Friday, October 27, 2017

The Second Generation

Inspired by a now-I-can't-find-it G+ thing.
  Like the header says, I've been playing D&D and other TRPGs for 40 years and going. RPGs are my hobby of choice. My first planned date with my now-wife was a D6 Star Wars session (which I must write up some day). The default present my friends get me is a bundle consisting of a college-ruled notebook, a book of graph paper, and a pack of mechanical pencils.
  My wife has been playing with me since we met, obviously. Once we began having kids we all knew it was just a matter of time. Our oldest (Jack) was inventing D&D monsters when he was 4 (and the lemon devil is feared in my campaigns to this day!). Jack was reading the AD&D PHB by 6 and asking to play soon after, but his 3 younger brothers interrupted a lot, so he and I played a lot of Starfleet Battles, instead.
  Finally, it happened. Nick, the then-youngest, turned 6 and had a ton of patience. I had been working on an AD&D 2e S&P campaign (my wife's favorite RPG is 2e with all the Skills and Powers books!). The wife and kids all made characters, and we started a dedicated campaign from 1st level.
  The climax, although not end, for that first party is here.
  In the 9 years since we have played a ton of RPGs ranging from the Battletech RPG to HERO 6e to a series of playtest sessions for Rolemaster Unified. Three of my four oldest have DM'ed at least a bit and a common lament from Nick is that we need to become independently wealthy so we have the time to play 8 hours a day 4 to 5 days a week. The oldest is running his own group with friends at a FLGS and the kids even run their own games (usually 4e or 5e) among themselves.

  One thing that I have noticed is - while I know a fair amount of fellow gamers with kids who play, mine seem older. Jack is almost 21, for example.
  So here are some of my observations about my own older second generation players

They Have No Idea How Good They Are
  Outwitting traps, puzzles, etc. in games? Modules made by others? Sometimes they don't notice that there is a trick because it is so intuitive to them. My favorite was from the Hidden Shrine
  I run a 'classic' module every Halloween weekend. Usually heavily modified.
  I was running the 'inverted' version where they start outside. They get to the top.
  They see the altar to the bat god. The conversation went something like:
  Jack: "Mayincatec altar; bat god. We obviously need to spill blood to open a secret door."
  Sam: "Into the bat mouth. Probably has to be fresh, too."
  Nick: "I bet it bites down."
  Alex: "Obviously it won't let go; use the Bag of Beans."
  Jack: "Certainly."
  [end SPOILERS]
  Here's the thing; I've never used vaguely Aztec stuff before, I think I've hit the party with 4 traps ever, and none of them had read the thing!
  They do this sorta' thing all the damn time, too.
  Now I just assume I have to make everything 25% more deadly and that 2 or 3 of my 3 twists won't work.

Time Sucks Don't Work
  I gave up on giving them timed  quests and then trying to distract them. Oh, I'll give a time limit, but I just know that no amount of 'there might be gold if you pause' works.

They're Opinionated
  This may be genetic.
  Nick? He's an AD&D, no Unearthed Arcana, 3d6 in order and suck it up, kinda' guy. There is no other "real" Dungeons & Dragons. He hates that I use my house rules in my 38 year old campaign and mentions it a lot.
  That's just an example.
  Thing is? Its wonderful. They can logically defend their opinions and aren't unwilling to try new or other things. Their strong opinions lead to, oh, Nick's many great new magic items, or Jack's wildly original campaign settings or Alex's stellar roleplaying at the table, or Sam's keen insight into design.

They Love RPGs
  They love that I have for this crazy pastime? They caught it. It is something we share and that binds our family together.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Classic Traveller: More for the Clash of Stars Campaign - Mercenary Cruiser and Mercenary Company

  I never really liked the mercenary cruiser from Classic Traveller. Once I was in the army, I liked it less. So I took the opportunity to make my version of a mercenary unit and cruiser for my new Traveller campaign!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Superhero Book is Coming: A Sneak Peek

  The Fun Lads and I have been working on a new superhero book for months. Here is a sneak peek at one of the characters.

His Story- Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard Hazzard (or  just 'Beau') was born in rural Alabama near Bakerhill the oldest of five children born to Jeb Stuart 'Stu' Hazzard and Roberta Leeanne 'Bobbi Lee' (Macon) Hazzard. His father worked his own farm and pulled second shifts at a chicken processing plant to pay off the mortgage while his mother played organ in church and organized free meals for new mothers, the sick, and the needy throughout the county.
  He worked on the farm from as soon as he could walk and developed a knack for repairing machinery with 'make do' parts and tools. He was fiercely protective of his younger siblings and was soon known as a good fighter and for his strength.
  He did well in school and would have had better than decent grades if he hadn't preferred hunting, fishing, and working on cars to homework.
  At about age 16 he realized that puberty was a bit different for him. By 17 he knew he was superhuman and soon learned how tough and strong he was, as well as his ability to fly. He reined it in for years until, just after graduating high school a fire at the state fair threatened scores of people. He seized a 1,000 water tank and doused the flames with it while flying, an act captured on dozens of cameras.
  A bystander referred to him as 'that freebird lookin' good ole boy' and the name stuck.

What he looks like- In some ways he is so nondescript as to defy description. He is a man in his early 20's with brown hair, brown eyes, a muscular build without looking like a bodybuilder, and a perpetual smile. He never wears a mask, but is almost never recognized.
  The closest thing he has to a 'costume' is what he typically wears when expecting trouble: steel-toed work boots, jeans, a t-shirt with an American flag, and a confederate battle flag bandanna over his hair.

What he can do- He is one of the strongest and toughest superhumans in the world, maybe the strongest and toughest. He is immune to almost all diseases, all known toxins, and radiation. He can fly at speeds up to mach 12. His senses are only as good as a normal man, but he is a skilled observer with a lifetime of hunting experience.
  He is an excellent mechanic and craftsman, a decent tracker, and has a lot of experience with people. He is a skilled fighter with a lot of experience before he gained powers.
  A life-long hunter, he is a savvy opponent who will take his time to study a foe, search for traps, recon all possible exits, etc. He is much more stealthy than most assume and is quite capable of sneaking up to within arm's reach of even an alert foe.

What he's like- He was raised to be a Southern gentleman, and it shows. He is unfailingly polite,  uses 'sir' and 'ma'am' as appropriate, will never swear in public or in front of women or children, and will never lie. He will never cheat, steal, or rob anyone. He has a strong sense of honor and will keep his word. He will also defend his honor and one of the worst mistakes you can make is to lie to, cheat, rob, or betray him.
  He judges others by their words and deeds, not on appearance education, or wealth. That being said, he is wary of Northerners and urbanites.
  He loves helping people for its own sake and will never seek out attention, the press, or accolades. He is very selfless and giving of his time and attention, especially to children.
  He is aware that others sometimes mistake his dress and drawl for ignorance or stupidity and will play that to his own advantage.

Classic Traveller: Ships for the Clash of Stars Campaign

  As I wrote just today I am gearing up for a CT campaign focused in a TL 9 interstellar nation. Here are a few of the homebrew ships.

Classic Traveller Campaign the Clash of Stars: Setting Details

  Hi, everyone! Posting has been light due to a new contract keeping me at work long hours, but gaming has been going on in the background.
  I have mentioned the general setting before.
  I have mentioned a few more details and even a starmap before [althought the final map will differ].
  Let's get down to some nuts and bolts!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Challenge! - Notes on a New Setting

My oldest son and I had a real-life adventure yesterday. we had to drive 100 miles or so to pick something up for friends and on the way back the van stalled. One good samaritan Southern gentleman, a roadside assistance program complimentary tow, and a cargo transfer later and all was well .
The fact my oldest is also a certified mechanic means the total repair cost was zero, too.

During this 10 hours of driving, hauling, waiting, waiting, lifting, waiting, and waiting my son issued a mild challenge.
My primary campaign, Seaward, uses AD&D 1e in a setting that is a mish-mash of European fantasy with steam-powered horses, fire lances, and merchants from the moon.
My secondary campaign, Blackstone, is a very standard European fantasy setting with some Oriental, Middle Eastern, and Jungle settings.
He challenged me to make a setting that is totally "non-standard".

Sunday, September 17, 2017

HackMaster 5th Edition Play: After Session 1 of 2

Back in The Day I was an early buyer of HackMaster 4th and was a low-counter member of the HackMaster Association as a registered GM. Tons of fun - I loved carrying my card around. I ran a HackMaster 4 campaign for a few years (heavily modified to get the satire out) and ported a version of the honor rules into my new AD&D 2e S&P campaign 8 years ago.

Naturally I was a pre-order guy for the HackMaster 5th Kacklopedia and PHB. I got Frandor's Keep the day I could. The Fun Lads Four and the wife all made characters and we started at Frandor's, running 5 sessions or so.

And we hated it. We all remembered the combat as wonky and confusing and the play as disjointed. 

I didn't pre-order the GMG and we put the books on the shelf in my storage room that it climate controlled. After 3 years sitting on the shelf I was moving books around and the PHB cover had simply fallen off. From sitting there.
I let Kenzerco know and they very promptly shipped me a free replacement (the batch my first one came from had a known issue). Excellent customer service!

About 10 days ago Sam persuaded me, Jack, and Nick to make 4th level characters, play two sessions, and see if it was still an issue.

This is what happened.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Guest Post: The Beauty of Weapon Selection in AD&D1e by Jack

     The gameplay balance between classes in 1st Edition ADnD is very frequently misunderstood.  As has been previously observed on this blog, the most common victim of these misunderstandings is the humble fighter. To be fair to those that bash the old melee-brawling hero, a cursory reading of the rules does seem to indicate that they underperform compared to their magically-endowed teammates, and I'm not just referring to the ever-undying "linear warriors, quadratic wizards" concept. Even at levels 1-5, fighters may appear to simply be weaker than clerics and, at the last of those levels, than magic-users.

     At first blush, too, the good ol'-fashioned number-crunching math appears to back this up. Clerics have hit points that lag behind fighters by an average of just 1 point per level.  While that can certainly be the difference between life and death, especially at low levels, it is not a wide margin. This is particularly true because clerics have all the same armor proficiencies as fighters, closing the survivabilitiy gap even further. Similarly, while fighters get nicely ahead in terms of THAC0 progression at 3rd level, clerics nearly catch up with them when their combat abilities finally improve at 4th. Again, the 1 point difference here matters, but not by much. So, seeing as the only ability of the fighter is to stand there swinging his sword and taking hits, while the cleric trades mere 1 point gaps in that ability for the power to cast several heal, buff, and combat support spells each day, it stands to reason that fighters are useless, right? Heck, a properly-provisioned magic-user of 5th level can deal out average damage well in excess of 50 points in a mere 5 rounds, which is far better than the average damage of a sword in that time. So with a battle-oriented thaumaturgist blasting away and a cleric pulling double duty as a fighter to keep the bad guys off him, the poor old fighter turns out to be useless, right?


     Wrong! Contrary to popular belief, analyzing the game carefully reveals that fighters do indeed have powers beyond being marginally better at taking and dealing hits than everyone else. The ability I'm going to focus on in this article is their remarkable ability to use any weapon.

     Fighters can be proficient in any weapon! If you don't think that's amazing, you clearly haven't read the books enough. Sure, clerics have access to the footman's mace, which has some really excellent damage, and the footman's flail, which has amazing armor type adjustments.  Heck, mere thieves can use the long sword, which is the best one-handed weapon for attacking size large targets. The thing is, though, that fighters have access to all those, plus weapons such as the two-handed sword, which as the best damage dice of any footman's weapon in the game and incredible armor type adjustments; the glaive-guisarme, which does nearly as much damage with less space required and more reach; the ranseur, with all its overpowered special attacks in the footnotes; the lance, which is literally twice as powerful as the two-handed sword on a charge; or, if they want to fight smarter, not harder, the humble spear, a one-handed weapon with reach, low required space, and the ability to set for charge or be thrown. Any one of these armaments can take a fighter from just barely edging past the cleric in combat output to leaving his priestly counterparts in the dust completely.

     You know what's scarier than that, though? Bows. Bows do a d6 of damage and fire twice a round, and, in the case of a longbow at least, can do so out to a ridiculous distance. Compare that to the best ranged weapon of non-fighter classes, the thief's sling, which does 1d4+1 once a round, or the fact that clerics have no ranged weapons whatsoever except for the thrown club or warhammer, and fighters have the entire aspect of ranged combat almost entirely to themselves. Even magic-users utterly fail to keep up with a bowman's overall damage output unless they empty all their spells at once.

     On that note, let's go back and crunch some numbers again. At 4th level, a fighter will have a THAC0 of 17, hitting an AC 10 target 70% of the time, while a cleric will have a THAC0 of 18, hitting the same target 65% of the time. Average damage with a footman's mace is 4.5 points, while average damage with a two handed sword is 5.5 points. Against a size large target, though, the gap is much more significant, at 3.5 points versus a whopping 10.5 points, respectively. This means that against an AC 10, size medium target, the cleric still isn't really too far behind, doing an average of 29.25 points of damage per turn, compared to the fighter's 36.5. Versus an AC 10, size large target, however, the cleric does a per-turn average of merely 22.75, while the fighter has a whopping 73.5 points!

     Now, let's take the fighter to 5th level, and run his numbers with a bow, instead. His THAC0 is now 16, for a 75% hit rate against AC 10, and he now fires twice a round for 3.5 points of average damage against both size medium and size large. So, over the course of a seven rounds, he will do an average of 36.75 points of damage. Why did I pick seven rounds, you ask? Because a magic-user of the same level only has seven spells a day total. Assuming he memorized magic missiles for all 4 of his first level spells, Melf's acid arrow for both his second level spells, and fireball for his third level spell, that he hits with both acid arrows, and that his target fails his saving throw against the fireball, said magic-user will do an average total damage of 76.5 points of damage, just over twice as much as the fighter did (oddly enough, the damage from magic missiles exceeded that of fireball and the acid arrows combined. Food for thought). This sounds starkly in the wizard's favor, until you realize that the magic-user has now shot his bolt and is done for the day, after preparing for nothing but combat. Meanwhile the fighter is only starting to dip into his second quiver of arrows. Plus, an ogre charging the wizard makes it almost impossible for him to survive, while an ogre charging the fighter actually increases his total damage output. And an arrow nicking the fighter merely annoys him while an arrow nicking the wizard causes between 10.5 and 17.5 of those points of average damage to disappear permanently. Note that we didn't give our hypothetical fighter any magic items (and if the fighter has no magic items, it doesn't make much sense for the wizard to have spells he didn't start with, does it?). And so on, and so forth.

     To me, the take away from this analysis is that the classes are balanced. The argument can be made that, with spells available to them such as protection from evil, bless, or cure light wounds balancing out their slight mathematical inferiority, clerics are actually better than fighters at fighting size medium targets hand-to-hand. However, fighters are clearly superior at dealing with large, dangerous targets such as ogres and giants, and at ranged combat (plus, this analysis is leaving out the mechanic for bonus attacks against creatures with less than a hit die, but that's an article for another time). Meanwhile, magic-users have an absolutely tremendous short-term damage potential, but that's all they have in combat: short-term damage potential. Fighters are leagues more survivable, and can fight indefinitely compared to characters reliant on spell memorization. So, in order to have a tactically effective party, you really need all the classes, even the ones that seem like all they're good for is taking hits and swinging their swords.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Quick Take: The Orcs of Seaward

West of the Stone Hills stretch the Orcish City-States. Five times in the past they have been united under and Overking and each time have threatened to conquer the human, dwarven, and elven nations that surround them.

Gramak Kor- Broken Bone cult. The closest and largest. Known for fielding disciplined pike formations. Counting allies and slaves the city is said to have up to 29,000 humanoids in its walls

Hranath Kor- Dripping Blade cult. Ancient rivals of Gramak Kor. Their king is said to be a master swordsman. Allied with a large ogre tribe.

Turrkan Kor- Vile Rune cult. Distant and mysterious, but known to be feared by other orcs for their magic.

Sharmat Kor- Leprous Hand Cult. Only orcs known to have cavalry. Foes of the Horse Keshi to the Southwest.

The Orcs of the Evil Eye- With very, very few exceptions all orc shamans, witchdoctors, and hedge mages are members of the Cult of the Evil Eye. This cult is focused on orcish domination of other races and its members strive to get orcs to work together.

The Panoply of the Overking- According to sages and legends when an orc chieftain can gather 2 or more items from the Panoply of the Overking he can “bid” ot be Overking of all the cults. This typically involves conquering the other tribes with the powers of the items. But any chief that gains all 5 will be proclaimed the Overking and win the immediate loyalty of all orcs, an even that has happened only one other time.

According to tales when an Overking dies if he has no worthy heir the devilish patron of the orcs hides the items so that the next Overking can prove his worth by finding them.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

DM Report: Battle in the Ruins of Karkosi

I am going to try to summarize about 3 weeks of notes, talks, and short sessions and today's long session!

The characters:
Ursula 3rd level halfling thief
Athanasius 3rd level human cleric. has a 1st level paladin henchman named Edward and a 1st level    monk henchman named  Chun
Starkiller a 3rd/2nd/3rd half-elf fighter/magic-user/cleric
Greystar a 3rd level human mage with a 1st level fighter henchman named Karlsson
Telnar a 6th level human cleric and party leader
Greystar also has 4 hireling spearmen

Monday, August 28, 2017

GM Report: Champions on the Street

  I have been making noises about starting another Champions campaign for years. The last three I ran were all high-point supers games, one akin to the Legion of Super-Heroes where every character had to e capable of surviving deep space and FTL travel somehow.
 This time? Street level!

  I sat down with  he three players, Jack, Sam, and Nick, and we agreed on a point range (175 points, 50 complications), Normal Characteristics for no points, and no equipment points for PCs. We also decided we wanted a gritty, hardcore vibe, like Punisher. I finally get to use the amazing supplement Hudson City: The Urban Abyss. If you do any game set in the contemporary world, get that supplement!

Warlord- Jack made a melee combat specialist that uses sword, akin to Deathstroke, but lower points. The usual 'vigilante mix' of stealth, streetwise, etc. Minor contacts. Background of being a professional killer.

Wyvern- Sam made a former sniper with a drinking problem (inside joke) with the 'vigilante mix' of skills, minor contacts, etc. No real melee ability, but excellent sniping and pistol skills.

Wizard- Nick went toward a Dove build and is subverting the system; very skills heavy, all defensive martial arts, not killing attacks, etc. He's a normal guy that wants to make a difference. He has a top-notch police contact.

  The various members either returned to their home or always lived in Hudson City. Warlord is obsessed with his mission, so he lives rough in empty warehouses, etc. Wyvern crashes in a flophouse. Wizard has a small condo. Their various contacts, streetwise checks, etc. pointed them all to a potential showdown between street gangs near Club 20, a nightclub popular with Hudson University students in the Forsythe neighborhood.
  The Carp gang (once the Carpenter Street Warriors) and the 21 gang (once the 21 Chains gang) had been engaged in low-level feuds over the drug trade around the club for months and both were facing the spectre of being too small to continue, so they were planning a final showdown.

The Adventure
  Each player told me in the pre-game that their character was going to scout the location of the probable fight in the afternoon, about 2. I have never seen a meet-cute come together on its own so smoothly!They all made excellent perception rolls so they all spotted each other! They also saw 4 Carps and 4 21s lurking in alleys across Moss Street from each other, probably prepping for the fight.
  Wyvern tried to snatch a lone 21 who was a block away, but his total lack of martial arts led to him getting stabbed before he shot the 21! The crew in the alley ran out and brought their comrade back, but the Carps took the opportunity to prepare an ambush. The vigilantes moved in, too. As the Carps faced down the 21s, Wyvern sniped a carp, initiating a firefight between the gang members.As the gang members wounded each other or downed each other Warlord waited, then leapt from the roof he was on among the 21s - his first blow severed the gun arm of a 21 and put him down.
  Wyvern downed another Carp and drew fire from the last one on his feet as Warlord gutted the last 21. Wizard closed with the last Carp and easily disarmed him, then kept him engaged with dodges, etc. until Wyvern put him down.

The PCs met up, exchanged contact info, and set up some meeting points. Since they crippled two gangs at once, met without the super-cliched 'superheroes always fight when they first meet' I gave them 2 character points each.

A ton of fun was had for an intro adventure. We will be working on out-of-band activities and such for a week.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Rumors of the South

The players are preparing an expedition to the nation south of Seaward - the Grand Duchy of Banath. Here is what they know:

 Lord Osmend of Whitehill; the grandson of a Knight of the Starry Banner and son of a Knight of the White Sun (a lawful good order) was seen as a paragon of virtue until he met the Lady Jacinth, a noblewoman from a distant land of Outremer. Within weeks of meeting her Whitehill proposed and soon thereafter he changed drastically. Within months of their wedding he had alienated his key advisors and eventually dueled with and killed his own younger brother, the paladin Asric called the Bold.
  The Lord Duke of Banath banished him but such was his personality that many of his men followed him, and many of the worst sorts flocked to his banner as he moved towards Treachers' Road. But while the Duke's Men were watching his soldiers Whitehill himself led a group of his toughest, most loyal men.
  Accompanied by the Lady Jacinth, members of the Slime Cult, and even a Prime Assassin, he assaulted the conclave where the Lord Duke's heir was meeting with the Lord Count of High Morath to negotiate a marriage. The only heir to Banath and the Lord Count of High Morath were killed. The High Mage of High Morath, the Magister of Banath, the Archbishop of Banalan, the Bishop of Maralan, the Constable of High Morath, and the Lord General of Banath joined their lords in death. Whitehill lost his best captains, his personal mage, and the cream of his soldiers, but he and his wicked wife were able to join his remaining forces in the Eastern Wilds north of the Treachers' Road.

  According to rumor he has taken the bodies of the Lord Count and the Banath heir with him to prevent Raise Dead.
 -Banath now has no heir, no Magister, and a young, inexperienced Archbishop. The two most-senior nobles below the Lord Duke are equal in claim to the throne and each has 3 sons and no daughters. The Lord Duke is old, ill, and in despair at the loss of his beloved son. Banath did not pursue Whitehill because they are braced for a three way civil war for the throne.
 -The Lady Count of High Morath is a girl of 19 with no High Mage, a new, inexperienced Bishop, and an army whose generals were just murdered along with her father. All six of the Great Houses have sons and all are angling to find a way to force her to marry their son to gain the throne.
 -At the same time, many people in High Morath blame Banath (Whitehill was a Banath nobleman) for the death of their ruler so skirmishes are popping up all along the border, threatening a war between the two nations.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Mapping the Briars: A Really Big Day

The party has been working really hard to do something never before done in 38 years of the campaign: develop a detailed map of the Briars.
  To explain both why this is a Big Deal and why it has never been done before, the Briars is hilly to very hilly terrain covered in thorns, briars, thickets, and thick copses of locust trees about 500 square miles in area. Between the trees often blocking clear sight of the sun or distant landmarks, the lack of clear trails in 90% of the area, and the short sightline (20 yards at most in the high briars!) parties get lost, on average, in 3 days. Clean water is limited, especially in the high briars, and food is wary and scarce. In Summer the weather is very hot and in Winter it is very cold. Travel is slow regardless. On foot, most parties get lost the first week, run out of water in the second week, and die of hunger, thirst, and exposure before they find the Old Road again.
  Then there are the monsters: kobold raiders, small ogre tribes, trolls, and the hippogriffs and gryphons always watching. On top of the commonplace poisonous spiders and asps the place is littered with corpses.

  The party continued, using their communication helm to stay on track, using magic items for food and water, and using the broom to confirm distant landmarks. Between the Saturday and Sunday sessions they spent 3 game months in the high briars, mapping. Here is what they encountered on Sunday:

  • Another kobold war band, quickly dispatched.
  • A group of 9 trolls (!!). A very dicey encounter that was almost as bad as Ol' One Fang. If hadn't been for their Marble Mastodon Figurine it would have been a TPK! As it was, it was a long fight that no one escaped with more than single digit hits. The party had to rest for a few days after, but they did get a Frostbrand from the nearby troll nest.
  • They saw the famous Red Horseman near Grandmother's hut
  • One night near the mountains the sentry spotted the Red Maiden and her massive owl watching them from about a mile away. He alerted the camp and they prepared for something Very Bad to happen with the two Scouts in full Prepared Ambush mode as the religious brother Byron warned them evil was approaching. A chimera burst from the briars right into the ambush and was quickly slain. During the fight the Red Maiden seemed to vanish so Seeker scouted where she had been - and realized she was merely watching while Invisible! After a time she flew away. He found a candy wrapper from a famous candy maker in Adrian with orange fur and black fur stuck to the toffee remnants. The Chimera reverted back into a kobold in an iron slave collar. Close inspection revealed that the collar and been bent into place by a being of incredible strength whose thumbs were on the 'wrong side'...
   Close to Skull Mountain and considering taking a rest, they realized - they had never scouted the mountain's exterior! They did so and mapped the trails around and over Skull Mountain. Nearby they found a campfire with the bare footprints of a human. They found a steep trail that led to a pass to High Morath and the land approach to the Deep. They also found a boulder with a small "cabin" inside it. A cabin that looked a bit like this:

  They eventually figured out how to activate a scrying device that had three different views. With Tongues and such they realized one was the Lunar News Network (whatever that means) and another was the General Education System. They also saw a brief bit that mentioned a wax that 'made swords immune to rust monsters! Special offer, order now! Just send the proper glyph to the second moon!"

  They returned to the Briars and a few days later found the dead body of Erena the Gorgeous, killed by repeated punches and kicks from a human with bare feet....

  On a whim, Seeker donned the communications helm and, at midnight, looked at the second moon and said,
  "I would like to speak to a sales representative."

  In the morning the Man in Purple had a tent nearby and was sitting at a table with the Man in Green. The party spent a prodigious amount of money to ask some questions. So many they were told they had to wait a year to ask more! They learned:

  1. No one knows what the Lurker is, just that Disintegration and lightning seem to cause it pain.
  2. Skull Mountain was originally ruled (and first dug) 8,000 years previously by the Titan of the Mountain. He vanished long, long ago but his brother, the Titan of the Volcano, still looks for him every Midsummer.
  3. Inside Skull Mountain is something called the Contraption that controls the various natural portals to the many elemental, para-elemental, and quasi-elemental planes natural to the mountain.
  4. The Sleeping Princess at remote station #1 is a Marid in a genie pact who is the centerpiece to making the Montanic lances work.
  5. Ol' Knobby was once an ogre, but he has lived in remote station #1 near a broken ward so he is bathed in intense magic while he lives and sleeps there. It has warped and changed him, making him bigger, stronger, smarter, and stealthier
  6. The Men in Colors trade with the royal family of the elves once a year; only the elvish royalty know about this.
  7. The battle they saw in the sky was mind flayers being driven off by the navy of the Duke of the Third Moon.
  8. Lord Whitehill works for the same person that commands the Red Maiden; the Red Maiden is, in fact, a rakshasa. The mysterious commander of them both wants them to create civil wars in Banath and High Morath.
  9. Rupert is a Claric//Magic-user vampire bound about with Geases, Quests, and curses so he is trapped in parts of Skull Mountain, but he could potentially be freed just by having the right conversations. In fact, he once was contained to one tiny room.
  The party learned that the Man in Green's special introductory offer for non-magical weapon wax was limited to 10 jars of the normal wax or 5 jars of the deluxe wax! Brigid bought 3 jars of the deluxe wax (enough for about 3 years) and is treating Mor Altach with it to protect her sword from rust, lightning, and magnetism.
  The Man in Green gave a few prices for skyships (hideously expensive) and mentioned that if they were to light the beacon at Midsummer a skyship would take them to the Third Moon for a per-person fee. The Man in Green gave Seeker a device that would allow him to place an order at will once. he also mentioned that if they wanted armor, weapons, etc. they would need to talk to the Man in Red.

  We broke for the weekend.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mapping the Briars: The Party Meets "Grandmother"

Today's game was about 5 hours. The party was using the tools seen here (using mapping, oculars, and magical communication to stay on track, etc.) Musad the genie is still collecting their reports, etc., too. The late Summer weather is much better (if freakin' hot) so travel was a touch easier.

Today they played through 6 weeks of game time. In addition to the asps, giant spiders, and rats they encountered:
- Many instances of hippogriffs, gryphons, etc. flying by
- A tribes of ogres (12 total) fleeing from Ol' Knobby's ambition. The party put them all down in 9 rounds and relatively low damage. The survivor accepted a parole to go to Goblintown after explaining the Ol' Knobby, no longer held back by Ol' One Fang, has ambitions of ruling the Briars.
  The party was also told that Ol' Knobby was horribly changed by some power and is a powerful, twisted creature.
- They fought a group of brigands and took out a 10th level mage with backstabs and spells and a 10th level fighter with Hold Person and a barbarian. The survivors accepted a parole to turn themselves into the baron of Esber.
- A war party of 17 kobolds totally surprised Brigid with 2 segments of surprise. Then the party slew them all.
- The met a brushman named Wilson. They spent the night in his cabin. In the morning Vasilissa traded a pie for one of Wilson's hams. The party spoke more with Vasilissa and WIlson explained how to be properly polite with Grandmother.

- They met Grandmother.

  The tiny old woman with fangs jutting up from her lower jaw almost to her eyes was 'rowing; her giant mortar with a giant pestle while an animated broom erased all evidence of her passage. She paused and spoke with the party.
  The party was very polite and deferential and gave her the traditional gifts: spices, fabric, and clean water. She praised them for their politeness and said she would welcome them for tea some day. She also told them to give Vasilissa a message that Grandmother would be late.
  Hours later they found a clearing. A circle of dragon femurs topped with human skulls (that followed the party with their gaze) surrounded a clearing 120 yards across with a small hut in the middle. Vasilissa was trimming roses by the hit and called a greeting, The party gave her the message, and she thanked them and said it was good they did as they were told.

  They left immediately. The general attitude was

  Things they learned from Vasilissa while at Wilson's include:

  • Grandmother is evil, maybe the most evil thing ever, but she has rules: she won't kill children unless they are 'naughty'; she won't harm the polite; she won't destroy cities unless their rulers have insulted her; etc.
  • Never, ever ask her a personal question: 'how do you do?' or 'would you like some honey in your tea?' = OK; 'how old are you?' or "where are you from?" = she eats you. While you're alive and screaming.
  • Vasilissa was sent by her stepmother to serve Grandmother as a servant because her late father owed a debt and Grandmother will forgive it in return for honest, loyal work. Vasilissa has been serving Grandmother for 4 years; in 2 more years, when Vasilissa turns 16, Grandmother will release her and 'reward her as is fitting' which means she might get gold, a powerful magic item, and a blessing. Or a prince for a husband, Or she might be cooked and eaten. It depends on how honest, loyal, and clever she was as a servant.

  We broke for the night and hope to continue tomorrow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gingersnap's Medicine: A Guest Post Play Report on 4e by my oldest

Ever since the game came out, nearly our whole family has entertained an on-again, off-again fascination with the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. On the one hand, it is completely and utterly not DnD, and is, in fact, a tabletop adaptation of MMORPG and other video game paradigms so completely that it barely qualifies as a role-playing game. On the other hand, it is an excellent game with well-made rules and a deeply entertaining gameplay process. Our consensus is that it is what it was designed very, very well, even if that design goal may have been suboptimal, and so we've come back to it briefly time and time again.

Our most recent revisiting of the system actually led a small group of us to play it, and we recently finished the first adventure of our odd little 3-man campaign. In order to fit the need for many characters on the field with only two actual players, we're running 3 PCs each, taking advantage of the more tactical and less in-character nature of the game to make this work. The individual encounters we faced, even the large and extended ones, were actually fairly short and sweet, so we were able to slip them in over the course of our day in small doses. The result was actually quite entertaining and fairly interesting at a theoretical level.

The player disposition was as follows:
N-the Gamemaster.
   Killroy Killigan, human fighter. Killroy is a polearm specialist with well-rounded stats and a power selection focused on the survivability of himself and his allies. What little characterization he has is centered on the fact that, while he is of good alignment, he likes fighting far, far too much.
   Archibald "Archie" Dickens, half-orc rogue. Archie is totally centered on doing as much damage as possible, with a very high dex, the Brutal Scoundrel class option, and Backstabber as his first feat all allowing him to do high damage with either dagger or shuriken. As a character, Archie is, despite growing up a lonely half-orc orphan, unstoppably cheerful, painfully chipper, and convinced of the power of positive thinking.
   Genericus McGi, elf druid. Genericus is a wildshape specialist who has stacked racial and class abilities to achieve an utterly ludicrous amount of battlefield mobility. He has sacrificed some damage potential to do so, but is still a very workable controller. His dedication to protecting nature and revering the power of the untamed wild totally clashes with every other character's personality, allowing him to act as the straight man of J's group.
   Erobern, dragonborn warlord. Erobern's charisma score of 18 makes him a terrifyingly powerful inspiration-warlord. His power selection allows him to fight on the front lines with the other warriors, but still causes him to shed combat buffs on all nearby allies on a continuous basis. The only character in the party not of good alignment, Erobern entertains ambitions to one day conquer the world, though he's careful not to let his allies get too wise to this.
   Tordek Valladwarf, dwarven paladin. The culmination of a years-long running gag about a character who fulfills the party role of, "Wall of Dwarf," Valladwarf has selected all of his abilities and feats with the double goal of making himself as unkillable as possible and of making himself as much of a target as possible. He does both excellently. He also has even less characterization than the other PCs, in keeping with his role as the Wall of Dwarf.
   Stark, human sorceror, AKA, "The Swoleceror." As a sorceror, Stark has a high charisma score, but his most important stat is his 18 strength, which the Dragon Magic class feature allows him to use for spellcasting and armor class in addition to physical damage. His area of effect damage potential is enormous, even at first level, and the combination of a feat that allows him to turn any spell into a melee attack with his Dragon Magic feature allows him to literally muscle through any problem. As expected, he speaks with a, "surfer dude," accent, and is obsessed with physical perfection.

Through some bizarre, convoluted chain of events yet to be touched upon, all 6 of these characters somehow became fast friends before the first adventure. So, when Stark's estranged uncle died and unexpectedly left him the deed to his enormous mansion in a walled frontier village, the entire party decided to move in together as roommates to seek out the nearby adventures rumoured to exist all around the Village. 

When they arrived, they were greeted by the Village Elder, who turned out to have been so thoroughly briefed on the legal situation of the Mansion that he basically served as the executor of the Uncle's will. He showed us to the Manor and gave us the keys, and we were able to explore it and take stock of what was inside. The Manor was rundown and semi-abandoned, as the Uncle was just reclusive enough to not keep any servants to care for it; but the house was still far and away large and well-furnished enough to serve as a comfortable base indefinitely. 

While exploring, Genericus' preposterously high perception check triggered, and he noticed a secret door. Behind the door were stairs leading down into a large, bare room, with a jail cell-like door in the opposite well that led to another large, bare room. The second room, however, contained an inverted pentacle engraved on the floor, which contained an enormous iron snake with glowing purple eyes. Simply entering the room was enough for Erobern to become dazed and slowed, so we beat a hasty retreat.

We decided to leave this alone for now.

After we finished our tour, we were called to the stable by the Village Elder, and informed of the other part of the will. It turned out that the will also contained strict and sternly-worded instructions that Stark was to take extremely good care of his Uncle's horse, Gingersnap, which had served as a beloved pet who comforted him greatly in his last days. Obviously, he also informed us that Gingersnap had become gravely ill with an unknown disease just a few days earlier, and, after our druid rolled a 1 on his nature skill check, the only hope for the horse's survival was the eccentric herbalist Hermit who lived on the edge of town.

So, keen not to trigger any negative contingencies that might be hidden in the will, we set out to meet the Hermit. We arrived to find his hut battened down, closed tightly and surrounded by wolves, and nearly caused a severe faux pas when Genericus used a high nature roll to dismiss them into the forest, only for us to find out that the wolves were actually his tamed pets. Luckily, the Hermit was a friendly, absentminded fellow, and we were easily able to fast talk our way out of that particular problem. Unfortunately, he then informed us that Gingersnap was sick with an extremely rare disease that required many esoteric and rarely-gathered herbs to cure. Obviously, he was also currently out of said herbs due to using them to cure a nobleman's prized steed just a few months prior. The only way he knew to get more was through negotiations with a friendly tribe of lizardfolk that lived in the Baneful Swamp, a nearby landmark. He assured us, however, that this tribe was very friendly and their chieftain knew him by name, so as long as we sought out the lizardman with the large, blue headdress, we'd be fine.

With this advice behind us, we set out, and, later that same day, arrived at the outskirts of the Baneful Swamp. Not long after that, we found a forward picket for the lizardfolk tribe with a couple of guards manning it. However, unexpectedly (for our characters, at least), these guards turned out to have a xenophobic hatred for outsiders, and attacked us despite our efforts at diplomacy.

Luckily, our initiative rolls were superb, and the entire party was able to act before them. With the opening move, Archie did a shuriken sneak attack for more than twenty points of damage, bloodying one of the guards instantly. After that, all 3 martial fighters advanced in short order, and engaged the battle fairly successfully, although Valladwarf was cursed with unluck for the whole battle, and rarely landed a hit. Genericus was shouldered out of the way somewhat by this, but moved to flank regardless. Stark opened up a barrage of acid orbs and stormwalk thunderbolts, but similarly missed with his first few attacks. Luckily, the guards also had some accuracy problems, so we were dealing with them handily.

To complicate matters, however, reinforcements came shortly after the battle began. These consisted of a pair of enormous lizardmen with greatclubs and spines on their tails that dripped poison, which left us a little worried. They joined the engagement quickly, and we found ourselves in a massive brawl. Killroy and Erobern fought hard and did significant hand-to-hand damage, though Killroy was poisoned for a worrying amount of damage, and Valladwarf did his job of sucking up attacks for the rest of the party beautifully. Unfortunately, a slight mismanagement of positioning prevented Genericus and Stark from using their area of effect attacks without hitting Valladwarf, forcing Stark to use only his at-will powers, and Genericus to continue to hang out at the edge of the fray. Archie, however, proved to be the MVP of the battle. By maneuvering behind the main engagement, he was able to continue to sneak attack, and since his main at-will power targeted reflex rather than AC, his accuracy was excellent.

Before long, we noticed that another lizardman had stealthily made his way to the edge of the combat, and was loading a dart into a blowpipe in a perfect flanking position. Sensing he finally had an opportunity to contribute, Genericus charged the newcomer in wildshape form, and pounced on him. Unfortunately, it was only after he hit that he heard the dart sniper cry out in Common, "No no! I'm on your side!" Both mortified by this, the unexpected allies moved on to join the fight for real, with Dart Guy immediately starting to take potshots at the club-wielders, and Genericus finally getting a chance to do some real damage.

Not long after that, the battle was won. The same guard that got sneak attacked in the first 3 seconds of combat had also been hammered by Killroy and Stark, and was on death's door. The other guard wasn't looking too good, either. Furthermore, while one of the club users still wasn't bloodied, the other had sucked up a sneak attack and multiple hits from Erobern and Valladwarf. The real cinch for the engagement was when Archie closed to near-melee range and used the daily power Blinding Barrage to make a shuriken attack against every present. The high damage of this attack, combined with a sneak attack-ferocious strike combo against the injured club user and the attack's blinding effect, dropped half of the enemies and left the other two so vulnerable that the other characters were able to finish them with impunity. This satisfying success led me to shout, "I am an orc ninja!"

Afterwards, Dart Guy led us down a masterfully concealed path, from which we were able to distantly observe the lizardfolk village, where we could see the poison-tailed lizardfolk, led by an enormously tall and heavy-set blue-scaled chieftain, oppressively leading the bulk of the tribe as slaves. At the end of the path was a hidden gazebo where we were able to rest long enough to recover our full hit points and daily powers. While we were there, Dart Guy explained to us that his tribe was once a peaceful, friendly one led by a deeply spiritual shaman-chief. However, not long before, a human had come to their village, and led the rebellious warrior Bigscale astray, causing him to ally with the rival Poisonscale clan and conquer his erstwhile tribe. In order to maintain a hold over his new slaves, Bigscale kept the chieftain and his top men hostage rather than killing them, which was the only ray of hope for Dart Guy, who was the only warrior to escape with his freedom. In exile, Dart Guy had obsessively scouted out his village, and worked out a route that could take him with a small force right up to the prison where the Chief was kept without them being spotted. He believed that we were the just the chance he had been looking for, and promised that if we helped him save his tribe, they would certainly give us whatever supplies we needed.

We agreed to this deal, for the sake of both Gingersnap and the lizardmen themselves. Early the next morning, we set out for the attack, and before long, we sprang our sneak attack on the prison guards. Unfortunately, the somewhat difficult terrain of the boggy village area restricted our movement enough that our surprise was wasted in making a partial approach. After that, we fared poorly for the first couple rounds of combat. Archie, Stark, and Erobern all repeatedly missed with everything they tried, and the others barely fared any better. And, while the guards luckily missed with all of their encounter power Javelins, they had freakish accuracy in hand-to-hand, and did good damage to Killroy, Genericus, and Valladwarf. 

Things started to look up at the end of the second round, though. Dart Guy successfully busted the prison where the chief and his men were imprisoned, and they broke out equipped for battle to engage the nearby guards, allowing Genericus and Archie to break of their attempted flanking to focus on the force the rest of the party was engaging. Immediately afterwards, however, with the alarm being raised, two more guards arrived to fight the chief, and Bigscale himself came crashing out of the brush behind us, charging the party!

The final part of the battle consisted of all 6 PCs in a climactic confrontation with Bigscale, the one, slightly wounded guard who was near him, and the lizard-priest that led the guards, set against a backdrop of an enormous lizardfolk brawl. The sequence of events of the battle was interesting. Bigscale missed with every single attack he ever made, but the guard was freakishly accurate, and did significant damage, while the lizard-priest tied up multiple PCs for an extended period of time. At the start of the battle, things were looking fairly grim: Killroy had been repeatedly hit and poisoned, and was dangerously low on hitpoints even as he engaged Bigscale; Genericus had prioritized taking down the guard, but his low AC and HP made this much more dangerous than he anticipated; Stark had ended up in melee range when Bigscale charged, and was unable to use his ranged powers; Archie and Erobern were both trying to deal with the priest, but remained bizarrely unable to land a hit on him; the best performer was Valladwarf, but his damage output was so far rather low. Things reversed pretty quickly, though. Stark's Bladechanneling feat let him use his best powers as melee attacks, and while he missed with and wasted his encounter power, he then hit with his daily power for massive damage. Even more than that, Killroy then missed with a Comeback Strike, but used an action point to try it again and scored a critical hit, healing up and doing massive damage to Bigscale in one stroke. Unfortunately, he ended up poisoned again shortly thereafter, and continued lucky hits from the guard ultimately downed him. Meanwhile, Genericus tired of the licking he was taking, and used an encounter power to do some damage to Bigscale while shifting away, where he used an action point to take his second wind. Stark and Valladwarf continued to pound on Bigscale, but he just had too many hitpoints to be brought down quickly. Meanwhile, Erobern missed with an encounter power against the priest, and remained unable to do high damage to him, while Archie similarly remained on a miss streak. Eventually, however, his orc ninja powers returned, and he was able to take the priest from unbloodied to dead in a single enormous sneak attack, freeing up Erobern to charge Bigscale and speak an Inspiring Word just in time to get Killroy back on his feet. Against the combined firepower of a warlord, a paladin, a fighter, and a sorceror, Bigscale finally went down in a storm of arms, and, with the main body of guards routed by the Lizard Loyalists, the guard we'd been fighting surrendered, bringing the conflict to an end.

In the wake of that, the newly restored chief thanked us with a sizeable donation of herbs, as well as several magic items that belonged to his tribe and a promise of friendship in the future. Equipped with this, we returned to the Hermit, only to find that he had absentmindedly forgotten the other important ingredient of the antidote he was out of, setting the stage for us to begin the next adventure by travelling south the City to buy the remainder of the cure from the Hermit's friend, the Noble.

J's Observations:
One of the beauties of 4th Edition is that the rules are actually quite simple. Combat flows quickly and smoothly, contributing to its easy-to-use fun.
Rogues are an interesting class. We crunched the numbers, and Archie did more than half of the damage done by the entire party in the first encounter, and didn't exactly fall flat in the second, either. However, they are somewhat volatile, as they can be neutralized, at least temporarily, with ease. Furthermore, looking at their future progression, it seems they may lag behind at higher levels.
I was previously fascinated with the Wildshape-focused druid, but now I'm having second thoughts. It turns out that a character with controller stats focused on engaging foes in melee isn't the best combination. It may be that this build falls into the, "Difficult, but Awesome," camp, but it will take more analysis to be sure.
With a large party, 4th Edition combat is immensely flexible. You can fight one overlevelled monster, a mob of underlevelled monsters, a party of equivalent monsters, or anything in between. The variety also contributes to the fun of the combat.
The randomness of the combat system also gives it an enjoyable dynamism. No matter how well you lay your plan, you never know when a missing streak is going to derail it, or when a random guard suddenly becomes the boss of the encounter. Bizarrely enough, it almost gives the gameplay an Old-school feel!

It turns out that Orc Ninja is a surprisingly viable build, and it's hilarious that one of the basic druid powers is, "pounce." All I can think of is Tigger when I use that power.

It turns out that the Mighty Muscle Wizard is a viable build, too.

N's Observations
On the one hand, monsters are pretty weak for their listed level. On the other hand, the book encourages you to use overlevelled monsters. In the end, it's a wash.
Also, any monster not listed as, "solo," or, "elite," simply cannot fight a PC without being part of a mob. This seems to be by design, but is an odd dynamic.
It turns out that minions balance striker PCs. A rogue may be able to do 30+ points of damage in a single blow, but this is useless against 20 1-hitpoint monsters. This redeems the minion concept entirely in my eyes.
Designing a combat-only adventure is incredibly simple and easy, but adding skill sequences is another dimension that must be kept in mind for correct adventure flow.

S's Observations
Even though each class is listed with 3 prime stats, you can get away with only using one or two, which enhances the customization process immensely by giving you varied options.
Because of the nature of the encounters, it's very easy to break up an adventure over multiple days. This is a point in the game's favor, because you can slip the adventure into a busy schedule.
The game turned out to be very fun. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

After Game Report: South of Adrian

  The crew returned to the very edges of the Kingdom of Seaward tonight. The party was:

Jennifer - Trixie Finespark, female gnome Cleric/Thief 1st/1st
Jack - Lenard, male human Nobleman, 1st
Alex - Gare'E Byuzee, male elven Magic-user, 1st
Sam - Ludwig, male human Nobleman, 1st
Nick - Anarawd, male human Bard, 1st

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Magic Item of the Week: Phlothor's Carriage

  Little is now known of Phlothor the Artificer except that he was rather popular in the court of the Green Empress, contemporary writers praised his genius for creating magical constructs and vehicles, and that he was killed in a dimensional rift explosion that eradicated his personal magical library, most of his creations, and both of his apprentices.
  But one thing he created survived and was copied at least once - his Carriage

Friday, July 14, 2017

Strange Things Afoot in Skull Mountain

As recent posts have indicated, the crew have been busy cleaning out level three of Skull Mountain, thoroughly searching level two, and scouting around the entrance to the Deep.
My oldest had the day off, I had the afternoon off, and we did a marathon session.
Also, I'm beat, so - bullet synopsis!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Notes on Cleaning Skull Mountain

As mentioned when discussing the aftermath of the big throwdown, the party decided to clean the main hallway to prevent disease and the spread of russet mold.
People have asked 'how?'.
Good question!

Interestingly enough way back at the beginnings of the Briar Mapping Expedition Seeker passed on instructions to the hirelings at the Skull Mountain base camp to begin making lye soap and vinegar.
Yes, really. If anything can be said of the style of play of the party 'paranoid', 'prepared', and 'OCD' should be included.

After the battle a team of speakmen, porters, cooks, and the healer trouped down to level three and cleared away the bodies, taking them to the fire pit in the center of the Plateau. The goblin dead were burned, taking a day. While that went on the team returned to the site of the battle and (using water from the goblins' cistern heated in their kitchen)  sluiced the hall, then scrubbed with lye soap, sluiced again, then rinsed with strong vinegar, then sluiced again. In each case the slope of the floors tends toward the Deep and the hirelings helped it along with mops.
Of course the party had supplied brooms and mops a few real-world months ago!
This took another day, during which the party thoroughly explored level three and part of level two, eventually deducing that one wall near the Study is covered with a permanent illusion.

The party gave me fetailed notes on the cleaning process, BTW.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

GM Report: Even More Level 3

Wow! Busy night! Quick synopsis follows:

Campaign Notes: Goblintown

Recently in my main campaign the party captured almost 200 goblins (mainly non-combatants) and people are asking, 'where are they going?"

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

DM Report: Skull Mountain, Level Three Continued

Part one here, part two here.

The party rested, rememorized, and returned, pausing in The Study on level two where they found - a cookie jar with a note that said 'take one'.
Many did. Ginger snaps. Delicious and fresh.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Other Blogs: A Reply to Gitabushi on A Princess of Mars

Edit-Darn it! The link didn't stick!
Link added.
Over at another blog Gitabushi is talking about A Princess of Mars and, well.
I'm replying.
Let's just dive in, shall we?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Block Review: Iron Fist episodes 4 and 5

First block here. Please read it first

Review: Finn Jones continues to be terribly miscast, which is a shame. Rosario Dawson shows up and, just like I said about Carrie Ann Moss - when a competent actress is on screen is shows how bad the two female leads are. The show is doing the origin story of Colleen Wing as a superhero (and not doing a bad job of showing how she is able to do things only a superhero can do!)  and the actress is so wooden I care less than before.
The real problem, though, is the writing. There are a few moments that are good, even really good. But based on the overall tenor, I suspect those are from the showrunner - i.e., the stuff that is being forced on this particular writing team so that Iron Fist matches Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc. is pretty good because someone else wrote it while Iron Fist wallows because the dedicated writers aren't very good.
The interactions between Danny and Colleen in particular are really... odd. My theory is that the writers know that Danny has a vow of chastity (i.e., 'no sex outside of marriage') and simply have no idea how chaste people act. Jennifer (The Wife) disagrees because she thinks Colleen's dialog and such are worse - her theory is the writers just suck in general.
So we are in a weird position of liking the comics, thinking the villains are solid, and recognizing that a lot of the incidental characters are great AND being interested in the overall plot while disliking the female leads, the secondary male lead, and thinking the protagonist is terribly miscast.

More to come

Monday, June 26, 2017

DM Report: Skull Mountain, back to Level Three

The party and initial foray can be found here.

The party spent 3 days healing and recovering spells. It took so long because the spear they found had a curse on it (it is a kinslayer - on a natural 20 it hits and does maximum damage to an ally). They were able to free Ingrid from the spear since she had not yet dealt a killing blow with it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Frothing Rant: Wonder Woman in the early '70's

Maybe I am an old grognard in comics, too.

Maybe I devoted too much of my life to reading comics and learning about them.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Quick Review: Doctor Strange

Watched the MCU film Doctor Strange with the family last night. This will not be a full review.
Spoilers follow:

Monday, June 12, 2017

DM Report - Skull Mountain: Level Three

The crew started a foray into Skull Mountain on Saturday. only a short session this weekend due to Life, but a good one.
The party was:
Jen: Ingrid (5th level fighter)
Jack: Seamus (4th level druid)
Alex: Starfalcon (6th level ranger, half-elf)
Sam: "Clint" (6th level paladin)
Nick: Owen (5th level magic-user)
Various henchmen, including Octavius the 4th level half-ogre fighter and Bertold the 6th level religious brother. And Mortimer the brownie, of course.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Night in Skull Mountain: Level Zero

A big gaming night!
As my regular readers (all 4 of them - hi, kids!) know the party is doing a big, big hex crawl mapping expedition and have found - weirdness. Jack, my oldest boy, had been working second shift at a job 40 minutes away. This week he started is new first shift job 1/2 a mile away so we celebrated with Thursday night D&D.
Through a series of events, accidents, and such the party found a hidden door to what they call 'level zero' behind the eyes of Skull Mountain. While Team Thief (all the PC thieves in the campaign) are mapping Team Paladin (led by Clint) decided to examine Level Zero.

It freaked them out!

The night started with Team Paladin bringing 4 months of food and candles to the mountain for the holding force (Team Henchmen), along with a huge amount of tea (to keep morale up). The cartographer had been mapping the North Area and the surrounding mountains. He had gone to the scree slope on the 'back of the skull' (the players have seen it several times but never explored) and saw a crevice going intot he mountain, but approach was too dangerous. They then used a Helm of Languages and a book of lore to temporarily disarm the Glyphs on the door and went in.

Long story short, it was a corporate office block. Bedrooms, sure, but also a large bathroom with modern stalls; a break room with a 'box that heats food' and a 'magic kettle that heats water'; posters of rock stars on the walls. But the images, the mugs, etc. were for people with five fingers, like the Man in Purple....
They also found remote monitoring stations for Remote Stations #1 and #2 and a room called Tactical Control. Almost everything was depowered and shut down, but the main tactical control was on maintenance power, letting them realize that 'tertiary target acquisition' means 'whatever the binoculars on the mountaintop can see'. The system indicated that Remote Station #1 has a "containment breach" in the 'magma power chamber' but is otherwise online.
They also deduced where a secret door should be, found it, opened it, and - 'animated armor' attacked. It was looking grim until Clint showed the access card he found on level two, when the 'animated armor' announced 'clearance level recognized'.
They found out that the armor, Security Unit 9, would only allow people with Black clearance to go further. Since it was close to tactical it could answer questions by 'querying the database', although it warned the database had not been updated in 175 years and was partially corrupted. With patience and time they learned that many years before the "Elder" (who all have black clearance) had been hired to come to Skull Mountain and protect it from attacks from space. The "Elder" had created the dock on the peak and level zero and had gained power for their base from 'the Contraption' deeper inside the mountain and built local power systems near the montanic lances.

The party realized that some of the things they were learning seemed connected with old folk tales from the Kesh in the area. They also learned that kobolds have 'white clearance' - they had been used as cleaning staff by the Elder.
Security Unit 9 seemed to get agitated when questions veered into security topics and the more often he accessed a corrupt part of the database the more aggressive he became. The party left him guarding the lone door deeper into level zero and struck out for Remote Station #2, AKA Ol' One Fang's cave. Using a copy of the partial map they got there quickly with only a minor skirmish with wild pigs. Going into the hidden chamber Clint inserted his access card and uttered the phrase Security Unit 9 had mentioned and - the turbine engaged. Soon the panel reported that Montanic Lance #2 was powered! They looked carefully, but the crystal horn was not extended. They used the card and phrase to deactivate the turbine and returned to Skull Mountain, passing Team Thief on the road.

Once there they decided to look at the crevice. Seamus used his Boots of Levitation while 3 party members used ropes to position him while avoiding the loose shale that could dump them into the crevice or over a cliff.
Looking down, Seamus saw that the opening, about10' x 20', opened up to be about 60' - 70' across and went down, down, down.... And there was a metal ladder going down at least part of the way! He began to descend to get a better look. He noticed a metal door virtually identical to the one to level zero along one wall when metal shutters snapped open to reveal three turrets that began to point towards him. Calling to be pulled up he ascended as fast as he could and was narrowly missed by the bolts of lightning spitting from the turrets.
Once he was certain he was safe he hovered over the crevice again and dropped a metal rod with Continual Light cast upon it and counted as it fell.
He saw a door about 50' below and a bridge perhaps 300' feet down. And at about 1,200' the rod hit water and sank. Then something swam over the rod. Then the something burst out of the water to fly up the shaft, roaring as it came!
Seamus was pulled aside and in just a few rounds the turrets could be heard firing, driving the creature back down the shaft. Later Seamus again hovered over the opening, watching the creature (which resembled a jellyfish and a beetle) swimming far below before it vanished pop! like a soap bubble, revealing it was Conjured.
The next day the light rod was gone.


The party is catching on that Skull Mountain is vast and Skull Mountain is old. They now believe that the Temple was added by cultists after the fall of the Lord of All Evil who moved in after something else, etc., back to a time before any of the races that live in Seaward now lived even close to these mountains.

Jack admitted that the science fiction stuff is terrifying him. He said,
"Orcs? Dragons? Demons? We know them, we understand them, we can make a good threat assessment. Aliens? Robots? Cyborgs? We can't even figure out if they are dangerous! For all we know, we all have radiation poisoning right now and we will think it is a curse!"
Good times.

Early in the session, when talking about how they plan on going deeper soon they joked that 'Skull Mountain needs an elevator'....

They will continue to map the Briars, but exploring Level Three is suddenly WAY up in their priorities!

I will edit tomorrow

Monday, June 5, 2017

Magic Item of the Week: Kojo's Diary

Originally developed by Kojo Dreamwood, henchman to Lehru the Many, the Diary has been copied by others over the years.

The name is also a bit of a misnomer; the Diary is actually a small ivory strip with a piece of vellum attached obviously designed to be used as a bookmark. If a person writes their own name (including mage names, call names, etc. - it doesn't have to be a true name) and then places the bookmark into a blank book (codex) the book will become their Diary.

The Diary will record the major events of the person's day with a date stamp. A sample entry might appear akin to this;

'Threeday, first week of Blossoms, in the Briars. Woke at dawn and travelled South along the Old Road until lunch at Noon. Encountered a brush cat at about the 3rd hour after Noon. There was smoke from Skull Mountain at sunset."

  The Diary does not know what the person being recorded does not; for example, the diary will not record directions for someone who is lost or time of day for someone underground who has lost track of the time. In those cases, the best guess of the diarist will be used ('late Blossoms', 'about one league',  'about the third day underground', etc.). The diary will record time of waking, sleeping, naps, meals, journeys, encounters, battles, and other such things as an average person would consider 'memorable' at the end of the day.

  At any time the diarist can say 'dear diary' and what he speaks will be written, verbatim, in the Diary until he says 'your truly' or ceases speaking for a full round. If the diarist remains still and focuses on an image or vista for a full turn a black and white sketch of the image will be recorded on a page of the diary. If the diarist focuses for an entire hour it will be in color. This image will be of the quality of a skilled woodcut, etching, or limner, but is not a modern photograph.

The only limitation on the Diary is the number of blank pages in the codex. The bookmark will magically move through the book as pages are used until it reaches the end. It can then be placed into a new blank book.

The Diary will only record as long as it is on the same plane as the diarist, but otherwise distance is no factor. Other people may move the bookmark to new, blank, books as needed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

DM Report: Phase I of the Briars Mapping Expedition

Over Memorial Day weekend we got in about 16 hours of table time. Earlier breakdowns are here, here, and here and my guesses are here.

More Adventure: After recovering from the near-fatal for several members fight with Ol' One Fang and using the Broom to ferry the freed slaves to Skull Mountain the party mapped for 3 more days then headed to Skull Mountain where they met - their other characters. Because the mapping will take so long other adventures are going on at the same time. All of them were at Skull Mountain for Midsummer and, as per tradition, they used the pre-sets on the mountaintop oculars and saw:
-Pyrotechnics over High Morath
-A flying swanship land in Timberlake
-An 80' tall humanoid climb to the rim of the Demon's Eye and wave at them
-A space battle between a dozen dragonfly ships and what appeared to be a massive snail ship. Clint thought that the oculars briefly put a red circle around the snail ship

Team Thief returned to complete mapping the western Upper Briars. The grind of mapping continued. As a group we discussed how mentally exhausting the mission would be: Constantly climbing through rocky, hilly terrain covered in briars; your clothing wearing out rapidly because of the constant wear and tear; limited sight lines meaning you are under constant threat of ambush so you can never relax; meals a constant cycle of one type of magical paste to another. Rough living.

While travelling they correctly guessed the command word tot he Ring of Raven Control they found and before too long Seeker was giving shiny coins to the various ravens of the Briars and contemplating becoming their new king.
Three or four times they witnessed a bright light from the Low Briars, always from the same spot.
One night they saw the Red Maiden on her owl chase a griffon, then transform it into a chimera and order it to follow her before she returned over the mountains.
They saw Ol' One Fang;s daughter, armed with a massive great sword but she ran off. The ravens told Seeker she gave Manbreaker to Ol' Knobby and that her name is Erena the Gorgeous.
And near the end they met the man in Purple with his travelling fortune telling tent. Just like the legend says, he answered 6 questions for them.
Total in-game time to map the western High Briars? 112 days. The eastern portion is larger. The Low Briars is much larger but the terrain isn't as bad.

Notes: It took about 50% longer than they expected because of bad weather, Ol' One Fang, and wanting to be at Skull Mountain for Midsummer. They hope the eastern portion will go faster. and they really hope they can get out of the mountains and hills to the Low Briars before Winter!
With the thorough map they are able to travel through the Briars they have explored much faster and, most importantly, without a real chance of getting lost!

What I Got Wrong: Almost everything! When bad weather hit the party just hunkered down so they avoided the flash floods and the tornado and the worst of the rest. The immediately fled from Ol' One Fang and then carefully counter-attacked and ambushed him. Although the party does admit - if O' One Fang's first blow had not been a miss at least 2 party members would have died - it was that close.

Next Steps: The 'other team' will try to get to the portion behind the eyes of Skull Mountain and then try to get to Remote Station #2 - the paladin has a weird metal plate that might fit the slot in the side panel.... Team Thief will continue their mission to the east while looking for Ol' Knobby, the new owner of Manbreaker. They will continue to hide from the Red Maiden whenever they see her.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Mid-Session Report: Briars Expedition - Ol' One Fang Is No More!

After the last session we woke up to a hearty breakfast and 4 pots of coffee, talked a bit, and sat down for the early session.

The party learned that Ol' One Fang (OOF) had put a stone over his lair's entrance. Seeker cast Audible Glamar to mimic the sound of the party falling into the pit trap nearest cavern and OOF charged out, boulder ready and the fight began.
Brigid pulled out her rarest of weapons, a Wand of Lightning Bolts, and blasted OOF for - very little damage after he saved. Godfrey, Nigel, and Thorin used the last of their enchanted arrows, pouring on fire, and Seeker engaged in hand-to-hand. OOF missed Seeker!
Then first thing in the second round, OOF tagged Seeker for minimum damage vs. a non-human - 15 points. Seeker fled. Godfrey and Nigel used their last enchanted arrows and Sparrow - engaged the female hill giant that had been this close to ambushing the party. Sparrow is a thief, but was using a great sword one-handed (magic items!) - he was overmatched. Brigid confronted OOF as OOF chased Seeker, who was running for his life. She struck with Mor Altach and hurt OOF. Then OOF hit Brigid with Manbreaker for 36 points, below average, and put Brigid well inside 'minimum damage kills you' range. She held firm.
The third round was the same with the party pouring everything into OOF while Sparrow held off the female hill giant by himself. Brigid got in a mighty blow with Mor Altach as Nigel, Godfrey, and Thorin all had excellent, top notch rolls with mundane arrows and Seeker fired his bow, also hitting and...
...OOF went down.
  Brigid began a coup de grace  as the female hill giant broke into a dead sprint for OOF. The archers shifted fire to her, Sparrow hit her (finally), and even Thorin tried to block her, but she kept racing for OOF, crying out 'Father!' in giantish then - snatched up Manbreaker and kept running! The archers got off another salvo before she slid down a steep slope and vanished into the thick briars. Godfrey pursued her (as the party called him back) and hit a pit trap on the prepared escape route that damn near killed him! He hobbled back to camp with 3 h.p.
  The party found 3 slaves in the lair and spent 3 days healing, clearing traps, etc. The cash loot was tremendous and they got a few nice magic items. They also found a Skull Mountain style door. A door that had been forced, then hidden. They found more of OOF's loot in the vestibule, and a narrow corridor went further back.
In the back room was a metal wall covered in 144 small hemispherical piece of crystal that flashed various colors, each one with a rune by it. The ceiling was a sort of smoked glass that lit up as they entered. On a side wall was a panel of metal that had weird glass plates on it with writing. The writing was in the ancient tongue used by wizards and looked like this:

There was no key hole, although there was a narrow slot off to the side.

At this point the players threatened to murder me over the female hill giant getting away and the fact they now feared blanketing the Briars with fallout if they messed with the panel too much.

The players rested and healed then resumed mapping after sending the slaves to Skull Mountain via broom. After a few more days they encountered a band of brigands and kobolds hired by the kobold king to find the exile by searching Skull Mountain. The party rushed back and prepared, but the brigands came, inspected the eyes, and left.

The party now suspects the g6 key opens the door in the back of the eyes.

They decided to have the party rest at Skull Mountain for a week and we took a real-world break, too.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Post-Session Report: Mapping the Briars

Play today was about 7 hours. The team had already placed their team in Skull Mountain and they headed to the High Briars on the first of Plantings ((mid-April). 8 o'clock, day one - giant spiders. A dozen of them. The party dealt with them then burst into laughter - if there had been surprise the party might have died as they left the road!
The party began their methodical mapping doing 'super-hexes' as possible, as I mentioned in the pre-game post. Pretty soon they settled into a routine and the map started coming together. The 'minor highlights' were:
-Skull Mountain reported a lone kobold, ragged and scrawny, tried to enter. They killed it and hid the body.
-The party spotted hippogriffs from the mountains more than once.
-The  famous ravens of the Briars seemed to be curious about humans so deep in the wilderness.
-Lots of encounters with things like brush wolves, briar cats, wild cows, feral goats, etc.
-Patches of large spiders here and there meant they had to stay sharp.
The more major encounters were:
-A troll - the party got 2 counts of surprise at 30 yards. The scouts and the fighters put it down while it was surprised and then Bridget put it down for good with Mor Altach
-A quickwood hurt the party, but was slain.
-A hangman tree was so tough they got away from it, marked the location, and went around.
-A warband of 20 kobolds ambushed them spreading injuries around, but Bridget got into melee and killed them a a prodigious rate. Seeker was able to Hold three of them (the only survivors). Details below.
-A beautiful human girl who said her name is Vasilissa of about 14 with blonde hair in a braid and a peasant's dress. She was looking for someone to help her with two bags. One was full of dirt and poppy seeds, the other full of good wheat and rotten wheat. Someone she would only call 'Grandmother' had given her a limited amount of time to separate the poppy seeds and the good grains, respectively. Seeker used his Gather cantrips to do the tasks for her. In gratitude she told the party,
"If you meet grandmother, always be polite and don't be snoopy about her affairs and she won't eat you. Probably."
Then she hurried off.
-They met a 10' tall raven that called itself the Raven King. It told them of the 'shiny cave' where they could get many shinies. Days later the Raven King started warning them to go to the cave for the shinies or they'd be sorry.
-A clearing deep in the briars. At the center? A shrine to St. Christopher and a sacred pool that seemed to hold back the thorn bushes 1/2 mile in all directions.
-Ol' One Fang (details below).

The kobolds: one of the prisoners was a boastful 'thug' (sergeant) who told them the folktales of his clan, the Ice Dagger Tribe. The prisoners were ferried to Skull Mountain by broom, causing a pursuit by a griffon that tried to pluck off the kobolds as they hung beneath the broom like Christmas stockings. They also said that they were following an 'exile' from the kobolds who has stolen a key. After dropping off the kobolds Seeker searched the body of the one killed by the hirelings at skull mountain. He found a silver key etched 'g6' that was of the same design as the key to the Apartment in Skull Mountain.

Ol' One Fang: The party were fairly certain they that Ol' One Fang's lair was near the source of the Rill (the river in the Briars) in the mountains overlooking the Briars. The Raven King seemed to confirm this. As they got close they noted that the brambles were often trodden down, the barbarian spotted massive bootprints, etc.
As they came into a ravine near the slope up into the mountains O' One Fang (OOF from now one) rose up and began hurling boulders from a position atop a hill with no briars.
The party immediately ran back the way they came at a dead sprint. Being the Thief Crew they assumed they were in a heavily-trapped killzone and retraced their route at maximum possible speed. Seeker got hit with a boulder before they could get around the shoulder of a hill.
About 20 yards further down Godfrey (the scout) and Nigel (Godfrey's scout henchman) turned Invisible (the other magic the party negotiated for) and set an Ambush using the scout rules as the rest of the party kept running.
The rest of the party then got hit by the Raven King and about 12 huge ravens. Raven King was screaming how OOF rewarded him with shinies for luring humans into the traps and he would eat their corpses after OOF crushed them. OOF was running behind, obviously coordinating with the ravens.
Then OOF ran into the ambush zone and rolled 2 segments of surprise just as Bridget engaged Raven King. While Raven King's beak and claws hurt Bridget badly, it wasn't enough. Bridget, Thorin (the fighter/thief) and Seeker put Raven King down.
In the ambush Godfrey and Nigel hit with 6 out of 8 arrows and did an incredible 34 points of damage (and using up all but one of their magical arrows) before they ran away. Nigel got hit with a boulder, but kept going. OOF actually turned back!
The party checked out Raven King and found a ring on its leg - this was eventually revealed to be a Ring of Raven Command.

The party began tracking OOF and were able to use his movements to avoid the various traps leading to the 'stairs' (a rocky slope) leading up to his cave. Seeker went Invisible and used the broom to scout - he found a path for non-giants, disabled the trap on it he found, then flew to the cavern. There he observed OOF healing himself with shamanic spells and ordering a bedraggled female elf in chains to heal him more. As she protested she could not, Seeker flew off to brief everyone else.

End of the session.

Overall Feedback from the Players:
-Because of the 3 times a day check in with the cartographers on Skull Mountain with the magical oculars, if the party gets lost they can correct course within a few hours. In the confusing maze of the Briars they get lost about 1 in 3 days. They very quickly realized that with their check ins within a week they would be lost and without magical provisions might very well starve to death before they could find their bearings again, another reason the Briars are so dangerous.
-They realized the large spiders and briar asps (a cobra-like snake) are the routine threats to normal groups and are quickly coming to hate the vile vermin.
-Sam recognized the tasks of Vasilissa, but can't remember what fairy tale they come from....
-Realizing that Raven King was OOF's spymaster and that the ravens of the Briars were reporting their movements to OOF, they realize that OOF has been the effective ruler of the western Briars for 2-3 human generations.
_The weather slowed them down to about 2/3rd - 3/4th of their hoped-for speed, but they are making progress, But after 52 games days they have barely dented the vastness of the Briars.
-After thinking about the holy pool and the shrine they had the cleric try Turning Undead on the briars - the closest briar bush burst into bloom with briar roses. They are puzzled by this....

My Comments:
-They reacted to Vasilissa in a very proper manner, if you know your fairy tales.
-This was 2 firsts for an initial OOF encounter - they ran immediately (almost every other party has charged right into the avalanche)  and no PC died in the first encounter. In every other encounter OOF killed at least 1 PC on first contact.
-Watching them realize how very little they know about the Briars after travelling the Old Road back and forth for 4 real-life years is a lot of fun.

Next Time: They are going to go after OOF in his lair!!