Monday, January 31, 2011

something I liked about M!M!

Monsters! Monsters!, which I ran Sunday for the first time, is basically a you-play-the-bad-guys spin-off of Tunnels & Trolls, so this comment ought to apply equally to T&T.  Anyhoo, the thing I was digging on was that even the dragon was rolling 25 dice in combat and the demon 13 but everyone elses' paltry amounts still counted.  The basic T&T combat mechanic is your side rolls its dice, my side does the same and we compare totals.  The side with the smaller total takes damage equal to the difference between the two.  This means everybody can contribute to a victory.  Twenty kobolds aren't just twenty ignorable little dillweeds, they're twenty more dice their ogre master gets to roll.  Even though the PC clearly sucked in combat, the saxophone-armed halfling with only 2 dice could've been just the guy who turned a losing round of combat into a winning one. There's not much room for "I can't hit this guy, so I'm going to sit here and pout" scenarios.

Even though one guy actually did do that.  Playing a dark elf with measly 1 die javelins just pissed him off/turned him off to the whole exercise.  I felt bad that he clearly wasn't enjoying the game, but I'm not going to change how I run things to accomodate someone who didn't seem to be trying to meet me halfway.  Dude and his significant other left early, after her Fire Elemental was lethally doused by Ol' Man Miller and his sons when she lit up the family grain mill.  At the end of the run the guy playing the troublemaking pimp Warlock pointed out that his character had far worse stats.

Still, I hate to see even one groughy dude leave unhappy, especially when his last impression of the con will be my (presumably in his mind) crappy game.

from Sunday's game

In Monsters! Monsters! you draw a card to see what sort o' vile fiend you are playing. We ended up, among other things, with a Black Hobbit jazz saxophonist, a gender-ambiguous Chinese Fox, a winged skeleton Demon, a female Rock Person with a penchant for kidnapping and enslaving paladins, the world's least effective but most pimpin' Warlock and the above gourmand Dragon.

First they burned down the town the adventurers were using as home base.  This I fully expected.  Then they muscled in on the adventurers' source of oil flasks & holy water.  Reasonable.  Then they burned down the nearby city of thousands.

Good times.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

taking a blogging break (obviously)

work + new school + family life + upcoming convention + moody musings over the shallowness of the blog medium (or at least how I use it) = no blogging, at least for a while

stay groovy, folks

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

DC Cab poster from Turkey

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

some light verse

MANY simple folk, (it’s queer)
Used to patronise the seer
And pay cash down for magic spell
Perchance a Horoscope as well.

Or open wide at special rate
That musty tome the Book of Fate;
Or seek the Philtre’s subtle aid
To win the hand of some fair maid.

We mus’nt miss the Troubadours
Who went forth on their singing tours,
Twanging harps and trilling lays
To maids of medieval days.

And Oh! the right good merry times
With Maskers, Mummers and the Mimes,
Hobby horses gaily prancing,
Bats and Bowls and Maypole dancing.

When folks would take a lengthy journey
To see the Knights at Joust or Tourney:
Or watch the early English ‘Knuts’
Show their skill at Archery butts.

Then come gloomy History pages
On torture of the Middle ages;
The clanking fetters grim and black,
The thumbscrew and the awful rack,

The horrors of the dungeon deep
Beneath the moat or castle keep,
Rusty locks and heavy keys
And—let us change the subject, please.

--from A Humorous History of England, by Charles Harrison

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

you kick open the door and see... roll for initiative, suckers!

(For more great crossover art like this, google up artist Jim Mahfood.)

Monday, January 03, 2011

guess what I found on DVD at the library!

The Mazes & Monsters movie turned out to be even worse than I remembered it.  Though I do kinda dig the way the M&M players gather by candlelight around a more abstract, almost chess-like board.  If you want to learn more about this cinematic masterpiece and the retro RPG currently being designed around it, check out this post and subsequent ones over at Blog of Holding.

poetry, by Crom

R. E. H.

Died June 11, 1936


[originally appearing in Weird Tales, October 1936.]

Conan, the warrior king, lies stricken dead
   Beneath a sky of cryptic stars; the lute
   That was his laughter stilled, and sadly mute
Upon the chilling earth his youthful head.
There sounds for him no more the clamorous fray,
   But dirges now, where once the trumpet loud:
   About him press old memories for shroud,
And ended is the conflict of the day.

Death spilled the blood of him who loved the fight
   As men love mistresses, and fought it well—
   His fair young flesh is marble where he fell
With broken sword that vanquished all but Night;
  And as of mythic kings our words must speak
  Of Conan now, who roves where dreamers seek.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Paladins of Wessex

So I mentioned in yesterday's post that we've got a Paladin in my current Holmes D&D-based campaign. Here are the current rules for them:

class requirement: Fighter
alignment requirement: Lawful (Good or Evil)
ability score requirement: Cha 17+
basic advantages: lay on hands 2hp/level/per day, cure disease 1/week per five levels, immune to disease, +2 saving throws
advanced advantages (level 8+): dispel evil at will, detect evil 6” range
expulsion: any Chaotic act

The above rules are basically swiped wholesale from the first paragraph of the Paladin description in Supplement I: Greyhawk for OD&D.  You might remember the magic horsey and item/loot/associates restrictions from AD&D.  Greyhawk has those too but I accidentally omitted them from my summary because I was in a big hurry when I got this ready for Dane's use on Wednesday night.  I kinda like the slimmed down results of my screw-up.

One of the things that intrigues me about the Greyhawk paladin is that it's basically the first published Prestige Class, a quarter century before that term came into use.  As worded in the text you become a Pally after rolling up a fighter with a 17+ Charisma and deciding to be Lawful.  You can do so right out of the gate or at any later time.  Your basic class abilities don't change or go away and you continue to use the same hit dice, XP chart, etc.  The other two things I really dig about this class: 1) how hard it is to get into the class.  In the world of 3d6 in order not that many PCs have a 17 in friggin' anything.  2) how easy it is to get out!  After all a lot of freakin' chaos goes down in the life of the average hard luck adventurer.  It might be best for players who sign up for this class to think of it as a temporary gig.

My little summary above would probably make a pretty good template for fleshing out the other sub-classes Dr. Holmes mentions but doesn't detail: Ranger, Illusionist, Witch, Monk, Druid and Assassin.  Each subclass has a class/stat/alignment requirement to get in, three or four starting benefits (some of which scale to level) and a couple of awesome powers at high level.  Throw in a taboo that takes away the powers and Bob's your uncle.

Note I don't think the Blue Book specifies that the Monk is meant to be a Chop Socky Shaolin, so I could do that class up as a Christian ascetic.  Like the Paladin above, that would be for me a much more interesting way to bring miracles into the game instead of the default cleric.  And the spellcasting subclasses might be doable without adding a bunch of new spell lists to the game.  The trick, I think, would be to differentiate the Witch and Druid.  With one class or the other on the table I would approach it as the subclass of the pre-Christian remnant on the island.  If the Druid fits that role, is the Witch reduced to the cackling baddies of fairy tales?  Who is going to sign up to play warty-nosed old biddies?  Maybe that's why the Witch never ended up in the Players Handbook.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Surfeit of Lampreys, session #2

So I guess I've been ignoring the crap out of this blog.  My lovely and wonderful wife got me a Kindle for Christmas and I've been going absolutely nuts downloading crap over at Project Gutenberg and flipping through tons and tons of electronimical books.  Let me give you a measure of the full force owning this device has had on me by pointing out that I have a file folder on it now that is just for books about books.  Which contains 31 volumes all by itself.

Anyway, on to the session report.  Wednesday night I got a wonderful surprise when I arrived at the Armored Gopher, as artist and all around awesome person Jennifer Weigel and her hubby, the equally friendly and fun Chuck, had driven up from St. Louis to play in my game.  Or maybe they had other reasons to be in Champaign-Urbana, but my crazy insecurity-overconfidence feedback loop made me assume I was the only reason they were in town so that I was simultaneously experiencing performance anxiety and egomania.  (I mean even more so than usual.) As an additional bonus they brought Christmas cookies and non-alcoholic wine-like grape beverage for everyone!

Chuck whipped up the Dread Pirates Dwayne and Ned, a couple of brothers and nice guys who were tired of living at the bottom of the medieval pecking order.  Here's Jennifer's PCs:

Two things I should point out here.  First, Jennifer did those character sketches with seeming no effort, as she played the game and without even doing preliminary sketching in pencil.  That's awesome.  Second, she totally was wearing the same hat as Mary up there, complete with the pheasant feather.

Allowing everyone to run two PCs simultaneously has resulted in a lot of related people in the party.  Carl runs the Evans brothers, a pair of Welsh archers and thieves.  The two dread pirates I mentioned earlier are also brothers.  The Anglo-Saxon fighter father and thief son of last run was a hoot.  And Wednesday night Dane figured out why his Saracen magic-user and French paladin spend so much time together: the Saracen is loot!  That's right, we've got a player running a slave and his master as a pair of PCs.  This had little effect on play, except that the MU now carries both PCs adventuring gear, but we'll see what else develops.  Here's the full compliment of the 2nd expedition to the ruins of Worminghall:

Jennifer played Angus O'Leary (F) and Mary O'Leary (MU)
Chuck played the Dread Pirate Dwayne (F) and the Dread Pirate Ned (F)
Carl played Gimpy Evans (T) and Bodger Evans (T)
Dane played Jean Claude Villaneuve de Montmarte (P) and Ermlaf the Saracen (MU)
Joe played Pierre (T) and Captain Wimpy the Klutz (MU)

Most of the session focused on further exploration of level one under the ruins.  The players did explore one new room of the upper level, where they found some old shoes and shoe-making equipment sized for halflings or goblins or somesuch.  I think it was Jean Claude who later traded a pair of the shoes to one of the worker-imps on level one for some help opening a stuck dungeon door.  They've gotten some good reaction rolls with this particular band of monsters, so they've been very friendly.  Especially when the party stops by with a sackfull of roasted spiders just as the imps are going on their coffee break.  Them's good eatin'.

The PCs came by these spiders in a classic Room Fulla Webs.  Instead of the normal 1 or 3 or 6 giant spiders lurking on the ceiling, I loaded all surfaces of the room with an Indiana Jones-esque quantity of normal poisonous spiders in hopes of really creeping some folks out by absolutely covering them with a blanket of poisonous creepy-crawlies.  Turns out you can creep out some people just by describing how that torch tossed into the room results in floor covered with blackened spider carcasses.  Underneath the dead spiders the party found a crispy hand and partial arm, which ended up tied to the business end of the Paladin's eleven foot pole.

Other encounters included two run-ins with Bigass Snakes Made Out of Ice, some Red Savages and Brain-Eating Zombies.  Angus, whose mighty 15 Str, 6 hit points and slow wits resulted in his election as Point Man, nearly got his brains eaten.  The shaggy, stone-agey Red Savages were quickly subdued via a Sleep spell and dispatched.  The players haven't figured out what the strange token they were each carrying signify.  Each token is flat, roughly squarish, made of wood or chipped stone and about the size of a coin.  Here's the quick sketch I drew for them:

Every Red Savage had a small pouch on his loincloth with exactly five tokens, each pouch containing one of each of the above designs.  Except for the smallest guy they killed, who had six tokens with an extra with the asterisk-like symbol in the middle.  The imp miners said the savages gather in a circle and put them on the floor for some reason.  Can anyone figure out what they mean?  I stumped the group.  Read Languages yielded no data after a discussion as to what it could and could not do.  I ruled that spell decodes words and sentences and these symbols were neither.  To explain my position I offered a hypothetical whereby a stranger to Christendom casts RL on a crucifix.  Clearly that symbol is rich with meaning, but should that be decode-able by this simple 1st level spell?  I say nay.

Three of the Bigass Ice Snakes were guarding a big block of iced containing some winged humanoid figure that could only be seen in vague silhouette.  After they killed the snakes (and with no one suffering the effects of Ice Venom, darn it) the party discovers that the live cold monsters were the source of refrigeration for the room and the big block is starting to melt.  Next time the PCs make it out that way the block is mostly melted and its occupant is gone.  Another mystery with no solution as of yet.

A third mysterious mystery was the room with an Infernal Device resembling a bronze globe and hot to the touch.  It was bolted down and too hot to steal but maybe next time they'll pull it off.

The other big event of the night was the death of Captain Wimpy the Klutz.  Poor bastard was sliced clean in half by a pendulum blade hallway trap.

All in all, I thought it was a pretty good session.  Jennifer and Chuck are welcome back any time.  The mechanics of the campaign are still congealing, but I say if you're only worrying about fiddly little bits like whether Magic Missile requires a to-hit or what initiative rules to use then you're probably doing a lot of more important stuff that isn't broken.