March 31, 2012

Random Funny Moment At The Table

This is from our last session. Just for you to know, we're playing Pathfinder: our party joined this brotherhood of demon haunter hunter monks who sent us around the desert in this weird sunless world which happens to be quite near the Abyss, so demons often pop in anywhere - except, apparently, near this city we're investigating. Then, suddenly, they began to pop up again and nearly kick our asses all around the place.

Sir Hector: "I think we should probably worn our masters that this desert is safe from demons no more."
Mater: "Perhaps we can contact them by using the Amulet of Sending?"
SH: "Perhaps, though 25 words sounds pretty hard to me."

March 25, 2012

Planning A (Pathfinder) Campaign, Part I: Know Your Party

So, after the initial brainstorming I have some ideas to go with, that is: building a fantasy mash-up over the Middle Earth hack (more about this later) and using Obsidian Portal as a campaign manager. I will also produce a new DM binder to store all the tables and stuff printed from the Wiki so not to end having to play with the computer, which is something I don't really like. But this, again, is another topic I will cover moreover. In this post, I want to discuss the last year or so of weekly campaign, analyzing the adventures, what worked and whatnot.

Adventures And The Plot
Our first adventure was about becoming part of this guild of demon-hunter monks. The campaign was set in this world with no sun, toe-to-toe with the Abyss, where demons and devils often pop-up here and there causing troubles. The "test" was about entering a dungeon, fighting some stuff, get out and begin the training. So eventually we managed to do all of these things, got a bunch of new special abilities and a couple of minor magic items. After the training, we were sent to this port to investigate some strange ritual murders (second adventure). We failed gathering enough clues (which really wasn't our fault, or so was my impression anyway) and a powerful demon was eventually raised in the city. In the meanwhile we fought some Goblins in the sewers (that ended up having nothing to do with the murders and demon rising at all), some Imps (supposedly the killers), and were contacted by this mysterious NPC that helped us and then we heard nothing about her again. At this point we joined a merchant looking for a library in a ruined city in the desert (the world apparently was mostly desert - we never saw a map of it anyway so who knows). There we confronted some powerful devils, some weird tricks and traps settled by the MU who was the original owner of the library, and finally reached our goal retrieving a huge hoard. (That was the end of our third adventure.) We went back to the port, spent our moneys in magical gear, and learned about the nearby woods. Thinking we could find some clues about what was raised in the city, we headed there, met some Rangers in trouble, and learned about this mysterious cavern. We went there, my character almost died in a battle against some really huge displacing spider (only character who really risked his life in the game - he was a Sorcerer anyway), and finally arrived to the cavern. (From hereon I think we were playing some 3.0 adventure, name it if you recognize it.) In there we found a huge tower, at the top of it was a dragon. My character came to terms with the dragon by gifting him something magic (like a useless wand or something), avoiding the battle and being allowed to enter the tower. There we fought a lot of monsters, mainly undead, and I admit it was like the most entertaining part of the campaign (I love dungeons). We kicked the boss' ass, and crawled out with some treasure we left to the Rangers to remake their stronghold. End of the fourth adventure. Then, some way I don't quite remember, we learned about this truly powerful artifact: a necklace crafted by the Gods themselves (note: the setting was so poorly detailed we knew nothing but this about the Gods, whatever). Last time it was used it really screwed up everything and eventually created the big desert in which we lived. So we decided to get over it, find it, and possibly destroy it. Then we learned we weren't the only one looking for the necklace: someone else was on it, and they owned this diary leading straight to the pyramid in which the necklace is said to be stored. We tried so steal it, but eventually someone scooped us. And here we are.

What Worked And Whatnot
I had similar issues with my previous campaign with this party of players (The Doomed Wastelands). To me, the biggest problem was our DM mixed the sandbox and railroading kind of play the wrong way - that is: we were thinking about following some path of sort while we were truly only going around, and the vice-versa. This is something that must be absolutely avoided. The more, most of the players in the party are not good on sandbox playing, and want to be railroaded. I bet that if I'd go with you go kill the Dragon of Despair as an adventure for 1st level characters, they'd go without asking a question. Also, they are not really interested in writing the story, and much prefer to be passive tools of faith in their quests. Thus, I'm not offering any kind of sandbox playing to them. Also, it's my guess they want something truly linear - so no twisting plots. Oh well, good for me - lot less work needed.

Thus, The Plot
From the above consideration, I'll go with a simple stupid idiot proof linear plot. The more, I won't even struggling writing down something original. I think I'll go with LOTR: you go find this powerful artifact (the above necklace) which is important to the Big Bad Guy (Vecna-style Lich) to regain his power and strike back subduing the Free Peoples of the world. When you find it, you destroy it. I guess half the campaign will be about finding, the other half on destroying. Or perhaps 3/5 finding 2/5 destroying. Whatever.

Campaign Structure
I will plan five adventures, from level 9 to 14 (thus, one level for each adventure). According to what happened in the last year of playing, it seems likely that this will take about 10 months to complete. Each adventure will be clearly and easily linked to the following one: I really want to give them a sense of what's going on and a strong sense of "you are winning". I don't want to turn it all in a cake walk, but I think it's important not to take things at a level of complexity they are not capable of/not interested in carrying.

March 23, 2012

New Campaign Brainstorming

A couple of days ago I was asked by the actual DM in our weekly Pathfinder campaign to take over the role and start with a fresh new cycle of adventures. I'm quite excited about it, especially now that (having played a little) I feel quite comfortable with the rules. Despite the fact that I've never liked running story-oriented campaigns, this time I'll try to go in this direction. I think I'm doing something really simple and quite linear, not to end up with a story too difficult to handle (playing once a week means little prep time in-between sessions, especially considering that I do have a life outside D&D, whatever), thus the trite classic prevent the rise of a new dark lord theme. The point is I need a world to settle this new campaign, so here's some brainstorming about the topic. Suggestions and critics are welcome!

Fantasy Mashup
The first idea I had is to paste together everything I like in fantasy, so to create a world in which I have a spot for every weird idea pops into my head and use for future attempts. Things to throw in include: a pirate archipelago, a sky realm, Transylvania, a dark desolation of chaos, primitive lands for swords & sorcery, a couple of different human kingdoms (vikings, medieval knights, despotic technocracy) and a lot of empty space for future addenda (desert land for Arabic themed adventures, an uncivilized land, a Japanese themed country, and so on). So yes, basically nothing too different from Mystara. Creating a brand new world has its benefits on the long run (that is, re-usability), but its nonetheless one hell of a work even if one limits his efforts in barely sketch up everything focusing only on what's really needed.

Middle Earth Hack
I'm toying with this idea since, like, always. I think hacking the Middle Earth could really provide me with a very interesting world for a D&D campaign. Of course, the hack part is where I put in everything D&D-ish (like common high-magic, clerics, powerful magic-items and artifacts, Dwarf Rangers, Gelatinous Cubes, etc.) with little attention not to denaturalize Tolkien's masterpiece. The benefits on the short run is that I would only need to adjust what is worth (like, for example, place the Witch-king of Angmar among with Sauron and Smaug all in the same time-line) and already have a general idea of what's where, and how the world scale works (I always have hard times with this kind of things). The major drawback I see here is the limited re-usability of such a setting.

A Possible Solution
How about using the Middle Earth hack as a base for the Fantasy Mashup world? Like, it's obviously the western portion of a larger continent, and many of the things I wish to include (oriental, Arabic, Viking, medieval kingdoms, etc.) are already in one way or another. I could make it work by reorganizing it's geography (for example, switching Rhovanion and Eriador, Mordor and Angmar, making room for Transylvania in the eastern part), changing most of the names (except the generic ones, like I don't know, The Misty Mountains) and so on.

March 16, 2012

Introducing The Megadungeon Arena

Our Champions
Rappan Athuk Reloaded: Almost probably the only Megadungeon published in the 3e era that doesn't suck (but this is my humble point of view).
Stonehell: In which Michael Curtis brings the One Page Dungeon concept to a completely new dimension.
The Castle Of The Mad Archmage: One of the best fun-made Megadungeons available for free.
The Caverns Of Thracia: Representing the early days of the hobby.
The Mines Of Khunmar: Even if an early draft, I consider Stefan Poag Khunmar The Megadungeon by definition. Probably the only published one in which I'd feel comfortable running a campaign in.
Under Xylarthen's Tower: I consider this awesome little (free) module from JRients to totally fit in the category. It's fairly big, with lot or room for expansion, and basically a small sandbox on its very own.

There are many other Megadungeons around I left out from this competition: Dwimmermount, ASE, Barrowmaze, Palace Of The Vampire Queen, The Black City, White Rock Castle, Ruins Of Undermountain, Greyhawk Ruins, etc. I decided not to let them in either because they still have to be published, or I don't really know them, or they're too difficult to pick and refer for comparison. Or I find they're total shit and they don't qualify for this competition.

Rules Of The Game
In each post I discuss one particular aspect of these dungeons: Presentation, Background, Keys, Maps, Level Connections, Usability and Creativity. Then I set up a poll and you vote your favorite the one that best represent said aspect. At the end of the competition, I compile a PDF with all the entries and poll results and declare the Absolute Winner Of The Megadungeon Arena.

March 15, 2012

Dwarf-land Draft Available

Huge Ruined Scott, one of the most awesome writers in the Old School blogosphere, has an early draft of his ambitious Dwarf-land project for download. If you ever followed his blog(s) than you already know what to expect - otherwise just get there and check it out by yourself. Long live the DIY D&D!

The 5th Edition I Want To Play (An Open Letter To WotC) Part II

Look, I'm not the kind of non-purposeful person who just ask for stuff without giving suggestions. So this is how you do this new 5th edition, step by step. No kidding.
  1. You get back to the BECMI model. Release content box by box, and as you're done you make it into a new Rules Cyclopedia (wasn't it your best sold product ever?)
  2. In the Red Box (Basic Set) you cover levels 1 to 3. You include all the base races (human, dwarves, halflings & elves) and classes (warriors, thieves, wizards and clerics), with some real basic skills (choose the dungeon-crawling related from Pathfinder list, like Perception and Climb and so), a list of feats (include only those who can be picked from levels one to three, and if you go with the 3.5 list this means maybe 10-15 of them) and all the 0 to 2nd level spells. In the DM section of the book you put all the dungeon-crawling rules, treasure & magic items, some dungeon dressing/design tables, rules to set up an encounter and the monsters. The page count is 64 pages in a single book. Include in the box: a (decent) set of dice complete with a custom bag, a copy of the character sheet, and module B2 (or T1) complete with the maps remade the fancy way printed in color on cardboard. No cardboard minis, no plastic maps: we don't give a fuck to this.
  3. In the Blue Box (Expert Set) you cover levels 4 to 9. You include the advanced races (gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs) and classes (barbarians, bards, rangers, assassins, druids and paladins), new skills oriented to wilderness crawling, more feats to cover the higher levels, and all the necessary spells. In the DM section of the book you put treasure & magic items, magic item creation rules, magic research rules, and all the wilderness crawling rules, among with tables and suggestions to run a sandbox. The page count is 64 pages in a single book. Include in the box: a module similar to X1 detailing the region surrounding the Keep On The Borderlands, numbered and non numbered hex-paper, and a sturdy DM screen.
  4. In the Green Box (Companion Set) you cover levels 10 to 15. You include prestige classes, all the spells, even more feats and optional rules for powers. In the DM section you put treasure & magic items, a gallery of NPCs, and tables to aid building domains, cities and strongholds, among with rules for the PCs wanting to run one. Optionally put some specific rules for using miniatures (attacks of opportunity, tactic movement, etc.) The page count is 64 pages in a single book. Include in the box a gazetteer in the style of Karameikos to further expand the lands (and factions) around the Keep.
  5. In the Black Box (Master Set) you cover levels 15 to 20. You include even more prestige classes, all the spells, and more optional rules for powers. In the DM section you discuss major artifacts, rules to craft them, more NPCs and rules to conduct planar adventures among with the usual tables. The page count is 64 pages in a single book. Then, if you really want to go wild, you can put in a sort of a gazetteer describing the Multiverse and detailing the various Plans.
  6. In the White Box (Immortal Set) you cover levels above 21 putting all the epic stuff in.
  7. Once you're done, you release a Rules Cyclopedia. Put in all the stuff from Basic to Master, except for the modules and the cool stuff that comes with the boxed set. This way you can sold the same rules twice in a way that is acceptable (I buy the boxes because they're cool, and the big-ass manual because it has all the rules in one place). If you want to go really wild you can add even more stuff, divide in three books, and label it Advanced.
  8. And remember, when in doubt: tables over shitty advice. I don't give a fuck on page count, and none I know considers a manual silly because it has less then 300 pages.
That was a lot to write. I'm tired, so I'm not re-reading this - if you find terrible syntax horrors please point out in comments. G'night!

March 14, 2012

The 5th Edition I Want To Play (An Open Letter To WotC)

I'm sure I already covered this topic in past, but today I'm all like "Ahw c'mon jerks, it's almost spring where's my fucking 5e beta?" so I think it's a good moment to say something more on this topic. Thus, that's the 5th edition I want to play:
  • Please don't fuck with narrativism. I want to explore dungeons and slay dragons, not get involved in some kind of poorly assembled new-wave shit*. If I want fantasy and storytelling, I play The Burning Wheel.
  • Similarly, please don't bother in creating something new. You already have the Fantasy RPG in your hands: don't screw it up (again). We love six-ability-scores, race/class, hit points, experience points, levels (all kind of levels) and Vancian magic.
  • I want to play a game that allows me to run newbies as well as uber-geeks at the same time. I want a game in which one can spend 5 minutes as well as several weeks on building a 1st-level character. I want a game that doesn't make me feel bitching if my dungeon kills a character.
  • Type III's just fine, except for the fact it takes one hell of a time to read through all the character customization options (let alone learn how they work). I don't want to waste my time building a singular high level NPC. Fuck that, I have a world to run.
Man I really look foreword to that.

*I'm not saying new-wave rpgs are shit: I'm saying any new-waved mod of D&D would be shit. Remember 2e? That was shit. A shitload of fucking shit.

The Ruins Above The Dungeons

My original plans for the Tower of Zordaz included the ruins of a big castle over the dungeons; not for nothing the project started under the name of Castle Doom (a fact that I recall only because the original maps where so labeled). By the way, at some point I decided to go with a dungeon built under a big, alien, inaccessible tower, the entrance of which I was thinking to locate at the very end of the last level. Now I'm reconsidering this choice, partly for being inspired by JRient's Caves of Myrddin and partly because I've had some cool ideas on how to make that ruins worth of exploration.

Now, my grandma happens to own a castle, il Castello di Riva. It was the residence of her family, and I used to go there each and every summer when I was a kid. This probably has something to do with my addiction to fantasy gaming and literature. By the way, I'm thinking to use the real castle floorplans to model the ruins above the dungeons of Zordaz. If you look at this map you will find that it's composed by five main buildings: the lord's manor (incorporating the gate), three small towers and a big 100' high tower in the northern corner (this also has a small dungeon right under). The green region indicates the old moat. The castle is located on the top of a ravine, with a river flowing dozens feet below; I'm thinking of relocating it at the top of a cliff, kinda like Camelot in the tv series of the same name.

I imagine several caverns opening directly on the cliff, one of them possibly housing an ancient red dragon. Now, back to the castle itself, I find it sexy because it adds several new exciting possibilities. For example, I always wandered what was beneath the well in the middle of the garden when I was a kid. I guess it's time to find out myself.

March 13, 2012

Playing Like A Fiend

Love me some sexy art.
Every time I picture you readers of this blog I can't help but imagine a bunch of old grumpy grognards. I mean that with no offense, I see nothing bad in being either old, grumpy or grognards. And also, I've collected evidences during the years that prove things are not exactly this way. But I need to make a point, and the point in question is: when you play pre-Type II you usually do it with your peers, or at least with some younger fellows. For me, things have gone pretty different in the last few years. All of my peers have started with Type III, and the same had to happen to me if it wasn't for my older cousin, who introduced me to the game at the dawn of second edition. Thus, when I play pre-Type II I have to play it with the grumpy old grognards. Which isn't that bad, honestly, but I really miss the way the game goes when you're among people of about your age, and best of all: friends. Yes, because the other drawback in playing pre-Type II in the age of Type IV and Pathfinder (and at the borders of civilization, that is how living in Italy goes) is that the internet is usually the only source for gathering players. Which is fine, really - I've met a lot of cool people this way, including my weekly group. But it's still nothing like sitting down with your buddies to share a beer and rock some dice. I bet you know what I'm talking about.

Since I far more prefer to help-myself than complaining about my bad luck, last year I decided to try to involve a bunch of non-geek friends in a Dungeons & Dragons game using 2e rules. It went out pretty good, and by the time of our third session the group have grown from three to seven players. At that point I decided to switch to B/X and start a Keep On The Borderlands mini-campaign. So far we played other three sessions, with no regular scheduling, during which the group has grown to nine players, explored the Kobold and the Goblin caves, and dealt with the mad hermit (they ended up torturing, crucifying and burning alive, but that's another story). Also, they started asking me to play more, which, honestly, moves me till tears. So next Sunday we have a new expedition to the Caves of Chaos scheduled, and I really look foreword to it. Also, last session we welcomed a girl in the party, and I really hope she's playing again this week. She's a physicist, but also nice and definitely not socially-retarded, so yes she still counts as girl anyway. No offense intended to science-girls, like, honestly, I tend to find them pretty hot. Except when they wear mustache bushier then mine. But I digress.

The point is I'm playing like a fiend these days, and it feels just GREAT. One of the guys at the table is a professional photographer, so I really hope to convince him to take some pics of our next game. Fuck, I can't wait till Sunday.

March 9, 2012

5 Things I Learned Running My Megadungeon

1. A Good Random Table Is Worth 10 Room Descriptions: A room needs a proper description only if it has some special feature inside (monster, treasure, trick, puzzle, or a combination of the above). Otherwise, it's far better to rely on random tables, as they're usually a) much faster to read and b) while you roll your dice for random furnishings your players obviously think you're rolling for wandering monsters, which increases paranoia (and this is always good).

2. Make Use Of Harmless Looking Dangerous Stuff And Vice Versa: A statue of Tsathoggua with a big-ass diamond in its jaws? Harmless. The tiles at the bottom of the stairs leading to the statue? Opens on the Neverending Pit Of Doom. In a couple of sessions the players will be scared by their own shadow (ehi, that's a  good idea; I must have the PCs fighting their own shadows somewhere in this dungeon).

3. Be Ready, Though Not Too Ready: A Megadungeon always needs to be under construction. Leave corridors leading nowhere, and bind it to your needs. It's cool to grant extra XP bonus for reaching the edges.

4. Doing Nothing Is Just As Fun: It may happens that the party finds a safe path in the dungeon, and spend the session without running into one damn monster, trap, treasure or puzzle. In that case, don't cheat on the dice; if you end the session with no wandering monster around to your need, it's not a big deal. The session is going to be just as fun, as long as the players are paranoid enough about it.

5. Maps Need Space For In Game Notes: Don't bother having nice looking maps. Leave some space at the edges to take notes during the game (like broken door, battle with goblins, dead adventurer and so on). It's always cool for the players to leave their mark in the Megadungeon, perhaps even more than facing your Saturday Night Specials.

March 8, 2012

Introducing The Tower Of Zordaz

The following is a poor translation from my own notes. As always, feel free to point out any syntactic mistakes you happen to run into.
"When he built his stronghold at the top of the Mountain of Erendûl, more than five hundred years ago, Zordaz was already well known and feared in the whole Old World. The story of his deeds, as well as the rumors about his outstanding knowledge of all things magic were already shrouded in legend, and few dared to pronounce his name. It was commonly believed that to build his Tower, Zordaz had conjured and bound hordes of demons, by means of some utterly powerful spells he had researched by his own. During the following two hundred years, Zordaz conducted uncountable experiments, trained dozens of apprentices, and eventually expanded his power to almost lap the old boundaries of the neighboring Kingdom of Ainor. Then, suddenly, he disappeared. What really happened to him none can tell, although several rumors spread around the Old World: some said he left the Prime Material Plane to look for further knowledge at the edges of the Multiverse, others that he perished in clash with an even more powerful sorcerer, and others that he offended the Outer Gods, and they banished him for his impudence. However it was, his disappearance left a power vacuum in the regions surrounding the Silver Mountains, the people of the Old World hustled to fill. Thousands of settlers came from the neighboring reigns: the Dwarves established the underworld Kingdom of Karag-dûm, while the men set up several villages and castles, then united in the Confederation of the Borderland Marches, and annexed to the Kingdom of Ainor. For three hundred years the Tower has remained forgotten and undisturbed, but this is all about to change. The Dwarves of Karag-dûm claim the Goblins have become bolder in their raids, and the rumors about strange creatures crawling in the night near the surrounding villages grow more and more frequent. A new power is rising over the Mountain of Erendûl, and only a new band of stout adventurers can now stop its ascent."

March 2, 2012

More Player Handouts For B2

I've spent most of the evening on this. It's quite close to the original wilderness map, since I used it to trace my own. Also, it's a bit rough since hand-drawn. As always, A4.

DM Map

Players Map


PS: Q is for Quasqueton, of course.

March 1, 2012

Collected B2 Goodies

Cool fact about the Internet: smart people have you already covered. Each image links to the site where I found it. Google (Images) Keep On The Borderlands or Caves Of Chaos for more goodies.

Zak S. Caves of Chaos lebeled

B2 Wilderness Map Hex Style

B2 Wilderness Map for Players

Be cool.