Friday, November 9, 2018

Ravenloft, Buy-in, Style of Play, a Sort of Review, and Birthdays.

  As I have mentioned before, October is one heck of a month for my family because we have 4 birthdays and a Holy Day of Obligation in just 15 days. Toss in that I am teaching this year, the teenagers want lives (the jerks), and the fact that I am working on my own OSR clone and, well.

  I'm back.

  Another family tradition is the Annual Halloween Classic Module; I run the Clan through an old-school module. We've done Tamoachan, Ghost Tower, Castle Amber, and more. 
  This year?


  The crew had never read the module in any of its forms, but knew about it (of course). Everyone was pumped and looking forward to a killer dungeon with a high body count.
  Each player (five people) made three 7th level characters using 3d6 in order, swap 2, and being equipped via the charts from the DMG on making instant characters and Magic Items for Everyman in Dragon #45. They divided into three teams; Scout, Strike, and Emergency, and we started play on Saturday evening, a bit late.

Spoilers for the module follow

  I had Ravenloft digital on two tablets and the maps printed out for notes and references. I had tweaked the module a bit (explained below) and had a modified deck of cards at hand. I had already run the Fortunes of Ravenloft as per the module. 

  The entire group of 15 PCs travelled together into Barovia after getting the call for help. They encountered the dead body that showed the call for help was fake, and continued. They had a random encounter with Barovian woodcutters and travelled with the men to the village, learning a great deal from them via high charisma and roleplay. They ignored damn near everything in the village and headed straight to the church, meeting the priest well before sunset.

        My modifications: The villagers explained that every few years more people, sometimes adventures and sometimes merchants. were lured into Barovia to ensure the village always had a certain minimum population and could still get clothing, food, etc. The gypsies also brought needed items. The priest at the chapel was convinced that God was protecting the people because there was always a cleric for the church in town, all through the ages.
  I also introduced Father Gabriel, the priest of the church in the village when the Curse of Strahd first struck. Inspired by the phantoms of dead adventurers and the 'helpful spirits' encounter I had Fr. Gabriel as a "mechanic"; his spirit was invisible and undetectable. He would travel with the party and if they failed report all that was seen, heard, and done to the survivors. Thus player knowledge after character death was explained.
  The party slept as the cleric prayed, and set out the next morning. Straight on target, the party headed directly for the castle. They hit the gypsy camp fairly directly and, after a lot of party discussion, went for the fortune telling. We played out the Fortunes of Ravenloft with the party taking careful notes, and then before too long they reached the entrance to the castle at nightfall (taking the carriage, after a wrangle).

  They entered and heard faint organ music. Focused on one of the fortunes (that of the Tome, which the Fortunes had placed in the tower) they decided up was best. They went straight, more organ music. Turned right, louder. They saw the double doors with the organ music obviously on the other side (I was playing Widor) and the spiral stairs up opposite the doors...
  ...and took the stairs. Jack said the organ music was 'over the top' and 'too obviously a trap, illusion, or something'.They went to the next floor, opened a door into the throne room, checked their notes, went to the throne, and recovered the Holy Symbol. Travelling to try to define the dimensions of the castle they found the chapel overlook, killed the zombies in a round, and descended with a Rope of Climbing, finding the Icon of Ravenloft. They uncovered the altar, left the Icon, and took the stairs up a tower.

        Let the Dice Roll as they May: I really strongly favor letting the dice roll and stand as they land. I don't fudge a number, re-roll, throw in five more monsters or have 2 run away, etc. Party curb stomps kobolds? Sure. Bunch of kobolds curb stomp the party? Sure. I have found that the results of this are far more dramatic than anything I can railroad.
  All this time I rolled zero random encounters. 

  At this point we broke it off for the day. All the talking and walking in Barovia ate up some time. We reconvened the next day with a large volume of snacks and drinks for a long session.

  They continued up, up, up, then found the bridge to the other tower. Midnight and Strahd sent 40+ bats. The party locked themselves away in a room, waited 10 minutes, then came out with a Potion of Fire Breath, wiping out the bored stragglers. They crossed to the other tower, it animated, the party used a Wand of Lightning Bolts, the tower's heart shattered, and the party inexplicably (to me; they insist it made sense) abandoned their plan to find the knowledge in the tall place and headed straight back to the Chapel. They finally had a random encounter, a group of 4 gypsies. The gypsies were cut down in 4 rounds, the party healed minor damage, and they kept on to the chapel. 
  Just at the Chapel they had another random encounter. Roll, cascade, roll, and - Strahd himself! He leapt out, struck the toughest fighter, and drained two levels while the party was surprised!
  He won initiative and struck the fighter again, effectively crippling him, as the cleric fumbled in her bag. The rest of the party was trying to get to where they could fight. Third round the fighter, who was weakened where any blow would kill him, missed - and the Cleric activated the Holy Symbol....

   ...and rolled a 10 on a d10.

  Sunlight blazed from the Holy Symbol, instantly rendering Strahd immobile and helpless. In short order the party staked him, cut off his head and stuffed his mouth with holy wafers, and let the 10 rounds of sunlight annihilate him, hitting the combo that kills a vampire the first time every time.

  The storms broke, the mist cleared, the sun rose shining and bright, and the party headed to the chapel with only 3 of 15 characters taking any damage. The party cleric read a scroll with Restorations on it and the drained fighter was good as new.

  The session ended so fast the pizzas weren't done.

My History with the Ravenloft Module
  When Ravenloft came out there was a fair amount of buzz. My friend Brice, who had his own D&D group, invited me to guest DM it in return for food and my own copy of the module. I did, we had a ton of fun over a 4 day weekend, and lots of characters died before Strahd went down.
  A month later I ran it for my own group. George's group asked me to run it for them, etc. The year after it came out I ran it at least 5 times. I ran it at the Presidio of Monterey in '86 and at Bragg in '88, twice in '89, and at an airbase in '90. So this was at least the 10th time I have run the module making it the classic module I have run most often, very easily.

My Opinion of the Ravenloft Module
  ...I don't like it much. The setup is odd, the optional 'girl reincarnated, brother in love past the grave' is clumsy, the timeline of the curse versus the status of the village requires the DM to fix a ton of things, the 'mist' mechanic is lazy DMing of the first water, and I really, really dislike the maps. While iconic and eye catching, the maps are damn hard to use at times. And I think the 'assume an identity' motivation is ridiculous and possibly outside the rules.
  And the tone is so uneven! The big sell is 'Gothic Horror' yet the tombs are chock-a-block with terrible puns that would make Piers Anthony roll his eyes.
  I do like the Fortunes concept, although the assumption that modules will be played over and over is... odd, to me.

Tone, Buy In, and Style of Play
  I think that my most recent party was actually the one to finally match the Gothic Horror tone of the main module. My party is rather 'murder hobo avoidant' - they slam through dungeons with a time limit because they seem to have time-suck radar, they often start with parley, and avoid all combat they think is a waste.
  When they were in Ravenloft they got the Fortunes, which are direct clues that are meant to lead the party to the tools they need to defeat Strahd. The party focused on the Fortunes and they basically led them straight to the tool they used to defeat Strahd on the very first night in the castle. I believe this is more 'true' to the idea of the party being a force for good versus evil rather than looters searching for high-value swag.
  Looking at the module after the 'cleared Ravenloft with a dead Strahd in 270 real-world minutes' sessions and I realized the castle is a murder hobo graveyard. Don't open every tomb in the vault? Suddenly a huge number of undead aren't to be encountered. Carefully follow the clues and get the sword, holy symbol, etc? You have multiple tools that can kill Strahd quickly in the group. 
  Again, the style of play of my party (heroes opposing evil rather than bandits looking for loot) plus the tone of the module may have very well allowed them to skip a lot of death.

  But at the same time, the players did not buy into the Gothic Horror part. At all. Empty house with the sound of a woman weeping drifting out in the village?
  "If I was trapped in a vampiretown I'd cry, too."
  And they walked on by.
  Learned that the daughter of the burgomeister was adopted when she was found wandering the forest as a very young child?
  "A reincarnated woman from the vampires past, obviously. Who has bets on mother, fiancĂ©e, or unrequited love?"
  The players weren't in a Wuthering Heights mood.

  Don't get me wrong, they emotionally invest into adventures. I have had them actually panic for real and have been told that my description of a subterranean lake with the sound of someone singing in the distance over the water gave players nightmares.
  Just not Ravenloft.

  But they played like it. 

  I think I need to write more about this!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Play Report: 5e

  I got to play, which is nice. We had done a single session once before, this time we did a two-day-in-real-life game.

Me - Human Cleric (Tempest domain)
Jen - Halfling Rogue
Alex - Half-elf Warlock
Sam - Human Fighter
Nick - Human Mage

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Chaos, Them!, Baba Yaga's Hut, Food Storage, Matchmaking, and More....

  Now that the map of the Briars is done the Company of the Dark Moon (i.e., 85% of PCs in the campaign) gave one to master bard Llewellyn the Black, sold a copy to the King, and made 3 copies. Clarence (unbeknownst to the rest)  also sent one to the Grandfather of Assassins earning himself a reprieve from doing a mission for the Black Guild.

Impassable Plants and Giant Ants
  Seeker used his broom of flying to scout out the largest spinneys (these are the impassable thickets of briars up to a mile across that dot the Briars region). He had noted the the largest spinneys have a clearing inside, always in the exact middle. He found that each one has a large stone in the center inscribed with the same strange rune as the Gate of the Old Road and the various 'key stones' of the Old Road. He realized that the Old Road is only washed out or overgrown in the sections where the glyph stones are missing.
  The party also realized that the largest spinneys all cover the lairs of giant ants - 200-400 per spinney.

Clearing Out
  In Skull Mountain the hirelings, henchmen, and PCs worked hard to secure provisions (20 man-weeks of iron rations in the Cupboard on level one and 400 lbs of beef in the Meat Locker on level three) and supplies (240 arrow, 120 bolts, 200 candles, and 12 bedrolls on level one; the long boat on level three) and then met the mule train from Esber to get everyone and everything else out. The PCs stayed behind to Wizard Lock, secure, and Glyph key doors.

Maid Service for a Maiden
  Since the Beginner of the Third Way (i.e. the master monk of the Briars) had asked them to and because she had helped them so the party next followed the Three Riders to Baba Yaga's hut, deep in the High Briars (it had moved, of course) to help Vasilisa accomplish the three tasks for her 16th birthday. The party helped her: stir a 50 gallon cauldron of stew constantly for 36 hours allowing only Vasilisa's hands to touch the stirring paddle; sort a 12 bushel sack of mixed maize and wheat into two separate bags, one with only maize, the other with only wheat; sweep, wash, dry, and wax the floor of Baba Yaga's hut (just the first room). The party caught a glimpse or three of the vast maze of rooms off the 'hut' but did no snooping.
  They pulled it all off while being very conscientious and extremely polite. Brigid also made sure Vasilisa had clean clothes, was well-scrubbed, and that her hair was perfect.
  Baba Yaga arrived early and the entire party ended up having to stay for cake to avoid being impolite. The cake was delicious and Baba Yaga admitted that Vasilisa,
  "..never shirked, never lied, never complained, was never rude, never lazy, and never impertinent. She was always kind, always polite, always prompt, and had always accomplished her tasks..."
  So Baba Yaga informed the party that if they presented Vasilisa to the King of Seaward 'before the first snow of the year' Baba Yaga would owe them a favor. They are very polite, bid Baba Yaga farewell, and took Vasilisa with them.

Matchmakers and Maps
  The party promptly traveled to the capitol to present the map to the King, taking Vasilisa with them. During the audience the King gave them their payment for the map as well as the bounties for Ol' One Fang and Ol' Knobby. Vasilisa was presented and was quickly able to prove she was the daughter of Count Zotov whose entire family was believe wiped out in the Civil War in High Morath. Vasilisa explained she, the youngest, had survived with her oldest brother and a few guards as they fled over the Exile's Trail into the Briars and had fled (as ordered by her brother, who held them off so she could flee) when a pack of trolls attacked thereafter being taken in as a "ward" of Baba Yaga the next day.
  The Crown Prince was obviously smitten with the young Countess.

More later....

Saturday, August 11, 2018

New Spell: Mordenkainen's Mediocre Motel Room

From the Lads-
Mordenkainen's Mediocre Motel Room (Summoning, Alteration)
Level: 2                                                      Components: V, S, M
Range: 0                                                     Casting Time: 1 round
Duration: 1 hour/level (see description)    Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 7'x7'x7' cube

Explanation/Description: When cast the magic-user summons a Mediocre Motel Room, a wooden shelter that is roughly 7' wide, 7' deep, and has a very slightly pitched roof that reaches 7' at its highest. The Motel Room is of average-to-poor construction (the roof and each wall have only 2 Defensive Points each when resisting siege damage) and is usually painted in a distinctive, even garish, manner (such as teal walls and an orange roof, or pale beige walls and a bright, cherry red roof).
  The Motel Room has a single door (1 defensive point) that has a simple lock (+15% on lock picking attempts) and an interior bolt. Next to the door is the front window, a 2' x 2' opening with shutters (1 defensive point when shuttered and barred). The window is not glazed and has no screen or curtain, allowing free passage when unshuttered.
  The interior has a worn wooden floor throughout. There is a simple bed (rope suspension, straw-filled, lumpy mattress, no linens), a very small table with an oil lamp by the bed, a small closet (2' wide, 2' deep, no door) a small room for a chamber pot (2' wide, 2' deep, no door, no chamber pot, has a small grill for ventilation, 3 inches by 3 inches, near the ceiling) and a built in desk between the closet and privy with a wooden stool by it.
  The Motel Room provides the same protection from the weather as a poorly-made, small, wooden building. It is drafty and in heavy rain the roof leaks in a place or two. There is no fireplace or hearth, but a brazier or field stove could potentially be placed on the floor. The Motel room is as subject to fire, lightning, earthquakes, etc. as any other poorly-made, small, wooden building.
  The bed is sufficient for 1 human, although it can just barely fit 2 humans in a pinch. There is enough floor space for another human and a gnome or halfling could potentially curl up under the desk. If someone is sleeping on the floor you cannot enter or exit the bed without stepping on them unless you fly or levitate.
  There is a vague, pervasive odor to the Motel Room that cannot be identified or removed. This odor makes animals uneasy so that only familiars or highly trained creatures (such as war dogs) will sleep within.
  The oil lamp burns dim and smokes a lot. While it sheds enough light to navigate the room it is too dim for reading. By command the caster can cause a light to shine from the ceiling over the bed (another command turns it off). This ceiling light is bright enough for reading, but it flickers off and on briefly at irregular intervals; studying spell books to memorize spells takes 30% longer than normal if reading by this light.
  When anyone is within the Motel Room roll encounters as normal with the exception that if two or more creatures are encountered at once there is a 50% chance that they begin to fiercely argue within earshot of the Motel Room. If this occurs the creatures will scream at each other, pound weapons on shields, roar, etc., making as much noise as possible for 2d4 turns, after which they depart for the closest tavern. Such a fight will automatically wake anyone sleeping in the Motel Room and prevent them from returning to sleep until the argument is over.
  When the spell ends the Motel Room and its furnishing vanish, unceremoniously dumping anyone and anything within on the ground.
  Despite the listed duration of the spell, no matter how much time has passed since it was cast every Motel Room vanishes at 10 am local, on the dot.
  The material component is a small key with an attached horn disk inscribed with runes and a number (costs 5 s.p.), a tiny bell (costs 1 g.p.), and 1 gold piece. To cast the spell the caster rings the bell, stands still while tapping his foot and whistling for 1 round, then tosses the gold piece in the air, where it vanishes. The key and tag vanish when the spell ends. The bell can be reused.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Major Arc Completed: The Briars Are Now Mapped

  For those of you who don't know/care my players have been doing a massive arc of mapping some of the wildest, toughest terrain in my campaign setting. The arc started in May of 2017 and finished this weekend, about 15 months of gaming real world, with a few breaks and other sessions. In-universe the adventure spanned about 500 days of travel, mapping, and fighting.

The Weather- The party endured everything from a Summer high temp of 112 degrees (44 degrees to you non-Americans) to a Winter low of -3 (-19 Celsius). There was a gale where sustained winds were 70 mph with gusts to 90 mph (Beufort scale 11 with hurricane force gusts) and separately a tornado touched down 1 mile away and passed within 1/4 mile of the party. Flash floods were also a threat more than once and they hate hail pretty hard, now.

Encounters- They fought everything from a tribe of goblins allied with a giant to two separate kobold tribes. They encountered a full troll clan with a shaman, 3 holy hermits, 3 bandit groups, a full brigand band, and so many small groups of thieves, kobolds, highwaymen, goblins, wild boars, and lone trolls they lost count. Toward the end I stopped mentioning the routine encounters with venomous asps, venomous spiders, normal rats, brush wolves, brush cats, tortoises, etc.

Big Names- They killed Ol' One Fang and Ol' Knobby. They encountered the Red Maiden more than once (with no direct fighting) and lived. They met with Heruhoth, Champion of Kath and foe of the Red Maiden. They met Vasilissa, servant to Baba Yaga, a handful of times and met Baba Yaga herself once. They even saw her Dancing Hut twice. They met the Beginner of the Third Way ( a 14th level Monk of the Three-fold Path) and his disciples as well as one of his students who might be a ninja from Yashima. They dealt with the Man in Green, the Man in Red, and even the Man in Blue. They discovered the hidden Grove of the ranking druid in the region and learned that the druids and the monks don't get along.

Big Ideas- Two mountains nearby seem to be part of a weapon capable of  firing at spelljammers in space. The druids think the Briars are a natural part of the world but the monks think the Briars are the chaotic effects of the Contraption, deep in Skull Mountain. The Eldar (the Men in Colors) might be merchants who will sell anything to anyone, or they might be masters of deceit trying to gain control of the space weapon, or they might be something else. The Red Maiden is probably a rakshasa with a Wand of Polymorph sowing death and fear for Baron Samedhi - whoever he is. Skull Mountain, the Briars, and the Old Road may be older than the elves.

Next Missions- Vasilissa is about to turn 16; when she does she has three tasks to perform for Baba Yaga. If she succeeds she gains a reward. If she fails she is eaten. The party hopes to save her.
The Red Maiden must be destroyed.

The party will split the loot (they held off the entire time!) and gain all experience. I am removing the usual 'only one level at a time' restriction, if it comes up, to reflect the intense nature of the mission.

What's that?
Oh! The map!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Worldbuilding and Seaward Overview: Steel, Ships, Schnapps

  D&D has led me to some interesting side hobbies, such as an intense interest in mining, metallurgy, and smithing as a teen. My goal was for an internal consistency to Seaward, a world that made sense inside its own context. My players seems to notice this (hooray!) but sometimes be confused, so here is my thinking.
Seaward as a whole is roughly the High Middle Ages, around 1200 AD, give or take. But that is just a touchpoint. Here is where it differs.

In Real Life blast furnaces were only introduced to Europe in the 16th Century, but they were about 1,500 years old by that time, having been used in China that long before. Smelting is a LOT older, as in 6,000+ years.
Seaward has pretty advanced metallurgy with sophisticated blast furnaces (hot blast blast furnaces with water- or spell- powered forced air, distillatory venting, and the use of raw anthracite), a wide range of fluxes as well as ore washing, roasting, and reduction steps throughout. The dwarves are masters of this, although all races do at least base smelting.
This means 'full plate' armor, better tools, improved alloys, etc. are also "earlier". The humanoids are still in the 'age of mail' while the good guys have reached the 'age of plate'.

My thinking/justification: The odd thing (to me, at least) in real life is that bits and pieces of smelting technology were scattered here and there but rarely combined until fairly recently. Water-powered forced air on southern Europe; blast furnaces in China; sophisticated fluxes in Spain, etc. My simple assumption is that long-lived dwarves with different cultural ties were more likely to share and combine these technologies leading to a slightly faster development of metallurgy so that Seaward is about 4 centuries 'ahead' of Europe in mining, smelting, etc.

In Real Life the Medieval Period by about 1200 AD saw the development of the cog, knarr, and hulk in the West and the very sophisticated Song Dynasty junk in the East.
Seaward lags far behind in ship technology. The only common boat is the simple fishing boat with a square sale. The only real military ships of Seaward and Eastford are a few trireme galleys. Trading vessels are simple flat-bottomed roundships with a single square sail. The most advanced ships are those of the Mariner Elves who have the equivalents of longships and simple knarrs.

My thinking/justification: In real life the fact that ancient humans got into boats and sailed out of the sight of land might be the boldest thing our species has ever done - and we did it a lot. The Medieval Period had more population, an improvement in other technologies, an increased need and desire for trade, and seaborne raiders. all of which led to rapid development of ship technology that had otherwise been stagnant since Hellenistic times.
Seaward is still stagnant, as is most of the world around it, for three reasons. One, the oceans of Seaward are much more deadly than the real oceans, which is a terrifying concept. Sea serpents, dragon turtles, weresharks, kraken, sahuagin, koalinth, scrags, etc., etc., etc. mean that there are areas of ocean that are impassible and the rest is much more lethal. There are very good reasons to not go to sea. Second, magic allows you to skip some of the ship technology. A spell here and there makes any ship more seaworthy, so if you must go to sea the simpler ship can do more in a pinch. Third, things like Teleport, Carpets of Flying, etc. mean that the powerful or wealthy can travel much faster and more safely, removing some of the impetus for development.

Alcoholic Spirits-
Archaeologists have evidence that the Babylonians were making simple distilled alcohol by 1200 BC and distillation of alcohol was spreading in both the East and West in the 1st Century, so liquor is fairly old. But it wasn't until about 1500 AD that distillation was more than a novelty or tool of alchemy.
Seaward is about 400 years ahead here, too, allowing for a very wide range of liquors. Pot still are the norm, but both fractional distillation and reflux are well-known and used improving quality and consistency.

My thinking/justification: Essentially the same as with metallurgy.

Seaward has the alcohol, armor, and metals of the 16th Century and the ships of the 7th with a few elves carefully guarding their 11th Century ships and Liung Diguo having a few early junks far, far away. The lack of reliable sea travel makes the world effectively larger and forces more overland travel. It also makes magic items and spells with strategic travel capabilities much more valuable.

Monday, July 9, 2018

DM Report: Deeper into the Caverns

The party keeps exploring. Here is the setup and here is the previous report.

After a night's rest the party decamped from the goblin tunnels, set up the mercenaries and 10 of the henchmen on the hilltop and examined the eastern tunnel. Starfalcon (ranger) and Akio (henchman monk) rapidly determined it was the lair of jermlaine. Jermlaine that seemed to avoid the sunlight of the Cavern of Herds. The main party switched to the Trog Tunnels and, after driving back the tentamorts in the junction, went east, following that tunnel a long way until it opened up into a rocky cavern almost a mile long. Near the cavern, in the tunnels, they encountered a snyad and parleyed. The soon learned of the 'war in the walls'; a century long fight between the snyads of this area versus the jermlaine to the north. After discussions the party gave the snyads 8 daggers for their fight.

This led to jokes about being arms dealers

Thursday, July 5, 2018

DM Report: Deep Into Skull Mountain

Setup found here.

Later the same game-day the party sent the henchman mage/thief to watch the trog caves while Invisible as they scouted the cavern again, making sure their map is accurate and paying close attention to the waterfall and the eastern tunnel. They heard distant thunder from the eastern tunnel.

Monday, July 2, 2018

DM Report - Short Session in Skull Mountain

Saturday the crew did a shirt foray into Skull Mountain.
Players and Characters
Jen - Ingrid: 6th level fighter
Jack- Hans, 5th level fighter (halfling)
Alex-  Starfalcon, 6th level ranger (elf)
Sam- Clint, 6th level paladin
Nick- Telnar, 6th level cleric
Henchmen: 15 (!) including clerics, men-at-arms, illusionists, religious brothers, thieves, and more
Hirelings: 10 pikemen, 5 heavy crossbowmen, 5 shortbowmen, 10 heavy footmen, a cook, a healer, and a porter
Animals: A heavy warhorse (Clint's 6th level man-at-arms henchmen, sergeant and commander of the henchmen); a paladin's mount (Clint's), 3 mules (pack train)
Other: Han's steam-powered war moose construct mount

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review: Death Frost Doom

  My relationship with modules and ABOP (adventures by other people) is complex; In the '70's and '80's i ran many "official" modules set in Greyhawk for one of my groups. The other group was all-new, all-original Seaward. Most of the modules were gifts, as was Greyhawk.
  Now every year I take a 'classic' module and run it at Halloween. I have play tested a few (notably A Baker's Denizen which I modified to fit), and I will steal a map or a monster here and there. I like to occasionally use a map by someone else, totally restocked, to avoid becoming too predictable.

  But I do not like just using ABOP; they are usually very, very heavily modified unless it is a Halloween adventure. And while I really enjoy a few contemporary adventures, I usually don't get much more than elements for my own games from the work of other people.
  That's me, not you. I am idiosyncratic and quirky, so are my campaigns. My Hudson City based campaign for Champions is so modified I am, in the end, just using the map.

  But I do review things. And I am rather frankly merciless in my reviews. After the 8th person in 4 months asked me to review Death Frost Doom I said,

"I ain't buying it."
When they gave me their copy, I was on the hook. I am told this is the original version.

How I am Reviewing
I am drinking G&T's while I do a 'read through and review' where I give first impressions, so it might end up a drunk blog, too.
Then I will sum up.
No edits!

Spoilers to Follow

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Seaward/Skull Mountain: Prepping for Midsummer

As seen recently the party is preparing for not just using the magical binoculars on Midsummer, but a major incursion into Skull Mountain as far as the Cavern of Herds at a minimum. Yesterday was spent in a long prep session for the mission that involved a huge logistics effort.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Two Tales: North to Greenbough and Back Into Skull Mountain

Over Father's Day weekend the wife and I were sick, so gaming was limited. But not zero!

North to Greenbough
The Company of the Dark Moon was contacted by 'mutual friends' and a group set out for Greenbough, capitol of the county of the same name.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Seaward Travelogue: Clothing and Food

  Adding details in the background is important, so in addition to the high level overview of Seaward here is more of a travelogue.

Typical clothing is very straightforward;
Rural and Town Men: loose trousers, a tunic that falls to about mid-thigh, soft leather shoes, and a belt. In cold weather a hat and cloak (usually wool) are added.
Rural and Town Women: A long skirt, a tunic that come to just below the waist, soft leather shoes, a belt and a simple bonnet. In cold weather a hat and cloak (usually wool) are added.
Farm/field work, colliers, and other intense or dirty activities: A long overtunic that falls to midcalf is worn. In the Briars it is often of canvas to protect the wearer.
Cooking, Cleaning, and other Domestic activities: Women add a long apron.
Traveling Men and Women: In warm weather a straw hat is usually worn, in cold weather a woolen cap that covers the ears and ties under the chin.
Wealthy or Prestigious Men: Trousers are tighter, shoes are replaced with boots, and colorful vests are worn over the tunic. Merchants and tradesmen often wear flat caps (wool, leather, or felt) and nobles often wear a hat similar to a tyrolean but of soft material.
Wealthy or Prestigious Women: A decorative apron is added, hair is often in a snood.
Priests, Monks, and other Religious Men: Monks, acolytes, and such wear long, simple robes with rope belts, the colors of which identify their membership in various orders; most are barefoot or in simple sandals in all but the coldest weather. Priests wear cassocks with a roman collar and are always shod but wear a monk's robe when engaged is strenuous activity. In cold weather a long, hooded cloak is added.
Religious Women: Long dresses and aprons are worn, the colors of which identify their particular order. Their hair is always completely covered.
Festival or Feast Day clothing: Very similar to clothing worn by the wealthy for all, but non-nobles have added embroidery and bright colors while nobles will add rare fabrics. Typically only festival clothing is brightly colored, while typical/daily wear is brown, beige, darker yellow, etc.

Staples: Rye and wheat are the most common grains in the north, central, and east while oats are more common in the south and west. Cheese (firm and sharp from cow's milk or soft and mild from goat's milk are the two most common), pickles (cucumbers, cabbage [sauerkraut], radishes, turnips, carrots, asparagus, beets, and pears), and potatoes (including sweet potatoes) are ubiquitous. Along the major rivers beef is common while mutton dominates the west and south with pork and goat common throughout the area. Chickens are primarily kept for eggs so poultry is hard to find and expensive. Fish is also common along the rivers and dominates the coast. Game (venison) is popular and usually served fresh while farmed meat is usually preserved (smoked, cured, corned, or pickled). Eggs are popular with all meals.
Tea, ale, and wine are the primary beverages. Ale is only mildly alcoholic and is closer to 'short beer'.

Meals of the Day
The people of Seaward typically eat much less per meal but eat more often than a modern Westerner is used to.

Early Breakfast- Traditionally eaten before dawn immediately on awakening by farmers, soldiers, and such this is a light, cold meal of cheese, pickles, and ale.

Breakfast- Eaten before terce (about 9 am) this is usually unleavened oatcakes (rural) or rye bread (town) with butter, a mug of tea with honey, a bit of cheese, and cold meat.

Second Breakfast/Elevenses/Morning Tea- The name varies by region, but it is always a light snack eaten before midday. In Ekull and the south (Second Breakfast) it is traditionally a mug of ale, a sausage (much like a bratwurst), and a piece of rye bread with spicy mustard. From the Stone Hills through Timberlake and the central valley (Elevenses) it is usually a mug of gruel (usually ground malted barley with a bit of wheat flour cooked by simmering with milk) served hot in Winter, cold in Summer. Along the coast and the eastern areas (Morning Tea) it is typically a mug of tea with honey, either an oatcake with sweet butter or a scone with clotted cream, and not much else

Lunch- Usually served shortly after Noon, Lunch is almost universally a mug of ale, oatcakes or bread, local meat, cheese, and pickles.

Afternoon Tea- Served immediately after None (3 pm) Afternoon Tea (or just Tea) is tea, cheese, pickles, and cold meat with some sort of simple treat (bread with honey or gingerbread). It is traditionally a very informal light meal where courtesy, deference, and rank are respected but at the same time soldiers mix with commanders, servants eat at the same time as their employers, and nobles speak directly to farmers.

Dinner- The main meal of the day, usually 2-3 mugs of ale, meat, bread, cheese, pickles, fresh vegetables (when possible) and potatoes served at or shortly after sunset.

Supper- Far from universal, this is seen as a "soldier's meal" and is usually a bit of cheese or pickles with a bit of cold meat and a mug of ale served right after Compline (9 pm). Priests, monks, and nuns often have a small supper, as well.

Religious Considerations
Members of the Church do not eat meat (fish and shellfish are allowed) on Fivedays, nor on certain Threedays in Spring and Fall nor during any of the penitential days of Advent and Lent making fish the staple of about 120 days a year. As a result many farmers keep fish ponds and the people of Seaward have a fondness for pickled eel, smoked fish, and fish chowders.
At the other end on certain Solemnities (major religious holidays) it is traditional to dress up and eat special dishes!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Play Report: Tournaments in Seaward

Spring in Seaward is cause for nobles to leap out of bed with a smile - the tourneys have begun! As soon as the blooms begin there is a tourney in Ekull, then at Wyvern Keep, then Timberlake, then at the Shining Keep, and then the Royal Tourney at the capitol.

The noblemen Ludwig and Lenard assumed they could not attend this year when an agent of the king met them and asked them to solve a series of murders....

Note: Adventure added, needs more edit.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

High Level: My Seaward Campaign

  In 1979, as I recall right after the 4th of July, I showed my players a map that had a pirate's cove, a wizard's tower, and a town named Seaward.
  I am still running that campaign.

  When you play the setting comes out in notes and during play. When you read about it on the blog you miss a lot of context. So I will give a high-level summary.

Mild edits (more needed) and some expansion.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Overview: DM's Report on the Briars Mapping Expedition and the Seaward Campaign and Pathfinder

  It has been a lot of gaming recently, and my new 45 hour a week contract plus launching my own company (that does stuff other than sell service contracts, see earlier) and my oldest son (who is working for my start-up) landing a sale and being the process of 2 more sales, all in one week....
  Exhilarating, and exhausting, and no time to blog.


Sam, the 17 year old, fired up a Pathfinder campaign. I play a Diviner, Jack is playing a cleric of Friendship (we call him the CareBear Cleric), and Nick is playing a murdermachi..., uh, fighter.
Great scenario (take the recipe for a cure for a disease from a sage to an alchemist/cleric wife/husband team to make enough for the village being afflicted); good reason for the characters to meet, and dealing with goblins is a great first fight.
I'd never played Pathfinder before; reminded me of Runequest for some unguessable reason, but play was snappy and fun. We're putting it into what we call the 'rainy day rotation'.

Back to the Briars
Team Thief returned to the Briars. After Ol' One Fang, Ol' Knobby, meeting Grandmother, the goblin tribes, the troll tribe, and about 100 spider encounters, they thought it would calm down.
They found the Tower and the Pool, a walled compound with a tower, ornamental garden with reflecting pool, and topiaries. At first appearing new and well-tended they eventually saw through the illusion to the ruined, decrepit facility. They could not enter do to some magical effect but sent a fox - who was teleported to what they recognized as the Garden in Skull Mountain! Seeker flew high over the place a dropped a tortoise into the pool, only to see it teleported to the lake on the third moon! That night a strange sight met them - an odd device, about 5' long and 1' wide with a saddle in the middle, and a light in the front, rose out of the pool with a man riding it like a horse or broom of flying. He used the light to search the grounds of the walled compound before flying back into the pool.

Days later the party encountered a group of druids and learned that the grove for the local Druid was hidden within a massive spinney. The party spoke with the lower-ranking druids at length and learned that they were opposed by the Wizard of the Tower. The party had already heard of him and that he lives in the western lower Briars and that it is a title held by many over the years. The Druids believe that the WotT works with the cultists and fear he maintains some sort of curse that keeps the Briars overgrown with thorns.

Later they went to the cottage where the very first adventure they had in Seaward rests on the edge of the Briars - and met an ogre. The ogre was a servant of the WotT and was receiving slaves from cultists in return for support from the Wizard. Notes indicate that the cultists work with/for the WotT, or something, and the WotT was working with the Eldar to get support to Ol' Knobby and the Goblins.

At this point Nick announced,
"My character is now officially a conspiracy theorist. It's all connected, man!"

The party killed the ogre and sent the captive to safety. Confirming the druids' beliefs the party kept on.

The ravens and the observers from the mountain warned them that someone was following them just in time; a strangely dressed man and his three servants entered an ambush. The servants were Sons of Kyuss! Byron turned the Sons and the man easily survived the arrows of the scouts. A fierce battle was angaged but, in the end, the party defeated Musr al-Sahaab, the necromancer brother of the Jann Alchemist they had killed in the Counties 2 (game) years prior. Captured, they were unsure what to do, so they asked Clarence to send his messenger genie to the Caliph of the Jenha (overlord of all good genies on this plane) for his advice. 3 days later a Djinn arrived and took Musr to face justice for his evil ways and betrayal of his sheik.

Later they encountered a platoon of brigands. Being Team Thief they worked hard to eliminate the watch and infiltrate silently only to have the commanding lieutenant charge out of his tent in full panoply for war! Brigid went berserk and the fight was on. The lieutenant was winning (!) handily (!!) when Byron succeeded with a Hold Person. Since the rest of the party was fighting the other 40 brigands Seeker gave him a coup de grace. The henchmen really shone in the large pitched battle.

A later ambush on the party by a band of ogres led by a half-ogre cleric was defeated, then tracked back and the party spent two days whittling down a full ogre tribe. In the end they were able to kill all 31 ogres (that includes women and children, who all fought to the bitter end, refusing quarter). The Party eventually made it all the way back to the Gate (the beginning of the Old Road through the Briars) then went to Skull Mountain to rest, resupply, and catch up.

Along the way they encountered a merchant trying to take 4 pony carts to Skull Mountain. The henchmen were doing their best to follow orders to stay out of sight, but an earlier merchant had been able to trade with some of the hirelings who slipped out to purchase tobacco, ale, and taffy. The party bought his gear and such and sent him back with his 4 surviving guards. They learned that 7 or 8 other merchants had already tried to get to Skull Mountain but only 1 had returned. It seems that the Company spending gold, topazes, and rubies to ship hundreds of pounds of food to Skull Mountain was never very secret....

Seeker spent his time searching the perimeter of Skull Mountain's plateau;
The plateau is about a mile across, is paved with stone where native rock is not the norm, and is surrounded by a stone-lined ditch.
He found a concealed chimney akin to the one from the Kitchen in Skull Mountain's Guardrooms of level 1. A stout metal grate prevented him from entering, but smoke and the smell of distant cooking was very evident.

Other Information
Going through their notes from past discussions, legends, folktales, the books they found at the Ogre's Cottage, notes from the Library of level 3 of Skull Mountain, etc. and asking some questions of the Druids,  the party reached some tentative conclusions:

1) The space battles seen previously appear to be between unknown forces and the navy of the Duke of the Moon.
2) The Duke of the Moon is probably human and good-aligned.
3) The Grand Druid may live on one of the moons.
4) The Eldar cannot lie about any topic but themselves.
5) The Eldar seem to work for/be servants to some other person or group who seems to be evil.
6) Elves are from space.
7) No one is sure why (at least) PC elves don't know elves are from space.
8) A space-faring elven empire meets with the king of the local elves at least once a year.
9) Prophecy says that the High King of Eiru will come from one of the moons
10) The combination of the Control Room, Remote Station #1, Remote Station #2, the Sleeping Princess, and the Montanic Lances seem to be a weapon system capable of firing at spelljammers, perhaps even at the moons.
11) More underground caverns, almost certainly connected to the Cavern of Herds, stretch at least another 1.5 miles east from Skull Mountain.
12) There are caverns/tunnels/levels about a mile to a mile and a half west of Skull Mountain

More to come!

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Response to a Lousy Review.

  The tagline of this blog mentions that I rant.
  Buckle up.

  Ever know that guy that bad-mouths a movie, or a book, or something and then you learn he hasn't seen/read it? Or the guy that starts disparaging something and the more he talks the more he reveals that the problem is the guy talking made an error?
  You know what I am talking about.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

DM Report: Back to the Briars All Over Again

  After a long break to "catch up the timelines" the party returned to the Briars. Still in the High Briars (more rugged, more remote, much more dangerous) they are hoping to map the eastern half of thsi High Briars before Winter arrives in earnest.
  They probably won't make it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Magic Item of the Week: Hammer of the Thunderbolt's Wrath

For Rolemaster FRP or RMSS

Hammer of the Thunderbolt's Wrath: +20 war hammer with thrown ranges of 1'-60' (-20) 61'-75' (-40) and 76'-100' (-60). When thrown it returns to its user from up to 300' away. In melee it uses the war hammer table but when thrown it uses the war mattock table for damage. Against all giants it does slaying criticals. When thrown it emits the sound of a thunderclap and does an unbalance critical of the same severity as any other critical done (30th level weapon).
These hammers are heavy and require great stamina to use;the user must be at least 6' 0” tall (a creature shorter than this has a -15 OB and cannot throw it), weigh at least 195 lbs (a creature lighter than this has a -20 OB penalty and cannot throw it), and have a total Strength bonus of +10 or more (natural or with magical aid) (-5 OB penalty per point of St bonus under 10 and cannot throw it). All penalties are cumulative, so a 5'10”, 170 lbs creature with an St bonus of 0 would be unable to throw it and suffer a total -85 OB. In melee using a Hammer of the Thunderbolt's Wrath is twice as tiring as normal (1 exhaustion point per round) and throwing it requires prodigious stamina (5 exhaustion points per throw).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Play Report: First Session in Whiteford

  The world building was summed up or linked.

Jack played Flavius, a 3rd level Cleric from a mariner culture.
Sam played Harald, a 3rd level Warrior Monk from the Patchwork Lands.
Nick played Butters, a 3rd level Dabbler from the Patchwork Lands.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Worldbuilding: More Details of Whiteford

Continuing from here.

Patchwork Lands: Whiteford Town

Population: Humans: ~1,100 (about 185 households)
Dwarves: ~120 (about 30 households)
Halflings: ~60 (about 10 households)
Elves: ~20 (about 7 households)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Worldbuilding: Whiteford town in the Patchwork Lands

I have been slowly building up a Rolemaster campaign setting for some time. The players are making characters, so I am drilling down to a specific starting point.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Fall of the Temple of Gruumsh

Yes The Background
In my 1e campaign the Orcish City-States of the West spend a lot of time fighting each other, more than they do fighting Men or Dwarves. But every few generations the shamans prophecy that the time for an Overking has come and orc begin questing in the Stone Hills for the Regalia of the Orcish Overking. Any one item is said to be enough to make an orc the unrivaled leader of a city-state. All items? Every orc in the region will obey you. This has occurred 5 times in the past, and each time the lands of Men and their allies have trembled on the verge of destruction.

A little of Orc society in Seaward
The Orcs are in 5 great tribes, the Dripping Blade (with the devil-lord Ilneval as their 'patron'), the Broken Bone (under Baghtru), the Blood Moon (under Shargaas), the Pale Hand (under Yurtrus), and the Black Cave (under Luthic). The sixth 'tribe' is the Vile Rune, the shamans and witch-doctors, whose ultimate allegiance is to Gruumsh. The bearers of the vile rune travel freely among the Orcs.

Orcs brook no hereditary nepotism; the sons of a chief are just orcs. All are born level at the foot of Gruumsh's hellish throne and all positions must be won via effort. When an Overking dies his body is taken by shamans to the long-hidden temple of Gruumsh hidden deep in the Stone Hills and buried, his regalia scattered and hidden. Then those shamans are murdered to hide the locations.

But after the Fifth Overking the prophecy changed; all of the regalia was kept in Gruumsh's temple and the next Overking could find them at once.

The Baron of Wyvern Keep warned that orcs were crawling the Stone Hills during the Winter 7 years gone. Patrols and adventurers soon found that the vile tune had announced it was time for a new Overking. The players confirmed this...
...and promptly spent years assaulting Skull Mountain, dealing with the bandits of the borderlands, venturing to Banath, and wiping out foul demon cults!

But finally things were getting very bad, with organized orcish warbands cooperating between tribes to drive back patrols! The call went out the the Company of the Dark Moon sent a team.

Players and Characters
Nick played Owen (5th level magic-user human)
Sam played Konrad (4/5 fighter/cleric dwarf)
Jen played Ingrid (6th level fighter human)
Jack played Seamus (5th level druid human)
Alex played Starfalcon (6th level ranger half-elf)
Henchmen - ten total, including Octavius, the 5th level half-ogre fighter

Adventure Overview
With divination, help from a genie (long story), sage research, notes from a book found in Skull Mountain, ranger work, and some luck the party was able to get a rough location of the entrance to the temple complex. Getting there involved fighting two orcish warbands, one with a leveled half-orc commander, the other with a brace of tough ogres. A third warband, much larger than the first two, began pursuing them but they were able to find the illusion-cloaked entrance.
They were attacked by a grizzly bear (an enchanted bearskin akin to a Figurine of Wondrous Power they left behind because of its bulk). In the maze-like upper levels they found many zombies and skeletons. As they went deeper into the complex they fought a number of dretches and strange devil-dogs (based on wild hunt hounds from the old Deities and Demigods) in a series of skirmishes. At a great stair they had to answer the questions of a spectator. Realizing that they had to think like an orc, they passed the test.
Deeper still they fought two massive algoids and a ju-ju zombie who was obviously formerly a Broken Bone chief (the fate of those who fail to become Overking!) and finally were attacked by an invisible stalker guarding a door.
Exhausted, they rested and recovered spells.
The pause was also to prepare for the next cavern, a massive space larger than the Cavern of Herds -  a cyst within the earth a mile across and half a mile high filled with a fungus forest. They descended a 1/4 mile ladder after learning the mobats were only interested in flying creatures. While odd tracks were visible in the fungus forest, the trail was clear. After a half-mile they came to a chasm; at the base was a roaring river riddled with obsidian rocks a quarter of a mile below. The 50 yard long rope bridges (with no guide ropes!) stretched from the edge to 2 rock spires and finally to the massive orcish temple on another rock spire. The rope bridges were such that only one person could safely dross at a time and a slow walk - otherwise the oscillations would pitch people into the river.

The Temple
Within the gigantic temple the party was immediately attacked by 5 ju-ju zombies. Moments later the former Overkings shambled from their tombs to stop the invaders - each as a mummy! Since the last rope bridge was now only mist the party went all-out, releasing Golden Lions, a Quartz Warhorse, and using spells and items with abandon. The weaker henchmen without magic weapons all lit torches and prepared oil flasks for a last stand.
The ju-ju zombies bought enough time for the mummies to close and the fighting was fierce, lasting a total of 10 rounds. With careful battlefield maneuvering, the use of oil on closing mummies, and some hard fighting the party prevailed with no deaths (although mummy rot was had by quite a few!).

The Aftermath
The statues of the various orcish devil patrons all collapsed because non-orcs had desecrated it. The party found the five tombs of the Overkings with their symbolic burial goods (4,000 electrum pieces and 5 amethysts each), and teh regalia of the Overking, which they took with them.
The orcish warband that had been following them was within the fungus cavern, but they had found a passage to an iron boat on the rver. They cut free the last bridge and left, eventually reaching a landing (the enchanted boat returned to the temple after they left it).
The trip back to Wyvern Keep was easier than anticipated - all shamans and witch-doctors had lost their spells and the inter-tribal truce was off. The party force-marched to Wyvern Keep and met with Bishop Alturin (visiting from the Four Counties) and the Royal Magister (dispatched from the capitol) and with their aid destroyed the regalia! The kept their loot and received rewards from the king.

Thus ended a 7 year adventure arc.

The Regalia
These items are meant for orcs; if used by anyone else they slowly warp that person's will until they seek out an orc shaman and volunteer to be a slave to the orcs.

The Ring of Yurtrus- Grants Leadership.

Bands of Baghtru- Grants strength and endurance.

Shargaas' Amulet- Grants great resistance to poison and disease.

Luthic's Armor- Grants incredible protection from physical harm.

The Dripping Blade- This scimitar rivals the greatest elven and dwarven weapons of power.

The Eyepatch of the Chosen of Gruumsh- Grants resistance to magic and light.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Massive Update on Blackstone

  Sorry for light posting, but contracting 40 hours a week plus running your own business equals looooooong weeks.

  For those of you unaware, I have been running an AD&D 2e Skills & Powers campaign called Blackstone for about a decade with the same very dedicated players. Despite my dedication to jazz band adventuring Blackstone has 4 distinct adventuring groups that have never directly interacted. The 4 groups range from 3rd level to well inside the domain game.

  For the entire decade of gaming the parties have grown aware of multiple Big Arcs floating around. With some subtle maneuvering and the willing by-in and actions of the players we had a massive crossover recently! Essentially, the various parties' investigations finally intersected forcing the parties to meet.

BIG Spoilers, so no players read below

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Languages of Seaward, Part IV - Goblin, Plus Some Background on Language Development

  This one follows parts I, II & III.

  Someone asked me 'how is your son coming up with these? How collaborative is it?'
  So, sure - I'll tell.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Magic Item of the Week: The Blanket of Mercy

From the Wife!
  This item is one popular with religious brothers and clerics, but can be found among people with the proper spells and skills.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Street Level Champions Play Report: Two Down

  Sat down with the kids today and played an afternoon game.
  We are using the Hudson City: The Urban Abyss supplement for a setting. I am using some of the villains and heroes, plus my own.
  Hudson City is an amazing book and one of the best supplements I have ever seen for any game.
  The clan and I played a short intro against street gangs a few days back, but this is the first 'non-intro' session.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Worldbuilding Afternoon

Taking a long weekend off and had 3 hours free so I cranked out a few things: three villains for my street-level Champions game; more work on the sector map for my Traveller setting; an adventure for my Seaward campaign; and some details for my Rolemaster setting. I only had an hour for Rolemaster, so I apologize for how raw it is:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Retro Adventures - Devil's Rock

  I have been DMing a looooong time. Like all DMs I worry about getting stale and predictable. You know, getting tot he point that the players know what to expect.

  So I dug into my archives and found - my folder of adventures from 1981! I am running one now called Devil's Rock

  Spoilers: Players Stop Here