4/30/13

4/29/13

Monday Moodsetter 16

The Desperate Lamentations by Noah Bradley

RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?

4/28/13

Musings on Playing in the Dungeon

Like a lot of gamers, I am intrigued by a dungeon-centered campaign. And like a lot of gamers, I get stuck on things like realism (as in simulation, not the philosophical school), logic, etc. But my main stumbling block is simply keeping it fun and interesting. For me, this means finding ways to infuse dungeon-based gaming with some other concepts that add to or expand on the fundamentals of good dungeon play (exploration, encounters, and extractions). For example, what do you think of these ideas as a way to play out a dungeon-based campaign. I am just throwing these out there...I haven't worked through any of these ideas myself in any detail:
  • The Lewis & Clark Expedition: This expands upon the exploration theme. The idea is to equip a party for a long long unsupported adventure for the purpose of exploration. Of course, there would be encounters and extraction along the way. I like this in the abstract, but how would it work in actual game play.
  • Mt. Everest: Similar to the Lewis & Clark idea, but instead of a well-equipped party moving along as a unit, the party establishes a long-term base camp within the dungeon to use as a jump off point to explore and adventure.
  • Silk Road: The dungeon adventurers somehow get involved in economic trade that involves moving valuable goods from Point A to Point B through dangerous territory. 
  • British Colonization of India: The dungeon adventurers set themselves up as rulers, creating a mini-realm within the dungeon.
  • British Settlement of North America: The dungeon adventurers (and maybe their families, friends, and underlings) all move into the dungeon.
I am not sure if any of these ideas have merit or if they even make sense. I am curious to hear what you have to say about it.

4/27/13

Word Verification Random Name Generator #2

Here is another Random Name Generator, using the pseudo-words used by spam and security systems (like CAPTCHA). If nothing else, you get to use your d30. And, yes, these are actual pseudo-words, collected by me (Sheldon Cooper comes mind). My previous Random Name Generator post is the most viewed post on my blog--Maybe spammers? Maybe hackers? Maybe parents-to-be in search of that unique and special baby name?
  1. Afticia
  2. Aggess
  3. Ander
  4. Aramparg
  5. Arding
  6. Aughtedu
  7. Awarcuse
  8. Bardsm
  9. Blypol
  10. Boxim
  11. Cackeles
  12. Calki
  13. Cheal
  14. Chroush
  15. Chsin
  16. Ciedl
  17. Cless
  18. Cloyess
  19. Conci
  20. Dearop
  21. Diredun
  22. Disgyngs
  23. Dists
  24. Doxbes
  25. Ectionde
  26. Eledail
  27. Equil
  28. Fansilte
  29. Flamel
  30. Fooduchb

4/26/13

Five for Friday 18: Dungeoneer's Library

I don't have a huge amount of gaming books. I have even less after selling a big pile of D&D 3.x e on eBay a few years ago, although my new-found love of GURPS is filling up the shelves again. Anyway, I tend to only buy stuff that I am going to play. One exception is dungeon-related books. Here are some of my favorite dungeon reference books (excluding actually published dungeons). These are in alphabetical order:
  • Central Casting: Dungeons--Robert Sassone's masterpiece--if we can use that word here--presents 180 pages of dungeon-creating tables. There are lots of dungeon room ideas, as well as a lot of detain, even if you don't use the random-generation approach. This is the one dungeon book I would take with me on a spaceflight, lifeboat, or desert isle.Engineering Dungeons is similar and more recent, but also drier and lighter on content.
  • Dungeon Builder's Guidebook--This little volume--from the AD&D 2e era--is a nice companion to Central Casting: Dungeons. It is not as comprehensive or detailed, but it includes some weirder dungeon variations (e.g. underwater, aerial, and interdimensional).
  • Dungeoncraft-- A D&D 3.x e product from Fantasy Flight Games (part of their Legends & Lairs series). I nice collection of dungeon ideas, mixed in with the obligatory prestige classes.
  • Dungeonscape--This Wizards of the Coast publication was intended for D&D 3.5e. The content is uneven and a bit thin but it does have some groovy ideas and interesting magic items. If you combine this with the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, you end up with something kind of decent.
  • Tome of Adventure Design--This Frog God Games product is still in print and is a go-to book for me. Lots and lots of excellent tables. They are not all dungeon-related but there is enough dungeon goodies to put this on the list (I use this book a lot...more often than any other book on the list). Kellri's Encounter Reference, available for free as a PDF and is excellent. Michael Curtis' The Dungeon Alphabet is a fun book with some great off-the-wall creative and useful ideas, but is lighter on content. If you are looking for dungeon tables, check out The Dungeon Dozen (blog) and also my own blog page, Megadungeon Links II: Maps, Tables, Generators.
I should also mention GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, as I have been working my way through the various PDFs.

What books or blogs have been helpful for you in designing dungeons and in creating adventures?

4/25/13

Good Stuff at My Door

The last few weeks of work have been hellish. I even had to miss our Monday Night Gaming Night and Bard's first GURPS session. However, getting good stuff left at my door makes up for some of it. Here is what came my way:

The Mini Manor: Faces Without Screams. Great stuff from Tim (Gothridge Manor). BTW, you can now get your GM Games five ways.
This cover is awesome! Nice job, Jason.
And my booty from the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Sale at Frog God Games: Rappan Athuk

And, if that were not enough, I decided to empty out my piggy bank (my money from my music gigs) and get Swords & Wizardry Monstrosities, also from Frog God Games, on sale for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day:

4/24/13

Montporte Dungeon Exploration: Player Options

The map below displays the progress of the player characters after five sessions of play in the Montporte Dungeon. Here is the key to the map:
  • A=The current location of the player characters
  • B=A large kobold clan is known to live north of here and have archer guards posted at B
  • C=Unexplored corridors and rooms
  • D=Unopened doors
  • E=Entrance/exit to the dungeon
A couple of observations, based on the map:
  • The players have a lot of options. There are 12 unexplored corridors/rooms and 7 unopened doors for a total of 19 options for exploration. 
  • The players have done a good job of discovery in the center of the map, a result of sessions 1-4 focus on rescuing human hostages from a band of orcs. There appear to be nothing unexplored in the middle of the map.
  • The players have not found any additional levels.
  • The players have not discovered any additional entrances to the dungeon, although they have been told of a sinkhole that allows the kobold contingent (north of B on the map) access to the dungeon.
If you were the player characters, what would be your next move?

4/23/13

Montporte Dungeon Exploration: A Story Told in Maps (Sessions 1-5)

I have a few week break before I GM again, so I have been working on maps for the Montporte Dungeon. Maps are the biggest time suck for me, particularly as they have to be in jpeg format for the virtual table top. I wanted to do a color-coded map that showed the first five sessions, using shading for areas explored during different sessions. I might have a chance to do it, but for now I thought I would display maps after each session. I don't see any ontological profundity in the maps, but they are kind of cool to look at (at least for me...and that is who I am trying to entertain with my blog).
End of Session 1
End of Session 2
End of Session 3
End of Session 4
End of Session 5

4/22/13

4/21/13

Monteporte Dungeon Campaign Session 5 Notes

Montporte Dungeon: 1 square = 5 feet
The Cast
Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the First Circle (Half Orc, 1 Lvl Hunter): Tim (Gothridge Manor)
Dante Rathburn (Human, 1 Lvl Warlock): Bard (The Clash of Spear on Shield)
Duncan Kern (Gnome 1 lvl Wizard/Thief): Dan
Larramore “Little Larry” (Kobold, 1 lvl Marksman): NPC
Ardaemmore (kobold prince, hostage): NPC
3 cave goats

The Session
At the end of Session 4, the player characters were able to leave the Montporte Dungeon with their henchmen, rescued prisoners, captive kobold prince, cave goats, and boat. They dropped off their rescued captives and most of their henchmen and returned to the dungeon with the intent of ransoming their kobold captive, Ardaemmore, back to the kobolds. This meant that they had to find the kobolds.

Little Larry had explained to the adventurers that the kobolds were holed up in a stronghold on the far side of a deep sinkhole, access to which required either (a) crossing the sinkhole via a rope, which is how the kobolds accessed the Montporte Dungeon, or (b) dropping down into the sinkhole from above ground, which is how the kobolds accessed the world above ground. Little Larry knew that the kobolds had posted guards in the main section of the dungeon to keep an eye on the orcs. So the party decided to find the kobold guards.

Once the party entered the dungeon (Area 1 on the above map), they quickly moved north through Area 2, Area 3 (where the continual light chandeliers turned on automatically), and then into Area 4. Area 4 was new to the party and before they had a chance to explore the room, they were set upon by 4 very weird creatures. They were cubic lizardy things, about 3’ x 3’, with a lizard head and neck coming out of one cube face and a human face on each of the two “flanks.” The cubic lizardy things had no legs or tail. They floated through the air towards the party and attacked.
Little Larry's sketch of the cubic lizardy things
The party made fairly quick work of the lizards, with only Dante suffering significant injuries. It took 2 healing draughts to take care of most of Dante's wounds. In turn, he had reduced his tormentor to mincemeat by means of his battleaxe. The party noticed that the cubic lizardy things had fine blue-green iridescent skin that could be worth a pretty gold piece. They were able to salvage the skins of three creatures as Dante had done too much damage to the skin of the fourth.

Having slain and skinned the weird cubic lizardy things, the party then explored the room (Area 4 on the map). The room was filled with long wooden tables and benches, all quite old. There was a raised area (like a stage) at the north end of the room with a table on it. There was also a dinner prayer to the Four Elements of Power on the southern portion of the east wall.

Dante poked around stage and discovered a secret compartment in the northeast pillar (Area 5 on the map). Duncan was able to open it, disarm a needle trap, and bring out the contents: 4 gold bars (worth 50 g.p. each); 12 silver bars (worth 50 s.p. each); 2 vials, and a dagger. Using the Lens of Melnar, Duncan was able to identify the two potions: A healing draught and an invisibility potion. He was also able to determine that the dagger was magic. Duncan also took the needle mechanism for later use.

The party left the room through the door in the east wall (leading into Area 6 on the map). Duncan’s check for traps turned out to be unsuccessful and Adzeer took a spear in the chest. Little Larry examined the trap and identified it as a kobold-made trap—a very well made one at that. Adzeer drank a healing draught and the party moved into Area 6.

As soon as the party moved into Area 6, two small kobold arrows narrowly missed them and clanked against the south wall of the corridor. The party took cover at the east and west ends of the corridor (Area 6). The archers were somewhere up to the north, in the corridor that headed north, but they couldn’t see their tormentors.

The party decided to head east into the very big room where they had rescued a comatose Diana from the black blob in Session 1. From there, they continued north through the door (Area 7 on the map). Duncan was able to find the spear trap in this door and they triggered it without harm.

The party moved west along the 5’ wide corridor and stopped at Area 8. Here they found a sturdy barricade built from wood (from the tables in Area 4). Little Larry explained that the orcs had built it and posted sentries, to keep the kobolds from coming south. He found this type of tactical thinking to be very unusual for orcs.

The party made verbal contact with the kobold archers, who were hidden somewhere north of the barricade. The adventurers displayed Ardaemmore on top of the barricade and the kobolds to the north responded that they pass the news on to the clan chief, Degmar (Ardaemmore’s father and Little Larry’s uncle).

After waiting around a bit, a larger contingent of kobolds appeared to the north with torches. A price of 1000 g.p. was quickly agreed upon and the exchange was made with one very reluctant kobold sentry forced to carry the bag of gold to the party (he had a rope tied to him by the kobolds, for emergency retrieval).

Once they were rid of their captive kobold, the party decided that moving north was a bad idea and headed back through Area 4. From there they went west into Area 9. They were confronted with 7 giant rats, all very hungry, and a nasty little battle ensued. Duncan drew the magic dagger, of unknown properties (from the column in Area 5) and was pleased to discover it was a Dagger of Dancing. In fact, turned out to be Ommar’s Dancing Dagger (a +1 Dancing Dagger; +3 against humans). Thus armed, Duncan was did most of the damage against the rats and he killed the last two when they tried to flee out of the room.

The room turned out to be a kitchen, thus explaining the rats. There were two large rusted cauldrons, a table, and a fireplace. The room had been stripped of other kitchen utensils. Adzeer checked out the fireplace and discovered that the chimney only went up about 6’ before it stopped. At the upper end of the chimney, he discovered a portable hole (which he found to be filled with smoky air).

The party found a corridor in the westernmost section of the south wall (Area 10 on the map) that was barred by a heavy iron portcullis. They could see that the corridor beyond sloped downward as it headed south then west (the purple arrows on the map indicate the downward slope). They were unable to find a mechanism that opened the portcullis.

This is where the session ended.
The Montporte Dungeon Player Map After 5 Sessions

4/20/13

Megadungeon Hall of Fame: "Dungeon Mapping" by Melan

The online world is much like my desk: The newest stuff is on top, right in plain view, while the older stuff gets buried. Sometimes good stuff gets lost.

Melan's little article, Dungeon Mapping, is good stuff. Melan presents a careful analysis of a number of classic early Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules by means of diagramming the physical path available to the adventurers. This is a primer for anyone creating a megadungeon or adventurer module on how to take advantage of the physical boundaries imposed on players within a dungeon or similar structure.

Dungeon Mapping was critically important a few years ago as bloggers wrote about dungeon design and play. Melan's analysis continues to challenge me as a GM in my approach to dungeon design as well as my overall approach to gaming.

4/19/13

Five For Friday 17: Swords & Wizardry Five Ways

This is my wrap-up post for my week-long celebration of Swords & Wizardry. Here are five different approaches to Swords & Wizardry that I enjoy (in alphabetical order):
  • Crypts & Things: A good example what can happen by thoughtfully adding a few cool tweaks AND deleting extraneous materials. A very swords & sorcery approach, with a bit of horror thrown in. The mage class, a combination of cleric and magic-user, is particularly good.
  • Majestic Wilderlands: Rob Conley's (Bat in the Attic) setting has a very "played in" feel to it for good reason: It has been his setting for thirty years.
  • Qalidar:  Christina Lea's pandimensional ruined city is a very cool setting for Swords & Wizardry. I am thinking this would be an interesting setting for a GURPS campaign, as well.
  • Swords & Wizardry Complete Rules: This is an almost exact replica of what I was playing back in 1977--a weird mix of Holmes D&D, the four supplements, the AD&D Monster Manual, and Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets.
  • Swords & Wizardry Core: The simplicity of it all is the key to what makes it work so well...plus the PDF is free.

"Exploring Comics"--A Chip Off The Old Blog

My celebration of Swords & Wizardry this week has been interrrupted by some long long work days. However, my daughter has come to the rescue by creating her own blog, Exploring Comics. She started it as a college class assignment, but I am hoping she continues as it is a very good blog. I remember our first trip together to the comic book store and the immediate addiction to Spidergirl (you can read about Spidergirl on her blog).

4/17/13

Swords & Wizardry Critter: Cave Goat

CAVE GOAT
Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: Ram (1d6)
Saving Throw: 12
Special: Charge attack
Move: 13
Challenge Level/XP: 2/30

Cave goats are similar to their domestic and wild counterparts, except that they are more muscular. They are typically 3’ in height and weigh 120-150 pounds. They are gray in color with long shaggy coats.

Cave goats are highly prized by subterranean creatures because of their tasty meat (yummy!) and warm coat. The coat of the cave goat is prized by goblins and others because it is repellent to most tiny vermin, such as fleas and lice, making it ideal as bedding.

Cave goats are often domesticated because of their usefulness in mining (they can carry up to 50 pounds without encumbrance and up to 100 pounds total), their wool, and their milk production. Their climbing ability surpasses that of their mountain goat kin (climb as a 1st level thief). Cave goats typically forage and require little in the way of feeding, so long as they have access to cave fungus and debris.

COMBAT: Cave goats are not predators and will usually try to put distance between themselves and a perceived threat. However, they are unpredictable and they are aggressive when cornered or defending their territory.

CHARGE: Cave goats will charge their opponents where and when possible, so long as they have 10’ of clear space to do so. They gain a +1 to attack and damage, but also have a –1 penalty to their AC when charging.

RESILIENCE: Cave goats are tough creatures with very hardy constitutions, which is why they have a saving throw target of 12.

DEEPVISION: Cave goats can see in complete darkness (excluding magical darkness) up to 120’.

4/16/13

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Coupon

Frog God Games has discounted their entire line of Swords & Wizardry products for 1 day only in celebration of Swords & Wizardry appreciation day (April 17th 2013). The discount is good for 25% off S&W Products but you must use coupon* code SWApprDay on April 17th 2013 at check out.

*The coupon excludes items less than $1, S&W Cards, Pre-Orders, and Subscriptions.

Note that the code in my previous post is for http://www.d20pfsrd.com/ and http://www.d20swsrd.com/ only.

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Sale: April 17, 2013

Here is a coupon code for the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day sale tomorrow (starting tonight at midnight): SWAD252013

It applies to everything listed here: http://shop.d20pfsrd.com/collections/swords-wizardry-appreciation-day

A Swords & Wizardry Discount Tomorrow

Frog God Games has announced, via email, that they are offering a 1 day only 25% off Swords & Wizardry sale, as part of Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day (which is tomorrow, April 17). Frog God Games  and d20pfsrd.com Store will be offering a 25% off Swords & Wizardry products.  According to their email, Frog God Games will be sending out a coupon code before the event.At the time that I am writing this, I do not have anything more specific, but I will post something as soon as I get more info.

So my Swords & Wizardry dilemma is this: Do I order a copy of Rappan Athuk or a copy of Swords & Wizardry Monstrosities? I just bought a new bass guitar, so I can't get both tomorrow.

4/15/13

Swords & Wizardry (Monday Moodsetter 14)

By Peter Mullen
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head? ["Hey, isn't that the cover illustration for the 1st edition of the Sword &Wizardry Core Rules?" doesn't count]

4/14/13

Swords & Wizardry, a Haiku (Haiku 7)

I am kicking off a whole week of Swords & Wizardry posts (sorry GURPS guys and gals). I wanted to hit the ground running with haiku (sorry Matt J.). This is also my 100th post since restarting my blog, so haiku is definitely the way to go:

the little brown books
old school made shiny and new;
AC down and up

4/13/13

Montporte Dungeon Campaign Session 4 Notes

Montporte Dungeon: 1 square = 5 feet
The Cast
Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the First Circle (Half Orc, 1 Lvl Hunter): Tim
Dante Rathburn (Human, 1 Lvl Warlock): Bard
Duncan Kern (Gnome 1 lvl Wizard/Thief): Dan
Spensol (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Ian (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Diana (Human, Torch Bearer, Goat Driver): NPC
Larramore “Little Larry” (Kobold, 1 lvl Marksman): NPC

The Session
The party had just finished taking care of a few giant spiders (Area 1 on the map above) at the end of Session 3. As they looked to the east, they could see the tunnel filled almost to the ceiling by a pile of rocks. By looking at the ceiling, they could tell that there had been no cave in. Judging by the scuffing on the floor, it looked like the rock pile was a recent addition.

The party decided to move some of the rocks to bring the goats and the boat through. Once past the rocks, they debated the next course of action. Should they go north-then-west or straight west. Little Larry’s map showed the orcs lying to the southwest, so they decided to head straight west and headed towards the room where they had killed a sleeping orc earlier (Area 2 on the map).

The party carefully entered Area 2 to avoided a possible ambush. The room was empty, save for the dead orc on a cot. The adventurers realized that they had left a door unopened when they passed this way previously. Duncan checked for traps, found one, and carefully disarmed it (a weighed swinging arm with some knives and a dagger strapped to it). Behind the door was yet another potty room (Area 3 on the map). The trap was protecting a small cache of 2 gold bars (50 g.p. each) and a vial, contained in two small sacks. Using the Lens of Melnar, Dante determined that the vial was a healing draught.

The party moved from Area 2 to Area 4 and came upon two live orcs inspecting the bodies of two dead orcs (killed by the party in Session 1). Little Larry and Adzeer Mattiu quickly dispatched the orcs before they had a chance to runaway, which was their likely intent. Dante did a quick Detect Magic and discovered that one of the weapons wielded by the orcs, a spear, was magic.

From Area 4, the adventurers moved into the entry room of the dungeon (Area 5 on the map). There were still two dead orcs lying on the floor. There was a quick discussion of whether it would be best to head out of the room via the single door to the west or go north through the double doors. Without much information to go on, the party opted for the double doors, which turned out to be the better option for finding the remaining orcs and their human captives.

Duncan checked for traps on the door and discovered an crude alarm system tied to the other side of the door, using tin pots and scrap metal for noisemakers. Duncan was unable to disarm it but cast an Audible Glamor as they opened the door to mask the clanking of the metal.

The party cautiously moved into Area 6, not knowing if they had warned anyone of their arrival. The room was empty. The party again had to decide which way to go—east, north, or west. They opted to open the door on the east wall.

The door was locked but Duncan was able to pick the lock. The door didn’t appear to be trapped. When the party opened the door, they found a 20’ by 20’ room with table against the south wall, a few simple sturdy chairs next to the table, and bookshelves against the east and north walls. Little was left in the way of books or scrolls. There were three giant slugs in the room, one on the table and two on the floor, each about 3 feet long with bright orange slimy skin covered in purple spots. [It was at this point that Dan asked, “Do we have to roll for initiative against slugs?” The answer, after the laughter died down, was “no.”]

Little Larry, Duncan and Dante each killed a slug. Duncan and Dante were horrified at the destruction to the books and scrolls. Nothing remained except a small pulpy pile and lots of slug droppings. The table had a small drawer, which contained some ink wells (dried ink), a strange feather quill, and a perfectly preserved piece of paper. The paper had writing on it, in a very archaic form of Common.

The paper turned out to be a journal describing the happenings of some sort of religious community…daily trade and gossipy sorts of things. The adventurers were shocked that the dates on the journal entries indicated that this sheet of paper was over 2,000 years old, yet it was perfectly preserved.

The answer to this riddle came when they moistened the ink and tested the quill. It turned out to be magic: The Magic Quill of Oncoris. The pen can take verbal dictation for up to an hour each day, understanding Dwarven, Elven, Gnome, and Common (and able to translate from one to another). The quill creates a minor magic shield that eternally preserves both paper and ink.
Once they had figured all this out, the party left the room (Area 7 on the map) and went to the west door leading out of Area 6. Duncan checked for traps and found yet another alarm, using pots and pans. He was able to disarm this one and the party moved through the door into Area 8.

As they moved into Room 8, they were shouted at by orcs who were off to the west, beyond the party’s vision range. The orcs rushed the party, weapons drawn, only to be knocked unconscious by Duncan’s Color Spray. Two orcs were killed and two orcs were tied up to be questioned when they regained consciousness.The orcs revealed that they were following a new god..the black god (which the players believed they killed at the end of Session 1). They also told the party that the rest of humans were being held beyond the door just to the west. These two orcs were then killed.

When the party reached Area 9, they heard a cry for help through the door on the north wall of the corridor. They entered the door into a room filled with cots (Area 10 on the map). The room also contained 4 humans, bound with ropes and gagged, but very alive (2 adult males, 2 adult females). One of the human males had been able to work himself free of the gag in his mouth. More surprisingly, there was also a kobold in the room, bound and gagged. Little Larry immediately identified him as Ardaemmore, Larry’s cousin and the son of chief of the kobold clan, a valuable captive who could be ransomed later on.

The adventurers untied the humans and inquired as to the disposition of the remaining orcs. They learned that there were more orcs beyond the north and east doors. The captives told the adventurers that orcs were able to go out the east door and quickly come back through the north door and vice versa. The captives thought that maybe there was a half dozen orcs remaining.

The party decided to move out of the room through the door in the north wall, which led into another corridor (Area 11 on the map). There were another four orcs right outside the door. A melee ensued, with Adzeer Mattui and Spensol fighting two orcs in the corridor. Dante, Duncan and Little Larry took on the orcs that moved into the room.

It was a short, but hard-fought battle. Little Larry used the furniture to his advantage, dodging a short sword, rolling under a cot, popping up the other side and putting an arrow through eye of the orc. The rest of the party mowed through the orcs, leaving a trailing of corpses in their wake.

Having rescued the human captives, which was the party’s goal at the start commencement of Session 1, the party checked the nearby corridors for orcs and prepared to head out of the dungeon. As they checked passageways, they noticed a body lying on the floor to the east. They moved towards it, which took them into a large room (Area 12 on the map). As they entered the room, there was sudden illumination from four chandeliers handing from the ceiling. The light revealed the dead body to be Angus, who had fled the battle at the end of Session 1. The party secured his body onto a cave goat. Duncan tried to figure out how to cut down the chandeliers, but the ceiling was over 20’ high and the chandeliers were suspended about 12’ above the floors. Someone suggested gnome tossing, but Duncan was not interested.
With this, the party decided to head back with their rescued captives. They made the stairs and left the dungeon.

This is where Session 4 ended.



4/12/13

Five for Friday 16: Loving the Dungeon

The original plan was for me to GM a one-shot on a Monday that Rob (Bat in the Attic) was unable to GM our current Majestic Wilderlands GURPS campaign. I just threw some orcs with human prisoners into a previously created very large dungeon level and turned the players loose. Now, lo and behold, we have an actual dungeon delving campaign going on Monday nights (scheduled around our MW GURPS sessions).

The last time I ran a dungeon-based campaign was in the late 1970s. I had a blast back then and I am having a blast now. Here is five things making the Montporte Dungeon work so far:
  • The Guys at the Table: Our Monday Night gaming group is awesome and they are bringing it all to the virtual table top.
  • Don't Ask Why: If you start thinking about rational or realism, you are done for. Of course, the existence of a multi-level complex in a medieval setting is absurd. I acknowledge the absurdity of it before I start and my worries about realism go away. I am not anti-realism and I like the idea of simulation in play, but I have to let that go to run a dungeon.
  • The Encounter Is King: Nothing is as important as running an encounter. Not the dungeon design. Not the backstory. Not the planning of rumors, hooks, and secrets. 
  • Go With It: There is a lot of improvisation in our sessions. Good improvisation in music requires a structure (melody/harmony/rhythm) as the base. The dungeon has the physical structure of, well, the dungeon. It makes it for all of us to improvise. When you have a solid structure, it is easy to wing it and still have it work for everyone.
  • It Is About Fun: A few years ago, there were a lot of blog posts about megadungeons...What is a megadungeon? What are the keys to designing a good one? What is the old school philosophy behind the megadungeon? All good stuff. But in the end, it isn't about the philosophy or the design or being old school. It is about playing and having fun. The dungeon is a great reminder that good play by the DM and the players trumps philosophy, design, school, and rules.
I do not have any grand plans for our dungeon campaign. I am finding that just staying a little ahead of the players is working best for all of us, so while I have been jotting ideas down in my Red Notebook, I have been intentional about not doing too much details prep work.

4/11/13

Little Larry the Kobold (an NPC's story)

Source: www.requiemlarp.com
Introduction
The Montporte Dungeon adventurers first met Larramore during Session 3. They found him hiding in a potty room. He was the sole survivor of a battle between kobolds and jinomes (undead gnomes). The adventurers decided to spare his life, for some odd reason. They healed his wounds, gave him some food and invited him to join their happy throng. They dubbed him “Little Larry.” This is his story.



Little Larry's Story
I am the youngest of my batch-hatch (the collection of offspring born to the same mother and father). My grandfather was chief of our clan and my father, the eldest of his batch-hatch, was the chief-son. My father was in line to be chief. In most kobold families, treachery runs rampant. Had my father followed the customary course, he would have already become chief. But my parents choose to live by the honorable ways of the very ancient draconic ones. It was their honor that was their undoing.

My Uncle Degmar, the second eldest son of my grandfather, chafed at the thought that he would someday live under the rule of his elder brother, my father. In true kobold fashion, he conspired against my father and mother. He is a clever kobold and succeeded in killing my parents in a way that placed suspicions elsewhere, away from him. The clan suspected nothing, but my batch-mates knew otherwise. Despite our wariness, they were killed in their turn.

When my grandfather died, I was the only one left in my immediately family who had a claim to the throne, but I was too young. Degmar seized control of the clan, craftily killed off his naysayers—as is the way of kobolds—and then decided that our clan needed to move north.

Degmar had come upon some secret information—information about an ancient kobold place of power. My grandfather and his fathers before him had dismissed this as an old orc’s tale. Degmar, however, was a believer. Perhaps finding a place of power appealed to his oversized sense of destiny.

He consulted wizards, mediums, spirits, my dead ancestors and determined that the place of power was located underground, north of the human settlement of Montporte. Being sparsely settled and with the humans otherwise occupied by wars to the west, we had the wilderness to ourselves. Sure, we skirmished with orcs, but that is just good clean fun. We could invest the rest of our time and energy into finding this place for my uncle.

After much searching, we found a sinkhole that allowed us egress into an ancient underground complex. From what we could gather, neither the humans nor the orcs knew of this place. We had it all to ourselves and could explore this complex to our hearts content.

I never lost sight of the fact that my uncle Degmar viewed me as a threat. I was careful and gave him no chance to kill me. Furthermore, I proved myself an able warrior against the orcs. Degmar sent me on numerous missions against the orcs, purposefully sending too few of us in the hopes that I would get killed. But our small parties were stealthy and we killed many orcs. I gained fame as an orc slayer, making me even more of a threat to my uncle.

The orcs also felt threatened and decided to raid our complex. They failed to find us hidden down in our sinkhole but they uncovered another entrance into the underground complex and sent a significant force to take up residence. I personally was excited by this because…well…because I love killing orcs. Now I could eat breakfast at home, go take down some orcs, and be back for lunch.

However, the orcs changed their tactics. We found them to be under the control of some more intelligent being. They were no longer careless. They left us alone and started raiding human settlements, bringing back a handful of them as prisoners. In the meantime, my uncle’s quest to find our place of power became more urgent. We went on exploration forays underground but the orcs blocked us in.

I was finally able to pass by them by myself and came to an underground lake. My uncle was encouraged by this and sent me back, leading a party of eight. We had three boats. We made it through the Dwarven mines but were jumped by some jinomes (gnome undead). I was grievously wounded and the rest of my party was killed. I managed to hide out in a small potty room and spiked the door shut.

I was faint with blood lose and expected to die, sitting on a stone chair with a hole in the seat. I heard a noise outside and nocked an arrow. A voice yelled out in kobold, offering safety. It was not a kobold voice. I recall that I was thinking it was one of my uncle’s gnoll bodyguards, coming to rescue me, or more likely, kill me. Perhaps the gnolls would take me back so that my uncle could use my defeat to have me executed. It is a sin for a kobold commander to return alone after leading his troops into battle.

Instead, it was a half-orc, Adzeer Mattiu, and a small party of humans and gnomes. They healed me, fed me, and offered the unexpected invitation to join them. Knowing that I had nothing but my death waiting for me with the kobolds, I decided to join this little group.

4/10/13

My Thoughts on Morale Checks

Tim (Gothridge Manor) recently posted this about morale checks. In summary, he doesn't like them and doesn't use them. By and large, I agree with him. I would put reaction rolls in the same category.

When it comes to morale, I generally do the following:

Improvise on the Fly: Like Tim, I usually just make a decision while the action is happening.

Roll Dice: On the rare occasions when I use dice to determine morale, I just roll a d6 and make up my target right before I roll. An example: Things going bad for the orcs? They'll surrender with a roll of a 1 or a 2, run away with a roll of 3 or 4, and fight on with a roll of 5 or 6. Easy peasy. No tables. No fuss. And it only takes a second. I've never actually used a morale table from a ruleset.

Create Thresholds: On a few occasions, I have set certain thresholds by which a creature or NPC will run, surrender, or otherwise give up the fight. Maybe it is a percentage of hit points. Maybe it is a percentage of creatures who die. Once the threshold is hit, the creatures or NPCs try to find a way out of the encounter. I base this approach on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom--when the lions and hyenas meet, they usually do not fight to the death. They fight until dominance is established and the other party runs away.

The reality is that I never think about it in terms of "morale;" I think it about it terms of what a creature or NPC will do in an encounter. I have run encounters where I have used more than one of these approaches. I am a pragmatist when it comes to gaming. Whatever works and adds to the session is the direction I go.

When it comes to morale and running an encounter, what works for you?


4/9/13

RPG Campaigns: Why They Fly, Why They Flop

Flight or flop?
I make no claims to expert knowledge on any subject, save procrastination (someday I will get around to writing a post about that topic). However, I have been involved in my share of successful campaigns as a player or GM. I have also been there to witness a few flops firsthand. So I thought I would post a few observations on why some campaigns seem to take off while others flop.

I suppose "successful campaign" needs a bit of definition. My Dr. Handwave definition of success is anything that the participants enjoyed and would do again. My Dr. Handwave definition of campaign is an multi-session game that involves the same setting and a continuity of players and adventure arcs.

In general, I would have to say that the successful campaigns I have been involved with were based on three factors: (1) Players getting along with each other; (2) Commitment of players and GM to meet on a schedule for more than a few sessions; and (3) Shared participation and enjoyment in the creative process that is a part of tabletop RPG gaming.

I am sure there are lots of other reasons that I could identify, but those are my big three. I think you have to have #1 and #2, to get to #3, but #3 is not an automatic outcome. I also think the challenge is that #1 and #2 are about the individuals, not about the setting or system. Get the wrong people together? It won't work. Get the right people together but through in too many scheduling complications? It won't work either.

I have experienced several flops, both as GM and as a player. It is easier to identify a specific reason for failure than a specific reason for success. Here are two flops and one fizzle:

Flop #1: My worst flop as a GM was the result of using a series of adventure paths. "Series" is a misnomber because we never made it through the first. It was a bad match with my GM style and an even worse match for the players. Having a GM who is "meh" on the whole thing doesn't get the players very enthusiastic.

Flop #2: I tried to get my old gaming group from high school back together via Skype. It was really fun for two sessions and then the reality of schedules started working against us. No one could commit to more than one night a month and the odds were against us finding a common night every month. We maybe had two more sessions over five months. One of the guys was in community theater, another guy did shift work, and I was in another gaming group plus was out and about playing music.

Fizzle #1: My in-house face-to-face Castles & Crusades campaign was a great success until half the group (the kids) all went off to college, leaving the rest of us (the parents) staring at empty chairs. I don't view this as a flop, but I do wish I would have had some sort of big ending to wrap things up. Instead, it fizzled with a lot of loose ends.

What has been your experience with campaigns? Why have your successes been successful? What were the reasons for your flops?

[Note: Whatever thinking that is behind this post was triggered by Peter D's post, What Would You Change if You Could Reboot Your Campaign?]

4/8/13

Monday Moodsetter 13

"Absinthe" by Kurobot (Adrien Girod)
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?

4/7/13

A Few Montporte Magic Items

I have decided to make each magic item in the Montporte Dungeon unique, with the exceptions of scrolls and potions. I am not worrying about back story, since the players won't be concerned either. While I actually need to spend some time doing this (maybe with random tables), I have created some items and the players have found a few. Here is what they have found so far:

Lens of Melnar: A convex glass lens with a brass frame and handle (betraying its Gnomic origins). The Lens of Melnar can perform a Detect Magic spell twice per day. It can also identify potions at will. This second ability is successful when the user rolls below his/her intelligence on a d20. Wizards gain a +3 bonus on the roll; Sorcerers, illusionists and druids, a +2 bonus; Clerics and thieves gain a +1 bonus.

Mace of Curm: This mace is +1 to attack and damage against all foes except elves and kobolds, against whom it provides a +2 bonus to attack and damage. The Mace of Curm also allows the wielder to Detect Undead three times per day.

4/6/13

Montporte Session 3 Notes

A few of the players were unable to make the session because of work and family commitments. We also sent Josh packing after realizing he had promised his daughter he would play video games with her. After sending him on his way, we were down to two players: Tim (Gothridge Manor) and Bard (The Clash of Spear on Shield). We quickly dispensed with the usual pre-game chatter and jumped into the dungeon.

Cast of Characters
Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the First Circle (Half Orc, 1 Lvl Hunter): Tim
Dante Rathburn (Human, 1 Lvl Warlock): Bard
Spensol (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Ian (Human, Soldier 1 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Diana (Human, Torch Bearer, Goat Driver): NPC
Larramore “Little Larry” (Kobold, 1 lvl Marksman): NPC

The Map 
1 Square=5 feet
The Session
Session 3 started where Session 2 left off—the party had defeated four jinomes (undead gnomes) in the corridor (Area 1 on the map) through the clever use of caltrops. Adzeer Mattiu could see the door to the east and decided that was the direction they need to go. This led them into a large room (Area 2 on the map).

This room (Area 2) was filled with the remnants of long low wooden tables and benches, laid out in rows (like a cafeteria, to use a metagame description). The tables and benches were simple but very well made, of heavy construction. There was a prayer, written in an archaic version of the Dwarven tongue, on the west wall of the room:
   Ye gods and goddesses
   Fathers and mothers from of olde
   Bless these thine gifts
   That they may strengthen us
   To do thine work in this life
   And in the life to come

There was also something written with large letters on  the east wall of the room. The party recognized that it was in the Gnome language, but no one in the group was able to read it. The room was searched and there was nothing of note in the room outside of a lot of food/beverage stains on tables (mainly on the west side of the room).

The party then moved through the door into the next room to the east (Area 3 on the map). The party found a dead jinome (undead gnome) lying on the floor in the southeast area of the room. They cautiously moved over to the that area of the room to inspect the body. They discovered it had four small arrows in it. There were also another half dozen arrows lying on the floor of the room. Based on the pattern of arrows, Dante guessed that the arrows were shot from the corridor in the south wall of the room.

Adzeer Mattiu carefully peeked around the corner of the southern corridor and looked south. He was able to a portion of another room (Area 4 on the map). He could see a some bodies lying on the floor—a dead kobold, a dead jinome, and some sort of white furry lump. There was the smell of livestock wafting down the short corridor. He could also hear a soft bleating, “Baah baah baah.”

The party slowly and carefully moved down the corridor from Area 3 to the room in Area 4. This room had the remnants of wooden beds and straw-filled mattresses, with something in the Gnome language written on the walls. Of more immediate concern were the dead bodies on the floor—seven kobold corpses, four more jinomes, and the body of a cave goat. All had met a violent end. Even an uninformed observer would recognize the obvious battle scene from the evidence.
As the party searched the room, the most obvious items were the three small round boats (coracles), each made of a light wood frame and covered in waterproofed skins. Two of the boats were severely damaged but one was still seaworthy (using the word “sea” in the broadest sense possible).

The group also discovered three live cave goats in the corner, each with saddle bags filled with provisions and equipment. There was lots of palatable food, waterskins, 8 paddles, and 4 inflated sealed bladders. A search of the bodies uncovered a small amount of coins, two vials, and 8 daggers (one made much better than the other seven). Using the Lens of Melnar, Dante identified the two vials to be potions—water breathing and healing draught (1d4). Dante’s Detect Magic spell did detect a dweomer with a bit of kick to it on the dagger.
Adzeer Mattiu was the first one in the group to notice the trail of kobold blood heading out of the small corridor in the southern portion of the west wall in Area 4. It led to a door (Area 5 on the map). He tried the door and found it secured from the inside. Adzeer Mattiu shouted through the door a command to surrender (in Kobold). After a bit of conversation, the door was opened revealing yet another dungeon restroom and a wounded kobold. Adzeer Mattiue healed the kobold, whose named turned out to be Larramore. He was dubbed “Little Larry,” given a bite to eat, and was invited to join the party.

Little Larry explained that he and his party were looking for an ancient sacred area of some sort, long held to be important to the kobolds. They knew very little about it or its location, but had surmised that it might be in the Montporte Dungeon. Little Larry also had crude map, with descriptions written in Kobold. Adzeer Mattiu was able to read and translate the map.
Using the statue with the gas trap as the point of reference, the party determined that they had lost contact with the orcs by travelling too far north and east. They decided to retrace their footsteps back to the statue (between Areas 6 & 7 on the map) and then head south. At this point, the party included two player characters (Adzeer Mattiu and Dante Rathburn); two NPC henchmen (Spensol and Ian) carrying a boat; a rescued prisoner, now acting as a torchbearer and goat driver (Diana); an NPC kobold (Little Larry); and three cave goats.

Along the way, the group encountered a gelatinous cube, almost running into it before seeing it (Area 6 on the map). Dante’s quick use of flaming oil burned the cube, leaving in its place a pile of detritus. There were lots of bones, rocks, pebbles, and pottery fragments to sort through but their efforts paid off. They found 22 silver bars (50 s.p. each) and 2 gold bars (50 g.p. each), plus a tarnished simple copper ring and slightly singed scroll inside a bone case (no one in the party could read it).

The party carefully moved south past the statue so as to not trigger the gas trap to Area 7. They decided to explore the corridors to the east before opening the two doors on the west wall. The corridor opened up into a large room with the remains of human-sized bunks (Area 8 on the map). The north and south walls were covered with frescoes. Though heavily water-damaged, the party could see clouds, rocks, flames, and waves, similar to the decorations in the huge room they discovered at the end of Session 1.

They searched the beds as they went and found a small bone scroll case with a fold up piece of papyrus paper. While the writing suffered a lot of water damage, the legible portions were written in archaic Common and described some daily activities, such as study of the Elements, learning from the Master Teachers, purity of the Soul, and discipline of the Mind.

Just as they finished reading it, they heard some scraping scuttling sounds to the east and continued to move into the room. They caught a glimpse of two large insect creatures moving away from them. They followed the sounds around the corner at the east end of Area 8 and caught up with 2 bombardier beetles in Area 9. These were quickly dispatched.

The party then moved back into the corridor and opened the two doors on the west wall, revealing two more potty rooms (Areas 10 & 11). Dante checked out the clay pots beneath the hole in each seat and was rewarded with a silver bar (50 s.p. value) in Area 10. Adzeer Mattiu was horrified by Dante’s explorations of the chamber pots, letting Dante know in no uncertain terms that Dante was not to touch the party’s food.

The parade of people, goats and boat moved south and past through the door into Area 12. There they found a dead spider and a dead orc in the middle of the room and two live giant spiders in a web in the southeast corner. After some very poorly executive attempts by Dante to use flaming oil, the spiders moved from the web toward to the party and they met together in a pitiful exhibition of melee on both sides. Finally, despite themselves, the party killed off the two spiders.

They looked west into the corridor leading out of Area 12. It was filled almost to the ceiling with rocks. They looked like they had been piled there recently and matched up with what the party had discovered during Session 1 (also labeled Area 12, quite coincidentally). The party realized that they could crawl over the pile back into the area held by the orcs. And with this knowledge, Session 3 came to an end.

You can check out Tim's recap of the session here and Bard's headline version here.

4/5/13

Five For Friday 15: Quinton, a Haiku (Haiku #6)

Hey, kids: Today we have a very special episode of Five for Friday, one that features haiku and modrons and the Five for Friday theme all rolled into one glorious post. This was actually posted on my original Rusty Battle Axe Blog (which makes my current blog a retroclone, I suppose). Here--without further interruptions or digressions--is the Quinton:
fifth order modron
bureau chiefs keep our records;
five bendy arms strike

4/3/13

Montporte Dungeon Session 3: Player Posts

I haven't had a chance to write up my session notes from our Monday Night in the Montporte Dungeon, but Bard (The Clash of Spear on Shield) and Tim (Gothridge Manor) have each written some hilarious recaps. Here are the links to their posts:

4/2/13

The Postman Always Rings Twice...Good Stuff in the Mail

Hey, check out what came in the mail--a hardcopy of GURPS: Martial Arts, co-authored by Peter D of Dungeon Fantastic. It is no longer in print so I have been following the prices of used copies on Amazon. They have been hovering north of $50 for quite a while but some careless bookseller listed it for $22.77 and I pounced (the next cheapest copy was over twice that price). The book arrived yesterday and is in great condition.

GURPS books are always well-researched and well-written. GURPS: Martial Arts is no exception. It covers much more than the usual Eastern unarmed combat, although there is plenty of that sort of thing. Lots of options for melee weapons, too. And I now understand why I was often confused by GURPS...our Majestic Wilderlands group is using a lot of the MA options. Rob did create a handy cheat sheet, which helped a great deal. But now I can read the source as I hold it in my hands (not a fan of reading things like this as a PDF).

My only complaint is the illustration of the blow to the groin. Unlike most art, it doesn't get me psyched for gaming.

4/1/13

The Haiku RPG Kickstarter

I am very excited to announce the Haiku RPG Kickstarter. For those who have longed to include Asian poetry into your gaming, your desires will now be satisfied. The Haiku RPG features a game system that combines the class system of the early editions of the World's Most Popular Fantasy Game with the skill system of PDQ. Character classes include Zen Meditator, Tea Ceremony Master, Bonsai Gardener, and Geisha. Attributes are generated using 2 five-sided dice and 1 seven-sided die (included).

The boxed set for Haiku RPG will include:
  • Haiku RPG Rulebook
  • 2 five-sided dice
  • 1 seven-sided die
  • A campaign setting: Blackpoem by Cob Ronley
  • An adventure module: Knowledge Obfuscates by Shim Torts
A contribution of $87.22, gets you in at the ground level for the box set. Check out the items if you bump up your gold pieces:
  • At the $123.02 Level: You get a ceremonial tea cup, signed by someone with a Sharpee.
  • At the $202.88 Level: You get a poster-sized picture of Erik Tenkar (suitable for framing, for darts, and for scaring young children out of the basement).
  • At the $458.13 Level: You get the Haiku Megadungeon, filled with wandering poems and magical tea ceremonies.
  • At the $876.00 Level: You get an actual Japanese Maple Tree, suitable for planting in your yard. The tree might even be alive if you pay extra for speedy shipping.
  • At the $1,604.29 Level: You get one of my haikus, printed on the back of scrap paper from work, and signed by me (or someone that I work with).
I am working on stretch goals and am open to suggestions. Here are a few that are in process:
  • The Tome of Order, featuring over 500 modrons statted and ready for your Haiku RPG game.
  • Haiku Fragments, a hardcover book containing tens of haiku started by me but never finished.
  • Breaking Haiku, another hardcover book of haiku-like poetry with six or eight syllables in the second line (instead of seven). So edgy.
  • The Master Teapot: A finely made teapot in the shape of E. Gary Gygax's head.
Feel free to suggest your best ideas for Haiku RPG. I am so pleased to be rolling this out on April 1.