Monday, December 5, 2011

Alien Dimension

The players in my 4e campaign are exploring an alien dimension, in hopes of righting a wrong that is more or less attributable to them and which is in all likelihood completely un-rightable.

I sketched pictures and took brief notes on four alien ecosystems the party was likely to cross through while looking for Tshuin the tree jumper.  Tshuin, his brother Yerush and a young warrior named Anank had first encountered the party while tracking a large hord of alien locust-scorpions being driven by Minotaur vampires under the sway of Manu Jibleetu (the lich technomancer).  Yerush and Anank currently lie unconscious, kept magically subdued in the hold of the hovercraft back in 4e dimension while the party tries to track down Tshuin to explain that they had not listened to him when Tshuin had told them to just kill the pair.

You see, my players are having a moral dilemma.  Tilia and Beautiful Bob pretty much are the reason that the cross-dimensional instabilities have ceased and the borderlands between the jungle and the alien dimension no longer exist.  Tshuin, Yerush and Anank were on the 4e side when the dimensions separated, and their village and families were on the alien side.

The party has also learned that the villagers are at least as much alien as they are "normal", with a secondary insubstantial nervous system (ghost nervous system) attached to two very real mycelial tissue masses in the lungs and lower digestive system.

One of the effects of this ghost nervous system is that all the villagers are bound together with a telepathic link; when the dimensions parted, this link was severed for Yerush and Anank.  Tshuin still felt something... somewhere... but the others would not listen to him.  "Our families are dead!  Our children are dead!  The elders are dead!  The mother plant will go unpropagated and the pitcher-flowers will be undrunk!  Let us do the ritual of the black mask and welcome those who have wronged us to the same fate!"

Tshuin watched as his older brother and the arrogant warrior Anank anointed themselves and drank the sacred drink.  He watched as they burned their own blood and smeared the ashes into the raw flesh revealed after they flayed their own faces.  Tshuin said the ritual words that are said to free the soul, and watched as the eyes of the two glazed over... and became black... and the black spread across the face, a featureless black mask with two slits for eyes.

Tshuin hailed the party from a treetop as the hovercraft flew over the jungle.  He told them that his brother and Anank were coming to kill them.  The ritual of the black mask had revealed Beautiful Bob and Tilia as the reason the family had been lost.  Tshuin asked the party to kill the pair, because their souls had already been lost.  There is no reasoning with them, he said.  They are already gone.

But did the party listen?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I love reading the Tao of D&D and even (tentatively) commenting on occasion.  I have generally avoided the wrath of Tao, but rarely do my comments raise much of a reaction at all.  A minor victory, I suppose.  A typically awesome read inspired this post.

I couldn't agree more with the basic gist of the linked post; if I am going to make a random chart at all, it has to be useful in a thousand situations and not stale after six rolls.  Of course, Tao goes beyond simple complexity and demands of himself (and others, I guess, if I were to acknowledge the sub-plot of many of Tao's recent posts) charts and game mechanics that model the consistencies and vagaries of real life within an acceptable statistical deviance.

  I usually just stick with making charts with a gajillion results.  Ferrinstance, when I wanted to randomly generate magical fungi for my Mutant Future campaign's brief stint on Celestia, I created a "chart" with some number of thousand total possibilities,and I actually do not even possess the statistical acumen to give you a correct total.  The version that I posted on the interwebs is lacking the addiction and overdose tables, but even just the primary effect (d30 + subcharts + some random duration rolls) + secondary effect (d20 + subcharts + some random duration rolls) tables generate thousands of possibilities.

That is the kind of chart I am going to create, if I create any at all, because in general I just rely on my ability to perform well under pressure and come up with something awesome, and my ability to sit back at the correct moments to allow my players to come up with something awesome.  The time that I spend in prep is normally spent creating new creatures and cultural practices and items and sketching  and most dearly refining the physical rules that govern my RPG universe (i.e. expanding on magic and its relationship to energy, time and intent).  It is spent jotting down quick reminder lists of the various NPCs and factions that are going to be most active during the period of time the session is likely to entail.  When multiple days pass in session, I rely on my own ability to just create weather conditions and terrain descriptions that are not just accurate for the latitude and time of year, but evocative as well.  I do a fair amount of research on conditions in Earth analogs of the kind of places I stage my adventures, and I just wing it from there.  It seems to work well; weather is not an afterthought, it is a tangible part of the game, but I don't think any of my players care HOW I generate it.

I fly without a safety net a lot of the time; not all of the time; not even most of the time; and my poker face is good.  I act the same one way or the other if I am improvising from the seat of my pants based on the setting to date and the actions of the players, or if I am working from fastidiously prepared notes.

Don't get me wrong; I DO have fastidiously prepared notes.  I prepare reams of material for every game I have ever DMed... scribbled pages upon pages of notes, pen and ink, illustrations, diagrams, sidebars and more.  I just accept that a good portion of that work is just a mental exercise and that the number of hours spent conducting freestyle mental gymnastics during a session has no correlation to the number of hours spent preparing for a session.

There is rarely a situation in one of my ongoing games that I feel the need to create a chart for, because I have taught myself the lesson over and over again that I can be a successful DM just by staying out of my own way; providing interesting tidbits and reacting to player actions.  I have honestly never felt the need for "random" encounters and weather, and even when I have made such charts I usually have ended up using them as inspiration in the moment.  A post like Tao's makes me sort of wish that I had an alternate reality version of myself to make awesome detailed charts for every region in my 4e game, while the real-life me kept on happily creating undead mechanical constructs, strange tribal customs and new magic.  But then I remind myself that Tao's campaign is set in a world that exists, Earth, and a history that not only mostly exists (late middle ages with magic, if I can sloppily summarize), but is familiar to the typical gamer, while my games tend to be set in very alien climates and social conditions.  I fall closer to the Tekumel side of the divide than the Pendragon.  I align myself nearer to the Sci Fi / Arnesonian / Temple of the Frog school than the Fantasy / Gygax / Keep on the Borderlands camp.

There is something about your standard, bog simple, pseudo-European generic default D&D setting that does still  stir my blood, I must admit.  I am really enjoying what I am working on right now precisely because of that.  I am making random encounter charts for my entry into the Iron Chef Adventure Challenge issued by Mike Monaco (Swords & Dorkery).  There are going to be several layers of complexity layered on top of your typical THIS kind of terrain, THAT chart routine.  The basic format is going to be a d20 roll for each terrain type that a party could travel through in the hex-crawl (currently:  Farmland (grain - travelling by road); Farmland (grain - cross country); Farmland (root crop - travelling by road); Farmland (root crop - cross country); High Moor (via road & traveler's shelter); High Moor (cross country); Millbrook Town; Hot Springs and Abandoned Estates surrounding Millbrook; Mixed New Growth Forest and Farmland; New Growth Forest; Old Growth Forest; Mountain Foothills; High Mountains; Glacial Ice Field; Temple Marsh & Hotsprings; the Moon; the Sun; Astral Plane) with a result of 20 calling for a roll on a special chart.

I am going to call for a roll once per hex entered OR once per day if no travelling is conducted (with a secondary roll for time of encounter) .

Results 1-15 on the d20 terrain type encounter chart typically call for a roll on a sub-chart (a common feature of my chart design; when creating a version of Mutant Future for "Fantasy" gaming, I used the [d100 roll gives a result that leads to a sub-chart] mechanic to create WAY more variation in random character generation than the original game's mechanic); for instance, these results might be "Wildlife - roll 3d6 on the following chart" or "Civilized Folk - roll 2d12 on the following chart" or "Uninhabited Structure - roll 1d20".  Results 16-19 are more unusual / notable encounters for that terrain type.  A result of 20 = a roll on the special chart for that hex.  Most hexes within a terrain type share the same special results chart, but many hexes have unique charts.

The special charts are d30 charts and the linear distribution means that once the d30 comes out, some crazy results can come up.  Results 25-30 are typically major encounters that occur on a spread of hexes, with Demonic activity concentrated in the areas near the temple but still occurring on a 30 in hexes all the way out to Millbrook.

On top of that, the locations of some major NPC actors will be rolled randomly when the PCs enter the region and then their subsequent movements determined on a daily basis on another chart.

On top of that, there is a d100 roll each day for the 1% likelihood of a spontaneous portal to a (random) extra-planar destination opening in a randomly determined hex around the temple for a random amount of time, each portal with its own supplementary charts that reveal what crosses through to this plane, and subsequent movements.

I would love to add yet another layer of complexity, the ability for the last result to influence the next result, but I am not sure the players would pick up on it.  It does give me something to aspire to, if for no one else but myself!  There is no reason to be lazy with chart creation.  The entire purpose of charts is to save you time during the game, so investing time in their creation will give an exponential reward as a DM.  If you aren't going to go all out, then why not just ad lib it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

I got my secret ingredients!

Mike Monaco over at Swords and Dorkery issued a sweet challenge that I could not refuse.  My unopened pack of 1992 Series TSR Collector Cards arrived today (this was a Max the Cat approved operation):


I have already figured out how to easily integrate all 16 of my Counterfeit Proof Limited Edition Fantasy Cards.  There will be a forgotten temple involved, there might even be gates to the moon and the sun... who knows these sorta things?  Guess you gotta roll on the random rumor table like everyone else...

Get ready for a solar system spanning wilderness hex crawl with the potential for planar travel!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Iron Chef Challenge

I was browsing the blogosphere the other day and came across a blog that was new to me:  Swords and Dorkery.

Mike Monaco, the blog author, issued a challenge to open a pack of AD&D collector cards and use at least half of them in an adventure, encounter or to stock a dungeon.  He is also generously donating an unopened pack to the first sixteen respondents (I believe there might still be a few openings as of my writing this).  This is the Iron Chef Challenge!

I jumped at the opportunity and eagerly await my pack of cards.  I am going to use every golldurned card, I swear to Jeebus!  I have also offered to donate a prize to the prize pool (an extra copy of the 1e DM's guide that seems superfluous to me now that I have a copy with the original cover; the prize copy has the Easley cover with a cloaked figure opening a door).

I have long wanted to do something similar with Magic the Gathering cards (randomly deal some out and use them as adventure seeds), so this is really right up my alley.

I can't wait to find out what my secret ingredients are!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Devils Bathe in Holy Water in the Labyrinth. Lord.

In the Labyrinth Lord game that I play in (I am Dak, the Steve Buscemi of dwarfs) we had a great encounter with a demigod / powerful devil last session.  Exploring a temple hidden deep beneath the manor house of the recently deceased lord of the region, Dak was nearly compelled to worship the altar of an evil god when he touched a magically warded door into the temple fane.  Luckily, I rolled a 19 on my save and laughed in the face of evil.  And then I got really ticked off, because I have been playing my character as afraid of magic in the first place, and this really struck to the core of my character's fears.  I spent a goodly portion of last session destroying the evil altar with my dwarf steel hand ax, even though our good cleric's Detect Evil spell revealed that the evil presence in the altar grew stronger with every blow.

Sure enough, when Dak and Yor (the other party dwarf) succeeded in striking the last blow to the altar in spectacular fashion (collapsing a load bearing pillar onto it), an explosion of green flame occurred and a terrifying four-armed humanoid fish-demon-thing with a long eel-like tail burst into existence over the rubble.

Despite being dwarfs, with our inherently KICK ASS savings throws, we both failed a save vs. paralyzation when the evil fish thing sprayed us with a green liquid which subsequently encased us in a rock-hard goop.  The rest of the party looked on in horror from the doorway, with the exception of Innominus the lawful cleric of Indra who warded himself with a spell and dived in to combat.  (Thank Indra!)

Dak, terrified as he is of both magic and water, had tied a rope around his waist before entering the partially submerged chamber and tied the other end off on the spikes he had driven in to hold the door open.  This enabled my hireling Rodney to pull my paralyzed body out of the fray, but it was obvious that it was going to take several rounds of work by Rodney to chip the coating off and free Dak.

As I was paralyzed and unable to take actions myself, I couldn't help but get involved in the meta-game and I began asking Kom, the player of a character with the ability to make two ranged attacks in a combat round, if he had anything likely to damage the monstrosity.  We went through his list of equipment and it turned out that he had little if any magical or dwarf steel missile weaponry (besides his +2 crossbow, which he had already fired and would take a round to reload).

AHA, I thought, when I noticed that he had several vials of holy water written down.  Holy water, blessed by a lawfully aligned temple, had to be effective against a chaotic and/or evil being such as this, right?

Kom rolled a solid to hit roll and the vial of holy water splashed across the hideous visage of the slimy bastard... to no avail.

According to Labyrinth Lord, holy water works against undead, period.  If this is a faithful emulation of the early game, it seems to me like one of those lacunae in the old rules that occurred through oversight and not intention; after all, the very idea of holy water and its efficacy comes squarely from the catholic church, where it is used precisely to drive away evil spirits and devils.  Its not like a lousy 1d8 damage is going to be overpowering any devil anytime soon, but it seems to me like it should do something.

 It does make me curious, however, if ANY of the older editions (OD&D, B/X, AD&D 1e) make any provisions for holy water damaging a devil or avatar/agent of an evil god.  Being a lazy fuck myself, can anyone find a reference?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I spent $25 at Emerald Comics today...

And look what I got!

I did not own the actual box for the 1981 Basic D&D set before (I had been keeping my Ebay'ed copy of the rule book in the box for the Expert set), so I was going to pick up that bad boy for $5 no matter what... but the rulebook and The Keep on the Borderlands inside are in absolutely perfect condition, and the set still has the original dice, uncolored, with the original crayon!  Too good.

The RuneQuest 3rd edition Deluxe Box Set is likewise in perfect condition inside, and the box has only minimal wear.  Again, uncolored dice with crayon inside.  $10?  I think so!

And then something that has been on my wish list since I was a kid looking at the ads in Dungeon magazine (Dungeon and sister publication Dragon magazines were the only things D&D carried by any store in Haines, Alaska, available for a short while at the Babbling Book);  the Planescape Campaign Setting!  That one was incomplete (missing the maps of the planes, but including everything else PLUS two Planescape Monstrous Compendium softcovers) but still a steal at $10 given how much those things always go for on the secondary market.

Be still my fluttering heart!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sweet Magic Houserule

I was checking out The Same Universe wiki (a truly amazing wealth of material can be found there, including dozens and dozens of hex maps) when I came across this alternate spell casting system contributed by James.

It is a simple system for magical fatigue that increases the chance of spell failure the more spell levels cast.  It bolts on to traditional D&D magic and allows a caster to cast any spell in her repertoire with a d6 roll + level vs Spell Fatigue, a new number to track (which increases with each casting, successful or not).  A first level caster should be able to get several spells off successfully, but runs a chance of spell failure with unpredictable results.

I think it would go a long way toward "fixing" OD&D / B/X / AD&D style Vancian fire and forget magic for me.  I have just never liked the feel of magic as presented in those editions.  The house rule both increases the power of low level casters and makes magic work in a more intuitive way.  At higher levels, it looks like it would limit casters a little bit with the chance of a spell failure, but high level casters are pretty dang powerful anyway.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Saving the Universe as a side mission

I was browsing the blogs this afternoon and stopped by Grognardia to see how a rereading of Tolkien was treating James.

In the comments, from Aos:  "I do, however, very much prefer to avoid world saving as a campaign emphasis. I've done it in the past and while it has an inherent charm, it also tends to deflate any further interest I might have in the setting."

I am dancing around this issue with my 4e campaign.  My entire 4e universe has been "ending" in a slow protracted process that started with the stars going out in response to events in my Mutant Future campaign.  The mutant future players, while exploring a strange chamber that evidently had been created by snakemen, activated a subprocess in a controlled singularity device on the planet of Celestia in the Mutant Future universe.

Like a bathtub draining, all the energy of the 4e universe is being sucked into the Mutant Future universe.  The particular planet the 4e campaign is played on will succumb in just under two months game time, which of course can be an eternity or just a couple of sessions.  

There are many powerful NPC actors in the 4e universe, none of the them (with the possible exception of the royal inquisitor from the city state of Siss Anor) friendly to the PCs, but all of them with a vested interest in seeing the universe persevere.

The party is currently fighting tooth and nail to survive against the minions of Manu Jibleetu, pinned down into a sphere of protection against shadow in the middle of a rain storm in the jungle and taking mortar fire from two artillery positions.   Manu Jibleetu is an ancient lich technomancer who may or may not be allied with the snake men... and if the party thwarts Manu's plans, they may accidentally and unwittingly prevent him from stopping the destruction of the world personally (Manu just showed up last week after a centuries long absence from the region, and is up to all kinds of shit, including being commissioned by the snakemen to repair the malfunctioning sentient computer that controls the singularity, thereby saving the 4e universe for the time being).

What I have been enjoying is that the saving of the universe from impending doom is FAR from the top priority of the campaign, and it will not be a campaign ending event when it happens, regardless of if an NPC actor or the party succeeds.  The party is currently trying to collect samples of each of five alien elements that do not occur in the 4e universe but which are necessary to activate the gate in the grandmother and grandfather tree at the confluence of the river to prevent all the energy in the 4e universe from flowing into the Mutant Future universe (this course of action having been arrived at through consultation with the gadoro, the race of spirit monkeys that guard the confluence of the river and the grandmother and grandfather tree, and after lengthy research among the tribes of the area).  This is a short term goal, and they are ready to get back to the REAL task of trying to figure out what the heck the snake men are up to, and who were the race of tiny aliens who abandoned powerful energy vessels below the surface of the planet and on the moon.  

Last session Tilia had a breakthrough (natural 20 on an arcana check) while trying to gain entrance into a sacred metal pod.  She realized that the metal was an alloy composed of the five alien elements, at least theoretically opening up the possibility of breaking down the metal into its composite elements.  As one of the areas of dimensional instability where the alien elements appear is hidden underneath Manu Jibleetu's twisted tower, the party welcomed at least the possibility of obtaining the shadow element without having to brave the dead hills and enter the tower.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Initiative by the Book (Labyrinth Lord)

I always used to think that group initiative, especially d6 group initiative, was both incredibly boring and unrealistic.  I have used d20 individual initiative, plus Dexterity modifier, in my Mutant Future campaign, and I have been generally happy with that.

Recently, in my friend Carter's Labyrinth Lord campaign, we switched back to by the book group initiative.  The key thing that I had always failed to grasp when I read the initiative rules was that initiative was rerolled every round.  This is a ton of rolling if you are doing individual initiative, but really not hard at all if you are doing group initiative.

Short story:  I really like d6 group initiative, rolled each round of combat, ties meaning simultaneous action.  It allows the tide of battle to change rapidly, it allows dramatic things like knowing you are already dead but getting one last attack in (and the chance for the ultimate cinematic moment, the simultaneous death shot), and it actually takes less time than the mess of going around the table and recording initiative rolls and constantly having to remind everyone when it is their turn in the initiative order.

I think I am going to switch my Mutant Future game over to this system, and I am seriously thinking about switching my 4e game over as well.  I have to think about that latter proposal a little more, as there are feats that you can take in 4e that improve initiative (I am not sure if any of my players have taken these feats, but if they have, it would be cheesy to completely castrate their usefulness).  I still think I am going to do it, and may just allow players to pick new feats and or powers if they want to given this new information.

I really like the way that this simple change in initiative has made the combats in our Labyrinth Lord game WAY more exciting, and I see no reason why it wouldn't work in other systems as well.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Tale of Time Travel and Aliens: 3 Nights in One (player post [annotation by Carl])

Heya all!

So…I’m going to try and wrap up a bit of what’s been going on after the last couple sessions. I didn’t really have time to stop and write about the last few…

So, where to begin?


After sinking the tower that Akili and Ghoudy lived in on accident, thus dispelling the whirlpool that was at the outlet of the two great rivers from the mountains, we had to deal with a very ANGRY Akili and Slotek.

[The party managed to dispel the whirlpool by sucking its energy up into the meteorite metal battery that powered their magical airship - I had already described how the magical energies of the two rivers that met at the confluence were being caused to rotate against each other, so when the party navigated the ship (in the water, not the air) into the whirlpool and started trying to suck up the energy I gave them a chance... and also warned them that if they failed their ship would be smashed to smithereens.  Of course, they had a great string of luck rolling the dice, as they are wont to do, so I ruled that they had succeeded in stopping the whirlpool.  What the party didn't know is that the stone spire that Old Man Gootie and Akili lived in was not actually sticking out of the bottom of the river, it was sticking up out of a large portal powered by the whirling water.  So when the whirlpool was stopped, the portal closed and the top of the stone spire that protruded into this dimension was severed and began to fall over into the river. - Carl]

 Akili had Slotek poised to leap at our ship and destroy us. However, Beautiful Bob managed some awesome diplomacy and kept her from destroying us right out. She was currently sated, but worried because (although she didn’t say it) we had sealed Ghoudy in the portal that was at the bottom of the whirlpool, allowing the tower to come through and causing the whirlpool to begin with. Apparently we also sealed all her food stores in there as well. She was slowly reverting to her most insatiable self, and we had to think fast! She wanted our big meteorite battery that we had just fully charged on whirlpool energy because it would sustain her for months! Well, we weren’t about to give up our awesome air ship just yet….so, Antillia quickly offered her a lightning beetle (powerful magical creatures that they are) and she was sated for the time being. That gave Bob and the rest of us the opening to negotiate a cease fire and Antillia said she had the means of traveling through time (using some fungus she found early on in the adventure), however, it could potentially be fatal if consumed. Antillia had learned of the first weave of shadow from Ghoudy and decided with Akili’s help (who had a mass amount of knowledge) that she might be able to create a portal in the shadow realm, using the fungus in the weave, which stretched back in time. So, with Beautiful Bob’s help, Antillia had Akili attach a pseudo pod to the albino minotaur’s head. (These pseudo pods allow her to control anyone they are attached to and basically take control of all their actions. Antillia was gambling that she could also transfer her knowledge/memories through the link). Beautiful Bob busted out his Tower of Iron Will to filter the transmission….Antillia cringing (having tried this before on the alien space sphere and failing) because she thought her head might explode. Antillia took this chance to bust out her d30, hoping for the best….rolling 23 she sighed with some relief, but then Carl rolled for Akili…………NAT 20! Antillia’s player (me) jumped with delight and let out a yelp of joy! Beautiful Bob was able to keep the minotaur’s head from exploding and Akili was able to transfer her vast amount of knowledge into the mind of Antillia. Now, this allowed Antillia a nice bonus on making the portal…which turned out to be a DC50 Arcana check. (Holy Cow! No pun intended!) So, with Akili’s help the minotaur was able to meet the DC. We entered the portal…but messing with time is never easy…..

Our first attempt was to simply have Akili go into the temple and let the old version of herself know the outcome of leaving the temple early. Antillia shot her with a dose of meteorite energy to last her a week, so that the old Akili wouldn’t go crazy and eat everyone. Meanwhile, we also gave her a lightning beetle to breed inside the temple over the thousand years or so….and Antillia set up a regular meeting time in the shadow world (because time flows strange there) so that she could keep the old Akili company every year or so. (This would turn out to only be a passing of a few moments in the shadow world to Antillia) After some debate on whether to change anything else….Antillia arguing that we should save some other historical flops we had committed, but it was concluded that we shouldn’t mess with much of anything else. So, we zipped back through the portal and left the Akili of our time in the past, after instructing the Akili of the past on what to do. Coming out of the portal we noticed Slotek, wondering where his mother was…but looking remarkably different. Still mentally delayed, but a bluish color and a different power keeping him from being the great river spirit he needed to be. Through some handy psychic investigation by Bob we found it was the spirit beetles, that the Akili of the past had decided to start eating them and had binged on them for hundreds of years, not needing the dolphin consumption ritual to gain the power to give birth to Slotek. However, she was now addicted to spirit beetles (lightning beetles) and so was Slotek. We all let out a long sigh, trying to puzzle out ways to fix the problem….we thought if we could put her to sleep she wouldn’t go crazy from being alone and find Ghoudy and used him to do crazy things…then it hit us like a bolt of lightning! We had taken the rest of that sleeping potion from the temple! (The potion that Beautiful Bob took a sample of and it almost put him into a coma for 1000 years!)

[This potion was from the 1e adventure "The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan", from the room where two monks slumber eternally unless attacked, and a potion vial with dust in it can be reconstituted to form a potion of eternal sleep.  I had a ton of fun making some 4e monks to kick the party's ass with, which is exactly what happened when they decided to decapitate the sleeping monks before they could do anything to the party!  At least the party ended up with the potion after getting their rear ends handed to them, as it now came in very handy. - Carl]

 So, Antillia went to her first meeting with the Akili of the past and gave her the potion to drink! She then stepped out to see that Slotek was gone, the Ghoudy of the past was met with the Akili of our time and that wrapped everything up nicely. The Akili of the past was still asleep in the temple and we were able to convince the dolphins to remove the curse from Akili of our time because they didn’t know what she had done in the first place to get it. (Seeing that we had removed that happening from the time line) Ghoudy and Akili went off to live happily ever after and we were set with a new mission….go to the temple and wake Akili so she could create the true river god being.

[I was pretty sure the party could not avoid a combat with Akili and Slotek, which would have ended very badly for the party.  However, once the idea of travelling through time was brought up and the characters told Akili that they could journey back and prevent the terrible curse of gluttony from ever afflicting her, she was all ears.  This session was very tough for me to DM, because Antilia's player (the writer of this blog post) wanted to go back in time and change all sorts of things the party had done, most notably releasing the elder jellyfish god Kariki Kalos from its temple prison.  I didn't want to just use DM's fiat to say "No, you can't do this", but I did hint around that the more the party messed with time, the more unintended consequences would happen and the crazier the results would be.  In the end, Beautiful Bob's player managed to convince Antilia's player that they should limit their messing around with time to one brief mission and get back.  Phew! - Carl]

That ended the first of the three sessions…on to the next!


So, having successfully (or at least, it seems that way) helped Akili, we were all patting each other on the back and trying to decide whether to approach the island or not when a jolt went through all of us. We felt a disturbance so profound it rocked Bob’s psyche. Antillia immediately went into the spirit world to see what was going on, being more perceptive there to the disturbance. She followed it to it’s source and found out that Kariki’Kalos (the giant jellyfish squid elder god thing) had sunk the entire continent that it had been attacking. Basically half the known world was now under water!

[I had been rolling some dice at the beginning of each session after the party had released Kariki Kalos, to represent the battle between the elder squid god and the cadre of lich priests that had originally imprisoned it, and who set out after it as soon as the party released it.  I rolled a d20 for each side, and whichever side won, I recorded it as a minor victory.  When a natural 20 was rolled, I rolled a second d20, looking for a second natural 20 to represent a total victory.  At the beginning of this session, I finally got two 20's in a row for Kariki Kalos.  Game over, man. - Carl]

The disturbance was the profound loss of life and some strong souls were trying to cling on in the spirit world. Antillia approached one of these powerful ones and attempted to feed it some of her energy to help it materialize, hoping to help at least one or two people. However, much to her surprise, it turned out to be a devil! It laughed and possessed her (by continuing to absorb the force she was feeding it and increasing the flow!), which caused her to go crazy on the boat. Her eyes began to glow red and she began speaking in a demonic tongue on the boat, cutting her hand with a longsword and etching a rune of summoning on the boat’s surface. Hammer, always quick to the draw, wrapped his arms around her and bear-hugged her into submission so Chmee (our Artificer) and Beautiful Bob could figure out what was going on and de-possess her. Carl was quickly reading through the effect, learning it was permanent with no save, until he caught the line “the only way to break the possession is by grappling the opponent”. We all laughed, but even with the devil expelled, the summoning rune pulled two ice devils into existence to fight us with the disembodied humanoid dragon-like devil. Chmee quickly threw down his all-seeing eye artifice that allowed everyone to see the dragon-like devil, which Beautiful Bob and Hammer made quick to weaken by pounding him pretty good. Antillia decided to try something, since she had felt the draw of energy during her spirit travel and had felt him sucking away her energy, she decided to try reversing the effect on the dragon-like devil with a malevolent nut!

[The malevolent nuts are the product of a twisted tree that grows on the site of a terrible wrong. The nuts suck in the soul of anything that dies nearby, preventing it from travelling to the afterlife, instead imprisoning it in a hell-like subdimension.  This was the first attempt to use a nut in combat to suck the soul out of a creature in combat, and as I am wont to do, I allowed it to happen, albeit with a slim chance of success.  Subsequently, the party tried to use the nuts to just one-shot every powerful creature they encountered, and I ended up ruling that the nuts could only be used on a creature that was already defeated. - Carl]

With a battle of wills, Antillia successfully sucked the dragon-like creature’s energy, using the nut to filter out his personality so she could directly absorb his power. This left Hammer, Chmee, and Bob facing two ice devils and they immediately set in on one of the two. Hammer made a ridiculously good roll and cleaved into it, his damage flowing like a river to wash away it’s hp. Chmee had a bit of trouble hitting and Bob attacked it’s will causing it to attack itself! Needless to say it was feeling the pain, bloodied and then some. The other devil made a break for our power core and tried to attack it, failing to do any significant damage to our relief. Antillia ran to that one and managed to use the same tactic, sucking him dry and storing his personality in a malevolent nut. She let out a cackle using the power to infuse her voice and the other ice devil looked disturbed by this turn of events. Hammer, Chmee, and Beautiful Bob managed to knock it unconscious and Antillia repeated the “soul suck” on it. She handed one of the ice devil nuts to Beautiful Bob who interrogated it psychically and found out who it worked for, why it was there, and left it with a warning for the Great Devil it worked for. He then opened a portal to the layer of Hell it was from and sent it through. After this, we were all pretty winded…but we decided to put some of the power we had gained to use. Antillia used the power of the ice devils to imbue her Winter’s Herald with extra strength, allowing the difficult terrain to expand out to five squares from two. She also gained an Aura 2 slow effect that persists outside of the form. Beautiful Bob decided to use his d30 to see if he could gleam some insight into the malevolent nuts and what would happen if you ate one with a soul trapped inside. (such as the devils) He lived up to his reputation and rolled a natural 30, giving him the insight and ability to eat a nut and substitute one of his powers of equal or higher level for powers from the being inside the nut. However, each nut that you consumed also lowers your will defense by 2. A hefty price to pay, but worth it if you find the right nut!

So we rested up and ended the second of three gaming nights that I am catching up on….and so the last night came.


We had come back to the game shortly after Beautiful Bob had learned the secrets of the nuts. We decided it was time to try and approach the mysterious island with the temple that held Akili of the past and wake her up, then figure out how to help her make the great river creature. So, we kicked our air ship into full blast and shot for the island…as we approached Antillia noticed the black and white clay sphere she had began to vibrate. It turns out the white monkey statue in the middle was harmonizing to an unseen and unheard frequency. As she was puzzling over it, Nima appeared with Dwarmel on her shoulder.

Now, taking a side step from the story to introduce Nima, because some of you probably have no idea who she is. Nima is an interesting person…she can apparently physically enter and leave the spirit world and travel wherever she wishes. We first met her in the fierce people’s village and according to Ti’tsua (Antillia’s shi’bori teacher) she has been able to do so since birth. When we first ran into her in the spirit realm she had a strange lemur-like creature on her shoulder that she called Dwarmel. Apparently he accompanied her in the spirit world at all times. We still aren’t sure where she falls into things, but she is an outsider to everyone and only seemed to converse with Ti’tsua on a semi-regular basis.

[I have used Neema and Dwarmel as a sort of DM's cheat, a couple of NPCs that can appear and give insight to the party and drive the story along in interesting directions.  I have a back story for them that has never really been fully discovered by the party. - Carl]

So back to the story….she appears on our ship, much to our surprise with Dwarmel on her shoulder. This being the first time we’ve seen him outside the spirit world. Antillia studied her for a moment with her new-found spirit/shadow sight lenses she created and discovered that Nima is actually blind and Dwarmel works as her eyes. Antillia was a bit shocked by this and was mulling it over, meanwhile the subject of the vibrating statue came up and the worry that something was approaching. Nima laughed at us a bit and held one up to Dwarmel's eyes, saying it wasn’t a ward but a lens. Antillia strapped one to her head over her left eye and used it to look around. Everything seemed dark, but when she looked upon the Baddy-Baddy island it suddenly came into focus. (Previously being completely chaotic and full of random imagery and energy) This gave Antillia and the rest of the party the ability to look upon some large albino four-armed cyclopean apes, who we learned were the Gadoro. They stood in a triangular pattern, one ape taking up each corner and they sang in a chorus. One would start up a vibration/hum of a certain tone, then stop as the next picked it up. When they made their sound the area around them on the island would become lush Amazonian landscape, but when it faded it would turn dark and almost barren for a split second. The party tried to decipher the sounds of their song but failed.

As soon as we crossed the threshold of the island everything suddenly went silent, Antillia got a strong sick feeling of being pushed away like we didn’t belong (a natural feeling at that) and we were assaulted by a pack of small Gadoro images. It turns out they were projections of some other Gadoro we didn’t see and they kept coming by bunches of six at a time! They were minions, but they could do a nasty attack where they turned into a beam of energy and blasted into you. It would kill the minion, but put a nice hole in your body. They could also shove you around with a normal attack and they managed to throw Beautiful Bob off our boat, who made a daring athletics check to catch himself in a tree. Antillia used her “shield-like” flying device to fly to Bob and blow him a floating bubble from the Horn of Kariki-Kalos, which gave him a way to move around unless the Gadoro images popped it. Shortly after that Hammer was thrown from the boat as Antillia flew back up, leaving her the only one on the vessel. With some lucky rolls she managed to maneuver the flying ship to swoop down and pick up Hammer with the attached side nets, before flying away from the island. She then left Hammer to recover from his ordeal (having been thoroughly punched with holes from the Gadoro images beam attack) and used her flying shield to head towards Bob who was persistently trying to tap into the trees with his psychic powers and find out what was going on. Suddenly the landscape began to change and the Gadoro began gathering on a cliff face and singing a mournful dirge. The trees began turning into these pink fleshy tentacles with a metallic coating, the ground made up of the same metallic coating. Beautiful Bob not one to miss a beat, tried to tap into the tentacle to make it his friend but it rejected him and he got an image that the thing the tentacle was connected too was much older than our universe. Surrounded by walking tentacles that were getting ready to pummel them to death, Antillia and Bob were stranded. Antillia used her shape shifting powers (sacrificing one of her dailies) and attempted to commune with the Gadoros and become one of them. Using her d30 she rolled a 25 on the nature check that Carl let her make. Success! (Thanks to her high Nature skill) Antillia changed into a Gadoro, but it didn’t have the effect she hoped for though immunity to falling damage would be handy! Antillia then used her Burst of Nature to convert two of the tentacles back into real trees and the area around Bob and herself, buying them both time to get the hell out of that crazy place! So she grabbed Bob and flew up to the Gadoros, telling them their reasons for being there. The big Gadoro told us we needed to seek those who still knew the old songs to prove we were worthy of being on that island. So taking a hint, we left…though we did learn there was a ritual performed daily by the Gadoro that was a sort of key to the island. Anyone in on the ritual would be able to enter the island without triggering its defenses. Apparently the metal tentacle, barren, alien landscape was only one version of the island and thanks to Bob tapping into it we could tell there was another reality to the island locked away from us. So Antillia and Bob returned to the air ship and we left the island, our heads hung a bit low as we were humbled by such a display of power and unable to make much progress on the island. However, we knew where to go….and it was actually where we had planned to go before going to the island in the first place.

We were off to see the Song People that Ti’tsua had told us about. They supposedly had some knowledge of the island and might even give us some insight into the songs of power the Gadoro said we should learn. So we follow the river that the Song People supposedly lived along and stopped at the first village we came to. First thing we noticed is that the Song People all looked emaciated and had smoke rising up off of them constantly. The older they were the more emaciated they looked. When they saw us they all made some sharp whistling sounds to warn the other villagers. They also had some well tended to gardens of small white peppers and some berry plants. They seemed extremely friendly and outgoing and Beautiful Bob got us off on the right foot with his gleaming smile and charming demeanor. Antillia asked them about their peppers and even had a chance to look them over. They were happy to show her their gardens and were incredibly proud of the well-tended plants. It turns out the peppers drew a lot of nutrients from the soil and the berry plants replenished those nutrients and kept the soil fresh. The soil also seemed to be imported from somewhere else, as this was not the natural growing area for these peppers. Hammer asked if he could try one and the villagers warned him of the heat, but Hammer chomped down on one with confidence. Soon after he spewed gouts of flame from his mouth and took some fire damage from the pepper. We all had a good laugh and Hammer mentioned making pepper spray out of the peppers to blind our enemies. However, we were soon greeted by the village leader who was dressed in finery and had magical rubies in the holes in his teeth that produced different tones of whistles. Apparently all the villagers had holes cut in their teeth and by plugging certain holes with their tongue they could create different song-like tones. We also discovered that the chiefs, or leaders, of the villages got in that position based on the “Big Man” principle of leadership. Basically, the person who can call on the most resources (Most men during a time of war, most food during a time of starvation, etc.) at one time became respected and elevated to a position of leadership. The session ended shortly after they invited us to a feast they were planning for the evening where some of the boys of the village would be elevated to adults. Though we did manage to pick up the fact that these people consumed the peppers on a regular basis and it was a sacred plant to them. We all were left with a sense of awe and determination to find the secrets of these people. Not to mention a mighty hunger for some super peppers…

Well, that was a lot to write up…but it wraps up the 3 sessions I was behind! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it as much as we all did playing it!

-Mike P.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

sweet score at the comic shop

I scored Eric Weidanz' old copy of Runequest (2nd Edition with full color cover and detailed dragon logo)  for $5 at Emerald Comics near campus in Eugene today.
At this point I feel like I know Eric a little bit - you see, I snagged some of his old AD&D 1e stuff (a DM's screen and some Dragon magazines) last week, but I also grabbed his old DM's binder out of the free box outside of the comic shop.  I always check out the free box before I go into the shop (why not?) and I first picked up a cover-less copy of Dragon, which I immediately put in my backpack.  Then I picked up the heavy, blue 3-ringed binder.  Flipping it open I instantly knew it was a DM's binder.  The inside was stamped "ERIC WEIDANZ" and then was a 9 digit number which looks like a SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER!  Did people go around stamping their library with their social security number back then?  What a different time, before the menacing scourge of identity theft.

A clear plastic sleeve held the first contents - a bunch of envelopes, the top one enticingly labeled "Demon" (these held little cut outs of monsters xeroxed from the Monster Manual, with the average height of the monster in feet written on the back of the cutout, each envelope containing a different category of monster).

A d100 Fumble Table was the next sheet (a lot of armor straps breaking, ankles getting twisted, hitting friends, and otherwise sucking - sounds terrible, must implement immediately!).

Basic Equipment and Supplies Costs (a very comprehensive hand written list that expands upon the 1e Player's Handbook and DM's guide by the looks of it) came next.

And then the icing on the cake - type-written sheets labelled "GAME MASTER ONLY" detailing Eric Weidanz' houserules for magic users.


Each magic-user gets five spells after leaving his apprenticeship.  One will be a READ MAGIC spell, one will be a [sic] offensive spell, two will be deffensive [sic] spells, and one miscellaneous spell."

He then proceeds to split the 1st level spells up into three categories, "Offensive", "Defensive" and "Miscellaneous".

The binder is awesome - it contains a bunch of cherry-picked sections from the DM's guide xeroxed in plastic sleeves, it has a bunch of Eric's locations (inns, castles, dungeons), random tables, etc.  There is a really sweet Conjured Animals Table that gives a d100 table for each HD category of animal (1 HD, 2 HD, etc.).  The table tops out with Mastodon (12 HD), Titanother (12 HD), Mammoth (13 HD), Whale (small) (14 HD) and Whale (up to 36 HD).

Eric clearly ran a bunch of 1e games - a lot of his pages had the scribbled HP deductions and notes that occur during game sessions.

I don't think Eric ever played Runequest.

The copy of Runequest I spotted today on the bottom shelf of the comic book shop was in absolutely pristine condition (well, one little oil spot on the back cover), with absolutely no marks inside.

Eric, in addition to his ink stamp with his social security number (?), got a cool embossed stamper at some point that said "Library of Eric Weidanz" and gave his address in a small town in Oregon.  He had two copies of the 1e Player's Handbook, one owned by just himself (as evidenced by both the ink stamp AND the embossed stamp, a 2nd printing) and another owned first by someone else (a friend?) and then Eric (crossed out old name and number and Eric's new stamp).

I grabbed the copy of Runequest off the shelf and took it to the counter.  While paying for it I asked if it was brought in by the same guy that brought in all the AD&D stuff the other day.  It was.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I was tidying up one of the computers that I use at my work and I discovered a .PDF that I had totally forgotten downloading.  It is a Random Robot Generator by Sean Wills, and you can find it over at under the heading "General S&W Resources" as "Robot Generator for gonzo-style S&W by Sean Wills ('Geordie Racer')"

First off, I love that you get to roll all the dice!  We were just having yet another discussion about the poor old d12 at the Labyrinth Lord session last Monday.  Well, you get to roll the d12 for perhaps the coolest part of this chart; the mission the robot is out on when encountered!
If a Small Clockwork Snake Robot with 10' Ray Attack that can Find Traps out on a Retrieval Mission doesn't float your boat, then what the hell is wrong with you sir?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Theory vs. Play Experience - I am an edition relativist

What Is "Old School Play"?

A lot of time has been spent on old school blogs over the last few years talking about what exactly the OSR is, what makes the earlier editions of the game different from modern iterations, etc.  This discussion tends to break into two main sub-topics; a discussion of the mechanics of old school, usually including fast and simple character generation, rules-lite systems, and relatively low-powered, high mortality games; and old school as an ethos, a system-less "style of play" or way of doing things.  As James over at Grognardia reposted recently, 
"We don't explore characters, we explore dungeons."  

There are definitely a lot of default assumptions as to style of play to that seem to go into most old school games, if I may broadly generalize from reading hundreds of actual play reports over the last few years here on the blogs.

I have noticed many times that my actual play experiences do not always match with the theoretical arguments advanced by proponents of mechanical old school definitions.  What I find is people looking at their actual game experiences, and attempting to explain how the mechanics of the game they are playing led to that experience.  For the purposes of a theoretical exercise, it is convenient to assume that there is a direct cause and effect going on there - the mechanics of the game = the play experience.  Of course, anyone who has ever played a role playing game knows that there is a missing variable in this equation; the face to face interaction between the players and the DM, and ultimately, how the DM as final arbiter of the rules parses the system as well.  

When you are talking about actual play experience, you are venturing firmly into the realm of the subjective; you may not even find consensus among a group as to what the play experience was to each member after a session.    So many things go into the experience for each person; how they interact with the other players, how they interact with the DM, the personal assumptions that they bring in to the game...

I Confuse Myself (and you?)

Switching gears here, I was once a philosophy major at Tulane University.  But the more I studied philosophy the less I became convinced that theoretical exercise was the path towards any kind of truth.  Ultimately I am an agnostic in the broadest sense of the word; I try to maintain a conscious awareness that I do not know anything for certain.  

That does not mean that I cannot have a discussion with somebody about the reality that we both assume each other lives in - it just means that I don't like to frame that discussion in any kind of universal terms.

Back to my point - while I would certainly agree that it would be ludicrous to suggest that game mechanics have NO impact on actual play experience, I would argue that they have such a minimal impact compared to the giant elephant of group/DM interaction in the room that it is either impossible or very difficult to make meaningful observations linking mechanics and the actual flow of play.

The reason this is true is because PEOPLE are just too damn complicated of a variable.  You would think this would be a simple matter:  IF Labyrinth Lord has fewer rules, AND 4e has more rules, THAN Labyrinth Lord will run quicker at the table.

But that does not take into account the wide variation among players and DMs.  There are groups of 4e players that have the rules internalized to the point that no one would ever have to open a book to refer to them, and there are groups playing Labyrinth Lord that have to constantly stop to refer to the rule books, or to explain how combat works, and what dice to roll again, etc.

Okay, now I am sure I have pissed off/lost a ton of people.  What do you mean there is no point in talking about mechanical differences!  How do you explain the fact that I like Labyrinth Lord and my group explores a sandbox and slays critters with alacrity, and yet I hate 4e and when I tried it it sucked; surely mechanical differences must have something to do with that!

Well yeah, sure, but...

The mechanical differences don't explain the differences in your play experience once the game is actually going.  I think there is a far more useful way to look at mechanical differences between editions.

Wherein I try to Wrap it All Up:

What the different mechanics do across the editions is they require more or less buy in from the player to be able to play the game.  Once the player has bought in (successfully navigated character creation and understands the rules), the game can be played and the mechanics may even cease to matter to the game play experience in any meaningful way (again, in my own experiences as a player and DM of old and new school systems).  If the entire group has "bought in" to the system, the group dynamic can easily cause the play experience to match the desires of the group.    Group/DM interaction is incredibly powerful and can make the lamest game rock and the coolest game suck, as long as everyone is invested in making it happen!

That does not mean mechanics or editions are not important.  On the contrary, mechanical and edition differences are very important!  They are so important that they can make or break the game for somebody before they ever get to the "actual play" part of the experience.  Most people can sit in on a pre-3e version of D&D and pick up the general rules within minutes of play starting.  Once the first combat starts, a few more details might need to be ironed out, but in general, there are very few barriers erected mechanically in the rules to prevent somebody from getting it.  So why would any game add rules and complications that might prevent a player from enjoying the game?  Ah, now the discussion might go somewhere besides a repetition of the same tired old song of "simple game mechanics = old school play and complicated game mechanics = new school play".  Some people shy away from a game that provides many tactical combat rules - just as many people may chafe at the lack of character options and abilities available in old school games.  There is a reason there are a ton of people playing 3e, and 4e.  The editions changed the way the have over the years because players DEMANDED more options, more rules, more mechanics!  The problem, in my opinion, is that rules lite and rules heavy are always framed as opposites.  Old School and New School are presented as a duality.  Why not have both in the same game?

  I firmly consider my 4e game "old school" - not in any mechanical way, but because the actual play experience is old school.  Unfortunately, I could never share this game experience with my good friend Carter (to pick on him for the umpteenth time today, because I know he is a good sport and is genuinely interested in this subject as well), because he simply does not like the default mechanical assumptions of 4e to the point that his mere presence at the table would grind the free-flowing game that I know and love to a halt.  I would love to get Carter to be able to experience how the game runs, but I don't think that would be possible short of somehow swapping his brain out with one of the players in my 4e game; if Carter could somehow magically ENJOY comparing the relative benefits of one feat choice vs. another, or the tactical implications of his movement in combat, he could play a session of the game and he would never have to stop to have the rules explained to him, and the game would run as it has run and he would think to himself, "Wow, 4e really is a great game, and it sure is old school!".   Well this is not the land of make believe and that ain't gonna happen, because 4e was designed with such a giant mound of potential barriers to players that many gamers will never get to enjoy what a 4e game could be like in actual play, and many others are so turned off by what was expected of them in char gen and rules mastery that they hate the actual play experience.

Why can't a game support a play style, "old school", for instance, through multiple mechanics?  Once we have accepted that different people enjoy different things, and that some people want the mechanics to be dirt simple as a player so they can just get straight to the actual play experience, and other people actually enjoy spending hours outside of the play sessions tinkering with mechanical options and choices and generally getting to interact with the rules outside of play - why can't we provide a game that gives both options to players?  Couldn't we then put the mechanical issues to bed and just focus on some good old "Old School" game experience?  

This is similar, in point of fact, to the original game - fighters were your basic dirt simple char gen, and magic users were for your "system mastery" guys.

I would love to see an old school game that includes a much more complicated char gen and combat rules set as an optional system to go alongside the basic char gen and combat that is so often assumed to be a requisite of old school games.  If you turn that default assumption on its head, I don't see why you couldn't do this.  Characters created through the complicated char gen would satisfy the players who love having multiple options to be able to fully create that character they envision; as long as this does not lead to the complicated char gen characters being more powerful in play than the simple char gen characters (and that is just a matter of doing the math right and playtesting).  I see no reason that a single game cannot both satisfy the guy who just wants to hit it with his axe and the dude who wants to make the perfect tactical choice of powers for the moment; and as long as both end up having about the same statistical chance of doing roughly the same damage, why couldn't it work?

This is actually how I suspect many old school games work anyways; players in the group that want to engage mechanically with their characters to a degree not supported by the rules usually figure out a way to do it with DM support, and this normally can go on side by side with players who put absolutely zero in outside of sessions without conflict.  This is one of the reasons long running campaigns tend to become such teetering constructs of houserules!

Anyway, I hope this long and rambling post has at least some kernel of interest that might be taken away by a reader.  I sincerely do not intend this post to be yet one more salvo fired in the Edition Wars - I am an agnostic edition relativist, and I game in peace.


If anyone regarded my last point as unseemly because it was a personal response to another's blog post, posted here rather than in the comments over there, it was simply because my comment exceeded the blogger maximum character limit and I didn't want to waste the 5,000+ words I had just banged out so I copy and pasted it over here.

Even though the post was directed at Carter and in response to his post, I think the topic in general is worth posting about.  I hope the particular method I used did not make the whole thing seem confrontational, as this was not my intent:  I love Carter, I love playing in his game, I love 4e, I love Labyrinth Lord, I love D&D in general, and I love me some Mutant Future most of all.

Thanks Everone!


Edition Differences

This is a continuation of my last post, but it originated as a comment on my friend Carter's excellent blog, responding to this post.  It is therefor written in the second person, addressed at Carter, and references some past experiences we shared (namely Carter's brief foray as a player into the jungles of 4e).

So...   @Carter:

I really feel like your frustration as a player in the one or two 4e games you played in was due to two factors:

One: The DM had no previous experience in any edition and literally started combats before giving us any options;

Two: The other players in the group liked spending time mastering the system outside of the actual session time (and had done so).

You totally failed to notice the true point of  what I was saying:  the commonalities between editions occur DURING play, and the extra work requested of players in 3e and 4e occurs OUTSIDE of play.

You did not, as a 4e player, invest the required amount of time outside of the session to understand how the game and combat worked.  When it came time to play the game and especially to fight, you did not know what you were doing, people kept telling you you were doing it wrong, kept overriding what you said you wanted to do to tell you what you SHOULD be doing, and generally made you feel like the game sucked big donkey balls.

Had you played with group of like-minded players who also spent no time outside of the session understanding the game, you would have had a much better experience - you guys could have all quite happily ignored your powers and the (actually quite simple) intricacies of what you can do on the battle field, and you could have charged in with your dwarf and hit things with your battle axe in EXACTLY the same manner that a Labyrinth Lord combat proceeds.

4e supports that; it just also supports much more.

When I say that the commonalities occur during play, that presumes that any requirements made on a player outside of play have been met.

This is a big point, and a big if, but IF you spend the time required to actually understand all of your character's abilities and how they work in combat, 4e combat feels very similar to any other edition.  I really feel that the modern editions are just geared towards a player who wants to engage outside of the session, and previous editions provided more or less no rules for this.  To me, that is the single biggest difference, and the root of all the moaning and bitching about how different 4e is. It requires a different commitment of time and energy from the player before play begins, old school players are not used to that, they do not spend the required time and energy, and therefor, they NEVER ACTUALLY PLAY 4e OR PATHFINDER (or whatever modern iteration we are talking about).

If you don't know the rules of the game, and you don't care, then you aren't playing the game.

I would respectfully venture that you have about as much basis to make an intelligent critique of 4e combat as a monolingual English speaker has of critiquing the Upanashads in their Sanskrit incarnation.

You have no idea what was happening, and you didn't like it.  That has nothing to do with how the combat engine worked, and everything to do with your willingness as a player to engage in complicated rules.

Again, I am certainly not trying to minimize differences between the edition; outside of play, there are HUGE differences!  LL character creation takes all of five minutes and I could easily spend HOURS building a 4e character!

I am just saying that in play, assuming the players and DM are all aboard with the system (which the system assumes as well), I have observed little to no differences in how the games run.  Combat takes place the exact same way in your Labyrinth Lord game as it does in my Mutant Future game as it does in my 4e game as it has done in every D&D game since the first campaign;
Initiative is rolled; players and enemy combatants go in order and say what they are doing, and roll a single d20 to determine its success.

That is it.  Period.  Just because a 4e player has many more options to choose from before picking one and rolling the d20, does not mean that the basic mechanic is different, nor does it impact the flow of combat AT ALL.  As long as the players are familiar with the abilities of the characters in 4e, combat is just as quick flowing as Labyrinth Lord.

You would just have no idea, because you never got to see a 4e game in action where the DM and players were all on board together.  Nor would you want to, because as a player, you don't want to think about rules at all, and you actively rebel against a system that asks you to.

Now... on to the second main point of my little mini-rant, which was that the final product of Labyrinth Lord (or any other old school edition of choice) + houserules is much closer to the modern iterations of D&D than most would care to admit.  That is because most houserules are aimed at exactly the same kind of player that all the extra rules in 3e and 4e are aimed at.  Many players chafe under the perceived restrictions placed on them by a simple game like LL.  At this point, you and some of your players have put considerable time and energy in your Labyrinth Lord game into making more complicated character classes, more options for players in character creation, and more options in the game in general outside of combat.  Most long running old school campaigns that I am familiar with grow and morph over time, adding in rules and interpretations, player options, etc., precisely to satisfy the same natural desires of certain kinds of players that led to 3e and 4e taking the shape they do today.

[EDIT - I first posted the following as a comment on my own post.  I think it is important enough in the terms of the larger debate that it should be included in the actual post - Carl]

Oh, and the healing surge point is utter horseshite, pure and simple. A classic straw man. All the 4e healing surge has done is acknowledge the de facto way the game has always worked. What, exactly, is the difference between a character using healing surges to heal themselves outside of combat in 4e vs. a Labyrinth Lord character drinking a healing potion? In fact, the healing surge mechanic actually serves to LIMIT the kind of totally absurd combat that can occur in earlier editions when characters are loaded to the gills with potions. Each character has a limited number of surges, and when they are gone, the character cannot be healed in combat. Each character can use one surge themselves in combat, by forfeiting their attack that round: this cures 1/4 of their total HP. Other than that, healing surges are activated by other characters with healing magic: an individual character's number of surges, then, is a cap on the total number of times they can be healed in combat. A cap that earlier editions did not have; it is ironic, then, that the healing surge is always held out as the ultimate example of what is wrong with 4e, the ultimate gamist rule.

It is less gamist and absurd than totally unlimited clerical and potion healing!

Monday, February 21, 2011

OD&D = B/X D&D = BCMI D&D = AD&D = 2e = 3e = 3.5+e = 4e (in play)

I 100% agree, no reservations, with the sentiment Mr. Mearls expressed to begin this kerfuffle.  I run a Mutant Future (heavily houseruled) game, and I run a D&D 4e (heavily houseruled) game, and I play in a Labyrinth Lord (+AEC, heavily houseruled game)... and guess what.  IN PLAY, the experience is exactly the same in all three.  And of course, the experience is totally different.  Completely unique to the game and the moment in all three, but while the game is going, we are playing a role playing game and occasionally rolling dice as decreed by the GM filtering the rules.

I could care less what the current version of D&D does, but I totally agree that the differences of edition are trivial compared to the commonalities experienced at the table.

In my opinion, the biggest differences between the editions are rules aimed at players who want to engage OUTSIDE of sessions.  I would never ask someone brand new to RPGs to join the 4e game I run - I would ask them to join the Mutant Future game - 4e asks a much higher load of a player before the game even begins.

Old School Gamers Beware

 There is nothing wrong with rules aimed at accommodating a player who wants to engage in the game outside of the session!  In fact,  a good DM should always encourage and enable a player's desire to participate outside of sessions.  Good old school DM's do this without needing rules for it written in the game they are playing; if the player wants to get badass at using that cool scimitar they found, you figure out a way to express that at the table in a manner that works.  The end.

New School Gamers Beware

There is nothing awesome about rules that make a player jump through hoops if the player doesn't want to jump through hoops!  Many players will be alienated before the game even begins and they even get a chance to experience the real magic of RPGs in action.

The Point Is:

The final product of houseruling plus the old school game system of choice is far closer to the current iterations (Pathfinder, 4e) of D&D than most of the OSR would care to admit.  And the actual play experience when the dice are rolling, the food is eaten, and the libations consumed - good fun was had by all, and to all who give a fuck about edition in any kind of negative way, fuck off.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Internet is a Megadungeon

And there is some fucked up shit waiting to devour your soul, tucked away in a rarely visited sub-level.

I have been spending a lot of time lately geeking out on my own website - modesty never my strong suit, I bought the domain name a while ago and I just recently purchased hosting and started making my site.  Time spent making my site easily navigable, integrated with Facebook, findable by Google, etc., got me thinking about dungeon design in a whole new light.

My website is a small little collection of hand-carved tunnels; but it is part of a megadungeon.  There is a cave mouth in a little hill outside of town; that cave leads to - the home page - the "front door" of my little corner of the dungeon.  This cave is mostly empty, well visited, with five tunnels leading away to other chambers of my site, each tunnel mouth helpfully marked with the name of the destination chamber.

[Internet Megadungeon Feature 1: All exits are clearly marked with a descriptive name for the destination]

There are other exits as well, obvious exits, but these dive straight underground and travel a great distance before re-emerging in other regions of the vast megadungeon;; the kingdom of myspace; one lengthy and serpentine passage even emerges right here in this blog!

But wait!  Might there be more to the well traveled entrance chamber than first meets the eye?  Graffiti scrawled on the cave wall seems to have been left by the original cave builders, goblins of Clan Carlnash.  One scribbled note seems to be referring to a secret exit from this chamber!  The secret door is not hard to find; if the cavern wall is prodded, one section will be found to swivel on a central pivot, revealing a black portal beyond...  the portal leads to another dimension, the dark side,  Anyone running their mouse over the home page will find the "secret link" as their cursor turns from an arrow to a selector icon when it passes over the hidden exit.  Using visual clues as to likely locations for the secret exit may speed up the search.  Those bold enough to step through the portal may not so easily find their way back; the only exits from the dark side go further into the dungeon besides one marked "Destination as yet unknown".  This unnamed portal does return to the home cave.  The dark side itself is unremarkable; it has a blacker feel and a strange image for a banner, but not much else... unless "Detect Magic" or a similar ability is used... then it is revealed that hidden messages and locked portals were woven into the very substance of the dark side during its creation (hidden messages and "shadow links" in the source code of the page).

Leaving the home cave down one of the five exits leading further into the carlnash caverns, explorers would soon find a peculiar feature of the megadungeon; most chambers within a level of the dungeon will be totally interconnected, allowing for easy travel from any point to another in only one step.

[Internet Megadungeon Feature 2: the original dungeon designers WANT the dungeon to be easily navigable]

The carlnash caverns are also connected to a parallel world, with gates to the world in every chamber... but the gates are one way FROM the world to the caverns!  The gates are plainly visible in each cavern, marked with the ancient symbols of Facebook, and invite any who know the secrets of that alternate reality to use their secret password to unlock the gate and open a two-way portal directly to the speaker's Facebook homeland.  Using a gate in this manner does leave a visible power signature that makes it possible to tell how many visitors have activated it.

[Internet Megadungeon Feature 3: many exits and other features will be password protected; prior membership in a particular organization or subterfuge may be required to gain access to passwords.  Carrying a badge of membership in an alternate reality like the Kingdom of Facebook will often unlock different content in many rooms throughout the megadungeon.  Many other actions and even the paths taken by Internet Megadungeon explorers may also impact what content will be found as the megadungeon is explored...]

[Internet Megadungeon Feature 4:, over time the dungeon will make itself appear as the explorer WANTS the dungeon to appear (cookies; the targeted ads/treasure maps and personalized content/room decorations feature...)]

Long term observers of the carlnash caverns would notice that the front cave is not the most heavily trafficked area; more than twice as many explorers come through the portals from the land of Facebook directly into various areas of the caverns than enter the caverns through the cave mouth in the hill.  The busiest cave is the vast cavern that houses the Nash Emporium.  The few vendors peddling their wares in the dark bely the bustling underground marketplace the chamber could hold.

A greedy adventuring party would soon grow tired of the caverns of carlnash; there is not much loot to be had at this point (just a few free song downloads and free art) and like almost all explorers of the Internet Megadungeon, the party likely possesses a magical warp whistle that lets them teleport to almost any other section of the megadungeon at will.

[Internet Megadungeon Feature 5: the URL bar is the magic warp whistle, and all explorers can just teleport to a known destination or use the scrying balls that are cheaply had at any general store (search engines like Google) to find a destination]

Map of the Internet!

So why does our brave adventuring party not just teleport to the biggest chambers full of loot, slay the dragon, and party like it is 1999?  Sometimes all is not as it seems in the Internet Megadungeon.  Many clearly labelled exits actually lead to somewhere completely different; many well known and previously safe chambers may suddenly become home to cunning assassins who strike from ambush, or worse yet, use tasteless, odorless gas to cripple explorers from hiding.  Countless factions live out their lives in the Megadungeon, and many vie for the attention of the party.  Come raid our caves, they hiss from the shadows, our dragon is uncensored, and our jewels are available for free download...  lies, all lies!  The dragon has a giant black bar obscuring its chest, rendering your slaying arrows impotent as they find no target.  The jewels, so carelessly scattered, vanish into vapors in your clutches as chuckling devils run out clutching contracts.  The free download is of a trial gem!  It is a worthless piece of crap crudely shaped to look like a gem!

[Internet Megadungeon Feature 6: subsequent inhabitants of the megadungeon take advantage of rules 1 - 5 manipulating and breaking them in an attempt to harm and rob explorers...]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

To Win and Lose Some: Recapping Our Adventures in the Amazon

Hello everyone! It's me Mike again...I know it was forever since my last post, but I wanted to post my weekly email recaps here, so any who are interested can keep up on the crazy situations Carl keeps throwing our way!

This way he doesn't have to post it for me...although I do enjoy laziness to some extent.

Anyways, on to the recap!

So we start off with Old Man Goudy disabled before us. We take his pouch of powder and ask him about its contents. We discover a pouch of white deer fur, sewn shut with gold thread, at which point he tells us that it is a powder he paid too high a price for. Apparently, it allows you to see anything, anywhere, anytime, without knowing exactly where you’re looking…awesome stuff! However, he also told us a story of his past once I helped him feed Akili his “wife”, who was cursed for eating a magic River Dolphin. He told us a sob story of how she was jealous of him fathering all these children in his Pig were-form and that she wanted a child, so she performed this ritual to summon the powerful river spirit and mate with it….which involved eating the dolphin flesh. He further stated that the powder in the deer skin pouch was made from the ground bones of a river dolphin and their son was cursed by the dolphins as well, into being this hideous, mentally unstabled/delayed creature. Akili kept their son calm by using one of her pseudo pods that she shoots out from her flesh that has accumulated from her curse and mass eating to blobdom, apparently these attachments burrow into the brain of the person they are fired at and allow control. Also, Goudy said his mother was from a sacred temple on the island of the Bady Badys (the temple of the Bady Badys) and his father was a spirit from one of the protective statues on the temple. Apparently immortal until they leave the temple, she had left the temple to seek a life of mortality and the spirit had basically seduced her and gotten her pregnant. As it turns out….GOUDY IS A DAMN LIAR!

Argh! Was Antillia furious! The rest of the party was keeping Akili distracted while I was helping him grow food to feed her (because she is sustained by shadow food where as no other food will “fill” her hunger) and she was riding their son (the hideous river creature) and headed for the air ship where Goudy was located. Using our magical portal coins (amazing little ritual devices that work as a portal focus and are the size of a coin…in sets of 2) we were able to get ‘Tillia into the shadow world and bring him along with Bob’s portal ritual. Now…I was more than happy to help someone in need, who dropped a sob story on me of how oppressed they are by their insatiable wife and his crazy son and how it takes him FOREVER to grow the food etc. etc. etc. However, once we finished up with Akili and Goudy for the time being, we went down the river and thanks to Bob’s awesome idea to put his feet in the river water and try and commune with the spirits of the rivers, he managed to get us blessed by the light-hearted sprite of the river. This resulted in us having a bunch of the River Dolphins show up and bless our boat! Bob is the man! I should also mention that we discovered these dolphins while Hammer was using himself as a fishing lure and trudging the bottom of the river for useful items, while being tied to our boat. This to me, is an amazing use of the ability to go without breathing and I am just amazed at how useful it is! While trudging Hammer managed to uncover some spheres of black and white clay that were along the top of a low wall in the river. They were placed there long ago by what we think might be the ancestors of the “Song People” and are warding against the Bady Badys, which are apparently some sort of eye sphere abominations. They are spheres with 4 eyes circling the center of the creatures. They aren’t very big, but they incite one to remove their own eyes upon seeing them. So, of course the first reaction of the party is to now hang onto these warding devices. Through some Arcana checking we realized that the clay sphere was much newer than the trinkets inside warding against the Bady Badys and, to our amazement, something else! So with Bob’s ritual to look into the past of an object, we found out the trinkets inside are a preserved human eye from a powerful sorcerer (which is coated in a clay, shaped to look like an eye) and a small white, four-armed ape statue. (Oh Great. These guys again…) We found out the eye wards against the Bady Badys. The clay sphere is enchanted to be hardened (Clay Pot +2!) and is set to always return to its spot on the wall in the river. We couldn’t figure out what the white ape statue does, beyond the fact it wards against an ability. Having run into these apes before, we made a knowledgeable guess it wards against them returning from the dead, or perhaps keeps them from raising up the dead as stone guardians. What it does, none of us want to tear our eyes out…so Hammer immediately made a necklace out of his to hang around his neck stating, “If we encounter these things I’m going to hold it above my head and close my eyes.” Sensible to be sure…so we decided to hang onto them for now and hopefully we can learn more with further study.

So, I know I side tracked a bit…but back to the River Dolphins! So after Hammer kicked up these trinkets and notice the Dolphins we decided to have a chat with them. Antillia (thanks to her Hekura) was able to talk with them and they seemed super friendly, happy, joyful, and cherished nothing so much as their river. Similar to Unicorns (Unicorn of the Sea! Dolphin Safe!) in their care-free, happy-go-lucky manner it gave us a good idea why the curse upon Akili, Old Man Goudy, and their son was so bad. After chatting with them for a bit and them telling us they were blessing and guarding our boat, I asked them about Old Man Goudy. They immediately picked up on who I meant, saying that he had coerced a temple guardian to leave her temple and forced her to perform the ritual. He couldn’t produce an offspring powerful enough, so he used her love for him to get her to perform this horrible ritual. So, the River Dolphins, had all come together to curse all three of them. (Originally Old Man Goudy had said he was impotent and unable to bare offspring in human form) So they cursed him with impotence, her with the insatiable hunger, and their child so he was unable to grow into the powerful creature and fulfill the destiny Goudy wanted him to. They made their son mentally delayed and with the urge to kill his mother and father. This is why Akili was using her pseudo pod to control him and why Goudy strived so hard to keep her happy and fed. It created a dependency circle that I’m sure Goudy despises and hence his want for a cure to the situation. The deceiver. After finding this out Antillia was enraged! Hammer and Bob weren’t as surprised, and I have to say that deep down Antillia didn’t expect him to be honest, but he did teach her a weave she could use in the shadow world to make a structure that would stay the same shape and endure the shadow world’s influence without changing. This is a HUGE find for her. I suppose Antillia was angry with herself for being even slightly moved, more so than she was surprised at him being a liar.

At this revelation we were getting dangerously close to the joining of the two rivers into the one great river, where Bob had discovered a flow of chaotic energy created by a whirlpool at the center of the confluence. In the exact middle of this whirlpool was, go figure, Goudy’s tower home. Well, to displace the energy of the whirlpool and get us through it safely (because we wanted to show the River Dolphins we could navigate it without fear) Antillia retrofit some of our “Rail Cannon” insect legs to absorb energy and store it in the meteorite piece we use as a battery. She began sucking the chaotic energy in the area out of the whirlpool. Luck! It seemed to be working splendidly, however, it was settling the whirlpool and causing the Goudy tower to rock on its base. Apparently, the whirlpool’s forces were keeping his spire upright. So came the choice….suck out the energy, destroying the whirlpool forever, and topple Goudy’s tower….or stop and let the whirlpool continue, leaving his tower intact. Antillia was busy manning the battery and blasters, Bob was on the helm, and Hammer was keeping the rigging in line. All three of us looked around at one another, eyes making contact, measuring our own motivations. Hammer exclaimed, “FUCK YA! Screw that tower!”, Bob shrugged his shoulders and mentioned something along the lines of, “It’s an abomination of nature.” Trying to convince ‘Tillia that this action was more just, than not. Meanwhile, ‘Tillia was worried that she had just found the best teacher for some new knowledge of herbs, the shadow world, and overall new talents…and would already make him an unwelcome enemy.

Over went the tower, away went the whirlpool, and powered up was our meteorite battery to such an extent that we’ll not have to worry about running out anytime in the next forever. And thus…Antillia gained and lost a master within an hour…..

-Mike P.
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