Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A coffin, some orcs, and thee...

Session 2 of the Otherness campaign happened on Sunday and, I must say, it went swimmingly. We had only  three players to start with this time: Coffee and T.J. from last time, and my friend Larry, with whom I haven't gamed in far too long. In the last hour we were joined by another friend of mine, R.M. (no, I'm not trying to protect anyone's identities...), who brought along his 9 or 10 year-old son, Max. The players headed down Under Xylarthen's Tower (by the indefatigable Jeff Reints) and made a good run of it: everyone got out alive! 

Interesting Stuff

  • Coffee and T.J. both attempted to retrieve their characters from the last Session by rolling on The Table of Despair, as found in Fight On! #3, since it seemed unlikely that that particular group would be reforming anytime soon. T.J.'s character Arp the Dwarf received a result of "You emerge unscathed!" and promptly became known as Arp the Lucky. Bahb the Draftee, however, was not so lucky; he was "Lost to time and space," with all that implies. Coffee shrugged it off, however, probably because he was eager to spring his new Balrog character race on me. :) 

  • Indeed, his well-thought-out race (which can be found written up here) was, unbeknownst to him, exactly the Hargrave route down which I'd been hoping to eventually head. The Spirit of ODD moved in the room and lo, Sneerglaw was born! A man-sized balrog complete with whip, sword and the ability to act as a walking torch headed down into the depths with a dwarf, an elf and four hirelings. 

  • This was actually the first time I've used hirelings, maybe ever. Arp hired two Fighting Men and Larry's elven character hired two elves functioning for this adventure as Fighting Men, though they were actually women. I had them roll a d6 to see what type of armor their respective flunkies had, and I rolled HP and Loyalty (pg. 13 of Men & Magic), modified by Charisma in Arp's case. We decided on weapons, including a bow for one of the elves, and we were ready to go. 
  • We also had the first actual play-test of The Devil's in the Details articles I wrote as a column for the first three issues of Fight On!. These tables help players flesh out the three core demi-human races, and T.J. rolled on them for Arp, while Larry used them for his elf, Nimfitz Niraxis. They seemed to work pretty well. Each ended up with some details that piqued their interest, which is just what I was hoping for. The one that got the most running commentary was Nimitz’s “Breeds new animals in pursuit of a singular vision.” Much possibility for future character activities… 

Some Highlights:

  • One of Arp’s hirelings, Dolph, managed to kill the giant snake in the first room (which then put smack-down on Sneerglaw in its death throes…) He immediately began referring to his spear as “Serpent  Slayer”. 
  • Sneerglaw freaked out an enormous pack of giant rats by snaring one of their number with his whip and then toasting it as he immolated himself. He later got to cook a couple of giant centipedes as well. I think he also ate some orc thigh... Damn balrogs are almost as useful as a gelatinous cube...

  • When joined by two new adventurers, Ballantine the Fighting Man and Redbeard the Dwarf (both detailed a couple of posts ago), played by R.M. and Max, respecitively, Redbeard almost immediately found a secret door. It consisted of nothing more than a shaft with a rope ladder descending into darkness, and they decided to leave it for later, but Max was quite pleased with himself. Almost as proud as in the next room when he quite probably saved Nifmitz from being a snack for a giant weasel by promptly chopping the beast in half. Guess we gotta let the new generation play a bit more often!
  • Early on, the party discovered an oversized coffin, secured with chains and a padlock. After some deliberation, they decided to leave it alone. Later, as they walked towards the dungeon entrance, an exploratory band of eight orcs came trooping down the stairs right for them. Some words were exchanged, and as the leader of the orcs raised his weapon to charge, Nimfitz successfully charmed him. The rest of the orcs were understandably confused at their leader’s change of heart, but became more interested when Nimfitz mentioned huge box full of treasure that was chained shut in a nearby room. He admitted that he and his fellow elves and humans were “too weak to break it open”, but surmised that it’d be a snap for a few strapping orcs. The orcs agreed and, as they began working on the chains, the party surreptitiously blocked the door shut with a couple of spikes.
  • The orcs did indeed break the chains, and something came out of the coffin. There was a terrible moaning, then much orc-screaming and pounding on shut doors. Then, suddenly, everything was silent. They listened at the door until they heard the coffin room’s far door creak open, pulled the spikes, dodged inside and checked out the coffin. Indeed, there was a decent treasure, including a very valuable golden necklace. They scooped it up in time to hear another door swinging open in the tense silence. Redbeard splashed out an oil flask on the floor of the previous room and tossed a torch on it. The burst of flame showed them an awful sight: An ogre who’d been turned into a wight, naked and bone-pale like some kind of gigantic nosferatu, staring at them over the flames. They did what any good first level adventurers would do: They ran like hell right out of the dungeon. And Larry got Nimfitz a 400 XP bonus (half of what eight orcs were worth) with the blessings of his fellow players.

Under Xylarthen’s Tower is a great adventure, full of oldskoolisms, and they’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m really beginning to see how even a single mega-dungeon could become the focal point of a whole campaign. 

Again: Too. Much. Fun.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh yeah... experience points.

I'm blushing as I write this: I almost forgot to hand out experience points for our last adventure. Now, maybe it's because I'm the DM, so I don't get XP, but more likely it's because it's been a long time since I played a game where killing things and taking their stuff was, well, the point. The thing your character (and thus the player) gets rewarded for.

Reward cycles are critical to rpg design; if they're done well, they make it perfectly clear what characters should be doing. The reward is really the secret engine that drives the game, and you know what? Gygax and Arneson nailed it. How much more clear could they be? And that was one of the problems as time went on: Someone(s) decided that characters should be rewarded for role playing instead of rolling to play, which the game's fundamental structure refutes. I mean, sure, you can change it, houserule it, whatever. But you should at least realize what you're doing. Understanding this earlier would have saved me YEARS of frustration. :0

Back to XP. I'm following the "100xp/hd" rule, evenly divided out amongst all surviving characters, with a small bit of adjustment for Bill's second character of the afternoon, who joined the party after their epic battle with the giant rats.

Here's the breakdown:

  1. Giant Rats: 7 x 50 = 350
  2. Goblins: 7 x 50 = 350
  3. Tunnel Wolves: 2 x 200 = 400
  4. Skeletons: 4 x 50 = 200
  5. Evil Cleric: 1 x 300 = 300

Total: 1600

Divided: 1600 - 350 = 1250 / 8 = 156.25 each. I'll be nice and round it up to 157.

Also: 350 / 7 = an additional 50 each for all characters except Mob.

Plus: Any characters that have high enough Prime Requisites should add the appropriate percentage.

And don't forget: The small bits of treasure picked up here and there. I didn't keep track of that, but they all split it up immediately, so it's already on the character sheets.

Hm. Not much. The first thing that occurred to me was that it's actually a tactical decision to not take a huge party into the dungeon. Had only five characters gone down, assuming they all survived, their XP would've been effectively doubled.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Announcement: Otherness, Session 2

Session 2 of my Otherness campaign will be happening on Sunday, February 22 from 12-4 at The Source Comics and Games. Looks like the Gaming Room's gonna be full o' punks, but I says we shall sonically whelm them! WHELM them, says I!

Possible endeavours: 

  1. If somewhere around 90% of last time's players show up (which strikes me as unlikely), we can try and find out just what the cleric wanted with that mysterious door in The Ruined Monastery.
  2. Level 1 of mega-dungeon The Darkness Beneath by Hackman, as found in Fight On! #2.
  3. Level 1 of mega-dungeon Under Xylarthen's Tower by Jeff Reints.
  4. Level 1 of mega-dungeon The Mines of Khunmar by Stefan Poag.
Do you see a theme??

This is a Free Campaign, so all players are welcome. Those who show up determine what we'll play and which characters are subjected to horrible deaths.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Randomness and Differentiation

Sorry it's been so long since I posted, but the Shadow of the Plague fell on House Kesher. Yea, it fell, but has passed on, may it not soon come again...
A few years ago I came to the realization that I was sick to death of character histories. Some of it stemmed from the cliche that, really, no back story I had ever created had really been used by any given GM. Although, if I'm being honest, I was usually the GM and, while I encouraged back stories, rarely did I do anything with them: Mea culpa too.

Some of it also came from years of playing indie games where mechanically-relevant back stories were created during play, sometimes by the player alone, sometimes with the help of the group (Polaris is a really good example of this, as is In a Wicked Age, mentioned a few posts ago); this all made the "Orcs killed my family" clunker seem less than useless.

So enter my first attempt to let go and roll up a character for ODD completely randomly, right down the line. My task was to create a character out of whatever the dice gave me. Here were the results:

Str: 10
Int: 12
Wis: 9
Dex: 11
Con: 6
Cha: 7

Hm. Not too inspiring. Years ago I would've whined about it. However, that wasn't an option here---whining to yourself is usually just silly...

So, I thought, he may as well be a Magic User, even though that Con score is going to mean a -1 to all HP rolls. Except I had a sudden flash: Oh no---even with the Con, he's going to be a Fighting Man. He constantly drinks wine to deal with a persistent hacking cough that has sapped his strength and soured his disposition. His alignment was obviously Neutral at best, sliding toward Chaotic. I bought him a scimitar for pure color, a quart of wine for character and who knows what else, decided he could speak both Gnollish and Elvish, named him Ballantine, and he was ready to go. I'd play this guy in a second. And you know what else? I would make Con rolls after every fight to see if he didn't double over in a coughing fit. And if he did, well, that'd start to shape the rest of his actions. There's no way I'd ever have come up with that had I rolled 6d6takingthebestthreeofeachrollandputtingthemwhereIwanted, or allocated points, or whatever.

Ballantine's patron god is Randomness.

I was so excited I rolled up another character on the spot:

Str: 14
Int: 9
Wis: 7
Dex: 10
Con: 13
Cha: 15

Okay. Better scores on the surface. So, as the rules allow, I knocked his Wis down to 4 and raised his Str up to 15. No mechanical effect, but it does get him the 10% bounus on XP earned if I make him a Fighting Man. Anyone with a Wis of 4 is obviously Lawful, and probably a dwarf. So, a Lawful Dwarven Fighting Man, almost foolishly devoted to some kind of cause, most likely (given his Cha) with a couple of devoted followers. I named him Redbeard, made sure he was wearing platemail, and would defintely load him down with first hirelings, then henchman, for him to awe and boss around. Not bad either!

And the thing is, these details aren't really "backgrounds", per se; they're more like hooks upon which to hang some quick and dirty characterization during play. Each of these characters, of the uber-generic classificaton "Fighting Man" are already starkly differentiated from one another, all through the simple, built-in game tool of Randomness. Oh, Randomness, how I used to loathe you.

And how I love you now.