Friday, August 24, 2012

Session XLIII: Moontower Assault!

With the death of Morak at the hand of Gnarly Blunderbrush the murder of Arvin Ardmore of the Temple of Mithra had been avenged. However, vengeance came at a price! 

Slick Vinny went head to head with Zenopus the Vampire and was drained of blood and taken away by the alluring undead creature.  It is not known whether he be dead or a blood sucking creature under the influence of Zenopus.

Gnarly, pursued by Morak's guards, leaped off the terrace and into the sea below.  He had lost consciousness and drifted helplessly, watched over by Tuk the owl. The next day he washed up on shore and made his way back to the Moon-tower.

Argh and Swanky, who were locked within the dungeons beneath the old Merchant Guild were soon rescued by Lemunda accompanied by her bewildered father Osric and her servant Oslo.  When they heard about Morak's death she took the opportunity to escape with her father.  She lead the Halfling and Half-orc through the twisting tunnels beneath the castle to a small boat that lead to the ocean.  They paddled out the tunnel and towards the shore near the Moon-tower.

The work of Morak's death traveled fast.  Lord Blackmoore took the opportunity to gain the upper-hand and lead an offensive against Kushanna's troops north of Harrowood.

With the power vacuum left behind, the Stygian Zadir is attempting to take control of the city.  Using his dark magic and Morak's second in command, Utasu, Zadir hopes to strike back quickly against the Moon-tower and bring the city back under his control.

Three days have since past since the fall of Morak.
Zadir has put a king's ransom on the heads of Arvin's Avengers.
The forest around the tower are filled with archers making leaving the tower is a deadly proposition.
Essentially trapped within the tower, Arvin's Avengers realize that a full scale assault is on the horizon.

In their short time available, they try to set up some defenses.  Gnarly's mushroom-men patrol the thicket that surrounds the Moontower.  On the third night, during the first watch, Gnarly patrols Vinny's magical room in the dungeon beneath the tower while one of his mushroom-men patrol the tower itself.


Suddenly the Mushroom-men let out a cry of alarm as flaming arrows ignite the thicket, Tuk the owl spies a number of Zadir's guards along with a Stone Giant beginning the assault.

Meanwhile, in the dungeon below, Gnarly hears scratching at the door when suddenly a handful of ghouls bursts in.  They chase him up the stairs and into the Moontower.   The hatch is barricaded.

Trapped in the tower the party hears a sound of destruction coming from the top floor.  The Stone Giant had thrown a bolder which demolished Televon's newly constructed sanctuary. 

With more boulders flying and the flames of the thicket rising it was decided their best option was to fight their way through the ghouls and find another way out into the country-side through the dungeon.

The priest of Morpheus forced the ghouls back down the stairs but trying to slay the ghouls proved a bit difficult.  But it was Arg, the half-orc, that pulled through and saved the party from what could have been a gruesome fate.

It was debated whether to delve deeper into the dungeon, try to make a break for it through the cave entrance to the sea which was guarded by a tentacled monster but in the end it was decided to sneak out the way they first entered the dungeon and that was through the tunnel that lead beneath the cemetery and into a crypt.

Sneaking out from the crypt into the woods, they saw the giant completing the destruction of their Moon-tower.

Arvin's Avengers then made their way across the Great Coast Road and lead by Gnarly worked their way through Harrowood to the Druid's cave and sanctuary.

Through the denizens of the forest, Gnarly discovers that a great battle took place north of Harrowood and that some of the combatants were taken prisoner by a group of nomads living in the forest.

After a couple days rest at the cave the party trekked through Harrowood and ran into the Oak Ridge tribe, whom Gnarly had met in his explorations of the forest.  At the village they heard the story of a battle between Blackmoor's troops who routed Kushanna's warriors, some of which retreated into Harrowood and were captured and killed by the Oak Ridge Tribe. 

After sharing some of Televon's remaining Moon-milk with the chief and shaman the next day the party left the woods and came upon the remains of a fierce battle.  Kushanna's dead troops lay strewn about in the fields.  Wolf discovers that a group of horsemen pursued the retreating troops south back towards Caladan while a larger group headed back north presumably towards Blackmoor.

The party traveled the rest of the day northwest to the town of Berkenstoke and ended up at the local tavern the Hacky Shack.  Feasting and drinking in the warm comfort of the friendly inn they met up with some of Blackmoor's troops who soon discovered that these adventurers were none other than Arvin's Avengers slayers of Morak!

Next:  Blackmoor (yes, that Blackmoor!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Few Changes To Our Campaign

I've decided to change couple of things at our Swords & Wizardry table.

The first is that every session now begins with an email explaining the set up to the night's session - the traditional background, so to speak. I use to do this face to face and it was less focused and more of a session recap then a prelude to a new session.

With the email (just a couple of brief paragraphs) it gets everyone prepared for what will happen at the start of the session. It gets people thinking and anticipating the game (hopefully more than they already do!).  It also has gotten everyone at the table talking and planning right away as opposed to me recapping the previous session while table chat goes on.

It also helps me as GM prepare for the sandbox session.

In fact, this actually allows me to plan less pre-session making my job as GM easier as it lets me participate during the session more, reacting to the players actions on the spot.  I think that's because I've narrowed the direction of an open ended sandbox and given the players a bit a direction to spark their action right off the bat instead of spending time and energy getting them to 'hook' onto something I hope they bite on.  I know it sounds weird but that's how it's working for me.  Believe me, the sessions are still open to anything goes once the dice start rolling but it gives me and the players the same starting point.

Here are the backgrounds I used for our last two sessions:

Session 52 background
Session 53 background

The second thing I've changed are experience points.

In my campaign, experience points are gained from treasure, monsters and the occasional completed 'quest' or plot point.  Fairly traditional and by the book.

So instead of splitting monster xp gained in a session between all players, all players gain all experience from monsters killed.  For example, last night the players as a group killed 5 ghouls at 60 xp each.  In the past that would be 300 xp divided among five to seven players.  That would give the PC's between 43 and 60 xp each.  I have no problem with that method. However, considering that we've been playing for almost three years and the character's only range from level 3-5 the slow pace of advancement is becoming a campaign flaw.  This hasn't stopped our players from expanding upon their 'characters' in the slightest, and it does make achieving a level quite an accomplishment. However, since our play is scattered from twice a month at best to even longer play-gaps, I thought advancing the pace of advancement an enhancement to our campaign and should help to keep things moving nicely.

Coin & gem treasure will still be divided between players based on gold piece value.

Players still have to be present to gain that experience though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why Holmes' Sample Dungeon?

For those of you keeping up here at the Home Brew, you will have noticed that for the past forty-two odd campaign sessions have revolved around Holmes' sample dungeon from basic D&D rule book.

You may have also remember that that same dungeon was the inspiration for the Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus radio play that we produced last year.

And now I begin work on an animated version of that same radio play which of course has the sample dungeon as the main setting.

Why has the Holmes' sample dungeon, a tiny thirty-five year old creation, been such a mainstay of my FRPG revival these recent years?

Perhaps it's because when I first opened the Holmes' basic set and flipped through the pages of the rules for the first time and I came across that crude dungeon map, my imagination and wonder and curiosity was forever sparked.

My basic set came with the module B: In Search Of The Unknown and we played the hell out of that one as I'm sure many of you have as well.  A great starter dungeon and learning tool without a doubt.

But the Sample Dungeon was a deadly maze, fully stocked with monsters, treasures, pirates, wizards tricks and traps and intersecting corridors to challenge even experienced characters and players as soon as they pass through that first four-way intersection.  It was and still is the best example of what Dungeons & Dragons was/is/could be.  It was a complete work and adventure that came in a set of rules. It has never been topped since.  The 'sample' dungeon in the DM Guide is incomplete as is the sample Haunted Keep in the Moldvay rules.

Holmes' threw everything at you to make a fun and exciting dungeon experience.  His brief and colorful portrait of the history of the tower of Zenopus and Portown with it's Green Dragon Inn and the author's permission for expansion has always made this the crossroads of that moment when the game was presented as just sit down and jump right in to one that become monetized over time.

That aside, when I was looking to get a campaign started I knew I'd be running an early adventure of come sort.  I figured B1 (ISOTU) and B2 (Keep on the Borderlands) were both probably all overplayed but Holmes' sample dungeon was just obscure enough to give folks a taste of a fun old school dungeon adventure.  I figured we'd play it out in a couple of sessions and then move on.  Little did I realize that this little sample dungeon would become the hub of a campaign that has been going on for forty-two plus sessions.  Of course I changed Portown to Caladan from Holmes' Maze of Peril, his prose story based on his own campaigns within his world where the sample dungeon comes from.

I have to say it IS my favorite dungeon.

That is why I have chosen to pay homage to it over and over again, in our campaign, in the radio play and now in the animation project because it really is that great.  It speaks volumes to what Holmes added to this hobby.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Warlock Moving Ahead...

As  you know here at the Home Brew I've dabbled in quite a few media projects related to fantasy adventure all for your enjoyment.  From RPG aids and modules, to illustrations, to comics, pulp magazines to radio plays my interests vary widely and I like to explore them and make them available here that hopefully some of you enjoy.

One of my early loves besides comics and movies was animation. At the age of five I would draw slightly changing pictures in the corners of books to make flip-book animations.  With the release of Star Wars (episode Star Wars) and a few too many Ray Harryhausen flicks, I was inspired even more into animation first exploring animating Star War Figures for my version of Star Wars 2 and later into claymation. 

I still have these many original super-8 films stored away (I've never transferred them to video or anything though I still have a super-8 movie projector) and soon after went on to study film and animation in college.

But film and animation gave way to the bass guitar and I moved on to becoming a professional musician for 13 years and eventually found my way into graphic design.

I've always tried to keep connected to my first true loves mentioned above - a great trait that I have which I am grateful for!  So now I'm dabbling back into the long hours of animation.

So, what am I animating?  We'll for my first project I'll be animating a good ol' Dungeons and Dragons inspired cartoon based on the Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus radio play we did last year.

As I work on this project over the next year or so I'll be posting sketches, stills and clips to keep you all informed on the progress of my little undertaking. I've already begun some work on it so you'll be seeing it soon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Session XLII: Sparks

Session characters
Slick Vinny................Human Theurgist
Skwanky Furrytoe...............Halfling Hero
Arg...............Half-orc Grunt (3rd level)
Gnarly Blunderbush...............Human Initiate of the 4th Circle

Over six months have past since Arvin's Avengers defeated father Halford's undead army and destroyed his Temple of the Black Sun.  In that time, Lord Morak's rule has become more solidified within Caladan  Any small uprising against Morak was quickly and violently put to rest.  Overall, his rule isn't overly cruel and the town slowly returns to it's regular prosperity but he does have other things on his mind...

Talk of the defeat of the undead army that were harassing travelers on the road south of Caladan gives the citizens something to debate, discuss and sing about.  Arvin's Avengers are initially looked upon as heroes. Traders and gypsies gather around the tower to sell their wares.  But that is short lived, however, as the murder of a number of traders, their blood drained, raise the superstitions about the mysterious tower once again and the mysterious Lady in White.  Not to mention Gnarly's numerous Mushroom-men roaming the grounds.  The tower and it's heroic inhabitants were once again shunned.

To protect her father's life, Lemunda agreed to wed Morak.  Osric still lives within the grounds of the former Merchant Guild but is a broken man. 

Kushanna's troops move through the city and gather in the plains north of the Iron Hills and Harrowood.  Arvin's Avengers receive word via Tuk the Owl that small skirmishes have taken place between Kushanna's and Blackmoor's troops.  It is felt that the siege of Blackmoor will begin soon.

A letter is received by the occupants of the Moontower attached to the foot of Steve the Raven.  It reads:


Signed with what can only be considered the stamp of Morak.

Gnarly questions Steve the Raven and discovers that a Stygian wizard Zadir is working with Morak and that Zadir is the raven's master.

There was much debate as to how to handle the summons.  Vinny felt that this was a trap for Arvin's Avengers and he wanted to attack Morak the night before and catch him by surprise - just the four of them (a typical D&D plan). Gnarly was a bit more cautious and Skwanky and Arg could just really go either way.  So it was decided to send a response via Gnarly's owl Tuk.  The response arrogantly stated that Arvin's Avengers declared the Moontower and Harrowood sovereign nations outside the rule of Lord Morak and they would be sending two emissaries to converse with Lord Morak.

The two emissaries were Arg (a short-tempered half-orc with a 4 Charisma and Skwanky - and we all know what kind of trouble Skwanky gets into).  While they headed over to the meeting with Lord Morak, Vinny turned Gnarly, Tuk and two Mushroom-men invisible so that they may sneak into the manor after Arg and Skwanky.  Vinny, however, had his own plan.  He would turn himself invisible, levitate off the ground, and pump himself over the wall with a bellows. However, with his Strength being only a 4, he cast Strength upon himself to make it so he can actually perform that feat.

Arg and Skwanky were escorted in to meet a furious Morak who was insulted by the lack of respect and interest from the Moontower's  occupants.  The ever 'diplomatic' Arg insulted Morak to his face and Morak called his guards to capture them and remove them to the dungeons.

Arg and Skwanky did not take that at all and drew their weapons to attack Morak while the guards rushed in.  However, hiding in the wings, the Stygian wizard Zadir cast sleep upon the two Avengers and they were taken away unconscious.

Meanwhile, Vinny was hovering above the grounds charming various guards.  Two guards minding the door to the thrown room are persuaded by his 'ethereal' voice to let him in.  They do and Gnarly follows but one Mushroom-man is left outside.

Inside the thrown-room they saw a wounded Morak being tended to by his guards, Zadir the wizard and a mysterious woman - Zenopus the Vampire!

Seeing an opportunity to destroy all their enemies at once, Vinny, using the Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak, cast a fireball at the group, in doing so, making himself visible.  The fireball exploded and killed most of the guards, wounded the wizard, vampire and Morak and set the room's tapestries aflame.  But before they got a chance to react to Vinny's surprise, the magical Avenger surrounded them with a wall of flame.

To cause even more confusion, Gnarly cast pyrotechnics, through his owl Tuk, upon the flaming room causing to flames to explode into fireworks and sparks!

Zenopus the Vampire
But Vinny's surprised was short lived as Zadir dispels the wall of flame and Zenopus flew through the air to attack.  Vinny called his charmed guards over to defend him but Zenopus easily places them under her control and puts them to sleep.  She then attacked Vinny.

Gnarly, meanwhile, shrouded the throne in a concealing mist and he and his Mushroom-man attacked Morak and Zadir.  The wizard Zadir fled for his life as the Mushroom-man pummeled the wounded Morak.

Finally, Gnarly Blunderbrush lifted his spear and with a vengeful shout: "This is for Arvin Ardmore of the Temple of Mithra!" pierced the heart of Morak, killing him.  Thus Arvin Ardmore had been avenged (from waaaay back in session 5)!

With Vinny drained of blood from the Vampire's 'kiss', Zenopus picked him up and carried him off to her lair...

Gnarly high-tailed it out of the throne-room being chased by the palace guards and leaped off the terrace into the ocean far below....

Arg and Skwanky are imprisoned in the castle's dungeon, but without Morak to rule what will become of them or Caladan?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Return To Swords & Wizardry

It's been quite a while since I've posted here and it's even been much longer since our group has ran around with swords and axes in our Swords & Wizardry campaign. 

Our last session was December 9th to be exact.  In between we've played some board games, ran quite a successful Golden Age Icons campaign and even dipped our toes into D&D Next. But there's nothing like coming back home to the city of Caladan and the Ruined Tower of Zenopus with everyone's favorite PCs.

It was a session to remember with nothing going according to my carefully laid plans thanks to the usual suspects taking it off the rails.  Always a better session when that happens. 

Revenge!  Wizard battles!  Vampires!  Major NPC deaths!  PC death!

This three hour session had quite a lot going on.  I'll get to a full recap in the next couple of days but it looks like Swords & Wizardry is back with a vengeance!