Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DM bites off more than he can chew – film at 11

When I started this new gaming group over a year ago, my intention was to run a few games of the characters travelling the countryside with an artisan caravan, having little adventures, and eventually heading into a classic dungeon setting. The type of adventure I can phone-in by now. Easy peasy.

The dungeon destination plan ended when I got a complete box set of The Night Below setting (with a Dark Sun box set as well, that I might never use). I hadn’t really done a full on epic underworld adventure for many years, so I thought “what the hell, why not use the set I bought?”

And so there they are. After a few set-up games, I was able to get the party chasing slavers into the underworld (that I try to refer to as “The Great Beneath” in my games, but always end up calling “Underdark” ayway). When we start the game tonight, they will be in the midst of destroying the trolls for the deep gnomes, as put forth in the early parts of book 2 of the set.

So, after tonight they should be informed of the horrible abominations deep below who plan to conquer the above world. They will more than likely be well on their way to the most dangerous and difficult parts of this adventure module. Those dangers include whole tribes of hostile creatures, and whole cities of aberrations with armies of guards and slaves. Also, there are close to a dozen possible major allies in the depths, all of them with personalities and motivations all kinds of things that make them unique. The characters will be facing tons of hack and slash no doubt, but there is plenty of opportunity for parlay with the entities who have the same enemies as the PC’s.

Multiple parlay, wandering monsters opportunities galore, slow travel, and assaults on cities. Hooboy, this might take a long time. I checked out a few adventure logs about Night Below gamers have posted online, and one of the campaigns seems to have been going on for 8 years! Daaaaaaaaaamnnnnnn.

OK, I have already set-up ideas to move things along a bit faster. For one thing, I’ve reduced the scale of this underworld. In the adventure, the party is expected to move back and forth on foot between locations that are hundreds of miles apart. Again and again they would have to trudge the same endless tunnels. The module makes it very important that you travel to the surface a lot. So anyway, what would be 20 miles on the maps are now 5 miles. That smalling down of the scale will help a bit. The players will still have to travel a main tunnel 150 miles long (which seems a long way to me underground), but I am also having greater use of “flux points,” sort of teleport spots. I’m going to make those a tiny bit more handy so characters don’t have to travel the same ground constantly. I want this adventure to take months in both the real world and the game world, not years.

So, I can cut down on the travel time. But where I fear I have bitten off a lot is the city assaults. First the City of the Glass Pool at the end of the second book, then the battle royal at the end of the third book at the Aboleth city. Hooboy, it’s going to be a lot of work. Not that I haven’t had giant city battles in games of yore, but those usually had the players helping out a large army or something, so the party could be fighting in a certain contained area. But in both city assaults in The Night Below, you are expected to do it in drips and draps. Guerrilla tactics of hit and run, usually including long-ass treks to the surface world, are recommended again and again. Not only can it go on forever, but there is a lot of logistical stuff for DM’s to keep track off. Different races and groups in the cities will react different ways. And in the City of the Glass Pool, you make multiple assaults in order to rack up unique “points” that, if you eventually get enough, cause the collapse of that city. And shit, this isn’t even the biggest city assault of the module.

Can I handle it? I think so? Is it going to be a lot of work soon? Hells yeah. Do I want to do all that work? I…don’t know. We only play for three hours on a weeknight. Some of these battles will be hours and hours long. Again, can I even do this and get it finished before the end of 2010 so I can start a new campaign? Stay tuned…

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beware the Mutant Tree

Last night, during one of several passing storms here in So Cal, I got the chance to run the second Mutant Future/Metamorphosis Alpha session. We had a 4th player this time, and Ben rolled up a mutant human. His mutations mixed in nicely to add to the fun. Besides weather control powers, he also had increased caloric intake, so he was always munching.

In the forest level mutant colony, the party arrived to drink, eat, and shop at the public house/trading post. After the requisite bar fight, a tall middle-aged man in robe and cloak approached the party. In reality, his is Walter Garth, a ship engineer who got trapped on this level a year or two ago and wants to get out to return to other awakened crew members who are working on saving the ship, which is in a steady decline of malfunction. With his robe and broadsword, Garth struck a sort of Gandalf figure. He said he is known as “Don Juan Garth” (I decided that Garth was a fan of the 19th century writer Carlos Castenada) in the valley, and that he is a wandering historian who is seeking to study “places of the ancients.” First stop, a hidden airtight agriculture shed. Garth has an agriculture color band to get in there (but unknown to him he will actually need a command or security band to exit the level, which will be the basis of a quest in the next couple of games).
After dealing with a flock of carnivorous sheep, the party entered the cave and in the back found a strong metal door (duralloy). Garth bypassed it, and inside was well preserved agriculture equipment. In addition to several duralloy shovels and hoes, there was a power tree saw (3D6 damage) and a stone drill (2D6+2), each with an extra power cell. There was also an agriculture robot, which Garth tapped into but didn’t fully activate.

So the players knew they were now in the presence of technology, but their characters were baffled and perplexed. So, these are weapons of the ancients?

Paul’s young mutated tree, “Will O’ Wisp,” claimed the power saw as a weapon, which just seemed like more icing on the cake. “Will” has acid sap which sprays out on whatever damages him, and also has a 2D6 shriek upon being hit. Now toting a heavy damage chainsaw, this is one tree you better not mess with.

Even though they have not realized they are on a spaceship yet, the players have now seen that The Valley indeed has technology in it. In the next game at the west ramp level exit, Garth will verbally communicate with the ships computer, which is a situation likely to give them more clues as to the true nature of their world. I’m looking at game 5 or 6 being when they will leave the level (when Garth gets his hands on a command band) to explore other parts of the ship, so until that reveal it would be cool if the players stay a bit confused until then. I’m not actually counting on hoodwinking the players for several games, but it would just be a nice touch if they didn’t think about it too much.

So far, the only complaint I would have about the game is it’s easy to get silly and start joking around. I’m not sure me or my players are taking it seriously enough. But with all the weird mutations (especially that scary tree) and all the things that can happen in combat, it’s hard not to laugh. I mean, when an enemy takes 13 points of damage from acid tree sap hitting him in the face, while simultaneously taking another 12 points from the tree’s sonic shriek, how can you not bust up laughing?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tweaking The Night Below continues

As I mentioned in previous posts, I decided that in this second year of our 1st ed. Campaign I would send the characters down into the epic Night Below setting.

With the campaign on hiatus during the holidays, it was nice to get back to it. But I am a bit nervous having committed to this. It’s a big adventure. Besides all the wandering monsters and natural dangers, there are a lot of set encounters on the way to the Sunless Sea of book three. Warring Quaggoths and Hook Horrors, Temple of Jubilex area, Derro colonies, and then the assault on the City of The Glass Pool itself. I rarely run city assaults in my D&D. It’s usually pretty small scale.

Tweaking things in the books is going to continue for two reasons. One, I don’t want this to take another two years of game time. I want to finish this by some time in Summer. Two, these characters are not going to be the suggested level several games from now when they have to assault the Aboleth city in the Sunless Sea. The books recommend being somewhere between 11-15th by the final battles, and the highest characters are around 8th right now. They’ll hit 9th or 10th by then no problem, but that’s about it. So the importance of allies, treasure, etc. will need to be tweaked.

I haven’t exactly memorized the stuff to come (especially in the 3rd book), so I am taking it “one day at a time” as they say, with a bit of an eye on the future. I have completely eliminated the Rockseer Elves, and I am putting more importance in the help from the Deep Gnomes. Though they don’t offer a ton of help in the books, I am making them a little more open to being a safe place during the players adventures. The gnome city has a flux point, so that when the players get to deeper areas they can come back for a rest if necessary, plus have access to the surface if they need an extended rest.

One problem in this last week’s game was that the guy running a gnome character has had to leave our game group, and his character was a lot of the inspiration for taking this direction in the campaign. Carmeneran, the deep gnome queen, was going to give him the Gnome Champion weapon and everything. Now that is a no-go. So here are the characters remaining to carry on the quest.

Krysantha: female drow fighter/druid raised by the druids of the Northern Forest. Self-righteous with a vengeful sense of justice.
Vaidno: half-elf Bard from Tanmoor. A city boy who seems at home in dungeons and dangerous places. Never met a girl he didn’t try to “nail.”
Helena: young girl fighter, raised by her soldier brothers in River City. Sword and shield is her passon. Recently fallen in love with local soldier, who is tagging along on the adventure.
Lumarin: Grey elf magic-user from far north.
Lily: a local girl, magic-user and thief. Reputation as a ho’.
Dia: NPC and teenager ranger girl. Some characters recently discovered she is the daughter of famous Woodlord Arcturus Grimm, though have not told her yet.

So in this week’s game the group enjoyed a party thrown by the gnome they saved in the caves above, before being sent to destroy some local trolls (lead by an Ettin) by queen Carmeneran. Just as in book 2, she wants to test them and their power before agreeing to be more help in their quest.

Mind you, the troll caves are way more complex and populated in book 2 than what I am doing with that section. Instead of two or three actual tribes of trolls, I just have a band of a half dozen of them, lead by an Ettin named “Two Mug.”

By the time they got to the first large cave, we had less than an hour of game time left, so we only did a fight with the first three trolls, who were hanging around that first cave. They had actually planned to use a bunch of oil to burn any trolls who they found, but they cave was way to damp to actually try Molotov action with the oil flasks (which I always resist anyway), so it was more or less a straight up fight. The party was more than a match, as Lumarin cast enlarge spells on Helena and Dia (making for a pair of 10 foot tall broadsword girls), and Krystantha managed to catch one troll in a Snare spell, basically making it helpless for slaughterin’.

They killed the trolls, and managed to get enough oil lit to stop the regeneration. We ended right there. I will pretty much start the next game with the Ettin and the rest of the trolls charging in from the adjacent cavern. With little time for player advance strategy, that should be a pretty decent fight. By the end of that game, the group should be on the “road” to The City of the Glass Pool.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Confessions of a 1st edition AD&D house ruler

I started D&D in the late 70’s, and got into AD&D 1st ed. pretty much when it came out. I never used all the rules as-is even from the beginning, but starting sometime in the late 80’s I began leaving out huge sections, and changing rules on lots of things big and small. It has been so long and in my head for so long (few of my house rules are on paper), I forget a lot of reasons why I changed things.

I stopped being a student of what was in rulesbooks by the end of the 80’s. I DM’d mostly in a bubble as an adult. I didn’t go to cons or hang out at game stores (as a kid though I pretty much grew up at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica). Most of my players who came along or I got into my campaigns starting in the 90’s had little to no D&D experience, so I was pretty much unchallenged on any changes I made.

After several years off I started a new group last year, and most players where seasoned D&D vets. Needless to say, I had some ‘splainen to do, Lucy. Some changes caused delight, some caused head scratching and “why’s.”

OK, I say this because after getting involved in the online community a bit, I have a desire to put a lot of stuff I changed or left out back on the active shelf. So here is a partial list of items I changed/added to my taste over the decades, and some are things I may change back to the rules. Having said that, it turns out many of these are very common house rule items.

Note: Keep in mind that I have very little experience with editions after 1st ed. (as DM or player), so any similarities here to stuff in those editions is probably an accident, or some kind of osmosis. Lately I have described my 1st ed. Games as “AD&D 1st ed. Light” and “OD&D with some AD&D tossed into the mix.”

*Hit points: you get max at 1st level. I think I have done that since around 1982.

*Weapon length/speed adjustments: Don’t use them. I just use common sense for things, like a dude using a polearm or two-handed sword in a narrow tunnel gets penalties. And of course, if a guy with a spear and a guy with a dagger are running at each other, the spear will probably get initiative.

*All things have set movement rate I give out for hex battle mat use. Most humans have 12, dwarves 10, hobbits 8, etc. On your turn you can move a full amount (in hexes or squares), or half and do something (attack, cast spell, etc.). Characters act in order of DEX.

*Combat rounds are 6 seconds, and turns are 1 minute or 10 minutes (depending on what we are talking about)

*Don’t use the extra attack rules, have my own. A fighter would get an extra attack when he hits 5th level; a cleric at 6th, a thief at 7th, etc. and yet another at a higher level (fighter at 8th, etc.).

*All spellcasters get a “spell in mind,” a permanent spell they do not need to study or pray for, and don’t usually need components for . Usually rolled randomly off first level spell list, but sometimes let player choose one from three random rolls (this will be in their head for life, after all). When used it comes back after rest.

*Don’t use psionics (for players, anyway)

*Any race can be any class (pretty much), and anybody can multiclass. I remember in the mid-80’s letting a guy with a half-orc be a fighter/cleric/magic-user/thief (although I doubt I would go so far now). I have a habit of letting any player get the character they envision (which maybe indicates that I should have gotten all Arduin before the 80’s were up).

*I usually allow some skills, and they depend on the characters background. Nothing hard and fast, but a farmer will have farming skills, son of a blacksmith some metal working knowledge, etc. This is one thing that has a lot of room for abuse. For example, a recent MU character who went to a wizard school wanted all these mythology and magical lore skills that you would probably assume an MU would know about anyway. It just seems that some players feel their characters are more fleshed out if they have some background skills. Oh, I usually have skill rolls made based on a stat (intelligence or wisdom on a D20).

*Training to go up a level: don’t make them do it. At least not pay to practice. I usually only have PC’s pay for training when they get another weapon proficiency or something like that. Often not even then.

*I am often arbitrary and lazy when it comes to giving experience. Sometimes I keep track of monsters and treasure; sometimes I put together a number based on how much they need to go up. Often I give as much or more as monster xp for role-playing and such. My players have aren’t really seasoned DM’s, so they don’t know the difference. My slacker attitude about xp is perhaps my greatest failing as a proper DM (IMO).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mutant Future on the Starship Warden Game 1

Last month I posted here and here about my desire to do a little Mutant Future/Metamorphosis Alpha with my regular AD&D group. I finally got to have a little session last night.

Only three of the regular players could make it, which is kind of the point. I want to do MF when we don't have enough players for our regular D&D. I had already sat down weeks ago with Andy and Paul to do up characters. Paul rolled up a walking, thinking Tree man (although he opted to have him be non-speaking. With Paul being a bit quiet and mousy, that is actually perfect) with 3d6 acid sap, shrieking ability, and a glandular problem that has him growing 10 times faster than a regular tree. Andy did up a sort of hillbilly mutant, with teleport, disintegrate, and the crippling slow movement drawback. He didn't look like a mutant, but Andy did decide he would look a little bit like he has Down's Syndrome.

So with Dan there the other night, he did up a mutant animal. I made the mistake of allowing him to decide the animal after the mutation rolls, and I think that was a mistake. It lead to him spending around a half hour brainstorming on what animal it should be. Anyway, he got quickness, poor eyesight, telekinesis, and dwarfism. He went with a humanoid bear that was 4' tall, and I also gave him a D6 bite and heightened sense of smell to make up a bit for the bad eyesight.

I had diverse groups of pure strain humans set-up, but nobody ran one. Ah well. The mutants are more fun anyway. Andy and Paul's mutants already knew each other. They decided that out in the woods Andy bumped into the living tree, got surprised, and discovered his disintegrate power by zapping part of the tree off. Both hung out for the next couple of weeks recovering there in the woods, with Andy teaching the tree to understand the language. Andy decided to carry the dead arm off the tree as a staff for combat.

On the road the met Dan's dwarfy bearoid, and they encountered a wagon of the "Undine Brotherhood." This monastic order travelled around giving fresh, guaranteed unradiated water to pure strain humans and mutants alike "All may drink of pure water, even the unclean." The brotherhood also brew up strong tea for minor donations.

Suddenly from the brush a young pure strain human appeared. Wearing cloak and toga, he was obviously from the human town of Nova Roma. He was bloody and wounded. It turns out that he is the son of a senator in Roma, who preferred traveling around sketching things over the political intrigues of his people. So while on a few day outing, he and his bodyguard were attacked by a green, spikey mutant and his small band of "Thuggos." The Thuggos take up a sort of orcish slot on the valley level. Generally without powers, they tend to have distorted or misplaced facial features and limbs. The mutants had killed his bodyguard, and left Nero for dead in a ditch.

So 16 year-old Nero Pullo asks them to help him get his sketchbook bag, his family ring, and decorative dagger from the mutants, and in exchange they could keep the majority of his money, his retainers sword and spear, and anything the bandits may have. With steel weapons in short supply and very valuable, our heroes were chomping at the bit for real weapons instead of their sharpened sticks and fish bone daggers.

The party assaulted the bandit cave, using some decent strategy. They lured them out so the bearoid could drop heavy rocks on them from above, while the rest attacked with their weapons. It is especially fun when the tree gets a heavy wound, and 3D6 of acid goes spraying all over his attacker. Also, when he is damaged he lets loose his 2D6 shriek that damages everying in the immediate area. One freaky, scary tree, dude. Anyway, all the Thuggos were killed, but the party parlayed with the Spike Guy, who was fairly intelligent and managed to talk his way out of fighting them. With the party scooping up the nice treasure, we ended it there.

That battle was pretty much the last hour of the evening. The first hour was Dan's character set-up, then the second hour me giving more information on the world they live in. I described that the weather had been weird the last year, with heatwaves, snowstorms, and 3 day-long eclipses (no moon, stars, nothing). That all represents the slow failing of the ship systems, and why crew members ares starting to be unthawed in other decks the last several months.

So far the players have not voiced anything to make me believe they suspect they are on a starship or something. Most of them have D&D experience, but it is becoming apparent that they don't really know Metamorphosis Alpha. Because they have their own copies of Mutant Future, they keep bringing up androids and technology. But I'm quick to say that this is more or less D&D with mutants, and to not worry about techno stuff. That may be throwing them off and keeping them guessing. I should probably make a reveal before too long, before somebody shows up at a game talking about Met. Alpha!

As this is an alternative to my AD&D campaign, who knows if we'll play it soon, but at least I got the first game in, and I think the guys had fun with it.

Cthulhu and Hot Chicks

Naw, that isn't the newest supplement to Carcosa. Great looking girls mixing it up with monsters from beyond the stars? Hey, beautiful women go with anything.

Like most of you I come across tons of great fantasy art online, a lot of it anonymous. I'm not usually compelled to share, but as an old time Call of Cthulhu GM this one stuck out at me.

With weird fantasy art featuring women, many times you say to yourself "OK, what the hell is going on here?" This is one of those that have you trying to figure it out. An almost elfin, long-legged young girl, partially covered in clean bandages, steps over a giant tentacle that extends from the Great Old One in the background. To just say it is hallucination is way to easy.

So what's up? Is she a previously wounded, now-insane adventurer who escapes from Arkham to be with her one true, octopoid love? OK, kind of a stretch, and a little too sexy/disgusting. How about she's an unusally rare form that Nyarlothotep has taken - he will appear as a human appealing to the eyes, no (and, usually some Egyptian motif, right, like mummy bandages)?
I guess we maybe have to call it a scene from the dreamlands, where she might be a lovely sorceress/siren who calls on the power of The Sleeping One to combat her enemies. Hmmm...maybe it is Carcosa after all.