Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Party finally faces real challenges – film at 11

In this week’s game taking place in The Night Below, the party finally arrived at one of the deadlier areas – the caverns surrounding the Temple of Jubilex.
Night Below is written as a meat grinder, but after a dozen games or so, the party seems to have made themselves nicely at home in the hellish depths. Couple of near deaths, but no cigar.

Well, in this new area there were some serious dangers to them. First cavern had some piercers and a lurker above, which made for a nice little start to the action. Up next was a cave with a large, intelligent fungus creature, an “Obal,” who just hung out on the ceiling. Even though the creature was not aggressive, Andy’s half elf bard Vaidno shot an arrow at it for fun, and it immediately attacked the half wit and the others with it’s pointy tentacles.

Taking care of the Obal in short order, the party didn’t get time even for a breath as a Black Pudding from the furthest part of the cave rolled in and attacked. It managed to deal a good bit of damage before eventually being reduced to several small and harmless mini-puddings.

In the next cave though was a 12 Level magic-user, a captive of slavers who handed him over to the Mind Flayers, but he managed to escape with his teleport spell just before going beyond the gates of the City of the Glass Pool. Flubbing the spell, he has ended up in this area desperately trying to hold off the beasties within. Insane and desperate, he will do anything to get his hands on a teleport scroll, or anything else to get back to the world above (note: although not done so in the module, I made this guy the same magic shop owner from the town above whom the party knows as having been kidnapped by Drow slavers before the party ventured underground, just to give him a bit of a connection and gravitas).

This guys best item was a very awesome scroll (I took away the portable hole he has in the book, plus a couple of other items I didn’t want players to have). It is a regenerating scroll with Invisible Stalker, Monster Summoning 4, and Fireball on it. Each spell comes back in a few days if you don’t fail a small percentage roll that makes that spell disappear off the scroll for good. Nice, eh? This is a good bit of power to fall into the player’s hands, but with them assaulting the City of the Glass Pool in a few games they need all the help they can get.

The MU had recently cast his fireball and Inviso Stalker spells from the scroll in the last couple of days, so at least those would not be available to the players right away when they got their hands on it. He actually had two Stalkers available as the player come into the area. One to guard the cave entrance, and another to act as bodyguard to him. As the PC’s entered the cave, the first Stalker struck, ringing Vaidno with a powerful blow from out of nowhere. Though invisible, the party managed to defeat it in just a few rounds, just in time for the MU to cast Monster Summoning 4 and bringing a couple of giant wasps unto the battlefield. Unfortunately for me, I never got much fun out of them, because Lumarin the High Elf MU made with his want of lightning and toasted them right up.

Vaidno led the battle against the second Invisible Stalker, and with the help of a couple others took it down. The high level MU didn’t like that, so he unleashed his Polymorph Other upon Vaidno!

OK, here is where I had to make the hard decision regarding System Shock vs. death. I’ve been debating it in relation to the Haste spell. Still wishy washy on this, I decided I needed to go to the book when in doubt. “Andy, do Viadno’s System Shock. Miss and he’s dead.”

I have to admit, despite my doubts about “SS or die” I found the tense drama of that roll to be pretty exhilarating. Here was a PC somebody has been running for more than two years in my game, and his life was dependant on an 80% or less.
Vaidno turned into a small newt. Luckily, he kept his mental facilities, but he was affectively out of combat. Horny as ever, he crawled up Krysantha the female drow’s pants leg to have a look around.

Scorched by a lightning bolt from Lumarin’s wand, and struck by a pair of arrows from Kyrsantha, the MU was put to one hit point, and he went down screaming “I only want to get out of this hell hole!”

Lumarin charmed him (a couple of attempts had already been made by other characters, but they failed), and demanded he change Vaidno back, but unfortunately the MU had used up his dispel magic. Lumarin took pity on the tortured and deranged MU, and traded him a teleport scroll for the awesome regenerating scroll with the cool stuff on it. After being grilled heavily on what little he knew, the MU was allowed to teleport away.

It sure would have been fun for Vaidno to stay a newt for awhile. Too bad Krysantha had dispel magic, and despite being much lower level than the casting MU (who was 12th), managed to turn Vaidno back. Made for an exciting second system shock, however. Vaidno lived to fight another day.

So it turned out to be a pretty brutal game for the party, and luck had a lot to do with nobody getting croaked. They are only half way through the area though, and although they plan to avoid the Temple of Jubilex itself (and passing up some nice treasure) they will trudge through more mayhem before they are out of these particular caverns.

With our D&D games going on hiatus for a bit (couple of players being out of town in June), I’m maybe going to do some change of pace games with some Champions in my old Champions game setting. When we get back to the Night Below in July, I’m gonna kill me some characters!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I played me some AD&D

So last weekend I played in regular player Ben’s game. I won’t lie to you, I was severely hung over. My older bro and I stayed up till almost 5am drinking whiskey and Jager. Ugh. Getting too old for this.

But with a little Sam Adams for “hair of the dog” I was able to participate. We all car pooled from Santa Monica to Dan’s Mulholland abode, a really nice house with a view of various multi-million dollar properties. I got renewed respect for Dan after seeing where he lived and after meeting his girlfriend. The big South African dude (white) is really chasing the American Dream.

So here are my player observations and feelings after sitting down as a D&D player for the first time in almost 20 years. Firstly, it was almost 3 hours into the game before we had any combat or physical stuff of any kind. We were elves and half-elves from Elfland, and a human knight and some troops came to ask for help for their land. It seems some kind of enchantress was charming away soldiers to her dungeons, and they wanted us for our natural charm resistance. So there was meeting humans, parties with humans, then travelling to human land with humans. In a nutshell, with a spattering of role-play, that was almost a full three hours. I went into the game really wanting the release of action, but it took a long time to get to any. I understand Ben wants to set-up his world and so forth, but really I gave up running the previous Wednesday evening game of Mutant Future so we could spend that three hours on character creation and not have to do it Saturday. We should have been treated to some kind of action sooner (travelling with a large company of humans, so there were no wandering monster attacks).

We had maybe an hour and a half left to play, and so Ben hit us with some encounters on the way to the dungeon. There was a Warg attack, a Stirge attack at our camp, and then outside the dungeon we fought a group of ogres. Between Andy’s Cavalier and retainer, and Paul’s fighter and two retainers, the monsters were mopped up pretty easily. So here was my next gripe. Between Andy and Paul there are three retainer-types, so effectively they get to do attacks and rolls for a total of 5 individuals. And for some reason, me and Dan’s cleric/thief went last despite being pretty good in the Dex department (Ben is going by the book, which I guess means go around the table for turns. How this is superior to going by Dex order I will never know).

Me and Dan were both pretty annoyed that not only did it take forever to get a turn, but that two characters and their retainers were mopping up the place with their turns. My fighter/MU did get to shine a bit when he got great rolls and bowshot stirges off a couple of characters backs, but that was about it.

I understand that in D&D there are retainers and henchmen and all that, and it is a part of by the book gaming. And in my current game I let Terry run two characters for a few games (so there would be a cleric) and have an NPC in the party, but still my turns seem to just fly by, and Dex order seems to work out pretty good in my game. I don’t normally work a lot of henchmen and hireling stuff into my games. I like players to mostly focus on their characters, and things seem more heroic to me when it is pretty much just the player characters taking the chances.

All in all, I’d say Ben does a bit better than average DM’ing a game. But just as I recall from the late 80’s and early 90’s when I switched to GM’ing only, I am mostly unsatisfied with the player experience. I just kept wishing that Wednesday night last week and then on Saturday night, that I was running one of my games. It’s just what I prefer. Oh well, I did go into this wanting the player experience to help me be a better DM, and so I can do more of that we’ll let Ben run his game again.

I also went into this because I wanted to experience by the book AD&D again just to have a second look at my own house rules and such. I have to admit, nothing made me want to give up my rules and go by the book. Quite the contrary, with Andy’s cavalier and other fighters with double specializations doing over 20 points of damage at a pop, some characters just seemed too powerful for low level games.

I think that for my future games I’m going to leave the Unearthed Arcana out of it except for the extra spells.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Painful Character Creation Process

Wednesday night this week I was supposed to run a bit of my Mutant Future campaign, as one of the regulars could not make it for D&D. With regular player Ben doing a session of his D&D this coming weekend, I offered that we should at least do up our stats for his 1st ed. Game so we could have more game time on Saturday. By around 9:00 we were still working on characters, so I offered up that we should just go ahead and finish the characters so we could get right on it this weekend. I was a bit miffed that we put so much time into it that we didn’t actually do any gaming. I mean, I’m giving up a weeknight to run a game, not work on a character. But I originally suggested Ben do some D&D for some of the reasons I gave in this recent post, so I figured I would be supportive of that, and the MF games are just a sort of throwaway when we don’t have the full group. If I was doing my D&D there would have been no other stuff but the game, but I wasn’t so it was OK.

Ben is doing scenarios that are elf-centric. Our only choices for race were elves, half-elves, and human monks. No humans otherwise. I thought this was a bad start, because supposing you don’t like elves, and don’t get the stats for a monk? I know many DM’s like to do things like this, but I never liked doing elf, dwarf, etc. centric games. I like players to be whatever race they want or class they want, so I rarely restrict.

Ben is going by the book 1st ed, a far cry from my methods. When people have asked me if I go fully by the book, I say “as if.” So he let us use any of the methods from the DMG – 4D6 pick best 3 and put where you like: roll each stat on 3D6 in order six times, etc. FYI – my method is 4D6 method, with an elimination roll and possible bit of point switching.

Not everyone had arrived, so I went for it first and did the method that lets you do up 12 characers with the 3D6 method. I got pretty lucky, and ended up with Str. 13, DX 16, Con 16, Int 17, Wis 13, and Chr 13, That was pretty perfect for the half-elf Fighter/MU I was envisioning.

The other guys weren’t all that lucky. Poor Paul, a guy still fairly new to tabletop, decided he would go for the human monk. Nice try, but no stogie. He didn’t near have the stats for monk. I have to admit I could not resist getting in there and saying “aw, give him a break. But no go. Paul would have to settle on a very low wisdom, not that strong nor fast straight fighter full elf.

Andy did good enough to get a Cavalier with the 4D6 method. Daniel arrived a bit late, and he decided on the roll 12 characters method as I did. It took him forever, and it was very painful. Almost all of his stat rolls included a very low number for each possible character. He would have liked a ranger, but it wasn’t happening. Poor Dan, he decided on some kind of cleric/thief or something that he didn’t sound all that happy to pursue, but did anyway.

Long ago in my games I decided that we would do our best to let somebody have a character they wanted. There had to be some decent rolls in order to get a ranger or monk or whatever, and my 4D6 method including an elimination roll would often provide them. Maybe a point or two would have to be moved around. Whatever, as long as I was convinced the player wanted the character for a desire to role-play it, rather than just to be a powerful character, I would do my best. Ben’s strictness reminded me of some bad old game times from the early days, from a character standpoint.

One thing that really chapped my ass was this: In my game Ben is running an MU. When the system shock or die element of using a Haste spell was brought up in my game a couple of weeks ago, Ben vehemently argued against it. I asked him last night about it in his game, and he smilingly said he would be going by the book. As a DM I felt a little manipulated by that in my game, so good old Ben can expect me to lose a little bit of my easy going nature when it comes to his MU and his spells.

Am I too much of a soft touch in my game? Too easy on characters and the character creation process? I don’t tend to have power gamers in my group (for the most part), so it is easy to be more open. If somebody wants a ranger, we will do our best for them to have the stats for it, even if it means moving some points around.

We’ll see how Ben’s game goes Saturday night, but I get a feeling I’m going to be experiencing a lot of things that gave me reason back in the day to start putting in some of my own little rulings.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Taking off the DM hat (at least a little)

I always preferred GM’ing to being a player. From the mid-80’s through the late 90’s, I was the DM/GM 99% of the time and was the guy who would put the gaming group together. The last time I sat down as a player was around 1998 for a couple of times in some local folks GURPS games. I had no experience with GURPS, and there was nothing special about the games to make me a fan. With a GM who had no real talent and seemed to make it all up as he went along (“notes light” is fine, but I don’t trust any GM who doesn’t even have a notebook to refer to during the game), that didn’t last long for me. I re-resigned myself to GM’ing only.

When I put my current group together a couple of years ago, I had no intention of being a player in it. I had just taken around 6 years off from gaming, and I came back to it with a thousand ideas in my head, pent-up in me like sperm cells in a set of blue balls. Although one new player from last year clearly had joined us to try and get us to let him run his games (he wasn’t at his first game an hour before he started inquiring about anybody wanting to play in his 3.0 D&D – what cajones on the dude), my other players have been happy to go player only.

But since getting involved in the online gaming community the other year, I have started to have a little bit of a hankering to sit down as a player (and it’d be nice to sit down – I run our weeknight games standing up the entire time). Not out of a great love of playing a character. Outside of doing the occasional Champions or Call of Cthulhu campaign, my first and greatest love is my AD&D world setting. I started it out at around age 14 towards the end of the 70’s. It has grown and expanded over the decades, and has seen the coming and going of hundreds of player characters. My love and attachment to it has kept my away from various Forgotten Realms and Grewhawks and Blackmoors since day one (well, I did dabble a good bit in the City State of the Invincible Overlord setting around 1981).

But I feel that perhaps not being a player in D&D has made me jaded, and maybe even a bit out of touch. So I have wanted to get a little player time in, and one of our newer players has offered to step up when I feel like having a little break from DM’ing, or when an important player cancels and I don’t want to do one of my alternates. I plan on wrapping up my Night Below campaign (at least the first half of it) by late July, and I may not want to jump right into DM’ing another campaign. So I’ll need a break at some point.

I had planned for a rare weekend session this coming Saturday, but with a crucial player not being able to make it, and me not wanting to do an extra long Mutant Future alternative (we are doing that Wed night this week) I gave Ben the go ahead to get a game ready for us. I think he is pretty excited about it.

Ben started with us around late fall of last year, and he is an excellent player. He knows 1st edition well, and that is a plus. I actually would like to lose a few of my less necessary house rules and go a bit more by the book when I do my next campaign, and Ben wanting to go by the book for his games will give me a chance to re-familiarize myself with rules I haven’t used as-is in decades (if ever).

So I am looking forward to coming up with a player character for the first time in forever, and about blogging about my player experiences rather than just my GM joys n’ headaches. Ben wants to make it elf-centric (he runs a high elf in my game, so he obviously has an elf fixation), so I think I’ll do up a rakish half-elf Fighter/MU.