Monday, February 27, 2012

AD&D Play Report Part II

The Worst Day of Primus's Life (So Far)

Dramatis Personae:
Frank, a human ranger
Mog, a dwarf cleric
Garen, a human paladin
Primus, a human magic user

From the quill of Primus, first Mage of the West Bend order:
Rest. Thank the gods for rest. We took a few days to rest after our last foray into the ruins near the keep, but quickly restocked and ventured forth again, brave and ready to learn the secrets of the ruins. Our first order of business was to take another look at the strange fountain which, unfortunately, turned out to be almost nothing special. I filled a flask with the water, however, and stowed it away for research later.

We explored slowly and cautiously, mapping as precisely as possible. Mog, our dwarven cleric friend, helped immensely with explanations of stonework and probably tunnel configurations as I drew the map in one of my notebooks. The day was, to be honest, not very exciting. We ran into a few more of the walking dead and were able to dispatch them from a distance. Later on we found some secret rooms and a few goblins camping out near them. One room held desiccated goblin corpses wrapped in spider webs. Another room was made of immaculate granite slabs with the names of those who died in the ruins etched into them.

We continued to explore, but soon decided to return to the keep and seek help for Garen—he sustained a nasty cut from one of the zombies, and the wound seemed infected. Before leaving, we managed to find a few coins on the goblins, a broken wand or rod, a wooden scroll case and a small bottle of red liquid. In town, Garen was able to find healing at the temple, and I found the bottle to contain perfume. Unfortunately, the scroll case contained absolutely nothing but air.

After resting and recuperating we returned to the ruins, determined to find anything of value—whether it be information, treasure, or ancient evil. Alas, the next few hours are but a blur in my memory. We all recognized that our pace before had been too slow, we had been overly cautious and lost valuable time and wasted valuable resources. This time we moved quicker, and soon found ourselves in a large chamber, facing a pack of giant rats, defending their nest. We set a line of defense before the ass, and began to fire missiles (bows, bullets, and rocks) at them. As the rats closed, the linkboy, Tim, and I moved behind the ass. My comrades made quick work of several of the rats, but before long, I found us beset by another pack of them from behind.

The details of this encounter slip from my mind, but I recall Tim falling as rats bit and scratched at him—alas, he was brave for a lad, but not stout enough to defend himself. Before long I myself was covered in rats, and Garen came to aid me as swiftly as he could, shoving rats off of me and standing in their path before me. I fell unconscious from the wounds the rats inflicted, but remember coming around enough to realize that my friends had healed my wounds, and were readying to carry me out to the keep.

Before leaving, Garen found a tattered old blue robe in the rats’ nest. I thought nothing of it until, a few days later; after I recovered from my wounds, he informed us that he had found a large emerald in the hem of the robe. Its value was some 1,000 gold pieces.

Though it is not much, we have at last found something of value in that cursed dark place. Perhaps now we can hire some more stout men to help us find our way deeper into the ruins to learn what the past has left hidden there. Perhaps now we have all learned how best to avoid danger, and to move quickly in the dungeon.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

WIL: The Learning Curve

What I Learned... today, in our AD&D game, I learned that the learning curve is steeper some days than others. Today we all learned that it's possible to be over-cautious, that the risk is worth taking (we hope,) and that sometimes it's tough to get into gear.

The Situation:
- We made our second (and third) foray into the ruins near the keep
- Set a standard operation for checking doors, for crawling down the corridors, etc
- Chose a direction to go, and headed out

The Problems:
- We took way too much time at doors
- We took too much time discussing which direction to go
- We took too much time debating spiking doors open
- We took too much time debating strategy for fights (between rounds)
- We took too much time for other stuff

Since all of us are new to AD&D, after the game the DM shared some advice. He informed us that this level of the dungeon is only 3-4 sheets of paper mapped out--we have just barely mapped over one page of that in two sessions, a total of about 8 hours of play.
Our total treasure hall? A dozen silver spoons, less than 1gp in miscellaneous coins, and (finally) an emerald worth ~1,000gp.

Yeah, we are hardcore... hardcore broke.

So, what's the solution? We have to move quicker. Personally, I think we're moving too slowly (as is evidenced by "The Problems" above, hah!)

Perhaps we're all struck with fear of the "old school challenge level" and the constant risk of death. I don't know. Personally, I almost died at the end of the day. As a player, though, I don't care if my characters die. I've taken comfort in the fact that I'll be able to play another character, so the fun will continue no matter what. Yes, I am attached to the class I'm playing, but hey, death comes to us all.

Now, as I reflect, I truly believe that we will make much faster progress, as we are all starting to truly understand how things work.
We've decided to make much more of an effort to avoid melee combat, and to twist the environment to our advantage against our foes. It's been tough for us coming from modern game backgrounds to see that we have SO MANY OPTIONS. Time to shift gears.

In the end, we all had fun. A lot. The beauty of gaming is in the fact that, no matter what, if you're with good people, learning to play better, you're probably going to have fun.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

All the World's a... Dungeon?

Disclaimer: This may be (and probably is) old news to many. Humour me and read it anyway?

I have been pondering the nature of dungeons recently. I love them. They can be an absolute blast to play in and to run, and the presence of their name in the name Dungeons & Dragons is no paltry attribution to alliteration.
Lately I have been thinking there are several elements that make a dungeon (especially the more old school type, less the modern "naturalistic" and "real" (hah) style of dungeons) so enjoyable, mysterious, and such great locations for adventure.
I think most people agree that "dungeon" in game terms can be a dungeon, a mine, ruins, a castle, etc. What I'd like to do is expand that working definition to include the entire world.

To quote Inigo Montoya, "Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up..."
Dungeon Key Elements:

  • Sense of dread/fear/wonder
  • The dungeon is out to get you
    • Traps, doors not opening automatically, wandering monsters
  • Exploration and mapping
  • Hidden rewards / treasure
  • Big bad pulling the strings
I do not see how any of those elements are NOT present in the above-ground. Obviously, there's a tradition within D&D and other RPGs of hexcrawl-adventure and such, which is much the same, but who's to say an urban adventure is not a dungeon crawl? The timing may be a bit different--it has a different beat or rhythm--but streets are corridors, buildings are rooms, and there are still treasures to be found and big bads to topple. (In fact, a city might be considered the equivalent of a megadungeon, as buildings, castles, sewers, dungeons can all be part of the city.)

Again, this is probably old news to you, but it was a sort of eureka moment for me recently and has made laying out adventures for my upcoming game way easier.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled internet.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Locations: Maurice's Shop

The following is a small shop to be featured in my Savage Worlds steampunk-fantasy game. One of the PCs has worked in this shop for the last seven or eight years, so I think we'll be visiting it from time to time in search of gadgets, knowledge, etc.
Feel free to drop this into your world or cannibalize it. If I had any artistic and cartographic skill at all, I'd have mapped out the shop. Maybe I'll sketch it out later and share that or get someone to redo it to look purdy.


Maurice’s Shop
Small for a two story shop, Maurice’s has little need for floorspace to display products. At the front, the window opens so that a counter can be raised under an awning, as a display and demonstration space for products. Maurice can be found showing his gadgets--guns, watches, machines to chop wood, to boil water without an open flame--most of every day. Once the sun sets, though, he retreats the the back room, to tinker.

A man in his late fifties, Maurice always has an apprentice or assistant--usually a young person from a family of modest means who shows intellectual and creative potential. The assistant cleans the shop, fixes broken gadgets, and keeps the books (under close watch.) Loving the companionship, Maurice pays his apprentices well and offers room and board in the loft upstairs. Maurice himself lives in a small flat just down the street.

Having studied at the finest university in the capital, Maurice returned home and worked as a researcher in the library, writing and sharing knowledge freely on the physics and science of the world around him. He quickly found that his passion truly lay in creating devices that would help people accomplish mundane tasks more quickly, and decided to open a shop for just such things.

The shop itself was Maurice’s inheritance, some forty years ago, and is all that remains of his family’s legacy. In his father’s time, Maurice’s shop was a place for buying and selling of gemstones, precious metals, and other such mined goods. The good fortune that this business brought to the family allows Maurice to spend all his time inventing and not worrying about making sales. (Incidentally, everything Maurice builds sells wildly.)

Potential Events

  • Explosion! The PCs are walking near the shop, or are making purchases, or working in the shop, when an explosion shakes the building just after twilight. Investigation shows that it was not negligence on the part of Maurice but rather someone has stolen a key component (a stabilizer, a gyropter, a magneton, etc) and run off with it. Maurice can pay well in gold or items for its return.
  • Maurice’s shop is a great place to put a MacGuffin. Make it either the key item needed for a quest or the item that begins a major quest. Maurice could have invented any mechanical or steampunk device--even if he didn’t know it worked in the way needed for your mission.

Review: Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

I've just recently finished reading Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. Now, I know some of his religious and political opinions and actions are offensive or upsetting to many, but you have to admit that the guy can write!

Amazon has a decent synopsis, so I won't bother to write one out here.
I never enjoy reading long walls-of-text reviews, so here are my + and - thoughts on Pathfinder.


  • It's a story of discovering a lost past, which tickles the fancy of the RPG gamer in me
  • The main character is a social chameleon, a "face" character, not an action hero
    • I realise that Card never really writes about fighters and barbarians as protagonists, so this is not rare, but I enjoyed the way he wrote Rigg as a person
  • Time travel was handled as a plot device, not as a paradox-inducing headache
  • Two stories told in separate narrative converged nicely, and I was just as excited about the one as the other
  • Political motivations and intrigue were used but not overused (I struggled with Frank Herbert's later Dune books because the politics was so heavy)
  • Card's style is, as usual, dialogue-driven rather than description-driven, making for a fast paced read
  • This book contains refined versions of many of Card's other concepts from previous novels
  • The opening for a sequel was well executed: I want to read more badly, but can enjoy Pathfinder as a standalone novel if Ruins turns out to be a failure


  • Seriously, when will Card write a protagonist who is over the age of 16?
    • I understand that his protagonists are as I was at that age: older intellectually than physically. However, it's still just odd that he always writes about young characters. Coming-of-age stories can happen at 17, 18, 22, or the 13 he keeps choosing.
  • Card, again, reuses many elements from his previous books--a double edged sword, as I enjoyed this to some extent but hated it in other ways
  • It's not strictly an adventure
    • While I enjoyed every second of the physics discussions, I know not everyone will enjoy it

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

WIL: Doors are Dangerous

I'm starting a semi-regular series of posts entitled "What I Learned" (WIL for short.)
The idea here is that, as I learn things, I share them. Crazy, right?

Specifically, it has to do with things that I, or my group, are learning while playing old school games. None of us has a real background in old school gaming, but are learning fast by diving in headfirst. As I mentioned in my previous post, this weekend we started an AD&D game. Here's What I Learned from that session...

Doors are dangerous.
Seriously. One of the things that came up as we were building characters was the difference between dungeon-as-malevolence and dungeon-as-natural-structure. We're all familiar with the fact that newer games tend to view dungeons/ruins/castles/the world as neutral in almost every way--it's about what you find inside and what's happening. There is much less of the mystical connection between monsters and their habitat. Since we are starting this game as a dungeon crawl, the DM rightly expounded upon this matter a bit, giving the players a heads up.

Near the end of the session, we found ourselves rounding a corner, moving about 80-90 feet, then rounding another corner. (Heading east, turned south, turned east again.)
Coming from the east we saw four giant centipedes, made a retreat and fire diversion, and the melee types made a stand. Being the Magic User, I backed up even further, trying to avoid death. I took our hired hand, Tim, with me, as he has no real training in combat. We ended up in the first corner, right next to a door.

Turns out if we had just opened that door before rounding the corner, we would have been able to deal with two different monster threats as separate fights. This seems so blatantly obvious to the story lover in me. The part of me that thinks tactically and in terms of actual events can see how careless it was of us to ignore that door. However, the part of me that's accustomed to encounters being designed for the players to win, and to not be interrupted unless "dramatically appropriate" (when is it NOT dramatically appropriate?) completely overrode the rest of my mind on Saturday.

So, in the future, I think that Primus the Magic User will be opening doors before walking by them--or somehow making sure that nothing can chase us through those doors!

Monday, February 13, 2012

AD&D After Action Part I

On Saturday, we started a new AD&D game. The group was a natural growth of a small monthly thing I put together by scouting for a DM online. I met up with Chris (Flambeaux) Cain and he ran a couple of OD&D sessions for me and a friend, then a session of Flashing Blades (which I wrote about a couple weeks ago.)

Our group needed to grow--we invited a couple of friends from various circles. One had only played some 3.5 and some 4e, but not very much and not for very long. The other newer player was someone I met while playing some Pathfinder--though his primary experience is in the Savage Worlds system. The original two of us playing with Chris DMing, however, have been playing for years and have experience in a broad set of rulesets.

So, we gathered, we discussed playing Chris's OD&D hybrid, but determined the structure of classes and races in AD&D would be more up the alley of most of the players. None of us had ever played a true AD&D 1e game before--one player learned on 2e and played that for years, and one player had experienced some Labyrinth Lord, but none of us had any real experience with AD&D.

Anyway, without further ado, here's an in character summary of the events. We spent about two hours making characters then something like 1.5-2 hours on this gameplay. Primus is my character, and I'm going to use this as an exercise in writing a slightly stuck up character (roleplaying that 6 Charisma and 17 Intelligence.)

Dramatis Personae:

Frank, a human ranger

Mog, a dwarf cleric

Garen, a human paladin

Primus, a human magic user

From the quill of Primus, first Mage of the West Bend order:

I found myself holed up at a keep in what seemed to be the midst of nowhere—I was drawn there by rumours of wondrous lore and the possibilities of ancient magical presences. Unfortunately, I had spent all my time until this point at the keep, trying to learn what I could by talking to those venturing into the nearby ruins, caves, and such. I made no progress for some weeks.

Today, however, my fortunes changed! Several men, and a dwarf, all of whom I had met previously around the keep, decided to make a foray into the ruins, merely a two hour trek from the keep. I hastily accepted the offer to join their party, and we wasted no time in supplying and preparing to depart this morning.

Garen—a holy warrior—negotiated with a man at arms to have him accompany us in exchange for a half-share of any spoils we would find. Next Garen found a young lad willing to help us by carrying equipment and leading a pony with supplies, oil, lanterns, and so on.

We launched forth and, as expected, reached the ruins within two hours. We were greeted by what can only be described as the walking dead. They were neither man nor corpse, and seemed intent upon finding flesh to feed upon. Apparently, we were to be the main course. My compatriots strung bows, readied slings, and loosed missiles upon these foul undead. I was even able to lob a rock at one or two, causing them to stumble. Needless to say, they did not have a feast today.

Beneath the ground the undead were scouring for scraps we found a spiral staircase, made of stone, with wide and deep steps. Treading lightly, we made our way down, passing a brass plate overhead which simply read “Store Room.” Upon entering said room, we found it to store nothing but air, and the oppressive feeling of being unwelcome. After scouring the room, we made our way out, finding a large room with paintings—lovers at play, happy scenes. The middle of the room was home to a fountain, flowing with cool water, and statues dancing in it. All of us were able to perceive that this room felt more peaceful, and calm. Though we could not determine why, there were half a dozen silver spoons in the fountain. I took one for examination at a later date, and Mog the dwarf cleric took the other five.

Before long we pressed on, eager to find the purpose of this subterranean structure. We moved on and rounded two corners before finding ourselves facing a door with four monstrous giant centipede-like creatures crawling out of it. Quickly the party backtracked, hoping to keep the fight at range, while the link boy helped me pour oil on the ground in front of us and light it, hoping to delay some of the beasts. Two of them pursued us, crawling on the walls of the passageway, and attacked the party. The link boy and I quickly moved back, behind the pony, to let the men with swords do their part.

Within moments, two of the creatures had been slain, and I breathed a sigh of relief just in time to notice that I was trapped in the corner when a door opened. Two more of the walking dead shambled out the open door, ready to tear my flesh from my bones. I slashed at one with my knife, barely wounding one of them, and the link boy landed a sound hit with a torch, igniting the undead, which ran away in flames. The other walking corpse was able to swing with its claw-like hands and drew blood from my shoulder. I was quite staggered, and didn’t see much future for myself.

Frank, the ranger, dashed up the hallway and helped us slay the last walker, whilst Mog, Garen, and the hired man at arms dispatched the last two centipedes. (I must note here that, though it only bought time, it was my own quick thinking that cast oil down and ignited it.)

Harrowed but exhilarated, we retired back to the keep, in order to prepare for our next foray into the ruins! Who knows what we may find? Will the fountain in the tranquil room prove to be some sanctuary? Are there more of such things further into this structure? What manner of foul creatures will we encounter and have to vanquish in order to uncover the secrets of this place?

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm in a 3e State of Mind

Yes, I'm using Billy Joel lyrics. You wanna fight about it?

I have, several times, recently found myself in a particular mindset or frame of mind about things related to gaming, putting together games, and so on. In fact, I've eaten my own words recently in a G+ discussion about FLAILSNAILS because I interpreted it from what I call a "3rd edition point of view" rather than reading it without preconceptions.

Let me 'splain... I began my delve into the realms of D&D and other pen and paper games in the year 2000--I never picked up an AD&D 2e book, as my library had several shiny new copies of the 3rd Edition Player's Handbook. In fact, nearly twelve years later, I've never even played AD&D 1e or 2e, though I've played in games that borrowed some of their concepts.

I have a friend, whom I game with quite often in person, who started playing in the days of 2e, but has spent most of his time, like me, playing and GMing 3e, 3.5e, and Pathfinder. I don't think this is bad at all--in fact, both of us agree that rules systems matter very little at the table, as long as you have a core mechanic to fall back on and agree that the GM has the final say over rules decisions and tries to keep it as simple as possible.

Now, flash forward to today. I was fascinated when I first heard of the "FLAILSNAILS" concept, but since I haven't had much free time on my hands, hadn't dug into very deeply. (I've played a handful of OD&D / Swords & Wizardry games and loved them, and it's at the top of my gaming priority list to get in on a G+ Hangout game using some form of those rules.)

FLAILSNAILS is, apparently, a super simple concept: GMs advertise their games as FLAILSNAILS friendly and as long as the character being imported is compatible (in the GM's view) it can be used. Easy, right?

Not according to my frame of reference, apparently. I read it as "FLAILSNAILS is a set of guidelines by which you can create a character that can then be imported into a game and then on to another later, as long as the GM running each game is using the compatible rules system." This misinterpretation of a simple way to allow players to play more often stems from a tradition in the 3e (and even 4e) era of D&D gaming that says "Here's the master list of all splatbooks I will allow automatically. Anything not on here must be approved by me."

Oddly enough, that's not how I like to run games. I usually say "Whatever's in the core book(s) is fine; anything beyond that...  just show me your concept and we'll find something mechanically that fits." This is readily evident in the Savage Worlds game I'm getting ready to launch in a custom setting. There's no prewritten "splatbook" or "campaign setting guide" that I wanted to use so I told my players to write character concepts based on their understanding of the world and anything not covered in the core Savage Worlds book would be house-ruled in as simple a way as possible.

I love the simplicity of this type of game creation. So why oh why is it so hard for me to let go of 10+ years of the splatbook-heavy mindset?