Friday, February 28, 2014

A Player's Guide to Gorgoroth

Tonight, I kick off my B/X mini-mega-dungeon campaign at a local game shop, so nearly every spare minute the past few weeks has been dedicated to preparing for it (the problem with creating a dungeon with multiple connections between different levels is that you never know where the players might end up, even in the first session, so there's a LOT of prep to do up front. Basically it's a small-scale sandbox.)

Below is the contents of a document I prepared for the players, to introduce them to the base town, located a stone's throw from the dungeon. I thought a travel guide style would be fun to attempt - I didn't want to eliminate the need for some exploration of the town/village but at the same time, i thought there were some basics the characters would have already become familiar with.

Population: 500ish
Government Officials: Sheriff Arnax and Deputy Gygenson,  by appointment of the town council


Located just south of the foothills of the Towering Mountains of the Thunder Wrestler, and east of the Tanaelva River, is the quiet town of Gorgoroth. Despite being the northernmost settlement in the region, Gorgoroth regularly welcomes outsiders, who come to purchase or barter for its quality wood, sustainably harvested from the surrounding forests, and for casks of the finely crafted beers of the Haunted Keep Brewery.

Surrounded by a wooden palisade, Gorgoroth’s wattle and daub construction is supplemented by exquisite stone buildings, like Draka’s tower, the Shrine of the Punishing Ox, and the renowned Haunted Keep Brewery.

Visitors used to a certain level of sophisticated quality will find their needs best met at the Shining Sparrow bed & breakfast, in Upper Gorgoroth, while for the more budget conscious traveler, The Mournful Phoenix in lower Gorgoroth is the place to go. Your host, Burzum, and his wife Gertrude will make your stay a delight as they serve you some of the most amazing meals for little coin.

Sights to see:

Gar Draka’s tower - The beautiful stone work alone is worth the visit, but it is also home to a sage of some renown, Gar Draka. Known for his work in botanical studies, his time is quite valuable, so appointments are required and should be made with his assistants.

Shrine of the Punishing Ox - Sanctioned by the Bishop of the Cathedral of the Iron Tiger in Hedeby, the shrine is maintained by Sister Ingrid, by permanent appointment. The massive white granite statue of Lord Ox is said to grant blessings to all who pray at it.

The Ruins of Trelleborg  - Located on a rocky crag in the foothills about half-a-day away, we advise all visitors to Gorgoroth to avoid the ruins of this borderland fort at all cost, given its history of evil and the tragedy of The Last Garrison. The ruins are best viewed from a distance in bright daylight.

The Haunted Keep Brewery -Open for business year round, visitors can sample Black Dougal Stout, Gary Sent Us Pale Ale, and Silverleaf Pilsner. Nestled in a woods on Morgan’s Creek, the brewery is one of the oldest buildings in Gorgoroth.

Friday, February 21, 2014

One of those Revelations That Happen Every So Often

I posted this picture yesterday on G+ - noting that I might have a small addiction now to W. Britain figures.

Other awesomeness in the picture: a d20 stamper, Wally Simon's Solo Secrets of Wargame Design and Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad #1.
In addition to the soldiers pictured (all birthday presents), I have a US MG crew and 3 more infantry en route (also b-day gifts).

I think I am most surprised by how much I love playing even the simplest scenarios with them (I've played a few tests of some rules I'm tinkering with). 

Maybe because they were gifts? Maybe because they're Britains? Maybe because it feels like I'm tapping into the same inspiration that brought forth Little Wars?

When I began miniature gaming some 7 or so years ago, I used unpainted plastic cheap army men. This was followed by home-made 1" counters (for Adventures in Jimland), and  finally unpainted 54mm plastic cowboys and Native Americans for some 1st ed. Six Gun Sound action.

I had a blast with all of that, but I kept seeing the pictures in blogs, and TMP and other places of painted forces, so when I moved into WWII, I decided to go to 1/72, and slighlty later, for Victorian Sci-Fi, 15mm, painting the figures seemed the obvious choice,  in both cases.

It's been a love-hate relationship with painting ever since. It is, mostly, relaxing. I find it enjoyable to research uniform colors and try to come up with something close. It's satisfying to paint a complete unit and see them arrayed before me on the table. 

But it is not quick, not for me.

If miniature painting was my hobby, this would be of no concern. After all, if painting is why you are doing it, then if it takes a long time, who cares? That's the most enjoyable, fulfilling and satisfying part. When you are finished, you admire it, and then paint the next figure that strikes your fancy. 

But painting has at best only been half of the equation. For me, it's the game that matters, at least equally, and generally, more so.

(to be sure, I could break "the game" into at least three components: research, rules tinkering, and playing, but let's keep this on point)

The inevitable delay between inspiration and the time the force takes the table means a waning enthusiasm , which makes the continued painting necessary a chore, not an enjoyable respite from chores, until the enthusiasm returns. But who is to say when or if it will return?

Witness so many gamers with partially completed forces tucked away in shoeboxes for projects that might never see the light of day.

I don't know why pre-painted figures (either from the manufacturer or others) never really occurred to me. But now that I have experienced the joy of getting the mail and being able to field a painted unit that night, I will expand my pre-painted forces.

Put down your pitch forks, please, I'm not abandoning painting. 

For one, I don't want my other 1/32 figures to feel badly about themselves when fielded with the Britains! 

Second, even painted plastic isn't cheap - this is not a grand scale approach, but rather, something to increase my enjoyment of the hobby when I can take advantage of it.

And, I do enjoy painting, for all of the reasons I listed above.

But, I can field units easily this way (we only have so much time to do the things we want to, do we not?), thus allowing me to spend that time on other things - like scenery construction, rules tinkering, research, painting figures (wait? what? Yes, but I can paint less of them!) and of course, actual gaming.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How to Host a Dungeon Changed My Life

photo "borrowed" from Planet Thirteen Games.
The other day (week), I had a life-changing experience.

That sounds a little dramatic.

What I mean is, I had a paradigmatic shift in my approach to thinking about dungeon design, all thanks to How to Host a Dungeon, from Planet Thirteen.

I picked this up when I ordered The Purple Worm Graveyard because 1)it's about dungeons (duh, do you need a better reason?) and 2)it's a solitaire game. I was powerless to resist it.

In brief: the game starts with the land in a pre-dungeon state and takes it through several ages, from construction to manipulation to the arrival of The Big Bad and beyond if you desire. The resulting map and history can then be used to create a dungeon for use with your favorite RPG.

So, what exactly was so great about it?

For one, I rarely draw dungeons from the side-view (like the example of the Haunted Keep's levels in Moldvay Basic) but there is an obvious benefit for starting there - it's easy to see how the levels physically relate to each other and where the connections might be.

Second, it reaffirmed the benefit of something I've been doing lately: drawing maps on blank paper. The lines aren't perfect and the dimensions aren't precise(that can be hand waived as "settling" and such) but, importantly, it frees you from the stiff linear nature of graph paper. The resulting look can be more organic or in my case, it looks like the levels were constructed by drunken dwarves.

Finally, the game gave me a real sense of the history of the place. This is the part that really gets me excited.

Knowing why each level was constructed, it's easier for me to produce a traditional top-down map: I know what features to include on each level. I also know what may have survived from the earliest days of the dungeon, and what has likely been overlaid/built-upon/destroyed by successive generations of inhabitants. When I felt like sketching a few additional levels, i found it easy to justify their existence into the whole story.

The best part? I only completed the first two "Ages" of the dungeon and my brain was off and running! This is absolutely worth checking out if you're into solitaire games and/or dungeon settings.

Will this have any benefits at the table? I'll find out soon enough, as I'm going to be running a dungeon-based campaign (I'm calling it a "mini mega-dungeon campaign", an idea taken from Dyson's Delve) in this dungeon in less than 2 weeks.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Friday Night Tank Ambush

In an effort to bring my new panzerfaust team into the action again, I decided to play a variation of Scenario 2 from the Nuts! 2.0 rulebook:

The Soviets had to get across the board and I, playing the Germans, had orders to stop them.

I looked at the options for the original scenario and decided the Soviets would field one T-34/76 with tank riders, and then roll on the reinforcements table for their other unit - and they got a second tank.

Tank riders.
I used the small playing area again and changed movement to multiples of 5". I also couldn't find the stone walls for the farm house, so I made do with dungeon tiles:

I had my infantry laying in wait to flank the armor.

The Soviets were cautious and it took a long time for them to move up. When it came time for the first In-Sight, I decided to use the CR3 In-Sight test, rather than the Nuts! 2.0 method.

I don't know if it was me or  what, but the game never felt right. I really like CR3, so I think the mechanism is pretty sound.

In large part, i think, it was because I hadn't played the rules in awhile and had to look so many things up - especially for the armor.

There was one high point. My panzerfaust took out a tank! :

I played for well over an hour before I finally called the game - things were not going well for the Germans - what you can't see below is that the bottom T-34 had wiped out my LMG team with it's co-ax MG. A few more turns and the Soviets would make it off the table, or reinforcements could arrive, prolonging the conflict and I was out of time:

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything : W. Britain's Toy Soldiers!

Today, I turn 42, hence the post title. Hard to believe - in fact, it's probable that I actively resit believing it!

My girlfriend surprised me with the Wehrmacht Panzerfaust Team from W. Britain - a birthday present I was allowed to open on Friday:

I couldn't let their arrival go unheralded, but I had no scenario in mind, nor did I have any idea what rules I'd use. So, I basically played this scenario, but this time, I controlled the Germans and brought some more toys into the mix.

For rules, I used Featherstone's simple WWII rules from War Games: Battles and Manoeuvres with Model Soldiers (I have the John Curry reprint), rather than DHC7B, because I'm rusty with the latter, while the former is brain-dead simple. 

Feathersone uses 10-figure companies in the book, so, you could say that it was 1 company per side. In my head this was a platoon or company as much as it was individuals - something I think Featherstone's, and other old-school individual figure rules support, even if unintentionally.

The German OOB:
1 Kublewagen w/MG
1 Sd.Kfz. 251 w/MG + carrying one Anti-tank squad
1 10 figure unit of infantry

The Soviet OOB:
2 x T-34/76
1 10 figure unit of infantry

The kitchen table was off limits, and since the arrival of a puppy in our household a few months ago, my cat, Pumpkin, has been taking her meals on my table, so space was at a premium. I broke out two sheets of squared green poster board and squeezed it onto my table between the cat-food and the hobby supplies.

I modified the measurements in the rules to be multiples of 5" so I could use the grid to speed measuring.

Here are some pics of the battle:
This is after turn 1 I think - both sides made it onto the table.
The new guys ride in style. Jake the Dog is photo-bombing!
If it wasn't for those damn woods, the Sdk's MGs could have wiped those Ruskies from the table.
Fire fight in the Seussian Forest!
The triumph and tragedy of war.
Don't ask what my plan was with the kubelwagen was, it was't a good one. Clearly.
A rather ignominious debut for the panzerfaust crew. The grey dice represent the saving throws for the two Germans. A 5 or 6 was needed.
End of game.

It was not a good day for the Germans, to say the least.

 My plan to have the panzerfaust team flank the tanks behind a screen of infantry was an epic failure. That screen was decimated and the crew raced back to the road to disembark the transporter in hopes of getting at least one shot at the lead tank, at which point they were mowed down by some Soviet SMG-armed troops. 

In retrospect, I'm not sure why they I didn't just have them shoot from the Sd.Kfz.

On the last turn played, the transporter was the only thing in the way of the Soviet's exit - I had one infantryman left, and a lot of good he'd do me without any anti-tank weapons, so, I conceded the battle to my worthy opponent: myself.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Black Streams : Solo Heroes : A Review

Scarlet Heroes RPG by Kevin Crawford seems to be the darling Kickstarter of the OSR at the moment. And with good reason, I think: it addresses an issue that is not at all uncommon, 1 player with 1 GM.

At least, it's not all that uncommon for me; most of my RPG-life I have GM'd for one or two players. Indeed, in March, I will be running a game for one PC, and my most recent home game was just two PCs.

Now, I haven't pledged my support yet, but I've checked out Black Streams : Solo Heroes, a freebie from Mr. Crawford, and, as I understand it the concepts from it appear in Scarlet Heroes. And what concepts they are!

As promised in the copy, no change is needed to the character sheet, no change of the basic mechanics of your favorite rules set. What he changes is how you use the numbers and how damage is delivered to PCs vs how it is delivered to NPCs/Monsters - and the result is staying power for your 1st level PC even when outnumbered or the victim of poor dungeon delving skills that result in setting off traps.

I can see how this would be useful for using pre-published adventures, where adjusting the size or strength of the encounter would weaken its impact (as opposed to a GM-created adventure that takes the lone PC into account from the very beginning). It also allows for the creation of a different kind of low-level adventure.

If you are committed to the idea that the game is one of nobodies struggling and dying on their way to fame, fortune and hero status, Solo Heroes might cause you some shock.


Because, now, your 1st level PC can take on 4 skeletons at once and make a good showing of it. The PC isn't a nobody in armor, but an individual better suited to the adventuring life than that. They are a hero of sorts at the outset, in the sense that they are able to withstand blows that would kill another quite easily. For some, this is blasphemy of the highest order.

But, in a one PC game, I'm not sure this is all bad.

While I don't particularly care if a PC I'm playing bites it, character frailty at low-levels does make extended campaign play with a single PC difficult. It also makes playing a Conan or other solitary hero almost impossible. And I know that not everyone is so flippant about their character's survival.

The real benefit to using Solo Heroes, is that it doesn't increase the class abilities of the PC in any way as a side-effect of increasing PC longevity.

Your 1st level Magic-User STILL has just one first-level spell to work with that adventuring day and no more than 7 HP (in the unlikely event they get the  +3 CON bonus). Your 1st level thief is still barely more competent than the average street urchin. Your 1st level cleric has no spells (assuming you're playing B/X as written).

So, you still have the fun of leveling up and gaining power but your risk of dying before you ever see any kind of growth is mitigated. Compare that to the experience you might have if you start your PC at 4th level in order to ensure their survival in a low-level dungeon.

From a solitaire player's perspective, it allows the player to run/identify with a single character instead of having to play an entire party. In essence, it increases the opportunity for deeper role-play in a solitaire game , if that's something you desire.

So, yes, I'll be backing the Kickstarter. If you're unsure it's for you, I highly recommend downloading Solo Heroes though - it's free and usable right away.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Say What? Alignment Languages.

I've been thinking about whether or not to use alignment languages in my upcoming B/X mini mega-dungeon campaign. I mean, let's face it, they aren't listed as an optional rule, but they are among the first things dropped or forgotten.

Without doing any actual research, other than reading other blogs, it seems the alignments arise from the assumption that the game world is one that is embroiled in a struggle between the forces of Law and Chaos. All are soldiers in this great war, with the Neutral folks either being wishy-washy, fence sitters or universal harmony types. 

Alignment languages, therefore, allow those on the same side to communicate despite language barriers that arise from differences in geography, species or even plane of existence.

This is rather important when coordinating a war effort on such a grand scale.

If you're playing a fantasy war game with a little bit of role-playing, it's a nice way to justify how you can have a crazy mix of races in a single coordinated army. If you drop the war game aspect, but maintain the existence of this conflict as an important aspect of the world player characters operate in, then it is still important for the same reason.

But what if your focus is the rags-to-riches by-the-blood-on-your-sword story of individuals? There's no universal conflict in which the PCs are actors.  There is no epic struggle of Law vs. Chaos, just survival in the face of an uncaring universe.

This raises the question, why have alignments at all?

Perhaps they are residue of a previous conflict? Or maybe, more likely, as someone somewhere suggested, they are an out-of-game mechanism for a character's in-game conscience (personally, I love that justification of the alignments).

However, I suspect that most GMs don't drop alignments, only the languages.

But, the alignment languages can still be useful for the very same reason they're useful in a grand war of ideology: they remove linguistic barriers. A party of humans with average intelligence scores who know no other additional languages but have a member of each alignment can communicate with just about any intelligent (as defined in a humanocentric way) creature they meet!

Unfortunately, the details of the languages seem absurd. In particular, if you change alignments, you immediately forget the old language and know the new one. The only justification I can come up with for this is a divine intervention of some kind. And that works if your world is a battleground for the forces of Law and Chaos, because the gods probably care one way or another. 

But I'm pretty sure the gods in my game world don't give a rats butt, because the conflict ISN'T a great war, but a personal struggle. They exist, they occasionally reward their followers, but mostly they're concerned with their own goals and interests.

So, i'm torn: 

I can reject the languages wholesale, which I think takes away an opportunity for players (even if it's one they might not miss) or I can try to come up with a better mechanism to handle the effect an alignment change has on the language, because you know if I don't, it'll surely come up.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Paint Table Saturday (#2): Late Again

I didn't actually DO any painting on Saturday, although I did take this photo of what's on my table and awaiting cleanup/prep:

Zvezda Dragoons of Peter I
I plan to complete the two riders and horses on the right before the end of February, but we'll see.

On Friday night, I finished up the six Swedish infantry that were in the background last week: 

Zvezda Swedish infantry of Charles XII
FYI, my definition of "finished" does not include basing!