Saturday, July 7, 2018

Rings of Power

"There are many magic rings in this world, Bilbo Baggins, and none of them should be used lightly," says Gandalf when confronting Bilbo at the (for the hobbit-guests) surprising end of his "Long Expected Party".

The Lord of the Rings movies certainly did some tricks of the camera to make the Ring seem bigger and heftier than any ring has any right to be; these, along with tricks to make the hobbits seem shorter, while the men and Elves seemed taller.

And sometimes I look at my wedding ring, and it really is just a thin gold band; it feels like nothing in my hand, and I can easily hear myself quoting Boromir: "Is it not strange that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing! ..."

Marriage-jokes aside, it really is a tiny thing, almost weightless in my hand, and yet freighted with such meaning as if it should be heavy to wear. And that's just a wedding ring, no Ring of Power as Galadriel, or Elrond, or Cirdan the Shipwright wear!

Now, the simple gold band of a husband's wedding ring is a perfect image for the metaphor of Sauron's One Ring. First, as I said, it is a tiny, unassuming thing. I've always joked that if I should need to create a "lich's phylactery" or a "horcrux" that the best thing to imbue with a piece of myself would be a pine needle on a forest floor, or a grain of sand on the beach, impossible to differentiate from all the rest. There is an undead creature in one of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books whose soul is bound up in a finger secreted away inside an unassuming pine tree that the hero just happens to find. The less conspicuous the better! And a simple gold band, rather than something ostentatious with runes and gems and all manner of signs of magic is just the kind of unassuming secret thing that I would pour my power into if I were a Sauron or a lich ...

Secondly, metaphorically, Sauron seeks to overmaster everything, and so could be considered to be a bad husband: a man who seeks to control and dominate, to overmaster everything to his will; a tyrant! This is a metaphor, of course, something to be drawn out of the imagery, not something directly allegorized by Tolkien, who hated allegory. Still, there is much to the image--the ring-wearing man, commanding all others to do as he says, rather than working with them toward the end of real justice for all ...

Okay, but I originally started this post to suggest other kinds of rings of power. The ring I wear is so little, but the oath-rings that the Norsemen and their gods used to lay their hands upon were surely not tiny finger-rings, right? I imagine they were arm-rings or torcs--weighty things upon which a man could lay a hand with a real sense of presence.

So why not sometimes describe magic rings as arm-rings or torcs or key rings, or some other kind of ring? E.g.

1) Arm-Ring of the Serpent: a Celtic-type gold ring formed like a serpent and worn around one's upper arm; when worn, it conveys a +2 bonus on saves v. poison; on command, it becomes a viper per the rules, attacking on the wearer's initiative, and when killed reverts to the arm-ring, to be called into viper-form again after one day; similar Eagle- and Wolf-Torcs exist, which provide different specific bonuses and become the animals they represent until killed ...

2) Knotted Arm-Ring: gold lattice in a Celtic-knot-type pattern, it provides from +1 to +3 protection (to both AC and saves ... 1-3 +1, 4-5 +2, 6 +3)

3) Oath Ring: a heavy iron ring worn around the arm, any oath sworn upon it acts as a geas spell for the swearer

4) Torc of Nobility: a well-made golden or silver torc that provides an air of authority. It grants either a +1 to reactions (1-4) or a +2 (5-6).

5) Torc of Thorns: reduces max hp by 2-7 (roll once; no creature can be reduced to fewer than 1 hp by wearing it); otherwise acts as a Ring of Plant Control; and furthermore, grants the power to animate up to two trees per the Treant ability, and to have them fight while concentration is maintained as if concentrating on a device controlling elementals ...

6) Draupnir: or an imitation; be it a finger-ring, arm-ring, or torc, every ninth night it drops nine copies of itself. 1-3 finger-ring worth 25 gp each; 4-5 an arm-ring worth 50 gp each; 6 a torc worth 100 gp each.

Many other such things are possible--why limit "rings" to finger-rings? One could even include ear-rings, nose-rings, and more!

Monday, June 18, 2018

d12 Dwarvish Items for Sale at the Local Trading Post

Several weeks ago (both real-time and game-time) a couple players in the Greyhame Game helped Einan Wife-Lover and his band of dwarves reclaim the old dwarf-hold of Khundrukar (from the 3e module Forge of Fury). The dwarves wanted to assault the front themselves to see firsthand how the defenses worked (or not), they wanted a band of adventurers to infiltrate through a secret way through the side of the mountain and to come up and destroy the orcs inside from behind. They offered a good percentage of the treasure recovered from within as payment.

This assault went off so well that the dwarves, in the same session, asked for help clearing the lower levels. While Einan and company dealt with the duergar on the third level, the adventurers (Baby Face, Ikasha the Starchild, Valor Justice, Little Bob, and Rolf Rolfson) descended all the way to the black lake in the depths to deal with the dragon there. The dragon killed Baby Face and Valor Justice with its first breath attack, but was ultimately overwhelmed when it got a whiff of dragonrose that put it to sleep, and then the party murdered it. Poor dragon.

All of this is a preamble to the fact that now there is a colony of dwarves about three days' travel away from Brakeridge, in the mountains just east of the walled town of Bardastead (which lies due north of Brakeridge). Dwarves who feel, perhaps, that they owe something to the characters who helped them, and also that they have a new market of men to whom to sell their wares, and from whom to buy foodstuffs.

So dwarf items are going to enter into the market at the game table. Especially when Einan Wife-Lover and company build a trading post just outside of Brakeridge ... Anyway, these are the items that are potentially available at Einan's Trading Post:


1 - a bearded helm, i.e. a helm with joined cheek-plates formed in imitation of a dwarf's long beard. Forged with superior dwarvish iron and steel, and covering the entire face, these helms grant a bonus of -1 to AC when worn ... though being so enclosed, they make it difficult for clerics or Elves wearing them to cast spells (1 in 6 chance of a spell fizzling), and make hearing for any character significantly more difficult (1 in 10 chance rather than 1 in 6).

2 - a suit of dwarf articulated plate armor is available--or a fitting for it, rather, as a dwarf armorer is in town and willing to get the measurements for one individual for whom he will build a suit of this excellent armor (AC 2). The armor will be ready one month from the time of the measurements. It is made specifically for the person fitted--anyone else attempting to wear it will have an AC of 5 instead, until it is refitted (costs three quarters as much as the armor, requires a separate fitting session, 2 in 6 chance it doesn't work anyway)

3 - a goldsniffer, that is, a little ferret-like creature with golden fur and eight legs. It can detect metal (gold only) at will within 60', even through rock (so it can smell ore veins), and will beg and whine to be fed gold. "Do not under any circumstances feed it gold!" the seller will admonish prospective buyers. (Goldsniffer -- HD 1-1, AC 5, attacks 1-2/1-2/1-3, M7, saves F1)

4 - a matching set of dwarvish had and boots; the boots will of course have to be fitted and cobbled, which will take a week, but you can wear the hat now. The hat comes in two styles, the high stiff conical style of the gnomes, or the long floppy tasseled style of the dwarves. The boots, once broken in, allow a person to travel/hike 25% farther than otherwise because of their sturdy nature. But woe to he who wears the boots without the hat--dwarves will consider it a grave insult to their culture, and reactions will be surly and unpleasant.

5 - hallucinogenic mushrooms that, when eaten, cause intense hallucinations and a usually euphoric high, though the "trip" could turn into a nightmare under threatening circumstances. The eater is confused as the spell for 1-3 hours per dose (though unless the trip has turned ugly, treat "attacks others" as feeling them up, or talking to them as if they're a disembodied mouth or something)

6 - a set of jewelers' eyes, which are eye glasses with multiple lenses of varying magnification for use in appraising and cutting gemstones of various size. Thieves may use them too, however, gaining a +10% to their ability to find/remove traps, and to their open locks ability. They are glasses, however, and easily broken if not stored properly!

7 - 1-3 bee bombs are for sale. These clay globes contain a dozen or so wasps or bees, kept in an enchanted sleep by runes etched inside the globe. To "prime" it, first it must be shaken, to waken and anger the bees; then hurl it at a foe and laugh as they're tormented by a cloud of stinging insects for 2-4 rounds, dealing 1 damage each round, causing the target to take a -1 penalty to hit and to saves, and preventing spellcasting

8 - a beard-care kit, which includes a variety of small scissors, a hand mirror, beard combs, beard oils, beard-ties, etc. An individual who has a beard, and who uses this kit continually each week will gain +1 reactions with other humans and demi-humans

9 - a linden shield which is constructed of a softer wood than most shields, and built in such a way that it can be used to bind a bladed or piercing weapon by catching the blade deep in the wood. That is, in lieu of an attack, a character may destroy the shield to bind the weapon of an enemy in melee and then attempt to rip that weapon out of the enemy's hands. The shield is useless after this

10 - a sevenfold shield, which is so heavily built that it provides a bonus of -2 to AC, but being so heavy, it cannot be "splintered" to block a successful attack like other shields in my game.

11 - a runic weapon, its metallic blade or head traced with semi-magical dwarvish runes. The small amount of magic in the runes can only be used once per day, by reading the runes aloud, and the effect lasts from 1-10 rounds. It allows the weapon to strike creatures hit only by silver or magical weapons, though it does no extra damage.

12 - a dark flower ... suffused with arcane power, these flowers grow in the deep places of the world where ley lines run and cross. Eating one causes the body to become magical for 1-6 turns, able to detect magic 30' at will, +1 to hit and to damage, +1 to saves, and -1 bonus to AC.
BUT, magic-users or Elves with spells memorized who eat a darkflower will spontaneously cast one memorized spell at random, and they then suffer a major migraine (-1 to all rolls) for the duration of the effect.
At the end of the effects, any character who ate of a darkflower will be drained fro 1-3 hours, at -1 penalty on all rolls, and must save v. poison to resist becoming addicted.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

I Got Sucked Into BattleTech

Got a new computer recently. It runs both the new BattleTech game and MechWarrior Online really smoothly, in contrast with my old rig (which lagged hard in MWO, and iterated a turn in BattleTech in what seemed like an eternity).

Playing these games has eaten into my evenings of late, and hence no blog-writing. D&D continues in person ... just not so much online at the moment. I aim to get a few more posts up this month. Something about Dwarf-items for sale, probably a recap of the aftermath of the Goblin King's death/capture and subsequent events, etc.

Maybe some BattleTech stuff too--this weekend I'll have a chance to run a game with my MechWarrior: Age of Destruction minis that otherwise just sit in the closet gathering dust. Run a game that is--referee a scenario--rather than just play a strict battle of attrition of player versus player. A scenario with stakes for both sides, hopefully to carry into future games ... Maybe the beginning of a wargame campaign? (I'm going to have to compete with my friend's Star Wars: Armada game, of which we also hope to run a game ...)

But it's just so much fun to hammer enemy 'mechs with long-range missiles from my Timberwolf battlemechs ...

Did I mention BattleTech and MechWarrior? I love the franchise. It's a guilty pleasure--I gladly read the Michael Stackpole setting-novels even though they're atrocious. I played untold hours of MechWarrior 2 and MechWarrior 4 when I was younger. Briefly whetted my appetite for the miniatures-game during high school with MechWarrior: Dark Age/Age of Destruction. Now I play (I wish they were untold) hours of MechWarrior Online and BattleTech on Steam ...

But I dream of playing a tabletop BattleTech wargame campaign ...

I dream of a Tony Bath style campaign, fought with endosteel behemoths armed with lasers and particle projection cannons, rather than of war elephants and cataphracts with lances ...

But a campaign nonetheless, with kingdoms led by individual men and women, striving to expand or better their states, husbanding their armies--not across the fields and mountains of Terra, but across the interminable darks of interstellar space ...


Clan Wolf shall be victorious!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

They Killed the Goblin King! (Greyhame 30)

They began descending the stair that wound around the shaft down to the third and fourth levels of the dungeon beneath the Howling Tower--the Goblin King's lair lay somewhere below, and within, presumably, the Star Child prisoner ...

The party included:
Baby-Face (thief 6)
Valor Justice (Elf 2)
Aethelwulf (paladin 4)
Ham (cleric 5)
Thaddeus (fighter 3)
Torag (ogre 1)
Blackleaf (Elf 4)
Koko (woman-ape 2)
Little Bob (travelling-man 5)
Maira (magic-user 1)
June (cleric 3)
Able (paladin 1)
(the party was a damned army, alerting everything ahead of them of their coming!)

There were two doors on the landing to the third level. Both were locked. Baby-Face picked one; it opened onto a goblin armory. But he failed to pick the other. The party began to smash it open; the noise attracted attention ...

From below, the party heard a familiar voice raised in anger: "Why do you continue to invade my house?" cried the Goblin King from the bottom of the shaft. And looking over from above, there he was, surrounded by a bodyguard of four spiderlings, and with Calirath, an Elfin-seeming woman with white hair, clad in nothing but her own coal-black skin.

"Well if you weren't such a dick!" Maira called back from above.

"Come and fight me!" the Goblin King answered.

Confusion ensued. Without a caller, the party talked over each other. I want to cast a spell, I want to shoot an arrow, what's going on? I called for initiative without spells--an arrows was loosed, and so battle was joined.

The Goblin King and crew won; the Goblin King himself, a straight-backed, strikingly handsome goblin with a weird Elfin shadow that moved independently, quaffed a potion and grew in size; his djinni, Calirath, began to transform into an aery form and a wind picked up in the room. The four spiderling bodyguards around the king stepped up to the foot of the stair, taking defensive positions. And from the back of the party, the silent demon spider crept down and attacked, but I rolled shit for attacks.

A party of dogs attacked the demon spider, all to no avail despite having silver-lined tine in their mouths--as a demon, it was immune to any attacks except those with a magic weapon. Koko moved back to attack the spider, using her ape ability to kind of climb the wall to get into the melee with the dogs, using her magic sword.

Aethelwulf, Little Bob, Ham, and some dogs moved down the stair to attack the spiderlings, while arrows were cast down around them at the Goblin King, to no avail. But even as Aethelwulf reached the middle point and cast his first javelin, fires lit up from the runic trap on the stair, engulfing all the front rank in fire for 1-6 damage; these fires would cover the entire stair on the next round.

Spells were prepared. The party won initiative, and Ham got hold person off on the Goblin King and his bodyguard. I rolled a 3 for him, but the spiderlings saved (third villain in three villain-encounters to fail his save against hold person, this is getting frustrating); Blackleaf also webbed the King; meanwhile, June attempted to hold person the rising whirlwind, but Calirath not being a "person", she was not affected.

Seeing the fires roaring toward them, several characters jumped. Able, June, and Little Bob each took 1-6 points of damage as they leapt. Meanwhile, Koko used her apish "feat of strength" ability to wrestle the spider off the stair--she tried to throw it at the Goblin King, but didn't quite succeed in that. As the spider was cleared from the back, the rest of the party moved up the stair and away from the rising fires (hmm, I should have dealt fire damage to Ham, Blackleaf, and June, since spells can't be cast if you move, but I didn't--oh well!) Baby-Face meanwhile used his thief "climb sheer surfaces" ability to descend from the stair without harm.

The demon spider was discombobulated for a round, then began to climb back up the wall; the spiderlings stayed where they were, holding the foot of the stair for the entire encounter; Calirath continued to transform into a whirlwind (5 rounds altogether is painfully slow).

Meanwhile, Koko charged back down the stairs through the fire (1-6 damage) to engage the spiderlings in melee alongside Aethelwulf. She managed to kill one, but also received a number of hits, including two critical hits, one of which she warded off by breaking her shield. And I should note that Aethelwulf, wearing his Ring of Fire Resistance was hanging out in the fires, immune to their damage (they were only dealing damage as "normal fires").

Ham, Torag, and Thaddeus all elected to jump off the stairs to take 1-6 falling damage each, and then gang up on the paralyzed Goblin King.

At about this time, the demon spider got back up to the stair and began munching on dogs (rolled randomly, characters or dogs/hirelings). Boar One (Ham's dog) failed his save against poison. Later, Duke (Maira's dog) would be killed by brute damage, while Whesker the Weasel (Baby-Face's snake-killing weasel) also succumbed to poison. And Astix (June's Celtic hireling) was knocked to 0 hp (just knocked out, even for a mere hireling), and made his save exactly to avoid death-by-poison.

Meanwhile, Calirath was finally fully formed into a whirlwind. She moved through Aethelwulf and Koko, dealing 2-12 damage to each, and Koko was KO'd, while Aethelwulf was forced to lay hands upon himself. But!--Valor Justice had a scroll on his character sheet, and nothing to identify it otherwise. He used it, and I rolled its effect randomly from the treasure-tables. Protection from Elementals! And reading the description, it creates a circle of protection 10' into which elementals cannot move or attack. And what's a djinni but a spirit of the air? I judged it effective, and the whirlwind Calirath was unable to affect the party at the top of the stairs with her howling winds.

During these rounds, Torag, Ham, and Thaddeus were beating up the Goblin King (normally I allow automatic kills against held opponents, but in the confusion of this combat, I was just granting +4 to attack) and doing some decent damage to him, but were attacked by his animated shadow; and so Baby-Face and Little Bob began to attack the shadow and deal damage directly to it with their magic weapons, until finally it dissipated (and the Goblin King looked pretty badly injured too).

Around this time, June happened to loose an arrow at the frozen Goblin King--and he rolled a 20! He took the King down to 1 hp; initiative was rolled, and the party won. I let June go first. Another hit, and the Goblin King is dead, slain by an arrow cast by a low level character, his eyes rolling up in his head even as his body is held in a magically rigid paralysis.

The whirlwind howled, moved down to attack those around the Goblin King, and KO'd Ham with the damage dealt. Then she began to wind down, returning to her woman-form.

Only the demon spider and the spiderlings remained ... the spiderlings were quickly dispatched; but the demon spider continued to fight (see casualties above), its armor class and magical nature keeping it proof against most of the creatures it was facing. Until Aethelwulf, Little Bob, and Blackleaf engaged it in melee with their magical swords (the fire had died down by then, but as Little Bob went back up the stairs, they reignited, dealing 1-6 damage to him). The spider managed to KO Little Bob, but the magic swords arrayed against it proved too much, and it expired on their swordpoints.

Lastly, the whirlwind was still winding down; as it did so, Ham attacked it, thinking it still an enemy--but Baby-Face, who had counseled against killing the Goblin King in the midst of the battle, now leapt in the way of the blow. He took the hit, but saved Calirath. And when the djinni had fully reformed, she turned to Baby-Face and declared, "If you can save the Goblin King--if you can get him raised from death--I will give you anything you want."

So the party marched out of the dungeon, Calirath carrying the slain form of the Goblin King--and what wandering monster would dare attack such a procession??

Back in town, the Goblin King was successfully raised by Lailith; and because Baby-Face asked Calirath to serve him, she pointed out the ring on the fallen Goblin King's finger to which her spirit was bound, and bade him wear it ... and now Baby-Face is a Thief 6 with two Rings of the Djinni.

Which means it's time for me to step up the challenge!

We were out of time ... we'll figure out the ramifications of it all next session. But all in all, very fun. There was a lot of nail-biting on behalf of the players, and a lot of me thinking "oh man, I'm going to kill all the low-level characters." But some fortuitous rolls (my bad save, a good roll on the scroll-type) turned the tide of fortune.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Generic Old Sword +1

I've occasionally seen the argument bandied about, that a generic Sword +1 (or any magic item +1) is just about the worst kind of magic item that can be found in the game.

The sense that I take from these statements is that magic items should all be interesting and unique, and an item +1 cheapens magic to just another game stat.

I agree in general with the sentiment. Magic should be unique and interesting! So what I used to do, back in high school, was never to give out any magical item unless I had carefully placed it in my dungeon. I remember the party was once forced to fight a demon that was harmed only by magical weapons with the single Dagger +1, which I had placed in a dungeon somewhere elsewhere ...

... one of the players was later so desperate for magic that other players (okay, I was one of them that session) played a joke on him by casting continual flame on a quiver of arrows and making them seem like some kind of flaming arrow.

Sure, you're right--that Dagger +1, even though it was the only magic item held by a party of 6 or so ~4th level characters, didn't actually have a name or anything. It was still just an item +1 ... but its magic still made that encounter more interesting ...

"So help me if this is just some Sword +1, +3 versus Undead!"


So I agree with the general sentiment, that magic items should be unique and interesting, but I disagree with the practical idea that one should not include "generic rulebook stuff". How to make this jive?

First, what's the motivation to cut out the generic item +1? Is it for the players or for the referee? In every game I've run, players are always happy to run across the next Sword +1 or Shield +1 or whatever. Even if they don't immediately use it, they can add it to their "downtime" inventory, they can  give it to a favored hireling, or just hold onto it to bribe the dragon instead of using their personal Sword +3 of Whatever Awesomeness.

Likewise, as a player, I'm happy to pick up extra items +1 to add to my inventory for use by my henchmen/hirelings--or, at first level, it's just fucking awesome to finally have a magic thing!

As a corollary ... sometimes I as a player just don't want a weird magic item ... I know, I know, "weaponize floating disc and mending" and all that, and use every item in weird ways, but still, sometimes I just don't see a use for the thing. Maybe someone else does--and I'll be glad to give it to them! But sometimes a Sword +1 would just be kind of generically useful ...

Second, assuming unique magic items is a thing for the referee ... you don't need every item to be magically unique to give a unique description to the item. A Sword +1 can be a sword "marked with the maker's mark of the Waterfall", or it can be a "narrow grey sword with weird Dwarvish runes", or it can be "a flashing scimitar with a spider hilt", etc. etc. etc.

I have some specific traditions of magic-sword forgings in my game that provide ready descriptions for otherwise generic swords. I need more such, surely; and I need the same for other "generic" magic items that could be found in the game; but I've gotten by so far with what I have ...

Third, the randomness of the tables in the book is a large part of the appeal. I had a dungeon that included a staff of power in one of the rooms on the first level because I rolled the 01 on percentile dice for a magic item present, unguarded (likelihood 1%!), and proceeded to roll within 91-95 (Wand/Staff/Rod), and then 22-23 (Staff of Power). Honest rolls. Which meant, when my players found it, that they had a staff of power! Its use was their prerogative ... only just now, six years later, have they finally "used it up". Without rolling it, there's no way in hell I would have placed it there--but with random generation ... well, sometimes adventurers get lucky!

Corollary to that--if you don't like the generic tables, write your own tables specific to your setting. I keep intending to do this for myself ... but really, I have no beef with items +1 (and I don't want to spend the time). My players eat them up. I generally have handy descriptions for them to differentiate one from the next (eh, I sometimes do). Too many?--items get lost. And even the generic magic item tables have a variety of interesting things that players have never seen, or have rarely really gotten a chance to play around with, session after session (Blackleaf in my Greyhame Game has a medallion of ESP 30'. It's the first time for me as a referee ... after 20ish years of D&D? ... to have to deal with it--and definitely the first time for her as a player of maybe five years. She abuses it at every door, and I roll with it ... someday there'll be a monster with an amulet of protection from ESP ... rolled randomly, of course)


So call me a conservative in this regard, but I'm fine with a Mace +1 (its head is fashioned to resemble elephants with mighty tusks) and a Ring of Protection +1 (where a stone would be set instead is a piece of a saint's fingerbone). I'll place super-special magic-items here and there in the dungeon where I will, but for any old hoard (and a dungeon-level should hold several), I'll roll randomly just to see what shows up.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

the First Time I Played D&D

A good friend of mine had me create a character for a game I'd never heard of before. I was ... 9 maybe?

I played a fighter (simple to describe and create). I'm fairly confident I'd read The Hobbit by then, because I don't remember being phased by the presence of Orcs. What I do remember is that after killing several orcs in a semi-ruined city, I ran into one, an older orc who didn't immediately attack. I spoke with him; he asked me why I was killing his comrades.

How could I respond? I barely knew what kind of game I was playing. I have no memory at all why I was killing orcs to begin with ...

But I knew I was hooked. (Thanks, Jesse! I don't guess you know how much that little session expanded my horizons)

I pored over this friend's accumulated "monster manual", which was in the true old style of a three-ring binder filled with three-hole punched monster pages. Dozens of monster I'd never heard of. We made characters using his rules to attack our dads' dungeon (my dad and his are best friends from their college years, and played D&D together back when it was the LBBs); but we failed to do much of anything other than lather up an angry water-weird.

Back home, without any kind of actual D&D rulebook, I wrote a set of rules based on what I remembered, plus stats from the Master of Magic game that we had on the family computer. I introduced friends at school to the idea of the game; I remember I played a kind of gold dragon as a "DM character" for a little while, but ultimately abandoned that idea after fire-breathing my own enemy-creatures to death too many times.

Later on, I acquired the 2e Monstrous Manual as my first actual D&D book (I still have it; the binding is maintained with duct-tape now, and saving throw tables are written into its back pages). My only book then!--so all characters were Fighters without spells or special abilities. We still managed to make it interesting; one player was a minotaur with a Warhammer 40K-style chain-sword, one was a wererat, one was a halfling. A different game of mine with another friend had otter-people (courtesy of Redwall) and a vorpal demon-halberd emulating Ashitaka and his curse from Princess Mononoke.

Then at last, I acquired a Players Handbook--two, actually, both the first edition and the third edition versions ... I ran a short first edition game with a good friend and his ranger and cleric characters; but third edition games didn't really take off until high school ...


A response to an "old" guest-post over at Tenkar's Tavern that left me chewing on memories. Obviously, my experience in the beginning was similar to Michael Gross' experience, except I was the young referee trying to marshal players in the "wings" of the elementary school building during recess, using handwritten notes.

Which brings up another idea: D&D as a punk exercise, as articulated by the author of the Pits Perilous blog. You want to run a game? Great! Rulebooks are helpful, but they're not necessary. All you need is a gut understanding of a game that takes advantage of infinite freedom. The rules are yours to write/steal. ("Here are three chords; now go start a band," as the punk reference is made)

A seven-year-old can write a D&D scenario. Get to it!

(a further addendum: I had a friend in junior high and high school who had come up with his own "game" which started out entirely as a narrative give-and-take between him and us players. No dice, everything was his fiat; he had a world that he had imagined up, with a variety of strange creatures (most of them were reptilian something-or-others), and we explored it entirely through dialogue with him, without dice or anything. Just to point out that you don't even need the handwritten rules that some of us had; sheer imaginative force is sometimes enough. And thanks, Solomon! I really didn't appreciate your creation and originality as much as I should have back then!)

Monday, May 7, 2018

Greyhame Mountain Dungeon Expedition 29

Orcs have returned to the caverns of the Glimmervaults ...
the Goblin King and the Lord of Werewolves have renewed their ancient alliance in the dungeons beneath the Howling Tower ...
the secret treasury of the Bronding Kings is said to lie hidden behind the Brokenbrand Falls, haunted by enchanting naiads ...
Jaer the Windlord looks down on the world below from the Eyries of the Eagles atop the Greyhame Mountain itself ...
and the Stars themselves are singing an eerie, eldritch song, night after night ...

16 April's roster:
Aethelwulf (paladin 4)
June (cleric 2)
Able (paladin 1)
Ham (cleric 5)
Thaddeus (fighter 2)
Coball (cleric 1)

(and halfway through the session)
Blackleaf (Elf 3)
Koko (woman-ape 2)

In town, Able, newly arrived paladin, hired two Celtic-type men-at-arms, one Vertix, the other Astix. He also acquired for himself two of the available dogs, a bloodhound and a ghosthound.

Aethelwulf, meanwhile, bought the two unique items available this session, a bottle of what was purported to be mead of poetry, the other the fingerbone of a saint. He placed the fingerbone in the pommel of his life-draining sword Drinker, then took the mead of poetry to Aldir the blacksmith. This Aldir had once had a fling with Blackleaf the Elf, but it had fallen by the wayside when Aldir decided he wanted to convert to the Good cult under Aethelwulf's tutelage; but Aethelwulf was interested in getting them together, because if Blackleaf married Aldir, a Good human, then Blackleaf would receive a human soul from the pairing ....

And so Aethelwulf drank of the mead, and spoke to Aldir at length in verse, describing the basic goodness of marriage, and spinning out the mythic tales of men and Elves marrying; perhaps indeed, he sang the Lay of Lethian! And because of the magic in the mead, he was convincing, and Aldir decided that he must ultimately wed Blackleaf.

Still, Aethelwulf had one further piece of business in town. He and the company had rescued several children from the Goblin King's dungeons last time, and now he kept them at the shrine while trying to figure out how to reverse the changes effected on them by the Goblin King's magic to make them into goblins.

Town business dealt with, the party decided on their next course of action--sneak into Oakridge castle to deal with Morrow, son of Morholt the Usurper! Though Morholt had already been captured and sent north, his son retained control of the castle, and now the party wanted to end the usurpation of Sonora's rightful claim to the seat once and for all.

The party sneaked into the dungeons of the castle through a previously revealed secret-entrance on the north side of the ridge. In one room, they burst in on a pair of guards, surprising them as the guards diced at a table. The party's dogs made short work of the men; and what were they guarding? The prison cells. These were filled with typical rabble--drunkards, petty thieves, and the like, and the party left them there. But through another set of doors and corridor they found a semi-newly installed torture chamber, and beyond that an oubliette from whence came a faint weeping.

The prisoner within was hauled out, one Alira, a young woman of the village. She refused to tell the party what exactly Morrow had done to her, and Aethelwulf had his hirelings Lessing and Aquinas escort her out of the dungeon to safety.

The party then proceeded to explore previously explored territory, robbing a couple more crypts of the dead lords below, until they stumbled through the well room and the wine cellar, and up stairs into the kitchen!

Six servants chopping vegetables were interrupted--they immediately fled at the intrusion of armed men, but Aethelwulf called them back, promising their freedom from Morrow's evil rule.

It was at this point that I remembered I had written a short table for "castle business" that I was supposed to use whenever I used the castle ... roll roll ... a feast! "We were preparing for a feast," the servants tell the party.

The natural plan on hearing that was to make it a Red Feast, and the party convinced the servants to let them hide below, and then come and get them when everyone in the castle had assembled for the feast and were into their cups somewhat.

I rolled a wandering encounter check to see if anything happened in the meantime; nothing; so at the duly appointed time, the servants came and led the armed party up through the kitchen to attack the unarmed Morrow and his men.

In the great hall, Morrow was seated at the high seat with his captain of the guard, his magic-user assistant, and six wild-looking men and women, while two dozen of his men-at-arms feasted in the hall below. During the surprise round, the party got a hold person spell off on Morrow and his magic-user and I rolled ... something like a 3 and a 5. So they were paralyzed; everyone else was unarmed, other than their daggers, and unarmored.

It was a slaughter. Even when the wild-men turned into wolves, they stood no chance; and Blackleaf's and Koko's timely appearance allowed Blackleaf to get a web spell off on the armed reinforcements that attempted to save the life of their lord, immobilizing the entire squad (except the captain, who managed to slay Astix the hireling before himself being felled). The magic-user, too, was easily killed while he sat, paralyzed by the hold person spell, holding up a morsel of venison on his fork, mouth hanging open, ready but unable to bite--he was struck through with several arrows loosed by June and Able, if I recall correctly.

During the melee at the high table, it was revealed that Morrow was a werewolf when a stroke from a normal sword did him no damage, while a silver arrow pierced his shoulder and bright red blood flowed forth.

But in the end, the party agreed that they needed to seize Morrow and haul him away before any more reinforcements showed up. They bound him as well as they could with speed, and then dragged him back down and out through the dungeon and back to town.

Thaddeus caroused, telling everyone this tale, but was able to hold his liquor without shenanigans ensuing. And so Morrow was captured two weeks after his father before him; and within the next weeks, certainly, the men-at-arms that Sonora left behind in Brakeridge hope to be able to take the castle back for their lady!


Remembrance for the Fallen:
Astix (Celto hireling), Clara and Ilana (normal women), Marlo and a number of dogs, GramDorcasFrida, and Johann Haybaler (normal hirelings), Hauka and Wilmerand (weasels), Blade and Boar (boarhounds), Hubert the Peacock and Lysimmachus (normal men), a nameless mastiff, Livy (normal man), Orkie (orc mastiff), Fang (boarhound), Droopy and Snoopy (mastiffs), Dream Destroyer (ghosthound), Arrow (pack dog), Freyja (normal woman), a nameless cur, Hot Dog and Cross (mastiffs), Orion II (lion dog), Bacon (boarhound), Tore (half-orc fighter 1/cleric 1), Jimmy the Snitch (dog), Orion (lion dog), Harambe (man-ape 1)

and for those Enchanted away:
Dol (fyrdman hireling)