Friday, March 25, 2011

TPK in The Night Below

At least that is what I thought it was going to be. I know, false advertising. But in the previous game two weeks ago, the party went straight from the brutal fight in the Kuo Toan Priest Kings palace in The City of The Glass Pool, and depleted in hit point and vital spells went next door to the very Glass Pool itself, within the huge-domed Temple of The Sea Mother, to try and finish the job.

Not only did it turn out that the newly claimed Crown of Derro Domination would not contact Derro from a distance (the nearest ones were across the city), but on the way into the temple dome a stone giant had thrown a boulder, crushing NPC Dia into the negatives. Still, with all that against them ending last game, Andy’s bard Vaidno took up the sword Finslayer from Dia and led the charge into what was more or less the final fight of the campaign. That last game they had defeated the high priest and some others, but it left a couple of characters under Hold Person. They started this game severly down in manpower. Three strong fighters, including the badly wounded Dia, where unavailable for this combat. I confided to Terry a few days ago on the way to the Pub Session, running the held Helena, that she should not be too shocked if she lost this character and could do nothing about it. It was the decision of Andy and the others to take on the temple straight after another huge fight. I thought it would be the death of them.

So much happened in this fight. So much high level stuff. There was not just a couple of giant lobsters In the pool, but a large water elemental as well. And within a few short rounds the entirety of the Kou Toan army would be busting in. The big challenge was the statue of Blipdoolpoolp that the party came to blow up with the dwarvish bomb (their last). The statue was basically an avatar of the Sea Mother, and it was next to invulnerable to almost everything but weapons +2 or better. It also got a deadly bite if both claws hit you (for 2d8 each); if you were held in both claws and the head bite got a natural 19 or 20 on the hit roll, the victims head is taken clean off, and the body thrown into the pool for the giant lobsters to tear apart. Krysantha the drow druid turned into a bird an bravely flew the bomb over to the statue, but attacks from both the water elemental and the now animated statue made it hard to light a bomb fuse. Krys got grabbed up in those arms, and I made the bite roll in the open, telling them that a 19 or higher was the end of the character. I don’t think I have ever seen a roll watched with more baited breath in my life than Dan watching that dice I got a 15 and it hit, but no head off.

Unfortunately, I would get no more chances at the cool head bite. My rolls for the monster, which are usually notoriously good, were not so great. I think I only hit a 20 crit twice at most, and that was for lobsters and normal Kuo Toa. Man, I coulda used that 20 with the statue, or at least a water elemental attack.

At one point Lumarin the high elf MU broke out his magic gong, and summoned the Asian Gong Warrior, who held off some of the tougher Kuo Toa captains for awhile before succumbing to the hoard that was rushing in. Lumarin also had an Invisible Stalker holding back the hoard from another entrance, so plenty of good magical stuff going on. Vaidno used his gem found long ago in a dwarven forge to summon the fire elemental that had promised to help if ever released from the gem, but the water elemental quickly left the pool to extinguish the fire elemental, and hit some of the characters with some pounding wave actions.

By the time Krysantha fell down at zero hit points, the statue was already badly tore up, and when Vaidno’s final blows from his flashing blades (including Finslayer) broke the statue to bits, the kuo toan mobs fell to madness and the battle was over. Not one damn character death in this fight. Wow. I was so sure this would be at least a near TPK. Perhaps surviving characters taken down to the Sunless Sea as slaves for the Aboleth.

We ended with characters headed back to the tower in the Derro Town they previously claimed from the Mind Flayers. So it’s looking like next time will be the campaign epilogue game. They still have to deal with the slaves they saved, but there are still political groups around, including both the formerly dominated Derro, the Renegade Derro the characters dealt with, Avatara and the other drow who took over the Derro tavern (and their gang of Quaggoths), and a few other random bits. Unless the party heads back into the City of the Glass Pool to try and do some looting (although the city is insane right now, it doesn’t mean they won’t have to fight their way around the city; Kuo Toans are notoriously more dangerous insane than sane), it should be a nice and fun game to run. The campaign finale after more than two years. Wow.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tegel Manor Dynasty

Tegel Manor is one of those love it or hate it old school items. Even by Judges Guild standards, it was an especially wacky and crazy funhouse dungeon. It’s so chock full of wild shit (a huge undead, demon, and monster population in a relatively small area), it has the almost random feel of something written up on a weekend of heavy marijuana usage. I mean, just the butler in one of the front main rooms is described as a “Balrog Ghost.” That seems so random. And do demons like Balrogs even have ghosts when they die? Don’t they just go crying back to hell when you kill them?

I guess I can’t throw stones. I added even more weird crap to the mix as a very young teen with this. I had Green Warhoon Martians with radium rifles in one of the big rooms off the main ballroom, and pretty sure I had some kind of robot created by a mad scientist roaming around as well. As I got a bit older, I stopped trying to use it as a dungeon to be explored, and used it here and there over the years mostly as a mission based location. Characters arriving to find an item lost in the Wizard Tower or something, and only moving into a small area of the Manor and then leaving.

In these OD&D games I’ve been doing here and there since last year, I’ve thought about Tegel a bit more. I think all those old Dark Shadows episodes I’ve been watching on Netflix have affected me.

I thought of using the super-haunted house for these sessions, but the problem was my OD&D games are set around 200 years prior to the current time period of my 1st edition game setting. So rather than expect that the manor has been around in maximum haunting form for several hundred years, I thought that it might be interesting to check out the manor and the surrounding area before it was taken fully over by evil and the Tegel family (yes, I do not use the name “Rump”) more or less died out. A sort of Tegel supernatural soap opera like Dark Shadows.

I decided that the evil curse on the house/land began very early on in its existence. That even the first few generations knew something was wrong, and minor haunting went down. The house grew in size from additions, and the family carried on, despite certain cries, screams, moans, and whimpers from older parts of the mansion at night. And the people of Tegel Village carried on as well, generation after generation being used to weirdo happenings.

So I took four family members from portraits that were together in the list: Lady Rubianna, Riven, Rotcher, and Ruang. I don’t believe the 1-100 portraits are in fact linear and meant to be taken as having been in order of family members as they came along, but I thought it would be easier to take some who where next to each other in the list. I kind of also went with the description in that entry to some degree, thus “Rotcher the Radiant” is a handsome, charismatic, and fun loving person while alive. Here’s the family members in question and what I did with them for the current, living lords of Tegel.

Lady Rubianna: Mother of Riven, Grandmother to Rotcher and Ruang. Fled the mansion as a young lady 20 year ago, to have her child Riven in the big city of Tanmoor.
Lord Riven: when he reached adulthood, took his mother back with him to Tegel to reclaim the birthright. Brought loyal Tanmoor butler “Slappington” as well. Married a local girl soon after returning, and had two boys, Rotcher and Ruang

Rotcher and Ruang: Riven’s children with his wife Rhian (who has no Tegel Manor portrait). Rotcher is happy and handsome, Ruang is dark and brooding, taking delight in the suffering of things. Rotcher is a hit with the other local teens, and on Friday nights Riven lets a chaperone (in this case Terry’s elvish fighter/MU “Rose”) take them on an outing to the Tegel Tavern.

There are portions of the mansion that are now very haunted, and dangerous for strangers to wander into it. Even for Tegel family members; Lady Rubianna one day wandered into the East Wing, and was possessed by the vampire portrait of an ancestor when she stopped to admire it. Since then she has laired in a nearby sea cave, and has been gathering undead to pester the land.

So with Terry’s Rose character in place working for Lord Riven as a bodyguard to the teens, the rest of the party are a group of adventurers passing through on their way to the big city. This particular one-shot (more or less) is supposed to be telling a story to a degree, so a bit of a railroad job compared to my dungeon sessions for OD&D. So I just thought that a couple of decent role-play situations, combined with some breezy location based fights, would fill up the session and give me some good “phone it in” ease of DM’ing in a semi-public setting. Nothing too complicated for me, or ponderous for the players.

So after camping near some gypsies, and getting their fortunes read (including some semi-vogue warnings of what might be in store in Tegel), the party came up on the village proper. They passed the large monestary that is to the north on the Tegel area map, but alas there was no monk character so didn’t feel compelled to get them to go there. They decended upon the town hollow, and found zombies prowling the town square in the rain. Nice combat (wherin one character almost died, but I decided to go for -10 and die rather than the -5 I had been using for OD&D), and got the party involved in Rose and the Tegel kids who were at the tavern on their Friday outing. So a bit of tavern role-playing, with the happy go lucky teens of Tegel hanging out with Rotcher and Ruang, and the older townsfolk brooding in their beers over strangers and walking dead being afoot.

Lord Riven came with some guards from his manor eventually (the characters learned that the local constabulary were cowardly Keystone Cops who rarely showed up when there was monster trouble) to investigate the zombie fuss, and offered the PC’s a job. In the less-haunted part of Tegel Manor, Riven had butler Slappington serve drinks, while he and his wife skittishly told of the mother possessed, and the need to stop her haunting the area for the sake of the Tegel kids if not the village folk. The party agreed, and went to spend the night at a two-story several room guest house nearby.

The PC’s took up residence in some of the rooms and the lounge, falling asleep to the occasional howl or spooky laughter from the haunted parts of Tegel Manor across the way. The vampiric Lady Rubianna came to Rose in the master bedroom, and offered her info on some of her own family secrets (Rose came to Tegel because her uncle had mysteriously died in service to Riven and the family) if she convinced the party to leave Tegel. She fled the guest house before summoning a hoard of rats to attack all in the house. That was a fun little scramble, with PC’s fighting rat packs as a thief character ran around behind the scenes using secret passages in the walls.

The next morning it was off to the sea cliff, where before the stairs down to the waves they had to pass a local mausoleum. A small hoard of skeletons, led by a couple of wights, came pouring out of the mausoleum to combat the party. The cleric of St. Cuthbert tried a bit of turning here and there, but the battle was ultimately won through cold steel and elbow grease. Fun fight.

Then down into the caves, to first face Rubianna’s Wraith, then on to the lady herself. It was a fairly quick battle, as the cleric used hold person and the save was failed. I know, I would probably not let a hold person work on a full vampire, but Lady Rubianna was still alive and human, just possessed by the vampire spirit. After a bit of treasure looting, the group dragged Lady Rubianna out to the daylight, where the ancestor spirit retreated back to its portrait, and Lady Rubianna was cleansed of evil and returned to her family. Happy little ending to a nice little session.

I’ve really loved this idea of a Dark Shadows inspired Tegel Manor prequel setting, and I’m for sure going to do more with it. Plenty of opportunities for chilling adventures as the current tenants of Tegel Manor try to hold off the encroaching evil; even though we all know how it will eventually turn out in the long run. So more Tegel Manor family fun in the future I hope, with at least some of the same great players.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Playing D&D with Pub Stars

I guess if a fortune teller told me a couple of years ago that I would be running a Dungeons and Dragons session in a busy pub, I would have told her not to listen to those spirits again, because they were full of shit. But there I was, at a Santa Ana British Pub, running a sort of Tegel Manor prequel game for seven players, and drinking pint after pint of delicious Elvish brew (Bass Ale).

Cyclopeatron put this together, and it was an interesting experiment. Basically, we took over a back area, slid some tables together, and I did the 5 hour session while Trent Foster ran at another table nearby. It was a stormy day in Southern California, and I really thought I might face the prospect of this falling through if a lot of players decided not to forge out into the weather. I told my regular player and designated driver Terry, and great trooper, to bring along her Mythos card sets in case I had to go ahead and fold whatever players showed up for me into Trent’s session (who was willing to have up to 12 people play).

But as it turned out, I had a full boat. Seven players including Terry. Wow. I think Trent ended up with a couple players less than I had, which surprised me. I think some kind of word of mouth, somewhere, is getting around about the breezy little OD&D sessions I’ve been doing since last year. It was really gratifying to me to have such a great showing.

At Around 11AM the pub was filled with hollering and shouting soccer hooligans, but before long the TV matches were over and it quieted down a bit. We took our time getting characters set up, I ordered up two pints at a time, and tore into some delicious Cod and Chips when it finally showed up. I had a nice cozy booth type seat to adjudicate from, and it was the perfect amount of players for the space we had. Just enough room for everything and everybody.

The pub manager was a hilarious Manchester lady names Jackie, and her often mean and sarcastic attitude in the morning blended nicely with her more warm and friendly chatting in the afternoon when things quieted down a bit. Personally, I think she had tilted a few herself in the back, which is always a bringer of cheery feelings. One of my players that day was also English, from the London area (there was an old London map in the bathroom that he could see his old neighborhood on), so the combination of the Euro accents, pub atmosphere, and rainy day was super conducive to good gaming feelings. It was all quite perfect. After making sure of taking care of Terry’s Cod lunch and a couple of pints for being my designated driver, the day cost me around 90 bucks, but it was well worth it for a great day out. To me this was more fun than a day at Disneyland or Knott’s. Limey manager Jackie said that for next time she might arrange a buffet and some booze discounts to cut back on costs a little.

As far as the scenario, I did a sort of Tegel Manor prequel, set in a time before that mansion become the most haunted place in the world. I used some of the Tegel personalities from the 100 portraits in the Tegel Manor adventure, and had them still be alive, and a family trying to hold off the encroaching curse of the area.

Later this week I’ll post a bit about that Tegel Manor Prequel session, and also about tomorrows Night Below session, which I think will be quite brutal and very likely the last game of the campaign.

Meanwhile, go to Cylcopeatron’s site to see a couple of photos of the sessions from that day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who says a wrestler can’t play Conan?

I like to toss that out there in comments on posts about the upcoming Conan dud. The reply I usually get is that wrestlers are hoarse-voiced morons who can do stunts but not act. OK, often they concede that The Rock can act, but I don’t think he’d be a good Conan. Way to ethnic for a character off Celtic roots. But is there anybody else in the WWE roster that could make the grade?

Well, to a degree gruff would be the way to go. I know fans of the books like to make it out like Conan spoke like some refined Rhodes Scholar in a high society tea room, but I don’t think that was the case. It doesn’t really matter how he came off in the text, we are talking about people who supposedly lived over 10,000 years ago.

Everyone after Ah-Nuld who played Conan, or any other barbarian for that matter, comes off sounding like an American Indian. Just enough of an inflection to give it that old world brute sound. In all honesty, I don’t think there is any getting away from that. C’mon, admit it, when you run barbarians in games you do that American Indian voice. You can do variations on it, but if you are going to be speaking in English there isn’t much else you can do. You are going to sound, one way or another, a lot like Daniel Lewis’ Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans at best. “Stay alive, that’s all I ask. I will find you.”

So who are my wrestler picks to play the big bounding barbarian? Let me first say that although I enjoy watching wrestling from time to time, and have a “Smart Mark” understanding of the ins and outs of the industry (I’ve read a couple of biographies of folks in that business), I’m not a fanatic. I know a couple of dudes who are, and they always know way more than me about what is going on in the weekly shows than I. But yeah, I guess I am a fan.

Randy Orton: son of old school wrestler “Cowboy Bob.” Randy has a lot of lean muscle, and is still in his 20’s. He has a steely stare, and can look both mirthful and melancholic when called for. A year or so ago he could barely cut a “promo” (you know, when wrestlers talk to the camera and say stuff like “I’m going to rule the world!”). Wrestlers typically don’t get acting or speaking coaches. They buff out rough edges in their speaking by doing promo after promo, for years. Randy Orton has gotten a lot better, and I’m sure he could pull it off verbally. Plus he just has a killer look for a younger Conan.

Triple H: my choice for an older, “King Conan” era Cimmerian. Triple H rose to fame in the infamous “Attitude Era” of the late 90’s, when wrestling was less for the kids and more salacious and violent. Eventually, he married Owner Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie in real life, and is the heir apparent to the WWE Empire. He can speak well (although, yeah, a little gruff), and has the big muscle body and long hair perfect for the barbarian wearing a heavy crown.
Hell, if you are going to go with a dude best known for his role on Baywatch Hawaii, then you can only make it better casting Randy and Triple H as Conan.

As an aside, I want to say that despite having been a RE Howard fan as a kid, I still loved the Ah-Nuld Conan. Fanboys say there was not much Howard in it, but I disagree. The tone, the ethnic make-up of the populace, the primitive yet still fabulous cities, and even Conan’s little archer sidekick struck a chord with me. Walking around Zamora, munching Black Lotus and punching out camels. Whining and wenching, and scooping up handfuls of gems. How is this not Conan? I loved it, and think it still holds up as a great movie.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mary Bloodyguts

Mary is a Penanggalan from The Fiend Folio. In the real world they are part of Malaysian myth, and are female vampire types whose head can pop off the body, leaving to fly off for a feeding with the guts of the girl coming out also and dangling hideously from the neck.

Sometime in the 80’s I was of a mind to use the creature, but was sort of stuck as to how to go about it. At the time I was very into special wilderness encounters; things like the regenerating Black Knight from Monty Python guarding a crossing or other weird encounter.

I decided to have my Penanggalan be one of these encounters, and decided she would be “Mary Bloodyguts,” the sort of urban myth creature that children would chant at the mirror in a darkened from to scare each other (much like Bloody Mary that we had as kids). Of course, the player characters travelling out in the forest or fields would not remember the story of Mary from childhood (until it was too late), even though the lovely young girl they meet out on the crossroads might be named Mary.

The party would always invite Mary to join them (those horny male players always happy to have another girl around, PC or NPC), and it was not until late at night around the campfire, when one lone character is on watch, that Mary will detach her head and go on the attack (the PC who was awake to witness it generally going bonkers). Whether she escapes or is killed, Mary is never really gone. She’ll appear again on a lonely road or trail sometime time in the future, asking unwitting adventurers to escort her to the nearest town. Then that night *pop* the head comes off again.

To mix it up, you could have Mary in another circumstance. Classically she would have dark or red hair, but make her a blond and put her in a village tavern (maybe the pickings on the road are poor that month) getting harassed by thugs. When Mr. High Charisma PC saves her and gets her upstairs, you can imagine some great moments for that head to come off there alone in a small inn room.

As Mary is only good for a one shot for any particular group of players, I’ve only used her two or three times in the past. Around once per decade. As some of my players will likely see this post, I won’t be using her any time soon (I’m too busy with “the campaign that would not end” anyway to use her). But Mary Bloodyguts is always out there, hungry and waiting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hugo Weaving and The Red Skull

Captain America wasn’t one of my favorite Marvel characters, but for a time in the 80’s and early 90’s I was a regular reader. You could not deny his importance. Captain America was the one dude in the superhero community that all the other Marvel Characters trusted to open up to. From Spider-Man bemoaning his Aunt May’s latest heart attack, to The Black Widow complaining about that not-so-fresh feeling, Captain A was your go-to guy. His inspiring words got them back up n’ at ‘em.

In continuity, Cap was really the first superhero in the Marvel Universe (if you don’t count various wild west heroes). He fought through World War 2, and up till modern times has been the pinnacle of human perfection. His sparring partner, German bellhop turned Hitlerian super soldier named The Red Skull, came to modern times with him to continue the eternal dance.

In the media Cap never got a fair shake. He had a horrible TV pilot (he was a surfer dude, if I recall) back in the day, and in 1990 he finally got the big screen treatment. Despite a great back-up cast, including Ronny “Total Recall” Cox, Ned “Squeal like a pig!” Beatty, and Darrin “Kolchak” Mcgavin, it was a real stinker. Matt Salinger as Cap was uninspired casting. Plus they made the Red Skull an Italian. Huh? Wha? Was that even necessary? Was one of the producers German or something? Chalk that up to one of the most head scratching changes in comic to film history (making the 5’2” Wolverine a skinny 6’1” guy is a close second).

Now we are getting a new Cap film, one based in the new Marvel cinematic universe. The movie trailer footage looks great, with Cap in his WW2 natural environment. Cap is in the Nazi killing business, and brother, business is a’ boomin’! Iron Man set a high bar for this new generation of movie heroes, and both Thor and the upcoming Avengers film are going to at least be feasts for fanboy eyes (but hopefully better stories and continuity than the last Wolverine and X-Men films).

Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull is a no-brainer, and from the pic above you can see they are going the right direction for him. Since childhood I dreamed of comic book movies that didn’t suck and at least half-assed tried to get it right. For a fanboy of any age, this is looking like a good time to be alive if you love these iconic ink and paint characters.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Comedy Team Alignments

Just for fun, and to get distance from my last fairly heavy post (and also it’s a game night), here’s the Muppet alignment chart. Do you agree with them?

What about some other comedy classic teams?

Three Stooges:

Moe: Lawful/Neutral – clearly Moe believes in order from chaos. He’s willing to strike out with righteous anger at the first sign of nonsense. He still wallows in his own greed and selfishness from time to time.

Larry: Neutral – Larry seems to be caught in the middle philosophically. He often finds great amusement in the antics of Curly, but also has only a certain amount of patience for it. He will generally just try to stay out of Moe’s way to avoid a stray tolchok or eye poke. He’s happy to let Curly take the brunt of it. Ultimately, he finds that both law and chaos have a place in the universe.

Curly: Chaotic/Neutral – almost a force of nature, the Bald One surely means no harm in his chaos. But freedom of will, and to destroy pricey furnishings, shall be the whole of the law.

The Marx Bros.

Groucho: Chaotic/Good – Groucho often attains a place of leadership, but he finds he cannot help but fall into the madness that his brothers share. The joke is everything, but in the end Groucho has a kind heart and is helpful to those in need. When the chips are down he can step up and lead the masses from the valley of true evil.

Chico: Chaotic/Neutral – Concerned only with his own needs (first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women). A fast buck and a hard fuck are the meat and potatoes of this scammer.

Harpo: Chatoic/Evil – lewd and rapacious, Harpo would knock you out and rape your wife and daughters if given half a chance. He gives in entirely to his base needs and instincts. No one who crosses his path is safe. Bar your doors!

The Rat Pack

Frank: lawful/neutral – although a party god and user of mind altering substances, Frank rules his kingdom with clearly lawful tactics. He calls the shots, and serves as the brain of the brain trust.

Deeno: Neutral – a basic sycophantic drone, to please Frank he at least pretends to be a drunk, plays the part of the king’s patsy, even going so far as to take part in the constant skewering of the king’s fool. To keep his place as second in the pecking order, Deeno does what he feels he must to maintain his status quo.

Sammy: Lawful/Good – the king’s fool wants nothing more than to perform and bring happiness to the attending court. He wants to make people smile, even if he must force his own smile in the wake of abuse and derision from his king and the king’s royal knight.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Radio Rivendell

I’ve always loved having music going for my games. Whether it’s some soundtracks or just the classical music station on, I think it adds to the atmosphere and mood and can be very inspirational. And as we all know, gaming is one half mental masturbation and one half inspiration (or some compound mixture thereabouts). The few games I’ve sat down as a player in where the DM was against having at least some soft music on where generally sucky. Nothing worse than a quiet room and a boring, uninspiring Game Master.

The ambiance of the infamous Star Wars group I ran a few games for the other year was dominated by yapping, barking (and smelly) mutts and was seriously lacking in much needed music. The host(“ess”) would not even let me at least put on the soundtrack to my beloved Knights of the Old Republic video game to try and get the juices flowing (although I am sure she would have loved to have had the horrible prequels on TV in the background).

It may not be possible in every gaming situation to have good music going, but for our regular sessions at Andy’s house we have always appreciated some background mood. I used some video game soundtracks and other stuff, but that was a little limited. And Andy horned-in on the music with some much hyped computer set lists to play (which sometimes included some inappropriate stuff like Butthole Surfers). But we have really settled on Radio Rivendell going on his computer for our ambient sounds.

Radio Rivendell is an internet radio station created in Sweden and devoted to tunes for gaming. Streaming live 24/7, they play a great variety of orchestral, Irish music, neofolk, dark ambient, and video game soundtrack tracks (and hopefully in the future some tunes from me and the boys in the Bruno Band; we’re going to send in some samples that might make good tavern tunes). The music goes great with fantasy gaming, but I can see it working for my upcoming Knights of the Old Republic games pretty handily.

The first night we tried it was during some heavy underworld evil city combat, and the music playing was dark and dramatic and could not be more appropriate. Sure, it doesn’t always match the action, but it is always good.

Check it out and get a little music going to enhance your games.