why isn't it still an awesome thing that geeks play all the time? Why don't I have any Hot Wheels cars with plastic guns from action figures glued onto them? Why do I have no idea how to actually play Car Wars? All I know about this game is that it should be ridicu-fun and I want learn everything I can from someone who already knows the score. While we're at it, I'd love to learn OGRE, too, and pretty much any of the microgames that Steve Jackson used to put out.

Well, that's all I can come up with right now. I'm sure that I'll come up with a longer laundry list of games I want to work into the mix. Here's hoping it actually becomes a thing.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ritual Magic In Delving Deeper

This last Sunday it was time yet again for my bi-weekly Delving Deeper game set in Quasquetherion, my own take on B1: In Search of the Unknown. Being an OD&D whitebox clone, Delving Deeper has the benefit of feeling like there's a lot of room to make changes to the rules, to customize things to fit exactly the game I want to run. This is the version of D&D that spawned a host of unique rules and rulings, whose growth was encouraged by articles in fanzines that broadly expanded the game, who spawned a wealth of fanmade supplements and launched a thousand houserules. This is the D&D that Delving Deeper emulates, that's why I chose it and that's why I'm glad to be teaching my "new to old school" players "how to old school" using it.

And so, let's talk magic.

When we were rolling up our characters for our first session of the Quasquetherion campaign, the Delving Deeper spells seemed like a solid starting block. Yeah, they leave a little to be desired, but they reflect the state of magic in D&D at the get go, so I didn't add anything to the mix, just took the spells as written. I couldn't find how many spells a 1st level magic user starts with in DD (and, as +Simon Bull pointed out awhile ago here in a comment, magic users' spellbooks start with every spell in the book), so I deci;ded that an MU should start with 2 spells, plus an additional one if his Intelligence his 13 or better. So, our group's two magic users started the campaign with three spells apiece (to be honest, I'm not sure what they are, either, so I may have to deal with the "can't I just copy his spells?" problem), and so each MU has a distinct repertoire, which gives him a peculiar niche and individual flair, which is something I'm definitely trying to reinforce. In order to help amp up the feeling of "everybody gets something unique," I'm also adding a neat thing to magic users: every magic user gets one first level "magic ritual."

Ritual Magic

I really enjoyed the concept of magic rituals as presented by D&D 4e. For the uninitiated, the idea is that some spells aren't the sort of spells you'd bother memorizing because they're not the sort of thing you'd use in the middle of an adventure, but rather that you'd cast in between adventures to accomplish a specific thing at that point. Did anyone ever seriously prepare the spell "find familiar?" No? I didn't think so. Magic rituals are how you classify the sorts of spells that you'd bother preparing and the sort that you'd choose to cast on your off days.

When you choose to prepare a spell, and then again when you choose to cast it, you're making a choice to use up some of your character's resources. By the same token, magic rituals should not be license for the magic user to do whatever he wants outside of the dungeon. But, outside of the dungeon, few resources make any difference other than the two things that players are trying to accumulate: treasure and experience points. Now, my 3e days are behind me, and I believe that burning xp for magical gain merely discourages players for doing so, which is no good. So, magic users in my Quasquetherion game (and later, clerics, should there ever be any) need to spend gold to acquire the herbs, chemicals, mystical bits & bobs, secret inks and parchments and, yes, even drugs they need to cast their magic rituals. Thus it is that magic rituals cost 100gp per spell level to cast.

Casting a ritual is also not an instantaneous sort of thing. One does not merely speak a magical phrase, wave one's arms about and work these wonders. Instead, the magic user must spend at least 4 hours per level of the ritual to cast it. These hours may be spread out over the course of a number of days equal to the ritual's level, but may not exceed more than 8 hours in a single day. By expending additional resources, the magic user may reduce the time to enact the ritual in a proportionate manner (doubling the expenditure halves the time, quadrupling the expenditure quarters the time, etc.).

First Level Ritual List


  • Find Familiar - summons and bonds a spirit being to the magic user, to serve as his assistant. Usually appears as an animal.
  • Identify - Determines one magic property of a held or carried magic item per level of the caster. 
  • Message* - The caster may speak a message of 25 words or fewer and designate a recipient of that message who is known to him. The message travels at a speed of 18 miles per hour, flying in as straight a path as it can manage.
  • Speak With Animals* - The caster may speak with animals in his locale for a short time (a number of rounds equal to 1 plus the caster's level). 
  • Comprehend Languages* - The caster understands any language he reads or hears for a number of hours equal to his level. 
  • Mending* - Repairs one small or broken item per level of the caster. Damaged items may have 10 hp restored per caster level instead. 
  • Arcane Steed - The caster summons a mount from the gulfs between the stars (or somewhere like that) that will carry him for a number of hours equal to his prime requisite. A fifth level caster may summon a flying steed. 
* A memorizable/preparable version of this spell probably exists as well. 

Sacrifice

Any treatment of ritual magic would be remiss if it failed to mention the potential for life force to power the arcane arts. A magic user may injure a willing victim (including himself) for any number of dice of damage (remember, this is Delving Deeper, so all dice of damage are d6's). Every die of damage counts as 100 gp for the purposes of determining the resources expended to cast the spell (thus, 2d6 damage could completely power a 1st-level ritual without any expenditure of gp and make the ritual take half as long). Similarly, sacrificing unwilling victims (effectively "harvests" the hit dice of the victims, where every whole hit die "harvested" provides 100 gp of resources toward the casting and quickening of the spell. Any sacrifice must be performed as part of the ritual's casting (and so, the amount of the HD or damage dice involved in the ritual must be determined before it is enacted) and requires that the victim be conscious and healthy (not already near death; sacrificing beaten-up captives that you just defeated won't work). Sacrificing unwilling victims is, by its very nature, an inherently Chaotic act and will not be tolerated by Lawful or even Neutral characters. Further, repeated sacrifice of the unwilling will likely attract the attention of Chaos Lords and demons and may even result in some sort of magical corruption of body if not soul. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monster Monday: The Villainous Vermounts of the Vermen!

Last night's heavily-improved Iron Coast session called for vermen (see previous Monster Monday posts) to be mounted. In the scenario I was running, goblins were supposed to ride giant wolves, but this is Ore and there ain't no damn goblins, and why the hell would a ratman ride a wolf? That just don't make sense. Nope, I reasoned, the vermen deserved a vermount just as creepy as themselves. Also, I'm terrified by opossums. 

Giant Opossum (Posskum)

% In Lair: 20%
Dungeon Enc: Pack (1d4); Den (1d6+2)
Wilderness Enc: Den (1d6+2); Warren (2d6+2 dens)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 150' (climb 120)
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1
Damage: bite 1d6
Save: F2
Morale: -1
Treasure Type: F (warren only)
XP: 50

Long ago, the vermen of the Iron Coast domesticated a strain of bestial mutants distantly related to the verman possumbrutes. These bestial mutants, called "posskum" in both the Black Speech and the common tongue, were first raised as beasts of burden, then guard beasts and were ultimately domesticated to become the favored mounts of certain tribes of vermen. Notably, the Orphan Baronies have been plagued for generations by the posskum cavalry of the Isaskrisit ("skull-headed") tribe.

Giant Opossums, as they are properly known, are excellent climbers and remarkably stealthy for their large size; in fact, they have a +1 bonus to surprise and a climb rate of 120. Due to their relatively loose but thick hide, vermen may ride posskum bareback with little chance of being unseated (+1 to saving throws to avoid being dismounted). Finally, since most posskum share the filthy conditions of their vermen masters, every 4th posskum is infected with disease, though often of a weak variety (+2 to saves against it).

Last night's Iron Coast game featuring the posskum was a strange form of catharsis for me. When the PCs first faced them, they were shocked and repulsed by their... fucking creepiness. They're goddamn opossums! The posskum really leveled the playing field against the assembled might of the PCs who otherwise would have completely outclassed the vermen they were fighting. The hits the posskum were getting in proved they were a threat, justifying (if only imaginarily) my own irrational fear of these disgusting marsupials. Plus, I got to be there when the players killed a ton of these things, often in remarkably dramatic and messy ways. Either way, I won. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Someone Out There Gets Me

Thanks to +Erik Tenkar, I found out today that +Charles Akins wrote not only the best damn list of OSR blogs ever assembled, but also a brief description of Kickassistan here that I found to be terribly complimentary. Charles writes:
Dispatches From Kickassistan A blog that tends to leave me thinking about how much fun it is to be playing Dungeons and Dragons style games without attempting to tell me that I'm a moron for going my own way. Great introduction to this blog by the way. Updates: About eleven times a month. 
I'm deeply, profoundly proud that this is the experience that Charles has had with Kickassistan. Folks who know me know that when I have negative feelings about a thing, bile and vitriol is all I can manage. Somewhere along the line, I knew that I didn't want Kickassistan to be yet another blog of rants and jeers and negative effluvium (other than those "Did I Seriously Just Watch...?" posts I used to do; I kind of miss those), because I don't enjoy reading those. I've been tempted several times to vent about this or that thing, issue or book, but I don't see a point in it. At the end of the day, you deserve to enjoy the things you enjoy and you definitely don't deserve someone shitting all over them.

And so, +Charles Akins, I'm very glad that Kickassistan has you thinking about how much fun it is to be playing D&D -- or whatever else it is you might choose to play -- and going is your own way is the only way for you to go. You've reminded me what Kickassistan is all about, and for that I thank you.

Tales of Crowdfunding Triumph

Anyone who has talked to me in person (or even on G+ hangouts) since August knows that there's a particular Kickstarter project that left me filled with rage.,  No, I won't talk about it here, though I am often sorely tempted to. Just alluding to the existence of this particular project and how upset I am about it has gotten me kind of pissed off all over again and has nearly derailed this entire post up in my brainspace. But I won't let that happen, folks, because I have some projects to praise. Yep, praise. Let's get started.

Runequest 6 Hardcover - IndieGoGo Campaign from Design Mechanism

Still fighting the same fight since '78
Some readers might remember that I talk about RuneQuest from time to time. I feel odd admitting this, but I've admitted it before, and so I'll tell you folks that (a) I've never played RQ (nope, not ever, not even once), nor (b) did I realize until last year that RQ was so pivotal an early RPG that it provided the basis of the BRP system that one of my favorite games of all time, Call of Cthulhu, runs on. Yeah, I just didn't touch it. So, when my interest in the history of RPGs branched off from D&D into games, I started checking out this RQ thing and I really liked what I saw pretty much across the board, whether the edition was published by Chaosium, Mongoose or Design Mechanism. So, when the RQ6 hardback came up on IndieGoGo at a kick level that cost pretty much the same as an RQ6 softcover but would net me not just the hardcover, but also a slipcover for it and a (legal and drm-free) pdf copy, I had to bite. Once the campaign was over, I watched the updates eagerly until about a month or two ago, when all the other crowd funding stuff and zine stuff pushed old RQ6 right out of my brain, so it was a fantastic surprise on Black Friday when my copy showed up (and, as someone who works in retail, that was a pretty sweet thing to come home to). All in all, this project came to fruition fairly swiftly and the end result is, frankly stunning. I feel like I lucked out on this one. Well done, Design Mechanism, well done.

Arcana Rising - Kickstarter from Bedroom Wall Press

I have a few friends (primarily +Jonathon Repholz) who talk about the golden age when they'd pick up every product that rolled out of the doors of TSR and would devour them. That form of customer loyalty is very rare in today's RPG market (except for all those rabid Pathfinder folks; have fun with the profits, Paizo!), but I've found a company that I'm willing to gamble on. I'll be the first person to admit that I'm not typically a fan of modern-day settings, and so, when I heard that Bedroom Wall Press were making one, I felt that, if BWP's Hulks & Horrors had taught me anything, it was that BWP were great at making flavorful, interesting settings and robust OSR rules to match. I also thought that, if worse came to worst and Arcana Rising sucked, I'd at least have supported a publisher whose other work I really like. Yes, as far as I'm concerned, H&H was good enough for me to spend another $20 on another product by the same company even if that other product ended up being crap. The good news is that Arcana Rising lived up to my expectations of a BWP product and presents a solid old school rule set in an interesting modern-era setting. Huh. Who knew. I'm still far more likely to play H&H, but AR is pretty damn tight.

Shadows of Esteren Book 2, Travels - Kickstarter from Agate RPG

A bit ago (was it a year?), I got really excited about Shadows of Esteren. This French-language RPG looked gorgeous and proposed to blend a few genres that I adore. While Agate hyped the game's Cthulhuoid horror aspects, what drew me in (other than the promise of antediluvian evil) was the merger of that horror with fantasy in a manner that seemed to suggest to me the films of Guillermo del Toro, particularly Pan's Labyrinth and Devil's Backbone (we don't need to talk about anything else, ever). I had meant to get in on the Book 1, Universe Kickstarter when it went live last year and so I was really surprised when this year Agate launched a KS for Book 2. These guys seem to be translating stuff at a crazy rate. In fact, mere weeks after the completion of the KS, Agate had copies of the book ready for KS backer pick up and for sale at GenCon. Whaaaa? Didn't you only just get your money? How did you do that so damn fast? It was about that time that I realized that the KS wasn't so much to fund Book 2 as it was to fund Book 3. Hmm. Anyway, the Shadows books are remarkably sexy affairs, with fantastic full-color art oan every page. I'm serious. I can't find a page that doesn't have any art on it (of course, I'm not looking terribly hard). Reading the books, though, I've found a few spots where they might have wanted to slow down the translation schedule because some of the word choices... were... not ideal. One of the core characteristics, for example, is called "Combativeness." That just doesn't roll off the tongue the way you might want one of the defining traits of every character to do. Similarly, there are some instances of wonky syn tax or awkward wordings that I've learned to associate with ... not necessarily bad translations, more like improper  translations. Remember in school when you were told to select the best answer from a list where most or all of the options were true? You didn't get that one right just by picking a true answer, you had to choose the one that was the best fit for the situation. That's how the translation of Shadows feels; yes, the words are correct translations, but they're not usually the best translations. If you need an example of what I'm talking about, watch any Anime series dubbed into English; they're always correct but not the best. So, yes, I dig the product line, and am really happy about how they fulfilled their obligations to me and their other Kickers, but I wish they had used a better editor.

I write this post shortly after getting the news of the grave having been dug on the Kickstarter for the 25th Anniversary edition of HeroQuest, a legal debacle. Apparently, the company running the KS will move over to a Europe-centric crowd funding site where US legal BS won't apply, so Moon Design and Hasbro's trademarks won't matter. I thought that, rather than fixate on something that was breaking my gamer heart, it was time to discuss some of the real triumphs in crowdfunding for the role playing game industry. There are still good folks out there, and crowd funding isn't dead or filled with scammers just yet.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It Turns Out That I Just Don't Get Fate

For the past few weeks, +Jason Hobbs+Ray Case+Donn Stroud and I have been spending our Tuesday nights trying to figure out how to play Fate. I'm sure I've talked about this before. The setting that we had come up with was pretty damn cool, as were the characters. As far as we could tell, we'd all done everything right. We had aspects that read well, a very cool and relatively literary concept behind the setting and (we thought) a pretty keen grasp on what the setting meant. But then, two sessions in, it all fell apart and we've had to switch systems (but are thankfully still keeping the game alive!). Here's what happened.

Adam Has Never Played Fate

My first experience with playing Fate was running it for the first session of this particular campaign (called the "Fate of the Harshlands" because I was lazy). I think if I had played Fate before, I would have identified a few key issues that separate how I DM from how a good Fate DM does. There are some systems that I can readily identify as ones that I'd want to play before I ever tried to run, often because they don't make sense to me on the surface and I need to see how a good DM who's familiar with the system uses it. I'm still waiting for +Christopher Smith to teach me how to play Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard because my brain just doesn't work that way.

And so, somehow, I thought I'd had a handle on Fate, but I hadn't. I read the books, love the books, love so many things about the rules, but there were some things that just hadn't clicked and hadn't clicked so hard that I hadn't even realized that they hadn't clicked. They were the sort of things that I might have noticed had I played Fate before I tried running Fate. Who knows. I might not have. But I sure felt handicapped trying to run it because (a) Fate wants constant conflict, (b) Fate makes you have to think in soundbites and (c) consensus isn't always the best.

Fate Wants Constant Conflict

A year ago, I was playing in a d6 Star Wars game (I still love that system!) regularly, when something I'd never thought about that system occurred to me: the system works almost entirely on an oppositional basis, in that nearly everything a character does is opposed by someone else, largely eschewing objective difficulty in favor of relative difficulty. That was a mouthful. Here's the thing: in WEG's d6 system, there is room for objective difficulty, but it's been my experience (especially as someone who ran the hell out of the system back in the 90's), that no one really uses them, and instead just rolling some dice in opposition. This is really easy when there's someone acting in opposition to the character, but viable when there isn't, too. I think you get the gist.

Fate, as far as I can tell, works the same, which, these days, doesn't exactly sit right in my brain. In Fate, it seems like there should always be some for of opposition acting against the PCs, whether that opposition is NPCs or even the setting itself. This fact didn't sink in right away nor is it readily obvious and became apparent to me when I realized that we, as a play group, were using only a few of the doohickeys and doodads on our character sheets. Aspects were invoked, but infrequently. Fate points were rarely spent (though earned on occasion). Approaches weren't used as often as I'd have assumed. No one ever took any strain. It dawned on me that we would have gotten to play with more of the features of the system if, much like how I used to use d6 SW, most actions were set up as conflicts. Man, I was not prepared for that.

Thinking In Soundbites

It seems to me that one of the keys to being able to run Fate effectively is the ability to quickly and easily boil circumstances down to a very slim definition in order to turn those circumstances into an Aspect. On the surface, it seems like a good idea to be able and like it should be pretty easy. It could be, if it were obvious which parts of the given circumstance need defining, which usually, it's not. Well, not to me, not yet. Since I never know how many aspects I'll "need" to represent the given scenario, the amount of prep I'd need to do seems to me to defeat the purpose of Fate: that it can be used on the fly to represent in simple game terms via the selfsame aspects that I'm having so much trouble boiling things down to.

Consensus Isn't Always the Best

I know I'm betraying my Polish roots here (extra points if you understand that), but there are times when consensus just doesn't work in games. Sometimes, someone has to be in charge. Sometimes, a DM just has to stand up and say "it's not like that, it's like this," particularly if there's to be any sort of suspense or mystery in the game. Fate, as far as I can tell, seems to be driven by consensus and rely on it for integrity in order to make sure that the aspects in play function correctly. This part leaves me pretty confused because if there's going to be consensus on things and what they mean, then it seems pointless for there to be a central authority (the DM) on those selfsame meanings. Further, at least for the moment, it seems like a self-defeating effort to create consensus about anything that requires any sort of subterfuge or misdirection, making mysteries and suspense seem somewhat counterintuitive, if only from an ideological standpoint. I know that wouldn't matter to everyone, but it definitely matters to me.

How To Teach Myself Fate

I still really want to play in a Fate game sometime to see how someone else handles all of the stuff I can't seem to get a grip on. But, I'm sure that I can still teach myself how to run Fate without ever having played it, particularly since I know why my first attempt fell flat. First, I'd need to be working with a well-defined genre or IP, something like the Cthulhu Mythos or the Star Wars Universe. Second, it would have to have a finite scope so that there is an implicit (or explicit) goal and boundaries for the scenario. So, basically, a one-shot or con-style, single-slot session. The scenario should be set up as a series of conflicts rather than (as was my initial mistake) a situation to explore, so opposition is in and investigation isn't exactly out, but definitely won't be as central as it might have been in a normal Adam-style game.

So there you go. I might not get Fate, but I get what I don't get it and how I could teach myself to get it. For the current "Harshlands" campaign, I've given up on Fate, but I haven't given up on the system. Maybe I'll sort out a special occasion game when I have an idea that I think will translate well to Fate. In the meantime, though, the Harshlands will be rocking out LotFP's excellent Weird Fantasy rpg, which I'm viewing as a great opportunity to run an excellent rule system that I haven't gotten enough time to monkey around with yet, which is already working. So, until I figure out a thing that I think really needs to happen, gaming-wise, I'll wait it out until I've had the chance to play Fate.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Inevitable Post U-Con Post

I didn't update the blog or G+ as awesome as I'd planned while U-Con was going on, which is a shame, because it was a really good con! U-Con has the distinction of being the biggest con in Michigan (which isn't saying much these days), but the U-Con organizers have hooked up with Ypsilanti's quite nice Eagle Crest convention center, which I wouldn't call swanky, but it's definitely a nice place. The rooms didn't feel terribly expansive (like those of the hotels that participate in GenCon), but weren't quite cramped, giving the whole thing overall a friendly "just the right size" feeling. One of the things that +R.J. Thompson & I noticed was just how many old school games were on the schedule for 2013: quite a few! I think there was only one time slot that didn't have an old school option, but that was 9a-1p on Sunday, which I'd be surprised if you could find players for.

Friday

I got to the con later than I had planned on Friday, arriving somewhere around 1-1:30p or so. I had a hard time figuring out where to enter and pick up prereg info and stuff, so there's my first "gimme" to the U-Con staff: next year, make sure there are signs outside so folks know where to go. I ran into +Donn Stroud right away, who was running some board games or card games at the time and had the dubious honor of informing me that the vendor hall was not yet open (how I'd planned to kill my time until 3p), so we just bs'ed and explored. Once I got the lay of the land, I realized how convenient the con's layout was.

My first event was +R.J. Thompson's Swords & Wizardry session exploring +James Raggi's Tower of the Stargazer. Now, I've read this module and own it, but I can't say that I'm intimately familiar with it; realistically, my familiarity boils down to knowing that I should be afraid of everything and trust nothing. You know, normal old school paranoia. So, I rolled up a thief and, with 7 other guys (8 players!) we proceeded to think our way through the dungeon making remarkably few mistakes along the way. In fact, we only experienced one fatality (which must be some sort of a record) and that was at the very end and happened when I dared someone to... do something. Whew, really close to a spoiler there. It was a really fun session that set a great tone for the weekend.

Friday night, I ran +Michael Curtis's Tower out of Time in the 8pm slot, a scenario that I'd run several times before and knew how I'd want to change it to give it a little more oomph (and DCC-style deadliness), especially because I ended up with more folks than I had planned for at the table, including +James DeYonke+Matthias Weeks & +John Reyst. Ryan had brought a halfling from the funnel I ran at MichiCon this year, though, so we levelled the little guy up and were all safe on numbers. But, with 7 players, the opponents would need a little extra beef to be a challenge. So, I added some ape men and tiny dinosaurs, along with an entire encounter with a giant horseshoe crab (which was mostly the result of the players screwing around with stuff they didn't need to screw around with, but it was fun. I probably made the encounter with the ape men a bit too difficult, which manifested less in player deaths and more in what came to feel like a 3e-style sloggy encounter. The session was a good time, though and, I hope, turned a few folks on to the DCC system (Keith and Bob, I'm looking your way, gents!).

Saturday

I started off my Saturday by almost running late for my own 2p session, running my own funnel, To Catch A Fallen Star. The last time I was supposed to run this adventure, I couldn't find any of my notes for it the night before, and was stuck having to improvise and run something else (I chose the funnel from the DCC core book). This time, I wasn't as prepared as I'd have liked to have been (I had planed on redrawing the maps, but never quite got around to it), but I think it went smoothly. I had thought to start the adventure in the dungeon, but since there are two entrances, I thought I needed to back the train up and make sure the players had a choice of which entrance to take. Unfortunately, I backed things up a bit too much and ended up adding an encounter that didn't need to be added, which took up valuable time. I had to do a little bit of regulation of a young and disruptive player during this session, but them's the breaks. I learned a few things about writing an adventure for a con here, which sort of chafes when it feels like the impulse is toward railroady-y dungeon design, but hey, if you want 'em to get to the good stuff, you've got to lead them there, right? Especially in a large-ish dungeon.

On Saturday night, I played in +Matthias Weeks's The Eye of Obitu-Que for DCC, which was a blast. Apparently, the path we took through the dungeon was the path least travelled (Matt said no other group had gone that way) and we managed to not lose any PCs on the journey. This was a fun session, and Matt really preps a game before he runs it. Really preps a game. Each character sheet was a booklet that included most of the basic rules and the stuff that each player would need to know to run his character without referencing the rule book. This was a fantastic resource to have a the table and meant that I was carrying around my DCC rule book for nothing. In the end, we accomplished our mission and I, foolish wizard that I was, doomed the world to suffering beneath the baleful eyes of Obitu-Que.

Sunday

Best notes ever
I nearly missed my Sunday session. That's what happens when I only vaguely pay attention to even times. It would have been a shame, too, because it was Ryan's version of Palace of the Vampire Queen rocked out in S&W Complete. Of all the sessions I played this weekend, this session involved the most real thought and planning because we, as a group, decided to actually accomplish the mission set forth in the background for the adventure: rescue the dwarven princess from the clutches of the vampire queen. Ryan gave us the players maps that come with the adventure, which meant we understood most of the dungeon, but were missing key facts, such as "Where's the most likely area for a dwarven princess to be kept prisoner?" or "Where are the stairs that connect level 3 to level 4?" We decided to take the paths of least resistance through the dungeon to get to wherever the dwarven princess was (in my brain, I was picturing a little girl dressed up for one of those ridiculous princess parties, but with a giant handlebar mustache, so she became "Princess Handlebars" to me), meaning we bypassed most of the dungeon. Before we got started, Ryan announced that he expected us, in the time allotted, to get through level 1 of the dungeon and maybe get started on level 2, We didn't quite take that as a challenge, but we did completely disregard it. No, instead we made a bee line for the stairs to level 2 and just kept heading downward.

And we made it.

Well, we made it all the way to the last level and the Vampire Queen, that is, even if we completely missed Princess Handlebars. In the end, our TPK was glorious. While we staked four vampires, we faced down a bunch of armored "these are the V-Queen's personal guard" vampires, a balrog (because OD&D, peeps) and a black pope. If you're going to go out, folks, best do it with style. And by drawing the attention of every single difficult encounter on the final level of the very first dungeon ever published.

Hell yes. It was glorious.

Final Word

I really dug U-Con. The team behind it went all out to make it the best con they could, which showed. My only regrets about the con are (a) not having enough time to go through all the stacks of books in the vendor room and (b) not getting into any games on the con's Fate track. It was really encouraging to see so many old school games on the docket and it gives me hope that next year might have even more. I'd really like to see the con establish an OSR Czar or something similar to help the old school gamers coordinate and help publicize and popularize the old school stuff. Yes, I feel we deserve our own gaming track at the con (at any con, really) and the growing popularity of old school games should no longer be a surprise to anyone by now (not even story gamers, they have to realize we're out here in large numbers, right?).

I'd also like to see a larger (and more populated) vendor area, but I'm sure that if U-Con had the vendors, they'd find the space. That having been said, there are a bunch of Michigan-based games companies and geek enterprises that really could have bothered to have a table. Bill Barsh's Pacesetter Games is here, as is Elder Sign Publishing (more on those guys soon), not to mention the madness that is Palladium. Palladium! THERE IS A GOOD-SIZED CON HAPPENING IN YOUR BACK YARD AND YOU ARE IGNORING IT! My wife, who is hard at work on a business plan for a geek industry business is already planning on getting a booth for next year, so you guys really need to step up and make your presence known.

All in all, this was a great con that was very well organized. Kudos to the U-Con staff for pulling it off. Take some time off, folks, eat some turkey, drink some whiskey. You deserve it. I know that I, for one, am already starting to make plans for you for next year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Off To U-Con!

So, perhaps "off" is the wrong preposition, seeing as U-Con is happening pretty much around the corner from my house this year. Rise up, Michigander gamers, for the time is at hand for U-Con, the biggest gaming con in the state!

I've got a few things to do around the house before I head off, but before I go, I thought I'd remind the folks out there who might be attending (and who, by some amazing quirk of personality or happenstance) haven't yet signed up for my events, I'm running DCC tonight at 8pm to midnight (we'll probably get done a bit early so we can get in some bar time) and tomorrow from 3pm to 8 or so (again, bar time). I'll have the great fortune to run in a few of +R.J. Thompson's games and, if I'm lucky, I'll be able to squeeze in some +Matthias Weeks & +Donn Stroud lovin' too. The amazing Gamer Wife herself, +Kathryn Muszkiewicz, may not be attendance today since she seems to have seriously screwed up her neck somehow yesterday. I swear I had nothing to do with it. I was really hoping she'd come along, if only to meet some folks (like Will & Schar Niebling, who will be there and who I had the good fortune to meet a few weeks ago).

So, to reflect that reality, (a) there probably won't be a blog update this weekend or, if there is, it might not make a lot of sense (but regular readers should be used to those facts) and (b) the Metal Gods 'zine did not get finished in time for U-Con, sadly. In addition to a small art hang up, I had to switch gears from working on the zine to get "Con-ready" and that meant not being able to put in the time I had wanted to on it this week. So, I'm pretty sure we're on track for finishing her up next week (before Thanksgiving) and sending her off to Goodman for approval (which I've heard doesn't take too long).

Word. Now I'm off. See you at U-Con!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Meanwhile, In Quasquetherion

This past Saturday was a break in my normal Swords & Wizardry schedule (a break that unfortunately means that the game won't be picking back up until December, which is a bummer for my newly-minted druid, Milosz), and Sunday would have been a bust for gaming for my and the "new to old school" gamers, so we moved Sunday night to Saturday night and rocked out in Quasquetherion instead of not doing anything all weekend. Since other parties may take their turn in Quasquetherion, I'll try not to give away too many details about specifics of what's where and what it's like to face it, but... yeah, there's still stuff to talk about.

When last the party had left off, they'd managed to find Harrowvar the Ironic and Zonn the Mind-Breaker's throne room, wherein they had a nightmare-inspiring encounter that I'm being purposefully vague about. The kids set about looking for treasure, but had a hard time recognizing it when they found it; apparently, giant objet d'art don't seem like treasures to the newbies. I guess they expected coins and "100 gp gems" and such. Well, suck it, kids, the valuable stuff is stuff that you have to sort out how to get back to town. Several of the next treasures that were found were similarly ignored because, I guess, it seemed more like setting-dressing than treasure. Yes, they asked for detailed descriptions of the tapestries to be found in Harrowvar the Ironic's bedchamber (especially his freaky lady with her too-long neck, wrong-way hands and shark-style doll eyes), but the didn't even think about taking them down, not as far as they told me. So, the search continued for obvious treasure, which they eventually found in a chest full of (as-yet-uncounted) silver coin and wooden statues.

Let's Talk About Xp For Gp

I've talked before about my personal relationship with "xp for gp" systems, and the Quasquetherion game is one in which I feel that such a rule is not merely justified but necessary. Necessary to instruct the kids in the OSR maxim that defeating opponents is not the best nor most efficient way of earning advancement. Necessary to reinforce the idea that the characters are adventurers, ne'erdowells and opportunists whose bright idea for a way to get ahead in the world was to climb into some dusty tomb to see if there's anything inside that's worthwhile to steal. So yes, xp for gp.

But the question remains, when do the PCs get the xp?

How many xp am I worth?
If the PCs get the xp when they find the treasure, it's usually accompanied by a valuation of the treasure found ("you find an awesome gem that is worth 100 gp," but with better description), even it it's a valuation that's just a potential reconstruction from an xp award ("so, there are 4 of us and we each got 300 xp from treasure, so our treasure must be worth 1200 gp, but we only got 1000 gp in coin, so those gems must be worth 100 gp each..."). I'm not suggesting that many players are this meta-gamey (or that my "new to old school" kids are), but this is the sort of behavior and unfortunate convention that I want to avoid falling into in the Quasquetherion game. The players shouldn't know how much stuff is worth until they take the time to find out. Until they count the coins, they don't know how much they're worth, in gp or xp. Until they've got an offer to buy a treasure, they won't know it's value, either, nor will they gain any xp for it.

Thus, we're getting to Uncles Gary & Dave's (and Cousin +Matt Finch's) concept that getting cheated on the value of a treasure is worth getting cheated on the xp, whereas getting more gp than the thing is worth is obviously an opportunity for a greater xp gain. Xp for gp is awarded when the "value of a treasure is realized." For coin, this means once it's counted. For other treasures, it means once they're sold and reflects the amount they're sold for.

An Adventure Within An Adventure

But first, a history lesson. Back in the 90's I lived in the college town of Kalamazoo, Michigan, known to most of the world because of it's inclusion in the lyrics of a Glenn Miller song. There, Western Michigan University had the amazing WIDR radio station, named at the time the 3rd best college music radio station by College Music Journal, and rightfully so. One of the strangest programs on WIDR was a program called "Swag," hosted by a guy who called himself "Bat Guano" (turns out, he's still out there, recording Swag, and broadcasting at 9p EST on Wednesdays, just like back in the good old days). Mr. Guano plays an eclectic mish mash of stuff, primarily anachronistic, ranging from mid-20th-Century exotica to commercials for children's toys and grindhouse flicks to proto-punk surrealist beat music (look up the Monks, kids, your brain will thank you for it). Every episode, Mr. Guano would take a break from his program for his "program within a program, Green Slime!" wherein all he did was play the theme to the 1968 sci fi flick The Green Slime. It was awesome and, probably the only time on Swag, everyone who listened regularly knew all the words. Here's how awesome it is.


So, during Saturday night's Quasquetherion session, the kids found the infamous Pool Room. They set about exploring each of the pools and ultimately the green slime pool was found. Suddenly, the players had discovered their own "adventure within an adventure, Green Slime!" I played the movie's theme (and accompanying fan-made music video) on the big TV in our living room and the kids had to fight a slime monster (NOT your standard, run-of-the-mill D&D green slime, but, indeed GREEEEN SLIIIIIIIIIIIIIME!) with sparklers at the end of its tentacles.

My favorite part of this "adventure within an adventure" is that I didn't plan it, it just happened. One player asked "what's in this pool?" and my inner Guano took over when I read the description. That's not a sentence I ever thought I'd have to write. "My inner Guano." I can say, though, that with each session, Quasquetherion gets better and stranger.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Quick Update on the Metal Gods Zine

This morning, I've been hard at work on the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad Zine, which is fun, but quite frankly I need a quick break from staring at the columns and tables and stuff. Plus, since I last mentioned the zine (which was, I believe, when I announced it), we here at the Kickassistan Ministry of Tourism have made a few decisions about how the thing will be produced, the future of the zine and the nature of us actually publishing anything.

But first, a quick update. It turns out that tables can be very tricky to assemble in a format that looks cool. So, I'm spending a lot of time on getting two particular table spreads correct (each of these spreads takes up two pages, so I'm being very careful with the layout here). It's probably slowing me down too much, but this is a part of the zine I really want to get right since it's sort of the cornerstone of the whole thing.

Which brings us to the fact that each issue will have a central theme that ties into an adventure tool kit that will occupy about half (probably more) of the issue. For the first issue, for example, the excellent +Edgar Johnson has written a funnel adventure toolkit reminiscent of the Warriors where the player characters are a passel of urchins simply trying to get from point A to the relative safety of point B and making trouble along the way. We playtested this thing this past summer and it was a total blast, which is a large part of why I'm taking my time with sorting out these tables; I kind of feel I owe it to Edgar to make them as killer-looking as they are, indeed, killer.

We will be printing the zine (rather than just doing the pdf thing; we really want a tangible thing that we can hold as, it appears, much of the zine community does, as well), which will be purchasable here, and will be distributing a pdf through the usual channels on a "pay-what-you-like" basis. The PWYW pdf will benefit charity, with the majority of the proceeds (at least one-half) supporting a different charity each issue. The first issue will be published in support of StandUp For Kids, a secular, non-partisan charity devoted to helping homeless and street kids. While I'm sure someone will give us flak for supporting this particular charity with this particular issue of the zine, I want to take the time now to say that this decision is conscious, deliberate and without any sense of irony. We recognize teenage homelessness as a real problem here in the US and don't believe that depicting a condition, even in a game, is glorifying it, but rather raising the level of attention that it gets (well, from people who pay attention to this zine). In future issues, we will continue to support charities that are secular, non-partisan and that have a demonstrable ability to turn your donations (because really, that's what paying what you want will mean: that you make a donation to the charity) into real aid or change.

Many folks have asked if they can help with the zine, whether by writing articles or providing art or whatever it is that you do. Right now, issue 1 is chock-full of content, but the Kickassistan Ministry of Tourism will be looking for articles, art and other stuff for upcoming issues. Below is a list of the next several issues of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad zine (the ones that I can remember) and their rough themes. These issues will be produced quarterly (barring problems).


  • Issue #2 - Secrets of the Serpent Moon - From his secret base on the moon, a holographic serpent man prepares for the return of his species to the face of Ore!
  • Issue #3 - (I honestly can't remember this one. A little help +Wayne Snyder & +Edgar Johnson?)
  • Issue #4 - The Fury of the Thunderlands - +Wayne Snyder's nod to the Lost World and Pellucidar, the Thunderlands is an adventure into Ore's savage past... and shocking future!
Folks interested in contributing to these issues should be aware that we can't pay anything other than a contributor's copy of the zine. We'll have submission info up soon, but if you have an idea, feel free to track me down to pitch it to me. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monster Monday: Sleestaks. M-F'in Sleestaks.



Sleestaks. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're part of the old school zeitgeist, whether it's out of straight up love for Sid & Marty Croft's creation, respect for the amount of traction that +Jeff Rients has gotten out of them over the years or the Sleestak Sunday posts that +Tim Shorts does every... now and again on Sunday. I, personally, love the green bastards, but I wasn't exactly sure how to (or whether to, other than that one night running DCC at GenCon this past year) include them in my games. 

But then, it hit me: 

Who needs troglodytes, anyway?

Why do I need subterranean, reptilian humanoids of uninteresting ilk whose biggest claim to fame is that they, quite literally, stink up the joint? As part of my pogrom against the "genre D&D" elements in my campaigns, wouldn't I be better off if trogs go the way of orcs and goblins and just get chucked? I wasn't convinced at first, but when the revelation that if I dropped the troglodyte from my bestiary, I had a niche for the sleestak to fill, and my mind was made up. Stinking is out, hissing is in. 

But seriously, a degenerate race of once-genius super-scientists and telepaths living in the ruins of their former civilizations, answering to the will of an also-telepathic Library of Skulls? That shit is some serious swords & sorcery metal right there. 

And so, there are sleestaks beneath Ur-Hadad, on the shores of the Iron Coast and in the depths of Quasquetherion. Here's what they look like.


DCC-Staks

Sleestak: Init +1; Atk claw +2 melee or (1d6) or "crossbow" +3 missile (1d8+1); AC 14; HD 2d8+2; MV 30'; Act 2d20; SP Infravision (100') and Disorienting hiss (DC 14 Will save or -1 to attacks, saves and AC for d4! rounds); SV Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +3; AL N



ACKS-Staks

Sleestak
% In Lair: 15%
Dungeon Enc: Gang (1d6+2) / Lair (1 warband)
Wilderness Enc: Warband (1d10 gangs) / Warren (1d10 warbands)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 2+2
Attacks: 2 or 1 (2 claws or weapon)
Damage: 1d6/1d6 or by weapon
Save: F2
Morale: +0
Treasure Type: J (per warband)
XP: 20

Hissing: Any intelligent creature facing off against sleestaks must make a save vs. Spells or become confused and disoriented, taking a -1 penalty to all attack throws, saving throws, proficiency throws and armor class for 1d6 rounds. 

Sleestaks use all sorts of stone age weaponry, but are partial to strange slingshot-like crossbow that fires short metal bolts. Sleestaks attack at +1 with these crossbows, which do 1d8 points of damage. 


Deep-Staks

Sleestak
Number Appearing (In Lair): 1d6+2 (6d6+12)
AC 5
Move 12
HD 2+2
Lair Nearby 20% (100% if in ruins!)
Treasure Type A3
Alignment N

Hissing: Any intelligent creature facing off against sleestaks must make a save vs. Spells or become confused and disoriented, taking a -1 penalty to attack rolls and saving throws, while opponents gain a +1 bonus to attack them for 1d6 rounds. 

Sleestak Crossbows

Sleestaks use these funky crossbows that look like slingshots but that shoot short metal bolts. They load very swiftly (and may be used for multiple attacks if the rules allow), but are relatively short-range weapons when compared to other crossbows (DMs: interpret this! I'm not writing rules for it!). Sleestaks attack with these crossbows at +1 due to familiarity with the weapons. These crossbows deal 1d8 points of damage in the hands of sleestaks, but 1d6 in the hands of others. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

DCC Donnerstag: The Rickenbastard, a Holy Weapon of Lemm the Killmaster

Of all the Metal Gods, one stands apart as nearly a force of nature. Unstoppable, insatiable, Lemm the Killmaster traverses the celestial realms, doing as He wills, taking no prisoners and using the cosmos as He sees fit. During the course of His eternal debauch, Lemm has wielded many weapons, usually axes, and perhaps the best-known of these is the weapon known as the Rickenbastard. Until recently, the Rickenbastard was lost to time, a loss attributable to a schism in the early generations of Lemm's priesthood. Several weeks ago, however, the Rickenbastard was recovered from the ruins of a lost temple by a schlub of an adventurer known only as "Pitstain."


The Rickenbastard

The Rickenbastard is a great axe of a red-brown, gold-like metal. Its blade is engraved with a leaf-like motif and appointed with golden inlays and hardware such that the parts that aren't the reddish, brownish metal gleam in stark contrast. The engravings wick blood away from the blade and, when enough of it pools up amongst the leaves on the blade, the axe unleashes its greatest power (though theologists speculate that other "potent fluids" such as strong spirits might have the same effect).

The Rickenbastard has a strong personality, and whether that personality influenced Lemm the Killmaster or whether Lemm the Killmaster defined that personality is a matter of some debate among the priests of the Metal Gods. Whatever the case, the Rickenbastard is strongly Neutral, owing no allegiance to Law or Chaos, nor permitting its wielder the same. Should the axe be possessed by a Lawful or Chaotic being, they lose 1 point of Luck per day for three days, then 1 point of Luck per week thereafter. Anyone reduced to 0 Luck by the Rickenbastard has had their soul destroyed by the blade and dies, their soul claimed by the domain of the dead. The axe is intelligent (Int 12) and functions in all ways as a battleaxe (d10 damage, 2-h only) +1 that communicates its desires to the wielder through Empathy. The Rickenbastard has the following Banes: Wizards (+2 total attack bonus vs. wizards), Clerics (Berserker fury when facing clerics; see page 368 in DCC Core Rulebook). In place of an attack, the wielder may strike the ground to create a resounding boom of thunder, causing all enemies within 40' to take 1d8 points of sonic damage (no save).

If the Rickenbastard deals 20 points of damage within a single day and claims the life of at least one creature, the wielder may burn a point of Luck at increase the axe's enchantment bonus to +2. Should this come to pass, however, the wielder immediately begins to experiences urges similar to those of Lemm the Killmaster. When presented with the opportunity to indulge these urges (the opportunity to kill a foe, to drink to excess or to bed someone, for example), the wielder must make a DC 15 Will save to resist the urge (the wielder may also burn 1 Luck to resist the urge should he so desire). If the wielder ever goes a week without killing something with the Rickenbastard or fails to indulge in "Lemm's urges" at least once per week, the axe loses this additional enchantment and returns to acting as a +1 battle axe, but will never again be able to increase the enchantment to +2. Such is Lemm the Killmaster's distate for the "weakling" wielder that never again shall he attain such a perfect union with the blade.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Quasquetherion: Almost A Session Recap

I realize shortly after writing the last Quasquetherion post that there's an influence I haven't appropriately credited and that's the Elfmaids & Octopi blog, where Konsumterra/ +Chris Tamm writes about his amazing Planet Psychon setting, which has an awesome "Heavy Metal on Carcosa" sort of vibe. It took me a minute to sort this out, but it came to light when I figured out exactly what Zonn the Mind-Breaker's Psychotherion is and where I got it's name from, or rather, "from what recesses of my recent experience my mind decided to assemble the name 'Pyschotherion.'" If you're not familiar with Konsumterra's work, go check it out, he's blowing my damn mind. I'm pretty sure the hexcrawl portion of the Quasquetherion game will be a lot like Planet Psychon.

So, let's get on to how things actually went down in Quasquetherion, shall we?

Character Creation

Here are the basic character creation rules I'd hashed out beforehand, with an eye on making things move along nice & smoothly.

  • 3d6 in order for Ability Scores
  • "Core Four" character classes (so, yes to the thief)
  • Everyone gets a backpack with some useful, standard gear and a roll on a special useful gear chart. No one starts with any money. (See below). 
  • Weapons & armor are rolled randomly on the charts for henchman's gear found in B1. This means that PCs can start with +1 weapons and armor. Or they could start with fuck all. (Magic users always start with a dagger.) 
  • Magic-users get three spells in their spellbooks. They pick one and roll randomly for the other two from the lists in the Delving Deeper books. 
So, the kids rolled up a Fighter (he was strong-ish and not very good at other stuff, but had a high Charisma), a Thief (also with a high Charisma) and two Magic-Users (one was clumsy but smart and yet again with a high Charisma, the other was pretty average and was the only character without an above-average Charisma). So, a party of relatively average but likable folks. Well, except for that one guy. Rolling on the random items chart (yes, that's totally an idea from DCC, but I love it!), there were some lanterns to go around (in addition to the 6 torches everyone already had), 6 pieces of chalk and ye olde 6 iron spikes and the small hammer. The clumsy-but-lovable MU ended up with mostly utility spells (Comprehend Languages [the one she chose], Floating Disk and Protection From Evil), whereas the largely-average-schlub MU ended up with a wider selection, choosing Read Magic (he actually chose Read Magic; who does that?) and rolling Magic Missile and Charm Person. On the gear front, the fighter rolled up that he started with just a shield (and no armor), so he was really in luck when he rolled the sword +1 that he started with.

Now, the oldest version of D&D that any of these kids had played was some 3.xe or 4e or somesuch, so they were surprised when the longest it took anyone to create a character was 15 minutes (which was because of spell choices). Once we were done with characters, some small token effort was made by the players to figure out why they were all adventuring together (and they came up with a tidy little fiction with only minimal prodding from yours truly) and then they were off into the depths of Quasquetherion. 

In Quasquetherion

Now, I'm going to stop short of actually describing the encounters in Quasquetherion, largely because some folks (*cough* +Jason Hobbs *cough*) have asked me to run it over G+ some time, and I think that'd be a blast. So, instead, I'll tell you what sort of things they had to deal with, and how they did. I'll also do this completely out of order, so it won't be obvious what happened where. There. Eat it. 

The group fought a pack of unusual undead, which was tougher than it might have been if someone had rolled up a cleric. But alas, there were no high Wisdom scores to be had, so the kids had to do this one the hard way. They displayed some remarkable ingenuity, such as the one MU casting her Protection From Evil, which kept the monsters from attacking her so she could keep stabbing them to death (which she did). The Thief tried to be sneaky thief time, and came very close to success, but just before she could backstab a monster, she was seen and had to join the fight conventionally. The other MU made some less-than-optimal choices for targeting his Magic Missile and ended up exploding an enemy all over his compatriots, while the "sword and board but no pants" Fighter faced down the jaws of death and experienced the dread of a gradually depleting pool of hit points. Now, that guy's player is totally freaked out and wants to go back to town. 

The party also found a trap without dying to it and figured out how to bypass it, all without recourse to using "thief skills." It was seriously neat to not have anyone ask the Thief "can you disarm that?" because (a) no one knew the Thief can do stuff like that and (b) the way the trap worked, it didn't make sense for some just to hand-wave it and fix it by rolling dice. I was really happy with how they handled this situation and that they used their brains to solve a problem in-game rather than relying on meta-knowledge. Well done, folks.


The last encounter they had was a random one. Using Cytherion's Wandering Monster table, I rolled up an encounter with Plague Children, which ended up being a completely terrifying encounter. I described that the party could see something moving at the edge of their torchlight, so the group doused their flames and moved in to sort out what was out there (the logic of this escaped me, but I rolled with it), and they nearly shit themselves when a child of indeterminate age and gender walked out of the darkness, wearing only a roughspun tunic (probably best described as a sack) and dragging a club behind him/her/it. When this child was joined by another (dragging a crowbar) and then another (dragging a board with a nail in it), the players asked "Can we talk to them?" Of course you can talk to them, kids, you can do whatever you want. After some failed attempts at greeting the plague children, it because clear to the kids that that plague children wanted their backpacks (or at least something in them) and thus the Fighter avoided any (probably very deadly due to disease) confrontation with them by throwing them his water skin and a day's worth of rations. Yet again, well done folks. It was really gratifying to see the kids get creeped out and not know what to do and having to place themselves mentally in their characters' boots to figure out what made sense.

All in all, it was a great session. I actually saw all of the kids yesterday (they are coworkers after all) and they were all excited for our next session and making plans for it. The session even gave the mediocre MU's player time travel-related, zombie animal-themed nightmares (multiple, apparently), so mission accomplished.

Mix & Match

Some stuff popped up earlier than I thought it would, which necessitated some on-the-fly rulings for things that I hadn't expected to have to rule on yet. Critical hits, for example. The lady MU, during the fight with the undead, had cast Protection From Evil on herself, and thus was immune to their attacks (that spell is seriously awesome in Delving Deeper), and as she went around the room carving up baddies with her dagger, she rolled a nat 20. When that die roll came up, the table resounded with cheers and the young lady who had rolled it looked up, confused and asked "Is that good?"

Of course it is, and so I launched into a brief explanation why the folks who'd played D&D before had gotten excited. I explained that, in the earliest D&D, that rolling a 20 just meant that you definitely hit and couldn't have missed. These days, though, I continued to explain, we like to celebrate that rare (well 5% chance) roll by making something extra awesome happen. Rather than just rely on a lame "double damage" interpretation, I let the player roll on DCC's Crit Table I to give us a little more description of what was going on, so her precision shot which did an extra d3 damage felt very substantial. This opportunity opened the door for me to start thinking about what other "foreign influences" I'm going to allow into the DD game. The use of DCC Crit Tables isn't a core change to the rules, but it is different, particularly since the game follows Uncle Gary's admonitions against critical hit rules (and the fact that they weren't included in the LBBs), and so I'm starting to think through what sorts of things I might bring in from other OSR & old school style games.

Not that I'm looking for stuff to import to the system, but I'm getting into having to consider what "IS Quasquetherion" and what "is NOT Quasquetherion" a lot earlier than I had planned on.

Gear!

Here's the stuff that all new characters in Quasquetherion get to start with:

  • 6 torches
  • 30' rope (originally, I gave out 100' of rope to each PC since that's the denomination of rope listed in DD, but that feels like too way too much)
  • 1 week's rations
  • Backpack
  • 1 waterskin
  • Tinderbox
  • 1 large sack
They also get to roll on the following chart (d10):
  1. 6 pieces of chalk
  2. Lantern and 2 pints of oil
  3. 10' pole
  4. Hammer & 6 iron spikes
  5. Small silver mirror
  6. Holy symbol
  7. Crowbar
  8. 2 flasks of wine
  9. Grappling hook
  10. Tent
The initial version of this chart was shorter (first 6 items), but since both folks rolled "lantern and oil," I changed up how it works and had to expand the chart. I thought about using the full d24 table from DCC, but thought that might be a little overboard. (Plus, at this time, I had yet to pull any non-DD books off my shelf other than the 1e DMG).

So, there you have a rough outline of the first Quasquetherion session, intentionally vague. I'm really excited for our second session, as are my players. They're really taking to old school gaming in a way that I feel vindicates my position on good games for new gamers. I was initially worried that folks with experience in "balanced games" might take issue with some of the randomness of early system (or early-style systems), but these kids didn't bat an eye. I'm really geeked to see where this all goes. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Unnecessarily Complicated: My Initiative System for Delving Deeper

So, since my first session (and possibly only session) of Delving Deeper is this Sunday, and I'm working through all those little issues that you have to work through to get a game system where you want it to be. Yep, I'm a dedicated system tinkerer and cannot resist the opportunity to play with the moving parts of any system. When I was a kid, we'd take apart radios, mechanical toys, lawnmowers, even my old Nintendo to see how it works and if we could get it to work better. Today, I do it with game systems (not the Nintendo kind, the tabletop kind).

The initiative system in Delving Deeper is thankfully very simple. Each side declares what it's going to do, one d6 is rolled per side, then each side goes. That's great! It's short, flexible and easy to remember. But...

Not that kind of initiative
There's nothing wrong with that system. "I go, you go" works out fine, but I feel like, since this session will be for "new-to-old-school" gamers, we should have a slightly more complex system. I don't want to add complexity to make things confusing, but rather to add a level of depth that is common to old school games. I briefly toyed with using the segment system from AD&D, the Dexterity-based Holmes system and even the Dexterity-ranked phases of the Perrin conventions (which are really just a mish-mash between the segments and Holmesian systems of initiative), but decided that I'd rather do something of my own, a sort of old school-ish priority-based initiative system that breaks down something like this:

  • First phase: high initiative goes, low initiative goes
  • Second phase: high init, low init
  • etc.
The reason I'm bothering with this at all is to satisfy a question that I had been asking myself about old school systems that allow multiple missile attacks in a single round. In order to give the "new-to-old-school" gamers (hereafter "the kids") a true-to-old-school experience, I felt the need to attach some arcane and needlessly simulationistic mechanism that accounted for multiple missile attacks in a single round, but that never quite allowed multiple melee attacks in that same amount of time (in DD, only the fighter ever gets multiple attacks, and only when attacking multiple low-HD creatures). Eventually, I had my shit figured out: I would allow one missile attack at the beginning of a round for anyone who had a missile weapon at the ready (so, only if you were ready to rock with the weapon when the round began) and another at the end of the round after everyone had moved and melee had occurred, for everyone in the round who now had a missile weapon at the ready (since you'd had that round to prepare for the shot). And then I read something that made me pause: Delving Deeper uses a one minute round, rather than a six-second one.
Not that kind, either

Here's why that's a problem: in the one minute round, anyone fighting in melee gets just one roll to hit, and that represents one minute's worth of movement, thrusts, parries, feints, swings, misses and hits. That's an awful lot of work for one roll to do and an awful lot riding on that one die roll. In a six-second round, where the die roll represents a far shorter amount of time and where the next die roll is coming up in just a moment in the next round, I think there's less room to interpret that die roll as representing a whole bunch of combat maneuvering and hacking and slashing, so it's totally okay to work in multiple missile attacks. In the one minute round, however, where the roll means so much more, I don't believe I can justify adding a second opportunity for a missile attack roll.

But I just really like that concept of, if you're ready to shoot, you get to shoot at the start of the round before anything's happened. And so, here's my new round phase order:

  • Phase One: Declare Intent - Players announce what their characters will do during the following round, if only roughly. Spellcasting must be declared at this time, but merely stating "I'm casting a spell" is enough, you don't have to explicitly state which one at this time
  • Phase Two: Initiative Roll - A d6 is rolled for each party involved in the fight. You already know how this works. 
  • Phase Three: Ready Fire - Characters with a bow drawn and at the ready may fire at the beginning of the combat round in initiative order. They may also choose not to fire and wait until the secondary fire phase. 
  • Phase Four: Movement - Running, jumping, climbing trees. Stuff like that which you already understand. 
  • Phase Five: Melee & Spells - Players and NPCs act in initiative order. Characters wielding a polearm or other reach weapon gain a +1 to their initiative when using that weapon. 
  • Phase Six: Auxiliary Fire - Anyone who drew a missile weapon during the round may now attack with it in initiative order. Anyone who abstained from missile fire during the Ready Fire phase may now do so. 

Extra Stuff

  • Yes, attacking someone who's casting a spell interrupts the casting, and the caster will lose the "spell slot" unless he or she rolls a 5 or 6 on a 1d6 roll (2-in-6 chance of not losing the spell), so yes, it still makes sense to "lock down" casters. 
  • I really wanted to add a reach weapon phase, but I thought that could end up in some super cheese. Instead, using a reach weapon gives the wielder +1 to initiative. However, if you've been attacked in melee during the combat round, you may not attack with a pole arm and must use a shorter weapon (because you're in too close, see? This could be complicated by the question "But what if you were attacked with a pole arm?" but I'm gonna stick to my guns on this one). 
  • I also wanted two-handed weapons to go last, which makes sense, but since we're using "d6 only" damage rules, that makes 2h weapons pretty pointless (except for pole arms). So, instead, wielding 2h will confer that +1 to damage that so many folks like to give. It just makes sense.
  • While we're on that topic, dual wielding will not allow extra attacks, but rather confer a +1 bonus to hit. Yep, got that one from the same place at the damage one. 
  • Everybody can use crossbows. Why not. 

Into Quasquetherion!

A little while ago, I announced that I'll be running a session of Delving Deeper for some new-to-old-school gamers (and a few new-to-tabletop gamers) using module B1: In Search of the Unknown, influenced heavily by +Ben Djarum's excellent Cytherion reskin of the module and dosed up severely with my own aesthetic (I hear that drinking OJ will prolong the sensation). The result of the blend between Quasqueton and Cytherion has become Quasquetherion, stronghold of the lost duo of adventurers, Harrowvar the Ironic and Zonn the Mind-Breaker. The adventurers disappeared a century ago, when they led a doomed army of damned souls and eldritch horrors against the barbarian tribes of the north. Huge thanks go out to Mr. Djarum, +Zach Howard (Zenopus himself), paleologos (Demos Sachlas) and everyone who contributed to the "In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook" found at Dragonsfoot. The map being used is the simplified one from the Campaign Sourcebook by Mike of Dragonsfoot and Arzon the Mighty, redrawn and funked up by y'all's truly. 

Before I delve into Quasquetherion, I'd like to take a moment to talk about my philosophy of how I plan to tackle this game. At first, I had thought to use Holmes rules or a Holmes retroclone (probably BLUEHOLME, but I'll bet you knew that already). For me, the Holmes rules are really a jumping-off point to get into OD&D, a way to get one's feet wet in the basics of D&D so that you can keep on rockin' it out with OD&D. I had thought about starting with BLUEHOLME and then moving on into 3LBB OD&D (plus Greyhawk if the group decided they wanted thieves), but there's two problems keeping me from doing so. The first is that I was looking for a system where the only dice a player would need is a d20 and some d6s; this meant that real Holmes systems were out because they use Greyhawk-style variable hit dice (yep, I'm getting that persnickety with the rules). The second is freaking thieves. I love thieves. We've talked about this before. I definitely believe that they enrich the game, despite the arguments that their existence creates a self-justification paradox, but the one issue I take with the way they're usually statted out revolves around the damn d%/d100 whatever you want to call it. Again, we've talked about this before. Furthermore, I'm not sure I want a "new-to-old-school" group to think of thieves as a necessity or use them as a crutch. At this point, I considered using Swords & Wizardry Whitebox since it doesn't include a thief, but I settled on the thief-friendly (but thief-optional) Delving Deeper, where thieves aren't needed nor do they use percentile dice (which puts them much more in line with Greyhawk thieves, when you get down to it). Oh yeah, with Delving Deeper, I also get my d20/d6 scheme as well. Victory!

As I settled in to prepare the game, I decided that I really wanted to reinforce the willingness of the players to "learn by doing," which, in my mind, means saying "yes" an awful lot more than saying "no," even if it's "yes, but." I want them looking for traps the fun way, sorting out how to get treasure out difficult-to-reach places using ingenious-if-harebrained schemes, all that sort of stuff. I want creativity, to engage folks looking at solving problems with their brains rather than their dice, and so I think I'll try to accomodate even the more ridiculous "can I?"s or "would it make sense to?"s.

Player Background

Lo, adventurers, you stand on the precipice of legend! Here, you have found the mountain stronghold, known to the villages and towns of this country as Quasquetherion, home to the adventurers Zonn the Mind-Breaker and Harrowvar the Ironic. A century ago, Zonn and Harrowvar spent decades pillaging the tombs and stealing the treasures of this land, squirreling them away in this mountain citadel, fighting off all would-be thieves and conquerors. The duo's reign in Quasquetherion came to an end when they forged an army of misfits and the misbegotten to conquer the barbarian lands to the north. Harrowvar and Zonn never returned from their foray, but neither did word of their defeat. Thus, Quasquetherion was shunned for a time, then shunned, then passed out of memory and lost. Stories of the opportunist adventurers are still told, though often making them out to be more heroic than they likely were in reality, but the location of Quasquetherion was lost to time... until now. 

Behold, adventurers, you stand before the once-forgotten entrance to Quasquetherion, open wide as if some gaping maw! As the hall beyond trails off into darkness, it resembles nothing so much as the throat of some colossal beast or even the living mountain itself. Here, treasures unclaimed for a century patiently wait to award your bravery and foolhardiness, as do whatever hazards or monstrosities that guard them. Prepare yourself as you see fit, adventurers, for ahead of you lie the mysteries and magics of lost Quasquetherion! 

Rumors

Each player rolls a d12 to get a rumor (ignore duplicates):

  1. Harrowvar and Zonn died in the far northern wastes trying to bring civilization to the lawless barbarians who live there. 
  2. Zonn was called the Mind-Breaker because of his powerful mind-magics. The only reason people could tolerate his villainy is that they had no choice but to.
  3. The mountain itself was called Quasqueton, and Harrowvar and Zonn named their fortress after the mountain and... something else, I'm not quite sure what. 
  4. Before they carved their fortress out of the living rock of the mountain, it was riddled with many vast and winding caverns.
  5. Legends of Harrowvar and Zonn make mention of a race of black-skinned, mute dwarves who they enslaved build their fortress.
  6. "Skree-skree a-ree-ree" is verman for "we come in peace."
  7. Harrowvar the Ironic was a powerful warrior who devoted his life to violence and irony as artforms. The violence he could always do, but his grasp of irony was often wanting.
  8. Some tales of Harrowvar and Zonn mention a race of lizard-insect-men that they enslaved in some far-off ruin. If you can find one of their eggs, I'd bet it'd be valuable.
  9. Zonn was supposed to possess a powerful magical artifact called the Psychotherion that could turn men into beasts! Maybe that's where all the region's beast men come from.
  10. Zonn and Harrowvar got their strength and power through devotion to a darkling power of Chaos they found beneath the mountain. They built Quasquetherion to be close to it and provide it with necessary sacrifices.
  11. Others have found Quasquetherion before you. I'd expect other adventurers, humanoids and even berserkers from the northern wastes. 
  12. The real treasure of Quasquetherion is the gold mine deep in the mountain's bowels. Zonn and Harrowvar adventured only to gain knowledge and right wrongs since they had no need of material wealth. 
And yes, just to get this out of the way right now, Harrowvar and Zonn are both hipsters. If you'd figured that little bit out this far, you're doing pretty well. Here's the (poor) illustration I did of Zonn the Mind-Breaker I drew to demonstrate that fact.