Friday, December 20, 2013

Session LVIII: Into The Tower

Our Fearless Adventurers
  1. Arg - Half-orc
  2. Gnarly- Druid
  3. Christopher - priest of Mithra
  4. Maximus - Magic User
  5. Skwanky - Halfling Warrior
  6. Wolf - Viking
  7. Thovin-Cleric
When we last left our brave heroes they had finally pieced together the last key and opened the door to the base of the tower.  But no sooner than they had finally gained entrance to their goal that their army of soldiers all fell to the ground in a slumber.  Behind them, down the wide hall was the woman they had 'rescued' from the ogres who had come back to them as a witch!

As the party rushed this feeble looking woman she blasted them with a cone of frost just as Maximus cast a hold person spell on her. 

With all the soldiers dead, including Captain Vanir and Christopher mortally wounded, Arg and Wolf butchered the witch who turned out to be an Ogre Mage!

Finally entering the tower's base chamber, they found only a number of soft reclining chairs.  But as they were deciding to sit upon them, the door slammed shut and some magical force pinned them to the ground. 

Once the disorientation and the magic dissipated, they found that a hole had opened up in the ceiling that wasn't there before. 

Arg tossed the Halfling up into the hole to find what he could see.  Skwanky discovered that about thirty feet into this hole were rungs in the stone. 

Gnarly turned himself into a raven and flew up the hole and discovered that it opened up into a spacious chamber filled with a moist air and fog.

Tying a rope to the rungs, the wounded party climbed up into the mysterious chamber.  Blindly exploring, they eventually came upon a wall following the slightly curved wall for a way they were attacked by a vicious Heiracosphinx.  Killing the beast in a bloody battle they found it's lair in a pile of rubble and looted some treasure.

Not far from the lair they found an iron spiral staircase climbing into the whiteness.

As they ascended the stairs they were attacked by a trio of petranodons, which after some hack and slash they dispatched.

Climbing the stairs they entered into a heavily forested chamber.  Following the trail they were ambushed by a deadly Su-Monkey who was joined by two others.  After a horrific battle which left them all near death, they continued through the enclosed forest and came upon a rose garden tended by a hooded gardener.  As they got the gardener's attention, she turned around and removed her hood to reveal that she was a Medusa and turned three of the party to stone.  Slaying the deadly Medusa and rescuing their companions with a scroll looted from the Ogre Mage, they continued through the forest to discover another iron staircase rising through the ceiling. 
Meeting a Medusa in the forested chamber
 They found themselves standing upon a stone landing with paths leading from it all above a lake of fire.  Opposite of them, guarding another staircase upwards stood a fire giant who proceded to pick  up a large bolder.  But as the Halfling charged around the stone path to face the Giant alone, the party was attacked by elemental fire bats.

As they fought these mystical sprites they noticed that the Giant just stood his ground and didn't try to attack them by throwing boulders. 

With the fire creatures defeated they stood across the grand hall facing the Fire Giant who goaded them on.  They talked with the creature and discovered that he was a servant of the Heart of Invernese, the power that built this tower and what is controlled by Zadir the Stygian wizard.

The giant was guarding the entrance to the higher levels of the tower. 

After a parley where they tried to get the giant swayed to their side, the badly wounded party thought it best to head back down to the forested room and lick their wounds for their coming battle against the Fire Giant...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Session LVII: The Final Key

The party at session start:

  1. Arwa (Weasly) - Wizard's guard freed from charm
  2. Arg - Half-orc
  3. Gnarly- Druid
  4. Christopher - priest of Mithra
  5. Maximus - Magic User
  6. Capt. Vanir 
  7. SkwankyHalfling Warrior
  8. Handof - soldier
  9. Wolf - Viking
  10. Nafre - soldier
  11. Thovin-Cleric
  12. Brik - Black Church Acolyte 
Having navigated the mysterious chess board room, the war-weary party continued down a passageway which took them to a bubbling fountain of what appeared to be clear water. Examining the water but wary of all the other deadly traps throughout this complex, it was decided to avoid drinking the water (although Skwanky the halfling was already splashing around in it) and continue down the hallway.

At the end of the hall they found another dead end with the indentation in the shapes of two keys they found.  Not having found a key in their current section, they decided to back track to seek it out.

Once again, standing before the statue outside of the chessboard room, Arg give it a "high-five" and a panel opens within it's chest revealing the third piece of the key!

Leaving the tunnels beneath the wizard Zadir's tower and with everyone seriously wounded, it was decided to head back into town to heal up.

With dawn breaking and the battle for Caladan wrapping up, our weary group of adventurers went their separate ways with some heading back to the Temple of Mithra and the Cloven Hoof. 

Healed, rested and fed the party regouped at the final entrance to the basements of the tower.  Zadir is still nowhere to be found and Baron Blackmoor and his bannermen stood guard waiting for the Stygian to show his face.

Again, with some additional soldiers, the party descended beneath the surface in search for the final part of the key to open the final barrier to the tower.

The first chamber they find is one shrouded in shadow with an odd shape upon the floor. The halfling trots into the dim room where no light can cast off the grey shadows and found a body with a dagger in it's back.  Upon removing the dagger, it leaped out of his hand and attempted to stab him in the back.  The quick thinking halfling lifted the dead body upon his back and used it as a shield against the enchanted dagger - which worked as the dagger once again stabbed into the back of the already dead victim and ceased harassing the tiny warrior.

Continuing on, they found a cocoon which they cut opened.  Inside was a body with a terrorized look upon it's face.  Robbing his boots, the large half-orc found that they allowed him to fly!

The next chamber brought them to a very larger hall with an army of Bugbears standing perfectly still.  As Arg and Skwanky passed the threshold, the Bugbears became animated and attacked the party.  Creating a bottleneck within the doorway, the party easily hacked the Bugbears into a bloody heap.

In the expansive hall was a large stone sarcophagus which held treasure and the final piece of the key!

Continuing on they came across two ogres seemingly torturing a beautiful peasant girl.  Dispatching the ogres and rescuing the woman, they sent one of the soldiers to escort her back to the surface as they proceeded into the tunnels.

Finally, facing the polished door with the four pieces of the key, Arg joins the keys together and places them into the indentation.  A line appears going down the two halves and the doors suddenly spring open revealing a chamber inside.  Suddenly, all of the soldiers collapse onto the floor, asleep.  Turning around they party sees the rescued woman with eyes afire, the soldier her slave....

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Session LVI: Ball Of Confusion

I've got a few sessions to catch up on so here goes....

The party now consisted of a large number of NPCs; soldiers from the battle for Caladan, a handful of Gnarly's Mushroom-Men, a couple of priests good and bad and Blackmoor's captain, Vanir.  It was quite the unwieldy lot!

The party:

  1. Arwa (Weasly) - Wizard's guard freed from charm
  2. Arg (PC Half-orc)
  3. Gnarly (PC Druid)
  4. Skwanky (PC Halfling Warrior)
  5. Big tough Mushroom-man
  6. Not-so-tough Mushroom-man
  7. Wimpy Mushroom-man #1
  8. Wimpy Mushroom-man #2
  9. Galyn - soldier
  10. Christopher - priest of Mithra
  11. Maximus (PC Magic User)
  12. Capt. Vanir
  13. Handof - soldier
  14. Wolf (PC Viking)
  15. Nafre - soldier
  16. Thovin (PC Chaotic Cleric)
  17. Brik - Black Church Acolyte
  18. Brack - Black Church Acolyte
  19. Greyson - soldier
But these numbers didn't last too long as the party continued the exploration beneath Zadir's magical tower.  The next chamber they came across was a large open hall with a number of tall rugged cave like openings.  There was also a chest in the corner of the room which Skwanky immediately ran over to.  As the rest of the party stood guard, suddenly there was a rumbling and as a portion of the wall collapses out comes a raging Umber Hulk!

And confusion ensued!

Due to it's gaze attack many of the party were in a state of chaos either battling each other, standing in awe or just wandering off.  Not all of it was bad though as some of the confusion lead to the death of the Umber Hulk, though a good half of the party was killed including all of the Mushroom-Men and Skwanky had wandered off deeper into the dungeons.

Gnarly and Tuk the owl went off after Skwanky while the remainder of the party searched the chest and found piles of gold and another piece of the odd key to open the inner chamber entrance to the wizard's tower.

Gathering the treasure and meeting up with Gnarly and the dazed and confused Skwanky, they discovered another chamber, the floor glistening with moisture.  This turned out to be some Grey Ooze which the party thoughtfully avoided and headed back to the surface to explore the third underground entrance.

This third staircase lead them to a chamber with a beaded curtain that was impossible to part.  After much thought, Arg just ran full speed through the curtain and passed through.  On the other side, however, he was ambushed by a pack of Gnolls!

The Half-Orc fought his way through the Gnolls but soon fell from their attacks as the rest of the party formed a 'conga-line' and ran through the curtain.  Saving Arg from the death blow of the Gnolls, the rest of the party attacked the hyena-men, defeating them.

Further down the hallway they found that it ended with weird human-like impressions in the wall.  Testing these with the dead bodies of the Gnolls, it was discovered that these portions of the walls spun around and disappeared down a passageway. With no other option but to move forward through these odd transporters, each member of the party stepped into a different impression and was swept off into another chamber - a chamber with a large checkerboard pattern on the floor and a statue at the other end.  As some of the party carefully moved across the checkerboard pattern they were able to make it to the other side with minimal affect while others, for some reason, were shocked to near death by apparently stepping on the 'wrong' pattern.

Gnarly, being a wise druid, changed into a bird and flew across the hall without any ill affect.

The badly wounded party was on the other side of this deadly trap facing another hallway into the unknown...

The party at the end of the session:
  1. Arwa (Weasly) - Wizard's guard freed from charm
  2. Arg
  3. Gnarly
  4. Christopher - priest of Mithra
  5. Maximus
  6. Capt. Vanir 
  7. Skwanky
  8. Handof - soldier
  9. Wolf
  10. Nafre - soldier
  11. Thovin
  12. Brik - Black Church Acolyte

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Session LV: Beneath The Wizard's Tower

Making their way across the chaotic bloodshed that Caladan had become, our party, carrying their wounded and dead companions, enter the guarded gates of the Temple of Mithra.  Here they are healed by Father Downing, however, he refused to bring back to life Thovin who was a follower of the Black Church.  Sending them on their way to continue the fight against Utasu and Zadir the Stygian usurpers, Downing sent the priest Christopher to aid them in their battle.

Outside the temple, the party came across Gnarly who finally brought along his Mushroom-men to the battle.

Working their way across town again they sought the Black Church.  There, Thovin was brought back from the dead in the secret rituals of the Black Church but at what cost....?

So, fully healed and together again, the party worked their way back to the Merchant Guild and the Wizard's Tower.  There they found Capt. Vanir who informed them that Baron Blackmoor had slain Utasu on the steps of the guild along with his soldiers and monsters.  He then persued the pirates back to the docks and left the Captain with the task of hunting down the wizard Zadir who had retreated into the tower - which he asks for the party's assistance.

Rumor had it that the tower was raised up in a single night by the powers of Zadir.  There was no way into the polished stone tower itself but there were four domed structures each with an entrance to the underworld.

Choosing one of the domes, the large party (now consisting of our party, Capt. Vanir and his soldiers, Gnarly's mushroom men, a priest of Mithra and a couple from the Dark Church) descended down...

There they first ran into a wizard apprentice and his bodyguard.  After making quick work of the wizard and freeing the bodyguard of the wizard's enchantment (and being chastised for the mistreatment of Capt. Vanir's red shirts... er soldiers), they moved on and ran into a Manticore.  Killing the beast they found some treasure in his lair and a strange piece of metal.
 Continuing onward, they soon opened a door and were chased by a giant bolder rolling down the hall smashing to death half the party!  It took quite a while for the survivors to figure out that it was just an illusion set by the wizard and that their companions were quite alive (the silence at the table as the players found half their PCs dead was a priceless DM moment, really you should have been there)!

Moving forward they came to a dead end with a polished black wall similar to the walls of the great tower.  In the center of the wall they discovered an indentation, a portion of which matched the piece of metal they found earlier.  Figuring that it was probably one portion of a key and that the other pieces would be hidden in the other domes, they backtracked and entered the second dome.

A No-Prize for any reader that can guess what adventure
I've dropped my players into!
Following the passage they came upon a room with a large crystal ball with shadowy shapes swiming around inside.  The crystal rested upon a pedestal with four words on it. As each word was spoken, one of the shapes would fly out, take shape and attack the party member who said the word.  The first person to speak the word was Maximus the Chaste who was them mauled by a Carnivorous Ape.  Saved by the Half-orc Arg, they called out the other the monsters and killed them gaining the crystal ball as their prize!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Session LIV: Blood on the Battlefield

The true assault on Caladan begins!

Without the means of a full siege, Baron Blackmoore discussed a plan of sneaking into the city and opening the gates to allow his troops entrance.  The party was, of course, 'volunteered' for this task.

When marching down to Caladan earlier, the party had run into Jack the stable boy from the Cloven Hoof and Onyx, the blind seer.  They had smuggled themselves out of the city by paying the Brotherhood of the Black Hand.  The party felt that this would be a way back into Caladan.

At evening, the party worked themselves around the outskirts of the walled city along the farmlands looking for the shack of Barthau.

After paying the 'toll' Barthau guided them to a tunnel beneath his shack and gave them the clues to make their way into the sewers beneath Caladan along with the password to exit.

Following the proper symbols through the tunnels and only running into an Owlbear roaming the sewers, the party eventually ended up in the basement of the Dragon and Dagger tavern.  Biding their time they purchased some food and drink but it was the Halfling that was accosted by pirates and he blurted out their plan of opening the gates.  The pirates tried to capture the halfling but the rest of the party jumped in and made quick work of the pirates.  Before more pirates arrived they left the tavern and made their way to the main gate through the darkened alleyways of the port city.

Coming upon the gate, they found it was well guarded by troops, archers and guard dogs so a plan was developed.  Skwanky, the halfling, would cause a diversion to draw some of the troops after him to be ambushed by the Arg and Wolf the Viking.  Meanwhile, Maximus the Chaste would put the remaining guards to sleep. Once that was accomplished, Thovin of the Black Church would light an arrow and shoot it over the wall as a signal for Blackmoor's troops to storm the gate.

Perfect plan!

So Skwanky ran out into the street shouting " I'm a vampire, I'm a vampire!"  The guards sent their dogs after the tiny halfling warrior who lead them into an alley.  There he killed the dogs while a couple of the guards were sent to investigate. Once in the alley, Arg and Wolf slaughtered them.  It was then that Maximus enchanted the other guards to sleep and Thovin sent the signal over the wall.

Wolf tossed one of the heads out into the street to frighten the guards and charged out there in a rage hacking the helpless guards down while Arg opened the gate the let the troops in just in time as more guards arrived.  The battle at the gate was quick and Wolf, Arg and the Halfling hacked through the lightly armed pirates and guards. 

Along with the troops they battled their way through the streets of Caladan to the heavily guarded gates of the former Merchant Guild.  There before the steps of the Guild, the real battle took place as our party hacked and slashed their way through the heavily armed Stygian soldiers.  It was here that Skwanky fell, mortally wounded and Thovin fell dead before Wolf and Arg had cleared a circle. 

The battle on the streets of Caladan!
Covered in cuts, blood and gore, Maximus, Wolf and Arg picked up their two wounded comrades and leaving the battle in front of the gate to the Merchant Guild headed deeper into the city of Caladan.

Looking back they saw that the battle continued on in front of the gate with Baron Blackmoor, standing atop a heap of bloodied bodies, swinging his cosmic sword almost relishing the carnage.  The Stygians and the pirates had fallen back from Blackmoor's forces but were caught in the vengeful rage of the townsfolk of Caladan who had taken up whatever arms they were able to  find and began hacking their months of oppressed frustration onto the pirates and their dusky skinned allies.

Before turning the corner down the main thoroughfare the party saw the gates of the Merchant Guild burst open and the usurper Utasu with a small handful of his heavily armored guards along with three ogres charged Blackmoor and Capt. Vanir.  The last site they saw was a robed figure wreathed in lighting hovering above the fray....

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Warlock's Halloween Viewing Part 2

Every year during the month of October, the wife and I sit down with bowls of popcorn, soda and chocolate snacks and overdose on creepy films old and new, never watched before and re-watched numerous times.  The month's first reel can be reviewed here but now on to reel 2!

Ponty Pool (2008 Bruce McDonald)
Pontypool, a little virus / human-canibal concept from Canada starts off quite engaging.  Taking place in a sound studio of a small town radio-station, the story and suspense is effectively built-up through radio correspondences and phone calls.  Think Orson Well's 1939 War of the World radio broadcast.   It seems to me that this is still an affective way to get the viewer engaged because it works here. Eventually, the outside world encroaches onto the radio station in what reminds me of John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13", even the lighting has a certain John Carpenter quality about it.  Alas, the second half of the movie looses it's steam and gets a bit odd but I have to give the story props for taking same new and interesting chances on a genre that is being beat to death at this point (see the brilliant Warm Bodies for another take on advancing the Walking Dead genre).

Silence Of The Lambs (1991 Jonathan Demme)
Does Silence of the Lambs fall into the category of a horror-film?  Well, considering that it's one of three films (Jaws and Alien being the other two) that left me in the theater drained and overwhelmed by the terror and suspense, for me I would say yes, yes it does.   No need to go into what this one's about.  I'm sure most of you have watched the psychological cat and mouse between Agent Starling, Buffalo Bill and of course Hannibal Lecter. A modern classic of suspense and terror right up there with Hitchcock's Psycho.  "I'm ready when you are Sgt. Pembre."

John Dies At The End (2012 Don Coscarelli)
A kitchen sink horror film meaning that everything is tossed in here to make an original and entertaining and unpredictable horror action comedy. With traces of everything from The Matrix and Naked Lunch to  Adventureland and Big Trouble in Little China it effectively blurs reality and other-world Eldrich horrors in a quick paced entertaining flick. You'll never look at soy sauce the same way again.

Pumpkinhead (1989 Stan Winston)
Like many of you, I grew up on horror films.  I was weened on the Universal classic monster movies, came of age with Jaws, Alien and Halloween and watched many 70's director's starting attempts at horror (Tobe Hooper, Sam Raimi).  The 80's were filled with plenty of horror films many of which left much to be desired. By then I was pretty jaded sitting through crappy 'horror' film after crappy 'horror' film (I'm looking at you Wes Craven and Jason).   Pumpkinhead was one movie that I avoided around that time, thinking it was a rip off of a dozen other attempts to scare me.  Well, this movie by puppet master Stan Winston, turned out to be quite the surprise.  A no brainer classic monster movie done with heart and horror with a creature that will rival even H.R. Gieger's creation.  Atmospheric with some standard 80's tropes slightly turned on it's head this move was refreshing entertainment.  No CGI here.  Classic rubber and latex and some mechanics from the director himself makes Pumpkinhead an enjoyable Halloween must-see.

The Evil Dead (1979 Sam Raimi)

The first time I saw this movie as a kid it scarred the bejesus outta me and that's just what I needed this night! Um.... Note to self. When going to a "haunted house" with free admission expect to have the evangelicals toss a sermon about Jebus in at the end. But that's alright, feel free to laugh at their very stereotyped scenes of horror and loudly and abruptly seek the exit during the brainwashing part at the end.  So to cleanse the filth of manipulative christians off of us, the wife and I rounded the night off with Sam Raimi's classic The Evil Dead.  Whats to say about this classic anything goes horror film starring Bruce Campbell.  Raimi would actually kick the concept into high gear in the sequel not that you would think it would be possible.  Anyways, a classic. I'll let Roger and Gene sum it up...

Jennifer's Body (2009 Karyn Kusama)
Continuing with the possession theme we have chic-flick horror film Jennifer's Body. Smartly written by Diablo Cody (Juno).  I was entertained by more than just Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried in this little miss popular possessed by a demon killing all the boys concept. I thought the fast witty dialogue by Diablo Cody, and smart characters and interesting themes  really made this entertaining and a watchable fun teen horror movie.  Worth checking out if you haven't yet.

Stakeland (2010 Jim Mickle)
I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic films. Even the bad ones I enjoy watching.  Stakeland is one of the best.  Stakeland takes place after some unexplained event left the world battling hordes vampires and follows the story of two travelers, a teen-aged boy named Martin and a man known only as "Mister" as they make their way to the fabled New Eden.  It has a very pulpy feel to it and Mister is a man living by his own moral code that will make Robert E. Howard smile.  Seriously, the way he deals with some cultists (yes, I said cultists) that rape a nun is pretty impressive and brings to mind Howard's fantasy characters.  The vampires are more dangerous than the lumbering zombies in Walking Dead as they are strong and vicious and mindless.  They are also actors in gruesome makeup and not crappy CGI effects as in Will Smith's crappy I Am Legend.  There's even a crazy 'christian' religious cult that just piss on everybody.  A very nice touch.  This post-apocalyptic world is a complex one as it takes a serious look at those moral codes, humanity and religion and mixes it up with mutant future sandbox of well thought out science fiction.  Out of all the movies this season that I watched for the first time, this one was by far the best.  I highly recommend it.

Halloween (1978 John Carpenter)
We usually watch this one every year and usually on Halloween but this year, at our local art house in Tucson, The Loft, they've been running John Carpenter movies all month.  Earlier this month we watched Big Trouble in Little China on the big screen and last night we walked over to view Carpenter's classic Halloween.  A classic that I'm sure needs no description or review here. There were many, many imitations afterwards but none ever topped the original slasher film.  It still holds up on this 35th anniversary viewing.

"And he shouts too."

 So tonight, we'll be enjoying our decorations, handing out some candy to the trick-or-treaters and enjoying Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead along with the traditional Universal monster films of the 30's.

Happy Halloween all you Home Brewers!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

30 Days of Game Mastering Part 3

In stead of a daily dose of GMing wisdom from this month's 30 day blog meme, I've broke this into three parts.  Part 1 can be read here while part 2 can be read here.

Part 3: Meta

1. What are your favorite books about gamemastering?
There's books on gamemastering?
2. A novel solution: what’s the best advice you’ve borrowed from a totally different field?
Improvisation from playing music.  The game is best when it's improvised all around including the GM.  Always achievable not always achieved but usually you still have fun anyway.
3. What effects do the system mechanics have on the story?
Not too much.  Random encounters or random events come up often and, of course, combat can change the dynamic of the adventure / story.  Nothing really more than that though.  With rules-lite formats the mechanics tend to stay out of the way.
4. Canon vs. alternate universe vs. original settings? What are the strengths and drawbacks of each?
I DETEST using a setting or situation from published fiction (Conan and Hyperboria, Flash Gordon and Mongo, Middle Earth, Marvel Comics Universe). I don't need to play in those universes when I can read all about them.  Personally, I can't get past what the author has written.  Also, I believe that the books have been read by so many people / players that major changes in game will jar the per-concieved universe that the author created.  Keep in mind, that's just my opinion.  Alternate universes work well and original settings (home-brewed or published) work best as the only interruption that fills the imagination is from the players and GM.
5. Problem players and drama llamas: what’s your horror story and how did you resolve it?
Never really run into that.  With rules-lite there's usually no rule lawyering and if something comes up, a brief discussion at the table usually resolved any issue. That said, I have left a game because I didn't like the other player(s).
6. Are GMs bad players? How do you step back when someone else is running the show?
I look forward to stepping back and being a player.  GM'ing can be a drain over time and it's refreshing to be on the other side of the screen.  Of course, thoughts always creep into my mind on how I may have run something different than the GM but I usually file that away for my own notes.  Usually I just try to have fun and enjoy what the GM is dishing out.
7. Have you ever co-GMed? Would you consider it? What are the pros and cons?
The only time I tried a co-GM campaign was with our ICONS super-hero game.  We would alternate every session or couple of sessions knowing that the next GM can alter and build upon what the previous one introduced.  It turned out to be a blast and worked well for our Supers campaign and each GM kinda represented a different comic book writer much like in the comic books.  It was also great to build upon what someone else presented and be surprised at what they did with your ideas.  It was a very positive experience and I would try it again. Just go in without any attachments. You can read our ICONS campaign summary here.
8. Transcending the material plane: how do you GM online?
I've only GM'd online a couple of times via Roll20 (a great tool, btw). It's a different animal than face-to-face tabletop gaming.  The technology doesn't so much 'get in the way' as it becomes another component to the session that, as a GM, you need to manage.  Pre-game prep is a bit different too as, in my experience, it is more time consuming.  It doesn't have to be, mind you, that's just how it was for me in my initial GM'ing experiences online.  I think that can be adjusted, though, over time.  It's different and you need to adapt to it.
9. Teaching the rules: how do you sell players on the system while running a demo or con game?
With a rules-lite game it's pretty easy.  Here's a pre-made character, the stats are somewhat self-explanatory, let's roll.  Old-school games are very easy for players to jump right in and have a good time.  I, as a new player in a more complicated rule-set, usually get bored and rarely really enjoy role-playing with a bunch of rules and stats and skills and terminology to keep track of.  I really kind of hate it actually.
10. How do we grow the hobby?
I don't really think about that too much.  If I come up with something that I think others can use, I'll post it online for others.  Besides that, I've got too much else going on to worry about marketing an industry.

...And that's that!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Animated Stormbringer, Wendy Pini and Red Sonja

My friend Mike sent this over to me and I thought it best to share it right away.

Back in her college days, Wendy Pini (Elfquest) had begun a most ambitious project of bringing Michael Moorcock's Elric to the screen as an animated feature.  She ended up spending years on this, working up concept drawings, storyboards, sound effects and music cues.  It was quite an undertaking for any studio much less a single person.  It kinda became this ongoing obsession that she eventually had to lock up and walk away from back in 1973.

View Wendy's production portfolio for Stormbringer
Wendy offers up the story of this chapter in creative life via this website as she displays much of the work she produced for this project.  It's amazing to see the breadth of talent she possessed at that young age and the illustrations for Elric as an animated piece are mindblowing.

View Wendy Pini's Stormbringer presentation.

Elric is a 'strange' sort of fantasy, not as accessible as LotRs which was quite popular in the 60's and early 70's and was later produced as an animated feature by Ralph Bakshi.  If her Elric movie was ever made I wonder how that would have changed the direction of fantasy.  If it was a high profile Disney style production (not that they would have touched this with a 10 foot pole), I think it would have been amazing.  Bakshi had more of an underground flair but I think this would have been a better direction than he ended up going with with Wizards.  But I doubt he wouldn't have given up reign on a project like that to a young talent like Wendy Pini.  Bakshi's influence would have been all over that and Wendy's concepts are too good I wouldn't' want that to be diluted or altered in any way.  If her Stormbringer film was made at the time and was successful, I think fantasy would have been less fluffy.  Moorcock's battles of Law vs Chaos and related concepts were a bit more underground even for an underground literary genre such as fantasy.  But it may have fit well in the 70's.

Alas, we'll never know but it's interesting to contemplate.

After college she ended up hanging out with Frank Thorne and dressing up as Red Sonja, though there's definitely nothing wrong with that, before moving on to her famous Elfquest.

Original cosplayer Wendy Pini as Red Sonja

Bonus feature:

Friday, October 18, 2013

30 Days of Game Mastering Part 2

In stead of a daily dose of GMing wisdom from this month's 30 day blog meme, I've broke this into three parts.  Part 1 can be read here.

1. House rules: what are your favorite hacks, mods, and shortcuts?
My house rules mostly consisted of additional character classes ported into my campaign.  One house rule I do enjoy is Wisdom as sanity from Akratic Wizardry.
2. Table rules: how do you keep players focused on the game?
I let table talk go on just a bit if it's a non-session topic, after all, we're here as friends and we gotta chat sometime.  But I'll bring it back by just interrupting the conversation and bringing it back to the game.  Just cut them off.  Everyone's usually fine with that.  If table conversation is session based or game based I let that go on as long as needed.
3. Rise to the challenge: how do you balance encounters in your system?
Balance encounters?  Never!  It's up to the players to avoid taking that 'wrong' turn.  Also, the party consists of PCs levels 2 through 7.  Good luck balancing encounters for that. 
4. How do you facilitate combat? Any tips, tools, or cheats?
Pretty straight from the rules (Swords & Wizardry Complete).  I discarded descending AC day 1. AAC makes things much easier and faster.
5. Memorable villains: how do you introduce and weave the antagonist/s into the ongoing narrative?
I think I always try to keep the major NPCs floating in the background via rumors or chats with other NPC's or just in the session backgrounds.  I also try to keep them alive if encountered so that they can harass the players in the future – not always easy to do so it's best to just keep mentioning the baddies until they come face to face.  Build up that 'legend'.
6. Investigation and mysteries: how do you use foreshadowing, red herrings, and keep the tension rising?
Again, I use rumors via NPCs to keep things in the player's conscientiousness.  Keep the stories floating around the campaign even when the PCs are out on a totally separate adventure.  I've tossed red herrings but with gaps between sessions and the slow pace of campaigns in general, those usually get lost.  The red herrings I tend to keep tighter to the narrative of the current session or the next.  Any more than that too much time goes by and you loose the edge of a false rumor.
7. Structure and time: how do you use flashbacks, cut scenes, and parallel narratives in your games?
I don't use flashbacks or cut scenes in a game.  They don't work.  For me, the campaign in a linear path of the players experiences.  The stories and campaign goes on before the character is born and after he/she dies.  It's up to the players to make their backstory elements of the game and me to enact them but I don't go 'back in time' to 'set the story'.  By parallel narratives, I assume that this is only cut scenes between a split party.  I usually run those for about 10 minutes (hmm, the time of a game turn) before cutting back to the other players. 
8. How do you handle rewards, be they XP, magic items, or gold?
I started the campaign with a standard monster xp split among the players and gold totals split as xp among the players.  Magic items are a value in and of itself and receive NO experience point value.  But since our sessions meet twice a month (when we're on a roll) and not everyone shows up, leveling PCs was pretty slow  It took a couple of years to get to level three or four.  I've since moved to full monster experience rewarded to EACH  PC present for that session.  Monster experience is NOT split.  Treasure value is still split equally as experience though.  But players HAVE  to be present during the session to receive the rewards.  A little more bookkeeping on my end but it seems to be working pretty well.  The pace of character advancement seems to fit well with our play schedule. Also, I don't actually reward them the experience until the return to home base.  Though I record the experience each PC receives they don't get it until they head home. 
9. What was your worst session and why?
The only bad session(s) I had was when I felt my head wasn't really in the game. Note, however, that the players still all had a great time.  It's all relative so someone always has a great time.
10. What was your best session and why?
Sessions where I am fully present and 'participating' in the game as much as the players are.  Not sitting back coasting on the contents of an adventure module.  Those always tend to be the best.  When everyone's involved and we're playing off each other.  But it's all relative anyway.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Session LIII: Black Ravens and Stoners

After having woken up naked and penniless in the streets of Blackmoor after a night of carousing, Thovin of the Black Church gathers his what's left of pride and his companions and head south to meet up with Baron Blackmoor's troops and Captain Vanir.

On the way they run into refugees who have escaped out of Caladan including Jack the stable boy and Onyx, the former tennant of the Tower of Zenopus (this goes back to the first few sessions).  They smuggled themselves out of Caladan with the help of the Brotherhood of the Black Hand.  For a pretty price, the Black Hand will smuggle someone in or out of Caladan.    The party also learned that the pirates and the Stygian soldiers are raping and pillaging Calladan's inhabitants all under the approval of Utasu the puppet ruler of Caladan and the Stygian sorcerer Zadir who had, in but a single night, raised a blasphemous magic tower within the walls of the old Merchant Guild.

Continuing on to the war-camp of Captain Vanir, they only await the arrival of Baron Blackmoor to lead the foot soldiers in an attack to free Caladan.  But Captain Vanir worries about the stone giant, that has been bought by Utasu and Zadir, and that may attack them from behind.  He sends out heroes along with ten soldiers to eliminate the threat of the Stone Giant.

After sending Tuk the owl forward to investigate the rocky cliffs, Gnarly turns into a raven and flies into the Stone Giant's cave opening.  There he spies twelve stygian soldiers trapped in a cage dangling from the ceiling and the Stone Giant munching on one of the soldier's legs.

The raven chats with the giant and it turns out that he was promised two virgins by Zadir only one of which had been delivered. Until the Stone Giant received the second, he refuses to do the bidding of the wizard and, instead, had been devouring one soldier a day. 

Vying to get the Giant on their side or kill him, Gnarly the raven says that if the giant will help them in their attack on Caladan he will offer up a virgin.

Now where would the party find a virgin?

Well, it turned out that Maximus the Untested was indeed a virgin.  So as a trap, they would offer up the magic-user in hopes that he would be able to place the monster into a slumber.  Maximus, of course, was in full opposition of this plan but was talked into being bait anyways. 

So offering up Maximus as a virgin captive, the Stone Giant steps out and falls for the old Chewbaca in hand-cuffs trick (used back in session 38).  After reacting to the party's attack the giant is quickly put to sleep and bound.  He is tossed over the cliff into the sea below.  The cave is raided for treasure and the stygians captured as prisoners. 

The party returned to the camp triumphant!

Wine and ale was drunk throughout the night and many invitations were offered for the heroes to feast as honored guests at tables and around campfires and to recount their infamous confrontation.

The stories, of course, have already been  'embellished' by the storytellers to include Wolf single-handedly lifting the giant above his head and over the cliffs, and of the Dark Gods protecting the mighty Thovin as he stood unmoved from the savage direct blow from the Stone Giant's club (this leads to many men questioning their faith and seeking out spiritual guidance from the dark cleric)!  The renowned virtue of Maximus who resisted the caresses of one thousand women to remain chaste and defeat the Giant (the demand for whores declined sharply that night). Stories of Gnarly the mystical woodsman who takes the shape of wild creatures and beguiles his foes.

The revelry went deep into the night.

With the arrival of Baron Blackmoor and his banner-men the next morning, all turn their firey bloodlust towards the Stygians and pirates occupying Caladan as the final plans for the assault are made...

This was a very, very entertaining session with a lot of role-playing and only two or three dice rolls.  A lot of creative game play and quite the inspiration for playing this portion of the campaign through.  Players seemed to have a great time getting into their characters and the situations.  This will be  a session to be remembered.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Warlock's Halloween Viewing Part 1

With another Halloween upon us, like many of you, here at the homebrew we indulge in some horrific viewing of the movie kind.  The first half of the celebrated month brought us a great batch of gruesome goodness both old and new.

So here's what the Warlock's clan has been watching thus far this Halloween season....

The People Under the Stairs (1991 - Wes Craven)
During the 80's there was a literal pile of shitty horror movies lead by a bunch of 'played to death' teenage slasher films and by Wes Craven.  I've never been a Wes Craven fan and despised his Freddy Cruger creation to no end.  When one grows up on classic horror of Hammer films, George Romero and the "Master of Horror", John Carpenter, one's standards tend to be pretty high and Craven falls far, far under that bar.  Craven's bombastic and absurd uncreative violence, spoon-fed plots and childish cartoonish horror attempts makes his films quite laughable - and not in a good way.  I'll give him kudos for his horrifically violent 70's fare of Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes and the fact that he brought Dee Walace to the screen.  We did end up watching one of his most polished horror films a few days later (see below).  Anyways, The People Under the Stairs has some pretty dark themes of child abuse, torture and depravity as a crazed husband and wife, played by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie (Ed and Nadine Hurley from Twine Peaks) torture their daughter and 'guests' to the house that they've placed 'under the stairs'.  There are seeds of some good acting but Craven tosses all that potential into the rubbish bin and proceeds to just blaze shotgun blasts at us - literally. We didn't quite get to the ending on this one and I would challenge anyone watching this to go the distance. Not a great start to our Halloween viewing but it did get much, much better.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986 - John Carpenter)
Going from one extreme to the other we've got one John Carpenter's  masterpieces in his kung-fu, comedy, action, horror film Big Trouble.  Here at our local art-house, The Loft, we're right in the middle of a John Carpenter retrospective.  Since the wife hasn't seen the glory that is Big Trouble that was our choice for the big screen Carpenter flick.  If you've seen this movie, not much needs to be said as you most likely already know how fantastic this 'ahead of it's time' movie still is.  If you haven't seen it, you've missed out on one of life's great offerings and need to remedy that right away.  The third collaboration between Carpenter and Kurt Russel also brings the talents of Kim Cattrell and James Hong into the mystical world of San Fransisco's "Little China" as the ghost emperor Lo Pan seeks "...a girl with green eyes" to make him material again.  Probably one of my top ten movies of all time, well, at least top 20.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988 - Wes Craven)
Another Wes Craven entry but this one is quite horrific.  Based on a true story, Craven pulls out all stops to give us a dreadful look at Hatian Voodoo.  I lay the success of this film at the feet of the writers and producers that keeps Craven on task.  Placing the viewer inside some of the scariest dreamlike voodoo experiences along with true zombies (most 'zombie' movies are about ghouls but that's a different topic), the film chills and thrills.   Craven's bombastic violence rears it's head just a bit at the end, but this slightly dated but still effective horror film is worth revisiting.

The Orphanage (2007 J.A. Bayona)
A slow paced ghost story from Spain about a woman who grew up an orphan purchases the orphanage to live in and start a home for disabled children. Did I mention that the children she grew up with were murdered there?  Nothings gonna happen here, no way, no how!  Not a great horror film but not terrible either carries you through the mystery of her child's disappearance.  Somewhat predictable and not breaking any new ground in the ghost story genre it's not a movie I would revisit but would recommend for fans of true ghost stories.

Pretty Dead (2013 Benjamin Wilkins)
A surprisingly effective 'found footage' genre film which gives us a nicely presented take on a ghoulish inducing virus/fungus.  In typical found footage fashion we follow Regina Stevens (Carly Oates) as she tries to figure out what the hell is wrong with her.  Nothing new added to the found footage style of film-making but I found the story engrossing and acting well done.  I was surprised by this one and would recommend it.

Quarantine (2008 - John Erick Dowdle)
A modern classic starring scream-queen Jennifer (the fuk Dex) Carpenter  in another 'found footage' film.  Based on the Spanish film Rec, Carpenter plays a television reporter shadowing a couple of firemen who go on a call to an apartment building. With a great build-up in characters and a unrelenting horrific thrill-ride to the climax this one is a real nail-biter of the virus / mad flesh-eating variety.  I love Jennifer Carpenter.  Anyone that has seen her work knows that she's a natural in front of the camera and pure emotion on film.  This one has some of her best work and that's saying a lot!

The Bay (2012 - Barry Levinson)
Yet another found footage film (seeing a trend here) with a small town on the Chesapeake Bay which falls under the influence of a mysterious virus (or is it?).  Well told and surprisingly creepy, horrific and gruesome.  Definitely worth a watch.

More in a few...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

30 Days of Game Mastering Part 1

I'm not one to jump on one of these blog memes, it's quite the commitment and I don't really have time to dedicate to 30 straight days of posting but I was drawn towards this one.  It's always useful to gain insight into methods that other GMs use in their game prep and execution.  There can never be enough tips out there for starting or veteran GMs.

So instead of daily postings I'm dropping this beat in three parts.


1. What advice would you give a first-time GM?
Go easy on yourself.  It's not all in your hands to run the perfect game, the players are part of that process too once you're all at the table.  If you've never GMed before, start with a rules-lite game.  The mechanics are generally easy to grasp and there aren't too many of theme either.  There are tons of rules-lite games out there for all kinds of genres.  Know the rules and how the mechanics work but you don't have to memorize them.  Don't plan an epic.  Put together a short and sweet scenario, one session to get your feet wet so you can get familiar with the rules and guiding a table full of people through an adventure.  And let your players know that this is your first time GMing.  Most people don't have the time or energy to dedicate to planning and running a game so they tend to be grateful that someone does and that they can participate.  They'll cut you slack.  Remember, if the game doesn't go well the first time, don't be discouraged, learn from your mistakes, adjust what you have to and give it another try.  One last point, you may think you ran a bad game but they players may thing otherwise.  They may have had the best time of their lives.  Perspective is relative.
2. What are your favorite GMing tools or accessories?
Hmm,  a pencil, some paper to jot ideas down on but I rely on the computer for most everything and transfer all my notes there (more organized and legible) .  I hand-draw my player maps but scan and finish them in Photoshop or GIMP.  I just like a more polished look on handouts and whatnot.  I use Blogger and created a site just for my campaign notes and pre and post game thoughts for me and the players.  I found that easier than all the scraps of paper I end up with.  I also use Blogger for a players gaming aid (a newspaper styled website for my ICONS campaign).  Note:  Blogger is free to use and I hate dishing out additional cash for RPG gaming stuff.  I tried Obsidian Portal, a good resource, but it was more than I needed..  Beyond that, all the random charts that I can gather from the interwebs (Hack  & Slash's right column, charts I've collected at the Home Brew).  Random charts are the greatest gift to any GM and you can never have enough.  Organizing them, however, is a different matter.
3. How do you find players?
I ask my friends.  I was looking for at least three, ended up with eight.  I think you can always find a couple of willing players out there.  They might be hard to find but they're out there.  Local gaming groups are great to get involved with and don't discount posting a flier at your game store, hobby shop, library, or college.  Start your own group - organize!  There's plenty of closeted geeks and non-closeted geeks out there!  The harder part may be finding players that are interested in the specific game you are running. RPGs are so diverse now with genres within genres that some people's tastes might be very specific.  You might have to start a bit more generic in terms of genre and then once you have a group, find more specific games you all might like to participate in.  Online is a great way to find players as well.  G+ communities or Roll 20 are good places to start.
4. Do you use pre-published adventures or write your own?
Both. I love pre-published adventures to flesh out the campaign but I hack the heck out of them - new maps or just pieces of them, whatever I need to work best in my session or campaign.  I write my own as needed using the One-Page Dungeon format.  Lately, I've just been writing outlines of 'plot-points' and 'guide' players to them or throw 'em down as needed.
5. Stealing like an artist: what inspiration have you drawn from other games, books, movies, etc?
Inspiration?  Everything from comics to movies to books.  They don't even have to be genre specific.  Western plots work well in fantasy settings or space operas as do super-hero adventures or spy thrillers.  Every type of adventure can happen in every type of genre so don't be afraid to mix and match.
6. Worldbuilding–what’s your process?
Keeping it small is the best way to go but I tend to like a general broad-stroke on the bigger picture;  the surrounding lands, major influences and players (NPCs), factions, etc.  It's not really needed at first but I just like to have a very loose big picture in mind.  after than I begin to narrow it down until I have the starting location pinpointed.  In the end, in my experience, the campaign really only takes place in a very small, small small portion of the greater world (at least at first and for a long while).  You really only need to map out a 20 mile hex.  No need to over plan but I enjoy the exercise so I work it a bit, usually I have it just running in the background of my mind and don't dwell on  it too much - letting if shape itself naturally.
7. How do you prep for the start of a campaign?
I tend to put a lot more prep into the start of a campaign.  I think it's important to set the mood and color initially, of course that  gets run off the rails pretty quickly once the players get involved.  I don't like to railroad the players at all so I like to give them plenty of options at the beginning of the campaign (rumors work well) and let them choose their path.  The rumors give the players options but I have to plan out those options, at least the initial steps.  Remember, you just have to get through that first session so you don't need too much of any one destination, but you do need an idea of what each option will have in store for the characters that first session.  After they choose a path, you can spend the time between sessions fleshing it out a bit more.  Of course, they can ignore your rumors and take things off map then you're flying by the seat of your pants.  Again, it's one session and you can flesh out that path too between sessions.
8. How do you prep for each session?
Each session takes much less time than the start of a campaign. Usually a few jotted notes if it happens to be a more open-ended portion of a campaign or reading up on the adventure (module).  Maybe writing up some NPCs.  My between game prep has really shrunk to a minimum as I try to let player actions determine the course of the session.  If I have plot points or story elements that I have planned out, I'll drop those in appropriately. I've found that if I plan too much, the players pretty much bypass all I have planned and I ended up just wasting my time.
9. Player “homework”: what do you ask of your players before and between sessions?
None.  I hate homework so I don't pass that onto my players.  We're all to busy with work and family to deal with gaming homework.
10. What are your tips for running a low/no prep game?
One or two random charts and then let the players take it from there.  The best games I've had are when I didn't have much prepared or the players took me off in some unexpected direction and I had to wing it - to participate in the unknown just as the players at the table are doing. I think that's how RPGs were intended to be played.

Coming up next:  Part 2 At the Table

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Session LII: Axe Body Spray

So exploring the rest of the closed doors beneath the ruined temple , our party (Wolf the viking, Arg the half-orc, Thovis of the Black Church and Maximus the untested) found some more crypts and a trapped door that attempted to behead the giant Half-orc.

Physically disabling the trap the party found a small ceremonial chamber with a small idol of a horrific deformed god.  Arg stole the idol for himself and they all moved on to the final door.

Beyond that door they found the wizard Varnagon sacrificing the last bandit to the undead fiend Morgrath the Ghast who stands nearby wearing the circlet from Baron Blackmoor's treasury. 

As the dead bandit rises as a zombie slave to Varnagon, Maximus the untested charmed the vile wizard.  Thovis brought the newly formed zombie under his control while Arg and Wolf charge the Ghast.  Arg is incapacitated by it's stench while Wolf hacks away at it's body with his axe spraying the putrid remains about the chamber.  Morgrath makes one final attempt to resist his foes but, alas, with the circlet originally given to him by his beloved, the dark wizard who was granted immortality by the gods finally succumbs to death.

Meanwhile, Maximus orders Varnagon to call the rest of his undead minions to him.  They fall under Thovis' control and he commands them to slay the wizard.  Then, to dispose of the zombies, the orders them each to open the trapped door, which beheads them one by one.

With the circlet in their possession, they gather the pile of treasure and leave the temple and make their way back to Baron Blackmoor.

Returning the circlet to Baron Blackmoor, he paid it no heed and tosses it to his treasurer.

"Why deal in worthless trinkets when there is blood to be spilled!"  He bellows with a fierce bloodlust in his eyes as he grips the pommel of his mysterious sword.  " Sharpen yer blades lads, for it's time to take back from these desert heathens what is rightfully ours!

 It's off to war as the Baron himself planed to lead the final attack on Caladan....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Session LI: Thieves in the Temple

It's been months since out group has played Swords & Wizardry having taken a break from that game to play some board games and play in a Robotech game that Mike, a game-group player from the start wanted to run.  We just got back into S&W earlier this week.  My plan is to run shorter installments of the ongoing campaign with natural stopping points to give us the opportunity to play other games and to take a break from GMing.

So this campaign installment will center around the battle for Caladan, which was usurped by Morak backed by Kushanna's Stygian empire from the south.  Arvin's Avengers killed Morak and were chased out of Caladan by Utasu the captain of the Stygian forces and Zadir the Stygian wizard who both now rule the port city.  Having taken refuge in the city of Blackmoor and allied themselves with Baron Blackmoor have decided to retake Caladan.

Session LI:  Thieves in the Temple

For months, the troops of Blackmoor have cut off access to lands of Eri'an from the usurpers of Caladan and repelled the Stygian troops back into that port city.  The siege of Caladan has begun.

However, flush with victories and a full mercenary purse fighting as a free-sword for Baron Blackmoor, celebrations were uproarious and rowdy.

With some drunken shenanigans, that involved freely flowing ale, a handful of whores, spoken insults, thrown punches, overturned tables and the inadvertent burning down of  a beloved White Sheppard Inn, the group, along with some 'innocent' patrons stood before Baron Blackmoor who was none too pleased with their actions.

To forgive their transactions, the Baron asked them to recover a small circlet that was the sole item stolen from his treasury by a group of thieves the night before.  It turns out that these thieves were hired by a wizard named Varnagon to recover this seemingly worthless trinket.

The trail of the thieves lead to an ruined temple not far from the city and that's where we found our part; Wolfheir the Viking, Gnarly Blunderbrush the Druid, Arg the Half-orc, Skwanky the Halfling warrior along with two newcomers; a spell-caster by the name of Maximus the Untested and Thoven Brightsmith knight of the Black Church.

At the ruins, Gnarly sent Tuk the owl up to investigate and found a wounded thief about to be eaten by two hungry wolves. If fact the entire party was surrounded by a pack of wolves.  But the druid calmed the situation down and talked with the pack leader.  The alpha told Gnarly that there were about twenty thieves holed up in the basements of the ruin.  Gnarly promised to send them out so that the pack can feast upon the invaders of their domain.

Moving in to question the mortally wounded thief, they found that his boss Varnagon went mad and summoned up fiends from Hell to slaughter he and his companions.  Of course they found this out by torturing this poor soul. Take heart, though, as he was put out of his misery by Maximus the Untested!

Entering the basement crypts they happened upon a handfull of armored skeletons munching on  a couple of the dead thieves in front of a black and green metal altar.  Sending Skwanky the Halfling in to draw them out, Thoven Brightsmith brought these undead creatures under his control.

Sending the enslaved skeletons down a passage they fought with another group of skeletons.  With all the skeletons having killed each other but one still under Thoven's control the party continued down a set of stairs to find a passageway with a number of doors on either side.  The last skeleton lead them into a chamber filled with Zombies.  Pulling some of the Zombies under the Black Church priest's control the party defeated the rest.

Exploring the room, the party found a seemingly bottomless well, which they tested by having one of the zombies topple himself over the edge.

Deciding to explore the other doors, they came upon a crypt where the floor and wall had been busted up by roots and vines.  Entangled in the vines were the remains of an armored knight with a green gem.  Suspecting a trap, Thoven sent his final zombie in to retrieve the gem. The zombie was attacked and killed by the vines which then attacked the rest of the party entangling Gnarly.   To escape Gnarly planned on casting plant growth but was rightfully talked out of it by the rest of the party.  Instead, the druid turned himself into a raven and flew out of the room while the rest of the group set fire to the vines.

It was at this point where we stopped and will continue next time...

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Many Faces of Swords & Wizardry

I first picked up on the Swords & Wizardry vibe back in 2009 when I was exploring the blossoming OSR*.  I had looked into Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy at the time but there was something about the title of Swords & Wizardry and the beautiful Peter Mullen art that really captured the game for me - the game I remember playing in my head as well as the game I wanted to begin playing again.

I had picked up the PDF version of the 1st edition S&W rules (along with LL and BFRPG) and was hooked.  It was the perfect set of rules for me.  Direct and to the point and a nice handful of pages, clear and concise and open for plenty of expansion and very much the same game I stared out with (Holmes).

Swords & Wizardry evolved of these brief years.  Since our S&W campaign is starting back up again this week I thought I'd take a look at the gallery of S&W rules.

The first S&W rule book I worked with back in
early 2009. Peter Mullen's cover art captured dungeon
exploration to in but a single picture and a thousand
words - including the troublesome halfling.

Little did I know that once I received my first copy
of S&W were the Core Rules in production and
soon released. This is the rule-set we've used for
our ongoing S&W Campaign
If S&W Core wasn't 'Old School' enough,
White Box brought the rules back to their most
basic form including d6 weapon damage for all
weapons. Another beautiful Peter Mullen's cover.
Frog God released the Complete Rules.
It would take me all these years to jump on the
Complete wagon we I had house-ruled
most other classes into our Core game.
Swords & Wizardry White Box was release as, well,
a white box.  A handful of little white books in a
little white box recreated the little brown books in the little
brown box from waaaaay back.
Updated White Box single book edition.
Finally, modern times with the current Swords &
Wizardry Complete Rulebook. We have finally moved
our campaign over to these rules.  I'll be talking about
more about this rule-set later this week.
After a major hiatus from our Swords & Wizardry campaign (last session played in January), our group is once again taking up blade and dice to see what trouble can be had around the gaming table.  Look for new Session Updates to be posted soon.

*Now I know that tons of folks were still playing the original versions of the games as can be proven by the Dragons' Foot and the OD&D boards where I had frequented a year or two prior.  But with the so called explosion of these Retro-Clones the border for the 'Revival' had been drawn.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Roll 20 And Playing In A Virtual Environment Part 3

So with all the preparations completed, I was ready to run my first Virtual Table Top game via Roll 20.

The Game Session

With a small group of decent role-players lined up we all connected and started playing.

Roll20 has some nice features, one of which is the addition of background adventure music controlled by the GM.  I have always felt that one of the roles of being a GM is in setting the session mood and atmosphere.  With the background music (and sound effects) that you can control I thought this would be a great feature, and it is, however, for a first session, there's quite a lot to manage on a VTT.  By the time you've switched to a different scene, got all the player's tokens moved over and positioned, got your notes ready, the background music falls a bit down the priority list.  I think with more practice and experience running a Roll20 VTT session, managing the music would become easier, but initially, it's one extra thing to have your hands on.

We gathered together via voice only chat using Skype.  I've never been a huge Skype fan as I have always found it glitchy but I thought that not using the video portion would improve it's functionality.  Well, it didn't.  More than a couple of times we lost one player here and there and they had to reconnect.  And at the end of the session - the wrap-up, I lost all Skype connectivity.  Which made it a real hassle to get back on with everyone just for planning next session and 'see ya laters'.  It took longer to get everything connected again than it did to 'wrap things up', one of the things that annoy be about technology in general.

Why I didn't go with Google Hangouts?  I guess I was worried about computer performance but with all the Skype issues I had over a three hour session - which wasn't too many - but it intrupts game-play as we 'look' around for a missing player, I'll probably go with Google Hangouts in the next session and see how that goes.

The Gameplay Itself

Sitting around a table you have faces to interact with.  A face to face conversation or storytelling is a bit more enveloping and interactive than over the interwebs.  It took me a while to get use to just talking into 'space' even though players were floating within that space.  It was a bit tricky placing a disembodied voice with a PC or token.  I had a couple of nice distinct voices to separate but I constantly had to ask who was talking for which PC.

Again, talking into space took awhile to get use to but play moved along.  The screen did become, at least for me, the hub of what I connected with, something to keep my eyes occupied while we chatted and played.  Getting over that, the gameplay progressed as any other face to face session might.

The game mechanics within the Roll 20 VTT itself worked flawlessly.  Dice rolling was a snap, along with keeping track of hit points, which was linked between the tokens and the player's character sheets. Combat moved quickly with the system as well.

The lower basements as explored by the players. 
 Letting the players move their tokens around the map was nice too.  It made my job as GM easy in terms of knowing where everybody was at any given time.  In fact, what I discovered was that the players interacted with the map way more than they do in a usual face to face session.

For example, players would point to items they saw on the map and asked what they were and examine and explore the environment that way.  They were using the dungeon dressings that I placed on the map page as what they actually saw and relied less on my descriptions.  It caught me off guard a bit but it's something worth noting.  With some of the points I made about map-making in my previous posts, and how the more detailed maps would pull the game out of a players imagination and focus it onto the computer screen seemed to hold true.  The more detailed map played in this virtual table top changed an important element of the game.  I'm not going to judge it as bad or good, just different.  And I think I would adapt my GMing style a bit to accommodate that change.  If I were to continue playing with these detailed maps, I would be sure they are way more accurate knowing they were to be used by the players more as a way to interact with the environment in the game session.


Overall, I have to say that the VTT gaming experience was pretty good.  It's different than a face to face session, without a doubt.  It does present different challenges running a session.  Adding a layer of technology can make a GM's job that much more complicated, but with some practice some of that can get ironed out.

I was surprised by how the players interacted with the maps and what they saw on the VTT screen and that brings up the biggest point - would one pursue that direction of controlling the VTT experience by letting the players explore more of what they see and less of what they hear from you as GM or strip all that away and use the VTT more of a blank slate to project your imagination onto?  I think the VTT can work either way.  There would be a lot less prep time  if you just used the drawing tools to draw maps on the screen on the fly as needed and NOT use the VTT as the be-all end-all environment with which to play.  Use it as a blank table.  It would be just as easy to play the sessions in a full detailed mapped out environment, though slightly different than what one might be use to.  The differences are subtle but they are there.

I do know that if I were to run an ongoing campaign, especially sandbox style, I would not spend all my free time preparing for a session by creating detailed maps and populating those maps ahead of time to be imported into a VTT system and used as a what you see is what you get game-board.  Free-form sessions usually never work like that.  I would go with the former method of stripping down the VTT game play area, leaving it open to be used only when needed, much of how my table-top sessions usually run - pulling the minis out only when needed.

I'll probably finish the game as I had intended and created, as a fully detailed game play map but I would like to try the VTT in a more stripped down version that I'm more use to.  Roll 20 VTT should easily adapt to those different styles and anything in between.  Me, I'll just keep rolling with it until I find that perfect sweet-spot on the Virtual TableTop.

Read part 1 and part 2 


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