Friday, December 3, 2010

Victory for Clan Stormworks (or, "We Win at D&D, Part I")

Wednesday night was the latest session of my boy Brandon's Dwarf Fortress-inspired AD&D campaign. Holy crap, that was some brutal-ass D&D.

When we left things the last time, the Stormworks boys had made a frontal assault on the fire giants' fortress - a structure that, in Jewel City's heyday, served as an arena/ampitheatre for the dwarf residents, sort of an inverted ziggurat - and killed their king, but were swiftly pinned down by the remaining giants. Holding a door against the giants themselves would've been simple enough (+4AC vs. giants is a big freakin' deal in AD&D, and most of our guys are well into negative ACs as it is), but their hellhound pets were roasting us alive the whole time we fought (their fiery breath being no problem for the giants we were fighting, of course).

This time, after debating the merits of the earthquake scroll I'd been carrying around (i.e., "do we want to give Brandon a reason to collapse the whole dungeon on us"), we decided to punch out and make a break for it, essentially just hopping over the arena wall (with a rope of climbing assist) and making a break for safety. That got us out of the giant fire and into the giant frying pan, so to speak, as we just ended up holed up somewhere else, in basically the same position as before but with the added complication that we were down a flight of stairs, which enabled the giants to just roll balls of burning debris down at us until we were smoked out. Lost about half the henchmen breaking our way out of there, and it was only thanks to a lucky morale failure on the part of our pursuers that we made it out of that spot - unfortunately, they subdued one of our number (Vindalf, the youngest of our 3 dwarf monster slayers - AKA the "Dwarven Hanson Brothers") and made off with him in their flight.

This threw a nice wrench in our plans, since normally we'd just retreat and heal up - and, at this point, we'd amassed enough combat xp and treasure that we were all due for level training, and would've just come back and stomped the remaining giants flat - but with Vindalf captured, all we had time for was a quick 4-hour nap (only netting our 3 clerics access to their 1st and 2nd level spells) and back at it. This time we had a diversion planned, though: My cleric Begli (with his trusty dwarven thrower) on the shoulders of Rekk (one of the fighters, proud owner of a set of slippers of speed), circling the fortress in one direction (at a high rate of both speed and fire-giant-testicle-smashing-themed taunting), throwing hammerstrikes at the walls and dodging thrown stones, whilst the remaining party snuck up (ahem, "snuck up" as much as plate-armored dwarven infantry can) to the opposite side, and took down the wall with a well-placed and -activated feather token (tree).

Attempting to enact a hasty flank maneuver pretty much just got us surrounded by giants this time, but with all of us scanning character sheets for the random potions we'd been carting around - this being the kind of "death or glory moment" when drinking unidentified potions seems like a good idea - we were all buffed to the gills and fighting mad for our lost brother. Matty's fighter Fjallar lucked out when the random "meaty bloody potion" he'd been carrying around for months turned out to be a growth potion, and we ended up with a 24 foot battlerager on our side - evened things out nicely. Getting all stuck in, we avoided the brunt of the giants' rock-throwing, and ater taking out an even dozen of the males, the tribe broke once and for all - the few survivors took off after the women and children, and we stopped to lick our wounds and wonder what the HELL they'd done with Vindalf.



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Against the Elves (or, "Hacking in the Aardvarkian Age")

Last Tuesday, I promised posts about Mordheim, Epic-scale 40K, Space Hulk/Crusade, and Battlesystem - so, of course, this week we have a post about HackMaster. That's the kind of dodgy and generally evasive journalism you can expect from Mighty Thews - when the audience zigs, we zag. I'M BLOWING UR MIND, RIGHT?

Ok, enough of that. Last night I rolled up an obnoxious, greedy, albino aardvarkian fighter who's obsessed with rocks and inherited his father's barbershop. (This, in case you were wondering, is why you fucking love HackMaster.) If you don't read a lot of semi-obscure comics by crazy people, the aardvarkian is based on the lead character of Dave Sim's Cerebus the Aardvark - a short, furry (not THAT kind of furry) Conan retread with a fondness for the drink and recreational violence (and, according to Sim, the voice of George C. Scott). Somebody wrote it up as a HackMaster PC race and got it into the HackJournal, which makes it Hack official. (There was a big hand-wringing contest on the forums over whether this was the death of HackMaster, opening the gates to half-gelatinous cube monks and shit - which just proves how gamers can manage to take even a parody game waaay too seriously.)

In any case, this little guy (all 3'9" of him) just needs equipment and he'll be all ready to run in Matt's Against the Elves campaign - where, if all goes according to plan, we will accomplish complete and total pointy-eared genocide on Matt's campaign world (and then, presumably, carry the fight on to wildspace with HackJammer - always did want to smash the Elven Navy, with the friggin' snooty attitude and butterfly ships and everything). This is all because we have a dude in our group who always plays elves, and he loves elves, and is pretty much your typical "elf guy", and even when we aren't playing fantasy he finds a way to basically play elves, and Matt's decided to put an end to it once and for all. Once we pull this off, no more elves in Matty's games, ever. Granted, killing every elf in the world (drow included, no sneaky subrace-carding out of this one) is kind of a tall order, but this is HackMaster after all - if I can find a copy of the 3e Players Handbook from before they banned the nuclear winter fireball spell, we should be fine. *

Super psyched to run an aardvarkian. Looks like the little bugger will be a nasty piece of work, too - took the active sense of smell and stealth talents (which, combined with my aardvarkian burrowing ambush ability, will give me assloads of attacks on surprise rounds) and the dirty fighting talent (which will aid in being a vicious little knee-biter), and my military training rolls came out pretty cherry, so I got a bunch of free skills and proficiencies. We'll see how he holds up in actual combat - I have high hopes.


* This is not actually going to happen - as HackMaster started actual publication with the 4th edition, the 3rd edition PHBs are understably hard to come by, har har - but I think we'll get our hands on the spell anyway, just wait and see. ;)

P.S.: FB sure has my number - thoughtfully offered me a sponsored link to Viking Intelliwash Dishwasher this morning, which is clearly relevant to my interests. GOOD JOB, TARGETED MARKETING ROBOTS.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So I'm Back, Apparently (Blogging a Dead Horse)


Yeah, it's been several minutes, now I'm gonna post again. We'll get through this together.

To sum up: Hell of a year. In the 7 months since I posted last, my father died of tons of cancer, I dis-engaged an engagement I was in, moved, my band put out a CD, and I started school for video game development. Also my computer got rained in. (IN.) So you'll understand if I've been a bit lean on the updates.

That said, I also set up a brandy-new game room in the new place, painted a shit-ton of new minis, and played a bunch of games, so plenty of game-fodder for the post-mill there. Should have tons of lovely pics and ranting soon, for now here's a couple of highlights. (Excuse the cameraphone pics, hoping to have a real, actual camera any time now.)

Some of what we've been doing / what's to come:



Space Hulk (and coming soon, Space Crusade!)


(We haven't played yet, so here's a picture of a kitty:)

Terrain-building crap

Tales of Clan Stormworks (or, "Dwarves Are Really Really Good at AD&D")

and the no-boys-allowed D&D game I'll be running in the next couple weeks (or, "Dungeons & Giggling"). (Sorry, no porn stars.) (Yet.)

(A more relevant kitty:)


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fuck - so much for that campaign

So, I find out tonight that one of the two other GMs in our circle just started running his group through a certain module. Said module has been the main focus of my campaigns for the last two or three years (or, at least, setting things up so one or more parties were ready to take it on). Maybe half my group is the same guys as his group; I totally can't run this module, now. I have NO IDEA what to do next. I feel like quitting AD&D for another system for a few might be the right way to go - just too much of my campaign work over the last couple years now leads to something I now can't use. Fuck. This shit sucks.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Drunken one-off crawl pt. II: the revenge

So I promised either a session report or falling asleep in the comments section of last post; I delivered on the latter promise. Here's the former.

Our stalwart troupe of hastily-named adventuring-type folk entered the Catacombs of the Necromancer via the timber lift ensconced in the ever-so-aptly named Stinky Hole tavern. The lift brings one to "The Training Grounds" (AKA Level 0, AKA The Rat Warrens), an area where (according to the talk around town) a small, inexperienced group of adventurers may hone their craft without exposure to the more-terrifying terrors of the deep. (Basically, yeah, it's a rat-whomping newbie level straight out of CircleMUD - a little tribute to a huge time-waster of my youth.) One of the standard rumors concerning the Catacombs details the way to "Level 1" and the dungeon proper (first right, first left, first right) but Angus said to hell with that. (IIRC, the last Basic game anyone in our circle played was my boy Matt's, wherein they lost 30 PCs in a night, so maybe his caution is justified.)

The party (consisting of, I believe, a fighter, a dwarf, an elf, two clerics and a halfling) entered the narrow passages of The Warrens. (5' wide, here, which makes having a spear- or polearm-armed back rank fighter almost necessary, lest combat devolve into the dreaded Conga Line of Death.) They first happened on an octagonal-shaped room containing a low table and several exits. Upon entering the room, it was found to also contain a nasty recurring green slime infestation; the party was surprised, and the fighter was drip'd 'pon, but the deadly goo only struck his helmet and pauldron (flubbed the attack roll), and - quickly discarding these - the room was marked off "no entrar" with chalk and the party moved on.

(A note here about green slime, and its inclusion in the "slow-pitch" area of my dungeon. Often considered one of the deadliest low-level monsters in D&D, and unfortunately (due to hazy guidelines on how to use the stuff) a rarely-used one by many DMs. IMC, one must be surprised by the slime to be struck (assuming it's clinging to the ceiling and not filling some drinking goblet or slime-spraying death trap), and an attack roll is made to see if it hit the PC, their armor (or gear), or simply the floor. Slime striking the armor gives PCs a round or two to react, and they get a "this shit's sizzling away" cue to work off of. In other words, you have to be relatively unlucky to get "slimed" in my game unless someone's worked it into a trap. Still, it's a potential PC-melter, why include it in the "safe zone"? 'Cause new players need to get the message right of the bat that there's no "safe," just "safer," and sometimes the first PC death is the band-aid-ripping that signals to newbies that their survival depends on their wits as well as luck. Putting the slime encounter one room from the door gets this out of the way (and while any replacement PCs needed are a shout away).

From the now-shunned slime living room, and while avoiding the described route to Level 1, the only remaining way lead to a small, circular room containing an ancient stone well. Lying in wait here was a 5'-long gecko - the party sprang into action and monster-pinata'd the fuck out of this before it could take anybody's arm off. The gecko was skinned for a cloak (bright blue with orange spots is apparently in this year), and the well was investigated.

Now, this is another potential "gotcha" that could be considered unusual for a newbie level. Iron rungs lead to the bottom of the well, where there is a sandy bottom (sometimes containing a small treasure) with a fast-flowing stream running across it; the stream's channel is just tall enough for a dwarf to walk and fight, but cramped for a human. Upstream, the channel leads to other areas of the level via additional wells (introducing the idea of hidden ways and non-explicit level connections). Downstream, there is an iron grate (now broken), the floor slopes down, and the sandy bottom is replaced by algae-slimed bare rock. If you proceed downstream, you are given several warnings and chances to turn back - failing to do so results in a Dex check, and - failing that - shooting down a dark waterslide to a wholly unsavory (and un-newbie-friendly) cavern level ("The Grotto") wherein death awaits with big, nasty teeth. (The teeth are on giant shrews, if you're curious. Nasty - these are described in Basic as pretty much R.O.U.S.'s, and they're rough customers. Y'know, for a fucking shrew.) This, beyond providing an area for slightly leveled-up and trouble-seeking PCs to explore, teaches the lesson that, yes, I really will give you enough rope to hang yourself with, and that ignoring "flavor text" warnings is somewhat inadvisable. So far I'd yet to see someone actually make it down there (usually the description deters players), and this was no exception. Next time, dear ones, next time. (More on that later - someone eventually fell for it! LOL)

So the watery channel was forded upstream - past an open-ceilinged gallery to another well (this with iron rungs as well). The halfling poked his head up and spotted there skeletons as they in turn spotted (and nearly spitted) him. Quick combat later, the skellies were so much bone meal; onwards and upwards the party proceeded.

Well, that's all my phone browser will hold, so looks like there'll be a part III. Next time I discuss alternative mapping methods, random cave generation, and the dinner bell.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One-off drunken one-on-one Basic dungeon crawl

Worst week ever for more or less everyone I know including me (car crashes, stabbings, internet drama and dental issues, no shit), and only one player made it for Tuesday hacking, so tonight I dusted off the Basic campaign (Zent-Mer) for a one-player, 6-character hackfest. Nice to see that I'd prepared a lovely DM's booklet with awesome on-the-fly encounters, a faction cheat sheet, and other time-savers before I mothballed this one - I was ready to go long before my player had 6 Basic characters rolled up.

Interesting tidbit I ran across browsing the New York Red Box site while waiting (Google it, I'm posting from phone so no link for you) - there are no "% in lair" figures anywhere in Basic D&D, but they are available (presumably copied from the LBBs) in the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets - nice to know for when I run wilderness games with this campaign. (Basic is usually my "on the road" game, and I'd much sooner cart along a printout of the inprobably-useful Ready Ref Sheets than a hardcover Monster Manual that I'll only be using for one stat.)

Drinking what I will describe as a "bomb-ass" spiced mead that a buddy of mine hooked me up with after I helped him move this past weekend; anyone in the Worcester area can enjoy the same (and the experience of brewing it for themselves) by stopping in to Deja Brew in Shrewsbury, MA on Rt. 9. (Ry works there on occasion.). It's a brewing supply store but they have equipment on-site for brewing, so if you purchase the ingredients and bottles you can have just about any kind of alcoholic goodness (beers, ales, wines and meads) you might imagine. Highly recommended.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Mythos in Greyhawk / The Black Dog of the Cairn Hills

Been digging into my first cross-genre experiment lately - stirring a little Cthulhu Mythos into my Greyhawk. It's funny - in basing my main campaign around the Free City and the Castle dungeons, this ends up being kind of inevitable. Both Gary and Rob Kuntz sprinkled this stuff liberally throughout their modules (published and otherwise). (Rob, if you were perchance unaware, was Gary's designated co-DM and co-author of the "holy shit 24+ levels" version of the Castle dungeons, along with a metric buttload of early Greyhawk campaign material.) This also gives me a chance to play around with my Call of Cthulhu stuff that sits around gathering dust. (I have more AD&D campaigns than I have time for, never mind other systems.) Besides that, I have an evil party to whip up adversaries for, and what better than stuff that makes them look good in comparison?

And hell, we all love cults.

Currently I'm brainstorming on the my own version of RJK's Temple of the Elder Gods, the cultists of which my players have managed to run into (and piss off). Thinking of a nice mean Lovecraft-y killer that a vengeful cult leader might unleash on their adversaries (assuming force of arms, traditional magical methods, and even psionic killers had failed), I stumbled across a Gord the Rogue reference (here) to Tharizdun having created 3 yeth hounds to hunt down Gord. Which lead my mind immediately to the Hounds of Tindalos from Frank Belnap Long's story of the same name (and Mythos-approved in HPL's The Whisperer in Darkness). Now, I could go to my CoC books and convert, but The Hounds are more or less an eldritched-up version of the black dog archetype found in English folklore - one version of which (the yeth hound) Gygax saw fit to add to AD&D. Seems like a perfect fit.

The real-world yeth hound is said to be the spirit of an unbaptised infant. In sword & sorcery terms, this could be read as: Cult leader sacrifices baby (Babies? Shout out to Carcosa!), gets otherworldly ghost dog to hunt you through fucking TIME through an ANGLE (nod to the Mythos version), and you die. Sounds about right. It's especially Mythos-y in that unless you have magic, you're completely fucked if one shows up - even magic weapons only wound the hound 1hp per "plus", so only a sorceror (or a high-level priest) has any hope of killing the thing before it eats the whole party.

So don't piss off a cult leader, I guess. Or at least sharply restrict their access to live babies. Either way.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

This is Goddamn Beautiful / WG13 Micro-review

This is AD&D in a nutshell:

(In response to a thread stating that AD&D runs like a Swiss watch - i.e., that it's perfectly tuned and precisely balanced, but breaks down if you change something.)

No, a finely tuned swiss watch may be complex, but it is extremely ordered, regular, relentless, even tedious at doing what it does.

AD&D is a carefully constructed Rube Goldberg device. It is complex, intricately built out of string, spatulas, and squirrels running on wheels in cages, and in the end it only accomplishes something very simple like lighting the exploding cigar. But it's just as fun to simply see its parts work as to see what it accomplishes. And you can replace the squirrels with water drips, the string with levers, the spatula with a cannon. It's just as fun to see it work when you change around its inner workings and ultimately it still accomplishes the same goal of getting the cigar to blow up in your face.


So, the holidays happened, and that was a giant pain in the ass, and I haven't posted for a while. Here's what's been happening at my table:

We ran a few sessions of Keep on the Borderlands when a few of the regular Castle Greyhawk players couldn't make it out for a few weeks, with new (Good-aligned as opposed to the main party's Chaotic Bastard bent) PCs. Had a brutal few sessions of two-PC grindage (B2 is not kind to small parties), with several hostage takings (and rescuings - including a PC from a game I ran two years back!), ending in an all-but-TPK (i.e., only one PC and an NPC henchman are still alive, and they're in the clutches of hobgoblins - and nobody's posted any ransom money at the Fighters' Guild).

The guys have new PCs ready to go, but right now all the mercenary adventurers in residence at the Keep are scared to go anywhere near the Caves (as the recent disastrous expeditions are well-known). They won't even get word of the ransom demands for the old PC and henchman for at least a week, so for the time being their explorations will be limited to the surrounding countryside - and possibly the Caverns of Quasqueton. (B1, a module I consider much more suited to a small party.) We'll see next time the Worcester boys don't make it down.


Back at the main game, the PCs (now fully reinforced with 4 PCs, 5 mercenary men-at-arms and a freelance cleric/maniac of Erythnul) penetrated to Level 2 of Castle Greyhawk for the first time. I was psyched, a) because it meant they were starting to get that they can't "clear" the first level, and b) because now I get to try out the Castle of the Mad Archmage stuff. They lead the way to The Cellars the only way a smart adventurer would - with a live chicken. LOL They kick the thing down the stairs, and lo and behold there's actually a trio of giant frogs at the bottom, one of which promptly (and loudly) gobbled up the bird, alerting the PCs to its presence. One of the newly-returned PCs (the elven fighter/MU Vaz Deferenz) was killed in the ensuing melee, but nobody really gave a shit (since Jesse wasn't really psyched with the character - shitty stats and a party-inappropriate alignment - and in-game the other PCs all hated him). The chicken, however, lived through the encounter! (It was a bit confused and covered in frog ichor, but still.)

They press on - and let me mention here that these assholes have had simply unbelievable luck with secret doors. (The dwarf helps.) They quickly discover a secret tunnel leading them straight to the bedchamber of an orc captain - a brief parlay occurs but the lead fighter cuts the cur down as he began to break for the door. An extended battle breaks out as the remaining orcs become alert and pour in, but the party manages to set up a bottleneck and systematically cuts them down. (They're getting their unit tactics down pat at this point - I've got to give it to them.) Bodies are searched, orc hygiene practices are remarked upon, and they move on.

They come across a trio of skeletons lurking (as skeletons are so wont to do) in a closet. (Perfect Castle Greyhawk touch - there's just the right sprinkling of hokey humor in what I've seen of the WG13 levels so far.) And this leads to another first in my D&D experience - evil clerics controlling undead. I've literally never seen it happen in-game before - if a cleric commanded skeletons or zombies or whatever, it was just assumed to already have happened and was simply hand-waved. And it quickly becomes apparent to me just how damn useful a few mindless undead encounters can be for an evil dungeoneering party. The party instantly realizes that they have two new disposable front-liners (the third was destroyed before the command took effect), which would have been extremely useful had the commanding (NPC) cleric not been instantly killed by a giant wolf spider less than a minute later. By being bitten five times. In the face. Seriously.

(This breaks down as so: I roll an encounter check for any melee in open corridors longer than a round - or if someone's, oh, I don't know, say, yelling and screaming about the power and glory of Erythnul to a couple of dead people. We come up with a result of "nearby monster" - and the nearest thing that's likely to wander is a giant spider a few rooms away. The PCs dick around and debate how they can use the lye they've found while the spider creeps up on them. The thing surprises on a 1-5, the PCs obligingly roll a 5, giving it 5 surprise segments to kill them with. I check between the obvious targets, and it comes up Horgh (the cleric). With a 30" jump attack, the spider has a full five attacks (the first with a charge bonus), four of which it lands, the very first being a natty 20 for a critical (which I roll on the HackMaster table, coming up with a location of "left side face" and double damage). The cleric (y'know, the class with the amazing Poison save) fails all four saves, which would've mattered if the damage from the bites didn't kill him anyway. So yeah, wicked dead.)

They chop the spider to pieces in a round or three, but the check I roll for THIS loud melee brings up a new beasty, this time from the other direction - an ochre jelly. They don't know what they hell to do with this, but (muttering about their upcoming deaths) they shuffle into formation. It actually only scored one hit, and was cut to pieces fast enough - and this is where we establish that, apparently, in my version of Greyhawk lye will neutralize natural acids (such as that of the various oozes and jellies and whatnot). What the hell, it was a good idea, I'll roll with it until I decide otherwise.

They head north and encounter yet another first (for me) - an olive slime, followed by two slime creatures. Now, I managed to not have read the MM entries on these beforehand, and (as is so often the case for me when this happens) ran them totally wrong. So apparently these were variants. The slime itself I ran as a mobile blob, where it's actually a one-shot fall-from-above ambush predator like the green slime (or a piercer). So I gave the PCs extra xp for surviving (potentially deadly) attacks from it every round (instead of the 1 round it was entitled to). F it, they'll never know. The slime creatures I neglected to give the immunity to normal attacks that the slime itself has. This made them much easier to kill then they should have been, but again I just docked the PCs some xp for the kill, and then described them as only partially-transformed victims (with some flesh and bone still on them, and therefore vulnerable to swords). Again, not like anyone knew enough to care. Worked out ok. The bastard PCs then rack up another in their epic streak of secret-door-findings and score a magic robe for the cleric, and (with wounded mercenaries) head for the surface.

Or actually they head for walk-straight-into-a-gelatinous-cube-land. (Random again - clearly the Elder Elemental God is active in this area, with all the puddings and jellies and what have yous.) One PC gets frozen, another one-shots the cube (critical), and they wait around for two hours (fending off rat attacks) while the paralyzed guy gets better. Finally it's back to the surface - they camp on a section of the inner bailey wall (south of the Egyptian Pylon Gate) and head back to the Free City in the morning (the cleric with a brand new experience level - being a new player, his first, so he's psyched).

So my first experience with WG13 was just what I was looking for - gonzo, nail-biting, high-stakes dungeon crawling. Dying to see where they go next. Also dying to see if my copy of Bottle City shows up in time (ordered it that night), because they're about two lefts and a right away from stumbling across this relic of the Lake Geneva campaign. However, I suspect that a few loose ends will tie themselves up and a few campaign seeds sown will bear bitter icky revenge-y fruit next session, possibly putting a return to the dungeon on the back burner. But that's for next week.


P.S.: Also played my buddy Brandon's amazing Dwarf Fortress-themed 1e game last night. We pulled an iron man session - 11 hours, cut off around 4:30. Amazing craziness, all kinds of new revelations about the fabulously dysfunctional Mountain Dwarf culture, but long story short: We fought Duergar with a decanter of endless water riot-control firehose. More on this later.