Saturday, December 29, 2012

(Re)Join the Adventure!

Since my regular face-to-face gaming group has had a hard time getting together but I really miss gaming, I've decided to try to resuscitate the Evenoria game online, via Google+ in 2013.  I'm going to do a pilot session tomorrow then try to refine things and get a regular group going again.  Probably once every week or two, depending on how everyone's schedules align.

If you're interested in joining tomorrow's dungeon crawl through the Frozen City (lost civilizations! albino apes! artifacts!) or maybe join up in the future, drop me a line in the comments or on G+ and we'll sign you up!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

1200 views for me, 100 albums for your game room

Just a quick note to say that we hit 1,200 pageviews this evening.  Thanks to everyone who's read, commented, played, and inspired this blog, fantasy world, and the game behind it.  I'm thoroughly enjoying keeping up on the project as I can, and I hope you are getting something out of it, too.

Speaking of large-ish numbers, io9 has a list of 100 Albums Every Science Fiction and Fantasy Fan Should Listen To.  Many of the albums listed would also be great atmospheric music for any gaming (or writing) session, as a lot of them are instrumental (don't know about you, but I find it harder to play when there are words (at least understandable ones) being sung).

I'm listening to Bo Hansson's jazzy/synthy Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings from 1970 as I type this.  The wolf howls in the distance of the "Fog on the Barrow Downs" section are an especially nice touch.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mud, Blood, and Vampires... It Must Be Spring

What began as a detour to investigate grave robberies ended in an epic clash of blood, mud, and bones last Sunday.  Emboldened by their alliance with Larkspur's de facto ruler, the 8th-level fighter Ronan, and his own hirelings, the party had previously made a sortee into the mysterious, skeleton-guarded tower a day and a half's journey outside of town.  One or two of Ronan's men were lost just getting through the door and, once everyone was inside, they discovered the first floor of the keep to be mostly empty.  (Oh yeah, and Panope the 5-hit-pointed cleric was again knocked unconscious as well.  It's a pattern that's been repeated often enough to earn her the nickname "Pincushion.")

Opening a metal hatch atop a set of spiral stairs, however, made everyone a little leery as doing so let a black pudding ooze its way into the chamber below, resulting in a long (but relatively scratch-free) battle where everyone had to stab the slime-covered ceiling with their trusty torches.  A 10HD monster takes quite a while to go down when you only do 1d4 damage per stab.  Once they had finished the pudding (see what I did there?), our mighty heroes decided to leave Panope on the first floor while they explored the second and third.

The second floor was a maze of locked and/or barred doors which eventually led to an alchemy lab (contents: 4 zombified local villagers, two potions of longevity, and a scroll of raise dead), an armory (contents: lots of "meh" condition weapons and armor and a gorgeous-but-cursed +2 shield which Ambiorix is now stuck with (bonus points to Sam for roleplaying his character's new and irrational love of the item)), and a pretty disgusting Frankenstein's lab where two black-robed humans and their skeleton assistants were making flesh golems.  Fortunatley, the baddies had only completed one of the four golems, as that beast proved plenty challenging in a fight.  Lassar the (last remaining) henchman was killed, Fil and Ambiorix got pretty banged up, Indis was knocked out cold with a single punch, and even 8th-level Ronan took a pretty harsh beating when all was said and done. When the golem and his companions were finally dispatched, the battered and bruised adventurers made their way to the third story.

And there they discovered what could only be described as a vampire penthouse--luxurious furnishings, rich carpets and tapestries, brass sconces, even antique books and musical instruments.  And of course, the foyer was booby trapped as hell.  The oriental-style rug put poor Fil in a trance with its bewitching pattern and then two bronze, demon-shaped sculptures came to life and attacked everybody.  And it hurt.  A lot.  The statues were eventually subdued (spilling their lava-like guts on the ground and burning up the hypno-rug), but almost everyone was down to single-digit hit points.  Afraid to press on, the characters beat a hasty retreat as mocking laughter followed them from the posh apartment.

Indis and Panope were picked up on the way out and, after skirting a dozen or so skeletons, everyone who was still alive made for the woods, where they stayed for four days, licking their wounds.  It was just before dawn on the second day, however, that a visitor came by.  First, a dozen wolves surrounded the camp, staring down the injured heroes.  Then, after a tense couple of minutes, a tall, richly-dressed man with pale skin and dark hair strode to the edge of the firelight.  "This is your only warning," he said.  "Come to my house again and you will not survive."  He then turned into mist and blew away on the night wind, as the wolves went their own ways.

And that's when Indis once again confirmed that she is, indeed, the Most Metal Elf Ever by coming up with a new plan of attack.  Rather than risk another foray into the vampire's lair, she would just raze the whole thing using a transmute rock to mud scroll that the party had found on a previous adventure.  And that's eventually what happened.

The party healed for a couple more days and feigned leaving the forest.  Then, at the last minute (and at high noon), they turned and made a beeline for the tower.  The only hitch was that, when they arrived, someone new was there.  A young woman, perhaps 20 years old and dressed in nothing by nightclothes, stood in the doorway, apparently waiting for them.  As they drew closer, Ambiorix got a shock when he realized that it was his half-sister!  She tried to warn them off, saying that the master (whose name was apparently Polidori), was not such a bad guy and that he meant them no harm, etc.  Of course, nobody bought it and Ambiorix rushed across the clearing (taking another shot from a ballist in the process), grabbed her, and then tied her to a tree back in the woods.  (It was later revealed that she had been kidnapped from her home and charmed by the vampire.)

And then Indis struck.  Taking to the air on the "bat wings" she took off the Swamp Witch, she hovered near the tower and cast the rock-to-mud scroll, turning the bottom 10' of the tower into a slimy morass that could not hold the weight of the rest of the structure.  It wavered, wobbled, and then crashed to the ground in a heap of rock, mud, water, and blood (the vampire had apparently created some kind of indoor blood-plumbing setup using the townsfolk as his supply).

Then it was just a matter of picking through the wreckage to make sure old Polidori was truly disposed of.  And of course, he wasn't.  They found his locked, marble burial vault among the detritus.  Using Indis's customized crowbar (yes, I said customized crowbar.  This is Cori's character, remember), they pried the lid open and--BAM!--the vampire exploded from his resting place in one final, murderous frenzy.  He knew he was dying--it was noon and he was in an open field--but he wanted to take as many characters as possible with him.  He killed Ronan.  He severely wounded Indis and Fil.  And then, after making a statistically-improbable number of saving throws against the deadly sunlight (to the point that he was just a burning skeleton with fangs), he finally expired in a cloud of ash and dust.

The party gathered what treasure it could, gave Ronan a proper burial (with the usual post-vampire-attack precautions of decapitation and staking), and rode back to town.  They broke the bad news to Ronan's workers (and gave them a bit of severance pay) and began making plans to head north to Frostwyk...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Of Giants, Dragons, and a Two-Headed Pig Named Herbert

Back at the Wilderland Inn...
Our intrepid heroes picked up a rumor that the town of Larkspur was suffering from a rash of grave robberies.  Since it was on the way to Frostwyk (Ambiorix the Fighter's home town and supposed scene of a newly-discovered ruin rife with albino apes and strangely-stamped gold bars), they decided to stop in and check it out.

On the Road Again...
Night falls, watches are posted.  The party is camped on a narrow road in the mountains, overlooking a steep gorge.  Cue heavy, thudding footprints.  Everyone is awakened but one of the fighters drops a breastplate while trying to throw on his armor.  The footsteps stop and someone--or thing--huge starts climbing up the cliff wall toward them.  Indis creates an illusory cliff wall for the party to hide behind and they do so.

Up comes a hill giant.  He proceeds to sniff around for the characters but doesn't find them.  So, he lays down in the road and takes a nap.  I don't remember what happened next, but in the end, Ambiorix somehow managed to wake him up and then took a tree limb to the chest.  He was nearly sent off the side of the mountain.  A melee erupts and, with a few bumps and bruises all around, the giant is dispatched.  The party checks his pouches and finds a few coppers, some rotting meat, and a strange object:  a golden statue of a two-headed piglet.  Filibert takes the curio and nicknames it Herbert.  The party rolls the giant off the road and his body thunders down the cliff-side.

Drawn by the commotion, another beast arrives.  The sound of enormous wings is heard.  Everyone scatters and hides in the rocks just before a decent-sized DRAGON swoops out of the sky, descends upon the giant's body, and begins to feast.  The party decides that it wants no part of this encounter (wisely so) and begins to sneak away.  Unfortunately, Fil steps on a dry branch and the noise stops the dragon's feasting.  In a panic, our brave halfling slaps his pony on its flank to send it running and then dives for cover in a fissure.  Everyone else takes shelter as best they can.

In seconds, the dragon is airborne and with a horrific crash, descends upon the pony.  As the beast devours its second (and tastiest) meal of the night, the party gets the hell out of Dodge as quickly and quietly as possible.  They don't stop until well into the next day.

Next time...

  • Larkspur: Frontier hunting village or playground of the wealthy and eccentric?
  • The Busy Troglodyte Inn:  Who put shrooms in the wine, man?
  • Adventures at the Tower of Undead:  Attack!  Retreat!  Attack! Retreat! Ummm... Attack?
  • And of course, the promised lessons on bee-hugging, siege weapons, and puddings

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Werewolf Zombies of Hardinsford and Heavy Metal Elves

Although I haven't been keeping up with this blog, the lands of Evenoria have been anything but quiet.  The regular players (Cori, Sam, Ben, and I) have met a couple of times for good 6+ hour adventuring sessions each time and everyone seems to be having a great time.  Even Cori, who has usually multi-tasked while playing in the past, has gotten pretty involved in the game, to the point where her PC (Indis, the battle-axe-wielding elf) is actively pursuing romance with an NPC.  (Yes he's ruggedly handsome, but he's also 8th level and quite wealthy... always a practical girl, my wife.)

I don't really have the time or energy to give a day-by-day account of everything that's happened, but here are a few highlights, picking up from where my last blog post left off:

Werewolf Zombies of Hardinsford...
Filibert did, in fact, chase a goblin into an alley only to find himself surrounded by three more goblins and two human vagabonds-turned-hired-muscle.  A fight, predictably, ensued in which one of the men was killed and the other captured.  The goblins slipped away, the city watch barely let the PCs off the hook (good thing they took a prisoner), and everyone went back to the inn only to discover that the Witch whom they had brought to justice had been broken out of prison by her ne'er-do-well son and his goblin cronies.

En route to track down their escaped quarry, the PCs entered the slums of Hardinsford and heard a woman screaming for help down yet another dark alley.  Ambiorix of the Lawful Alignment and 7 Intelligence rushed to the damsel's aid and was followed, reluctantly, by his companions.  They discovered a bohemian-looking woman bleeding and crying on the ground, with a snarling werewolf towering over her.  The wolfman wore ripped-but-obviously-stylish clothes and a prominent silver medallion.

More stabbing, biting, and spell-slinging ensued.  Ambiorix was bitten and may or may not have been infected with lycanthropy.  The werewolf was killed and, when reverted to human form, was revealed by a curious (and drunken) dockworker to be Prince Alton Zhann--the son of the king and heir to the throne of Hardinsford.  A lengthy debate about what to do with the body (informed by the PCs' recent run-in with the Watch) led to an unusually creative solution:  pull out one of the Animate Dead scrolls they had pilfered from the Witch's house, bring the Werewolf-Prince back as a zombie, and then command him to walk into the river and wait at the bottom.  Forever.  (It was at this point that lots of Weekend at Bernie's jokes were made.)

Once the Prince had been (re)dispatched and had safely stored himself in Davey Jones's locker, the party continued to the inn where they had deduced the Witch and her son (and assorted goblins) were staying.  Recon efforts raised too many eyebrows and the baddies were missing from their rooms when the party finally made it inside.  Thanks to darts flying from the abandoned building across the alley, however, it became clear where some of their quarry had gone.

Everyone rushed into the abandoned inn next door and found the goblins, sans their human masters.  Darts, arrows, and blows were exchanged and the goblins were defeated.  It was during this fight that Indis was dubbed The Most 'Metal' Elf Who Ever Lived.  Disarmed, poisoned, and fast losing consciousness, she proceeded to take out two iron spikes (one in each hand), lunge at the last goblin, and (rolling a natural "20"), lethally PIN HIM TO THE FUCKING WALL.  Filibert--using a technique I don't remember at the moment--also managed to knock one of the goblins out of the window so as to attract the attention of the city guards who were investigating the alley below.  Needless to say, having a goblin corpse dumped on their heads was successful in doing so.

Fil dealt with answering the authorities' questions about the goblin fight (and took credit for almost everything) while Ambiorix rushed Indis to the Shrine of Moranya for healing.  They made it just in time... and that's when Panope showed up.  While looking for a cleric hireling, the party was introduced to a young woman who was ready to be sent out on "missions" by the Sisters of Moranya.  Strong-willed and acerbic-tongued, she immediately took a strong liking to Ambiorix and a definite dislike to Fil.  She even conned the former into allowing her a full share of treasure--a settlement that the latter did not like one bit.  But at least the party has a cleric now...

After a day or so of healing, the party (now with Panope the Adept of Moranya) headed out of the city before anything (or anyone) could connect them to the missing Prince.  They thought about going after the Witch again, but things were getting just a bit too hairy (no pun intended) in Hardinsford.  Instead, they headed back toward the Wilderland Inn to check up on things, with plans of investigating rumors of a ruined city rich in strange gold ingots near Ambiorix's cold, northern hometown of Frostwyk.

And that was the first of our two most recent sessions.  The other, played last Sunday, will have to wait for now.

  • Why you shouldn't hug giant killer bees
  • How much does getting shot with a siege weapon hurt? 
  • Why skeletons make lousy gardeners
  • Black Pudding: it's not just an English holiday dish

Sunday, January 22, 2012

DM's Journal: Witches, Trolls, and Goblins

Brief session writeup for January 22, 2012.
Players present: Ben and Sam.
Characters present:  Ambiorix the fighter, Filibert Fairbarn the halfling, Indis the elf.
Hirelings: Amalric the fighter, Wine the thief.

The party continues its quest of trying to get Swamp Witch, Myrinne, to lift her curse on the Wilderland Inn.  In the last session, they found her house and discovered that she has been taking young women from the nearby cities to use as slaves.  The slaves are controlled by the Ichor of Thrael.

13 April 56

  • The PCs break into the swamp-witch's house; a battle ensues.  
  • The witch is finally captured and calls off her slaves.  
  • She is forced to brew a potion that slows the Pestilence growing in Filibert's body so that he can find a cure at one of the Hardinsford temples.

14 April 56

  • The party recovers at the witch's house.  
  • The slaves awaken from their drug-induced hypnosis, are fed, and sleep. 
  •  Filibert takes the witch's slowing serum and rides back to the Wilderland Inn.

15 April 56

  • Filibert encounters Amalric on the road and tells the warrior to accompany him to Hardinsford.
  • The company leaves for the Inn with 56 slaves and the captured witch in tow.

16 April 56

  • Filibert and Amalric arrive at the Inn, buy fresh horses, and depart immediately for Hardinsford.

17 April 56

  • The company arrives at the Inn.  
  • The witch lifts the curse and is kept prisoner.  

18 April 56

  • Filibert reaches Hardinsford and is healed overnight at the Shrine of Moranya.
  • Runners are sent from the Wilderland Inn to Hardinsford and Westwatch to look for the slaves' families.

19 April 56

  • Filibert recovers in Hardinsford. 
  • The company stays at the Wilderland.

20 April 56

  • Filibert and Amalric depart for the Wilderland Inn.

21 April 56

  • Travel to the Inn.

22-23 April 56

  • Filibert and Amalric reunite with the party; all stay at the Inn.

24 April 56

  • The company departs for Hardinsford with the witch and Dorin, the Wilderland Inn's security chief, in tow.  They also bring the strange metal chest recovered from the witch's house, knowing that its owner, a dealer in antiques and artifacts named Rechter, lives in the city.

25 April 56

  • At dusk, the party comes across a troll who has just killed and is now raiding two wagons of settlers bound for Hardinsford.  The troll is killed and its body burned.  Filibert suffers severe wounds in the battle, but the rest of the party escapes mostly unscathed.

26 April 56

  • The company arrives in Hardinsford.  
  • The witch is turned over to authorities.  
  • The company stays at the Knife & Needle Inn, where Filibert engages in and becomes quite drunk and unruly during a game of "Truth or Challenge."  

27 April 56

  • 4am - Goblins try to break into the characters' rooms but are scared off by Ambiorix.
  • That evening, Ambiorix and Indis meet with Rechtor and return the chest.  He offers them additional money to track down the brazier that was supposed to be inside the chest.  He also offers to finance a future expedition to the newly-discovered ruins near Frostwyk if the PCs are interested.
  • Upon leaving Rechtor's mansion, Filibert spots a goblin spying on them.  The creature quickly darts down an alley and "Fil" runs after it in his usual foolhardy fashion.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Meta-Gaming Murder

DM:  After the longest, most dangerous quest of your lives, you have made it to the Center of the All.  Before you stands a dark tower of impossibly ancient age.  A slight humming escapes its very stones.  The air seethes with magic.

Hank: I open the door to the tower.

DM:  As you touch the door, it seems to swing in of its own volition.  A searing white light streams out of the opening and engulfs your party... everything is light and interconnection: your bodies seems to dissolve, your consciousnesses merge and then expand beyond any concept of space or time.  You dissolve into nothingness... and everythingness.

Slowly, your eyes refocus and a sense of self returns.  Your bodies feel strange... somehow more solid than they were before... and yet not nearly as strong or quick as they should be. Your armor and weapons are gone, replaced by soft cotton garments.  The air is warm, tinged with the scent of chemicals.

You are seated around a small wooden table.  Spread out before you are an array of tomes depicting heroes and monsters, dozens of brightly-colored gems engraved with strange markings, and many loose leaves of paper.  A collection of tiny statuettes sits in the center of the table.

Sheila:  I pick up one of the statuettes and examine it.

DM:  It's light and delicate and it appears to be... you.

Sheila:  That is so lame.

DM:  Hank, save versus poison.

Hank:  But my character didn't drink anything!

DM:  Not your character, Hank.  You.

Hank:  What?  You've totally gone.... bwwwwahhhh..... gurgle....

Sheila:  Is he... gone?

DM:  Yes.  It's just you and me now, my love.  We can finally... wait a second.  Where'd you get a crossbow?

Sheila:  NOW who's the Dungeon Master?



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Labyrinth Lord Character Sheet w/ Base Attack Bonus and Positive Armor Class

Over the last couple of days, I've tinkered with creating a new Labyrinth Lord character sheet that makes use of my more "modern" house rules--namely, using Base Attack Bonus and Positive Armor Class a la Type III DeeAndDee.

Here's a link to the PDF sheet--help yourself to it and let me know if you find it useful.

It's also permanently embedded in the Tools section on the right-hand side of this blog.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ichor of Thrael

And wenn this philtre hath brewed,
Steeped it should be beneathe the new Moon,
Infused with the Darke Lyght,
So the will of thy slave 
Be totally consumed.

The Ichor of Thrael is an age-old tool of witches and slavers.  A closely-guarded secret, its ingredients are rumored to include the blood of a vampire's enslaved minions, the fruit of the moonflower, and water from the deepest and coldest wells.  The brew is then left under the light of the new moon and enchanted with various incantations.

When fed to a victim, the Ichor strips him of all free will and ambition and places him in the power and service of the brewer (save vs. spells to avoid).  Those under the enchantment of the philter essentially become mindless automatons, pawns in the service of another.  They may fight, speak (albeit slowly and sometime with difficulty), and complete relatively basic tasks but they lack any desire or ability to act on behalf of themselves.  When under the influence of the Ichor, victims are obviously "not themselves."  Their eyes have a vacant, glassy stare, their voices are monotone, and their actions--while functional--are without grace or style.

The effects of the Ichor last 24 hours per dose (about half a cup of liquid).  As the dose wears off, the victim first becomes ravenously hungry and may act like a panicked animal as their instincts return.  After an hour or so of panic and hunger, they fall into a deep, coma-like sleep for at least eight hours.  Once awakened, victims remember nothing of their actions or encounters while under the potion's hold.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Troll kalla mik": Introducing the Fyaltroll (Mountain Troll)

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Great Smoky Mountains and the town of Gatlinburg, TN, in particular.  I know what you're thinking, but back in the late 70s and early 80s, it wasn't quite as cheap and Vegas-like as it is today.  At least I don't think so... but then again, I was mostly in the single-digit age group back then.

Anyway, that's where I first ran into TROLLS.  A couple of shops down there carried handmade, nature-inspired troll nicknacks like the little guy on the right.  Although I was still a couple of years from even hearing about D&D, Tolkien*, etc., I was smitten from first glance.  Their glowing eyes (some were AC-powered), their wizard-like appearance, and the fact that there were hundreds of these creatures--each different--sparked my imagination.  In my mind I began to see trolls in the mountains, trolls in the streams, trolls in the basement of our old farmhouse.  They weren't necessarily good or evil, they were just mainly concerned with troll life and didn't think much of humans or their doings.  (What can I say, even at 8 years old I was a bit of an animist.)

Perhaps it's for that reason that trolls in D&D never really felt "right" to me.  Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a rubbery-skinned, sinewy monster that can reattach its own body parts!  But really, they were just that--monsters.  Trolls, on the other hand, occupied a different place in my personal mythos, more akin to dangerous (though not necessarily antagonistic) nature spirits than dungeon-dwelling beasties.

Without further ado, I give you the (Labyrinth Lord statted) Fyaltroll (aka Mountain Troll):

Fyaltroll (Mountain Troll)
No. Enc. - 1d2
Alignment - Neutral
Move - 120' (40')
AC - 20 (or 0 if using traditional AC)
HD - 8
Attacks - 1 weapon (see below) or 2 claws, 1 bite
Damage - 2d6+5 or 1d6/1d6/1d12
Save - F8
Morale - 11
Hoard Class - XX
XP - 2060
Fyaltrolls are among the most ancient of humanoids and are probably more akin to Treants than the monsters commonly called trolls.  They live deep in mountain caves, far from human civilization.  The caves can often be found by the strange, vertical stone stacks which the trolls compulsively build as they wander about outdoors.  (Not even the trolls know why they do this... they just do.)  They tend to live in opposite sex, parent-child pairs (mother and son or father and daughter).  Fyaltrolls speak their own slow and rumbling tongue, though a few (25%) can speak Common as well.

The average Fyaltroll stands 13-14' tall and dresses in long, many-layered robes of earth tones.  They are often bent and lumber about on great, tree trunk-like legs ending in three-clawed feet.  Fyaltrolls have thick, almost beakish snouts, great manes of long stringy hair, tiny yellow eyes, and sharp teeth.  Their heads often feature curved, ram-like horns and large pointed ears. They are not well-informed in the ways of the "civilized" world, but they tend to be of average intelligence and will almost always know all of the natural happenings near their homes.

Fyaltrolls care little for other beings and are more concerned with the passing of the seasons and the protection of their rocky sanctuaries.  Most conflicts between fyaltrolls and humanoids arise when the latter try to build mines or other structures in Fyaltroll territories.  During hostile times, Fyaltrolls have been known to kidnap and later eat other humanoids and/or their animals. (They have a particular fondness for the tender, fatty meat of halflings.)

The creatures are immensely hardy and strong (+5 STR bonus to melee attacks).  A Fyaltroll's hide is as tough as stone and can only be pierced by magical blades.  Furthermore, they are impervious to fire, acid, and cold-based attacks.  Lightning, however, does normal damage to them and the sound of thunder may even frighten them off.  In combat, Fyaltrolls may fight with claws and teeth, but they prefer gigantic stone axes or hammers, which they are almost never without.

Although popular myth states that Fyaltrolls can be turned to stone by sunlight, this is not true.  Rather, direct sunlight makes them extremely sleepy and they may (20% chance/round) fall into a deep slumber.  Fyaltrolls do not regenerate like regular trolls, either, but total immersion in deep, natural waters (like lakes or large rivers) will cure them of all wounds within 1 round.

* Although I hadn't heard of Tolkien, per se, at such a young age, I do have to thank my mom's girlfriend Patty for making sure I got introduced to the Rankin-Bass versions of "The Hobbit" (I had the paired 45rpm and picture book story) and "The Return of the King" on TV (which I thought for years was called "Frodo of the Nine Fingers").

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Types IV, V, & Beyond... and Meh -or- I May Play D&D But I'm Not a Gamer

And you think Rockford Files is cool,
But there are some things that you would change if it were up to you.
So think about your masterpiece
And call to see if Paul can score some weed.
     -- "Battle of Who Could Care Less", Ben Folds Five

Do people still say/write "meh"?  Is that passe?

See, here's the thing:  I don't know the answer to the above question.  Not that I couldn't find out--I just don't care enough to go digging into it.  For me, "meh" works just fine as an expression of general apathy.

And it's for that same rationale that I'll probably only ever say this about Type V and the Nerd Wars that will surely accompany its release:

Yawn. I'm tired. Can we talk about something else?

I'm sure Type V--like Types I through IV before it--will have some good points.  I'm sure it will have bad or it's-just-not-for-me points as well.  Butchaknowwhat? I don't really care.  I'm not in the RPG "industry" (whatever that means these days) and I'm not even really a "gamer".  I like D&D and a couple of other RPGs and I even play them occasionally.  I write about them, too, because it's fun.  But I don't generally buy supplements or new editions, don't go to cons, don't hang out in hobby shops, and--unless they speak to me in a louder voice than this weekend's family events, date night, new movie, concert, or whatever--I probably won't even play That New Game that Arboreal Squid Publishing just released.

Like "meh," the games I have work just fine for me.  I've got nothing against the new stuff; I just don't have the time or energy (or sometimes the cash) to try it out.  In the last 10 years, I've bought exactly one new RPG--the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" game by Eden Studios.  And that was as much for my wife (massive Buffyholic) as for me.  I downloaded and tried out Risus and Supercrew* just out of curiosity in my everyone's-playing-Type-III-but-it-gives-me-a-headache and reading-too-much-Uncle-Bear phase in the early 2000s... and that's it.  Everything else on my game shelf was published between 1978 and 1995.  Not because I'm trying to be an intentional grognard--but because what I already have Just Works.

* Also, Supercrew promised that I could draw in and color my superhero on the character sheet.  With crayons.  There isn't enough coloring in RPGS... or in adult life, for that matter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Striking the Balance: Simplicity, Complexity, and Customization

I admit it, I'm a tinker.  No, not the makes-tin-cups-and-sells-them-from-wagons kind.  The messes-with-things-until-they-work-the-way-I-want-or-ooops-I-broke-it kind.

Cases in point:

  • I love B/X/BECMI D&D and LL.  It's a simple system that plays fast and leaves a lot of open room for storytelling without being a "story game."  But, like most DMs, there are things I would have done differently if I'd been the one to devise the rules.  In the Evenoria games, for example, I'm using Base Attack Bonus and Positive Armor Class.  Why?  Because it just makes more sense intuitively and involves quick, in-the-head calculations rather than referring to charts and tables.  Initially, though, it required MORE work.  I had to look at to-hit-progressions for all of the classes and figure the BAB based on that, figure up the armor bonuses, and then assemble everything into tables that I must now remember to find and refer to at the game table.
  • JB's 100 Reasons table rocks for figuring out cool ways to make a party "gel."  And it saves on brainpower.  But I almost forgot to use it because, again, it's just another piece of paper to have to keep on hand.
  • Same thing for all of Zak's cool charts and tables from his blog and Vornheim, as well as Jeff's carousing rules.
Sometimes in mid-tinker, though, I wonder if I'm not making things harder or at least more involved than they ought to be.  Ostensibly, one of the main reasons I gave up on Type III D&D was that I didn't like complexity.  There were just too many systems, too many rules.  So for a long time, I either didn't play at all or ran games like Risus, FUDGE, or even the old West End Ghostbusters game.

But sooner or later, we all revisit our roots.  And in doing so, I finally figured out that "Basic" D&D had about the right level of complexity to keep both me and my players interested.  (Perhaps still a bit too much for the former and a bit too little for the latter--but that's what compromise is all about, no?)  Plus, you know, nostalgia.  I mean it comes IN A BOX! With DICE! In THE BOX!

And now what am I doing?  I'm adding more systems and tools.  Complexity.  Of course we're still about 20-30% as complex as Types I, II, or III*, but I wonder at times where customization ends and the slippery slope to byzantine rules lawyering begins.

How do YOU decide when or how something--even if it seems cool at the outset--is more trouble than it's worth?

* I haven't played Type IV.  Don't even know anyone, personally, who plays it, so I can't really comment on it.  But, from the few glances I've had at the character sheets, it looks to be roughly as "involved" as Type III.

Challenge Rating THIS: A Note to My Players

Can you guarantee I will come back?

No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.

Dear Players, Current and Future:

Adventuring is dangerous business, obviously (cough*pestilencezombies*cough). And Evenoria, while it LOOKS on the surface like the balanced, challenge-rating-adjusted world you're used to, is NOT that place.  That's not to say that the DM is gonna sic Tiamat on you at third level.  He's not that crazy.  But if an NPC happens to tell you where Tiamat lives, and you go there and knock in her/his/its door... well, good luck to you.  And that army of goblins passing through the wilderness all too close to you?  That's probably not an adventure hook--most likely, it's just an army of goblins passing through the wilderness on their way somewhere.  They don't want you to come and "play" with them.  They wanna get where they're going.  But, hey, if you wanna jump in the middle of their ranks... well, good luck to you.

The DM isn't out to kill you... but the big, bad world probably is.  Life's hard that way.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thirteenth day of April, the year Fifty-six of the Third Age...

This being the record of journey for Ambiorix, called by some "The Boar's Bastard", natural son of Lord Rethel Icewine of Icehall

It has been two days and a night since our party left poor old Nasturtia at the Wilderland and began our journey into the swamps in search of the crone she believes responsible for having soured her beer and spoilt her milk. What we thought to be a simple matter seems now to have grown somewhat more perilous than we might have previously imagined...

My traveling companions--the halfling Filibert and the she-elf Idris--are good company, if not traditional friends for a son of Icehall (even a bastard son). More importantly, they are brave and tough. I fear we will need both qualities in great supply before we see this deed done.

The two we hired at the Wilderland--a sellsword named Almaric and a cutpurse named Wine--I mistrust and dislike. Still, they complain little on the road and did not cut our throats as we slept--although we were sure to keep one of us on watch with one of the hirelings during the night.

Our first night camped in the swamp, we had a most frightful encounter with a young maiden who had been bitten by a bloodrot fly and been utterly consumed with its larvae. She lunged at us with a terrible fury and what almost looked like a voracious hunger, and we had no choice but to kill her. I grieve for her family, wherever they are, but I don't think we could've done elsewise and lived ourselves. Unluckily, Filibert was scratched deeply by the poor girl before we put her down. With a bit of fortune, we may hope that she did not pass her plague to him. If he should take ill, we may need to find a priest or witch of our own to cure him of the pestilence. If we cannot do that...well, I would be sad to take my friend's head from his body. But I would do it if given no other choice but to wake in the middle of the night to a blood-crazed and mindless halfling with his teeth in my neck.

As we trekked further into the swamps today, we encountered a band of maidens along the rode who took aim at us with bows. We mistook them for bandits or perhaps even goblins, and killed two of them before we realized that they were bewitched. Having disarmed and restrained them, they ate hard bread and salt beef and fell into a deep sleep.

One of their number escaped us, and we feared that she may bring others to take us in the night. We prepared prepared a large campfire on the main path and left the two sleeping girls near it, and stole off to await any attack out of the light of the fire. I was ashamed to use them as bait, but it seemed the only way to lure any companions they may have into the open so we could similarly restrain them, or if necessary kill them.

Alas, it was not more bow-maidens that came for the girls. In the dark of night, those of us on watch heard (and felt) the movement of some great beast through the swamp. We readied ourselves and waited.

After a few moments, a dread hydra emerged from the foliage and began to sniff at the girls who were--miraculously--still slumbering peacefully next to the campfire. The creature had been wounded (two of its five heads were already missing) and bore a chain around its great neck, but despite its diminished state it was no less dangerous. Sword and axe and arrow, we eventually dispatched its remaining heads and put the beast down.

We are going to try to get what rest we can, then when daylight comes we will follow what I can only assume will be the hydra's unmistakable track. Hopefully the slumbering maidens will be able to give us some tale of where they came from and who sent them, but my wager is that the beast's track will lead us right to the crone we seek.

It Tastes Like Burning: Ouskae, the Adventurer's Drink of Choice

"My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky." -- William Faulkner

Ale, wine, and water may be the holy trinity of adventuring beverages, but in the rocky coastal village of Daneth, they brew a spirit that puts them all to shame.  I'm talking, of course, of Ouskae (pronounced OO-skay).  Complex, smoky, and potent, it has been known to warm the frozen, revive the unconscious, and even clean the wounds of the diseased.  It also tastes like the gods themselves made it.

Ouskae is bottled by several small distilleries in and near Daneth.  It is made from the grains of the region which are dried over a smoldering moss fire, infused into rainwater and sea spray, and fermented  The most well-known Ouskae makers are Glen'Ebrall (tall, green, multi-faceted bottle; light copper liquid), Deh'Vahls' Old World (silver flask wrapped in leather; deep amber liquid; very pricey), and Makir's Sigil (crystal bottle sealed in crimson wax).

All Ouskaes taste slightly different, and the older they are, the more complexity they develop.  All have a fiery bite and can induce coughing if swallowed too quickly or in too large a quantity.  Glen-Ebrall has a honey-like sheen, similar to a drier, highly-concentrated mead.  Deh'Vahl's is decidedly smoky and earthy... some describe it as tasting like "burnt tree bark--but a good kind."  Makir's Sigil, on the other hand, is has notes of cherry and is known for its smooth texture.

Ouskae works quickly so it is usually served in short, stout glasses called "shirecups."  One shirecup contains approximately as much spirit as a whole flagon of ale.  Ouskae has other effects besides intoxication, however.  These are noted on the table below:

+1 CON
1 hour
+2 CON, -1 DEX
2 hours
+3 CON, -2 DEX; save vs. poison or be nauseated (-2 to all rolls) for 1d4 hours after duration ends
4 hours
+4 CON, -2 DEX, -1 WIS; save vs. poison or be nauseated for 1d8 hours
6 hours
+5 CON, -3 DEX, -2 WIS; save vs. poison or be nauseated for 2d6 hours
8 hours
+6 CON, -4 DEX, -3 WIS; save vs. poison or be nauseated for 3d8 hours
12 hours
+5 CON, -4 DEX, -3 WIS; Nauseated for 3d8 hours (no save)
16 hours
+4 CON, -5 DEX, -4 WIS; Nauseated for 4d8 hours (no save); save vs. poison or lose 1 INT permanently
24 hours
+3 CON, -6 DEX, -5 WIS; Nauseated for 4d8 hours (no save); save vs. poison or lose 1 INT permanently
30 hours
+2 CON, -7 DEX, -6 WIS; Nauseated for 5d8 hours (no save); save vs. poison or lose 1 INT permanently
36 hours

Sunday, January 8, 2012

DM's Journal: Of Living Zombies, Wicked Witches, and Sour Ale

Despite being short one player due to a bad case of insomnia (sleep better, Cara!), the first-ever Wyverns & Waffles D&D session was--in my opinion, anyway--a resounding success.  After munching in hearty halfling style on fresh local eggs, bacon and sausages, and chocolate chip and/or blueberry waffles, our party of wily adventurers assembled itself.  The roster featured three third-level characters:  Filibert Fairbarn the halfling (played by Ben), Ambiorix the fighter (played by Sam), and Indis the elf (played by my just-sleep-deprived-but-not-insomniac wife, Cori).

I will leave it to the players to provide highlights, but the main gist of the story so far is this:

11 April 56 (Third Age)
The PCs arrived at The Wilderland Inn, a familiar and usually-friendly stop run by Nasturtia Birdwhistle, an elderly halfling hostess, and her trusty dwarf security guard, Dorin Nolty.  This trip, however, things weren't a comfy as they were used to.  It seems the Inn had been cursed by a witch after Dorin had focibly evicted (and bruised up) her son for staying a week, running up a huge tab, and then trying to get off without paying.  The curse involved making all of the ale taste like garlic and vinegar and making the milk curdle even as it was drawn from the teat.  Business was bad for the venerable establishment, and the outlook dire.  The PCs' hearts went out to the proprietress and they decided to try and track down the witch to get the curse reversed.  Of course, the offer of "free ale for life" didn't hurt, either.

They hired the only other two customers at the Inn--a swordsman named Almaric and his sneaky friend Wine (aptly named)--mounted up, and rode to the southern swamps to find the witch.

12 April 56
Mostly-uneventful day of riding down the old swamp path.  During the first watch of the night, the party had its first encounter with a pestilence zombie.  The creature--once a young woman--was killed quickly, but not before she sank her scabby, infected hands into Filibert.

13 April 56
Another day of riding.  At dusk, the party was spotted by a group of young girls (14-20 years of age) dressed in gray cloaks and ragged clothing but carrying bows and daggers.  The girls--who had strange, vacant expressions and spoke in monotone--attacked but were soon outmatched.  One escaped into the swamp, two were killed, and two captured.  The captives acted wild and incoherent, so they were tied up.  After being fed (they looked starved), they immediately passed into a deep sleep.

In the night, thunderous, sloshing footsteps were heard.  Moments later, a somewhat-worse-for-the-wear hydra shambled into the clearing.  The party lept from their hiding places and attacked.  The monster--who had three heads and two stumps where heads had once been--was killed with no casualties to the characters.  The captive girls slept through the whole thing.  After the beast was slain, the PCs noticed that it had a thick, rusted chain around its necks and a kind of hitching ring.

14 April 56
The captives awoke with the rest of the party and they were confused.  The last thing they remembered was being in the fortress town of Middenwold in the summer time and seeing an old lady come into their bedrooms.  They had no memories of ever coming to the swamps, fighting, etc.  Because they were young, starved, and frightened, Almaric (the fighter hireling) was elected to escort them back to the Inn.

The party followed the hydra's deep, rutting tracks into the swamp, where they spotted two things:  a giant, twisted tree with a number of archers (grey-cloaked girls) posted on a platform in its center, and a storybook cottage on a wooden platform--which in turn was being pushed around the swamp by an army of slaves holding it up from underneath.

Using Indis's polymorph self potion and the captured bow and dagger, Filibert turned himself into a young girl in a gray cloak and took Wine into the camp as a "prisoner".  They were allowed to pass into the cottage that way.  Meanwhile, Ambiorix and Indis sneaked through the underbrush and waited as close to the cottage as they could without being seen.

Inside, the cabin was richly appointed and somehow bigger internally than externally.  A beautiful, black-and-gray-haired woman was inside.  She asked the "slave girl" (really Filibert) to explain herself and the prisoner but quickly because suspicious.  Filibert and Wine figured the gig was up and attacked.  As soon as they heard the commotion, Ambiorix and Indis rushed in amidst a hail of arrows from the tree-platform archers.  (Not hits, fortunately.)

Once they got inside, Ambiorix and Indis found Wine sprawled on the floor behind a table (fumbled dive-attack at the witch) and that Filibert was now a cute, pink piglet rooting through the kitchen.  The witch (Myrinne) had apparently turned invisible in the commotion and disappeared out a window.

A search of the cabin turned up a few remarkable items:

  • A milky-white crystal ball inside the cellar (???) of the house-on-legs that allowed the user to see through special pendants that the witch had given to slaves, friends, and/or spies.  Several scenes across the land were viewed.
  • An iron chest marked in strange symbols and smelling of the sea which had, ironically enough, been stolen by goblins from a caravan that Wine and Almaric had escorted to the Kingdom of Zhann a week before.
  • A wand of dispelling whose one charge was used to return Filibert to his proper form.
  • A sack of gold.
  • Two scrolls of Animate Dead and one of Rock to Mud.

At this point, we had to cue up the "To Be Continued" title as my wife and I had to leave to go visit my Dad in the hospital.  (He had a heart attack last Thursday and is now recovering from open-heart surgery.  We've been living in the ICU for days and weren't even sure that today's gaming would happen, but he is doing much better and we decided that a couple of hours of "escape from reality" time would probably be good for keeping our own spirits up.  Needless to say, it worked.)

A number of questions remain to be answered in the next session, though:
  • Where did the witch escape to?  Will she come back?  How will the PCs get her to lift the Inn's curse?
  • Will Filibert's infection take hold and turn him into a pestilence zombie?
  • What will be done with all of the witch's slaves?
Stay tuned for more from me and from the players themselves!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

From Apocephalus to Zombie

Inspired by this real-world article on parasitic flies, zombified bees, and colony collapse disorder.

What if most zombies aren't created by necromancers or other black magicians?  What if they're a natural phenomenon?  Throughout history, primitive and uneducated people have always blamed "black magic" or "demons" for things as diverse as epilepsy and alcoholism.

So imagine their reaction when a friend or relative starts stumbling about, having apparently lost all mind and free will, and fighting violently against those who would care for him/her.  And what if a scratch or bite from the "possessed" soul could cause the same reaction in others?  And finally, when the body seems to have been "put down," imagine what would happen if its head detached and a writhing morass of equally-infectious larvae poured forth.

Addendum:  see fleshed-out (pun intended) description on the Besitary page.

Let the Good Times (and d20s) Roll!

The Evenoria game kicks off this Sunday in a f2f Wyverns & Waffles session.  Eventually, I'd like to take the setting/game to Google+ and ConstantCon, but for now I need to rewet my DM feet among familiar faces and with fewer technological distractions.

For my own reference as well as that of the players, here's a thumbnail sketch of how and where we'll begin:

I'll be using BECMI D&D (the Red Box), but (the free) Labyrinth Lord clone and/or B/X are also fair game.

Characters will be assumed to be novice-but-not-totally-green adventurers.
  • Classes:  Any basic class or Ursari
  • Level: 3rd to start
  • Hit Points:  Maximum for 1st; rolled + CON adjustment for 2nd and 3rd
  • Money:  The characters have had some success so far but are hardly wealthy.  Begin with 2d10 x 100 gp.
  • Magic Items:  Each character begins with 1 randomly-rolled (by the DM) magic item found in a previous adventure.  He/she may not know what it does yet.  Items unusable by the character's class will be rerolled.
  • Spells:  The DM will assign spells to elf and magic-user characters. 

  • Each player should roll on the 100 Reasons Characters Are Together table (link halfway through post) to see how their character relates to the person on his/her right's character.
  • The party will begin its career at the Wilderland Inn.
  • This is a "sandbox" game, which means that characters are under no obligation to pick up and follow pre-set adventure "hooks".  The DM has a full population of NPCs and plots already on hand and is ready to ride off the rails at a moment's notice.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, Professor.

I sit beside the fire and think 
Of all that I have seen 
Of meadow flowers and butterflies 
In summers that have been 

Of yellow leaves and gossamer 
In autumns that there were 
With morning mist and silver sun 
And wind upon my hair 

I sit beside the fire and think 
Of how the world will be 
When winter comes without a spring 
That I shall ever see 

For still there are so many things 
That I have never seen 
In every wood in every spring 
There is a different green 

I sit beside the fire and think 
Of people long ago 
And people that will see a world 
That I shall never know 

But all the while I sit and think 
Of times there were before 
I listen for returning feet 
And voices at the door

J.R.R. Tolkien
1/3/1892 - 9/2/1973