Monday, September 12, 2016

Adventure Maximus! and Risus: RPGing with my 5 Year Old

The Young Lord Shadowmoss, who recently turned 5, has been playing far more Minecraft than is probably healthy. So, Saturday afternoon I suggested we shut down the laptop and break out Adventure Maximus! to resume the adventures of his druid wolf-kin, Squiddy, and his great white shark companion (whose name changes every time, this time it was 'Jaws').

I'm not a fan of the game system (the rules could use some clarifying in my opinion), but the Young Lord likes the  pictures on the cards (as do I), not to mention he has a restaurant with a gargoyle chef and a trimera he befriended in the course of earlier adventures The response was enthusiastic, although it was another 30 minutes before he shut down Minecraft.

That was fine, because I hadn't thought about what to do for an adventure.Thanks to the restaurant, I've used special/rare ingredients as McGuffins many times now but I wanted to mix it up a bit.

This time around, Squiddy was hired by the Big Bad Wolf to clear his name. It seems 'grandma' had been trying to frame Big Bad for some unnamed crime that she had committed. Knowing Squiddy has been desperate to find a sword, Big Bad naturally offered one as a reward - I figured, correctly, that even if he didn't care one iota about the purpose of the adventure, he'd care about that sword. According to the Wolf, grandma was camped out in her cottage at the top of Big Rock Candy Mountain, and so Squiddy prepared for his trek.

I told the Young Lord that Squiddy couldn't possibly carry all of his gear up the mountain (over several adventures he's amassed quite a haul, everything from a pillow to a bow that turns any enemy that it hits into a bunny). The first order of business was preparing for the journey to grandma's house and role-playing packing for the trip- we reviewed all of the equipment and discussed the merits and disadvantages of each, before settling on a modest number of items: 1 range weapon (the aforementioned bunny bow), 1 melee weapon (the snail flail)  and 1 oddball item (gas gun).

Gear selected, he and Jaws made the journey - which I mostly hand-waived other than asking him what if anything he was doing along the way. It turned out, he was very concerned with finding food for Jaws. After some discussion, we decided a special delivery of sandwiches by the gargoyle chef was on the way.

It seemed logical to me.

Near the top of Big Rock Candy Mountain, Squiddy and Jaws, now full on sandiwches, were assaulted by animated snow men - six in all - hurling snowballs at them. Squiddy's first move was to spray the gas gun - missile weapons can't hit through the cloud. I told him right out that I was impressed by that tactical decision and he beamed, and then explained to me why I was impressed.

He was completely wrong, mind you. Still, it's fun to hear how his mind works. I always find the way kids his age rationalize things to be pretty amazing.

In the next round, he surprised me again and instead of jumping into the fight, Squiddy cast his spell to summon a creature to fight alongside him and some pixies showed up and joined the fray. The snowmen went down pretty easily between Squiddy, Jaws and the summoned Pixies..

Grandma, it turned out, was some crazy Ursula-from-The-Little-Mermaid tentacled thing (it's a boss monster in the game, but I forget the name and I'm nowhere near the box to go find the card) and she was pretty tough. When she refused to come quietly and confess her scheme to the law (probably because Jaws broke down the door instead of knocking), the fight was on.

Her first spell charmed Jaws into believing she was his friend. This was a tough choice as a dad, but it seemed the most in character for her - after all, Jaws was right up on her and a clear threat. (I refuse to fudge dice rolls with him either, rolling everything in the open. Call me a hard-ass, but I don't believe in just letting him win.)

Of course, that didn't go over without notice, and the Young Lord did not take it well. He was confused and seemed to think Jaws was now the evil grandma's companion, and I had to continually remind him that Jaws was still his companion, he just happened to like grandma too. In any case, he and by extension Squiddy were ready to destroy grandma now.

Her second spell gave her an extra pair of arms and an extra attack each round. I felt bad about casting this one, figuring Squiddy, without Jaws, might now be outgunned. As luck would have it, I rolled poorly for her attacks thereafter, only causing 1 point of damage to Squiddy.

Besides, I'd forgotten his Summon Creature spell, so, with the help of a summoned pirate and judicious use of his own snail flail, Squiddy put the hurt on grandma, brought her to justice, and claimed his reward.

He was justifiably excited - he earned that sword.


I was pretty drained after our game (it lasted less than an hour but if you have a 5 year old or thereabouts, or ever have, then I think you understand) but he then wanted to try Risus, which I've been trying to get him to try for months now.

I had to seize the opportunity and at least get character generation taken care of.

It seemed to me that the best way to get his character created in such an open ended system would be to guide him with questions to describe what he imagined his character was like and I'd deal with getting him to 4 cliches by asking as many questions as needed.

Here, verbatim, are the answers he came up with as he ran around the room and jumped on the sofa :

  • 1/2 Stormtrooper 1/2 master wizard demon who casts crazy awesome spells and other weird stuff (4) 
  • Protector of other demons (3)
  • Swimmer (2)
  • Gun collector (1)

You can see why the after school teacher pulled me aside the other day to ask if the Young Lord has a lot of toy weapons at home.

Oh, and the character's name? Demon Stormtrooper Wizard Man

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

De Profundis : My First Impression

As DragonCon approached*, I was reminded that I had come across a copy of De Profundis: Cthulhu Gaming on the Edge of Madness in the dealer's hall one year, but passed on it, as I knew the PDF was available from DriveThruRPG for a good bit less. Like so many PDF purchases, it went into the vast pile of bits and bytes to be forgotten.

The other day, I finally put it on my e-reader and gave it a read.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, De Profundis is a:

". . . game of psychological horror . . . De Profundis is a correspondence-based story-telling game that can be played from the point of view of participants from a variety of eras . . . Utilising a mix of letter writing, email and text based gaming - depending on your chosen era of play - it's a perfect game for the modern time strapped gamer."
Sounds pretty cool right?

Better, one of the selling points, as I saw it, is that it can allegedly be played solitaire. As readers may recall, this is my kryptonite.

I say "allegedly" because now that I have read it, I am honestly not sure I understand how to play it.

Or if it's a game at all.

It is, as the author(s) reminds us continually, psycho-drama, and not a traditional role-playing game. For example, there is no GM, there are few if any rules, and it takes place in letters.  True, there are some rules, some tables, dice even get involved - although I will need to read this a 2nd time to make sure I'm right about any of that.

In many ways, it seems to me more of a parlor game of "let's pretend" or telling ghost stories, without the parlor and involving letter writing. For some reason, I imagine haughty rich people sitting in a circle in suits and evening gowns while bedecked in jewels saying "My word!" and "Heavens!" as they play.

That last bit is probably just me though.

Much of the book stresses atmosphere and immersion. In fact, most of the book is written as letters to the reader - which I suppose illustrates how one might play, but I found it distracting: tell me what to do! (wow, I sound like a perfect cog, don't I?) To make immersion easier, to prevent the breaking of illusion, players are encouraged to play themselves, in the real world, but to look for the weird in the ordinary and fill their letters with these mysteries (this wonderfully blurs the lines between reality and "the fiction" to the point that you might end up a raving believer in conspiracy theories. Better get out that tinfoil hat before playing). If playing another personality in a different time period, the book suggests ways of keying the envelope so the recipient can achieve the proper mindset before opening.

So, it sounds like it could be cool, but not very game-like, more like an exercise in creativity and imagination. That's not to dismiss De Profundis  -  I want very much to try it as I love letter writing- but I'm going to need to read it again and then figure out how to go about it.

*the night before DragonCon, I broke my foot and alas I did not get to attend this year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

An adventure in the Abyss - Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls

Abyss is a solitaire module for dead T&T characters by Paul Creelman, included in the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls rulebook. It's a chance to work your way back from the underworld, with the stipulation that you only can try this once per PC.

Fortunately (?), I have quite a pile of dead characters to work with, although most have 0 adds and poor Constitution. I shuffled the stack and decided to revisit Karak the Stout and Beautiful Attractive (attributes are what they were immediately before death).


To his surprise, Karak found himself standing before a large leonid god-type thing, offering a way back to life itself. Also surprising was the short sword in his hand, considering he had never owned one before.

His first lucky break came when he found a charmed pebble capable of poisoning any weapon or make a poison liquid if plopped into water. I should add that the phrase "first lucky break" is misleading.

Further along, our hero came upon a sultry woman. With practiced ease, she beckoned Karak to join her in mind-bending bliss. But Karak, blessed with wits (IQ of 14), suspected something untoward was planned for him if he conceeded. Not wishing to fight what might turn out to be a demon or worse, he stepped backwards.

And promptly fell as if from a great height.

"Fabulous," thought Karak.

His fall was abruptly stopped (thanks to a successful level 1 luck saving roll, 1LR if I understand the T&T convention). However, any relief he felt was quickly dispelled  - he was caught in the talon of a large black raven.

Instinctively, he swung his sword at the great bird, but pathetic was the damage he inflicted (spite damage only). He resigned himself to certain death at the hand, or talon as it were, of the raven.

Not until he was dropped into the bird's nest did her breathe easy.

Perhaps it mistook him for its own chick?

Possible, but unlikely.

Relief turned to dread; three nestlings already there were clearly under the impression that Karak was dinner.

And they killed him.

The way out of the Abyss closed on Karak forever.


Playing time was fairly short - but I didn't have a lot of time anyway, so I was OK with that. A character with more adds and with more CON would have lasted longer, as would one with higher STR and DEX, so they could wield a more damaging sword.

The concept is a fun one, and there is plenty of randomness even within an encounter. Playing other characters through this may not have the same results, even when I make the same choices.

And I will undoubtedly run other dead characters in the Abyss.

There are some interesting mechanics for sorcery and there is a multiplier based on the number of combat adds you have that represents the Abyss's desire to keep you - with 0 combat adds, the multiplier is 1, and of no consequence.

The one issue I had was that it wasn't clear to me whether or not I had armor. It isn't stated either way that I could find. I may have read the introduction too quickly.

What is stated is that I'm armed with the largest sword or dagger I can wield (which is why Karak was surprised by that). In the event, I decided to use a strict reading of the text; if it wasn't stated, then I didn't have it. In this way I avoided having an advantage I shouldn't, but I'd be curious if others were of the same mind.

Now you may be asking yourself, "Self, why didn't he use the poison?"

Honestly, I wasn't sure of the game mechanics for poison, and I didn't feel like reading that section of the rules in depth - my quick skimming was unhelpful.  Also, coming from DnD where poison use on weapons (as opposed to traps), at least in 1e, is strongly discouraged (and if used, then players should expect NPCs and monsters to use it too), it didn't seem right to poison my blade.

That said, I'll be reading the poison rules closely, and next time I encounter it, my decision will be a role-playing one, not an issue of rules knowledge (or lack thereof).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Thinking Out Loud : More on a WW2 Wargame Campaign

As I continue to seek out ideas on running a WWII-based wargame campaign, I've made one firm decision (small victories, folks): one stand = one platoon.

I don't want to worry what 1st squad, 2nd platoon is doing. I assume they're doing what they are supposed to be doing. I do want to make sure 1st platoon, A company is where it needs to be.

This lines up with the One Hour Wargame platoon basing and what I've been using for most of my recent Morschauser games. Blitzkrieg Commander supports this basing, and so does ‘Tactical Combat’ WWII rules, of which Stu Rat reminded me. The latter two have much more WWII feel, but Morschauser is a good bit of toy-soldier fun that is hard to resist. The other real contender is Portable Wargames: Modern or perhaps the Big Battles version, which as they are on grids, feel like a blend of toy-soldiers and hex-and-counter wargaming.

I am leaning heavily towards a Morschauser strategic map campaign. What can I say? I really want to use those blocks for map movement. The benefit of Morschauser's system is that no record keeping is needed, at least for the losing force. In Morschauser terms, and as I'm imagining it, each command on the map will consist of a battalion, or some part thereof, on the table.

How I generate the tabletop forces I haven't decided quite yet, but these are the options I'm considering:

  • FiveCore Company Command force generator moved up a level (it's written for squad bases) each side could end up fielding anything from a platoon up to a battalion
  • OHW force generator, either as is (one company to one company + one platoon), double the units (two companies to two companies + two platoons), or some variant thereof where I roll to see if the units are doubled which would mean between three and eight platoons of infantry
  • Morschauser's or BKC's point systems and try to equip each side specifically for the scenario being fought
  • If using a Table-top Teaser or similar, bases my forces on TT's suggestions - scaled for 1 stand = 1 platoon

Regardless, I have some painting to do to field a full battalion of infantry of nine platoons for the US and Germans (We can quibble that some battalions should have 12 platoons depending on the year of the war) with three figs per stand. I'd prefer four, mind you, but I have no desire to paint as many figures as I'd need. As it stands, the US needs two or three figures and the Germans require four for 3-figure stands.

Some nice to haves:

  • assemble my 2nd PAK-40, and paint it
  • touch up the existing PAK-40 - it's in desperate need of it
  • acquire some ATGs for the US, as my existing field gun was broken during one of the many battles with Godzilla that my son and I play
  • acquire proper scout cars (I found that Solido makes one for the US and one for Germany, in 1/50)
  • acquire one more PZ IV in 1/50

And, since I mentioned him, here's a grainy pic of Godzilla:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Again into Buffalo Castle!

First, there was Edgar the Sickly and of the questionable career choice. 5'8 and a whopping 95 lbs, his general weakness (str 6, con of 11 however) and high IQ (15) lead to years studying, then writing copious amounts of poetry (talent: poet). What his parents, nor anyone else expected was the author of the renowned, Ode to a Handsome Milk Maid I Spied Not Creepily, and the epic, I Sing of Salt Marsh, to take up questing. 

He should have stuck to poetry: killed by a troll not moments after entering the castle

Then came Gorn the Dim Stonecutter, aka "Slim Speedy," Gorn was blessed with muscle and quickness (str 13, spd 14) but the intelligence of a walnut (iq 4). No one was surprised when the 6'7 160lb stonecutter gave up the daily grind for a life of adventure. 

Oddly, he was killed in the castle by sea creatures - two giant jelly-fish dropped on him, causing significant damage, and then later an octopus of unusual size bludgeoned him to death with its tentacles.

Finally, there came Joe Average. He lacked everything, but mostly creativity in choosing a name, descriptive of his abilities as it was. He had no talents, he couldn't be bothered. He adventured because it was something to do. 

He was crushed beneath the pounding hooves of buffalo on a vast and grassy plain deep within the castle that bears their name.


I did roll up another character, but that one came in at level two, thanks to a Dex of 23 and the adventure is for level 1 warriors. The 13 combat adds total he had would have been nice, but I didn't want a cake walk either.

Having now made several trips into Buffalo Castle, I'm not so sure I'll be going back again anytime soon. The gonzo-ness is wonderfully old school, but it seems like a bit of a "killer dungeon" for a lowly level 1 warrior and I'm getting tired of rolling up characters to have them die an encounter or two into the adventure.

It's a classic, and the 1st of its kind, and it has definitely helped me get familiar with character generation, equipment, saving rolls, and combat,  so I'm glad I gave it a go, but I have a lot of other solitaire modules / adventures to try.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Descent into Buffalo Castle - Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls

Saturday night, I broke out the Deluxe T&T rulebook for the second time, grabbed my freshly minted copy of the classic Buffalo Castle and prepared to roll up a new character. This is a solitaire adventure for a single low-level warrior, so Type (equivalent to DnD class) was predetermined.

For those familiar with earlier editions of T&T, char gen is pretty much the same as always. There is a starting talent thing that I don't recall seeing in 5th edition, but basically no surprises.

During the kick starter for Deluxe T&T, i purchased a factory sealed 5th edition boxed set, complete with dice with a troll face in place of the 1. The inaugural game with this system seemed like the right time to bring out those dice. The clatter of dice and the scratching of pencil on paper and:

First (that I said 'first' is already a bad sign) there was Thorn the Bearded, a viking type who rolled an abysmal Luck of 6, and a Constitution(which functions as Hit Points in T&T) of 8. Still, his other stats were good enough that he had 5 combat adds, and I hoped to get some decent armor, a shield and maybe a sword or some such.

Like DnD (at least the editions I'm familiar with), you roll 3d6 * 10 for starting gold.  I rolled a six. SMH. With 60 gp starting money it was not meant to be.

No matter though. 

Thorn fell into a pit almost immediately, in true old school fashion. While searching for a secret door, he was set upon by a giant jellyfish dripping deadly sliminess from above. As he wore no helmet, he was defenseless, and with his low constitution and the damage from the preceding fall, he was dead.

But fret not, for then came Karak, the Stout and Beautiful (Constitution of 29 and Charisma of 27. I rolled 18s for both! In  T&T, when you roll 18 you get to roll again and add it to the total ) His luck was better too, double Thorn's. Clearly, here was a hero.

Having learned from my mistakes Karak was equipped with a skull cap, and due to more bountiful coin (110 starting gp), he was better equipped all around.

Karak's first encounter was with a frighteningly large and aggressive octopus. Early successes against the first two of the eight arms eventually involved kept the fight within a reasonable chance of success and when all was said and done, the cephalopod was vanquished (for 80 Adventure Points).

Flushed with excitement, I eagerly scanned the paragraph for the details of its treasure. A die roll later, and alas, the creature had a meager treasure of but 10 gold.

Despite the ease by which he could have exited, Karak went further into the castle (the rules state that a character may only enter Buffalo Castle one time. So, if he left, he would be done with the adventure). At times he wandered through halls becoming hopelessly turned around (I really should have kept better track of where I had been). 

A wandering orc challenged him but was cut down with ease, and yielded a bag full of silver. In spite of his successes, our hero thought better than to try his luck with a gambling wizard. For his caution, the wizard cursed him with ugliness (halved his charisma, but still, at 14, Karak was at least Stout and Attractive, if not Beautiful) and called him chicken.

A stampede of buffalo was both a strange sight and a long encounter that left him more or less intact and with some valuable hides (5 g.p. each) to sell back in town. And again, Karak pressed on, sure that more treasure awaited.

Then, upon boldly entering one more room, an ogre bashed him senseless.

[In T&T doubles mean you can roll and add to the results to the previous roll and in one round of combat, the ogre rolled 51 points. A near miracle occurred as I rolled successive doubles myself, but my total was only 32. My armor absorbed 6 points - thanks to my warrior ability to wring every last bit of protection from it, leaving 13 to remove from my CON. Which, unfortunately was all I had left at that point.]

I spent a lot of time flipping through the rule book looking up this and that, but the adventure was fun, and frustrating in that i-want-to-play-it-again-and-do-better kind of way. I'll be rolling up another character soon and giving it another go.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

More Thoughts on a "Modern" Campaign

As I added to my previous post, rifling around through the books on my games shelf (a single shelf. I got rid of more than 1/2 of my gaming related books collection over the past year!) I discovered both Morschauser and Featherstone (in his Advanced War Gaming) provide some interesting mechanisms for running a map campaign.

Both have a simplicity that I like, although Featherstone muddies things up with several optional bits - more complexity sounds great to me at first, but I have learned that in war gaming ,and RPGs, for that matter, there is a point where my enthusiasm wanes in proportion.

Morschauser's system is the harsher of the two, in that if a force loses a battle, they are just done and no longer available for the strategic level. There is the benefit of no record keeping in that case, but it does seem a bit difficult to swallow. Still, he uses painted wooden blocks on a map and who doesn't like the sound of that?

Featherstone 's method for generating a random map sounds quite fun - using 2"x 2" painted squares drawn at random and placed into a 12" square frame .

I believe it was in Featherstone that I saw mention of the often cited "rule" of 1/3 of casualties are killed, 1/3 are wounded and not available for some time period and 1/3 are combat ready by the next encounter.

Even if I did not see it there, that rule of thumb has a long pedigree and who am I to resist something with such history?

Of course, I could combine the two (blocks on a randomly generated map, using casualty recovery)

The other issue I find myself considering is the level of command.

Initially, I was thinking commanding a company at most in a given game, however, a battalion would not be out of the question, either with Morschauser or Blitzkrieg Commander, both of which work with the same basing systems I intend to use. It's more a narrative question than it is a gaming issue.

Scenarios in any case, I think are well accounted for with Blitzkrieg Commander, FiveCore's Company Command, and Platoon Forward (moved up a level) all providing scenario ideas, plus One Hour Wargames, and tabletop teasers (and presumably, situations would naturally arise from the campaign).

Next, I need to look at my collection and see what, if anything, I want to paint (OK, need to paint. Want is a strong word) - I think I may be short some heavy infantry, and I know my anti-tank gun teams need some love.