Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My cat reviews Weird Fantasy Roleplaying

That's Oso, my 13 year-old fur ball purring machine, expressing his opinion on Lamentations of the Flame Princess - Weird Fantasy Roleplaying.

He likes it. 4 out of 4 mice.

I think it is pretty kick ass myself, but right now my gaming time needs to be spent reading A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity which I've never run or played in before. Turns out my friends conned me into DMing for the mini tournament he's running.

Rest assured, both Oso and I will express ourselves in more detail.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Puget Sound Mini-Con/Tournament Module

One of the gamers in our group is hosting a tournament at his house a drive south east of Seattle on Saturday, August 28, starting at 2:00PM

If you are in the area and read this blog - send me an email at redbeard dot seattle on gmail.

Here's the text used in the invite:
You are invited to the 2nd Annual Old school RPG/BBQ summer party! I will be providing a 1/4 barrel of micro-beer, polish dogs, chips, and some soda. We will be looking to get enough players together to play 1e AD&D , with 2 DMs, and playing a tournament style game of the TSR module A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity. Pre-gen characters will be provided. All you need to bring is your dice, imagination, and anything different or additional you want to eat or drink.

While I prefer sandbox campaigns to tournament modules, I dig getting inspired by seeing how other folks play and DM. Plus it should be an opportunity for a bit of a blow out, gaming wise. Odd things happen when game for over five hours, odd, fun things.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Universal Mechanical Precautions

There have been a number of blog posts lately on universal mechanics. If I may, I'd like to present some guidelines to follow BEFORE you tell your players to roll.

Now, I'm a fan of universal mechanics and feel they're one thing from latter permutations of DnD to import into old school play. However, a universal mechanic has some pitfalls. I say this as a DM that has played those latter permutations and is now running a game that harkens back to old school ways. I try to challenge the players, not just the characters.

As a DM, I like the convenience and freedom of deciding how difficult a task is and having a framework to place that in. The essential elements of the framework are a scale of difficulties (including opposed checks) and measurement of character ability. During play this means that I can concentrate on creating, listening and adjudicating without pausing the game to look up a rule. The players also don't need to be confused unduly and have some expectation of how their characters function. This is one of the reasons that I reached for Castles and Crusades when I began co-DMing our Greyhawk/Yggsburgh/Castle Zagyg/Mad Archmage campaign (even though I'm house ruling SIEGE more and more).

A universal mechanic makes it easier to allow players to try crazy things - a joy that makes the game.

But there can be too much of a good thing. Before calling out target numbers and telling players to roll, ask yourself following questions:

1. Is this something that adventurers would fail at?
While we in the old school are often known for our love of the grim and gritty, adventurers are still decently competent at their jobs. "Giants in the Playground" pokes great fun at the absurdity of spot and listen checks in DnD 3.x. Now, even OD&D had spot checks of a sort - they're hidden in rolls to find secret doors and in the rolls for surprise. Still, with the ease of the mechanic the various "perception" checks are definitely over used.

I've seen by the book old school over use mechanics as well. Is EVERY door really that stuck? Likewise some supposedly old school DMs would rather have the players roll a d6 then describe the book shelf that hides the wizard's secret door.

Also, most old school games are based around classes. To be useful and meaningful, classes imply a wide set of skills in which the character is competent. A thief is a stealthy individual and not every attempt at moving silently should be subject to the fickle whims of a d20 or a percentile roll. Likewise a fighter should be competent about combat and weapons, a magic-user knowledgeable about arcane lore and what not.

2. Is this challenge more interesting than a number?
Matt Finch wrote the book on this one, though I don't think he stated it in this fashion. We game in fantastic locations and dream up personalities and magic and mystery. Aren't they more than mere numbers?
In fiction, secret doors are fascinating, fun conundrums. Finding the secret door to Batman's crime lab is a part of the game. The traps in James Raggi's "The Grinding Gear" are fiendish, clever and fun. It would be a disservice to your players if they could bypass them with a roll of a d20 instead of interacting with that strange, weird and dangerous place.
The Tomb of Horrors is more than a set of absurdly high numbers to roll.

3. What does success mean? What does failure mean?
If you allow your players to roll, you need to be prepared to tell them something cool happens when they roll high and beat the difficulty number in your head. Never allow the player to roll for something you think is not possible, because fate will give you a "20" to adjudicate.
Similarly, if you can't think of an interesting or meaningful failure result you should just let the character succeed.

Lastly: Is rolling for this how I want to spend my time?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Elves and Men

James of Grognardia posted his campaign's take on demihumans and how they are different than humans with different stats and an ego problem.

Below is my own take that we've used in our Greyhawk/Yggsburgh/Zagyg campaign. I surrendered to how players would play elves et al as humans with different stat bonuses, but wanted a rational for why demihuman communities and npcs would be different and separate from the mostly human setting, for tension to exist between isolationist elves and expansionist human nations.

Each player with an elf or gnome would get a copy of this although it is written from the elf perspective. If I was to rewrite it I would make it more concise. If DM prepared setting material is over a page you run risks of making the campaign for the DM's self indulgence and not about the player's actions. Players won't read or remember more than a page anyway. A player's advice to me some campaigns ago: 'you've got a great campaign, but you spend too much time on the details of each brick of the yellow brick road when we just want to get to the flying monkeys.' Humbling yet good advice.

Of Elves and Men

Long ago Corellon Larethian created the beings of grace that are the elves from mist beneath the crescent moon. We lived lives of beauty and truth, communion with the faerie and with the material world.

This magic of fey mists sustains us still. This connection with sylvan essence allows the elves to cross the bridge between the faerie world and the physical plane of mundanity.

Singular elves are not threatened by not sustaining their relationship with the faerie world. But the lifeblood, the grace magic, the fertility, of elven communities is endangered by too much corruption of mundanity. Elven communities and faerie forests must limit their contact with nonmagical beings such as humans (let alone filth of evil such as orcs) or risk losing their special quality and perhaps even face extinction.

Elves not within the world of faerie are still elves, but they may be sterile until they return. A few humans living peacefully within an elven forest may not threaten the magical bridge, but their presence may cause the fruit of wholly elven unions to be merely half-elven.

Yet Corellon's gift of life still returns like spring eternal. In remote forests, in sylvan settings outside the footprint of man, his grace descends in mist from the moon. New elven communities bring their grace onto the world in these places.

For this reason (and not mere prejudice or intolerance of lesser beings), elven communities have long protected their borders. A closely guarded secret, it has been determined that other fey demihumans, such as gnomes have a similar connection between this world and another. Halflings less so, as they breed prodigiously. Gnomes may spring forth from even the smallest deserted pretty hillock. But dwarves require isolated and dank caverns as special in their own way as the forests of the elves.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Adventure Log Post from the Wychwood

As I've posted before, I've been disappointed with how ordinary the Wychwood encounters seemed as depicted in the Yggsburgh hardback. I've tried to flavor it more with fey quality ala Midsummer Night's Dream.

For players in Yggsburgh, there is a one very big unstated spoiler from the Yggsburgh hardback. Nearly all the rest of the adventure is my own creation or my own import from other sources.

The players seemed to enjoy the puzzle solving and negotiation challenges that the evening entailed. Having had bad experiences on both sides of riddle situations, I picked a riddle that was hopefully easy to solve for the six players; the alternative would be that a party of level 2-4 would have to fight an ettin. They did have the idea from the ettin's size and description that they didn't really want to fight the ettin, but they had alternatives besides the riddle; getting the heads to argue and running away. Fighting was certainly a choice - one that surely would have resulted in more than one character death but they likely would have won in the end.

So, here follows a player's write up of their adventure to the Wychwood through a portal they found. DM comments in italics.

We epic adventurers, boldly, and with no fear in our hearts (Jane, Inara, Caelen, Threnody and Merchello trekked to Gaenoc's cave to explore a portal and get going on Caelen's geas

It's pronounced Gesh. On a previous adventure, Caelen, a cleric of Fharlanghn, was paralyzed by a gelatinous cube and alone in a dungeon. As Fharlanghn was the god of travel, the condition did seem to be an anathema to the god. So I allowed Caelen a roll to appeal to his diety (this being C&C, a wisdom check adding cleric level. I set a difficulty of 25 given the circumstances in the god's interest. Otherwise I think I would have required a natural 20 or something 30 or more. Still possible, but less likely. On the other hand, I do want to depict an adventurer's world that contains the arbitrariness and strangeness of magic and diety intervention rather then merely a predictable world in which magic is just a different, predictable, science.) Fharlanghan spoke to Caelen, offering a release in exchange for a geas in his service. Caelen accepted, and so I came up with the geas of mapping a set of portals that the party had found.

Upon approaching the cave, Jane called out greetings to Gaenoc, and they discovered him roasting chestnuts and drinking from an enormous bottle of booze! Gaenoc decided to share his chestnuts and booze with the group. Everyone who drank from it

Everyone who drank from it and failed their saving throw.

grew 20% and gained +1 to their strength! (Jane was the tallest halfling ever at 3'7"!). The booze was called Frapleschlager... or something. it was a Giant's drink.

Frobscottle :). The stuff also incurs outrageous farts of awful stench and force - enough to rocket a character up a few feet. They had to roll to fart at inopportune times for the day. Gaenoc is a guardian of the azure portal, a fey creature (somewhat like a brownie but with various spontaneous DM granted powers that can either aid or hinder the party.) He typically requires a gift for his 'gift' of using the portal.

After thanking Gaenoc, and giving him a bottle of really quite good Bourbon, we traversed the Emerald portal.

The Emerald portal popped us into the middle of the Wychwood, next to a dead yew tree. Merchello's raven, Lenore, flew up to look around and saw nothing but trees in every direction, and also an ominous looking bird circling off to the west slightly. Lenore was so scared of this bird that she shot back down and basically hid for the rest of the day.

A bit of foreshadowing of the zobo bird.

At that point, our good listeners heard some singing and prancing off to the West. There were some attempts to hide, but the rest of us decided to stand and meet our approaching singers. They turned out to be Faeries - the wee folk -

Sprites, they were

and they were hopping and singing and dancing but didn't really seem to be too happy about it. From their song (which I don't remember) it sounded like they were afraid of the bird, and that singing and dancing was the only way to get the bird to go away. They encouraged us to dance with them, but Oni (who was with Caelen, as was Hamwich) refused to dance. The bird was called the Zobo bird and was just a 6 inch tall little thing, but MAN did it pack a punch on Oni!

It had a big, sharp pointy beak.
"It'll do you a trick, mate."
Yes, the players caught the Holy Grail reference.

One shot and Oni was down for the count! Threnody then picked up Oni's unconscious form and started doing a 'weekend at bernie's' thing and dancing with him. We all then started prancing away from the dead tree for about half an hour, singing and dancing the whole way.

Cultural references abound. Hah. Sheesh, none of my old six player 3.5 group had seen Apocalypse Now or read Heart of Darkness.

Caelen came up with fabulous rhymes and song to try to pry information out of the Faeries. Turns out they were dancing to get away from the Zobo bird, but of course the Zobo bird was a minion of the Queen of the Wychwood, and just doing its job, which was to keep people around the dead yew tree happy, and turn that area back into a happy place, because right then it was a sad place. We found out later that the whole area had been a "sad place" and now they're down to just one dead yew tree which needs to become happy again.

Leave it to players to invent some meaning that the DM hadn't intended. That and how the sprites were sad to have to sing the Zobo bird song.

Caelen's improvised rhyming conversation with the sprites was a lot of fun but a great challenge to me as a DM. Next time, I'm going to have a resource like this as a cheat.

The sprites took the occasion to braid Oni's beard with beads.

Oni was a dour dwarf who hadn't wanted to do 'elf stuff' and dance and sing.

We left the company of the faeries and traveled North - they had left us on a path, and we just decided randomly to go north. We had some vague ideas of finding the squirrel king and maybe the queen of the Wychwood, and had been told to talk to trees and see if we find any that talk back...

We encountered a tree that talked to us in Led Zeppelin rhymes. His name was Rob... the plant... yah.

Ok, so sometimes I take the low road. :P
She omitted that to acquire Rob's help, they promised to plant his acorns in a sacred grove. They will be held to that promise or face consequences to be determined.

He introduced us to the Squirrel King Fatcheeks,

The Terror of Trees, The Aegis of Acorns, the King of the Squirrels, Fat Cheeks. Do bow, or curtsy, and show respect. This IS the King of the Squirrels.
Thanks to James at Grognardia for the inspiration from his King of the Cats.

who chatted with Inara with her gnomish fluency with burrowing creatures. We gave him a couple chestnuts and discovered that we were going the right way to go north to find a portal back.

The exchange was immortalized by Alyssa! Many thanks!

Inara owes Fat Cheeks a service. One day a squirrel in need will approach her.

We ended up encountering some horny frat boy Satyrs who... Well, the least said about that encounter the better, I recon. We got away after we gave them wine and reminding them of that and their obligation to let us go.

We traveled north again and encountered Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum - an ettin that generally lies and when the one lies the other has to lie, too. We ended up solving their riddle and taking the right hand path...

Two riddles, really. One riddle to learn the proper path (with the ettin lying game) and a second so the ettin wouldn't eat them. A future blog post will be resources for riddles.

Which led us to a tree with a green door and a faerie guardian. We danced with her and then went through the door and found ourselves back in the portal cavern. yay!

We next went through the golden gate.

It drops us in front of what we can only assume is a castle that is manned by orcs or the slavers or both. We barely made it out of there with our lives intact...

They were asked 'who do you work for?' and they answered 'the Yggsburgh patrol' so the players should take into consideration. One of the characters IS associated with Yggsburgh law inforcement; she's a homebrew lawful neutral variant of the paladin called an 'enforcer'. She answered all too quickly and changed a 'wary' reaction from some bandits to an immediate attack.

and yes, we did bravely turn our tails and flee.

We ended up going cross country and encountering wandering monsters and gnolls and... Well, going south and east we eventually found places that looked familiar (after like 6 days traveling) and made our way back to Yggsburgh.

Good thing they had a ranger as the trip back was absolutely something I did not want to hand wave. Random encounters plus trackers from the castle and counting of rations and water. The Menhir Hills are dangerous.

Two of those encounters were actually humanoids from the ruined castle trying to track them. The castle is a former outpost of the Suel Maure' family situated over an entrance to the Underdark. It's a possible second megadungeon to the campaign besides Castle Zagyg itself (which is run by the co-DM of the campaign.) Like Castle Z, this castle is quite approachable; various powers control portions of the ruins and the Underdark entrance is actually a trading conduit for slaves and such. They might discover this later from going through the portal with a bit more stealth and caution or they might pursue other hooks, including the slave trade that they've stumbled across.
Or, you know, they might not ever go back. They are the players after all.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Zobo Bird

Another in a series of posts of monsters inspired by Amazing Monsters: Verses to Thrill and Chill a wonderful collection of whimsical monster verses. This is definitely in my Appendix N. I'd like more whimsy in the game, and I'd especially like a more different 'fey'; something more Midsummer Nights Dream or folk tale like than simply invisible pixies with darts. They'll be there too, for sure.

One of my few disappointments in the Yggsburgh hardback was the 'Wychwood' encounters which amounted to little more than wood elves, satyrs and centaurs. All of these creatures could be all too easily interpreted as bags of hit dice with no mystery whatsoever; by the book that's pretty much all they are.
I'll certainly be following Mandragora as he's already done real research into all this.

So, here it is:

The Zobo Bird

Do you think we skip,
Do you think we hop,
Do you think we flip,
Do you think we flop,
Do you think we trip
This fearful measure
And hop and hip
For personal pleasure?

O no, O no,
we are full of woe
From top to toe:
It's the Dread Zobo,
The Zobo Bird

He brings us bane,
He brings us blight,
He brings us pain
By day and night:
And so we must
Though it take all day
Dance or bust
Till he flies away.

Away, away!
O don't delay.
Go Zobo, go,
O Zobo bird!

by Frank A. Collymore

I take this as a creation of some fey power that decreed all their guests were to party and dance - OR ELSE. So it must be a fairly fearsome encounter, though avoidable IF the secrets of the bird are known and one can actually take the time to do nothing but dance or sing.

But what does the Zobo Bird look like?

Is it of fearsome countenance?

Or is more like the dread Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with 'nasty big pointy teeth'.

It'll do you a trick, mate!

We'll go with that.

The Zobo Bird
Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1, possibly 2 (mated pair)
Armor Class: 5 (1E) 15 (C&C)
Move: 10"/50" fly
Hit Dice: 6
% in Lair: 25 %
Treasure Type: 5 (C&C), D
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1-8/1-8/2d6
Special Attacks: Flyby Attack
Special Defenses: Twilight Vision
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Saves: P (C&C)
Alignment: Neutral
Size: S (1' long)
Type: Magical Beast
Experience: 180+6/hp

(Forgive the amalgamated Castles and Crusades and 1E stat block. Use what you use, ignore the rest.)

An unassuming bird, the zobo patrols portions of fey forests that are prescribed for merriment. No reaction roll is necessary; unless the zobo bird sees you singing or dancing, it will attack with fierceness. Drinking alcoholic beverages is ok if part of a drinking song, but otherwise you're Zobo prey. No training in singing or dancing is required, as a zobo was born to value enthusiasm not skill. A zobo may remain to enforce merriment for 1d6 turns. However, if a 6 is rolled the zobo remains vigilant until sunrise or sunset.

The zobo is especially deadly because of its flyby attack. It can dive from above, moving a portion of its movement rate (even using your edition's charging rules), make its attack and fly the remainder of its movement. The best course of action is to wait the zobo out with singing or dancing. After all, whatever fey power set the zobo to the forest is also interested in merriment. But if one insists upon dourly fighting the beast missile weapons and long pole arms set to receive the dive attacking bird are your best option.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Proposed Caller Rules

I'm going to propose requiring a caller in our campaign. We never had a caller before, and I've never played with one. Even in a sprawling, old school sandbox with umpteen players, there were typically a max of six players in an expedition.

Having a large group of of people that all want to show up and game is one of those "good problems." Usually. From our stable of 12 regular players (all adults) and a few occasionals, we usually get 8 and sometimes ten players. Running an old school system (Castles and Crusades), we still get several combats and a lot of exploration and conversation.

10 is just too much. Even without inter-party conflicts, there are just too many inputs on the DM, the table is too large, etc. We've had a couple of sessions where both co-DMs ran sessions (of 4 and 5) in separate rooms. But we don't always have that luxury, and it makes it hard on the DM that was looking forward to taking their turn at playing.

And last week we had a problem. The party was confronted with a difficult tactical situation, and there were some strong disagreements on how to proceed. There were some bad feelings, and one player carried his resentment through the remainder of the game. He's apologized, but it left a bad impression on a new player. The other side of the argument hasn't apologized for their role in it and that's unfortunate.

Some may think that as the DM I should have put a stop to it. I don't think it is my role to handle inter-party conflicts. But what happens at the table is my concern, and I did attempt to force them to settle and called the party to vote. Likely I should have done that earlier.

I've looked through Dragonsfoot and found references to requiring callers in several posts from old schoolers, but I've not found a description of how a caller works. I'm also hesitant to take away individual player choices and hand them over. So this is the result:

Proposed Caller Rules

When I am DM and we have seven or more players, I propose we play by these guidelines:

The players should elect a caller. This could be the player who is most motivated to take on the current adventure, someone they trust with tactical decisions or even just to make the quiet player in the corner talk more. When the group (not an individual) is confronted by a choice, the DM will listen to the caller.

2.Group Decisions
When major group decisions (like plans, or whether to talk or fight) are to be made, the group can and should have a discussion. After 10 minutes (or player request, DM boredom, use of profanity) either the DM or the caller will call a vote. The players will vote, and the DM will consider the players to begin the actions voted.

3.Individual decisions during combat
Each player will have 30 seconds (1 minute? seems too long) to decide their action, or lose it. There should be time enough to decide your action before it is your turn.

Does anyone else have any experience with callers? Played in Tim Kask's game at a convention and have something to share?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hex Crawl Location Inspired by History

Off and on I've been reading “A History of the Church in the Middle Ages” by David Logan and keep finding items to blog about. I've finally decided to take notes so that I can post bits when I find time.

The first thing in particular to note is how “the hobby” relates to interest in history. It might never have come about if not for amateur historians and their war games. Later, the bits and pieces of historical reference in rules and setting inspiration from those progenitors would in turn engender historical interest in gamers. I picked this book precisely because I hoped it would bring something to the game but I found it enriching my life in other ways as well.

And bring it this book has. This blog has a limited life span, as I'll be going back to school in the fall and won't likely have time to post. But I hope to share several parts of this book with you folks – from an undead pope, musings on religious controversy in a universe with observable deities, to the interplays of politics and religion.

But something simple for a start: a quote from pope.

The diocese of Gardar lies at the ends of the earth in the land called Greenland... It is reckoned that no ship has sailed there for eighty years and that no bishop or priest has resided there during this period. As a result, many inhabitants have abandoned the faith of their Christian baptism: once a year they exhibit a sacred linen used by the last priest to say Mass there about a hundred years ago.
Pope Alexander VI, 1492

        Hvalsey Church ruins in Greenland

To me that screams to be made into an adventure location in a hex crawl, complete with discovered adventure hook. A linear or quest oriented campaign might have the hook be an order from whichever religious figure would take the place of Alexander VI. But in a sandbox, I'd rather the hook be found. In the ruined monastery the abbot's diary may contain this lament for the lost souls in Gardar. It would be up to the player characters to do additional research for the rumored location of Gardar and the hazards that left the community isolated. If they do not take it upon themselves to search for Gardar, they yet may be rewarded for recalling the helpful information when they stumble upon it in their advances into the unknown.

Once in Gardar, they'll find the community isolated and divided. Some may yet adhere to their faith of established civilization. Others may have returned to pagan ways, or even 'gone native' with some local divine (or divine-ish) power. Like factions in a dungeon, the players can intercede or not; there would be advantages and problems with either. What misconceptions, misremembered truths, or 100 year old prejudices, does the community have that may make life difficult for the players? Do the players seek the sacred linen as treasure – is it indeed a holy relic with powers? Do they want to bring a new priest to the community and ensure that he or she is accepted? Would the community be a base for the players in further explorations to the unknown? Will there even be a Gardar community left to be found? If there were survivors, where did they go? And where did the sacred linen end up?

These are the questions that come to mind when I consider this as a site-based adventure location.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Not +1 Swords: Spells

A consequence of limiting lower level magical items is that certain lower level monsters that require magical weapons to hit are much more dangerous. Even medium level parties still depend on a selection of +1 weapons – such as a bow – that will be more rare. This would change lycanthropes, certain undead like wights and shadows, low level beings of the lower planes such as quasits, manes demons or imps and oddities such as perytons.

Spell casting adventurers would definitely attend to this problem. 1st edition has the 4th level Magic User spell “Enchant Weapon.” That would be beyond the reach of most mid-level parties that have fewer than typical weapons. But I can't help but think this is an under-powered spell for its level. It provides no bonus to hit, compared to the 2nd level spell Strength which lasts much longer and could certainly add to your melee bonus. Other 4th level spells to compare Enchanted Weapon to include Ice Storm, Wall of Fire and Polymorph Other. The d20 spell, Magic Weapon, provides +1 to hit and is only 1st level.

Mechanically, I intend to use these spells to avoid the Christmas tree effect of too many boring +1 weapons. I can limit those weapons, and pay more attention to the ones that I do place. Monsters that can only be hit by +1 weapons will still be a challenge, but not an unavoidable one. They will be a challenge that can be over come by preparation and resource management. A later post will detail potions that also solve the problem.

Evelgraten's Enchanted Edge
Level 1 Magic-User spell. Alteration
Components: V,S,M         Range: Touch
Casting Time: 1 round     Duration: 5 rounds/level
Save: None.            Area of Effect: 1 melee weapon, or 5 pieces of ammunition
This spell enables the touched weapon to hit creatures that are only hit by +1 magical weapons whether they are incorporeal, ethereal, extra-planar or otherwise supernatural. It does not otherwise provide any bonus to hit. The material components are a piece of unprocessed iron or silver ore and a garnet of at least 5 gp value which are touched together during the casting of the spell.

I choose the casting time of a full round instead of a segment because other 1st level spells creating a lasting effect (like Nystul's Aura) are a full round. I felt that the spell should have a material cost, thus the gem and the 'cold iron' was evocative of folk lore.

Blessed Weapon
Level 1 Cleric Spell Alteration
Components: V,S,M, DF      Range: Touch
Casting Time: 1 round        Duration: 6 melee rounds
Save: None              Area of Effect: 1 melee weapon
By means of a boon from their deity, the cleric blesses a weapon enabling it to hit creatures of an opposing alignment (or otherwise inimical to the deity) that are only harmed by magical weapons and providing +1 to hit. Some deities may require recitations from a holy book, but the typical material component for the spell is holy water which is dabbed upon the weapon during casting.

Yes, the recitation is meant to be a Monty Python reference. I modeled this spell after Bless, and the differences between it and the magic-user spell are intentional.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Bogus Boo

The bogus boo is a creature who
comes out at night, and why?
He likes the air, he likes to scare
the nervous passer-by!

He has two wings - pathetic things -
with which he cannot fly.
His tusks are fierce, yet could not pierce
the softest butterfly.

He has two ears , but what he hears
is very faint and small.
And with his claws on his four paws
he cannot scratch at all.

He looks too wise with his owl eyes,
his aspects grim and ghoulish.
But truth to tell, he sees not well
and is distinctly foolish.

The bogus boo - what can he do,
but huffle in the dark?
So don't take fright: he has no bite,
and very little bark!

by James Reeves

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1, possibly 2 (mated pair)
Armor Class: 8 (1E) 12 (C&C)
Move: 20"
Hit Dice: 2
% in Lair: 50 %
Treasure Type: See below
No. of Attacks: 2
Damage/Attack: 1-2
Special Attacks: Surprise, Fright, Mistaken Identity
Special Defenses: Dark Vision
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Saves: P (C&C)
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L (12' long)
Type: Magical Beast
Experience: 50 + 3/hp

(Forgive the amalgamated Castles and Crusades and 1E stat block. Use what you use, ignore the rest.)

The Bogus Boo is the quintessential wizard's failed experiment that has managed to survive. Perhaps the whimsy of the wizard, or the inscrutable joys of some power of fey or chaos fostered it. Bogus Boos acquire some treasure or food through items lost when it frightens those that it encounters on its nocturnal sojourns - mostly hand held items. Long lived Bogus Boos have collections of lanterns, torches, walking staffs and swords. Otherwise, Bogus Boos survive by feeding upon carrion if they have not been adopted as a pet.

Surprise: If sneaking at night, Bogus Boos surprise on 2-6. Otherwise, Bogus Boos themselves are almost always surprised themselves.(1E) Boos Move Silently and Hide in Shadows as 5th level rogues. (C&C)

Mistaken Identity: Bogus Boos are often mistaken for wyverns, or some other mythical winged, clawed beast - even a dragon. The weakness of their claws, tusks and wings are not apparent at first glance.

Fright: Save vs magic (1E, arcane magic C&C) or drop held items and flee in panic like the aura of a dragon.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not +1 Swords

Ok, so I've noted that I don't want players to treat magical items as fungible bonuses. I'd like each item to be treated as a unique, individual item with a story. After all, it takes a spell caster of significant power an equally significant amount of resources to create permanent magic. Such items shouldn't be treated like something from the dollar store.

To help with this, I did make some tables to assist in brain-storming the story of the item. However, that's just fluff and isn't immediately useful to the players. Fine for me as the DM, but the game isn't about me and my little stories, it is about the player's actions and the story they make. My role is to give them something to work with. So I've tried to add small but interesting powers that fit with the item's context.

This post is also in response to Bat's request that I post some items with history as we discussed in his post of the spell "Decipher History."

One nice thing for me as a DM: if I'm using less permanent magic, I'll be able to spend more time and imagination on the few that are found.

Here are some items already in the campaign:

Man Skinner:

This +1 dagger was found in the Inn of the Little Bear (from the Dragonsfoot e-zine Footprints #15, modified to be the Inn of the Blue Lantern along the Yggsburgh-Greyhawk road.) A +1 dagger is about as throw-away an object as a permanent magic item can be.

The dagger belonged to the hunted agent, Oswald, whose ghost haunts the Inn. The object should reflect its owner and his mission, so I decided (with some glances at my tables) that the dagger was bequeathed to Oswald by the Lord Mayor himself, a druid. Two interesting aspects of the campaign are the ongoing tension between the Old Faith and the religion of St. Cuthbert and the near forgotten conflict between the Suel migrations (in this area, the Maure) and an alliance of local Flan people, their druids, and the demihuman/fey. Being a druid of the Old Faith, the Lord Mayor had in his possessions an object from that ancient conflict: a dagger that the druids of the time created for that war. To emphasize that the dagger is ancient, I made the dagger bronze with a bone hilt. Inscribed upon the hilt were the runes “ManSkinner” in Ancient Flan. For this name to be remembered, it has to have a use: If the dagger is held and the wielder says the words, “Man Skinner” in Flan, the dagger will glow or cease glowing as a candle.
The lawful good follower of St. Cuthbert that claimed the dagger did investigate the dagger's history and discovered some of this with mixed feelings - making the dagger memorable. He still calls it 'manskinner.'

Grolantor's Fury:

+2 Spiked Club.
This +2 spiked club was found in the module Dark Chateau. What to do with a spiked club?

Rolling on those random tables, this item was created by a deity. Ok – this was a gift from the god of Ogres and Fury, Grolantor, to an ogre chief. Said ogre eventually found his way to the Dark Chateau where he either fell prey to Zagyg's magic or subsequent adventurers.
To make the item unique and not just “a +2 weapon”, the weapon sizes itself to whoever defeated the most recent wielder. Grolantor rewards fury.

Blood Letter:

+1 Scimitar, also found in the module Dark Chateau.

The tables say this was created by an orc cleric. So, this was made by an orcish shaman of Grumish in the Pomarj as part of an arsenal for raids northward into the Wild Coast and beyond. Its description is “Crude but efficient scimitar. Hilt is made of long flange (hand) bones wrapped around the tang of the blade and tied with leather. Two runes decorate the blade. A single Eye is carved into the cross of the hilt.”
When the scimitar draws blood, the two runes (orcish for Blood Letter) glow red as a candle. If brandished when lit it can be a negative to enemy's morale.

Wizard's Mate:
+1 Shield.
This item was found in the module “Idol of the Orcs.” I had placed the module within the western Menhir Hills. In the onion layer of background for my version of Greyhawk, this is where some of the Suel migrations settled and attempted to conquer the local Flan native folks, because someday I'd love the campaign to get to modules like Rob Kuntz's Maure Castle. Leaving clues to such things doesn't violate my understanding of a sandbox, because I'm not obligating the players to follow up on these hooks.

Created by a Suel wizard, an apprentice of the Maure, the shield was intended for the wizard's body guard. The shield is nominally a +1 shield. However, any non-magic missile weapon that passes within 5' of the bearer (in any direction!) is targeted at the wielder. To assist the bearer in surviving, the shield is +3 vs. non-magical missiles.

The large steel kite shield is painted white and emblazoned with a stylized sunburst with eight points. Runes are inscribed near the grip. Read magic indicates a charm against missiles.

Light Quencher:

+1 long sword.
This item was found in the module Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom” and was used by the Shroom itself. The rear of the Pod Caverns is connected to an underground river that itself is part of a network linking many caverns of the Underdark. I wanted to leave a hook for that, and describe some of the Shroom's own history. The Sinister Shroom is from one of the many fungal caverns in the Underdark, and set out for his own purposes of spreading his fertile fungalness to upper caverns and beyond. To arm himself, the Shroom traded with drow – at an Underdark trading post – for a weapon to use against surface dwellers. This was in line with the drow's purposes.

This +1 long sword is an elegant weapon, with a slightly curved, thrusting and edged blade. Onyx decorates the pommel, matching the black leather of the hilt. Runes of black are etched upon the blade.
The runes are drow, recognizable but unintelligible to other elves and name the sword “Light Quencher.” Once per day, wielder of the sword may say its name and extinguish one non-magical light source (up to a lantern or a small camp fire) within 30'. If the fire is held, its owner is entitled to a saving throw versus magic against the level of the sword's wielder.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Another +1 Sword

Magical Items: Not Another +1 Sword

As campaigns advance, a common complaint is that magical items become 'less magical'. Another +1 sword would just be another item in the fighter's golf caddy. I've written before about ways to make each item unique based on its origin. I still try to use those ideas, but I think I should consider the level of the maker of the item as well. This should result in more potions and scrolls of varying types being found, and permanent magical items being rarer and more treasured.

Another aspect of single use items is that they reward smart play. A permanent magical item is always on and available regardless of whether the character is informed and aware of the challenge. But because single use items require an action to use, the characters that play D&D like it is a game of exploration instead of a series of inter-connected tactical combats will be prepared and able to make the choice to use their potions and scrolls.

In both AD&D and Castles and Crusades, permanent magical items can only be produced by much higher level spell casters than single use items like potions and scrolls. In both cases, scrolls and potions can be made at 7th level, while 11th, 12th or higher is required for permanent items.

I think in most campaign worlds, there will be more spellcasters between 7-10th level producing more single use items than the rarer archmages spending thousands of gold pieces and weeks and months making very special items. While this comparative faucet of single use items will also be drained by their use, I think the distribution tables for found magical items are wrongly skewed against single use items. For both AD&D and C&C, scrolls and potions are 30-35% of found magical items.

So, the treasure distribution that I will be using will have 66% single use items. Of these, twice as many potions as scrolls. Potions are used by everyone, and even the spell casting artisans may prefer the ease of potion use when they are in danger.

Here's the distribution from Castles & Crusades Monsters and Treasures, keeping pretty much the same relative weights:
01-44 Potions
45-67 Scroll
68-73 Weapon
74-79 Armor
80-88 Miscellaneous
89-93 Rings
94-97 Rods, Staves and Wands
98-99 Cursed
100 Artifacts

Another consideration is that the scope and variety of potions should be expanded, as potions will now be performing the same function as many of the lesser magical items. “Oil of Magic Weapon” and “Oil of the Firey Blade” as well as “Potion of Shadow Form” should take their places in the adventurer's pouch. For now, I think I'll just have a 1/3 chance that a potion will be non-standard and look through either the spell lists or magical items for inspiration.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pics of "Our Gang"

Howdy. It's been our custom for awhile to go out for dinner and drinks on birthdays. D makes a cake and we get festive (though not everyone drinks) before gaming that evening.
We really do have a large community of players, with 6-9 plus DM on any given weekend.

Here are some from my birthday. Two of the guys below are occasional posters on Dragonsfoot:

Next up is me, myself and the fried shrimp head everyone insisted I eat. My own fault, I did pick a sushi restaurant for my birthday.

The gang - most of it. All but three are current players. Two plan on returning in summer. We have a couple of others who could not make this outing.

The cake that D made for me (D is there behind.) We're just getting set up for the evening at S's new apartment. She wasn't done moving in, but decided to host anyway. This is the evening they finally defeated the Sinister Shroom! But first, CAKE!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Play Report from Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom

Below after my comments is a session report written by one of the players in our Castle Zagyg sandbox campaign. I placed the Matt Finch's Pod Caverns in the Little Hillwood, a side trek away from the Castle, and I've talked about how I've adapted it before in the changing sandbox world. It's acquired quite the reputation for toughness from the players. The session report and my comments contain spoilers.

They've really explored very little of the caverns, which has been personally disappointing. There's some old school goodness there that they've missed. In their first expedition they blithely found themselves on the 2nd level in the prison chamber/mulching room. After wards they took that same path - and further right to the Shroom's complex of rooms... skipping floating heads, glowing fungus and other such oddities. They may yet go back since they realize they've missed treasure.

The other entrance to the pod caverns, which they've not yet found, is connected to the series of underground rivers around Yggsburgh, based upon what is known about the original Greyhawk campaign. While my co-DM runs Zagyg (and recreated the Black Reservoir for us in an eerie and deadly session!), up river I have a whole mess planned, even an entrance to the Night Below and a megadungeon of my own.

I heartily recommend the Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom.

This was the third successive foray straight at the Shroom himself. This time they had an objective: rescue the characters that had been captured the previous session.
For each captured character, I made two determinations with a random roll. The first being if the Shroom thought the character was suitable for conversion to a pod creature or to be merely mulched. The determining factor was body size, but pod creature conversion is actually more survivable, so I wanted to make it random. The second was how far along in the process they were.
Each day they had been gone added a +1 to the roll. I gave them a -4 since they had left the troll in the cages (per Matt, the reason there is a troll amongst the prisoners is that the Shroom mulches him in bits, letting the troll regenerate.)
Prior to play beginning, I told each of the three players imprisoned to roll a d20 but I did not reveal the meaning of the results.
Poor G rolled a 1, so his character Vincent was mulched. K and C survived, but C's character Desy was not kept with the prisoners but was destined for a life as a pod creature if the party did not rescue her.
For the rescue session, they rolled up secondary characters (C already had one.) As you will find out, G may be keeping his secondary character.

Between each expedition, the Shroom had a few days to repair, recuperate and breed more pod critters.

The Shroom began posting guards protected by fungoid walls and accompanied by shriekers. The Mad Trees were moved, and a new creature was added: Fungoid Prowlers. With their six legs, I had them be extra creepy by swarming on the players, climbing on the walls and ceilings. Only really creepy things climb on the walls and ceilings - spiders, roaches, and fungoid prowlers.

The fungus wall and shrieker combo was an effective alarm system, allowing the Shroom to counter attack at choke points and attack the party on both sides, often with a round or two delay. The Shroom himself would pick and choose when to attack, using spells first and judiciously running away when threatened.

A few thoughts from myself on this last session:

It's fun to keep the players guessing. But the Shroom acted within capabilities and without knowledge of the player's plans. Matt, the author of the Pod Caverns, provided a lot of excellent material to use.

The players responded to the adversity. The email list had easily over a dozen posts on how to better survive and defeat the shroom. This is another joy of emergent play. The first two sessions were a near disaster and a near TPK with several party members captured. Yikes! This real defeat lead to the players meeting outside the game to plan strategy, go over the map, set up a wiki to keep track of equipment to purchase, etc. The game engaged their problem solving in a very real way.

I really wish I had worked on a voice for the Shroom and had either taunted or negotiated. As villains go, he will be missed.

Below is the what K wrote of the adventure:

Last night we made our daring rescue for our friends Etherlred, Desiderata "Desy" and Vincent.

Character playing (9! - DM's note. Nine players is a lot. I asked them to use a caller, mostly to keep things moving.)
Inara, Threnody, Anduin, Kolya, Danforth, Jane, Obelix, Dismas, Groktor

Kenny, Robert Redshirt, Raser, Tenius, Wolnicca, Leaf-loam

Rescued characters
Ethelred, Desiderata

Mulched characters
Arland (npc), Owen (npc), Vincent (pc)

Before leaving the Out's Inn, we picked up two new fighter's from the swordsman's guild : Razer and Tinnitis, both capable swordsmen. We also managed to get Danforth to convince the church to let us buy four potions of "cure light wounds". Best of all Lord Gaxill loaned us a fighter (Wolnicca). Armed to the teeth with glaive-guisarmes, ropes and flasks of oil, we set out, but not before picking up two new companions who were previously too uncool for us to even talk to : Dismas, a kind of creepy elf bowman who seems to like sneaking around and staring at people; and Groktor the epithet, a half-orc fighter who's low on pronouns but high on strength.
(Groktar was variously called Garnak, and Gronok throughout the evening though he didn't seem to mind).

After picking up Wolnicca (who met at at the castle track road where we camped), we got to the cave entrance. We found that our way was blocked by a six inch wall of living wood, but that was no match for our many fighters and their axes.

- Broke through, killed two mushroom doggies and a shrieker, two mushroom doggies (hereinafter referred to as prowlers) then retreated.
- Broke that same goddamed valve for the ... third? time.
- Attacked by four prowlers (dead), one walking tree (dead) and four pod people (dead, but not before one of them pressed a button which covered the damned valve again and nearly swept many of us to our deaths in the rushing stream (Jane was swept off, because she rolled two ones in a row. This is a one in four hundred chance and I've seen her do it three times in the past couple of months). (DM's note: while Jane fell, neither the roper nor the person holding it failed their rolls. I think she dropped her sword in the water... another bad habit of hers.)
- We made it down to the cages, were we rescued Ethelred, who told us of the sad fate of Arland, Owen and Vincent. He, in fact, witnessed their horrible demises and will undoubtedly need some crisis counseling. He never saw Desy and has no idea what happened to her. We found the last bits of Vincent in the mulch machine, which we can all split up like Victorian keepsakes.
- Kolya and Threnody escorted the shaken Ethelred to safety while the rest of the party pressed on to rescue Desy, or what was left of her. We think they may have tried to turn her into a large pod person.
- Our usual entrance to the Shroom room was blocked by a wall of fungus.
- Inara helpfully cast invisibility on Dismas so that he could go be creepy out in front to scout another way around. He found a bound tree ent and some grasping vines (which we crisped), but didn't notice the vampiric moss on the ceiling.
- We all went to rescue the ent, and, after accidentally lighting him on fire (goddamn it, why can't Jon roll this many ones!), then dousing him and apologizing profusely, we continued on, now with a 17 foot barkshield called Leaf-loam who was looking to avenge himself on the Shroom for stealing his zygotes.
- We found Desy in the next room, whimpering and incommunicative (stupid will save) and strapped onto a needle chair ("bed of thorns"). We freed her (upon which time she became the first of many bodies stacked in a corner) and then burst into the next room.
- After all that racket, the Shroom was unsurprised by our appearance. We consistently damaged the shit out of him, however, with Inara's "fuck you ones" never-miss Magic Missiles and Obelix's swarm of bats, while at the same time. He was also lit up with faerie fire, which prevented him from disappearing effectively. Our front line fighters mowed methodically through the pod people (though we still forgot about bottlenecking and had four on two for a long time. Leaf-loam reached over the heads of the fighters to
destroy the plant abominations. (Dismas sat in the tree and studied the Shroom, hoping for his chance)
- Finally, the Shroom beat a cowardly retreat and we were attacked by a few prowlers in the rear. Thankfully, Inara pivoted quickly and sent an illusion of the enraged ent after them before they could engage our waiting rear guard.
- The Shroom came back (after the swarm had mowed through a few more of his pod people and just after Dismas gave up on invisibility and started taking pot shots) and we killed his ass with more swarms, more magic missile and one flaming arrow. With the demise of the Shroom, the pod people fled and our hearts lifted.
- We found the Shroom's bedroom, and adjoining library and one door that we didn't open (at least then I left) because it looked like it might be trapped. Leafloam poured out the blue cauldrons. We found a goblin in the dangling pod, but we didn't keep him.

On the way out, we destroyed the bed of thorns (with extreme prejudice), the mulcher, and the valve mechanism both at the bottom of the cliff and at the top of the cliff.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A family friendly hobby

In honor of the controversy and the locked threads and the moralizing, I would like to quote from the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, page 192:

Harlot encounters can be with brazen strumpets or haughty courtesans,thus making it difficult for the party to distinguish each encounter for what it is. (In fact, the encounter could be with a dancer only prostituting herself as it pleases her, an elderly madam, or even a pimp.) In addition to the offering of the usual fare, the harlot is 30% likely to know valuable information, 15% likely to make something up in order to gain a reward, and 20% likely to be, or work with, a thief. You may find it useful to use the sub-table below to see which sort of harlot encounter takes place:

01-10 Slovenly trull
11-25 Brazen strumpet
26-35 Cheap trollop
36-50 Typical streetwalker
51-65 Saucy tart
66-75 Wanton wench
76-85 Expensive doxy
86-90 Haughty courtesan
91-92 Aged madam
93-94 Wealthy procuress
95-98 Sly pimp
99-00 Rich panderer

An expensive doxy will resemble a gentlewoman, a haughty courtesan a noblewoman, the other harlots might be mistaken for goodwives, and so forth.

My own review of the subject at hand: porn stars aren't that different from their audience, when unsupervised they are prone to mayhem and blow job jokes. Also, porn stars are people. When they play games the games they play aren't all that different from games you play or might have played. Full Story at 10.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sandbox in Action

An Example of the Sandbox in Action

It is frequently said that there are no plots in sandbox campaigns. This is a misconception. There are no DM-imposed plots. That is true. But instead of one uber plot, there are many plots. Each and every actor/NPC/organization has their agenda; that's what makes the world feel real.

How does that square with the other sandbox rule: player freedom? The ethos of the sandbox is that the game is about the players' plots. The various NPC plots aren't going to force the players to make one choice or the other.

Simply put: many of other plots counter act each other

But that doesn't mean that the world doesn't change if the players don't act.

An example:

The characters have of late been confronting the Sinister Shroom from Matt Finch's The Pod Caverns. In our Yggsburgh/Castle of the Mad Archmage campaign, the Pod Caverns are in the Little Hillwood. After getting his Shroomy nose bloodied in raiding traffic on the Menhir Hills road (by the PCs no less), the Shroom set his sights upon terrain more to his advantage: corrupting the vegetation of the Little Hillwood itself.

But this is a sandbox with character freedom, so the players were free to choose to ignore the threat. Finicky players that they are, they sometimes seem to scorn DM given hooks on purpose. The consequence: the Castle Track (a road through the Little Hillwood that led to Zagyg's Castle) became over run with constricting vines, giant venus fly traps and other incarnations of malevolent flora. Ever headstrong, the players decided instead to find other routes to their preferred source of mad lootz. They went up the Urt river.

So the players ignored the Shroom. But there were other actors in the Little Hillwood, which is the home of a bandit clan, a tribe of carnivorous apes and at least one tribe of goblins. None of these were going to let the Shroom take over.

That doesn't mean that the Little Hillwood is going to be the same. Player choice still effects the world, even as their choice isn't forced. When next traveling up the Menhir Hills road, the party observes many small fires burning throughout the Little Hillwood. And the next time the party encounters the carnivorous apes, they may unfortunately discover that the apes have found a source of pitch within Grey Pools Mire and have a habit of using it to set their enemies aflame. The goblin tribe Double Daggers (do you know your goblin gang signs?) are following a new shaman that has druidic powers. The Little Hillwood is not at all the same.

This is fun kinda stuff that co-DMs get to geek about over beer.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Story and Drama in the Sandbox

Some of us see 'emergent story' and we look for it even while we're running sandboxes and dungeons like Castle Zagyg.

Take one of our players, C. C played a human fighter named Hengist. In true old school fashion, the low level fighter died at the hands of some orc slavers. Hengist's role in the story was now over - but wait.

The orcs were using slaves to mine. As we're playing an old school game, C is able to roll his six attributes, pick a race and class at the table. Thus Ethelred is introduced, a human ranger, joining the adventurers that freed him from a short life of slavery.

What is to become of Ethelred?

Months later, the party finds a trail of a different band of orc slavers. Instead of other options like the plant creatures that the party had set out to kill, Ethelred insists that they track the orcs back to their lair in the Menhir hills.
The random encounter of the orcs becomes a plot element that's more important to Ethelred than the original objective of the party. His choice at the table in that moment.

They over come obstacles and other monsters, but Ethelred refuses to leave the trail. Within the dank caves, Ethelred is battered to unconsciousness by an orc lieutenant. The orc is out numbered and will soon be dead. He knows it. He can run if he fails a morale check, but he knows he's cornered.

As the DM, I hold up an 8 sided die and announce to the group. "The orc knows he's going to die. On a 7-8, the orc will call out a sacrifice to Grummsh the orc god and bash in Ethelred's head in a coup-de-grace."

Everyone watches the die roll. It's a 7.

The orc yells out for the glory of Gruumsh and swings his hammer down.

By pure accident, by choices made in game at the table, we've got a bit of pathos to the too short story of Ethelred. I'm no writer and this wasn't poetry, but there can be story in dice and choices if you look.

And yes, after he and the group mourned Ethelred, C got out his 6 sided dice to make a new character at the same table.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Death and an Update

We've been playing our C&C game weekly since May. Not every character makes every game, as we have a stable of 14 players and two DMs (who are sometimes players as we've divided duties geographically.) Our table limit is 8.

Recently there's been some discussion of death, the appropriateness of it and how to avoid it.

Death is at -10, but you don't start bleeding out until -6. Max hit points at 1st level. We've had 6 deaths and some characters have made it to level 4. All character deaths were melee types. Here's a review of death in our campaign:

  • Warf, a half-orc barbarian, died from a swarm of ghouls that also claimed the life of Robert, a hireling. The cleric was unconscious and a TPK was narrowly avoided by running! away!
  • Shaun, a human barbarian, died from a skeleton. The party wrongly decided that we could conserve resources by taking on the skeletons at a choke point. The skeletons got lucky on initiative and hit Shaun too many times in a row. Undead 2 barbarians 0.
  • Hengist, a human fighter, died from an orc's coup-de-grace. Orcs are brutal.
  • Ethelred, a human ranger, also died from an orc's coup-de-grace. The orc, knowing he was outnumbered, decided to take a soul for Gruumsh on his way out. Same player as Hengist.
  • Catherine, elf, was scouting ahead in a water filled cavern. While she was scouting for the party in an attempt to judiciously explore the caverns, she failed to see the numerous under water snakes.
  • Thyll, another elf played by the same player, died in one round in another underwater cavern when a hydra surfaced, capsized our boat and delivered 8 bite attacks across the party. This player doesn't like underwater caverns, especially ones with serpentine creatures.
  • Near death - 'saved by a 20' - cursed heart-seeking amulet.
  • Hireling deaths: Ghouls: 1, Carnivorous Apes: 1 (presumed, no body discovered), Falling, burning, awakened tree: 1, Ogre's two-handed club: 1 Siren's dagger: 1
  • There was also one expedition that nearly ended as a TPK but Tucker's Kobolds (aka the Old Guard) took us prisoner. Other characters rescued us.

Both the player of Ethelred/Hengist and Catherine/Thyll immediately get out 4d6 when they die. Ethelred began play in the same session as Hengist's death when the orcs were vanquished and their captives freed. Same for his newly rolled up dwarf fighter cleric. Both players get their old school merit badges.

There's been some awareness that our expeditions have been hard on our melee types. But now, after the most recent death (Ethelred), there is discussion on the email list of expanding their hirelings to include a second row of pikes.

Some players are a bit nonplussed at the notion of monsters that coup-de-grace. I think some players are attached to the notion of 'old school' play. I do think that players more accustomed to post-90 (heck, post 2000) play are disturbed. Myself, I won't be happy if my 4th level wizard dies, or my 4th level dwarven rogue/cleric. But if there is no possibility of failure then there is no real victory either.

There is a difference between merely 'dangerous' play and the viciousness of a coup-de-grace. Half of the PC deaths would not have occurred if the monsters by passed unconscious PC bodies.

As a DM, I don't always play the monsters the same. The pod creatures (from Matt Finch's Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom) want to capture animal life to use as growth material. When I run orcs or other intelligent enemies, they coup-de-grace circumstantially. If orcs think they can win, they'll take prisoners. If they think they will lose, they are more apt to take their enemy with them - or perhaps deter their enemy from fighting. Bandits are unlikely to coup-de-grace, because it is harder to ransom a dead body. Mindless undead almost always take life when given the opportunity.

The 'near death' from a cursed item was very nearly a death. The player failed her save, and was obviously crest fallen. Another player, her husband, asked for a chance to save her character, pulling the cursed amulet off of her heart. It's hard to say 'no' to a 20 once you've given a player the opportunity to roll (take note of that, DMs!)

In DMing this way, am I sacrificing 'fun' for my sense of internal consistency (note: not realism)? Or is feeling the risk part of the fun?