Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Short Life & Stupid Death of Chester of the Pointy Hat

Back in high school I managed to play, as opposed to DMing, a lot more than I do nowadays.  Quite a bit of this play was in the one Killer DM game I've ever really encountered.  This is the DM that started one fighter of mine pre-raped and who colluded with the players to pull all sorts of shenanigans on each other.  We put up with a lot from that guy (though sometimes we pushed back, too) but he also was an adult running games for schookids, so he probably put up with a lot from us as well.

Anyway, although it wasn't a conscious design process I'm pretty sure that the concept for Chester of the Pointy Hat came from two sources.  First, H.P. Lovecraft's works and Call of Cthulhu were new and exciting to us back then.  I was (and still am) in love with the concept that reading musty old spellbooks drives you mad.  Second, I'm pretty sure that around the time Chester was rolled up and played that I saw on something like 20/20 or 60 Minutes a report on the effects of the defunding of the mental health care system under the Reagan administration.  [Please no politics in the comments.]  As is typical of this sort of reporting, the tone was "Holy crap!  Homeless schizophrenics wander our streets!  They are going to break into your house and molest your blender!"

So thus was born Chester's personality.  He was driven mad by his arcane researches, but not in the cool, Gothic, brooding, cackling sense you'd expect, but rather as a smelly, pathetic, muttering bum.  I refused to sleep in inns, opting to hunker down in rain barrels.  (The DM obligingly rolled to see if I caught pneumonia.)  I ended up getting kicked out of and barred from most taverns the party frequented, for being noticeably more unhinged than a standard PC.  Johnny Law got involved when in revenge I lit one tavern on fire.  Not with burning hands or fireball, mind you.  I just stone cold walked up to the exterior wall of the joint and assembled some kindling and got out my tinderbox, right in front of everyone on a main street in broad daylight  All in all, I thought it was an interesting character to play.

Of course he died.  Like I said, it was a campaign with a Killer DM.  And playing my MU as mentally ill wasn't exactly going to do the poor sap any favors.  Still, this death is one of those incidents that, in retrospect, makes me question whether Jim was a Killer DM at all.  Maybe he was just playing fair and we were all idiots.  He was our first DM outside of my original game group.  The lot of us were self-trained; we started with my Basic Set and had no clue what we were doing.  Maybe it was just a School of Hard Knocks campaign.

Anyway, we were going after a dragon.  This was super exciting for us.  There had been a few dragons in our previous games, but this was our first time that A) we knew that a dragon was in the dungeon and B) we had made a conscious decision to go after that lizard and take his loot.  We started out doing everything right.  I think we had just acquired a Dragon back issue with an article on successful tournament play and we were making a bit of an effort to use the guidelines therein to be more professional in our dungeon pillaging.  So as stealthily as possible we scouted out the whole dungeon level in advance and ended up with a graph paper masterpiece with a big blank spot behind a pair of big double doors.  That had to be the dragon's lair.  Even better, we located it with the minimal possible resources expended and no casualties.

This is when our new professionalism all went to crap.  We started arguing, loudly, in the middle of the freakin' dungeon, about the best plan to kill that dragon.  I'm pretty sure that after a few minutes of name-calling the DM started casually flipping through his copy of the Monster Manual, but we were too dumb to realize that meant he probably was looking up a wandering monster attracted by all our shouting.

In fact, he was double checking the range of a dragon's senses, which I'm pretty sure in the original MM is duly noted in inches.  So when my crazy hobo MU5 declared angrily "FINE!  I don't care what you assholes do!  I'm going to open those damn doors, throw my fireball and you can clean up whatever is left!!!" what I didn't know was that the dragon heard the whole thing.  Out of 'kindness' the DM didn't make me roll to open the doors.  I flung them open and promptly melted under a torrent of acid.  Black dragon.

As I recall, the rest of the party ran like hell.  And like so many sessions before and after that one, I started a new character.

At this remote point I can't recall much else of Chester's career save for a random encounter in a forest.  The DM rolled up gnolls on his wandering monster matrix and looked up the number appearing in the MM, which is something like 30-300.  The dude literally rolls every d10 on the table and declares "You round a corner and approximately 200 gnolls attack.  Roll for initiative."  We took the bastards in the longest single fight of that campaign.  We used every attack spell, sleeping and fireballing and Melf's acid arrowing as many as possible, but they still kept on coming.  The archers in the party shot until they were all out of arrows.  They still kept on coming.  My puny dagger-wielding magic-user spent more rounds in melee combat with those bastards than some MUs will melee over their entire career.  It was incredibly stupid ("We come round a corner, in a forest?"  "I set 35 of them on fire with magic and the rest just keep coming?") but also one of the damnedest damn fights I've ever played out.

The PC casualties in that campaign were ridiculously high.  Just getting from the beginning to the end of the session with the same PC was an exhilarating victory.  That's why I'm all for save-or-die, level drain, zero level funnels and balanced-dungeons-my-ass.  Not because I'm enjoy forcing players to suffer the same way I did, but because I want them to experience the high of just escaping the session with your life.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hulks & Horrors

I've been busy as heck lately moving to a new town (good-bye Champaign-Urbana, hellow Bloomington-Normal!), packing and unpacking and getting ready for grad school (I've got a teaching gig this semester!  yay!).  Things may start to return to normal around here soon.

In the meantime, I would be remiss if I didn't share a link to the Hulks & Horrors fundraiser, as today is the last day to get in on this bad boy.  H&H is a game of sci-fi dungeoneering that's radically compatible with older versions of everyone's favorite game of smelly underground locales and angry fire-belching lizards.  I've seen a very thorough playtest draft that looks hella sweet.

Even if you don't want to pitch in some dough, click through that link just to check out the cool illo of the hoversquid wielding two rayguns.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Star Frontiers and Space Elitism

Nice custom paint job on that outer space van.
Star Frontiers was the first sci-fi roleplaying game I ever owned.  As a kid I didn't get it.  Back then I thought all things sci-fi flowed from two benevolent gods: Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas.  Neither Star Wars nor Star Trek were a particularly good match for what was going on in Star Frontiers and I lacked the Golden Age of Sci-Fi chops to recognize what was happening here.

But as I get older some parts of the game have started to make more sense to me.  Here's one piece that seemed lame back then but I kinda get now: the spaceship skills.

The original Alpha Dawn boxed set contained no rules for spaceships.  This frustrated the bejeesus out of every purchaser of this game that I have ever met.  We all wanted to hop into a spaceship and go all Han Solo on the galaxy. The Knight Hawks follow-up finally gave us all sorts of cool rules for spaceships.  The basic game booklet is a meaty little tactical ship-to-ship game that holds up on its own very nicely.  However, the ultimate goal of zooming around the universe as easily as Buck Rogers or Starbuck was hampered by this chart:

This image grabbed from,
where registered members can legally download the old stuff.
This chart had to be a bit of a heartbreaker for folks who already had PCs they wanted to move into space careers.  My mind boggles at the sheer number of XP needed to be a Han Solo type, who could pilot a ship, plot a course, conduct repairs and man the laser cannons.  Such a character would need almost superhuman levels of skill mastery.

So let's go with that for a moment.  In Traveller Pilot is a cool skill but not that much harder to acquire than learning how to brain someone with a club.  But in the Star Frontiers universe you need a pretty good grasp of computers and a total mastery of technology (skills are rated level one to six) just to get in to piloting school.  Navigation through hyperspace is such a complicated task that only the most elite of computer operators can even attempt to plot a jump course.

The best analog here, I think, is the heyday of the American space program.  Space ain't for amateurs.  Only the best of the best of the best in various terrestrial professions have the chops to learn space skills.  Test pilots and aces are allowed near the controls of spacecraft.  No one else can cut it behind the wheel of these multi-zillion credit wonders of technology.  If you want to be trusted with the cannon on a spacecraft you need to prove that you've mastered smaller weapons.

Basically, anyone with even a single level of Piloting, Astrogation, Engineering, Rocket Weapons or Energy Weapons is officially As Cool As An Astronaut.  Younger readers may not remember this, but there was actually a time when pretty much everyone agreed that astronaut was the coolest job in the world.  They were like real life Captain Kirks living among us mere mortals, but working among the stars.

So if I ever ran Star Frontiers again, that's how I would do it.  Space travel on the Frontier is still a new and exciting thing, like the glamour of the 60's Jet Set/Space Age but writ large.  Starting PCs dream of joining the elite, those who are trusted to operate the small fleet of starships operated by the United Planetary Federation spacefleet, the richest planetary governments and the handful of interstellar corporations.  Every spacer has a cool nickname like Buzz or Deke and walks around with the unmistakeable swagger that comes from knowing they have the Right Stuff.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Yo, Banesfinger!

On an old post Banesfinger recently asked:

Does anyone know of a good Zocchi dice retailer (on-line) up here in Canada?

I asked around on Google+.  Here are the responses I got:

Eric BoydYesterday 4:05 PM has quite reasonable rates on shipping to Canada.

Ramanan SivaranjanYesterday 4:31 PM
This fellow was going to ship to Canada the next time he has another set of dice up for sale:

Eric BoydYesterday 6:16 PM

Hope that helps!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

some Fiendish fragments

Okay, so thanks to Aplus's DCC Monster Helper charts I'm going to try converting some monsters from the Fiend Folio (the 1st edition version) to Dungeon Crawl Classics standards.  If I find this fun maybe I'll do a few posts along these lines.  I'd like to do up some straight conversions, some fixes to monsters that I don't think quite work as written and some of Zak's FF work.

Norker: Init +1; Atk big club +4 melee (d6+2) or bite +4 melee (d3); AC16; HD 2d8; MV 30'; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60'; SV Fort +3, Ref +0, Will -2; AL N; Norkers are to hobgoblins what cavemen are to humans.  Their hides are hella tough.

Flumph: Init +1; Atk spike drop +2 melee (d8+d4 acids for 2d4 rounds) or +1 ranged squirt musk; AC19 (underside AC11); HD 2d8; MV 20' (fly); Act 1d20; SP musk Ref save versus attack roll or shunned d4 hours due to skunklike smell ;SV Fort +0, Ref +2, Will +3; AL L; These enigmatic weirdoes can communicate with supernatural agents of Law but speak no tongue known to humanity.

Gorilla Bear: Init +2; Atk slam +6 melee (d8+3); AC15; HD4d8; MV 30'; Act 2d20; SP Any critical also triggers a hug for +2d8 damage; SV Fort +7, Ref +3, Will +1; A gorilla that is also a bear.  Possibly enjoys honeyed bananas.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

press release followed by commentary

This appeared in my inbox because GenCon still thinks I am a legit member of the press.

Hostile Work Environment Brings Life to Roleplaying Games 
SEATTLE (August 1, 2012) There is a new company launching today which is solely dedicated to roleplaying games and the core of what makes them so enduring, the craft of storytelling. Peter D. Adkison, former CEO of Wizards of the Coast, Inc., and owner of Gen Con, LLC, America’s biggest tabletop games convention, is pleased to announce the formation of his new multi-media company, Hostile Work Environment™. Through a variety of media formats, Hostile Work Environment will bring life to roleplaying games, not by publishing them, but by filming, narrating, and illustrating them online, engaging and interacting with audiences worldwide. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about Hostile Work Environment!  Roleplaying games are my passion and through my new company, I’m creating ways for people to experience RPG’s that will resonate with long-time players and new audiences alike,” said Peter D. Adkison, founder and CEO of Hostile Work Environment. 

The first production for Hostile Work Environment will be a web series dedicated to a Dungeon & Dragon’s campaign titled The First Paladin, which is set in Adkison’s fantasy world of Chaldea.  

“The launch of The First Paladin web series is just the first step in what I expect will be many opportunities to explore ways to both interact with gamers dynamically in shaping stories, and to create entertainment across a variety of platforms including producing short and feature films for this specific genre market,” adds Peter.  

Hostile Work Environment brings together a highly experienced team of industry professionals, which gives it the clear vision necessary to make it a leading contender in the industry. CEO Peter D. Adkison founded Wizards of the Coast, Inc., and grew it to a multimillion-dollar company before selling it to Hasbro in 1999.  Under his leadership, Wizards of the Coast created an entirely new genre of games with the release of the world’s first trading card game, Magic: The Gathering®, and salvaged the Dungeons & Dragons® franchise through a business turnaround and publication of the wildly-successful 3rd Edition. 

Joining Adkison at Hostile Work Environment is Kim Voynar, who will serve as producer on HWE's The First Paladin web series and website.  Based in Seattle, Voynar previously produced "White Knights," directed by Joe Shapiro, and produced, wrote and directed "Bunker" via her Catawampus! production company. Since 2004, she has been a leading voice in the world of film journalism, as managing editor and film critic at AOL's Cinematical, and features editor and film critic for Movie City News.
About Hostile Work Environment
Hostile Work Environment, LLC, is a privately held company headquartered in Seattle, Washington. Its mission is to bring life to roleplaying games (RPG’s) through a variety of media platforms, creating ways to introduce gamers to new and challenging ways to participate and connect with RPG’s.  

Media Contact:
Stacia Kirby

Off-the-cuff analysis:
  • Hostile Work Environment may be the douchiest company name in the history of the game industry.  Can anybody top that?  Unless there's a Gang Rape Games or Hitler Was Right Productions out there, this has got to be about the worst company moniker around.
  • Points off for the copywriter for an unnecessary apostrophe in the phrase "a Dungeon & Dragon’s campaign titled The First Paladin".
  • Prediction: this web series will be four times slicker and half as interesting as I Hit It With My Axe.

so I may have to run 4e

Or at least a 4e powered game.  My daughter caught me reading the 4e-based fan-made Adventure Time RPG.  It seems pretty groovy, despite being more fiddly than I like.  She used this character creator to whip up a PC.  You get to choose your level up to 5, so of course she maxxed out her character.  

Crystal Wizard Emily

Level: 5
Exp: _____
Species: Crystal
Class: Wizard
Size: Medium
Vision: Darkvision
Health: 31
Healing Surges: 7
Healing Surge Value: 7
Initiative: +5 (+0 Dex, +5 level)
Speed: 6 squares
Armor: Cloth
  Dagger, Simple; One-Handed, proficient: +3, 1d4, Blade, Can be thrown, range 5
  Quarterstaff, Simple; Two-Handed, proficient: +2, 1d8, Blunt
  Hand Crossbow, Simple; One-Handed, 1d6, ranged 10
Ability Scores
Base Attack Modifiers
Base AttackModifier
Defense Scores
AC17 (+5 level, +2 Int)
Fortitude17 (+5 level, +2 Str)
Reflex17 (+5 level, +2 Int)
Will18 (+5 level, +3 Wis)

Skill Scores
Acrobatics+5 (+0 Dex)
Athletics+7 (+2 Str)
Bluff+6 (+1 Cha)
Diplomacy+11 (+5 skill training, +1 Cha)
Dungeoneering+8 (+3 Wis)
Endurance+10 (+1 Con, +4 crystal)
Heal+8 (+3 Wis)
History+7 (+2 Int)
Insight+8 (+3 Wis)
Intimidate+6 (+1 Cha)
Magic+12 (+2 Int, +5 wizard)
Nature+13 (+5 skill training, +3 Wis)
Perception+8 (+3 Wis)
Stealth+5 (+0 Dex)
Streetwise+6 (+1 Cha)
Technology+12 (+5 skill training, +2 Int)
Thievery+5 (+0 Dex)

Basic Melee Attacks:
  Dagger; Attack: +10 (+2 Str, +3 proficient) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+2 (+2 Str)
  Quarterstaff; Attack: +9 (+2 Str, +2 proficient) vs. AC; Hit: 1d8+2 (+2 Str)
  Unarmed; Attack: +7 (+2 Str) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+2 (+2 Str)
  Improvised One-Handed; Attack: +7 (+2 Str) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+2 (+2 Str)
  Improvised Two-Handed; Attack: +7 (+2 Str) vs. AC; Hit: 1d8+2 (+2 Str)
Basic Ranged Attacks:
  Hand Crossbow; Attack: +5 (+0 Dex) vs. AC; Hit: 1d6+0 (+0 Dex)
  Dagger (thrown); Attack: +8 (+0 Dex, +3 proficient) vs. AC; Hit: 1d4+0 (+0 Dex)
Other Actions:
  Bull Rush; Attack: +2 (+2 Str) vs. Fortitude
  Grab; Attack: +2 (+2 Str) vs. Reflex; sustain minor
  Move Grabbed; Attack: +2 (+2 Str) vs. Fortitude; move action, halfspeed
Class Features:
  Cantripomancy: As a wizard, you can perform a myriad of minor spells to amuse your friends and aid your allies.
  Sources of Power: All wizards choose the source of their powers early on in their magical training. Many pick elemental sources like raging fire or billowing wind. Other more eccentric wizards choose almost anything from sweaters to toast to cutlery. Your source of power provides a great deal of flavor to your character and can be used as a simple way to customize a wizard. Any power that contains they keyword Source indicates your chosen source of power. Once chosen, you may not switch power sources. E-veeeeer.  [Elizabeth chose Sparkly Crystal Powers.]
Class and Species Powers:
crystal power
Note: Modifiers in parenthesis have already been included in your totals and are present only for reference.