Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cinder session 2

Last night was second run of my new Labyrinth Lord-powered World of Cinder campaign using the Wildlands of Points of Light. Again I had two players, but it was a totally different pair than the dudes who played two weeks ago. The totally new player roster caused no difficulty. I’m pitching this game as a “pick-up campaign”, where from my end of the operation I’m running a perfectly normal ongoing sandbox campaign but on the other side of the screen the players have a zero-commitment game they can jump into or drop out of as pleases them. As best as I can tell this arrangement has no practical differences from the way Arneson and Gygax operated their campaigns, but I find it important to sell the campaign to players as something that they don’t have to feel obligated to attend. I’ve seen a lot of campaigns mutter through largely via player inertia and frankly I’d rather have someone stop coming than show up and not care.

Anyhoo, my two players were Dave and Joe. Dave is one of the owners of Armored Gopher Games and a figure of note in the local RPG scene before he sold out and went all commercial on us. Seriously though, you couldn’t ask for a better guy to run your FLGS. He seems to know darn near every gamer in town, he believes in the local hobby scene as a community, and he understands that to run a successful store you can’t just put some crap on the shelves and wait for the money to roll in. I’ve played many games with Dave, most notably a big pile of Savage Worlds, of which he was an early adopter. He’s also been a player in some of my Encounter Critical con games and was in the local Run Club for the year we gave that a try. Good guy.

I met Joe through Dave, when Dave started his Pancake Hut game night, so-called because they were run at a local pancake eatery after it closed. Joe played in my brief Savage Worlds mini-campaign about a 1920’s mafia turf war. In the first couple of sessions of that game Joe and I were not on the same wavelength and I was clearly failing to communicate to him how the game was supposed to work. Then in the middle of one scene he all of the sudden perked up “Oh! We’re on a shadow run!” and from then on he gave that campaign a good sound ass-kicking.

One of the things that I really like about Joe is he’s a fun-loving guy who takes the game seriously. He’ll laugh and joke around and is generally great to hang out with, but he also shows up to frickin’ play, not to talk about the latest episode of whatever crap show all the nerds are supposed to be flipping out over this season. I like chit-chatting about comics books or Doctor Who or whatever as much as the next genre geekboy, but some people just can’t shut up and roll the damn dice. Joe is totally the opposite of those people. Also, when idiots talk like the internet (you know, actually saying “lols” or “pwnage” out loud) you can see the murder in Joe’s eyes. I totally respect that attitude, even though I have been known to occasionally use the word “roxxors” in casual conversation. I wish I could say I was being ironic when I did, but that would be a lie.

Session 1 of the campaign was pretty sparse with the setting material, but last night we were able to build up some neat stuff up during play. We established, for example, that Dave’s magic-user Snurd was one of many apprentices of the wizard Bolothous. The PCs’ base of operations is the small trading town of Delen, which is as per Points of Light is protected by six stone golems created by Bolothous. We decided that Bolothous is an alcoholic old wretch and a terrible teacher of the arcane arts. He’s great with golem-magic but a total arsehole personally. Most of his apprentices either quit in disgust or are thrown out when the master is in a fit of wine-soaked grumpiness. Reginald Featherweight, Carl’s M-U from session one and Hal Durg, the bandit mage in the dungeon module I was using, also happen to be ex-apprentices of Bolothous. Thanks to a blown carousing roll, we also learned one more fact: Snurd is totally in love with Bolothous’s hot young wife Zyra and the two are knocking boots behind his back! At one point Snurd spent 100gp on gifts for Zyra and another hundred gold on wine for his boss, to keep the old man stupefied while cuckolding him. Best use of the NPC reaction chart yet: determining if your mistress still loves her husband or not.

Joe’s character is just as awesome as Dave’s devious casanova/wizard. One of the first things Joe said to me when I arrived at the shop last night was “I’ve been catching up on your blog and I have just one question for you: What the hell is a grognard?” I explained the etymology briefly, starting with Napoleon’s grumbling soldiers. That stuck in Joe’s head. So when he diced up a fighter who happened to start play with a free tin of mustache wax he created this guy:

That's Grognard Whiplash, Frog God-worshipping ex-soldier of the Last Emperor of the West! I decided that the Last Emperor sits in his lonely tower in the wicked city of Hautville. Ostensibly Hautville is the last bastion of his crumbled dominion, but the truth is he's basically exiled there and a prisoner of local authorities. Grognard managed to survive the Emperor’s last war going very badly.

Like Squirrel’s halfling in the previous session, Grognard could not stay away from the Slot Dice. Unlike Squirrel, Joe lost and lost and lost again. In fact, between starting play dirt poor (Snurd had to finance his studded leather), excessive carousing, losing money to a con man, and a gambling addiction, Grognard quickly became pegged as Snurd’s no good broke-ass friend, who was always bumming coin off of the more thrifty M-U. It was a great roleplaying dynamic and very funny. Snurd keeps the gold a-flowin’ on condition that the fighter would take the blame should word get out that Zyra was having an affair. Grognard agreed, but who can trust a dude that prays to amphibious demons?

The actual adventure involved a couple forays into the lair of the evil knight Krepache. Since Carl’s character Reginald had caroused during the previous session, I decided that he boozed it up with his ol’ buddy Snurd and totally spilled the beans about the source of his new-found gold. That was heavy handed, but I feel confident that Carl would go along with it. He’s a pretty easy-going guy. So Reginald Featherweight and his cleric buddy Deric Holyborn were off doing whatever PCs do when they aren’t on adventures while the two new guys took a crack at the same dungeon. Through a combination of judicious sleep spells, excellent dice-free dungeoneering and simple luck both characters made second level and scored some decent loot. A couple encounters were touch-and-go. Picking a fight with a troll is not a recommended activity for first level adventurers, but they did it anyway for fear that it might cut off their escape route. Even though they had no idea what the shaggy pumpkinheads were, they took on four of them and had a helluva fight.

Next session should be interesting. Joe indicated that he would be back and I expect Squirrel to play as well, as Wednesday is normally his night to mind the store. Joe’s Grognard Whiplash is a shady character and a follower of the Frog Gods of Chaos, while Squirrel’s Deric Holyborn is a zealous cleric of the lawful Great Gold Dragon. I don’t know if either player is willing to push the situation to the point of PC-on-PC violence or whether it will just be a source of good-natured jocularity. Personally, I’m willing to let it play out either way and I think both guys are grownup enough to not take a little in-game skullduggery too seriously. But only time will tell.

In the meantime, Dave has kindly offered to help me drum up some more players. I don’t mind running for one or two at a time, especially when the players I’m getting are so high quality, but I wouldn’t mind a few more as well. So if you live in my neck o’ the woods or are just passing through, shoot me an email (jrients to the gmail at the dot to the com) and we’ll set something up.


  1. Awesome. Simply awesome.

    What is not so awesome is how far away I live from this extremely awesome game. Far too far. Dammit.

  2. Anonymous8:55 PM

    I'm really enjoying reading about your campaign Jeff. Lots of great inspiring ideas for the game I'm going to be running in March. :)

  3. If only I lived in your neck of the woods. Great write-ups, sounds like a blast.

  4. Good stuff, indeed!

  5. I'm not saying it's pretentious but does that degree of high-seriousness not stifle the players? It is only a game after all.

  6. I would recommend the use of a timer for combat rounds to get chatty player's minds focussed back on the matter at hand; with my players, they have ten seconds per action to stop discussing tactics and get on with the fight, or that character loses his action!

  7. I'm not saying it's pretentious but does that degree of high-seriousness not stifle the players? It is only a game after all.

    Kent, this isn't just some silly ROLL playing game, it's a ROLE playing game, a deep exploration of theme and premi-

    Man, I can't even finish that.

  8. A genuinely amusing campaign is rare and it looks like you're pulling it off in style. Normally people are not as funny as they think. Your game would make for a perfect tonic.

  9. The trick, I think, is not to try consciously to be funny. Just keep things light-hearted and let the laughs fall where they may. And I really have to give most of the credit to the players. Joe and Dave are funny guys. Carl and Squirrel are a blast as well.

  10. This is the sort of role playing that I can dig. Nobody is talking in funny voices or wearing 'in character' hats. But the guy has moustache wax. That's D&D roleplaying. And his picture is wonderful.