Thursday, March 22, 2012

Goth Girl of the Week

OK, enough self-reflecting and introspection!

Goth Girl of the Week!

Monday, March 19, 2012

At a Crossroads

Well, I've been blogging for nearly three months and I'm not sure if I will continue with this endeavor.  It's been fun, I've gotten to read some great blogs, I've picked up some awesome members, and I've learned a lot about old RPG's.  But I just don't know if I'm really making enough of a contribution to the OSR blogosphere to warrant the time investment of running a blog.

Also, I've noticed that my life has become much richer the past few weeks now that I've cut way down on my blogging.  I've been exercising, spending more time with Lily (my wife), and gotten other aspects of my life more organized.

This is also coming at a time of gaming changes.  The small (3-person) group that I've been gaming with for the past two years might be disbanding.  Jim announced a few days ago that he was leaving the group for various reasons related to gaming preferences.  None of it was personal or anything; it was a gaming thing.  And the other member, Adam, is taking a few weeks off to focus on his band.

So I'm now pondering where I want to take this whole gaming/blogging hobby of mine - which I do indeed love.  Will Adam and I just recruit a new member?  Will we try to get into someone else's game - maybe Pathfinder?  Will I get back into miniatures games, like Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game?  Or will Adam and I just run with a 2-person group?

One thing I have decided for sure is that I need to cut back significantly on my gaming/blogging time committment.  So this means:
1.  I will only be a player going forward, not a DM (at least for a while)
2.  I will continue to blog infrequently (or perhaps disband the blog)

Maybe the "sweet spot" will be getting into a long-term campaign where I'm just a player - and keeping up my blog for a couple posts per week.  I would really be jazzed about just "showing up" every week and rolling dice, and making a good blog post every few days about something that interests me.

One thing that's weird is that the last session our group played was our first Pendragon session!  Granted, there is no cause-and-affect with that.  It's just a weird coincidence.  I think the changing of the game brought a lot of Jim's feelings to the forefront and caused him to realize that he just wants something different with his gaming choices.

Anyway - I've really appreciated the support so far from the readers of this blog.  I've had so many intelligent, thoughtful commenters.  And not a single jerk.  Not even once.  Out of literally hundreds of comments on my blog post, not a single one of them has caused me annoyance or irked me. 

Thanks.  :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Game Recap - Ran a Session of 5th Edition Last Night

5th edition Pendragon, just to be clear.  :)

I discussed this game in a couple of prior posts and I was definitely more than enthusiastic to play it.  Over the past two weeks I've pored over the rules and, just as importantly, the setting.  I wanted this to go as well as possible for our group of traditional D&D'ers.

Cover of Pendragon 5e
 And you know something?  I really, really liked it.  And we've only scratched the surface of the rules and the possibilities.  Last night was mostly about character creation and background and then we ran a quick introductory scenario designed to give players a basic clue about how to play the game.  This scenario included combat, hunting, jousting and culminated in the Player Knights (PK's) being knighted by Roderick, Earl of Salisbury.

Character Creation
This was a time consuming process, being our first time playing the game.  It took the group over 90 minutes to create our PK's.  But I found the rules to be straightforward and clear.  It literally walks you through PK creation step by step.  And the players looked to be enjoying all the opportunities to develop a good character through divvying precious points amongst Traits, Passions, Statistics (Attributes), Skills, and Combat Skills.  There is a finite amount of points to go around, and a lot of important traits.

Jim and Adam both created PK's that were combat-oriented, but that is a wise move in my opinion.  The early stages of Pendragon are in a Dark Ages setting, a world where "Might Makes Right."  Later on, the game develops into a more romantic, chivalrous period where Arthur and Lancelot represent all the knightly ideals of justice, mercy, modesty, romance, etc.  But meanwhile, the PK's need to SURVIVE until then.

Both knights had strong skills in Lance (a devastating weapon in Pendragon), Sword, and Horsemanship.  They were also strong in First Aid, Awareness, Hunting, and other selected skills. 

As for Statistics, both PK's were built with high Size, CON, and STR scores.  This made them relatively brutal in combat, as was planned.  In Pendragon, Hit Points start off quite high at 1st level (often in the 25-35 range) and are raised up very slowly.  One nice benefit of this is that you can easily have a "mixed level" group of PK's in the same party. 

A very interesting element to Pendragon is the sense of history and the sense of family.  There's an entire chapter dedicated to rolling up your "Family History."  You roll year-by-year to see how your ancestors lived, fought, and died.  And the more gloriously your father died, the more starting Glory (XP) you get as a PK.  I gave the players the option whether to roll up the Family History and I'm happy to report that they both wanted to give it a go.  Jim's character, alas, comes from a family line where the men tend to die in battle at a very young age.  His new PK hopes to change that pattern.  :)

Greg Stafford in the 70's - I think
 Religious choices also have direct impact on character creation and the role-playing of the PK's.  You can be Roman Christian, British Christian, or Pagan.  One guy chose British Christian while the other guy threw me a curve ball and selected Paganism.  I like the variety.  This choice actually has a direct bearing on your Trait scores (scores which influence your decisions and can bring additional glory or shame to the character).

Being first-born sons of knights, both players inherited an expansive Manor from their fathers.

Introductory Scenario
I ran a pre-published Intro Scenario from the book.  I truncated it a little bit since we only had a 3-hour gaming session and the first 90 minutes was spent on PK creation.  The scenario was comprised of the following elements:
  • PK training (practice sessions of Jousting & Horse Racing)
  • An actual Joust
  • A Bear Hunt
  • A Bandit Encounter
  • Knighting Ceremony
The training aspect was to allow each character a chance to show their skills at jousting and horse racing.  I thought it was fun.  The players were competing against each other and against a couple of NPC's I introduced.  If they did particularly well, I threw them a few Glory Points.

The Bear Hunt was fun.  There were two hunting groups.  One of the groups located the bear and surprised it, mounting a devastating double-lance charge from two knights.  The first knight (one of the NPC's) delivered a Critical Hit to the bear on the first combat roll.  This sent the bear reeling and then Adam's PK came in to finish him off with a lance blow to the creature's midsection.  Just like that, the bear was dead.

On the way back from the hunt, the PK's came upon four bandits who had ambused another Knight - Sir Scott.  He was beaten and about to be kidnapped.  The PK's came galloping across the field on their 900-pound warhorses and scattered the Bandits like bowling pins!  Two bandits were instantly slain, their bodies penetrated by lance blows so forceful that the lances actually broke off inside their guts.  Two other bandits were badly wounded.  Their lives were spared by the PK's, who took them back to the Earl to face justice.

PS: Lances in this game are devastating (although they break a lot).  They do massive damage and you almost always win against opponents on foot.  In fact, a bandit on foot with an axe faces almost certain death or dismemberment against a charging knight.  Even without lances, knights on horseback are fearsome opponents against common rabble unless the numbers are heavily stacked.

Knighting Ceremony
After much celebration of the PK exploits, the culmination of the evening was when the characters were Knighted.  It was a very formal ceremony and is truly one of the highlights of a character's entire career.  The characters started the game as squires and ended it as knights.  That's the way this game is supposed to be played.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm sure the players will face up against bandits, lions, magical beasts, and hordes of Saxons.  With a little courly intrigue mixed in.

I certainly had fun.  I hope the players enjoyed it as much as I did.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Way Back Machine - Blackmoor (Supplement II) - Part 3

NOTE: Spoilers to Follow!  In the highly unlikely event that you're planning on running your PC's through Temple of the Frog, don't allow them to read any further.

In prior installments of the Way Back Machine, I took a look at Greyhawk (OD&D Supplement I) and much of Blackmoor (Supplement II).  Today I complete my look at Blackmoor by discussing Temple of the Frog (TOTF) by Dave Arneson, which I believe is the first ever published RPG module.

TOTF is in Section 3 of Blackmoor - Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.  It's just kind of "there," with no instructions or explanation of how to use it.  It's grand, wonderful, gonzo - and at the same time maddeningly frustrating.  If I was a new DM back in the 1970's and I decided to run my players through this adventure, I think it would be a difficult task indeed.  Has anyone out there successfully used the module as written?  Just curious.

A full 21 pages in length, TOTF contains no less than six maps and several illustrations.  There are a couple of overland maps (city map, for one) and 4 "dungeon" or "temple" maps.  In my opinion, the maps are quite well done and really give the early D&D player a sense of what a dungeon should look like.  The illustrations peppered throughout TOTF have NOTHING to do with the content of the module, but they are nice pictures.

The basic theme of TOTF is explained in the Background section.  A weird, scientific cult called "The Brothers of the Swamp" has apparently done genetic experimentation to launch animals to the top of the food chain and supplant man.  Nasty!  Specifically, the cultists developed a ferocious Killer Frog.  These frogs even had a sacrificial temple where screaming victims were fed to them.  Another order called the "Keepers of the Frogs" tended to the beasts over the years - herding them and feeding them in vast underground catacombs.  The Brothers send out secret traders to buy human slaves in exchange for fabrics and medicines.  However, trade has been slow due to the swampy location of the Temple and the fact that no lawful merchants would sell slaves to evil amphibian-frog-temply guys.  They eventually had to "sell out" by allowing evil bandits to trade for them.  Unfortunately, the evil bandits and other riff-raff now dominate the temple.

Then along came Stephen the Rock, a weird magician who wanted to restore the temple to its original frog-worshipping purpose.  Anyone who disagreed with him was "cast into the breeding pools" or "struck down by lightning."  A great power struggle ensued and many people were slain on both sides, but eventually the bandits were driven off or enslaved.  The temple has now been refortified, and anyone with knowledge of its whereabouts has been slain.  Thus, it is now SECRET again!  And the Temple denizens are once again up to their nefarious, no-good, frog-worshipping activities again.  Stephen the Rock is now High Priest.

So presumably the PC's will need to find the temple, sneak up to it without being eaten by killer frogs or captured, and loot it or destroy it.  What is their motivation for doing so?  We're not really sure, so the DM must come up with a hook.

As for the room contents, these are both fun and frustrating.  First of all, the rooms vary so much in sheer power of the inhabitants that it's really hard to figure out what level of party should adventure in TOTF.  It really throws any concepts of "balance" out the window.  I guess in the "old days," you would just march in with your party of 15 adventurers and systematically reave the place.  When the old PC's died, replace them with new ones.  :) 

And this place is no joke.  There are literally THOUSANDS of guards and warriors at the Temple and the surrounding city.  It kind of reminds me of "D3 - the Vault of the Drow" in terms of this vast, evil city.  How do you infiltrate it?  You can't possibly hope to slay 2,000 guards and 5,000 killer frogs.  So you need a plan.  You need some kind of strategy and stealthy approach.

Second, the DM must do a LOT of work to make this module playable.  For example, there are a number of Living Quarters for the Brothers.  But listen to this description of potential treasure: "Although sparsely furnished, each wooden item is made from the finest mahogany, the sleeping mattresses are of down feathers, the rugs of the finest furs, and all the smaller items are without question made of durable and exquisite semi-precious metal."  So that means you as the DM need to go through and assign value to these items, particularly the rare furs and the small, semi-precious items.  And believe me - there are LOTS of rooms like this.

Monster descriptions are equally vague: "This barracks holds 40 men.  There is a light light dart thrower on the roof."  Again, there are many room descriptions like this.  Who are these men?  How powerful are they?  What is their purpose?

Ladies and gentlemen, nothing in this adventure is statted out.  As the DM, you must be nimble and creative and willing to put some time into it.

Despite these frustrating descriptions, it is still a wonderful read.  Some examples of the fun & gonzo aspects of TOTF:
  • The High Priest, Stephen the Rock, is "an intelligent humanoid from another world/dimension."  Once per year, he must report information to a "hovering satellite station" - sort of like Mork from Ork.  If he fails to turn over any interesting artifacts to his overlords, he will certainly face "recall/trial/extinction."
  • Stephen's treasure consists of "a complete set of battle armour, a mobile medical kit, and a communications module."  Stephen has continued with the genetic modification of frogs into "Frog Men."
  • Should a player win Stephen's Battle Armour and don it, they get +3 on A/C, +3 on saving throws, a 12" move, 18(00) strength, 18 dex, and complete protection against all energy weapons including fireballs, lighting, cold, etc.  It also protects fully against charm, hypnosis and other mind-affecting spells and level draining.  The wearer can also fly, walk and breathe underwater.  Jesus!
  • There is a sacrificial temple where scores of slaves are thrown screaming to the teeming frogs below.  The pulpit above the pit is made of precious metal and gemstones and is worth 100,000 gp!  It depicts scenes of the eventual doom of man.
  • There is a library containing books and scrolls with a value "beyond reckoning."  It supposedly contains 10% of all the world's known books.  But good luck in stealing this shit!  There is "one guard at each door".  ;-p   This is what I mean!  Some rooms might contain a million gp of treasure value and be guarded by 2 guys.  The next room over won't have any treasure and be guarded by 400 soldiers. 
  • One cool room has several treasure maps.  The maps aren't shown, so the DM must create them, but they sound really cool: "Leads to a giant's den somewhere in the swamp.  Treasure is: 58,000 gold buried amongst some rubble."
  • There is a pipe organ worth 300,000 gp, but it weighs ten tons and will fill a cargo ship!  And good luck putting it back together again.  :)
  • There are row upon row of machines that "turn out special devices and goods of high value, these machines having the ability to take worthless material and transform it into valuable goods."  Only those "involved in manufacturing" are allowed in to run the machines.
Anyway, those are examples of the wildness that is TOTF.  The treasure is big and spectacular, the rooms are filled with wild beasts and hordes of soldiers.  I don't think I would ever run it as written, but it was fun to read.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pendragon - Grognardia Retrospective

Still on the Pendragon train o' thought, I was very encouraged to see this glowing review of Pendragon from James over at Grognardia, especially since he is such a noted old-school guy and has forgotten more about RPG's than I've ever known:

It's really a very positive retrospective, including this statement: "It is, to be frank, the most perfect out-of-the-box RPG I have ever played."  That is solid praise indeed.

If you want to know more about this game, read his review.  Unlike me, he's actually played it and knows a great deal about it.


Things have been quiet the past week at the Cleaning Service.  Some of it is because I decided to cut back my posting schedule a bit.  But the other factor is that I'm switching off from running D&D to Pendragon for a while to see how we like it.  In case you're not aware, Pendragon was written by Greg Stafford (the Runequest designer) and is based around the mythos and "history" of Arthurian Britain.

It's taken many, many hours for me to become as knowledgeable in this game as I need to be - and it's very different from D&D.  I mean - EVERYTHING is different from D&D.  In Pendragon (we'll call it KAP for King Arthur Pendragon), there is only one race to play (human) and one "class" to play (Knight).  And the game is based around many things that D&D players may not emphasize as much.  For example, there are incredibly important aspects to your PK (Player Knight) that revolve around honor, chivalry, religion (Christianity or Paganism), stewardship, loyalty, valour, love, etc.

There are "real" in-game benefits to following your Traits & Passions and it "forces" you to correctly roleplay the character as a Knight of the Arthurian times.  If you don't, you can lose XP (actually called Glory) and status in the realm.  And this is important, because in this game your reputation can help you and your entire family line.  You actually play a long-term campaign with elements such as knighthood, marriage, becoming a parent (through marriage and/or your "side wench"), fighting great battles, going on quests, and above all faithfully serving your lord and king.

Don't get me wrong, combat is still incredibly important in this game.  And it's quite lethal!  There's a pretty unforgiving combat, healing, and death dynamic to KAP.  You might run into a giant in the wilderness and he can whack you for 9d6 damage straight up!  An average starting Knight might only have 25-28 hit points so that could end it for you right quick. 

This is a low-magic setting for sure.  Magic exists of course (Excalibur, Merlin, - duh!), but it tends to be more epic in nature, more rare, and truly sought after stuff.  You might base a quest of a couple years on finding a rare magic sword, for instance.  And no player Knights can cast spells.  But there are plenty of monsters to deal with.  :)

Every Knight has a "Manor," which is basically his land holdings (yes, you start off the game wealthier than 95% of those around you).  This might consist of a property that has a Great Hall, a Town, several Villages, and many acres of livestock and farming.  You are indebted to your lord, without whom you would potentially have nothing.

Anway - maybe I'll write an actual review of the rules some time.  But that's what's keeping me busy these days.