Saturday, February 18, 2012

D&D, it's kinda like...

The situation:
A party of 1st and 2nd level characters (ten PCs -- we run a big table) are attacked by surprise in the night by a very hostile Dire Boar (7 HD). (Thanks to the mercilessness of wilderness encounter tables.)

People are in trees, or failing to climb trees, or scattered around at negative HP on the ground after having been gored nearly to death. Dead ponies, bleating goats, and a broken wagon litter the campsite. Panic. Most of us don't have our weapons or armor handy. The artificer, Barrel, has at least managed to dump oil all over the thing.

At this point, Barrel turns desperately to our wizard, Raymond the Magnificent, who had earlier in the game blasted the hell out of a bar using acid and lightning spells, as part of his grand entrance.
Barrel: It's covered in oil!
Raymond the Magnificent: I can't do fire.
Barrel: You are the worst fucking magician. 
Dungeons & Dragons, folks.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Fall of Torg

Last week, Torg died.

After falling to negative hit points at least once each session for three weeks in a row (and having fallen three times during the third session alone), it was during the fourth game that Torg, now second level, fell and did not rise.

Rage-inducing spores drove a fellow party member and fellow half-orc, this one a soldier, to do what no monster had managed.

Torg received a good field funeral, with a pyre and his treasures laid out around him. Which is more than can be said for those reckless companions who fell in the Slaughter at the Ruin Sea some weeks back.

Actual Play Reports
Three of the players have submitted actual play reports.

  1. The first is from the perspective of Andrew's Gith, a planewalker, exiled to this world. 
  2. The second is another report from the pen of Bill's gentleman Ghostwright, Bituminous Screed, to the authorities in Raven Port, and has to do with his tax obligations. (His previous letter to the Port Authority is here.)
  3. The third consists of the letters of Jacque's thief, Lynn, writing home to her sisters.
As before, they report the events of the game from each character's perspective and/or give some perspective on the character beyond the dungeon.

Lynn's Letters Home

My littlest sister,

As winter begins to loosen its icy grasp from this diverse land my thoughts turn to you and your older sister more often, almost as if the snowy storms are clearing from my mind as well as the land.  How I miss you and your small, bright smile that lights my darkest of moods; just the memory of them lightens my downcast heart and fills my soul with peace.  Your 6th birthday is coming soon (how fast you are growing!) and it pains me to tell you that once again I will not be able to make the long trip home to visit you, but know that you are in my thoughts and I will make sure to eat a cake for you on that day.  Enclosed is a sum of money for you.  It should be enough for that flaxen-haired doll you wrote to me last time about and maybe a couple of dresses for her as well.  I will send more when I am able (dungeon-delving has not been as profitable as I was told it would be).  Please say your prayers for me, as sometimes this profession can be dangerous but I promise you that when I make enough money to pay for all your treatments and buy a house, we shall move there and live happily ever after!

With all my love,

My dearest Demma,

Hang in there dear sister.  I know this is hard on you and the temple is not that place you wish to be, but Olivia needs you now more than ever.  And no more pick-pocketing!  The head-priest wrote to me not too long ago saying you were caught yet again! You cannot help your sister if you are in prison and who will watch over her then!? I have sent enough to cover your basic needs and maybe a little more but please be wise in the things you choose to spend it on as knives are far to sharp for those yet unskilled hands of yours.  Courage sister, as this can only get easier as my group appears to be getting stronger and more able to handle itself in tough situations.  Keep your chin up and your hands to yourself!

With eternal love,

A letter from Bituminous Screed to the authorities in Raven Port, regarding taxes owed

To the Rght. Hon. Eek'k'rrrrk Krwee, from Screed:

While I can but humbly stand in awe of your Office's attention to fiduciary propriety, I would like to assure you that the six ravensmarks I have tendered in remittance of taxes is the proper amount. There are two circumstances of which you may not be aware, as the fledgling who took my report was, in the usual manner of the young, prone to falling asleep:

(1): While it is true that we entered a mausoleum in RS territory, it appears that the arcanists who built the structure were wont to avail themselves of the restorative mineral baths of the Spider Swamp, and had constructed a kind of Portal to convey them there more swiftly; we stumbled upon it by accident. The fame of these healing waters is, I assume, a matter of common knowledge, as a number of your Justiciars, kindly taking note of my struggles with the Lumbago, have repeatedly suggested I go there. In any event, all windfall profits after our Transportation were accrued out of RS territory.

(2) Two of our hardy compatriots, alas, did not survive. Mr. Barrea, a Gith-Yankee, vanished as we left the swamp; I suspect that the marsh gnomes, or "Gobblings" as I believe they are known in these parts, may have mistaken him for a Ferantic Veen, or perhaps some of the Gith-Jerseys his people are feuding with came upon him.  There was also some word of Dutch political machinations afoot, and he may have (as the saying goes) been "caught up in VanderDecken's wake." Poor Rev. Torgue's fate is sadly much clearer: he was slain outright when several of our group, not knowing the proper Spiritual Exercises, were occupied by disturbed Apparitions. I was able to free them by performing a standard ectoplasmic realignment -- a basic transluxation -- but by then it was too late for the Rev.; these things simply take time and care, and a crazed warrior with an axe is rather faster.

The reduction in our group's size thus increased my share -- not that that in any way makes up for the loss of our dear Friends! Again, however, this occurred outside RS borders.

With Respects,

Bituminous Screed, D.E., G.W. (Lic.)

PS -- For the benefit of travelers, you might like to know that the hilly region near the SSw is apparently infested by the Teratofactive Owl, which has been engaging in such unnatural acts as to give rise to bear-owl chimeras. I have heard that such are highly sensitive to the lesser salts of Tin, a small quantity of which I have available for Sale.

From Prime Ledger of Tother-ka Baarya

Day 46: Exile on Prime continues. Made transition near region called Ruin Sea. Not impressed. Slum districts of Tu'narath more interesting than this cold water waste. Main ruling faction's bunch of raven berks. Do not rumble. Rumors of gold and power in flooded mage ruins. Could Burning Gem of a Thousand Suns be here?

Made contact with non-raven assets. Expedition heading to ruins on island east of Dragon Mountain. Expedition leader, large burly tinkerer, claimed to know Burning Gem. Probably lying, but must follow all leads. Assets seem capable, for primes, especially orc half-breed basher and couple of hairy midgets. But one berk might see through mind's eye. Must watch carefully.

Day 47: Left raven burg by boat in early morning. Mentat wanker kept his distance. Hairy midgets exercised. Foreboding signs for rest of journey. Landed at target island midday. Tinkerer had map from previous penetration. Suggested investigating opening in ruin floor. Discovered tomb chamber with undead mage. While primes dealt with mage bones, found cache of gold. Seems Vlaakith smiled upon me. During battle, entry cavern collapsed. Only escape was archway of black energy. Followed not-as-hairy midget through arch. Transitioned to arachnid swamp. Wet. While primes dithered over orc cutters nearby, determined location. Decided to show primes way out of swamp and dump. Heard rumors of Burning Gem in nearby Bone Fortress, but doubted primes would come along. Sod them. Will reconnect if they make it back to raven burg.

Finally, a Barbarian class that gets it

The ACKs Player's Companion Kickstarter hit its first Bonus Goal, and we got the ACKS Barbarian class.

Finally, a Barbarian class for D&D that I can actually use to make Conan without having to house rule the thing (1)

1) The AD&D Barbarian was honestly a bit of a mess. The third edition Barbarian introduced Rage (which is cool for berserkers) but then forced every barbarian to be built entirely around it (wait, what?).

The Northern Wilds

A wilderness region of the far north, for characters of 3rd level... or 5th, if it's winter. This one comes from Drew, one of our other players. (I have got to check out the mapping software he's using, which he reports is Fractal Mapper.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Low March

The Low March, once a frontier province for a long forgotten kingdom, now a focus for both adventurers, looking for riches in the regions many tombs and barrows, and the mysterious Red Hand, a shadowy organization looking to establish a foothold in the March. (The Low March comes to us courtesy of Andrew.)

Here is a player's map

Rumors about the Low March:

  1. There is a ruined shrine to some long-dead god of knowledge and learning located westerly across Lake Issis from the March's chief settlement, Laketown. Some folk tell tales of a secret scriptorium somewhere in or near the shrine that may still contain knowledge of the ancients. 
  2. To the north of Laketown is a rocky scrub region called the Stanlow, where peoples of past civilizations built elaborate tombs and barrows to house their dead. Rumored to contain vast riches, the region is also teeming with vicious undead and unscrupulous tomb raiders. One notable but isolated masoleum, nicknamed the Eye of the Beholder, holds a riddle that possibly leads to much danger and a cache of powerful ancient weapons.
  3. Somewhere in the forested hills north and west of Lake Issis (called the Kroom Headlands) sits the lost and undisturbed Tomb of the Cunnian. Local tales recall the Cunnian as a great explorer for some forgotten empire who walked dangerous and wild lands wielding only what was called the Staff of the Crushing Breeze. It is believed that the staff was buried w/ the Cunnian upon his death.
  4. Rumors abound of strange, spiked creatures roaming the March, attacking farmsteads and logging camps, bearing a unusual sigil -- the Red Hand. Elders in the logging village of Midwych, north-northwest of Laketown in the Kroom Headlands, have especially grown concerned about the attacks and have issued a call for help from any worthy and just heroes.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dungeon Wars

This is another actual play report from last week's game (cf. Less Death, More Drowning and A Letter to the Port Authority). We've played again since that session, but I wanted to get this one up before I moved on to any actual play reports from our more recent session.

The player who wrote this one is playing an Artificer. His stroke of genius was to do his actual play report in the form of a script for Storage Wars, starting with the opening credit sequence.

(And as an aside, I think his idea of viewing Dungeons & Dragons as Storage Wars is a fun little high concept all its own.)

{GUITAR RIFF} du, duh NUH nuh duh, duh NUH nuh
VOICEOVER: "When dungeons are discovered, the treasures within are plundered by heroes. Coming up...""
"Just stay here, and make sure it doesn't move." [beat] "AHHHRHRRRAAAAAAA!!!"
"There are trees in the woods."
"You know the SOUTH?"
{CUT TO BLACK} [beat]
[A splash of water and panicked gasping for air]
{GUITAR RIFF} duh, duh NUH nuh duh, duh NUH nuh...
Barrel - The Engineer - VO: "It's fine, I've seen this before."
Torg - The Healer - VO: "{Can someone PLEASE translate this from Dutch!?}"
Oakbeard - The Mighty - VO: "AHHHRHRRRAAAAAAA!!!"
Tump - The Socialite - VO: "I saw that in a club once!"
Mordecai - The Delicate - VO: "EXXXcellent."
Bituminous - The Gentleman - VO: "I *do* declare!"
VOCAL: Magic owwwwwns this town
Magic owwwwwns this town, yeah you know what I'm talkin' bout
BARREL, CONFESSIONAL: "This week, we're in the Low March. I've never been out this far, but it sounds like we could make a big score today."
{GRAPHIC: Portcullis slams down, then is pulled back up.}
INTERIOR: STATUE ROOM {Just cut the combat from this scene - Give Tump a hero edit for solving the puzzle.}
BARREL, CONFESSIONAL: "When I found out Lynn wasn't coming, I knew I'd have to be ready for anything, so this week, I invested in a handy set of tools and brushed up on trapsmith theory."
BARREL: "...Tump doesn't know what a trap is."
{EDITOR: Did you even DO confessionals with Mordecai??? I haven't seen his footage! I want to hear him talk about drowning!}
BARREL, CONFESSIONAL: "Honestly, I'd only ever "heard of merfolk. I wasn't sure if that would work, but I'm not going out again without that spell."
BARREL, CONFESSIONAL: "Finally - something I know inside and out."
BARREL: "Stay here, guys. I've got this."
{EDITOR: We need to keep this in so we can show Torg getting roughed up and taken down *again* this week in the next scene. I *know* it wasn't a great fight... this is gonna be a LONG season.}
{EDITOR: Make this scene quick and brutal!}
{EDITOR: Feel free to break out the xylophone sound effect here - Barrel's supposed to know this stuff but almost got everyone killed by that clock roach.}
BARREL, CONFESSIONAL: "It's a shame we couldn't get that clock roach out of there, but weeks like this are why I got into adventuring in the first place."
{EDITOR: Just cut the stuff with Mordecai and Oakbeard taking off, and the spikemen - nobody gave us anything to work with here.}
VOICEOVER: Barrel was the big winner this week, walking away with a *longsword +1*, a case full of scrolls, and a *watch lamp* to light his way. Torg strong-armed an *armband of elusiveness* along with his share. Mordecai danced away with a pair of *boots of landing*, as well as a herd of zombie troglodytes... and Oakbeard went home empty-handed, but had a plan to take on the logging camp on his own.
"We're in the Spider Swa-" "I KNOW WHERE WE ARE!"
{GRAPHIC: Portcullis slams down.}

Not Really a Review of Adventurer, Conqueror, King

Last year, I missed the original Adventurer, Conqueror, King kickstarter. But I did end up pre-ordering the RPG based on thoughtful posts from the designers at the Autarch blog. Posts like these:
And these:
And these:
Now that I have the pdf of the final game in my hands, I'm happy to say that it lives up to its promise. A lot of hard work and careful thought has gone into this thing, and it is clearly built on the chassis of actual play of classic D&D. Indeed, part of its charm is that--at first glance--it looks like a streamlined, slightly modernized version of the classic D&D (B/X) rules, albeit with a touch more room to personalize a character.

But it really comes into its own when you see the really elegant ideas that have been implemented just below the surface. And then it really takes off when providing rules for ruling a small kingdom, running a thieves guild, or even creating your own magical hybrid monsters. It's a game that embraces what D&D is and supports that.

I've never actually run a retro-clone or neo-retro-clone or other game system spun out by the OSR. When I feel like running classic D&D, I just run classic D&D. But ACKs? Well, this one I'm going to push for at some point in the future.

Which is why this time, I won't be making the same mistake of missing the Kickstarter. Indeed, I've already bought in on the Kickstarter for the ACKs Player's Companion. And I'm already glad I did. Hell (and maybe this is too much Skyrim talking), it was worth it for the Dwarven Machinist class alone. But more generally, I'm enjoying all the new classes, and I'm particularly looking forward to building a few classes of my own using the rules for "Custom Class" creation. If these are implemented even half as well as I expect they are, that's further support for the feeling that I've found my favorite new D&D.

TL;DR: ACKs is the first D&D-like to actually punch through my instinctive response of "Or I could just play D&D." It is that good, and well worth checking out. Also, if you're intrigued by this, you can get in on the Kickstarter for the Player's Companion here.

Or read Chris's review at Vaults of Nagoh, which does a good job of pointing out more specifically some of the cool tricks the game pulls off.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Letter to the Port Authority

A third PC's perspective on last week's session. You may be able to begin piecing together the actual events Rashomon style. (Which is to say, the actual events are probably irrecoverable...)

Letter from Screed to Port Authority:
I am quite honored that yr. esteemed Vigilences should continue to take an interest in my poor Pereginations after that thoroughly regrettable cultural misunderstanding, but I can assure you that no laws whatsoever were violated during my recent Consultations. My expertise was sought as part of an attempt to ameliorate a most unfortunate disruption of the spiritual world in a mausoleum outside RS borders; some of the Departed had lingered on quite distressingly, perhaps because of too highly valuing Earthly goods. It was in a sorry state, afflicted with gibbering demons, unconstrained evocational manifestations, and a severe groundwater incursion, but I and my expedition were largely successful in reharmonizing the ectoplasmic reticulum of the structure, even going so far as to remove the body of a lost Halfling who was haunting the foundations most frightfully.
While it is true that some lost souls attempted to follow one of our group home, I suspect it was because the lad is clearly Consumptive, and so visible from the Beyond. I am given to understand that Rev. Torgue has stated some reservations, and I would give these due weight of course -- he is a most upright and robust personage, and admirably inflexible in his devotions, being, I believe, at least part Foreign (Dutch, I would guess) - but please understand that I in no way participated in any Flouting of yr. Eminences' prohibitions against the Insufficiently Restful. The boy the souls followed  is, I believe, feverish from trying to clear his afflicted lungs with the demon Clove, and as I'm sure you know, that is not only ineffective but prevents the Pneuma from making its healthy excursions during sleep. 
As for our intentions,  you might also note that our group included members of the Dwarfish persuasion and also a Weremer, and a Peripatetic Oak (sp. Quercus Mobilis var. variforma); these are widely acknowledged in all the more valuable Esoterick Texts as being Anathema to thanatoaberrant Manifestations. We were a most plucky and law-abiding band! and sought only to be humble inspirations to the young.
I would also note that my spirit guide, the most excellent Transcendant Swami Lama Zoogoo Khan, gave his full endorsement to the expedition.
Yr. Obnt. Srvnt.
Bituminous Screed, D.E., GW (Lic), LLC.

Less Death, More Drowning...

This was last week. Andrew DM'ed and I played. Below are two actual play reports submitted by players (in character).

(I probably shouldn't have to say this, but this is the internet, so I will -- all misspellings are indeed intentional.)

Report #1: The Diary of Tump Tolver

Dear Diary,
This is Tump.  I went adventuring the other day.  We went to the Tomb of Asimov and Hammerstein.  First I killed the devil, then we went swimming and Barrel turned into a mormon.  Next I killed to zombies and Atticus blew some snot out of his nose and made it fly.  Then I took a nap.  After that a tree killed a robot, then another robot tried to spit at me and I killed it.  Finally some guy with clove ciggarettes tried to steal my loot.  If he tries it again Ill cut his legs off so he can't run away very fast.  That'll make the orc happy, he doesnt like him.  Im going to try to delve some of these dungeons around the Ruin Sea this week.
I love you Diary,

Report #2: Mordecai's Field Notes. 
First expedition to the barrow downs. Strength of numbers is important for early expeditions. The quality of the minions is uneven at this point, but that is not unusual.
Tomb of the Brothers Zildrohar. Some good treasures, which I shared with the minions. Best to play to their strengths now. Later they will prove useful. Proper investing is important.
Re: the Drowning Room: Must get one of these when I build my own fortress. Well designed in general. However, grates must be maintained, otherwise they rust and weaken. Also, placing skeletons with wicked sharp knives behind the grates would increase their efficacy.
Evaluation of the Minion Potential of Expedition Team MembersThe Tump: Dangerous. Always talking about clubs. Also, surprisingly good at riddles. Minion potential -- high.
The Ghostwright (Bituminous Screed): Creates ectoplasmic beings which are outside my control. Either a charlatan, or very powerful. Watch this one carefully. Minion potential: If a charlatan, none; if very powerful, also none.
The Dwarf Treant (Oakbeard the Mighty): Unlike most trees, prone to rash and aggressive behavior. Very reasonable with treasure, however, and pointed in the right direction, this one could be used as a weapon. Minion potential -- satisfactory, weapon potential -- good.
The Orc (Torg): Deluded. In striking denial of its racial heritage, it worships the sun, which blinds it! More orc-like is its tendency to attack my undead minions, which it destroys out of jealousy. It remains a good soldier in other ways, however, risking its life to defend its companions. Minion potential -- none, I cannot overlook threats from my minions.
The Dungeon Engineer (Barrel): Adaptable. Used ingenuity to solve a number of problems for its companions. Can produce magical items of some value. Minion potential -- high.

The Birth of the Lightning Ooze

This was two weeks ago.
Lynn: "I cut off its head."
Du'an: "Is that how you solve all your problems?"
The adventurers:

  • Torg, half-orc priest of the Sun
  • The Thief, Lynn
  • Uruz, half-orc soldier
  • Demonica, trident-wielding bounty huntress 
  • Maundering, a sickly apothecary
  • Du'an, savior of his people
  • Barrel, dungeon mechanic
  • Ashiz, ugly elf

Who returned to that Wizard's Test dungeon in the Ruin Sea. None dared the doors of life and death on this day. They did, however, destroy a small ziggurat full of skeletons, steal gems from the eyes of statues, bear the curse of the idol, interfere with a a congregation of skeletons who were worshipping a demon idol, and give in to the urge to pick up a wizard's staff that blasted any who touched it with lightning.

Of course, at least two different adventurers insisted on picking it up before they decided to temporarily leave it lie.

And the expedition was a success, all-in-all.

Until that fateful decision to go back down for the staff on their way out of the dungeon. After all, it would only be a short detour (2 turns). A risk of but a single wandering monster check. Only a 1 in 6 chance. What could possibly go wrong?

The gray ooze that wandered in between them and the exit destroyed equipment, separated the party, and took out a number of them. Some party members were able to jump it to safety, but the thief Lynn landed in it. Torg went into the ooze to save her and was felled by its debilitating corrosiveness (Never save a drowning friend unless you are a trained lifeguard and excellent swimmer. Protip: You can't swim in gray ooze.). Those trapped below threw the staff onto it, which only made it a lightning-charged gray ooze (for the gray ooze is the one that ignores electricity damage). The trapped party members then fell back into a wizard's tomb and used the heavy sarcophogus to bar the door as best they could (which was not well). Those few who had made the leap past the ooze went to a room of a previous battle and brought corpses down to throw onto it, to feed it, in hopes that it would ignore their trapped allies. Eventually, by using said corpses as stepping stones, the rest were able to get across.

In the end, a number of PCs ended up in the negative HP range. But none died. This was the second adventure in which Torg fell. But like his god, the sun, he rose again.

Needless to say, they never did get the staff. It remained on the ooze. And so it was that the Lightning Ooze of the Raven Sea was born.

And for all we know, it lives there still.