Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NPCs, Red-Shirts, Meatshields - Let Your Players Give Them Life!

If my NPCs hang out with my players for more than a session I roll up their stats and throw them on a notecard. Sometimes a player ends up controlling an NPC for whatever reason (charmed or their PC is unconscious - or dead). They tend to fill out the character, draw character portraits and embellish their personality which I try to use in later sessions (if the NPC survives!). It's great letting the players flesh things out for you!

Here's two shining examples of what the players have helped create in the campaign.

Unfortunately, both Tero and Mor fell exploring the Tomb of the Iron God!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Ultimate: "My Players Are Awesome" Post

Have I mentioned how awesome my players are? Well last night's session really was something special. As we hit our 23rd session and celebrating our one year campaigning anniversary my players sprung on me a little surprise.

Lo' and behold, they had delivered to me the grand-daddy of all minis. Direct from Otherworld Miniatures:

Yes that's right! Corey (Level 1 Gamer) worked with the rest of the guys to get this treasure delivered into my hands. Words can't describe how marvelous this is. If there's any symbol that represents the OSR and classic gaming or, hell, just fantasy gaming in general it's gotta be this guy here.

This past year of gaming has been truly, without question, the best I've ever experienced. This is one great group of guys to be throwing dice with. They've all come from various gaming backgrounds and have joined under the one banner of Swords & Wizardry. All these players have been so creative with their characters, with game situations and the table talk has to be some of the most hilarious stuff I've run into.

So hats off to these dedicated gamers as well. They've kept the sessions alive and kicking for this past year.

And this just lead into one hell of a memorable game session! And don't think this gift held me back from tossing some big nasties at these guys. Oh, on the contrary! They were stuck face to face with an un-turnable eight foot tall skeleton in plate armor wielding a two handed sword with a single boney arm, and Tibag almost got turned into green slime, and another hoard of a nest full of Crotch-Goblins which, by the end of the battle, Tibag had the nick-name of Tibag - Crotch-Gobbler!

Yes, it was a session for the ages which I will recap soon. So thanks to Corey (Level 1 Gamer), Mike (Milkman-X), Clay, Zach, Brian, Max, Tim and Christy (who participated in her 3rd consecutive session)!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Latest Yardsale & Random Encounters

The summer is traditionally a bit too hot here in Tucson AZ for yardsale hunting but the weather is slowly cooling off, at least in the early morning hours, to allow the 'merchants' to flaunt their novelties and the seekers to seek their treasure. A casual stop while walking the dog at a sale around the corner from our house lead to this fine $10 purchase:

But that wasn't even the most interesting part. The seller had a number of interesting sci-fi books for sale. So we began to chat about that. He told me he had just started re-reading the Thomas Covenant Chronicles. So after some more chatting about that series I brought up the question.

"Do you have any old fantasy games?"

And BAM! He jumped right into talking about his days playing D&D! Drinking beer, listening to Pink Floyd and rolling dice having a great old time! He said that he hated the bad rap that D&D got back in the day - the whole geek and loner and devil-worshiping thing.He and his friends use to just have a party playing the game.

He had just given away all of his advanced 1st edition books to his nephew in hopes that he would pick up the game. I told him I was seeking the OD&D box / rules but he had started after those with 1st ed. AD&D. So we ended up chatting about Gygax and his original rules that he published in his basement and how the hobby changed to more to a marketed business than a fantasy hobby. He even talked about how he had a whole collection of lead minis, hand-painted of course, that were stolen a number of years ago when he lived up in the White Mountains.

It was fun running into a 'random encounter' of a true fan of the game. This guy, Pete, even offered to get his books back from his nephew to get them to me which I declined as I already have a set. Let the seeds be planted elsewhere! It's been interesting that within two blocks of me I have discovered an online classic game seller and a former 1st ed. AD&D enthusiast.

So, still no OD&D rules but my quest continues and I know I'm one step closer!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Fantasy Pop

The first in a new Warlock series of pop music's dabbling into fantasy, Sci-Fi and worlds beyond. No explanations needed as the music should speak for itself. but sometimes when pop music delves into fantasy we travel to some great places, other times, you just want to get the hell outta there 'cause you don't know what they were thinking. The good, the bad and the ugly, all of it will be presented. Perfect to listen as background as you ponder James M's Open Friday's Question, or travel Beyond the Black Gate's Friday Frazetta, or perhaps wait until Saturday morning for the weekly OSR update of The Underdark Gazette. Either way, it's a perfect way to get you ready for this weekends game!

So we kick it off with one of the best Sci-Fi fantasy pop songs ever, brought to you by Michael Moorcock and Blue Oyster Cult. Visuals supplied by your own imagination please!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

At The Mountains Of Madness & Guillermo del Toro

This movie is still in early production phases but Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hell Boy, The Devil's Backbone) definitely has the visual eye to bring something like this to the screen. One can say that he has a flair for presenting us with an odd fantasy atmosphere (though the possible casting of Tom Cruise has left me....cold).

He was to direct the new adaptation of The Hobbit (though I believe he is still at the typewriter for this project) but has since moved on the Lovecraft. From J.R.R. Tolkien to H.P. Lovecraft. Maybe he should consider R.E. Howard too?

Anyway, a quote from an interview:

"Obviously, the difference between the novella and the movie is that Lovecraft had a gift for making everything specifically ambiguous. He would say 'the leering face loaded with madness,’ or 'the evil perverse entity of unnamable'… everything was unnamable, indescribable. When you're reading you go,'Whoa!' your brain fills those spaces. For every creature, everyone has a secret mental image of what those creatures look like. It's going to be impossible to please everyone."

"I've been thinking of those monsters for twenty years. Fortunately for me no one has done monsters like the ones I'm doing. In all the movies ever made there's never been monsters like the ones we're doing. About two weeks ago we were visited by Dennis Muren. He looked at the designs, and he turned to us and said, 'No one has seen monsters like this ever.' I was like, [boyish grin] 'Yeah!' I was happy and vindicated and all that."

I'd say it sounds interesting. He at least has the intuitive understanding of Lovecraft. But will he be able to translate that effectively onto the screen? Well, only time will tell.

A bit more here...

Not a production still from the upcoming movie.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Session XXII: Jackals Of Darkness

So the party split up for a bit - Wolfheir remained at the temple of Mithra to work on his training, Skwanky sneeked over to the Cloven Hoof for some fine morsels, Adara - Adara was somewhere avoiding the snow.

The rest of the party, consisting of Slick Vinny, Televan, Tibag and their new member Maudlin inquired around the temple about the coming Black Sabbath on the evening of the next day. The adepts of Mithra believed it to be quite real and a time of powerful dark magic. They didn't fear it, though, as they felt that their god Mithra was strong enough to protect them from any cosmic blasphemy.

The party left the temple to get some items identified at the Rolled Scroll and trudged through the still falling snow to Arvik's shop. There they had him identify a ring that would be used to help protect Tibag. They also dropped off a mysterious mace that they picked up off the now dead dark priest of the Black Church. Arvik thought the item mysterious and felt some time was needed in investigating the weapon. He told the party to come back in the morning. They asked Arvik about the Black Sabbath and he replied that he did not believe in such nonsense, that it was all just superstition.

The companions said farewell and trudged through the deepening snow towards Master Bringham's Curiosities shop. All the while the towns-folk of Caladan were rushing about gathering supplies for the uncommon amount of falling snow and the coming of the Black Sabbath. Master Bringham was no exception as he too was packing and closing up shop. Vinny inquired about some magic items which Master Bringham denied having any. He was also asked about the coming Black Sabbath and it turns out the Master Bringham was quite worried about the coming of the darkest night.

They left Bringham to his worries and returned to the temple for the night.

The next day, the day of the Black Sabbath, Gnarly arrived at the temple and reunited with his companions. Televon and Gnarly were concerned about Father Halford, who was now in possession of the Crimson Skull, and with the coming of the Black Sabbath but he refuses to be disturbed.

The party headed out into the almost deserted snow covered streets of Caladan once again and walked over to the Rolled Scroll. On the way they are passed by two men in white robes who recognize Vinny and gave him an odd hand signal. Vinny returned the sign and they approached. They whispered to Vinny if he was going to join them tonight for the ceremony? Vinny respond that he would. They told Vinny to meet them at the Green Dragon Inn after night fall and they would take him there.

At the Rolled Scroll, Arvik informs the party that the mace is a dangerous weapon and can drain the life-force of an enemy up to three times. They thanked him and decide that the best thing to do on the Black Sabbath was to return to the Ruined Tower of Zenopus.

On the way, Gnarly thought it might be good to hire a warrior to aid them on this so called coming night of high dark magic. They stoped at the Green Dragon Inn whose patrons seemed to not let the Black Sabbath stop their revelry . They ask the barkeep if he knew of anyone looking for work and to aid them going beneath the tower. He laughed at them but shouted out to his patrons anyway. The call is answered by a stuttering young woman named Profeia who said that she was an able fighter. Tibag doubted her and challenged her to a duel. They leapt upon the bar but Tibag is surprisingly quickly bested by Profeia. Profeia is hired and they all trudge through the snow to the Ruined tower.

Once again they delve into the basements below, and after having to spend some time getting their bearings they descended to the lower level - a series of winding caves and caverns. They followed a winding and descending cave that took them deeper below the surface than ever before. It is for quite some time that they followed this passage before it opened up into a cavern where they found some digging tools near a large niche in the west wall. From the tools is a dried trail of blood leading out through a narrow eastern passage.

Maudlin lifted the pick-axe and began trying to dig deeper into the niche. While the sounds of the dwarf's digging echoed through the caverns, Televon and Profeia guarded the eastern entrance. As the digging continues, Televon and Profeia heard croaking and scratching sounds coming from down the passage. These grew louder and more numerous. Tibag and Slick Vinny recognized the sounds as coming from Crotch Goblins (Crypt Crawlers)! Tibag charged a bit down the passage and began to fire upon the charging hoard while the rest prepare for battle. Vinny and Gnarly lit a flask of oil and as Tibag retreats back into the room they tossed it down the passage igniting and killing a great number of the blind creatures. The surviving creatures retreat.

Maudlin continued to dig through the wall again and now began to hear a hollow space beyond. As the dwarf broke through more the the Crotch Goblins charged into the room from the south passage. These are quickly dispatched but not before one latched onto Televon and began munching on his flesh.

Maudlin finally broke through the wall. She peered in and saw a man-made chamber beyond, the opposite side of which had a pair of iron double doors that have been burst open from a cave-in beyond. Also in the room are two iron enforced chests and upon a dais, a stone sarcophagus.

A tense excitement ran through the party as they believe they may have found the resting place of Zenopus the Vampire! Tibag entered the chamber but saw two dark shapes approach him. He charged back out of the room as he was attacked by two Jackals with black eyes and black fur and engulfed in black flame!

The party engaged these beasts but these Jackals of Darkness fiercely battled their foes and even go so far as to extend their flame about the Cleric of Morpheus. With the help of Slick Vinny's magic, the beasts were destroyed!

Gnarly healed the wounded with his Staff of Healing as the party entered the chamber. They spread out around the sarcophagus taking cover behind the four pillars holding up the ancient ceiling while Tibag examined one of the chests. Inside he discovered a pile of archaic gold coins and jewels.

The thief moves over towards the other chest and found that it was locked. His attempt to open the lock was unsuccessful so with the help of Televon they pried the top off. Suddenly a cloud of gas erupted from the chest and engulfed the two adventurers. Their eyes glazed over as they began to walk around the room in a mindless daze. The rest of the party grabbed the gold and jewels from within the chests and, making their two dazed companions carry the heavy loot exited the dungeon to prepare for Slick Vinny's appointment with the Crafty Mages.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One More Delve Back In Time...

James M's post last Friday and all the subsequent responses has brought to mind the early days of the hobby.

I know many of you were around during the first few moments after the Big Bang of the birth of fantasy role-playing games. Those of you so called Grognards may remember some of this quite well. The rest of you please sit back and enjoy the ride down memory lane as I give you my picture of my first experience seeing the game.

Growing up we had a great hobby shop near us that us kids could bike to or easily stop off at on the way home from school. It was called The Hobbyist and it had your usual plastic model kits and accessories, model rockets, and model trains. A couple of doors down we had a great little book store called The Book End that sold classic silver age marvel comics for only a few dollars (those same comics are now worth 10 times or more that amount). Another few doors down soon opened a used book store, a record shop and coming soon was one of the Chicagoland's original comic shops; Moondogs.

Pretty much heaven on earth for any kid.

All these shops were privately owned, no big corporate chain stores. These were the mom and pop stores that we hear talked about so much these days.

The Hobbyist was run by a Mr. Bill Wright and one or two assistants whom I can't quite remember, I think one might've been his son. Bill Wright was a great guy and ran a great little shop. He was always friendly to us kids coming in and hanging out at his store even though we didn't really have much money to buy anything.

After school we'd all stop over there or ride our bikes over on the weekends.

One day, while popping in after school I noticed this colorful and fantastic new box on the shelf squeezed in with other traditional hobby magazines. It had a giant red dragon sitting on a pile of gold, jewels and other treasure. Standing in front of the dragon was undoubtedly a wizard holding a torch and a magic wand and across from him some type of knight. The title on the box was Dungeons & Dragons, the original Adult Fantasy Role Playing game for 3 or more players. Basic set with introductory module.

I never before saw this in any hobby shop and was amazed by this box cover. It struck a chord within my imagination that still vibrates to this day. I had no idea what this was. It was a game, without a doubt, but what kind of game with a dragon and wizard. And what the heck was 'Role-playing'? It wasn't in your typical Parker Brothers box either. It was strange and I left mulling this over. And that name…Dungeons & Dragons!

I would return again and again to The Hobbyist to just stare and wonder at this game box, not having enough money to purchase it (I believe it was $10). But what was odd, was that almost every time I would stop in at the shop, which was quite frequent, another item would appear on the shelf. These items had fantastic covers of swords and fantasy. Some small packages began appearing with tiny unpainted figures, supposedly for these games I surmised. Next, games about the world wars and Napoleon showed up in larger boxes than that Dungeons & Dragons and others still which depicted more fantasy creatures and monsters and some kind of War with a Ring.

I became obsessed with this new game and all these other things that kept appearing around it as did my younger brother and our friends. I would talk about this with my parents trying to explain what this was and leaving them confused, I'm sure. I left obvious hints that this would be something that I would want for, first my birthday and then later Christmas. It wouldn't be until that holiday season when I would receive my 'gateway' game.

Week after week more and more of these games began showing up until they began to take up a larger portion of the Hobbyist floor space. It wasn't long until the Models began to take up less and less space and within a short year they were all crammed into a small 10 X 10 area leaving almost the whole store filled with Role-playing games, war games, dice, minis, paints and gaming accessories. The Hobbyist truly became a gaming store, one of the first if not the first in the Chicagoland Area. This was circa 1977-78.

The Hobbyist along with all of those great little shops where I spent all my hours and allowances have long since vanished but I can still see in my minds eye all those new and fascinating games staring at me on the shelves.

Being the obsessive graphic designer I put the below image together of all that I can remember seeing on the shelf in those early months before the rpg hobby really exploded. All of these covers to all of these games and publications were wonderful to gaze at during this innocent time of our favorite hobby.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Okay, I'll Play

As per Jame's question, when I think of D&D this is what cover comes to mind:

But this is the image that really does it for me:

These Are Our Worlds Too...

I think artist extraordinaire Wally Wood, in summing up what is in 'His World', encompasses pretty much what we all feel our pulp fantasy worlds to be...

Wally Wood: My World

Click on the comic pages to enlarge and read. Great Stuff!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Resources for you Homebrewers!

Homebrewed Sandbox campaigning can be a lot of fun and can keep any GM on their toes (the best place for any GM to be!). Spread out over the interwebs are tons of invaluable resources to help you with creating your Home-brewed campaigns. Here's a few that I've found very useful!

How to make a Fantasy Sandbox
Where to even begin you ask? Right here with Rob Conely's useful step by step guide with enough information to fill the heads of a room full of Ettins

Great hex mapping software. Pay version and free online app available.

Dungeon Generator
Need that quick one-off or multiple dungeon level complex and no time to create one the old fashion way? Try your luck here!

Why take the time to roll up hirelings when they're just gonna get sliced and diced anyway?

Fantasy Name Generator
Coming up with names is a challenge for most any GM. This one has categories for books and tomes, ships, cities, castles, wilderness and many others for different settings. A must have for any Homebrewer! While your there check out the rest of the Donjon site!

Updated: Additional links from our posted comments:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rolling Dice With The Wife

As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife Christy joined us for her first "real" table RPG session. You may recall that we had played a couple of solo sessions over a year ago and that left her a bit unsure of how the game actually worked. I guided her as much as possible but a solo session with an inexperienced player isn't really a good intro to the game.

So our last session she joined us at the table. Again, she was a bit unsure on this whole role-playing thing but over all I felt she had a more positive experience than negative. Right after the session she actually drew a portrait of her hermaphrodite dwarven fighter Maudlin (with a CHA of 5!). Whether she continues playing or not, how awesome was that?

So last night she joined us once again. In fact she got to the table early and read through her character sheet and the Home Brew house-rules before the others arrived, asking questions here and there.

This session was a better slice of your classic game session as there were some interactions with the city-folk of Caladan as well as a good creepy dungeon crawl with monsters to be slain and treasure to be had (recap to be posted shortly). The other players helped fill Christy in on some of the back stories and past encounters that had relevance to the sessions events as they popped up. There were good examples of how the players interacted together to solve problems and accomplish tasks. Overall a perfect session to really get a feel for the game with the usual laughs and table talk, of course. Cudos to my players for making her feel welcome and answering some of her questions and guiding her play a bit and congrats to Christy for giving it another go!

Afterwards she said she enjoyed the session and said that she pictured some of the events, especially with the hoard of crypt crawlers, just like scenes in a movie. Was she jumping around screaming 'Oh my god that was freaking' awesome! When do we play next?". No (I mean, come on, lets be realistic). But I think she got a good picture of what the game is about. Christy is still trying to get the hang of fitting in with game play and running Maudlin.I say only more sessions will help with that!

Here's hoping that Maudlin's adventures continue.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Session XXI: Them!

So our last session was a bit interesting for three reasons.

One, we attempted to record the audio of the gameplay. Why are we doing it? Perhaps to PodCast later? Who knows. But it's kinda this experience like when you're high and you think everything that comes out of your mouth is totally profound so you record to later find out it's just a bunch of babbling nonsense - well, maybe. So thats what we did. Was it funny the next day? It actually kinda was. Will it be funny to other listeners? That remains to be seen. The recording process isn't quite ready for prime time so we'll be tweaking that up a bit. Thanks to Zak for getting this started.

The second was the introduction of a new death chart. More on that later.

The final interesting bit was the fact that my wife actually sat down for a session. Yes, all you married Grognards out there, amazing at it sounds, my wife actually rolled some dice with us. Now, I always open the invitation to her as the players begin to arrive but she's always been apprehensive. I played a couple of solo sessions with her a year or two ago. Her verdict was undecided. It was hard to give her the full game experience with just one inexperienced player and DM. She didn't quite know how to handle the open-endedness of game play though I helped her along as much as possible. I told her that to really experience the game we need more players.

Fast forward to present day and here we are at our campaign session.

Christy (me wife) walked in to the man-cave and asked if she were too late?

Of course not! Never! Sit right down!

She played the same character she rolled up back in the solo sessions; Maudlin the dwarf fighter with a CHA of 5!

So she sat down next to me (for some additional coaching) and we got started...

After leaving the home of the Amazon Cron fully healed, the party headed south along the edge of Harrowood and back towards Caladan to return the Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak to Father Halford of the temple of Mithra.

As they trudged along through the falling snow they spied running out of the woods a dwarf chased by a number of giant ants! Some of the ants notice the party and begin to head in their direction. Wolfheir leaped upon his horse and rushed to aid the fleeing dwarf while the rest of the party prepared for the onslaught of the ants.

Skwanky and Nadrak rushed forward while Wolf galloped past the little dwarf and reaching down lifted him/her upon his horse. He lead the rest of the ants away from the party.

Skwanky was knocked unconscious as was Nadrak. The ants lifted those two and began to carry them off to their nest while the rest of the party began to loose the battle. Things were looking pretty grim!

Wolf, noticing that the party was in trouble, headed back to aid his companions bringing the rest of the ants with him. As he neared the party he left the dwarf with the horse and then leaped into battle, hacking at the ants.

The dwarf reeled around to cut off the fleeing ants with their prisoners. From the horse, the dwarf hacked the two ants dead.

The rest of the party battled the ants but it wasn't until Slick Vinny pulled out his wand of flesh to stone that the tide turned and the party finally ended up victorious.

After recovering their some of their wounds, the dwarf was introduced as Maudlin. She was out with her fellow travelers seeking the ruined temple in Harrowood when they were attacked by the Gian Ants. Apparently, the dwarf was the only survivor.

The party continued south and set up camp near the ancient Three Sisters of the Sea where they were briefly attacked by Stirges.

The next day, though still snowing, they arrived at Caladan and presented the Crimson Skull to an excited Father Halford. The party recovered their remaining wounds as the snow still came steadily down in Caladan the night before the Black Sabbath - a night where black magic is at it's most potent….

So that was my wife's first real session. I meant for the ants to be a brief encounter but does anything go as planned in this game? Actually, it shouldn't. But the ants did take up quite a bit of the session and that took away from some of the group role-playing that is always good for new players. Did Christy enjoy the game? It's hard to say. She laughed a lot as did we all but I think she was still a bit iffy on how the whole 'role-playing' thing works. That night, however, and at our weekly sketchgroup, she proceed to illustrate a portrait of her dwarf Maudlin. That's a positive sign. A game to inspire imagination indeed! I don't have a scan of her drawing yet but I'll post that soon.

Our next session is this evening. Will Maudlin return? Stay tuned!

As for that new death chart I mentioned above; I've been going with a kind of standard negative hit point death rule. However, I always felt that battle should leave it's scars both mental and physical. I ran across this chart from Carjacked Seraphim a couple of weeks ago and decided to try it in my session. It seemed to make actual death a bit less possible but throws in a couple of other options for lost limbs and dismemberment. We used it with the battle with the ants and it actually saved Skwanky and Nadrak from game death. I'll still play with this and see how it goes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Session Music

After a much needed respite from working (and gaming) I have returned. I've got plenty of catching up to do but why get into all that when I can get back into posting a bunch of my nonsense about my adventures in gaming. Besides, having just come back from the eye doctor my eyes are as dilated as Daffy Duck on acid and this is about all I can do at the moment!

This Monday begins our 22nd session (I still have a recap to catch-up on). Though I have tried this once before I thought I'd give it another go. Early in our campaign I had some session music going in the background. Not sure if it worked too well as I thought of it as more of a distraction and I have a hell of a time keeping my raucous players focused enough as it is. But who am I to give up. The more ambient the better.

So here we go again. A re-edited selection of music.

I just picked up 'Necronomicon' by Nox Arcana. A pretty good collection of ambient dungeon crawling music or especially for your Cuthulhu game. We'll see how that goes over.

Soundtrack music from the TV show Dark Shadows. A gothic TV soap opera from the late 60's and early 70's with vampires, witches and even a werewolf.

Selected songs from...Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. Can't forget Basil Poledouris for some dynamic dice rolling!

Finally, some selected music from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Kinda reminds me of Neverwinter Nights but it'll do.

So this is what I've got cued up and ready to go come Monday evening, randomly shuffled of course.

Any other good ideas, let me know.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Okay, Jeez, Is WOTC Just Getting Desperate Or What?

Ride some coat-tails and make a buck.
They do own all the art along with the IP so I guess they can do whatever they want, but come one, have a little dignity.

Well, the bus is cool but 30 years too late. Still desperate times call for desperate measures.

Friday, September 3, 2010

First Friday

As I take off for a real life adventure I leave you with this: