Saturday, April 30, 2011

FYI Inkwell sale

The full version of the Coat of Arms Design Studio from Inkwell Ideas is on sale right now for $15.95.  I just bought a copy and have been having quite a bit of fun with it.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Intoxicants of Wessex

Updated 5-18-11 & 7-1-11

Last week's discussion of beer got me thinking about what sort of things might be clouding the PCs' thoughts when they blow that carousing roll.  Here's what I've come up with.

Wine, French - Shipped in from across the channel in vast quantities, this is the drink of choice for many who can afford it (i.e. nobles and churchmen).

Wine, English - According to analysts, the Domesday Book seems to indicate the presence of about 40 to 50 vineyards in England circa 1080.  We'll assume that the snobbery about French wines surpassing the English is at least as strong then as it is now.  (Quick show of hands, is anybody hip to the fact that England has had hundreds of wineries in operation since the 1970's?  I did not know this until I started researching this topic.  And I don't recall ever seeing an English section in my local wine nerd shops.)

Wine, fruit - Non-grape alcoholic beverages featuring fermentation based upon cherries, currants, raspberries or strawberries.  Available mostly in the summer.

Wine, other -  Apparently you can also somehow make 'wine' out of hazelnuts or almond milk.

Ale - The daily drink of commoners but also imbibed by their superiors in great quantity.  The use of hops in ale has not yet reached England in the 12th century.  Instead Wessex alewives employ 'gruit', an herbal mix.  Since gruit recipes can vary based upon local plant distribution, the resultant ale may be an even wider flavor range than in modern ales. Medieval ales probably had about half as much alcohol in them as modern beers.  But ale bought from the right alewife may be the most potent intoxicant available, as some folks suspect that henbane, mandrake and belladonna were used in some gruits.  If the stuff didn't kill you, you'd be tripping balls.

Also, I've discovered since originally penning this that the Domesday Book mentions two different types of ale under production, cervisae (ordinary "ale") and plena cervisia ("full-bodied ale").  Plena cervisa may be thesame stuff called "godale" (literally "good ale") in a 14th century French cookbook, which refers to ale made with spelt in the malt in addition to the usual barley.


Anglo-Saxon law recognized three different types of ale. I have yet to be able to determine if the third type was the small ale mentioned below or if the Angles and the Saxons knew something about ale that the Normans didn't. It's a bit amusing to imagine the Normans as wine snobs and the Anglo-Saxons as ale aficionados.

Ale, small - Basically regular ale cut with porridge.  Served at breakfast and given to small children in lieu of the full strength stuff.

Scrumpy - Apple cider (hard cider, as it is called in the U.S.).  Appears to be one of the more potent drinks available to the common folk.  Seems to be less popular in Wales as compared to England and Cornwall.

Perry - Pear cider.  Imported from France and very expensive.  Effectively the champagne of the period, in terms of its use as a commodity of conspicuous consumption.

Jerkum - A cider type beverage using plums instead of apples.  Known only in the Cotswolds, on the Wessex map you can basically get it in the triangle described by Christminster, Glowan and Sulis.

Mead - Honey-based fermented beverage.  Pricey due to small supply and high demand.

Mead, small - The cheap version the peasants whip up after they make the proper stuff for their lord.  Normally ready to serve right as fall harvest gets under way, just in time to keep the scythers and sheafers properly refreshed.

Pyment - Medieval wine doesn't seem to keep as well as the more modern versions.  My sources conflict as to whether that's a problem with production, storage or simply a lack of appreciation for aged wine.  Either way, when wine starts to sour it is often turned into pyment by jazzing it up with fruits, spices and/or sugar and maybe a little heating.

Braggot - A Welsh mixed beverage, like pyment above, that involves combining wine and mead with additional spices.

Aqua Vita - Brandy.  Distillation is a brand new state-of-the-edge, cutting art technology, so unless you are pals with a wizard or an alchemist this stuff is nearly impossible to obtain.

Pipeweed - I won't lie to you.  Wizards and hobbits?  Straight up smoking Mary Jane.   Now you know why hobbits are always hungry.  I'm a tobacco man myself (though not as hardcore as that other pipesmoking blogger) but I'm just not down with using tobacco, a New World plant, in my decidedly old world setting.  Hit up Google with "shakespeare marijuana" if you need to see some evidence for earlier use of cannabis in England than maybe you previously suspected.

I'm a sucker for this sort of stuff

Thursday, April 28, 2011

One Issue Campaign, part 4


Time to continue plundering Dragon #69 to build a campaign from whatever we find inside. Today we're looking at this totally awesome ad for an old Atari computer game. Speaking of Atari personal computers, have you seen this new Atari style USB keyboard? I never owned an Atari PC but that looks sweet as hell.

FACT #1: If your campaign does not already have a haunted cemetery full of draculas, wolfmen and other unsavories then you either need to add one ASAP or come up with a darn good explanation why your world does not include such things.

But why is this graveyard haunted?  Is every cemetery in the campaign world a hang-out spot for the undead?  That's my assumption in the World of Cinder.  Graveyards there are basically segregated housing for the living impaired.  Or is there something particular jacked up about this one bone zone?  Maybe some sort of evil artifact or lingering curse powers the undead-ification and the PCs can do something about all these spooky monsters. 

I remember reading somewhere (an old MERP module or maybe right there in Tolkien) that the whole problem with the Barrow Wights was that the Necromancer was waking them up.  Perhaps an agent of the the Iron Wind (as mentioned in part 2) who was a student of Circe Doombringer (part 1) is running around stirring up the dead as a sort of macabre fifth column.

FACT #2: Starting a game by waking up in a coffin is totally rad.

Seriously, can you think of a better way to deliver an in media res upside the players' heads than "SUDDENLY you awaken in a coffin surrounded by a vast graveyard"?  Forget scoring goldpieces, just get me the crap outta here!

Perhaps all the PCs in the campaign are folks from the Real World who wake up in coffins!  It would be the fantasy equivalent of starting the campaign by getting out of cryofreeze like in The Morrow Project or "An Alternate Beginning Sequence for Metamorphosis Alpha" (Guy W. McLimore, Jr., Dragon #6).  Players could even run D&D-ified versions of themselves in the vein of the D&D cartoon or Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series.  The latter, incidentally, is one of the few fantasy novel franchises of which I was ever able to get through more than one book.  The rape sequence in book 2 or 3 put me off the whole thing, though.

Getting killed by a kobold while playing yourself would be a bummer.  But you'd also get the opportunity to try to figure out what character class best suits you.  Unless like Mark Barrowcliffe, the author of The Elfish Gene, you figured that out when you were a kid.  Mr. Barrowcliffe decided as a lad that he was obviously a druid.  I never went to the Mazes & Monsters-esque level of actually acting out some of these fantasies the way he did, but I was convinced at one point that I would be a kickass wizard if only magic was real.  By the way The Elfish Gene has some pretty neat stuff about the early British D&D scene, if you can get over the fact that the author seems to despise anyone who might be reading this post.

So this post is getting rambly.  To get back on track, let's run with the idea that every PC in the campaign is from Earth Prime (or whatever) and enters play by waking up in a coffin, tomb, open grave, etc.  That establishes a nice little overarching mystery: What the crap is going on?  Were those wacky medieval theologians right about the existence of Purgatory and that realm just happens to look like a cheesy 80's fantasy movie?  Are the jerks behind Riverworld also at work here?  Did all the PCs go into some sort of capsule-less cryofreeze only to wake up in the distant and weird future?  Obviously the whole campaign doesn't have to center around this mystery, but it certainly adds a little flavor.

So next installment of this series we will finally get to the first article in the mag: "Runes".

wisdom from the This American Life guy


The advice Mr. Glass offers here applies just as much to gamemastering as it does to any other creative endeavor.  You are going to suck the first time you do it.  You'll probably suck the fiftieth time you do it.  I put on the bravest face possible in my after action reports, but most of the time I still feel like I suck and I've been doing this since my age in years was a single digit.  Honestly, starting young and stupid was a tremendous advantage.  A poet or novelist can toil for years without having to share their earliest efforts, but a DM has to perform for other players right from the get-go.  That any adult actually tries to do this, with a lifetime of social pressures and fear of embarrassment weighing them down, is pretty much a miracle to me.  And then the poor newbie ends up sucking, because we all suck at everything we do the first time.

(Thanks to my buddy Pat for sharing this little item.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

twenty quick questions for your campaign setting

You can run D&D with just some PCs and a dungeon. I think that's totally legit. But if you have a campaign setting, here are some things for you to think about.  Better to muse on these before your players ask you, rather than finding yourself on the spot.
  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
  18. What is there to eat around here?
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
Campaign worlds, whether published or just notes scrawled in some DM's binder, contain a lot of material that most players honestly just don't give a crap about.  That's entirely okay.  Answer some of these questions or others like them and you'll have yourself a campaign regular players can relate to.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mr. T will destroy us all


This was the first result for a Google image search of "Mr. T robot".

(That looks kinda like the old Activision game Atlantis, but the graphics look too good for the Atari 2600 version.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

unfocused thoughts on Wisdom

The Wisdom stat is bugging me this morning.  The elimination of the Cleric from my Holmes Basic powered campaign has left Wisdom with no explicit mechanical function, i.e. a high Wisdom score does jack squat for a PC.  I'm not prepared to bring back the cleric class, so I thought I'd write down a few tentative ideas on how to address this situation.  Let me know what you think.
  • Eliminate the stat - simple, painless, but seems like a bit of a cop out.
  • Replace it - I like Basic Role Playing's extra stats (Education, Magical Power and Size) as well as Tunnels & Trolls's Luck (I guess BRP uses that, too) and Empire of the Petal Thrones's Psychic Ability.  Heck, I could see just outright using my 3-18 EPT adaptation instead of Holmes for all 6 stats.
  • Give Wis something to do - My first thought is that a high Wisdom gives you some sort meta-game of do-over ability.  Like anyone with a Wis of 14+ can take back one stupid/deadly blunder per session.  But then what does a low Wis do?  Another idea would be to tie Wisdom more directly into religion somehow.  Maybe use Wisdom when dealing with angelic or demonic beings in the same way that Charisma is used when roll reactions from normal creatures.
  • Make a Wis-powered class - A non-kung-fu Monk class would really help bring in some additional medieval flavor.  But what the heck do they do?  I don't want to just re-invent the cleric and the magic-user is already the class of the learned.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

guess what I watched on the TV today?


The Citizen Kane of stupid nerd movies, that's what!

I know a lot of folks think Monty Python & The Holy Grail is all played out, but personally I have never, ever gotten sick of it.  Sure, quoting vast chunks of it in the middle of a run is gauche, but the same could be said about any lengthy quotation or digression.

Friday, April 22, 2011

more dubious place names

Anthony the Pendant requested place name charts for German and Slavic type locations. Here's some quicky charts for you, dude:

400 German type places
1 Ber- -baden
2 Bre- -brucken
3 Dres- -burg
4 Dussel- -dam
5 Er- -den
6 Frei- -dorf
7 Gott- -el
8 Greifs- -furt
9 Ham- -gart
10 Han- -ich
11 Heidel- -ingen
12 Ki- -inz
13 Ma- -lin
14 Madge- -men
15 Mun- -na
16 Pots- -over
17 Saar- -rin
18 Schwe- -stadt
19 Stutt- -stanz
20 Wies- -wald

144 Slavicish places (d12 twice)

1 Brun- -ansk
2 Dub- -bove
3 Gd- -cin
4 Kolob- -lice
5 Kr- -nov
6 Med- -rzeg
7 Op- -tal
8 Po- -ynia
9 Szc- -zecin
10 Tep- -zev
11 Tren- -zilaborce
12 Vr- -zin

These sorts of things are a snap to build if you don't mind that your places are terrible fake constructions capable of inducing shrieks of terror in native speakers.  Just think of a real world analogy for your country.  Search for a wikipedia page with a title like "Cities of ____" and then start yanking apart some of the items on that list.  I made these in a spreadsheet so it would be easy to sort them A to Z when I was done.

What's the name of this no-horse hamlet?

The formatting is terrible but I think you get the idea.

900 Anglish places (d30 twice)
1 Ac(c)- -(a)y
2 Ash- -b(o)rough
3 Ast- -bost
4 B(o)urn- -bottom
5 Beck- -b(ur)y
6 Bex- -c(h)ester
7 Brad- -combe
8 Cheap- -cott
9 Chipping- -dale
10 Ey- -e(i)g
11 Holme- -field
12 Howe- -firth
13 Hythe- -ford
14 Keld- -forth
15 King- -foss
16 Kirk- -garth
17 Lang- -ghyll
18 Lei(gh)- -ham
19 Ley- -holm
20 Ling- -howe
21 Moss- -hythe
22 Nor- -ing
23 Shep- -law
24 Stan- -leigh
25 Stoke- -ness
26 Stow- -pool
27 Streat- -stead
28 Sud- -ton
29 Swin- -worthy
30 Weald- -wych

900 Frenchified places (d30 twice)
1 Aigre- -aie
2 Aver- -aine
3 Bosch- -bierres
4 Cal- -cadier
5 Carca- -cran
6 Chal- -cupe
7 Cur -de
8 Di- -dol
9 Ev- -dorra
10 Fren- -ens
11 Gi- -frece
12 Ker- -ignon
13 Lampi- -ir
14 Lu- -mes
15 Mer- -mont
16 Mor- -muis
17 Na- -neres
18 Nai- -nes
19 Noin- -oigne
20 Palom- -ones
21 Per- -re
22 Ra- -sonne
23 Ren- -sors
24 Sè- -tel
25 Tour- -urgne
26 Ur- -ven
27 Val- -ville
28 Vyn- -ys
29 Ya- -zès
30 Ylo- -zon

100 Corny places (d10 twice)
1 Aber- -axe
2 Bre- -cawl
3 L(h)an- -cledra
4 Nan- -denis
5 Pe(d)n- -dle
6 Pol- -illy
7 Pont- -perro
8 Porth- -rith
9 Tre- -treath
10 Usk- -zance

100 Welshish places (d10 twice)
1 Bl(a)en- -(a)mann
2 Ca(e)r- -afon
3 Coed- -bran
4 Cuum- -bryde
5 Din(as)- -coed
6 Lin- -divock
7 Mynydd- -dow
8 Nant- -llyn
9 Pant- -mawr
10 Ynys- -pant

Notes:
  • Some combinations will work better than others.  Some results may need a consonant or vowel added between the two elements to make them work.
  • While I did a modicum of research, these charts are meant to produce usable results rather than historical accuracy.  That being said, if you see anything that looks dopey to you, please speak up!

campaign map update

(Click to embiggen.)


So with this latest draft I made three changes to the Wessex Campaign map.

  1. Clearly marked my best guess as to the two hexes that encompass the majority of the Salisbury Plain.  As with a Wilderlands-type map, plain light green hexes are assumed to be lightly wooded, so I wanted the one open plain to show up on the map. 
  2. Shrunk most of the city, town, etc. icons.  They were crowding up the map at their original size.  In Hexographer you can change the size of the icon tool by sliding down to the bottom of the Icon list, clicking the "Override Icon Scaling" box and changing the default size from 80% of the hex to whatever percent you want.  I left the icon for Devizes Castle alone, to remind me that joint is the biggest, most elaborate castle on the map.
  3. Upgraded Bristol from a nameless village to an important urban area.  It's marked with its earlier name, Brygstowe.  The modern L sound at the end apparently comes from the native Bristolian tendency to add that sound to any word that ends with a vowel.  Mentions of Bristol and its castle in a couple books about the Anarchy convinced me that the place needed a power-up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Beer Report

So I combed through the 39 comments to my request for beer recommendations.  Thanks again to everyone who took the time to share some info.  Most of your comments rolled in while I was gaming or sleeping last night, so the net effect was a little overwhelming at first.  So I built a little spreadsheet to try to tabulate all the info.  Here's what I found out.

Hobgoblin Dark English Ale by Wychwood Brewery was the most recommended beer, with five commenters voicing their approval. I think one of my gaming buddies owns a T-shirt with their logo on it, a gnarly little green dude in a red cap if I recall correctly.

Tied for second with for recommendations were Deschutes Brewery Black Butte, Boddington's Pub Ale and Yeungling's.  My good buddy Stuart noted that Boddington's was "good if you like the creaminess of Guinness", which I do.

Third place goes to Dogfish Head's Raison D'etre, with three recommendations.  Commenter Lagomorph Rex reminds me that these are the guys who have some sort of TV show.  I think I've seen all of 2 minutes of it but I recall the owner or somebody being a giant douchebag.  That's reality TV for you.  I think these are the same guys who make some brews based on reconstructed prehistoric recipes.  I should really check that out.

There were two recommendations for New Belgium Fat Tire and one for Fat Tire amber ale.  Are these the same brew?  If so, it ties with Dogfish Head for third place.

Eight other beers got the nod twice: Anchor Steam, Blue Moon, Chimay, Dixie Brewery's Blackened Voodoo, Goose Island, New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale, Smithwick's, and Wells' Bombadier.  Special mention in the dispatches goes to ckutalik and Stacy for suggesting Blue Moon.  I had forgotten that I tried that at a pizza joint a few months ago and found it very refreshing.  And I can totally grok Stacy's recommendation for squeezing a little orange juice into one.

Also receiving special ribbons for reading my mind: Dante for suggesting Caffrey's Irish Ale and spiderj for Kilkenny.  Both commenters noted that there suggestion sat somewhere between Newcastle and Guinness.  I almost worded my query as "what beer might sit between the two"?

Again, thanks to everyone who provided suggestions.

A Surfeit of Lampreys, session 9

Hey, thanks for all the great responses to yesterday's beer-related inquiry. I got so many suggestions, I may have to do up a little chart or something.

For last night's game I decided to try to do a couple of things differently. First, we picked up pretty much where we left off the previous session. Normally I try to end all sessions with the players back in safe territory and then the game picks up 2 weeks later. But last session we ended the night after just concluding a vast slaughter in the hall of Sir David of Lee Roth. So we began this session with the looting of the slightly-burning hall.  Second, I wanted to try something a little trippier than usual, with sort of a cosmic psychedelic feel.

The PCs present at the beginning of the session are Alvis the Pardoner, Philip the Creature and Fezzik.  (Wheels's PC may not actually be named Fezzik, but the dude is a changeling with the tell of being big so that's who I think of him as.)  So as things begin I rule that the paladin is distracted mourning a little for his sidekick who died in the big fight, the Welsh brothers are distracted because the brother who is a vampire is feeding on the night-quite-dead and the other PCs are searching elsewhere in the bailey-house.  These three PCs happen to be the guys who stumble upon the private chambers of Adonis Tigerblood, Vatican Assassin Warlock.  There, sitting on a reading desk, they find a big ol' blue book with a weird cover:


That's actually a slightly altered (to remove the title) pic of a cover scan of Papus's fin de siecle occult work The Tarot of the Bohemians.  I found it by doing a google image search for "grimoire cover".  When I started work on this adventure I just wanted a cool graphic of a spellbook to show the players, but that image spoke to me such that I ended up writing the whole scenario around it.  The dungeon was shaped like a spoked wheel and most of the encounters were with the creatures depicted.  Though they never fought the winged cow.  Every time they heard the menace of its mooing the party fled in the opposite direction.

Anyway, Alvis the Pardoner assumed the azure tome was Tigerblood's spellbook and made a grab for it.  That set off a curse-type trap that sucked the party (including the Welsh brothers, who I ruled had been with the group the whole time when Karl showed up slightly later) into the Accursed Demiplane of Atarota.  The goal of the session now became simple: get back home.

The aesthetic of the Accursed Demiplane was inspired largely by dream sequences and other planes in various old cartoons.  Two examples that come immediately to mind are the dreamscapes in the Hugo Strange episode of the Batman: The Animated Series and any of several brief planar excursions in the D&D cartoon.  I think the best example from the latter is from the episode with the gnome illusionist and her magic treasure chest.  Anyway, imagine a big cosmic-fueled outer space, not the real empty kind, but the Kirby crackle-riddled and meteor-strewn comic book version.  Add a flat plane of transparent material for the party to stand on.  Marvin the Martian's space platform/observatory/artillery battery is another example I just thought of. 

Build a ceiling-free dungeon on top of the glass with corridors 100' wide and hundreds of feet long, chambers more vast than the eye can readily take in.  Use for construction material vast, cyclopean slabs of an unknown matte black substance, reminiscent of the House of Leaves.  And then populate the dungeon with stuff, like the Ferris Wheel of Blood, the Clockwork Torturtron of Nubazel the Damned, the Shattering Jewells of Avarice, the Hole to Hell, the Orchard of the Serpent and the Phoenix, the Cloudery of the Weeping Angel, etc., etc.  You know, the kind of stuff that should go in every dungeon but that just seems all the more odd because the whole edifice is suspended in electric outer space under the vast Sleeping Eye of the Watcher, which looks kinda like if a spiral galaxy was an open eye but this one is shut.

The players quickly intuit that the Fountain of Satyrs is some sort of device that can maybe get them home, if they can find the four strange runes that fit into four slots on the fountain.  They confirm this guess by consulting a strange metal book in the Library of the Riddleless Sphinx, who Karl later stumps with an unsolvable riddle, winning both directions to the fourth rune and the Sword of the Sphinx in the process. 

So the players start crawling this out-of-scale and out-of-mind dungeon to claim all four of the Runes of the Waiting Riders, who can take them home if summoned.  Along the way they release a Blood Ooze from his prison in the Ferris Wheel, but quickly dispatch it with magic.  Alvis the Pardoner nearly has his face blown off when he tries to cop one of the Shattering Jewells.  They flee from the mooing and clanking cowbell because they first hear it in a standard Room Fulla Statues That Are Obviously Petrified Dudes.  Good call.  That cow was really a rare Gorgon Heifer.  At one point the party discussed navigating the room while blindfolded in order to avoid a gaze attack.  They must have seen the look of glee in my eye at the prospect.

The party opted to free Nubazel the Damned from the Clockwork Torturtron, a device designed to grind him between its gears for all eternity.  This Anubis-looking weirdo tried to sneak into Heaven and the Torturtron was his decreed punishment.  On the plus side Nubazel gives the party one of the four plot tokens they need, on the minus side they've directly confounded the dictate of Heaven.  In case no one Upstairs was watching that, Alvis steals the golden apples from the tree in the center of the Garden of the Serpent and the Phoenix.  He also breaks open the egg he finds in a nest there, killing the embryonic phoenix inside.  And then he goes on to try to steal an angel's harp.  All with only 2 hit points to his name. 

Another encounter I liked was with Spyros the Giant, a dude I adapted from an old Son of Satan comic.  He looks like a giant in cheesy bondage gear like the villain in the second Mad Max movie but with an executioner's hood and a big mofo battleaxe.  His deal is that all the sins of humanity course through his veins like black, viscous poison.  I decided that he'd help the party if they'd confess all their sins so that being in their presence doesn't wrack his body with nonstop pain.  Honestly, most of the players didn't seem to know where to even start cataloging their numerous transgressions, so they end up having to kill the poor son of a bitch to get past him.  When he falls over dead the party's worst suspicious are confirmed as the floor starts cracking under him.  They run like hell and look back just to see him fall through the shattered glass down into an infinite void.

Eventually the PCs put together a complete set of Runes of the Waiting Riders and insert them into the Fountain of Satyrs.  The satyrs stop blowing water out of their pan-pipes and instead play a song that summons the Riders, fiery interstellar centaur ladies who wordlessly transport the party to just outside the castle where they started.  Which by now is mostly on fire.  I agree that they can save the spellbook whose curse they spent the night evading and we call it a session.

All in all I thought it was a good run.  The players hit that magical mix of taking the ridiculous scenario in deadly ernest plus remaining lighthearted enough to walk straight into trouble from time to time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

beer me up

So I know pretty much nothing about the world of barley and hops.  I drink a Guinness once in a blue moon and that's about it.  But the other night I tried a Newcastle Brown Ale and thought it was the bee's knees.  So my question to all y'all: knowing I enjoy these two beverages, can you recommend a third?  Something that doesn't cost extra because it has to be shipped across an ocean would be ideal.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen... KISS



A world without heroes
Is like a world without sun
You can't look up to anyone
Without heroes

And a world without heroes
Is like a never ending race
Is like a time without a place
A pointless thing devoid of grace

Where you don't know what you're after
Or if something's after you
And you don't know why you don't know
In a world without heroes

In a world without dreams
Things are no more than they seem
And a world without heroes
Is like a bird without wings
Or a bell that never rings
Just a sad and useless thing

Where you don't know what you're after
Or if something's after you
And you don't know why you don't know

In a world without heroes
There's nothing to be
It's no place for me

T'sday Motivational


Thanks to James Smith for sending me this one!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Quick Reminder: OSR Links to Wisdom

If you haven't been there yet do yourself a favor and check out OSR Links to Wisdom, a wiki-based clearing house for all the best in Old School blogging.  If you've got some super-useful blog post bookmarked, please consider adding it to the list.  It isn't hard to do.

Also, right now Daddy Grognard is running a poll for a Links to Wisdom logo.  Go here to vote.

nanofiction times four

Several years ago I got into the silly cardgame Fluxx by Andrew and Kristin Looney of Looney Labs.  The website for Looney Labs features quite a few odd little corners, including a page devote to nanofiction, short stories with exactly 55 words.  I don't write a lot of fiction but the idea of hitting that 55 word mark exactly seemed like an interesting challenge.  So here are my four attempts at the form, all from 2002 or so.



A Cockatrice in Shropshire [Inspired by a passage in one of Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmissions.]

Three rustics had been petrified and then the old vicar was turned to stone. A passing burgher recommended the services of a certain witch. The woman was summoned and charged with disposing of the monster. With a handful of corn and earnest clucking she led the beast into a bog. It was never seen again.


Unkind Surfaces [Based upon a recurring nightmare featuring Hem Dazon.]

What does it want? Every time I look in a mirror it stares back at me, coldly. At first it lingered just out of the corner of my eye, hovering at the periphery. Now it stands right behind me, silently watching. I can’t drive; its reflection sits in the back seat. I can’t even shave.


A Young Man Seeks His Fortune [A background piece for a Palladium Fantasy PC. The campaign lasted maybe 2 sessions]

When grandma died the young bastard knew he had to leave the farm. He had grown fat and lazy under her wing. Before the others finished weeping he stole what he could and fled. A cruel deed, but he knew they all hated him. He and his big belly would take on the world together.



The Sea Puppy [Another Palladium PC. I can't remember why I made 2 guys.]

His first voyage turned out to be his last. He did what he could around the ship when able, but the last straw was when he proved useless in his first boarding action.. He couldn’t blame the captain for sending him packing upon their return to port. After all, what good is a seasick pirate?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

FLGS games: one piece of advice

Daniel Dean asks the following question:
Jeff, I'm mulling over trying to introduce some additional games to the queue of my LGS because their offerings are pretty anemic, but I've only GMed for friends and curious people before. Is there any one piece of advice you have on how this might be a whole different animal, or not, other than "you can't choose who shows up to play so hunker down"?
The biggest thing you can do for yourself is to make nice with the store owner and/or manager. Get a date set with them a couple weeks beforehand and ask them to help recruit. Briefly explain the kind of game you have in mind and ask them to steer good folks your way while discouraging the turkeys. I lucked out in that the guys at my store figured this out for me and took it upon themselves to make sure my games got off the ground, but you may not have that luxury. Don't hesitate to follow up with them a week out and a couple days before the game date, just to remind them that you could really use their help.  Hopefully they are smart enough to realize that any regular gaming at their store will help them out.

But, yeah.  You got to hunker down.  If you're running an open game that means you have to be willing to run for whatever nerds, dorks, geeks, dweebs, spazzes, malcontents, weirdos and goofballs show up.  That's part of the deal and you need to accept that up front.  Some of your players may not be able to play in a non-open table situation because they don't have the social skills required.  Sometimes that means your game will lag as you walk people through what you consider to be stuff they ought to have learned in kindergarten.  Just try to be mellow and explain as kindly as possible that bogarting other peoples dice (or whatever) is against your 'table rules'.  Be firm but don't make a federal case out of this stuff.

The one exception to this "be kind, speak softly" approach I try to maintain is when people are just plain mean.  This doesn't happen often, but when someone is scoring points off of other players' emotional vulnerabilities you got to stop that shit cold.  My last line of defense is "I run an open game, but I have one absolute requirement regarding who can play: I am the biggest douchebag at the table.  Tone that shit down or find another game."  That's a rare thing and you probably won't ever need to get that far.  If you do, the situation may come down to the dillweed trying to go over your head to the store owner.  (I know it sounds ridiculous that someone would try to force you to run a game for them, but I've seen it.)  If the owner doesn't back you up, pack up your gear immediately and find a new store.

One Issue Campaign, part 3

Okay, today I'm going to try to get through three whole pages of Dragon #69, panning for campaign gold in the editorial section and letters column.

The editorial on page 2 is one of the many attempts to convince the readers that when Gary Gygax gets ornery in his Dragon articles that he is not expressing the official opinion of the magazine.  Editor Kim Mohan tries as politely as possible to get out from under the shadow of ol' EGG.

Let's use that tension.  We'll turn  Uncle Gary into Ernest the Erudite.  He's a sage by trade in his grey years, but unlike most sages he can attack as an 8th level fighter when pressed.  That's because his former profession was as Captain Ernest of the Legion of Stannus.  Nowadays the outfit is run by the younger, less well proven Mohan of the Hill People.  The core of the Stannic Legion is a couple hundred elite heavy footmen, fighting with a combination of pike and halberd.  They also field a few dozen crossbowmen and have their own armorers and such.  All in all its not a huge unit but they are sufficiently well trained and well equipped that they can turn the tide of battles involving thousands.  Will Circe Doombringer or Danlak o' the Falcon hire the Legion or some other party?  Will the PCs discover the sagely Ernest's connection to the unit and try to use his influence to get the Legion to change sides?

Page 3 includes Kim Mohan's rundown of the contents of the mag.  Since this particular Dragon was the January issue, he starts with a throwaway line about New Year's Resolutions:
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a magic item that would keep us from breaking our New Year’s resolutions? What a different place this world would be. . . . Come to think of it, C. C. Stoll did mention to us that some of the powers of Arrakhar’s Wand have yet to be discovered; maybe that’s one of them...
Arrakhar's Wand is the name of the fantasy boardgame included in the issue, which we will come to in due course. Right now I'm more interested in this idea that maybe in the campaign world there's one day a year, called simply Oath Day perhaps, when all oaths sworn and promises made become magically binding.  Basically it would be like casting geas or quest upon yourself.  You'd need only one or two well-placed Oaths to make the campaign world tricky indeed.  For example, the Elf King can't help the lands of humanity against Circe Doombringer because he made a peace treaty with her on Oath Day many years ago. Maybe the PCs figure out they need to lure one of her orc armies into the Elf Realm so that she's the one who breaks the oath.


Next up is "Out On A Limb", the section of the mag where people write in to tell the editors what they got wrong in previous issues.  Other letters get published, but basically "Out On A Limb" was the the pre-internet place where readers nitpicked the crap out of other folk's work. For example, I got nothing against Scot Fritz of Allentown, Pennsylvania.  But his idea that issue 66's article describing a fictitious Thieves Cant was a waste of time and that we should instead all use Esperanto?  I like Esperanto and I'm not even buying this line.

I think what I'll do is try to take each writer and their individual beefs and make NPCs out of them.

Pa Scoffrit - This grumpy old fisherman living near the docks of the small port of Allen is a secret lynchpin of the international criminal network, thanks largely to his knowledge of the Thieves Cant of a dozen cities. What even most of his criminal contacts don't realize is that he is also a high ranking Assassin.

Monbec the Mysticator - A magic-user of middling level who specializes in phantasmal forces and other illusory magic.  He's working on a book outlining his pet theories on a unified theory of illusions and will gladly buy scrolls and items with an such effects from the PCs.  He has no time for illusionists who use their powers for simple entertainment; illusions are serious business, dammit!

Valpar the Lion - A loudmouth viking type.  He's always looking for new adventure and will readily join the PCs.  Valpar is brave to a fault but no stealth or suprise is possible with him in the party.  Think Brian Blessed in a horned helmet.

Sir Zimmer - This knight of the realm possesses all the knightly virtues but he's a closet racist.  Dude just can't stand elves and won't even admit it to himself.  This won't be immediately obvious but if he joins a party that also includes a member of the pointy ears set he'll eventually figure out a way to get him killed, perhaps by being offended and challenging the elf to duel or maybe just 'accidentally' pushing him into a pit.

Malec the Magnificent - A magic-user who idolizes the ancient master Nystul.  He's trying to collect all of Nystul's spells.  Note that some of Nystul's work was illusionary in nature and Malec and Monbec can't stand each other.  And they both hate it when people get their names mixed up.  They kinda look alike, even.

So there's five dudes who can liven up things a bit.  The name "Out On A Limb" might be worth a little thought as well.  Perhaps at some point the PCs will need to pick a magic fruit from a giant tree and the fruit dangles from a branch jutting far over a cliff.  Flying magic will make that task a snap, so maybe some sort of avian monster lives in the tree.  We'll call the fruit the legendary last Black Apple of the God-Tree Kathrad-Gor and the bird who nests in the tree is named the Dread Eagle Krimmarek.  Maybe a Black Apple is the only thing that can cure someone who has fallen sick because they broke a promise made on Oath Day.  That's why, despite the angry bird monster, there's only one precariously-positioned one left in the world.

At the end of the last page we're looking at today are three tiny ads.  The middle one I've already used.  Stannum is Latin for tin and those guys are clearly the members of the Legion of Stannus up above.  Argonaut Games obvious provides a wealth of references for us to loot for campaign material.  The key question when doing so is whether the campaign is set ages before or after Jason's legendary voyage.  Since part 2 introduced some outer space people to the setting, we'll go with the idea that the whole campaign world is set in the Mythical Future rather than the Mythical Past.  So we can include the Golden Fleece as one of the great magic items of the campaign AND we can have it be haunted by the groaning, miserable spirit of the ancient hero Jason.  If a PC can get this eons-emo ghost out of its self-pitying funk it ought to have a lot of useful advice on how to be a first rate hero.

And then there's the Battle for the Bakery.  The citizens of the village of Paffenroth (not too far from Allen, actually) have all been turned into mindless zombies.  At first it seems like the local baker is to blame, but it's really a superintelligent interstellar yeast that's behind the plot.  Can the party stop the Rising of the Bread God?  Do they dare venture into the fiery oven/temple the zombified townsfolk have constructed for their doughy master?  Will that one trouble-making goof in your game group be dumb enough to eat a slice of the Bread God after the party defeats it?

Friday, April 15, 2011

an idea for the geomorphers

One of the latest, greatest developments in the Old School Ruckus has been in the field of dungeon geomorphs.

That cover art looks oddly familiar...
Good geomorphs used to be hard to find. The original TSR geomorphs are functional, but I always found them way more cramped than I liked. Back in the day Erol Otus put out a set that was crazy intricate, but I've never even seen a copy for sale. Kellri adapted them into one of his many ultracool free PDFs, which you can download here.  Seriously, that dude is awesome. If you run AD&D1 or OSRIC you absolutely need to get Kellri's CDD #4 Encounters Reference. It's one of the most useful things ever made for AD&D. Others running with similar systems should check it out as well.

Goodman Game's Dungeon Crawl Classic #9: Dungeon Geomorphs made a honest effort to revitalize the field, but that product had two flaws.  First, many of the geomorphs lack personality.  That's obviously a judgement call and you're welcome to disagree with me.  But secondly and more importantly, they weren't done in the same scale as the TSR originals it was obviously imitating.  Argh!  Years later that still pisses me off when I think about it.  Every time I wanted to mix and max the two sets I'd have to resize one of the PDFs before printing and the results never lined up quite right.

But recently the geomorphic field has exploded into a glittering sea of pure awesomeness.  New contributors to the field include Risus Monkey, Dyson Logos of A Character for Every Game, Stonewerks, John over at The 9 and 30 Kingdoms, Brutus of This is Dice Country, Paul at Quickly, Quietly, Carefully, Coopdevil the FightingFantasist, Stuart of Strange Magic, Shane of Fictious Entry, Lapsus Calumni, Glenn at The Seeking Wing, the Rorschachhamster, 1nfinite zer0 of Reflections of a Forest in a Concrete Puddle and others that I am undoubtedly missing.  All these righteous folks combine forces Voltron-style over at David Millar's awesome online Mapper, which is one of the bestest softwares ever made for roleplaying.  Seriously, Dave's Mapper ranks right up there with HeroMachine or Inkwell Ideas' Hexographer and Coat of Arms Design Studio.

Speaking of Inkwell Ideas and geomorphs, has everybody heard of the DungeonMorph Dice project?  For the longest time I didn't realize that Joe Wetzel, the dude behind that project, was the Inkwell Ideas guy.  Since I didn't know Joe Wetzel from Adam, I had been silent about his kickass plan to put dungeon geomorphs on dice.  I was kinda afraid to encourage people to check out his kickstarter funding project, for fear that they would be donating money to vaporware.  But Inkwell Ideas has a proven track record of coming through with radical gaming stuff.

Alright, now that I've told everyone more than they probably ever wanted to know about dungeon geomorphs I can finally get to the point of today's post.  I have a challenge for all you geomorph makers out their: vertical dungeon geomorphs.  Rotate the field of view 90 degrees and put the emphasis on pits, ledges, slides, shafts, stairs, balconies, vast open caverns, deep chasms covered by bridges, waterfalls, pools with underwater accessways, etc., etc.  What I want is the ability to run a crunchy dungeon adventure with only a cross-section view.

Here's some visual inspiration:
I really need to update this.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Issue Campaign, part 2

Time to crack open that issue of Dragon (number 69) and see what's inside...


...and we've gone off the rails right from the inside cover ad.  Nice.  I remember as a kid being disappointed that the setting in Star Frontiers did not include a kick-ass organization called the Galactic Legions.  Here's an opportunity to remedy that.  Imagine the Galactic Legions as sort of a Star Fleet type good guy org.  What are they doing on our D&D planet?  Could the party befriend some scouts surveying their homeworld?  Could the PC party be composed of crash-landed Legionaires?  Or maybe if like me you still have that cool Star Frontiers city map, part of your campaign world is colonized by a bunch of sci-fi dudes.

I find the domed and towered sci-fi city silhouetted behind the legionaires very evocative, so let's go with that last option.  One of the Legions identified a resource-rich but largely uninhabited region to build a futuristic colony.  That could be what sets Circe Doombringer on a rampage.  She opposes the offworlders but most regular folk like the economic advatages of interstellar trade, so she ends up fighting her own people with armies of skeletons and orcs.  (FYI In Part 1 a commenter by the name of Rick offered some thoughts on a motive for Circe that could work just as well.)

Obviously we'd need stats for at least some laser guns and those cool white spacesuits (I'm thinking protects as platemail, encumbers like leather).  And a Yazirian character class.  And don't forget to sprinkle in some robots and psionics.  Starting, as I suggested yesterday, with Labyrinth Lord as a base makes adding this stuff super-simple.  Most of this sci-fi stuff can be adapted from Mutant Future.

Okay, let's move on.


Page 1 of the magazine is an old Rolemaster ad.  I'm working with screengrabs of the Dragon Archive CD-ROMS (still one of the hobby's best values ever, by the way) so some of the art I'm going to share is all munged up.  Anyway, let's look at four elements of this ad that I found interesting.




This blurb for Claw Law is a little hard to read.  What I'm digging on here is the idea of 'unbalancing results' and 'entangling strikes'.  In my opinion people don't fall down enough in baseline D&D combat.  And getting your weapons tangled up with the foe's weapons or someone's shield sounds interesting as well.  My first thought is to write up a short table of stumbling/falling over/weapon boogered up effects and figure out a way to get it into play.  Maybe "Anytime a natural 13 is rolled, go to the General Fracas Chart.  If your net attack roll is a hit, the Fracas result affects your target.  If it's a miss, you are affected instead."

Obviously there's no setting material in these thoughts, but house rules also help flavor an individual campaign.



The Iron Wind is a very early ICE product and I don't have much more information than that blurb says.  But I do know this: that is a cool mofo name for some badguys.  Maybe that's the name of Circe Doomsinger's organization and the first half of the campaign is a cold war espionage thing against the assassins and traitors of the Iron Wind.


The (iron) Crown of the Ice Empress really ought to be one of the major magic items of the campaign.  Maybe its stolen by agents of the Iron Wind and the PCs have to retrieve before they use it to plunge the Duchy into eternal winter.  By the way I'm sure ICE is named after the iron crown of Morgoth from Tolkien, but there really is an Iron Crown of Lombardy.


Finally, there's this dude.  It's a little hard to see but it's basically a youngish-looking fellow with the same haircut as Rather Dashing.  A hawk is alighting on his arm as a snake looks on from up a tree.  Who is this young hawksman?  Is that snake a lurking danger or another pal like his bird buddy?  I think I'll call him Danlak o' the Falcon.  He's got some sort of beastmaster/druidic thing going, but with a more civilized fairy-tale type gloss to it.  Prince of Birds and Beasts is one of his titles.  The craggy castle in the background (which is almost invisible in this terrible pic) is his home.  Prince Danlak could be a valuable ally for the PCs, what with his ability to know everything the birds in his land know.  But maybe he's a secret member of the Iron Wind.  He's probably got some pet bears that could totally maul the party if they find out and try to take him out with a direct attack.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

attention all OSR bloggers: do this now please

Matthew over at Rended Press found a third party way to make blogposts into print friendly PDFs.  Go here for the details.  Took me like a minute and a half to get this up and running.  Don't miss the extra advice in the right hand column for blogger and wordpress specifics.

Matthew, here's that gold star I mentioned on your blog:

One Issue Campaign, part 1

Today I'm going to start a new series of blog posts.  This is an experiment of sorts, so maybe it won't work out as well as I think it will.  But I'm going to try anyway.  The basic idea is simple:
  1. Start with set of core rules, preferably one a small amount of setting material or a strongly implied setting.  Too much setting info will spoil the soup I think, while none whatsoever will serve as an insufficient basis.  I'll be using Labyrinth Lord (revised edition/fourth release), with its Duchy of Valnwall sample wilderness.
  2. Get a single issue of Dragon or some other gaming mag.  Ideally I should have selected one at random, but for sentimental reasons I'm going to use Dragon #69.  It was the first issue I owned. 
  3.  
  4. Squeeze every possible of iota of usable information out of that magazine and nothing else to flesh out a campaign for your ruleset.  (FYI I'm not switching campaigns.  This is just a thought experiment.)
Today we're going to start with the cover.  Clearly the main antagonist of the campaign is that sorceress calling up an evil army.  Taking a cue from the character creation example in the '81 Moldvay rules, we'll call her Circe Doombringer.  Statting her up should be a snap.  6 rolls of 3d6 produce Str 11, Int 7, Wis 16, Dex 12, Con 10, Cha 8.  I'd probably swap Int and Wis, since she's obviously a magic-user type.  Her good looks might lead some to think Circe needs a higher Charisma score, but I think I'll leave it at eight and assume she has a terrible personality.  That's why she uses orcs and skeletons in her armies rather than people.  People require social skills to manage, orcs just cower and obey with a little magical bullying.

What level to assign to Circe is mainly a matter of how long you plan for your campaign to run and whether she needs to be a threat for the whole thing.  With skeletons in her army, I think she's probably needs to be at least the minimum level to cast animate dead, which in LL is 9th.  A tower and d6 apprentices of levels 1-3, available at 11th level, would be useful for her master villain status, so let's call her an MU 11.  One of those 3rd level apprentices could make a useful foe for some early adventures in the campaign.

From the picture it looks like Ms. Doombringer owns at least two magic items.  The staff she carries should probably be a Staff of Power or Staff of Wizardry, since she's the main villain of the campaign and all.  We'll call her winged crown the Dragon Crown of [blank], where I'm hoping to fill in the blank with something from later in the magazine.  I don't know yet if that will work or not, as I purposefully did not reread the issue to make this exercise as spontaneous as possible.  What I do know is that one of the powers of the Dragon Crown is to enthrall dragons.  That's why she has a pet dragon on the cover.

Two questions about that dragon.  What the heck color is it?  I think it's actually blue but I keep wanting to call it black.  More importantly, how big is it?  When I got this issue as a kid I assumed it was titanic but way in the background, but the way it's foreclaws are resting on that rock suggests that maybe it is tiny and standing right next to Circe.  Either answer is fine here, but it affects what the PCs think about Circe if they find out she commands Ragramok the Megadragon, the legendary uberbeast that destroyed the city Pha-Zool.  Knowing that she pals around with Ragramok the Runt, least of the litter of the Great Dracomatrona, means something else entirely.  One Ragramok is all fury and destruction, while the other is a master of dragonish guile.

Switching gears entirely, you know what I've always found weird about this picture?  The way the orcs and skeletons are all mixed together, as if they match side-by-side.  That should mean something.  Maybe orcs are natives of the netherworld in your campaign.  And/or skeletons aren't mindless undead robots.  Perhaps they can think and talked because they are cursed souls who can only return to the quietude of death when properly released from their bony prison.  They obey Circe Doombringer not out of magical compulsion, but because she knows the secret magic that can release them from this horrible state.  What if the PCs found out this information?  Would they still be able to kill masses of skeletons, knowing their souls remain trapped inside those shattered, useless bones, perhaps for all eternity?

Finally, look at the lower right corner of the cover.  That's the signature of artist Clyde Caldwell.  If you've been playing D&D or reading fantasy novels for a while, you've probably seem a gazillion pieces by him, mostly involving various degrees of cheesecakery.  Anyway, we can steal his mark, too.  Make it the Rune of Circe.  Perhaps it turns up as the mysterious signature on the bad guy correspondence the party discovers early in the campaign.  Or maybe it's a Glyph of Warding type trap that zaps the PCs with some nasty effect, like maybe level drain.  Stumbling across a few of those before the final confrontation ought to get the players good and mad at the villain.

Maybe omit the (c) 1984 part when you use it in-game.

Next installment I'll actually open the magazine and we'll see what ideas fall out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Surfeit of Lampreys session report

So I guess I promised all y'all a session report last Friday.  I had seven players on Wednesday including Christopher, who is new to my table.  He made up an MU that's a priest who sells indulgences for a living.  The store owners' son Marc also joined in.  I've played some games with him before.  He's a good guy who is more than willing to get everybody else in the party into trouble, so of course I want him in my game.  I would have had nine players but Joe ended up working late and Ryan got in on the miniatures going on at another table.  Was it 40K, maybe?  Poor dude felt like he had to apologize for skipping my game.  Some people just can't quite believe me when I say I run a guilt-free drop-in and drop-out sort of thing.

Anyway, for last week's D&D game I decided I wanted to do two things differently.  First, I wanted to send the PCs on a little political mission, as opposed to the almost pure dungeoncrawling we normally do.  I've been working hard on this faux-Brit milieu and by Grodd I'm going to get a little use out of it.  Though if they had turned down the mission I brought dungeons to loot as well.  I like to start the evening by proposing an adventure, rather than declaring one, you dig?  So the Sir Ger de Lucran, Sheriff of Granta (realworld Cambridgeshire), hits the PCs up to put the kibosh on some bandits based in the hamlet of Crickenglade, just over the shire border.

The other thing I wanted to do was try some real-world casting for the NPCs.  So I described Sir Ger as being played by Tom Skerritt.  I was mostly thinking of the pain-in-the-ass Senator he played in a couple episodes of the West Wing and the good ol' boy dad in Steel Magnolias, but if the players thought of him more as the flight instructor in Top Gun that would work as well.

The leader of the bandits was Sir William of Dover, a real historical dude who actually was a pain in the ass for the people of Cambridgeshire during the Anarchy.  I don't think the real Bill Dover looked anything like an over-the-hill and out-of-control David Lee Roth, though.  For some reason I decided that Sir William was once a really kickass dude and a pretty decent bard, but now he subsists on his own hype.  Diamond Dave popped into my head unbidden.

If you look in Holmes Basic and the original Monster Manual, you'll find that bandits have a pretty decent chance of having an honest-to-goodness name level Wizard in the gang.  The dice said that David Lee Roth did indeed have an MU11 on his team, so of course it had to be...


ADONIS TIGERBLOOD, VATICAN ASSASSIN WARLOCK!

If at this point who have no idea what the butt I am talking about, consider yourself lucky.  But if you are in the loop re: Charlie Sheen's recent "tiger blood, Adonis DNA" rant and you haven't made a character named Adonis Tigerblood, then get with the program, dude.  The universe handed you a freebie.

Also, I had cast Dennis Franz as a no-nonsense knightly son-of-a-bitch, but he ended up never appearing on screen.


So the players managed to get a little bit of intel on Sir William and sneak into his hall during mealtime with the banditos.  Sir Jean Claude the Paladin decides to try to take Adonis Tigerblood via subterfuge and screws the pooch, triggering a general fracas in William of Dover's mead hall.  Ostensibly, Jean Claude went after Adonis under the standard "kill the wizard first" protocol, but I like to think his actual motivation was a refusal to give up his #1 Douchebag in the Campaign status to a mere NPC.  Seriously, that guy sucks in all the right ways.

Things could have gone completely pear-shaped for the party at that point, but Charles' new three-eyed changeling rolled a natural 20 to spear Charlie Sheen right through the heart.  I was sad I didn't get an opportunity for Adonis Tigerblood to cast any of his totally effed up high level spells (I've ditched all standard spells after level 3), but pretty much all NPCs are equal in the eyes of my crit rules.  Though I supposed that given that I'm shooting for a historical campaign, I might give two or three people (King Stephen, Empress Maud, etc) a saving throw against instant death.

So Adonis was stabbed in the heart while a couple of PCs sliced and diced Sir William, who at one point was fighting with one hand and holding his innards inside with another.  Wheels' new changeling (who is basically Fezzik from Princess Bride as a descendant of the Nephilim) scares the blue bejeesus out of several bandits pretty much by standing up straight and saying 'Boo!'  One of the bandits who actually likes Adonis Tigerblood tries to save the wizard, but Jean Claude's pet Saracen, Ermlaf the Mage, takes the lethal blow intended for his master.

After a few rounds of intense combat the only people not dead or fleeing are the PCs and we're out of time, so next session will begin with looting the crap out of the bandit stronghold.  Maybe the party will even get a chance to figure out that the "bandit lord" they just iced was actually a loyal vassal of Empress Maud's stepbrother...