Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Ever Expanding Dungeon: Session 13

Sister Linkat and Perceval needed a few days to recover from their latest ordeal. Word of their success against The Evil Wizard, White Eyes, had started to spread to some of the more distant logging camps, and even further to some of the other nearby villages undoubtedly spared from terrible fates by their heroic actions.

Perceval, the homegrown hero, spent the time among friends and family, but that brought him little solace. First, Malazar, and now Feldspar, he was the last one standing of the initial group to foray into the dungeon. He vowed that he would finish what they had started.

Sister Linkat's popularity brought her several converts to the worship of the Hedonistic Lumberjack, and she found herself for the next few days giving sermons and tending to the needs of the populace. It was then that she decided to adopt Woodbridge as the base of her ministry. She had fought to protect them twice, so when Perceval approached her about returning to the dungeon, she was glad to go along, if not for her deceased friends, then for the safety of the town.

One evening, as they met, as they always did, in the bar of the Zealous Dagger (which I had mistakenly been calling the Tenacious Dagger) to plan their next delve, they noticed a gritty, surly, bearded fellow buying rounds for some of the other patrons at the bar. He had, from what they observed, come into some money - someone mentioned he was a horse trader of some kind and had sold several of his small herd in town, while another mentioned that he was in fact, a wandering adventurer, sole survivor of a disastrous expedition. 

There was some truth to both as it turned out, and when Dleggit, a dwarf with a penchant for adventuring, sat down with Perceval and Sister Linkat, it was an obvious fit; he would join the party and venture with them into the dungeon.

At an adjacent table, a quiet, bearded man listened to their conversation before introducing himself as Lalifax. Formerly known among the Southern villagers as The Drunken Minstrel, he had taken up the study of the arcane arts and was desperate to learn about the underground worlds. He would join them as well.

Finally, the renown of Perceval and Sister Linkat enabled them to finally find a villager willing to enter the mildewy depths (for a guaranteed purse of 10gp to be paid to his family if he should succumb to the evils within the dungeon); Waldu would function as torch bearer, if necessary, and mule handler.

So much for introductions, let us get on with the adventure!

Their goal for this incursion was simple: finish the mapping of this labyrinthine level.

Choosing one of the known entrances closest to the unexplored section, the party cautiously moved through prior explored hallways. The mule took some coaxing at first, but once inside it meandered along with the best of them, thus freeing the party from having to carry all of their supplies.

The halls were surprisingly quiet, but the first room they entered was anything but.

After the party had wholly entered the room, drawn to the doors on the opposite wall, a secret panel in the floor slid quietly back [Rolled Rory's cubes: steps?, shadowy thing, dancing] and two ghouls crawled out to attack the party from behind.

Sister Linkat, who had been bringing up the rear became the focus of their attack. The strength of her armor prevented any injury to her and with that the party joined in the fight.

[Initiative:Party 3, Ghouls 6]

The ghouls were fast and before the party could react, they continued to assault Sister Linkat. The Hedonistic Lumberjack must have been smiling down on her as she fended off their blows.

As if to test that hypothesis, she pulled out her holy symbol in an attempt to turn the dastardly undead monsters. They looked at her quizzically.

Perhaps the Hedonistic Lumberjack wasn't so much smiling as grinning devilishly.

Lalifax ushered Waldu and the mule across the room to safety, while Perceval and Dleggit ineffectually entered combat.

[Initiative: Party 1, Ghouls 6]

With more targets to choose from, the ghouls changed their approach and decided to attack the obviously strongest, Perceval. He easily defended against the first, but the second is ferocious, ripping its claws across his face before sinking its penetrating daggers deeply into his shoulder, through his armor!

[9 points of damage and he failed his save vs. Paralysis]

Dleggit and Sister Linkat both crashed into the ghouls dealing damage as they did so. The tide was definitely shifting.

[Initiative: Party 5, Ghouls 2]

From his position, Lalifax could just get a clear shot to hurl a dagger at the ghoul attacking Sister Linkat, but if he missed he would most definitely risk hitting her.

[To test this, I checked first to see if he had a shot using a new method I found online called the "Enquiry Table." It uses 2d6, plus an adjective to determine the likelihood of the result and then gives the result as either "No and", "No", "No but", "Yes but", "Yes", or "Yes and." 

I decided it was a "long shot" and rolled a 5, 6 which is "Yes but" and decided if he missed he would automatically hit Sister Linkat for full damage.]

The dagger left his hand with deadly accuracy and caught the ghoul in its side. It let out an angry howl.

Dleggit continued to pound on the ghoul that had attacked Perceval. Each blow from his mighty war hammer sent shockwaves through the ghoul's body.

Sister Linkat swung her mace to crush the skull of her ghoul and it dropped in a heap.

[test morale of surviving ghoul: morale is 9, I rolled a 10.]

The remaining ghoul, seeing he was beaten, fled the room, out the door the party had come in through, hissing and snarling as he went.

As Sister Linkat cast Cure Light Wounds to heal Perceval [3 lousy points. Seriously, what does it take to please the Hedonistic Lumberjack?] (who was still paralyzed), Dleggit and Lalifax searched for treasure in the room and the hiding place from which the ghouls had sprung.

[I rolled to see if they had treasure and they did, which surprised me given how sparse it has been.

Rolling in the D30 DM Companion, I found that they had 6500 copper, 2 gems and 4 pieces of jewelery. The copper in a large cabinet, and the gems and jewelry in a ceramic urn. Both were hidden, but not trapped.

To find the treasure, the party had to roll for secret doors, once each per party member for the cabinet, and then again for the urn.]

Dleggit demonstrated his superior knowledge about all things underground and various construction techniques for such by finding both a hidden cabinet and a ceramic urn hidden in a cubby in the ghoul's hiding spot. The cabinet contained an enormous pile of copper plates, goblets and serving platters ,while the latter contained some gems and jewels [worth 1665 gp total].

The party loaded the mule with the treasure and waited anxiously for Perceval to recover from his paralysis. Once he had recovered they continued their exploration wherein Dleggit found not 1 but 2 secret doors. The dwarf had proven his worth. They also found another exit which would be beneficial later.

Unfortunately, they also failed to detect a pit trap and Lalifax fell 10' to a hard stone floor and to his death. With the mule along ,they opted to retrieve his body and carry it to the surface, but not before they completed their objective.

The final discovery was a set of stairs up.

Down those very stairs came a party of four heavily armed dwarves, bearing a litter on their shoulders and on the litter, a large ornate box.  [wandering encounter,4 dwarves, rolled Rory's cubes for more info: ray gun, giving a present, and I failed to note what the third one was]

Dleggit, being a dwarf himself, was the natural spokesperson for the party, but his greetings were met only with a solemn nod, and the dwarven litter bearers continued past.

At this, the party opted to exit the dungeon, their mission complete and treasure in need of conversion to coin, never mind the all too common occurrence of having to carry a dead comrade out of the dungeon for a proper funeral pyre.

When it came time to play last night, I wasn't feeling very motivated. I had just put the baby down for the night and the music we play for him almost always triggers a Pavlovian-type response in me: I become incredibly sleepy.

Still, once I sorted out the character sheets, copied Dleggit's info, and rolled up Lalifax, I was excited. The final mapping of the first level - something that has taken, well, I have no idea exactly,but a long time - was in reach!

That's the only reason the party didn't exit the dungeon immediately after Lalifax went to that big Hogwarts in the sky, they wanted to complete this mission.

And now I can't wait to send them back in, although, I may spend next week's session time converting the 1st level map into something I can share here.

Also, I think I need to make some of the stairs go up or down several levels for that Jaquay-ian type dungeon experience. Not sure how I'll approach that just yet.

In any case, I have some options for the next dungeon invasion: 

Level A (the level above level 1) has been barely explored although part of that is the goblin lair which has proven deadly every time I've even tried to make in-roads.

The 2nd level remains untouched, but given the party's average level is 1.6 (and will be 1.5 when I roll up the next PC), I'm likely to try and make some headway into level A through some of the other steps up.

I'm not sure where in the dungeon the dwarves live, but, given a mural found earlier, they have an observatory at the very top of the rocky ridge that houses the above ground levels of the dungeon, perhaps they'll find some more clues on level A.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It Got a Little Too Quiet Around Here!

We've been busy the past week with the first real cleaning the house has seen since our son was born (he's 18 months old). We also picked up a roommate which necessitated some rearranging of furniture and belongings and such. Consequently, I've had to choose between blogging or actual gaming related activities, and I went with the latter.

Earlier in the week I read Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering cover to cover. I stand by my earlier assessment of it. It's got good advice, but nothing that merits the prices used print copies are advertised for on eBay and Amazon. It is explicitly geared towards individuals with GM experience, unlike Gamemastering by Brian Jamison, which takes a GM from character generation through running a session.

One difference which I may place a little more importance on than most, is that Robin Laws at least seems accepting of the dungeon crawl, whereas Brian Jamison seems to have an obvious disdain for the style.

Never the less, the latter's book has already proven immensely helpful, and, since the PDF is free, of the two, it is probably the title I'd recommend if anyone asked.

I also finished reading Poltava 1709: Russia Comes of Age which has me  fired up for my Great Northern War project. On Tuesday night I had a little time to paint and work proceeded on the battalion of Kievski Regiment infantry.

Tonight, I had planned to run the first session of the post-apocalyptic fantasy game for Lady Shadowmoss, but those plans have fallen through (hence the time for blogging!) which means  more time at the painting table this evening.

Finally, tomorrow night I'll be playing Session 13 of The Ever Expanding Dungeon in which our heroes return to the underground to finish mapping the 1st level.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Puzzles in Solo RPGs: An Untested Method

I noticed the other night, as well as in previous sessions, that PCs in The Ever Expanding Dungeon have never really had challenges of the "puzzle" variety.

As I understand it, one criticism of puzzles in games is that they rely on player skill, not character skill. For people used to modern rule sets, that's a valid concern as the nature of role playing assumed is of the school of thought that says "my character is solving the puzzle and my character is smarter/dumber than I am." Older games tend to see challenging the player's ability to solve the puzzle as just another accepted aspect of the game, with no allowance made for character ability.

The other criticism I have seen is that either the GM creates a puzzle that is reduced to rolling various skill checks to solve, in which case the effort seems wasted, or the puzzle is either too easy or too hard for the players themselves to solve, producing either boredom or frustration.

For social games,I tend to buy into the dilemma of the second paragraph and that eliminates my desire to create puzzles in that case.

Solo games are a different animal though.

For one, I know what kinds of puzzles I like, and know at what difficulty I have a reasonable chance of solving them. I also don't mind if my personal ability is challenged. Still, I do want to make some allowance that my characters have abilities that I do not.

Here's what I' thinking - just a brainstorm, and fully untested:

I know I like sudoku. I also know that even when I'm in a groove, it can take me several minutes to solve even the easiest of them. So, I'll use sudoku as my out of game representation of the puzzle.

To account for in-game player advantages/disadvantages:

  • If a PC has an intelligence of 13 or higher, then if I roll under that number, I can add 1 minute (or some other amount of time) to the time I have to solve the puzzle.
  • If the PC has an INT of less than 9, and I roll under, I don't take a penalty, but if I roll over, then I take a 1 minute (or some other amount of time) penalty.
  • For those with average scores 9-12 - over yields a penalty and under yields a bonus.

I suppose an alternative would be to account for the difference between the rolled score and the INT score at 10 seconds per point.

Or perhaps just use the INT below 9 as a minus and INT above 12 as a bonus, but that method means that there's never a chance for luck(good or bad), a random spark of genius, or having a brain fart.

Hopefully, in the next session I'll have a chance to put one of these methods to the test.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Ever Expanding Dungeon: Session 12

[Q6. I had no idea what was going to be the challenge for the PCs with this question and then I rolled "levitating", "slime" and the frown-y face story cube, well there you go then, a floating 6' tall face made of slime]

As the party attempted to figure out just what to do, now that things had gone from bad to a whole lot more bad,  a hidden door slid open and through the passage flew the 6' tall twisted visage of a man’s face in dripping green slime, laughing maniacally. [AC 6, HD 3, # att: 1 either touch or vomit, all damage as ordinary green slime, MV: 60', F:3]

[I was starting to worry about the party's chance of survival and I opted to give Gelfat a chance to know that green slime can be damaged only by flame. After all, he's a few hundred years old and had plenty of time to study such things back in elf school right? In the event, he passed his attribute check.]

Gelfat recognized that it might be the kind of creature which can only be wounded by fire, but before he could tell anyone, the floating slime-face projectile vomited towards Perceval.  The slime blast landed far short and even with the splash, it did no damage.

"Everyone grab a torch!" yelled Gelfat.
The battle was quick and went to the party but as the last bit of the slime burned away, they could hear a laugh coming from the passage the floating green head had come, a laugh that sounded identical to that of the slime. 


With surprise so far removed from the realm of the possible and with no way to exit the tower, the PCs pressed onward with Perceval and Feldspar in front, Sister Linkat close behind, followed by Gelfat, the worst armor of the bunch , torch in hand, just in case.

[ Will the wizard be in this room - near sure thing, 86,yes]

Seated in a carved stone throne, a bald man with a long white beard, dressed in a hooded black robe glared at them with white, pupil-less eyes. To a one, the PCs were suddenly thrown into doubt about the very nature of this evil.

“This is fun isn’t it?” he smirked. 

From behind the throne stepped four abominations clad in gilded armor, with the legs, lower torso and arms of a man and the yellow-green chitinous head with glowing red eyes of a mantis.

[I decided for ease of stats to treat them as orcs but with a morale of 12.]

Gelfat dropped his torch (the room like the previous rooms was lit) and shield and prepared charm person, while the rest charged the mantis-men, doing their best to stay out of Gelfat's line of sight.

Things started out well - Feldspar cleaved the first mantis-man in two, but then the party faltered. Sister Linkat and Perceval both failed to do any damage, and although Gelfat had a clear shot at the wizard, he was unable to charm him. [the wizard was 9th level and just barely made his saving throw. Victory was so close. So very close.]

The wizard had seen enough and disappeared behind his throne and up the stairs.

Meanwhile the building was still shaking and debris continued to fall, [There were a number of tests to see if anyone on either side was hit, but no one was.]

The savage melee continued - Gelfat was badly wounded and then, in a shocking turn, Feldspar was run through and dropped on the spot. The natural leader of the group, the party's strongest fighter, dead. It was a lot to take in.

[Here I had to pause. The loss was real - he had been a key part of my stable of PCs for two months. Even when he was laid up in bed thanks to the giant centipede bite, I made sure to check his status each session. I'm glad he went down fighting and not falling into some spiked pit trap or succumbing to poison gas. He was the last PC from the original party to die - Perceval was an NPC to start for those who are new to the story]

Several tense round of combats followed - a slogging match of close calls and near misses, until Gelfat too was slain. That he died giving his all to save a small village of strangers, and the lives of his new found companions, will be remembered by all who tell the tale of this quest to slay this evil wizard.

[Now I became truly disheartened. Bluebear Jeff had imbued Gelfat with just enough personality that I could run with him and easily put myself in his shoes, without feeling hampered by a complicated back story. I was sad to lose him so quickly. I'm glad he went down swinging and not like a chump.]

Enraged and desperate, Sister Linkat and Perceval fought on until the mantis-men lay in heaps upon the floor. 

Without missing a beat, they raced behind the throne and up the stairs to stop the wizard and end this madness.

[Q8  and what a costly bunch of Qs it's been!]

[My random generator gave me giant, mirror. And I immediately knew where this was going.]

Sister Linkat and Perceval bounded up the stairs only to find themselves standing at the top of the shaking, collapsing, tower on a large circlular open-air deck. An intricate wrought-iron railing being the only thing between standing on the tower and free falling to the ground below. 

Before them, a great glass lens of enormous proportions, mounted on a complicated brass and copper machinery appeared to be pointed at Woodsbridge [I decided the village really ought to have a name], barely visible in the distance. 

Standing behind the lens was the mage.

“You seem to have forced my hand. And here i was going to give the village 5 days of terror to meet my demand. Too bad for them that you decided to take this approach.”

He began to move his hands and speak the words of some ancient spell.
[Before I rolled initiative, I had to find out some stats for the wizard. He had to be 9th level for some of the spells I imagined he had access to. I also figured if he'd survived this long, he must have a ring of protection and a decent DEX. I rolled his DEX as 6 + 2d6. 15, and gave him a ring of protection +2. AC 6, not bad for a guy in a bath robe.)

[Perceval planned to charge the wizard while Sister Linkat would charge and try to smash the lens with her mace. I rolled the dice, and the wizard won: 6-3]
The wizard cast his spell at the lens and a bolt of electricity shot from his body, slammed into the lens and was immediately amplified to many times its power. A split second later the entire destructive force was released upon the village.

Or it would have been.

Unfortunately, the lens wasn't quite as accurate as the wizard hoped, and it exploded in a shower of trees and earth. [curiosity, which, as they say, killed the cat, forced me to ask, first if the device was accurate. I set the chances at 50/50 and rolled 63, a "no". Then if the dungeon had been hit.  I gave it a 50/50 chance and sighed with relief when I rolled a 73 which is also a "no."]

"Damn gnomes," he cursed under his breath.

Perceval charged and struck the wizard [10 points of damage,but the wizard is 9th level and quite 

Sister Linkat attacked the lens with equal success. 

[To determine the roll to hit for the lens, I asked if the lens had an  ac of 5 and got a no, so I asked if it was higher (i.e. better or in reality, lower)? 22, Exceptional yes. The ac is 2, and random event!  ambiguous event, elements, vengeance.]

As the lens cracked, the sky began to darken, lightning flashed and then thunder roared - the sky opened up and rain poured down.

[In the next round, I gave the wizard a chance to have a wand, since, as I take it, if he's engaged in melee he can't cast a spell. I figured it was very likely and got a yes, and rolled up a wand of illusion. I asked if he also had a magic dagger, and got exceptional yes, which I decided was a +1 dagger with poison on the blade.  To see which he'd use, I ruled 1-3 = wand 4-6 dagger, rolled 1d6 and got 6, dagger]

Perceval was lucky the wizard missed, he didn't realize how lucky, nor did he have t he time as he was already swinging. He struck
 the wizard again [a whopping 4 points. 14 points total and  he remained on his feet].

[I then asked Mythic, does the wizard stay in combat? 50/50 80, no]

The wizard took stock of the situation and decided to fall back to the railing to give himself some space.

[He then won the initiative and I asked does he cast as a spell or try to escape. I figured one doesn't get to 9th level as a magic-user without knowing it's better to live to fight another day, plus it makes for a possible recurring villain.
1-3 spell, 4-6 escape, rolled 1d6 and got a 6, escape]

With a flourish he hurled himself over the edge. 

Sister Linkat and Perceval ran to the railing to watch the wizard's fall, but as the peered over the edge, they were met by an incredible flash of light and the wizard was gone.

There was little time to stand around and puzzle out what they had just seen, for the building began to crumble at an increasingly fast rate.
[Mythic, is there anyway for them to escape? 50/50 (you might scoff at those odds but it's an action adventure, surely the hero has a chance to escape certain doom. Otherwise, this would be Call of Cthulhu) , 36, yes.]

Perceval grabbed his rope, tied it to the railing on the side of the tower closest to ridge and he and Sister Linkat climbed down to safety. They continued running down the ridge as far from the tower as they could get, well, as fast as anyone in plate mail really can run, looking for a place to take shelter from the storm. 

Behind them, the tower collapsed into a spectacular pile of rock, dust and flame.


Early that evening, they arrived safely back in Woodsbridge already well involved in a joyous celebration - the villagers had seen the smoke from the collapsed tower and the explosion that tore up some of the pastures outside of town (no sheep were injured). The two were rewarded for their efforts, and for the loss of their companions, with free lodging as long as need be and each received a small sum of gold (10gp) as a token of the villagers thanks.

As a result of the threat they faced, however, anti magic-user sentiment will become prevalent in the communities within 10 miles of the ridge, as the story spreads of the fate that almost befell the small logging village.

And, of course, there’s no evidence the wizard was killed in the fall.

I have a lot to say about these two sessions, but I'll save most of it for another post.

It was gladdening, after so much loss, to see that both PCs earned enough experience to push them into 2nd level. Finally!

That it was a Pyrrhic accomplishment does detract from it a little bit, but only a little bit.

The Ever Expanding Dungeon: Session 11

When we last left our heroes, the sheriff had approached them for assistance in dealing with an evil wizard who had targeted the village with extortion and threats of annihilation.

I decided this adventure would be another using JF's 9Qs available from SoloNexus, and the setup proposed at the end of session 10 would take the place of Q1. Be the GM First. Play would start this session with Q1. Be the Player Next.

The party grilled the sheriff and learned the town can't afford the payments demanded and frankly they had no plan, hence the need for the PCs to intervene. The sheriff pointedly observed that the village had hoped the dungeon would bring a boom of adventuring types eager to spend their coin, but they have been slow in coming.

"And well, to be frank, those that have come have joined your group and either died or are standing right here."

The truth does hurt sometimes.

[At this point I figured I'd poll the party to see if anyone wanted to veto this adventure and instead return to the dungeon - but surveying their motivations showed me that clearly, they would accept it. Both Sister Linkat and Perceval because they want to protect the villagers, and for Feldspar and Gelfat, it promised adventure. So, no check was needed.

However, I wasn't going to assume they'd all support the same approach.

I decided to think about it from each PCs point of view and imagine each one making their points, typing it out as I went. The result of the imaginary dialog was that no dice roll was needed.]

After much back and forth, the party decided they would attempt to mount a surprise attack (aka assassination) on the wizard.

The sheriff, who had been standing by awaiting the party's decision asked the obvious "Why not best the beast he threatens us with?"

"Even if we fight it as a group, which is in violation of the challenge, we could very well lose to this unknown creature, and if we fight fairly, it’s likely neither it nor the wizard will," explained Feldspar.

Satisfied, the sheriff left the party to their planning.

Unfortunately for the party, Feldspar could no longer afford the mysterious Trulhammar Gax, and when offered the same sum by Perceval, he declined the offer. Before the day was out, they would acquire a mule to carry their armor the majority of the trip to the wizard's tower.

As usual, they would leave at first light.

[Overnight Sister Linkat recovered from her wounds. Q2 starts here]

Or that was the plan at least, but as they finished loading the last of their gear, they heard a scream coming from direction of the village square.

As they approached, 100s, then 1000s, of small spiders spilled out of the central fountain and poured down the streets. It was as if each drop of water had been replaced by a tiny arachnid, until finally a fearsome and angry giant black widow climbed out.

The party, of course, was unarmored, all of it had been strapped to the mule.

"Everyone, grab your shields and oil! l And light torches! I'll try to occupy it in the meantime!" hollered Feldspar as he knocked an arrow.

The ensuing combat was chaotic and left the streets filled with billowing smoke from the burning oil. The foul creature was finally slain when Gelfat charged in after the spider misjudged the distance to Sister Linkat and crashed to the ground stunned 

[i rolled a 1 for the black widow's attack and then checked the table I use for fumbles]

With the final sword stroke, all of the little spiders turned back into water, leaving the dirt and stone streets a puddle-ridden mess.


As the party stood about congratulating themselves, the black widow's body began to crack and flake into the sky like bits of burning paper until nothing remained of it. High above the village, the swirling black flakes transformed into a flock of ravens flying directly towards the wizard’s tower.

Realizing that they had just lost their chance of surprise, the party headed off as fast as they could.


The party tied up the mule, donned their armor, and then cautiously approached the rocky crag upon which stood the wizard's tower. Creeping along the rocky surface, they sought a cave that might lead them into the tower.

Once again, the hand of fate provided. [the Fate Chart to be precise]

A long twisting passage led them to a large,slightly open, metal door.

Inside, the party found themselves in a large circular chamber lit with torches all around. In the middle, approximately 6’ tall and 12’ long, stood a giant brass, copper and silver statue of a beetle. Or what they had hoped was a statue.

With a frightening clicking sound, it jerkily sprang into motion and advanced on them.

[ I made this up on the spot: Clockwork Beetle(AC 3, HD 3, MV 20’, ATT mandibles or special, mandible 1d8, 1 on 1d6 shoots a jet of flame for 1d8, save vs. dragon breath to take 1/2 damage, range of 50’, F:3, Morale: 12) ]

The party split up into twos to find a staircase up, with each pair taking a door on the perimeter of the room.

It took opening all three doors before the party found the steps, and not before Sister Linkat and Feldspar were both severely wounded by the mechanized beetle. In the safety of the stairwell, Sister Linkat cast her Cure Light Wounds on herself. [and recovered a staggering 2 points. things were looking grim]


The party followed the steps up into another open chamber, somewhat smaller than the previous.

On a large dais were two 7' tall glowing crystals, with arcs of electricity jumping from one to the other in a web of sparking light. There, in the gaps between the sparks, small bursts of blackness, like tears in the structure of the universe, appeared, accompanied by strange howling, screams of torment, growls and snarls which erupted from the darkness, then silenced a moment later when the tear closed.

Sister Linkat noticed that several symbols on the bases of the crystals belonged to evil gods and demons. Gelfat recognized many of the sigils on the walls as being magical though he himself couldn't read them, as his current memorized spell was charm person

Still, the purpose was easy to discern: the wizard was trying to bring or had already brought something over from another plane.

Sister Linkat suggested they topple the crystals, which was met with unanimous assent.

As the first crystal fell and shattered, the sparks and tears in the fabric of space and time ceased, the sigils glowed with a sudden intensity then disappeared from the wall, and the whole tower began to shake, loosened stones began to fall, and the steps they had just taken came crashing down. 

[stay tuned for the exciting conclusion aka Session 12 of The Ever Expanding Dungeon]

Friday, February 15, 2013

Five for Friday : Week of 2/8/13 - 2/14/13: Meteor Watch Edition

The Sky is Falling! (reported everywhere)

Big news today was that a meteor tore threw the sky over a city in Russia today and it was caught on video. Pretty amazing stuff. Not to mention how crazy powerful the shock wave was - putting a fair sized gauge in brick wall, shattering windows, flexing window frames, etc. Even without any kind of impact to the planet surface, it caused quit a bit of damage (most injuries due to shards of glass).

There has to be a way to work a meteor into one of my games.

Fantasy Background Generator Hack From Cyberpunk 2020 on Wrathofzombie's Blog
I love random generators. They're mini-games unto themselves (taken to the extreme, you get GDW's Classic Traveller where characters can die during generation). This one from Wrathofzombie is a lot of fun.

The B Team Can Relieve Your Campaign on Roles, Rules & Rolls

Roger the GS talks about having some second string characters to fill in on those days when one or more players are absent, and it's better to wait for their return than to move the campaign forward without them. It also works well when the main game has a lot riding on the PCs and the players or GM want  a game without worry about how much they've invested in the game and character so far.

How Can Impermanent Terrain Be Justified on SoloNexus

The idea is simple - terrain is not necessarily the constant we often take it to be. Artillery, weather and meteors can all reshape it. JF poses the question to his readers for ideas that can be used in a game to justify that change - to create new tactical challenges in play. The focus is on miniature gaming, but such things are not uncommon in the RPG world and the ideas mentioned are probably of use to both.

Mini Campaign II "Rear Guard" on The Wars of Wine and Cheese

This is eye candy pure and simple. The table and soldiers look beautiful. Hoping to get some time out in the garage this weekend to paint my own table top.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Manor #3 and a Solo Gamer's Thoughts

It's been some time since The Manor #2 arrived in my mailbox and I had grown quite antsy waiting for issue # 3.
The Manor #3, cover by The Happy Whisk

Zines, of course, aren't generally produced with any regularity or schedule - it's the rare one that ever sees a 2nd issue - I'm speaking here of the broader "zine scene" and not specifically the recent abundance (OK, that's maybe a stretch of the term) RPG related zines, which seem to at least hit issue 2 before they evaporate.

So, when Tim Shorts announced issue 3 was, in fact, ready, I immediately placed my order for a physical copy.

For those of you who prefer them, a PDF is also available on DriveThruRPG . The print option includes a coupon code for a free download.

But, please, spend the extra $1.00 and get the hard copy.

It's only my opinion, but as I see it, the physical nature of a zine is as important aesthetically as the content. I do not feel that way about most books or serials.

In any case, I think I placed the order Friday and I got the download code a short time after.  I didn't have any time to pick up the PDF before Tuesday, which is when the print copy arrived. On top of that, although I was able to give it a quick skim, I spent the bulk of my Tuesday evening helping Lady Shadowmoss make invitations for the bridal shower she is throwing for her friend.

As an aside, may I never have to see pink card stock again.

Last night, I had significantly more time to spend with The Manor #3. After a good read-through, I set about playing the included adventure. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

For your money, you get: an adventure for low-level characters, a fun NPC, two silly jokes that actually made me laugh out loud, a poem about black dragons and a new class for Blood & Treasure (although you can easily mod it for your preferred system).

For the most part, I'm going to talk about the adventure, but I do want to address something about the poem.

According to Tim's introduction, including poetry in his zine is controversial, but he made the decision to print it anyway (if you missed the umber hulk poem in issue 1, go get it). Zines are labors of love and since it's his zine, I think this was absolutely the right decision.

Besides, without it, there wouldn't be a reason to include the bad-ass dragon illustration.

I'll step off my soap-box now. (Admittedly it wasn't much of a rant, but I needed a segue.)

The majority of the issue is dedicated to an adventure entitled, "Mine of Rot & Disease."  It's stat-ed out for Swords & Wizardry, but I have been itching to give Searchers of the Unknown a try and opted to go that route.

And, of course, I ran it solo.

From a solo perspective, I would have liked to have had either the player facing info or the GM info highlighted in grey, as Tim did with issue #1's short adventure, "The Salt Pit" (see my review). However, the entries are consistently organized with player information first, immediately  followed by GM info. While it's not ideal, it's easy enough to work with.

Given the layout, I first thought I'd run the game as a GM and use Mythic for the players, but part-way through, I opted to use the general method of the SoloNexus 9Qs of "Be the Players" , "Be the GM" and alternate. To prevent the experience from becoming a writing exercise, and to keep it game-y, I used Mythic for decisions on both sides, with PC characteristics to aid in decision making for the PCs.

I'm not sure how it happened, but by the end, I was playing the PCs and Mythic was controlling the GM side of things. Apparently, that's my natural inclination.

The party may have been better off with Mythic!

They didn't get past the 2nd cavern in the mine before they had to abandon the mission and get a severely injured comrade back to the village. That was after facing 4 skeletons and 5 zombies. The former they overcame easily, but they fled from the latter, using burning oil to aid in their escape. On the way back they encountered and dispatched a lone zombie - a random encounter.

Tim notes the adventure is for total of 6-8 levels. I had 4 characters, three were 2nd level and one was 1st, for 7 levels total, and basically, they got nowhere. I suppose they could have left their fallen comrade and pressed onward, but their personalities, Mythic, and I all thought otherwise.

So, at first blush, at least, this adventure is a tough challenge for a small party, even if they meet the suggested level rating - better suited might be a larger party of primarily 1st level characters. As my PCs in my own solo game tend to die with clockwork regularity, this is quite acceptable and part of the fun - but I couldn't run this for Lady Shadowmoss, with her new school sensibilities.

Tim does suggest a cleric would be helpful, and with plenty of undead, it's probably a good idea for the party to have or hire one. SotU does not have clerics as a class in the original version - they tend to temples, they don't go off exploring - so, my party did not.

Looking ahead (since I am the GM too, after all, even if Mythic ultimately controls the NPCs), I see that there are two fairly significant foes to face. Here, the higher level characters will be at an advantage, provided they have the HP. I'll be surprised if my small party of mostly 2nd level PCs survives to the end, considering only 1 has double-digit HP.

They'll make a trip back in regardless, as Tim promises states there's a related adventure to follow.

My only complaint about the "Mine of Rot & Disease", is that on page 5, the first sentence of the section labeled "The People of Aberton" reads, "The following villagers are most capable," but, there are none listed!

The NPCs are, in fact, present in the PDF file.

Although I recalled reading that the PDF had extra pages for NPCs, I hadn't realized they were for the adventure. A simple note to see the PDF would help avoid any confusion.

You can't go wrong spending $3.50 on The Manor #3. Even if are a joyless curmudgeon that can't see the fun in dropping Pog Nog the goblin into your game or you think a haiku ode to the black dragon is nonsense, there's an adventure w/ map, new magic items, and ideas and inspiration galore throughout.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

RPG Madness: Recent Acquisitions

I've been doing a bit of bargain hunting lately for RPG related items and I've had some good luck including old issues of Dragon (they're "reading" copies, not collector's items) and GDW and Judges Guild Traveller materials (none of which cost more than $0.89)

In the foreground you'll see the recently published items - Gygax and The Manor were both full price, and well they should be. Indeed, I'd have paid more for The Manor if necessary.

Monsters of the Endless Dark was less than $1 and looks to have a lot of unusual monsters that I can drop into just about any game. It's d20, but that's easily adapted.

Although I'm happy to have acquired Robins' Laws of Good Game Mastering, let me say, save your money. If you must have it, get the PDF unless you happen to stumble on a reasonably priced print edition. Some of the prices this is listed for are just absurd and I haven't read anything in the content that justifies that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Awarding Non-treasure XP in Solo Labyrinth Lord or Similar RPGs

One problem with removing XP-for-gold from a game where that is the driving force behind the level advancement mechanic, is that you're left figuring out how to award XP in a manner that allows for reasonably paced level-advancement

Actually, let's back up: the problem also was noticed that, in randomly generating the contents of The Ever Expanding dungeon, treasure has amounted to 600sp. That would be fine for a silver standard game, but I'm running it as a gold standard monetary system.

The majority of the party's gain, monetary and thus XP, came from the 9Q session during which the party found the treasure of the massacred gnoll village and the ogre's treasure - neither of which was inside the dungeon proper. 

Relying on random placement and generation of treasure, thus far, has made all of the character death seemingly pointless. If these were being run by players in a social game, I am sure that I would have a hard time convincing them to go back into the dungeon.

In a social game, however, I can give out role-playing awards in varying amounts to balance this.

Playing solo, as I primarily do, that seems a bit like cheating:

"Hey John, great job today playing Feldspar, loved the pantomime communication with the kobolds. 500 XP for him. And 600 XP for Sister Linkat, I really thought it was her at the table at times."

Yes, that seems just a trifle odd.

Ok, then, what to do? Turn to the interwebz, of course.

Here are my current guidelines for awarding XP, which I assembled before Session 10. None of the below is original to me, but unfortunately, I can't recall which sites provided which suggestions*:

Guidelines for the Standardized Awarding of Non-Gold XP

  •  For every point of damage a PC deals out, they get 10 XP.  (I)
    • Damage dealt via a natural 20 earns 20 XP per point of damage dealt (I)
  • For every point of damage they suffer, they get 20 XP. (I)
  • For every use of a class specific skill (casting a spell, turning undead, picking locks, etc.) successful or not - 75 XP * character's level (I)
  • For every attribute check, pass or fail, 10 * result of the value rolled * character's level (I)
  • For every saving throw, pass or fail, 10 * result of the value rolled  * character's level (I)
  • For each new room discovered or stairwell located, 100 XP * dungeon level (P)
  • For each encounter survived - 20 XP * dungeon level (I)
  • Monster XP as given in rules - negotiating, turning, or killing earn same XP (P)

(I) = an individual award
(P) = a party award to be divided amongst the PCs and NPCs, the latter counting as 1/2.

In addition, I completely eliminated XP-for-Gold. That's right, not even XP on a fractional basis.

When session 10 was over, each PC came away with 200-300 XP each.

That might sound like I was overly generous - but I think the fact that, after the 9 sessions prior, only 1 PC was even half-way to 2nd level is enough to demonstrate that I needed to come up with a better method.

This is especially true if I hope to run LL or B/X as a social game again for players with advancement expectations shaped more by modern rules.

The awards have the added benefit of encouraging me to involve the PCs,  in a method consistent with their motivations, backgrounds and skill sets. I found it easier to have each PC participate in the narrative in a personality-centric way.

I plan to run a few more sessions this way and see how the XP awards play out. Thus far, I'm fairly satisfied that they're working as desired.

*EDIT: the damage for XP comes from The Tao of D&D 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Five for Friday: Week of 2/1/13 - 2/7/13: Space Marine Edition.

In the Future, All Space Marines Will Be Warhammer 40K Space Marines
MCAH Online

GW is throwing its weight around, claiming trademark infringement by an author using a term in use almost since the dawn of the sci-fi genre. Many, myself included, are not at all surprised by this action. Just one more reason for me not to purchase GW products.

Dwimmermount, 3x5 Geomorphs, The Tome of Adventure Design & Boring Adventure Design
Blood of Prokopius

FrDave covers a lot of stuff in this post, but what caught my eye was the mention of my favorite office supply: the 3x5 index card. He notes that "[he] challenged folks to start working on 3x5 geomorphs, but that, too, has thus far fallen on deaf ears."

I rather like the idea of geomorphs on 3x5 cards. 

When I was trying to run the Labyrinth Lord social game in November-ish, I drew up maps of the towns, as well as one dungeon map, on 3x5 index cards. They are so much easier to shuffle through than full size paper. I've got a pile of things I'm working on right now - but I find the appeal of doing dungeon-y goodness on a 3x5 is too hard to resist.

Morale & Fog of War

Bluebear Jeff discusses his method of inserting fog of war into his tabletop games via morale by rolling varying numbers of average dice based on the unit's rating . Most interesting to me is that, after the battle, if one unit of an army improves their morale to a higher rating, another unit must consequently worsen. 

Savage Menagerie: Nosfrogtu
The Savage AfterWorld

The picture just cracked me up.

Lady Shadowmoss upon seeing it exclaimed, "You're not putting that in our game are you?" 

I denied any such intention, but of course, I can't help it if they show up uninvited.

On Gameplay in the Megadungeon
Hack & Slash

-C breaks down the key elements of play when traipsing through a megadungeon. If you already enjoy this kind of game, you probably won't learn anything new, but if you aren't familiar with it, you may be thinking: smash the door, kill the monster, take their loot. 

And, in that case, you really should read this.

Speaking of megadungeons, session 11 of The Ever Expanding Dungeon will have to wait until next week to be played. My parents will be visiting this weekend and there hasn't really been any time to game this week  (plus I want to write about why and how I changed XP allotment last session).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

First Wargame of 2013: Proof that I Still Push Toy Soldiers Around

With all of the RPG related posts lately, I was starting to feel the need to demonstrate that I do, in fact, still enjoy wargaming.

For my 1/32 WWII gaming, I recently took a fall down the rabbit hole, toying around with a mash-up set of rules consisting of ideas from Featherstone's simple WWII rules, Morschauser's modern game rules, Risus! Skirmish (which itself is based on Crossfire), and Disposable Heroes: Coffin for 7 Brothers (which I'm really starting to like).

On Saturday night, for the first time in 2013, I broke out some little plastic men and vehicles and rolled some dice.

It doesn't look like much, but here's a picture from the "play test":

Dice indicate which units have activated - I was lazy and didn't feel like getting out the glass beads or making cardstock markers. Heck, I didn't even bother to put down a ground cloth!

The figure to man/vehicle ratio can be whatever you want it to be, but for this example, it was 1:3.

  • The Germans had 2 troops of tanks, and 1 platoon of infantry - they had to hold the hill for 6 turns.
  • The Russians had 2 troops of tanks and 1 company - 2 sections - they had to get the Germans off the hill.

The game was fun and since all the rules were in my head, it moved along rather smoothly. Although the Germans managed to keep the Soviet advance at bay, they were knocking at the door. 

I cannot overstate how much I love playing with the larger scale figures. Yes, they're impractical in some sense (storage mostly, from my point of view), but there is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia I get from them.

If it looks like I'm playing with toys, then I'm the right track!*

*with respect to the appearance of the game - specifically how close everything is. The figures will not remain unpainted forever. I have plans you see...

Update on New Year, New (Social) Game with USR

Last night, Lady Shadowmoss and I sat down for a character generation session for the post-apocalyptic science fantasy adventure(s) I'm going to run for her (and maybe some others if things work out) using  the awesome and free Unbelievably Simple Role-playing Game.

Although I just purchased a print copy of Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering, it hasn't arrived yet, so I was following the advice given in the free download, Gamemastering: The Essential Guide for Roleplaying Gamemasters.

After reviewing my concept of the game world with her, we walked through the character interview process described in the PDF using something of a cross between the action oriented player (thus a shortened set of questions) and the full version.

I am sold on this method.

By asking her questions and following up on her answers, offering my own ideas and getting her to elaborate more on her ideas, the end result was a collaborative honing of the game world and shaping of the character that left us both enthused. She noted that she understands her character's place in the world and the world itself, even more so than some of her LARP characters.

The character she is playing is the runaway daughter of a warlord, betrothed to another warlord's son - a political act to unite the two groups. She wanted nothing to do with the arrangement and broke the contract - with her father's support, despite the fact that it will bring the two clans to war. What none know, other than her father and her best friend, is that she was born with the gifts of a technomancer, and she has every intention of learning what she is capable of.

In story terms, she is something like a human trickle charger / generator, with the ability to power up electronic devices from a long forgotten age (she found a cell phone while scavenging, and it lit up when she picked it up, although the character doesn't know it's a cell phone of course) but she has some minimal mental manipulation of her power at this time (it will increase as her character goes up levels).

As her powers grow, she'll discover new abilities which we'll figure out through game play.

In mechanical terms, I'm treating technomancy like I treat magic for magic-users, a Wits based ability, due to the mental control factor.

I'm starting her at 2nd level. She  has Actions: d8, Wits: D10 and Ego: d6. Her specialisms include: Technomancy (Wits + 2), Stealth (Action + 2), Diplomacy (Ego + 2), Scavenging (Wits + 2).

With all of the details generated including goals - short term and long, friends and foes, and motivations, I have plenty of information to prepare a conflict (or two or three) to gain her character's attention, requiring her to utilize one or more of her specialisms and face numerous obstacles.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Group Decision Making in Solo Games

As I noted in the last write up of The Ever Expanding Dungeon, I tested out a mechanism for handling how the group makes decisions.

My rationale is that, as the only player in charge of 4 or more characters that make up the party, I need someway of making non-obvious decisions account for the individual desires of the various personalities, without sitting there arguing with myself. The latter, for all of the role-playing joy it would give, doesn't really remove my own preference from the equation.

In cases without a clear majority in favor or against an idea, the method I used, which emerged from the comments on this post, was:

  1. Add up the CHR scores of those in favor, i.e. "yes"
  2. Add up the CHR of those not in favor, i.e. "no"
  3. For those that are 50/50 because I just don't know which they'd choose, but I believe they'd side one way or another, roll on the Mythic Fate Chart for 50/50 and then add their CHR to the appropriate side.
  4. For those that are truly 50/50 because the character themselves wouldn't have a preference, ignore their CHR.
  5. Subtract the smaller sum from the larger and the result becomes a modifier on the Mythic Fate roll. Add the value if the difference favors the "no" side, and subtract if favors the "yes."

In play, it's fast and easy to use, but being a typical gamer, I can't help think it could use some tweaking.

Primarily, I'm bothered by the fact that it doesn't really account for the strength of the preference. A "Very Unlikely" and a "Somewhat Likely" have exactly the same weight.

Here's an idea that struck me while riding the train to work this morning. It uses the following chart to modify the base Charisma score:

  • Impossible: Charisma + 5
  • No Way: Charisma + 4
  • Very Unlikely: Charisma + 2
  • Unlikely: Charisma + 1
  • 50/50: Charisma does not get included in the test*
  • Somewhat Likely: Charisma
  • Likely: Charisma + 1
  • Very Likely: Charisma + 2
  • Near Sure Thing:  Charisma + 3
  • Sure Thing: Charisma + 4
  • Has to Be: Charisma + 5

*For those who are 50/50 but I roll for to find out their preference prior to rolling for the group - they are treated as Likely or Unlikely. That's arbitrary, but it seems to work.

Then just follow the steps 1-5 above, but use Charisma + modifier instead of just Charisma to account for the weight of their preference, in addition to their persuasive ability.

Normally, weighting is done with multiplication but with whole numbers, that resulted in some really huge modifiers that didn't seem at all correct. Using fractional weights worked well, but would necessitate the need slowing down to do the multiplication by hand or using a calculator, plus rounding the result (before or after the summation?).

I played with a couple of test scenarios and different CHR values, and simply adding whole numbers is far faster and gives a good result that I can work with.

One final option that I haven't tested:
If the PC is wounded below 50% of HP, then +1 (or +5?) to whatever they would choose. I figure, if someone who is badly wounded wants to continue, or to fight, or to run, or to rest, it seems like the party should give them some additional preference. After all, they're most likely to die if things go wrong.
Of course, this assumes a primarily Lawful or, at least, Neutral, party.