Sunday, October 31, 2010

"No, Blackrazor!!! Not my souulll...!"

Thursday night's Baranof game started right where we left off the week before. That is: the part had apparently discovered the first of the three missing magic weapons...the black blade well as the halfling champion, Quentin Nogg, whom the party had also been tasked with finding.

Folks who own, or who are familiar with, White Plume Mountain are probably going to say, "what the hell is this all about?" There is, of course, no Quentin Nogg in the original S2 module, and certainly no one just hands Blackrazor over to the PCs without a fight.

Instead, the final encounter beneath the "inverted ziggurat" is with an ogre-mage named Quesnef. Quesnef has polymorphed himself into the form of a "doughty halfling warrior" in order to catch the players off-guard and hopefully do them some harm.

Yeah, right.

I've run White Plume Mountain several times over the years, generally with the straight Quesnef encounter, and guess what? No one has ever bought off in the claim Quesnef was a "halfling warrior;" certainly no one has ever considered him to be anything but a villainous enemy, no matter how straight-faced I ran it.

In my experience, ALL the adventurers that ever made it to the Quesnef encounter have drawn blade and executed a full-on Charlie Manson Special before the creature could even begin to spin its pack of lies. They made it past ghouls and crabs and manticores (not to mention microwave corridors and frictionless rooms) and now they find a friendly face? Right where Blackrazor is supposed to be? No way!

Nah, for me the encounter has always turned out to be a big, fat dud. The ogre-mage maybe gets a chance to turn invisible, possibly gets off a cone of cold, and then falls beneath the spells and weapons of a murderous group of experienced adventurers...all with little fuss or muss. Lame.

So instead I added the Quentin encounter. Quentin Nogg is an ACTUAL doughty halfling of the heroic variety. He was initially sent to recover the magic weapons, captured, and held in durance vile. Unable to escape past manticores and ziggurat, he's been rotting down here for three or four weeks, fed by Keraptis's servants and quartered in sumptuous surroundings, but still a captive whom the wizard has been unable to turn.

Placing Quentin as an objective ensured the party would at least pause before gutting him. Not that they trusted the halfling a whit...Terril the cleric still cast know alignment on the halfling immediately (I don't remember if Sweet Tito used his wand of enemy detection or not...I think the party was satisfied once they discovered Quentin wasn't some Chaotic miscreant). Even if they had, Quentin would not have been detected as an enemy...he was indeed a fellow adventurer in need of rescue.

Blackrazor was the true enemy.

The party finished gathering treasure...loot Keraptis had left trying to entice the halfling to join his forces...and then prepared themselves to exit the dungeon. As they had certain challenges they would need to navigate (not to mention possible wandering monsters) I didn't automatically rule "okay you backtrack your steps and leave the dungeon..." as I sometimes do when players are looking to retreat for some rest. The party re-traced their steps, climbing the ropes past the polar bears (who continued to honor the "non-aggression pact" previously negotiated) and headed back towards the frictionless room.

Blackrazor decided to strike once the party was in the narrow confines of the upper passages.

For those unfamiliar with Blackrazor, the blade is a sentient sword based more than a little on the Moorecock weapons, Stormbringer and Mournblade. As an intelligent sword, it has a special purpose: "to suck souls" in the words of Lawrence Schick. It does this by killing sentient beings and devouring their souls, feeding strength to its wielder, even as it satisfies its own dark hunger. Though it doesn't say so in the book, I have always taken the glowing star-like constellations of the blade to be actual imprisoned souls...a new star winks into existence with every death caused.

Blackrazor is never actually used against the players in the normal adventure module...instead it is an objective of play and (possibly) a trap: a Chaotic weapon that can turn on those of weak will, dominating them and compelling them to satiate its lust for souls through ruinous bloodshed.

Anyway...such was the circumstance here. Quentin Nogg was no enemy of the player characters, but Blackrazor was hungry after so many weeks of isolation, and it was determined to have its due in stolen lives.

The party marching order was this: Farnsworth and Gustav, Brian and Sly, Sweet Tito (still weak from his recent raising), Quentin and Terril, and Alster and Borgnine bringing up the rear. Since Terril was closest to Quentin, I had him roll the party's surprise roll. It came up a "1." I had Terril and Sweet T both dice off to see who the halfling would attack, as there was an equal chance of either, and the cleric lost.

With blinding speed (Blackrazor can caste haste on its wielder), Quentin turned on the cleric, black blade flashing. The halfling's eyes had rolled back in his head and he was obviously no longer in control. "Blood and souls!" He hacked at the cleric, inflicting severe wounds, even as Terril yelled for help.

In the following round, Blackrazor stabbed the cleric, deep through the kidneys. The cleric died with a curse as his soul was sucked out of his body. Without missing a beat, the halfling wheeled and brought the black blade crashing down on Sweet Tito's head, pulping his skull and driving his jaw deep into the elf's body cavity.

Alster attempted to cast hold person on the halfling, but Quentin made his saving throw. Brian loosed an arrow at him and Bornine hewed with his axe, but despite the wounds inflicted, Quentin seemed stronger than before as the blade fed him lifeforce. Sly tried to contact Sweet T telepathically, and could still feel his spirit hovering about his body.

[Sweet was wearing a broach of shielding which, in B/X, protects against death magic like finger of death. I decided to allow it to provide him with a saving throw versus Blackrazor's soul-sucking ability...'cause I'm such a nice guy...and Sweet managed to save. The only soul he'd permanently destroyed was the cleric's]

In the next round, Quentin again achieved initiative. A light flashed from the ring on his hand and suddenly there were TWO halflings wielding Blackrazors! Both attacked the cleric praying desperately for a miracle, but neither was able to strike home as the cleric blocked with his shield. Alster cast his 2nd (and final) hold person spell, but the possessed halfling again saved, this time with an 18.

Things were looking a might grim for the adventurers at this point.
; )

Happy Halloween 2010!

Hope everyone's having a good one!
: )

[ugh, Seahawks. Not quite as bad as the Huskies, but damn...]

I'll try to write a little bit tonight while waiting for trick-or-treaters to arrive at my door. Had two parties last night and am content to sit around watching TV today...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Some Quick Philosophy Before the Blood-Spilling

I'll write about last night's...quite satisfying...Thursday night game a little later. Characters died and everyone seemed happy (apparently, these guys have signed up to be killed and were a bit disappointed I hadn't been "doing my job")...more on all that in a bit.

Yesterday, I asked what folks thought of the longevity of the 4th edition game. Thanks to everyone for the feedback on the question. Rather than reply to individual comments, I decided to write a short (I hope!) follow-up post.

Several people came down on the side of 4E having just as much staying power as anything created and published by TSR in the 70s and 80s, and there was at least one suggestions that 4E has been designed as it has from necessity...necessity of competing with video games, both the CRPG and MMORPG variety. The thought seems (to me) to be that 20 years from now, people who started playing D&D with 4th edition will pull it out from nostalgia and play the game, remembering "the good times of their youth" and perhaps wanting to introduce it to their kids as we (the current bag of grognards) are doing with our own Old School games.

Um...folks? I'm not playing B/X D&D for "nostalgia."

Let me say again that I think of RPGs as MORE than just entertainment. Yes, they are games; yes, they are entertaining...but RPGs do more than any other game you can buy in the store, including so-called computer "RPGs." MMOs and CRPGs ARE entertainment...table-top role-playing games are fucking muscle-building for your brain and imagination.

Visualization, logic and reasoning, constructive and critical thought, creative design, expression, and exploration...this isn't present in a video game. A video game is an interactive television game involving problem solving within a fixed environment with fixed parameters. Most table-top board games are the same, just without the pretty moving pictures on your screen...though at least with table-top board games you (usually) have human interaction and community building (i.e. learning social contract and how to be "nice to your neighbors").

It may not seem like it, but I'm not just gaming on Thursday nights because I don't have the money or inclination to get Mass Effect 2 for the XBox 360.

And I'm NOT just playing B/X D&D because I can't "do the math" or abide the crunchiness of the later edition rules. It's not "nostalgia" that brings me to B/X D&D...if I neglected to mention it before, I spent the vast majority of my "gaming youth" playing 1st edition AD&D, NOT B/X (we rolled each hard cover into our game as soon as it was acquired, and were pretty much exclusive AD&D from 1984 or '84 till...well, until 3rd edition in 2000 (when I made the occasional foray back into D&D in the '90s, we always used 1st edition rules, never 2nd edition). Any nostalgia I have surrounding Dungeons & Dragons is with regard to AD&D, NOT B/X. The only memories of my youth as a player is in playing BARDS for God's sakes! There is no bard in B/X!

Last night, Matthew ("Cod Sandwich") and I were having a discussion of the rules, away from the table, because of the ambiguity in some of them. I don't remember the specific rule...maybe we were talking about how much of a body was necessary for Raise Dead. The text in the book is fairly unclear and while my ruling on the issue "made sense" to Matt, he asked what would prevent someone from ruling that you could raise just a severed head...or a limb...or multiple body parts.

"Nothing really." But I explained that the point of the game is NOT how best to "game the game." I mean you can play D&D (or any real RPG) with a mind to that kind of play, but in the end that's not what it's about.

The rules are present to AID you in the point of play...which is to explore and interact with a fantasy world you can't really do in real life. Whether that fantasy world has elves and dwarves, or is the Old West or another galaxy Far, Far Away makes no nevermind. The rules are designed to facilitate play, and if they get in the way of that play, if they hinder the imaginative process, then they're probably not doing the job. If they are constrictive to the point that your table-top game is a video game without the "video," then you're not exploring the real potential of what table-top RPGs are all about.

The guy who commented that 4E would be better AFTER WotC/Hasbro withdraws its support "because then people can get away from the official line and have freedom to institute their own house rules"...he may be grokking my vibe a bit. If rules are constrictive, if the game is about "working the system," well...then (in my opinion) you're kind of missing the point. Cool system mechanics aren't what the game is about. System mechanics are to facilitate play, not to show "hey look at the neat things we can do with dice and text!" If the search & handling time gets in the way of play (whether that S&H is flipping pages or poking at your IPad) then why not move to a game that better facilitates play?

Of course, this may all be just my personal my Baranof players can attest, I tend to run things a little "fast & loose" at the table. But I think, even though the current game is only a "funhouse" type adventure, that the players are finding what's going on to be a different animal from the usual step-and-fetch World of Warcraft fare...or, to put it in 4E terms, "step-and-kill."

SO...that's it. I'm not saying 4E won't have longevity. But will it still be relevant in the future? I get nostalgic for the Bards Tale video game of the early 1980s, and would love to download a workable copy to my Mac, but there sure are a lot of slicker vids out there if you want that kind of action. There's nothing like an Old School RPG. There's nothing that can do what the human mind can do with a few short rules texts and a handful of dice.

And I like exploring the limits of the mind and imagination. That's why I intend to keep playing this "D&D crap" until the day I die.
: )

Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Honest Question

This is an honest question, even if it seems like a snarky one:

What do you think is going to be the longevity of 4th edition D&D?

I don’t mean “how long is it going to be on the shelves till Hasbro decides it’s time to milk the sucker population once again;” I’m sure that the first seeds of 5th edition have already been planted and are being nurtured as we speak (to be released no later than December 2012).

No, I’m not concerned with how long WotC will continue to support the line; I want to know how long it will be played.

Take B/X D&D, for example. It was published in 1981. I’m still playing it today, nearly 30 years later. Admittedly, I’m a weird dude, but there seems to be a lot of like-minded, strange folks circling the internet these days (at least judging by the sales my book has generated). Plus, there are more people picking up Labyrinth Lord, itself a B/X knock-off, which is bringing people around to acquiring their own copies of the original rules…and, of course, people like myself have been doing our part to introduce new players to the game (like Vince and Randy and Steve and Matt and Zach and Spencer, etc.).

Certainly, there are a lot fewer people playing B/X than there were in 1982…but I’d be willing to bet the number of people playing B/X (or a B/X derivative) has increased markedly from, say, 2001. In fact, based on my Baranof gaming group alone, B/X D&D is being played 900% more this year than last. That’s a tidy little increase, right?

And that’s just B/X D&D. I imagine that 1st edition AD&D is still “king” of the Old School crowd (all you geezers that can’t wrap your head around RACE as CLASS). And that particular version has been around for MORE than 30 years…since 1978 or ‘79, right? If there’s any Old School (pre-2000) version of D&D that’s MORE popular than 1st edition AD&D I’d be greatly surprised.

THAT is longevity folks. That’s what I’m talking about.

I could run a poll, but I’m sure my readership is skewed in a particular direction. If I had to hazard a guess, though, I’d say the various editions rank like this:

1 – AD&D (1st edition)
2 – OD&D
3 – B/X
4 – AD&D (2nd edition)
5 – BECMI (and Rules Cyclopedia)
6 – Basic D&D (Holmes edition)

With derivatives being in their respective category (and for what it’s worth, I’d imagine “Pathfinder” comes in at #2 on the list if you include it).

And by “rank” I’m talking about games actually being played on a regular basis (“regular” being defined as “at least once per month”).

Now part of the reason the list looks like this has to do with the retro-clones produced. OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Hackmaster, Castles & Crusades, Dark Dungeons, etc. all of these have helped re-kindle interest in the original games from which they were derived. I know Labyrinth Lord has done this for me.

But part of it has to do with clingy “love of the game” coupled with “quantity of resources for play.” 2nd edition AD&D actually had a longer run with TSR (and WotC) than 1st edition AD&D but the early 80s saw a HUGE amount of material published for D&D compared to the 90s. And while the quality of either is certainly debatable, there was a lot of staying power in the old stuff (possibly due in part to nostalgia…even in the 90s!...with old-timey folks).

Now, back to the original question: what do you think will be the staying power of 4th edition?

Not just: how long will the line be supported (3-5 years is a fair guesstimate)?

Not just: how popular will the line be (the thing is being marketed in book store chains across the country)?

But tell me: where do you think it will rank on my list 15-30 years from now? Will people be blogging about it and sharing stories on the internet? Will it still be PLAYED and enjoyed with any kind of movement/following? Or will it just be considered a curiosity like 3rd edition Gamma World or my Friends the TV Show trivia game?

I want folks to really take a hard look at this…or at Pathfinder…or at B/X…or whatever it is you’re playing these days. ‘Cause here’s my opinion on the subject:

1) Role-playing games have value beyond simple entertainment. I truly believe that.

2) Good RPGs can continue to entertain, teach, and inspire long past their cancellation date (I know B/X has done this for me).

Personally, I plan on keeping B/X alive and passing it on to the next generation as best I can. That’s my Quixotic nature, okay? Likewise, I plan on doing the same with other RPGs I find entertaining and worthwhile. Role-playing may be a niche hobby, but it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing survive a few more decades.

I don’t think 4th edition fits the bill.

That doesn’t mean that (some) people aren’t going to find it fun to play…I’m sure some will. But similar to WotC’s version of Chainmail (remember THAT? Anyone still playing it?!) I don’t think anyone is going to pine for 4E when it’s gone. I don’t EVER expect to see a retro-clone of 4th edition D&D…but you know what? I don’t play the damn thing now.

Some of you DO play 4th edition, some of you have put money into Hasbro’s pockets encouraging them to continue their production, and I ask YOU folks: will you still be playing this game in 20-30 years?

Let me know. Thanks!
: )

[oh, and by the way: if you’d asked me in 1987 if I’d still be playing AD&D in 20 years I would have told you, “hell, yes…why would I ever stop?” Certainly, I went through a long, dry spell from 1989-1999 but even then, I never got rid of my old books, believing I would someday go back to it. On the other hand, the only reason I keep my 3rd edition books (besides their beautiful artwork and production values) is to remind myself why I will NEVER play a later edition of D&D EVER again, and to prevent myself from making an impulse/nostalgia purchase. Meanwhile, I buy up every copy of B/X I come across (not many), despite owning two-and-a-half copies already...because one never knows when they’ll all be gone!]

Texas Rangers

I know it feels like this has been a light blogging week for the old Blackrazor…at least it’s felt that way to me. I know I have a tendency to throw up pages and pages of posts…I’m not trying to be “prolific” or compete with Grognardia or anything, I just happen to have diarrhea of the brain a lot. Plus I tend to be a pretty self-centered naval-gazing bastard, which leads to a lot “of reflection” and (ranty) blog posts. Got another of those latter types getting teed up in my brain as I type this little missive.

ANYway…while I haven’t been blogging, I HAVE been working/writing this week, though you won’t like what it’s about: more B/X Star Wars mischief. In fact, I’ve written two looong Star Wars/Experience Point posts and have published neither, because every time I read back over them they just read like whine-whine-whine. F that noise…you folks have better things to do with your time than read about my frigging lightsaber fetish.

On the other hand, I’m seriously considering just writing up the damn game as an actual Star Wars RPG and giving it away as a free download. My understanding is Lucas doesn’t have a gripe about “fan-based derivatives” unless one tries to make money off them? It would certainly save on production costs if I could go the West End Games route and stick film photos in the book (instead of illustrations).

All right, all right…I DID say “no Star Wars,” and I meant it…that’s a whole ‘nother week’s worth of posts. Instead, I wanted to talk about a different fetish of mine: Texas Rangers.

No, not the baseball team. I’m not a huge fan of baseball anyway (I enjoy it, but it ain’t the NFL), but if I was rooting for any team in the World Series it would have to be the Giants. How can you not love a team that has Kelly from the Bad News Bears?

No, no, I’m talking about the REAL (so to speak) Texas Rangers…you know, the law men with the six-shooters?

When I was a kid, long before I discovered D&D and knights and armor, I dug the Lone Ranger. “Long before” is, of course, extremely subjective but there’s a lot of growth and development occurring between the ages of, say, 5 and 8…enough that they seem like two different lifetimes.

Guys who are older than me probably have even better/stronger memories of the masked hero and his horse, Silver. I never saw the old black and white serial, but I most definitely watched the Saturday Morning Cartoon (where do you think I learned that you extinguish an oil derrick fire with dynamite? Lots of useful lessons back before they started adding “morals” to the epilogue!). I also had a large action figure or two that I believe was made in response to a feature film done in the early 80s (THAT I don’t remember at all).

The toy was only “okay” (if memory serves I actually had Tonto and my brother had the LR for some reason), due in large part to the limited number of supporting cast dolls. At least, with my Star Wars figures (sorry) I had Storm Troopers and Darth to “fight” with my Han Solo and Luke, etc.

What WAS cool was the little mini-comic that must have accompanied the toy (I don’t recall where else I would have acquired such a thing) detailing the origin of the Lone Ranger. How he and a huge posse got bushwhacked in a box canyon (was the bad guy’s name “Black Bart?” Maybe), and he alone survived…hence the moniker: The LONE Ranger.

Now, I have no idea why he decided to don a mask (shame at being out-smarted by such a low-down sidewinder? Maybe), nor why he decided to go it alone rather than put the badge back on (isn’t that kind of like desertion? And he probably didn’t get the Texas Ranger salary after turning vigilante).

We won’t bother to ask how he could be considered “lone” with his faithful (Apache?) companion.

Anyway, far from the current mythology of the tough as nails “One Riot, One Texas Ranger” kind of guy, the Lone Ranger was more of classic (ancient) hero paradigm. There’s a bit about him that calls to mind Roland, or perhaps Theseus…I don’t know.

I just liked the mask, myself.

When I picked up Deadlands (1st edition only…D20 Re-Loaded and Savage Worlds ain’t my thang), the first archetype to which I was immediately drawn was the Texas Ranger. THIS was “my dude,” mask or not. Some folks might be drawn to the more “fantasy-trope” characters (mad scientists, hucksters, shamans) and some want to base their character off of the typical western badass (Jonah Hex, the Two Gun Kid, the Outlaw Josey Wales or any of Eastwood’s “no name characters”). Me, I wanted a Texas Ranger…and if he could get dry gulched and left for dead and come back Harrowed…well, so much the better.

[and just by the way, I HATE “rangers” in D&D, every edition. They make me want to vomit]

I like Deadlands a lot but, to me, the game feels nearly un-playable and is problematic for all sorts of reasons, design-wise (probably a major impetus behind later editions moving to different game systems). The Weird West setting is probably the main thing I enjoy, though at times it does seem a bit “kitchen sink-ish” (especially with Lincoln as a superhero).

The western genre in general is NOT especially conducive to the “adventuring party.” Buddy pictures, sure. Solo gunmen, you bet. D&D-type crawls? No. And yet that’s what a DL game is apt to be like…take 3 to 5 players, make characters and then set off in a Wagon Train-like serial? That’s kind of dumb…for a role-playing game.

If single player role-playing wasn’t such an exercise in narcissism, the Deadlands world would be ideal for a Lone Texas Ranger (undead or not) to ride around exploring. But even if a 2nd player was down with playing 2nd fiddle Tonto, I’m not sure how long one could sustain a DL campaign.

Of course, the Wild Wild West serial lasted quite a few episodes before being cancelled.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Talking 'Bout My Generation

Received an email (early) this morning from one of my Baranof players, Josh (he plays the dwarf, Bognine…is it just me or does anyone else picture the lovable drunk from Airwolf when I say that name?).

[wasn’t that character’s name Corky? Or was that the kid with down syndrome from Party of Five? I don’t know…I didn’t watch much TV in the mid-late 80s except The Cosby show. Too busy playing Dungeons & Dragons, I guess]

Anyway, he was just dropping me a line to say he enjoyed the blog (hi, if you’re reading!) and provide me with some background on his past gaming experience, including a similar pattern as myself (played Dungeon! for awhile then started in on Basic D&D). Of course, he first picked up the Mentzer red box, not the Moldvay version, circa 1983.

Now if I’m remembering correctly, Josh is the same age as myself (though he does have the look of one of those Year of the Tiger guys, i.e. born in ’74) but due in part to this small difference, our ideas of role-playing may be built on completely different foundations.

And it’s not even that big a difference! To me, that’s pretty amazing…I probably got my copy of Moldvay in ’82…I know I was reading those Endless Quest books around the same time (they were published in 1982), which I believe were illustrated by Elmore (indicating he was already in TSR’s stable of artists by that time).

Remember when 1 or 2 years made a huge difference in your relationship with other people? Nowadays it has almost no effect of course…many of us are married to folks older or younger than ourselves, and I’d guess all of us have friends or game with people of a wide age range (I know I do).

As a kid, this was never the case. Age…and class year…can seem so darn important for so long. Elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school…even upper classman to lower classman within schools, the gulf can feel enormous. Thank God we grow out of it!

[for me, I think I finally came around to ignoring age circa my second year in college…for the next three years I continued to get in relationships with different women who all remained the same age (19) even as I kept getting older. Like that line from Dazed and Confused, I guess. Plus “drinking age” is a great equalizer as well…]

These days, it doesn’t matter whether someone’s 28 or 42, equalizing factors come instead from mutual life experiences. “Can I relate to you?” is no longer a question of whether we are in the same level math class, but rather if we share the same interests. Do you game? Are you married? Do you have a dog? Did you see last Sunday’s Seahawks game?

And yet…despite that, this small difference from our distant childhoods can completely color our gaming hobby. A guy who started playing D&D in 1979 with the Holmes edition is going to have a pretty different take on the game than someone who started in 1983 with Mentzer…even though their age difference is only 5 years apart. It’s kind of mind-blowing, don’t you think?

Or maybe not to some…personally, I’ve been so steeped in the OSR blog-o-sphere the last 18 months, that I may have lost some much needed perspective. But to ME, it seems like these little differences are like life and death to folks…look at MY blog, for goodness sake! A ton of it seems to be devoted to passionately expounding on the virtues of Moldvay/Cook/Holmes, and with good reason: it’s the best dammit!
; )

But a person just a year or two younger than me might feel the same about Mentzer. And a person a year or two older might feel the same about Holmes. And even though, I’d be willing to play a game with someone age 25 (that would mean he or she was born in 1985, long after the release of ANY of these “basic sets”) I have a feeling that it might be a challenge to introduce my style of play to someone who grew up with D20 as the baseline of Dungeons & Dragons.

3rd Edition just celebrated its 10th anniversary! Kids who started playing when they were 10 or 11 are now hitting the bars! Kids that started playing in high school might be starting families…or may be unemployed and looking for work in this economy…but otherwise are probably not much different from me. Besides fuller heads of hair.

Mmm…I guess what I’m getting at here is MAYBE some of us crazy-ass pundit-types (like moi) have lost sight of what the game is all about in our denigration of un-favored editions (like I have with 2nd and 3rd edition or most RPGs with “skill systems”).

MAYBE, I said…and I certainly feel there’s still plenty of scorn to be heaped on that shit-pile called 4th edition that dares to call itself a “role-playing game.” That’s like feeding poison to children and someone at Hasbro/WotC needs to be bitch-slapped.

BUT…with regard to other RPGs, even the grossly over-blown ones like Champions and GURPS...well, it may be that only the span of a few short years (or months) prevented those from being MY “game of choice.” If it’s still role-playing AND if it continues to create interest/enthusiasm in keeping the game alive, then have at it. Folks should take things I say with a grain of salt anyway. After all, I’m still intrigued at the thought of playing a game like Terra Primate.
: )

Monday, October 25, 2010

Inverted Ziggurat (P.2)

[continued from here]

“Of course there’s the little problem that everything down below is now submerged.”

Hmm…the party hadn’t thought of that. Fortunately, the wizard Keraptis had, and there was a drain in the floor leading to a gradual decline in the water level over a half hour or so. The party was fine with waiting, using the time to scale down the ledges (having tied off the rope to the door). Standing at the crack and looking at the four grinning, hungry polar bears, the party found itself a group divided.

Gustav: “I say we kill the polar bears.”

Party: “Are you kidding? They have ‘claw-claw-bite!’ They’ll kill us!”

Gustav: “I want a polar bear hat!”

This went on for awhile, but while a some abstained and most were against a straight up fight, no one had any real suggestions of how to circumvent polar bears in a non-combat fashion.

This was JB’s cue to go soft again.

“Normally, I wouldn’t suggest this,” says I, “but I know some of you haven’t played B/X for awhile, and you may have missed the Speak with Animals spell on the cleric list…um…3rd level spell, I believe.”

Well, of course, this was the perfect suggestion and the entire party over-ruled Gustav’s quest for a bear trophy. Not that he didn’t try, “Make sure you tell them we are their masters…maybe we should kill one just to show them our might for a better bargaining chip!” or “If they won’t let us pass, I’m ready with my warhammer.”

However, Alster was able to get a positive reaction roll from the bears…at least enough for them to let the party by on a “live and let live” basis. However, I did mention to Gustav that one surly mother of a bear seemed to be giving him the hairy eyeball, silently taunting him with a snaggle-toothed leer.

“I do NOT take the bait,” said Gustav.

Using a combination of the waterwalking ring and rope (duh) the party made it to the floor of the chamber, basking in the glow of the permanent Sweet T’s continual light. Tito himself needed a bit of help getting down to the chamber floor. “If I can’t actually DO anything,” asked Randy, “what’s the good of being raised from the dead?”

“You can provide moral support?”

“Um…no one has to carry your body out?”

From where they stood, they could see a vault set in a wall and a corridor leading away in the opposite direction. The vault obviously held some sort of booty…maybe even Blackrazor itself!

“Or maybe Quentin's in there,” suggested Sly. “Quentin! Are you in there?”

Terril cast detect traps on the vault. The lock glowed sinister red in color. “Oh, man…I can disarm that!” said Sly. And he did, removing a small, strange device that had no discernable purpose. With a flourish, he twisted the vault lock to reveal…a cascading pile of silver, along with a jeweled bracelet. Jackpot!

Brian wasted no time sweeping the silver coins into his bag of holding. I don’t recall who took the bracelet (probably Sly, maybe Sweet T). However, no black blade could be found.

“Hmmm…the poem said, ‘beneath the inverted ziggurat.’ I wrote that part down,” said Sly.

Maybe it’s down the drain, suggested someone.

The party pried up the drain and stared at the hole that went straight down. It looks like a tight fit, says I…maybe just wide enough for a Halfling? The party looks at Brian.

“Oh, no…I’m not going down the hole!”

Eventually the usual plan is formed, a rope is tied around the halfling’s waist and he soon crawling head first into the bowels of the volcano…

“It’s getting pretty tight, and the air is even warmer than up above, but by wriggling your body you can press forward. There’s a pretty bad smell…maybe sulfur?”


“Just a little further…there’s probably a chamber or something.”

“You crawl a little farther. The hole…I can’t really call it a tunnel…kind of ‘jukes’ to one side and then continues deeper. You can just…manage…to squirm…”


“Blackrazor’s got to be down there! Just a little further!”

“Okay, you can’t really move your arms, but by wiggling your fingers…” (I make little penguin wing motions) “…you can inch a little more. A lot of heat now…sweat pouring off your face…”

Get me out of this f***ing hole RIGHT NOW! Goddammit! YOU go down the hole!!”

The party (a little reluctantly) pulls the Halfling up with the rope. Brian is not amused. Someone suggests that they “make camp” on the floor of the chamber. As they prepare to bed down, a watch is arranged. I start rolling for wandering monsters.

I forget who had first watch, but it isn’t long before the invisible foot prints are back…circling the party, kicking up sand, splashing through the water…and then gone. Needless to say, the guy who saw it all was a little disconcerted and woke everyone up (they hadn’t been asleep that long).

Did the party question the bears? Maybe…I know they (the bears) had little useful to say (they were used to getting fed by Mr. Invisible). The party decided to go back to sleep, and Sly offered to take next watch.

When the encounter came up, I had Sly roll to see if the party was surprised. Since he rolled a “2” (and was thus surprised) I ruled he’d dozed off. I rolled randomly to see which party members were attacked by the two wights that wandered upon them unawares.

Sly and Borgnine.

Even though the party was “sleeping” a failed surprise roll just means the monsters get a free attack roll, not an “auto-hit,” so I rolled to attack. Only Sly was hit. The dwarf was startle awake by something cold caressing his cheek…the thief was awakened by soul-searing cold as his life force was wrenched from his body! Welcome to level 6.

Round two: “A corpselike figure with sunken eyes giving off an unholy glow crouches over you clutching at your body, groping at you with pale, blue-tinged hands. What do you do?” Both were attempting to kick the thing away while yelling for the rest of the party to get the hell up! The wights won initiative for the round and both were successful in their attack rolls, draining the dwarf to level 6 and the thief to level 5.

“Wait…so I’m getting worse?” asked Vince.

“Ha! You’re lower level than me now!” laughed Randy.

“That’s what you get for falling asleep on watch!” said someone else(maybe Matt…he really hadn’t liked going down the hole).

The clerics rise up pulling their holy symbols and blast the wights into oblivion.

Somehow, the party decided to get back to “sleep,” though a double watch was set, and they got little rest on the damp hard sand. No more wandering monsters troubled them.

Upon awaking, and after passing around the healing magic, the party decided to explore the only other egress available to them…the southward leading corridor.

It ended in a door.

After watching the newly diminished thief fail his “hear noise” roll, the party kicked open the door ready for anything. What they found was a bedraggled-looking Quentin Nogg.

“More tormentors come to taunt me? I will serve neither you, nor your feeble master!”

No, no…the party explains. They are here to rescue the halfling. They gaze around the room at the sumptuousness of the surroundings. “Bribes,” explains Quentin. “The wizard Keraptis killed my party and captured me. His indoctrination process failed, and so he’s kept me here for several weeks, hoping that I will agree to be his loyal slave. You’re welcome to any of his ‘treasure’ offers.” He gestures to a disorderly heap of loot that includes a suit of human-sized plate mail.

Gustav asks if he can have the plate mail, seeing as how his own is pretty toasty. “It won’t fit me,” says Quentin. Matt asks, “If this is cursed armor, I won’t know it till I’m in combat or something, right?” Right. “Eh, I’ll put it on anyway.” Okay.

Terril, feeling all this is perhaps too good to be true casts Detect Alignment on Quentin.


“What about Blackrazor?” Brian wants to know. “We were supposed to find Blackrazor down here!”

“It is here,” says the Halfling, “Keraptis said he wanted me to ‘guard’ it.” Quentin pulls a beautiful mahogany case…about the size of a sword…from beneath a large cushion, opens it, and pulls Blackrazor from the satiny lining of the case. The light within the room seems to disappear in the darkness of its length, giving back only the sparkling of constellations deep within the blade’s black metal.

“I don’t think you should be carrying Blackrazor,” says Brian pointedly.

“And why should I not?” says the Halfling with a look that says ‘come and take it from me.’

Brian decides to start scooping treasure into the bag of holding instead.

***EDIT: So sorry, folks...THAT is where we left the game! Hope you weren't waiting for more action, 'cause that's all she wrote for last Thursday. The players decided that finding Quentin and Blackrazor was enough of a feather for one evening, and everyone was anxious to get home to their families (we ran a little late)...but this is where I plan on picking up the thread three days from now. Stay tuned! ***

Inverted Ziggurat (P.1)

[continued from here]

The chamber, as stated, was exceptionally large…so much so that the light of Blaarthislaarv…and even Sweet Tito’s dagger…could not reveal the room in its totality. And it was a pretty damn unusual room. Rectangular in shape, the chamber was composed of a number of descending ledges running the perimeter of the room. Each ledge (the party appeared to have entered on the uppermost one) was 10’ wide, and then dropped 10’ to the ledge directly below it, forming four ledges in total with the barely visible floor below.

What’s more each level of the chamber (besides the ledge of the party) was inhabited. The ledge directly below the party was filled with water, all the way to the level of the ledge on which the party stood…preventing the water from spilling downwards was what appeared to be a thin, translucent wall (Glass? Crystal?). Within this aquarium swam half a dozen giant crabs, each as large as a man in plate armor with huge snapping claws. Wherever the party went with its light source, the crabs swam to congregate near the edge…apparently anticipating some sort of impending meal!

The level below the crabs also had a 10’ high translucent wall, but this level was dry and covered in sand. Scuttling along this level were several huge scorpions, each the size of a pony, their wickedly barbed tails obviously envenomed.

The level below the scorpions was filled with water, similar to the crab level…however, swimming through the depths seemingly un-troubled by the darkness were the giant forms of four polar bears.

The floor, as mentioned was only barely discernable from the party’s ledge…anything present there was safely shrouded in darkness.

Reviewing the riddle-note of the wizard Keraptis (I had been kind enough to re-read it at the beginning of the session), the party decided that this must be the “inverted ziggurat” of the poem, beneath which was supposed to lie the blade Blackrazor. Their whole freak-out regarding the darkness and the levels and the monsters was thus tempered by their excitement at the knowledge that one of the prizes they sought was close at hand!

Now…what to do?

[we started our game sometime between 8:15 and 8:30 if I am remembering correctly…definitely later than usual, perhaps even closer to 9…and the group spent nearly the entire time in this chamber. And we didn’t get out of the Baranof until close to midnight. This, more than anything, accounts for my frustration with the evening…one room in 3+ hours?! However, in debriefing with my brother later on, he did point out that it was an exceptionally complicated and challenging room…and the players seemed to have fun, and that was the main point, right? Okay, AB]

After much discussion, it was decided that the circumstances seemed ideal for the use of Sweet Tito’s lightning bolt spell. By using the light to draw the crabs together in a pack/school, Sweet was able to launch a charge of electricity into the water, flash frying every single one in an explosion blue fire and sizzling seafood.

[personally, I’m fairly unfamiliar with the actual physics regarding lightning and water; however, I can recall the 1st edition DMG ruled lightning bolts underwater were treated as fireballs, and I saw no reason not to do the same…hell, it’s certainly what the player s expected]

Having thus overcome the “first hurdle” (and giving high fives all around), the players decided they needed a little more intelligence on what “lay below.” Giving Brian the Halfling the dagger of continual light, the diminutive adventure used his ring of waterwalking to venture to the very edge of 2nd ledge by walking on the water’s (now slightly lower) surface. Holding the light out as far as he could reach, he could see SOMEthing move on the sand of the chamber’s floor…and a reflection of strangely human eyes from something that shuffled like a great four-legged beast.

And then he was hit by something like half a dozen crossbow bolts.

“Shit! Shit! Pull me back!” (I forgot to mention the party had tied a length of rope around the Halfling for just such a quick retrieval). Much discussion and commotion from the players. Do we know what they are? How much could we see? What the hell just happened?

Did the creatures look like the manticore on the front of the module?

Yes…and the fact that the characters were 7th level meant I was fine with them knowing anything they possible remembered or could dredge from their mind regarding manticore. Brian had seen (in the dim light) that there were at least two shuffling around below, huge bat-like wings folded and/or dragging in the sand. Their ability to fling foot long spikes at anyone that popped over the edge was putting a decided cramp in the party’s style.

Randy spoke up: Hey, I get a bonus language still…can it be manticore?


The party does the magic ring shuffle and Sweet T walks out to the edge with glowing dagger in hand. “Hello down there!” he calls in the creatures’ own tongue. Reaction roll indicated the manticores were still feeling feisty (remember Sweet had a charisma of 7) and he’s hit with a barrage of spikes. “No wait! Wait! We come in peace!” The manticores paused.

What you want? They growled up at him in the glow of the magic light. We hungry, where’s our meat?

“We just want to pass, we can offer you food…cooked crab meat!”

Reaction roll comes up snake-eyes. We only eat LIVE meat! The elf is hit with another barrage and takes a spike through the brain killing him instantly. The party…who has been standing well back in the hallway outside, feel the elf go limp in the rope and pull his body back down the corridor.

After de-spiking Sweet T, Heron (or rather, Terril the Cleric) casts raise dead to bring the elf’s soul back to his body, and the party props his bloodied form up against a wall of the corridor. “Can I sleep here?” No you need two weeks of complete and comfortable bed rest…not even magic cure spells will bring you back from one hit point. “Damn. I need a Bed & Breakfast!”

Terril decides the party needs to get a better idea of what their dealing with and casts continual light somewhere near the middle of the room. Thus lit, the party can see there are three manticores, all of whom have had their wings clipped (and explaining why they remain below).

Flightless or not, they remain a serious threat and problem. “If they only eat live meat, maybe we should have fed them Sweet Tito,” suggests someone (probably AB). “Wait, wait! I’m alive now!” But we could always raise you again after the manticores eat you…um…maybe. Can you raise someone after they’ve been digested? “Wait, wait!”

[funny enough, when I related the evening’s events to my wife later, the first thing she suggested when I told of Tito’s death? “They should feed the elf to the manticores.” She thought it was the most “practical” thing to do]

AB still couldn’t believe they’d refused the crab meat. “Don’t they know how delicious Dungeness is?” (there had already been more than a few comments about melting butter) Maybe the crabs had been their friends? Or perhaps they just weren’t big seafood eaters.

[actually the whole “live meat” thing came from the module which was specific that the creatures were only fed live food and couldn’t be bribed with rations…a common enough B/X trick]

“Well, if they can’t fly, maybe we can drown ‘em. Does it look like we could break the glass wall retaining the crabs water?”

It was decided they would try. Although, Sly had the gauntlets of ogre power, Farnsworth had many more hit points and a huge AC (-1) AND had a natural 18 strength. Heron gave him his mace +2, Brian lent him the ring of waterwalking, and the fighter excepted the noose…er…rope around the waist as he hesitantly inched out to the edge of the water.

[actually, the courageous Gustav tried first with his warhammer…though he did it completely in the dark and made nary a scratch]

According to the module, a character with 18 strength and a good, heavy mace can break the glass in 2-5 rounds. I rolled the full 5, but decided to reduce the time to 4 rounds due to the magic mace. Farnsworth started swinging with purpose and the manticores started shooting…after three rounds, Farnsworth announced he’d had enough (actually he started announcing this after the first or second round hit him for huge damage, but the party offered him healing to keep going that long).

So here we were…Mexican stand-off. The dam nearly ready to break (the glass was splintered and spider-webbed) and AB refusing to go back on the ledge…and the manticores were actually out of spikes! Each manticore had a total of 12 spikes that could be hurled six at a time. I’d already decided that only two manticore would shoot each round (total of twelve spikes)…and after shooting Brian once, Sweet T twice, and Farnsworth thrice, the leonine creatures were totally tapped out!

If memory serves, I do NOT think Farnsworth ever actually finished the job…I may have ruled he did enough damage for the glass to shatter by itself (it WAS a +2 mace after all)…I know I was trying to move things along by this point. The water washed out through the crack, and quickly filled the level below, drowning the scorpions…but being (mainly) held in place by the glass shield around their level.

Eventually, someone decided to “count” how many spikes were left on the tails (a couple of the players…including Luke, who finally showed up around 10…suspected that the creatures ammunition was limited). When I told them it appeared only “baby nubs” remained on their tails, Borgnine agreed to risk possible manticore fire to break the glass. He slipped on the ring of waterwalking AND a ring of protection AND the gauntlets of ogre power AND picked up the magic mace AND looped the roap around himself.

It only took the dwarf two hits. Then water was sluicing out through a crack in the scorpion level, washing over the polar bear ledge and drowning the helpless manticores below. Fortunately, the party had tied off the dwarf as they had with all the other characters, and the burly warrior was left hanging rather than washing out into the lower levels himself.

Eight is Enough

Last Thursday’s game at the Barnof was a rough one. I hadn’t got much sleep all week long (Wednesday night in particular I only got four hours or so) which, along with my Everfull Pint Glass (Vince sat next to me and kept topping it off) combined for a less than stellar performance from Yours Truly.

“Performance?” Yeah…running a D&D game for eight people (we had a new guy join us…we’ll get to him in a sec) is more about performing than playing. You are acting as referee. You are acting as narrator. You are acting as “font of rules knowledge.” You are managing the table (both in-game and out-of-game issues). It can be tricky to say the least. The largest D&D game I ever recall running in the past was for SIX people…and I know that at one point I was literally picked up and thumped on my head via a “piledriver” move. Fortunately, my current group is nicer than that one…but I can see how the piledriver might possibly come out in the future should things go as I predict.

“Once again your cryptic words intrigue, JB,” I can hear readers thinking. “Tell us more.” However, I’m just thinking ahead to What Comes Next in the adventure next to the current state of the adventurers at present and, well, the future doesn’t look all that rosy for our heroes.

[note: just pulled out their character sheets and took a gander...they're not nearly in as bad of shape as I remember]

But that’s all getting ahead of myself…Thursday started later than usual, despite the fact that I arrived at the place on time for a change. I suppose I’ve set a bad precedent for my players…this week I’ll try to get things kicked off by 7:45 or so. Mmm…maybe.

Anyway, this week welcomed a new player to the table: Heron. As with everyone else, Heron turned out to be a swell guy, whose wife has been gracious enough to give him Thursdays off. Interestingly, he’s the same guy who wrote the Trolls will be Trolls adventures for last year’s One Page Dungeon contest, one of my personal favorites. For some reason (probably the name) I just assumed he was from Sweden or something. Instead, he lives relatively close to my Greenwood ‘hood.

Crazy small world.

Heron did manage to show up with copies of the original B/X books (nice!)…along with the usual pencil-paper- dice necessities. Luke had a prior engagement for the evening, and Heron agreed to be plugged in as the party cleric for the session. Actually, I gave him a set of 3x5 cards with random NPC ability scores, names, and classes (I had written these up the week before in the thought that I might give all the PCs a henchman, but stifled the thought due to the sheer number of players that showed), and he picked one of the clerics for his character…than we elevated him to 7th level, gave him a “sea captain’s hat” and some magic items (a scroll or two, some magic armor, a mace +2) and standard equipment (grappling iron was his “unique” item)…and rolled for relationships to other party members. Turned out he’d met Gustav the fighter while running from some wild animals, and he’d met Borgnine the dwarf when “one’s house burned down and the other helped out” (I don’t recall if we ever decided whose house had been burned down).

This seems as good a time as any to mention a couple things:

1) Regarding the Random Relationships: I have no idea how much players actually remember these things…I don’t make any notes of them and frankly, I have a difficult time remembering all 16 relationships between 8 different characters. This is a system to aid the PLAYERS not the DM. It gives them a sense of something shared between their characters, gives them something to kibitz about, helps them to immediately “plug into the game.” I don’t know how useful it is to them in the long term (though the “telepathic rapport” between Sly the Thief and Sweet Tito DID come to the fore a bit this session), but from my “DM’s chair” it SEEMS to accomplish these goals.

2) Regarding clerics: I hate clerics having to memorize spells like a magic-user…to the point that I usually chuck the whole system. This is not very “Old School” of me, I admit, but it’s the way I’ve played since I was a kid playing AD&D. Basically, a cleric has a certain number of spell slots (“prayers”) per day, and can use them as he or she sees fit to beseech God (or whomever) for aid.

To me, this simply makes more sense. People don’t get up in the morning, kneel in prayer, and recite a Christmas list to their deity (“…and I want to Cure Disease twice, and Raise Dead once, and Speak with Snakes, and, and…”). That’s ridiculous. High level clerics, having proven themselves worthy champions, have direct access to their gods and can ask them to intercede on their behalf. Of course, their deity isn’t going to grant an unlimited number of miracles (“God helps those who help themselves…”) and clerics know when not “push their luck” with the prayers (i.e. they know when their allotment of spells are up for the day).

This, too, greatly speeds and simplifies play, so long as the cleric has ready access to the short spell list of the clerical class (as Heron did).

Magic-users and elves still have to study their spell books, of course. The limits of their spell books in B/X helps speed and simplify the choosing of their spells…plus I like SOME Vancian magic in the game!

So, yeah…onwards and upwards into White Plume Mountain. As I mentioned, I had decided to “take the gloves off” for the remainder of the adventure. Or, to put it another way, I had decided to “play hard.” This did not fully happen in the session…as I mentioned, my performance was a bit off all night due to fatigue and booze…but of the players, only the two clerics (Luke showed up later in the evening) managed to remain unscathed.

The characters spent quite a bit of time managing their healing after having camped in the frictionless room. The “1s” were still coming hard and fast for all the healing rolls, and I decided that ALL the characters had a single, “emergency” healing potion stashed on their person. So much for the gloves coming off! This was actually something I’d been considering since the prior session, but had just forgotten to do. These were 7th (and 6th) level characters after all…surely some of their wealth could have been blown on an alchemist or two?

After getting about as “up to snuff” as they could, they proceeded to continue their subterranean trek, soon coming to another crossroads. As usual, they took the left-hand turn ending (eventually) at another door. Listening again (I see why rot grub were invented) allowed Sly to report a whole host of critter-like sounds coming from the other side…though many sounded like critters of different types. Oh, boy!

[most everything that follows is SPOILERS, just by the way]

They kicked in the door to find a huge chamber enveloped in darkness.

But not magical darkness…simply a chamber without light.

[actually...sorry...I'm going to continue this in a new post! Ha!]

700 Club

700 posts…as usual, reaching such a milestone makes me a bit reflective on the whole blogging thing in general. With more than 2000 pages of writing, I’ve got to think…um…why am I not churning out novels or something? Lack of inspiration? Lack of discipline? Lack of training?

Probably all of it…I never intended to be a “writer” and used to make fun of English majors back in college (not that majoring in Drama was any better, I suppose). Or perhaps, I thought it would be cool to be a writer, but it wasn’t something one had to LEARN about so much as just DO. This is similar to my take on the craft of acting; however, with acting there is a certain “knack” that very few people seem to actually have in their base genetics, and training (coupled with “doing”) can help develop this knack…at least sometimes (I’ve known some who had tons of passion, enthusiasm, AND training and could simply never find a way to be believable on stage).

But that’s acting. Writing…well, it just seems so EASY. Not that is (look at that recent Clash of the Titans mess…talk about terrible writing!), but you come across all sorts of people (including myself) who walk around thinking, yeah, I could probably write a novel or screenplay some day…

Just browsing at the old Barnes & Nobles the other day, I saw at least two or three auto-biographies of various ex-80’s rock stars. I suppose, if you’re famous AND have lived an interesting life, than people may be willing to shell out money to read about you. But I have a hard time believing that just anyone can cough out a book. My game book was a lot tougher to write than this schizophrenic blog…and I was working from a template (i.e. the original B/X books)!

However, having the ability (or “chops”) and having the aspiration are two different things. A lot of people ‘round about my generation have the astrological North Node in the sign of Sagittarius. For these folks, writing feels like it comes easy (boring even) and publishing feels like the thing that they really need to do to feel complete in their lives. And by “publishing” I mean “disseminating one’s ideas to the masses.” The great desire to spread…well, whatever half-baked thoughts are in your head…to folks far and wide.

Whoever came up with this blogging thing is a genius.

As are the print-on-demand folks, AND the .pdf and E-Books folks, AND the kindle people, AND the on-line forum designers…these people have made an entire generations dreams of self-publishing possible.

Regardless of whether or not we have any real talent for it.

And I don’t mean to sound like a “downer” today…I sat through a very cold, very wet, very windy Seahawks game for four quarters yesterday to root for the home team (a nice, crushing defeat of last year’s NFC West champs). A win is a win is a win…ugly, miserable conditions, or whatnot. And just to draw a weak parallel (‘after all, I am a hack writer), it feels pretty good to look back at one’s stack of writing, or typo-ridden (but published-and-sold!) book and not feel a sense of satisfaction. Satisfaction that you got SOMEthing done. And that SOMEone is willing to read it.

Okay, okay…that’s enough reflection. We shall now return to our usual gaming-oriented stuff.
: )

Friday, October 22, 2010


No one died tonight...again.

At least, no one died and stayed dead.

We came to one of the more complicated challenges in White Plume Mountain this evening. Ye Old "Inverted Ziggurat." It took a long-ass time to navigate (more specific info tomorrow), but they managed it without a single character death.

There were eight players more than last week. I told the Doc I was totally going to take the kid gloves off tonight, and I believe I did, but it wasn't quite as vicious as I expected/hoped. Part of that was due to the time spent navigating the ziggurat chamber. Sheesh...the things these guys argue about.

Full report's 12:43 and I've been up for 19 hours after only managing five hours of sleep.'s surprising I'm on my game at all!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Explaining D6 Damage

[this one's a little long folks...]

The default damage of all weapons in B/X play is 1D6; that is, every weapon does from 1 to 6 points of damage plus bonuses (if any). This is what I’ve been using in my games for the last year or so (with occasional variations), and it’s easy to see why:

- It’s fast/easy.
- It’s Rules-As-Written.

That’s the PRACTICAL aspect of it. However, even more than that I prefer the PHILOSOPHICAL aspect of D6 damage, and that bit can be tough to explain to folks.

This post is going to give it one more shot at doing so.

[by the way, some of this is going to sound familiar to long-time readers as it will reference things I’ve touched on elsewhere…however, I hope to bring many different posts together in one succinct essay; we’ll see how it goes!]

Before we begin, let’s establish the foundational damage rules of B/X play:

1) Per the Basic set, all weapons of adventurers (not monsters) do 1D6 damage, whether it’s a dagger or a two-handed sword (variable weapon damage is simply an “optional” rule).
2) Per the Expert set, an unarmed adventurer does 1D2 damage with his blows.
3) Strength bonuses add to melee damage done (+1, +2, or +3 for Strength scores over 12).

Defining the (Normal) Human Condition

Remember that all Normal Humans have 1D4 hit points, “normal” meaning non-heroic, non-adventuring, non-combat-worthy people. Hit points are the number of damage points a character can take before being killed. So what does 1 to 4 hit points look like?

1 hit point – these fragile individuals are living on borrowed time, and should never get into a scrap if possible. Infants and toddlers, the very elderly, the Bubble Boy, people with extremely bad luck or who are present for comic relief. The “big strong man” with the glass jaw or who is so casually inept, he runs himself onto your sword. Any damage will take this person out of combat.

2 hit points – the average (maybe slightly below average) human, most of us (in real life) probably fall into this category. A solid punch to the face will knock us 50% of the time (roll of a 2 on the 1D2).

3 hit points – a human in good physical condition. A solid punch to the face from an average strength (9-12) person will cause us to shake our heads, and a second one will punch our clock. A strong (13+) human can still knock us cold if they catch us with the right uppercut.

4 hit points – an exceptionally tough, big, and/or strong human being. In D&D terms think of a blacksmith or (big) longshoreman in the prime of his life. Can take several punches to the face before being knocked out, unless fighting someone who is exceptionally strong and/or lucky.

Now what do these four types of individuals have in common? They can all be killed, fairly easily, by the single blow of a hand weapon. A dagger stab in the kidney or jugular, a sword thrust through the torso, a hammer blow to the head…so long as the character attacking has an average strength, even the toughest (non-combat-trained) human can be felled 50% of the time (a 4,5, or 6 on a D6 dice roll). Such a blow might not spell INSTANT death, but they’d certainly be “out of combat,” mortally wounded and unable to move, fight, or take other actions (besides whimpering).

Adventurers (like ALL PCs) and some exceptional, heroic or combat-worthy NPCs (like Nobles in the basic book) have a lot better conditioning due to the type of careers/training they’ve had. They’re like Bruce Willis in Die Hard…they can take a helluva’ beating and somehow find the strength to keep going. They also have the luck and skill (even the wizards!) to turn what might be a killing blow into a negligible laceration or bruise. This is, of course, represented by their larger number of hit points.

The Nature of Weapons

All weapons used by adventurers are designed to kill. The dagger, the axe, the arrow, the greatsword…all have been forged and feathered with the intent on inflicting mortal injury. They just do so in different ways. Braining a guy with an axe or war hammer certainly looks different from piercing his eye/skull with an arrow or spear, decapitating him with a sword, or slitting his throat with a knife but the effect is the same regardless.

No weapon has better killing power than another. They just have different styles of killing. Certain styles may be better suited to one individual over another (for example, what guy may be a power hitter who can really swing war club, while another guy is a light-on-his-feet fencer) but if you’re not inflicting pain and suffering the fault lies with YOU, not the weapon. No one is going to chop off someone’s arm with a dagger blow…and no one’s going to stab through the eye into the brain with a battle axe. Different weapons inflict harm in different ways…but all with the same aim.

In the past (and in my B/X Companion) I offered the idea that certain classes were better at using weapons than others, and thus damage dice were increased (or decreased) based on class. I see now that this has already been modeled in the D&D game with different classes having different chance to hit (a chance to hit is simply a “chance to inflict damage”). Changing the dice types based on class, while still better than changing them based on weapon, is still fairly redundant.

A weapon inflicts 1-6 points of damage. The number rolled gauges how effectively a weapon was wielded towards killing an opponent. Combat is CHAOTIC, especially a pitched battle with multiple individuals. While any helpless individual (someone sleeping, tied up, paralyzed, whatever) can be slain with a single blow, in a MELEE, opponents are actively trying to resist you. Blows are blocked. Blows are rolled with. People lunge away from a blade and take only a long scratch or laceration.

Using a larger weapon does not change the fact that opponents are trying to resist your attacks. Using a larger weapon does not help one to kill a helpless opponent any easier.

“But a larger weapon can beat through an opponent’s defenses!” B/X is an abstract combat system…it assumes that you are already using your weapon to the best of your ability. If you are wielding a two-handed sword, you ARE bashing aside your opponent’s defenses to land a crushing blow. If you are wielding a dagger, you ARE trying to get inside your opponent’s weapon space and stab them through chinks in their armor. The roll of 1D6 for damage tells just how good you were at using the optimal tactics for your weapon of choice.

The Matter of Strength

In B/X D&D, a character with high (13+) strength receives a bonus to both hit and damage rolls. What might assume this is due to “extra oomph” being put into the force of the blow. As such, some may feel that it is silly to add a strength bonus to certain weapons. “Sure, an 18 strength fighter can clobber someone with a two-handed sword but what’s he going to do with a dagger? Stick it in someone to the pommel?

This confusion is caused by a misunderstanding of what melee is and strength’s impact on it.

A melee attack roll does not represent a single strike, or stab, or blow. An attack roll represents a player’s chance to inflict damage in a single 10 second round. Think of your 20-sided dice as a tiny set of percentile dice working in 5% increments. If the combat matrix says you need a 16+ to hit, it means your chance to inflict damage is 25% (5 in 20). If you need a 14+ to hit, your chance to damage your foe is 35%. A “natural 20,” fun as it is, represents nothing more than 1 more number within the potential needed to achieve a telling blow.

That damage inflicted by a successful attack roll could be caused by a single scratch, or multiple stabs, or one heavy, skull-crushing strike. The extent and type of injury is determined by the damage roll. In B/X play, damage is rolled by the DM who is responsible for narrating an appropriate result.

Melee is a matter of strength.
This is not fencing, but MORTAL COMBAT…in a life-and-death struggle, rules of engagement are shrugged aside and individual fighters do whatever is necessary to kill their opponent without being killed. Tripping, punching, kicking, body blocks are all part of the fight…as is grappling your foe’s weapon arm and twisting it out of the way so you can head butt or stab home.

In such a fight, strength is nearly as great a factor as skill. Skill is already represented by a character’s chance to hit (which is determined by class and experience level, as is appropriate). Skill outweighs strength, but strength can be an equalizing factor in two opponents of near parity, and a decided advantage in when all skill is equal.

Each skill tier increases the chance an opponent’s attack will succeed by 10%. Skill tier break points are determined by class, so a fighter (for example) improves every 3 levels, a cleric every 4 levels, and a magic-user every 5. Characters with high strength increase that chance to attack by 5%, 10%, or 15%, but except for the occasional rare character with 18 strength, the strength bonus can never improve the chance to inflict damage by more than a single tier, and no strength bonus can ever shift a character (up or down) by two full tiers or more.

The strength bonus to damage does not just represent the force of blows, but also the ability to strive against one’s opponent in hand-to-hand combat. If my character with a 16 strength is fighting with a dagger against an armored knight, my additional damage represents knocking him down, stepping on his shield arm, and driving my dagger through his helmet’s visor with one hand while I hold his sword arm with the other. It takes STRENGTH to be effective in melee. Training (class) and experience (level) provides technique and know-how, but strength can (literally) drive the point home.

Conversely, a lack of strength (8 or less) carries penalties to both attack and damage in melee as a physically weak character is at a decided disadvantage in the scrum of melee. However, note that only the weakest of invalids (Strength 3) have 0% chance to kill a 4 hit point normal human with a single blow of a hand weapon (the -3 penalty to damage means the maximum damage such a character can inflict is 6-3= 3 points). Of course, against a helpless opponent the Strength 3 individual could still get an instant kill by drawing a sharp edge across his foe’s throat.

Two-Handed Weapons

In B/X, two-handed weapons always strike last in combat. Why is that? Well, first we must examine the poorly named mechanic of “initiative.”

Rolling a D6 at the beginning of a round allows your character to “take the initiative” for the round. This simply means your character will have the first opportunity to do damage in the combat round. That’s all. It doesn’t mean you’re faster than your opponent; it doesn’t even mean that you attack first, or that your strike is so quick you catch your foe napping. Combat in D&D is abstract. A high roll of the D6 simply means you get the first possibility of damaging your foe.

Two-handed weapons ARE slower to use and, against an opponent using a more maneuverable, one-handed weapon, the opponent has the first chance to do damage. They might not manage it (i.e. they might blow their attack roll), but they have the first opportunity.

The real question is: why would anyone want to wield a two-handed weapon?

At least in a man-to-man, duel or skirmish setting, the tight confines of a dungeon would appear to be the last place anyone would bring a large weapon. On the open battlefield, a two-handed weapon enjoys the advantages of reach, intimidation, and increased damage penetration (from leverage). This is why the Danish pole axe was such a fierce weapon on the battlefield. This is why pike and halberd were wielded well into the 16th century. This is how the Scottish highlanders used their two-handed claymores.

The standard B/X rule books provide no mechanical advantage to the use of a two-handed weapon, only disadvantages (expensive, heavy, slow). But the Basic rules only provide combat procedures for dungeon encounters, and the Expert set defers mass combat rules to Swords & Spells. As it stands, two-handed weapons remain expensive, heavy, and slow without anything to recommend them save the optional “variable weapon damage” chart, and even that is no help for the two-handed battle axe (which continues to do the same damage as a one-handed sword).

I offer the following possible house rules for two-handed weapons:

Reach: in the outdoors, in open terrain, a two-handed weapon always strikes FIRST against opponents wielding one-handed weapons, EXCEPT mounted foes using lances.

Intimidation: individuals carrying two-handed weapons suffer a -1 on Reaction rolls.

Leverage: individuals wielding two-handed weapons add +1 to damage on a successful attack roll.

[I am currently using the last rule in my on-going B/X games]

Final Thoughts

Many, many RPGs have tried to model mortal (life-and-death) combat in many, many different ways. For me, the thing I look for in a game is “do the rules as written contribute to the play of the game itself?” Does the way in which combat is modeled fit with the overall theme and design of the game?

B/X is a simple game, designed to allow players to have imaginary adventures and overcome challenges in a fantastic setting. As such, combat needs to be a part of it. However, while all adventurers in B/X are “combat-worthy,” few of the character classes are “combat focused.” As such, combat should be present, but not necessarily the focus of the game.

For me, I feel that the combat rules, as written, do everything I need without additional requirements…no variable damage types, no armor penetration, no segmented rounds, and (Lord knows!) no super-kewl “Feats” are scaling “Powers.” People get hung up on combat “realism” but personally I think the ONLY way to model combat “realistically” is to model it abstractly, as B/X does.

Really? Yes. The more you add on to the game, the more you try to model “real life,” the more artificial and “UN-real” the game becomes…calculating fatigue and pain and anxiety and weapon tensile strength etc., etc. is still just throwing a bunch of arbitrary numbers together, and is not any more reflective of “real” combat than the rules of B/X.

And at what cost anyway? To slow your game down? To make every combat encounter take an hour? Look at Wizards of the Coast: they started down this road with 3rd edition (average party size: four, average game session: four hours, average number of encounters per session: four) and have sunk to the point where “D&D” (as they still have the gall to call this game) is little more than a number of set piece encounters linked by a flimsy “plot.”


D&D isn’t just about fighting…at least it wasn’t prior to D20. But writing monster encounters is easy (choose monster, roll number appearing, roll hit points…bam! Instant encounter) compared to writing clever challenges. These days, I’m try to keep the fights in their proper place; i.e. about on par with all the other challenges.

D6 damage for all weapons helps me do this. Players ask “what’s the difference between weapons?” And I say, “Not much.” They ask what they should use. I ask them what they want their character to wield. I tend to get a lot of daggers and war hammers, strangely enough…as opposed to EVERYONE wielding a damn long sword. It helps players personalize their character without worrying about mechanical advantages of weapon choice.

To me, D6 damage and abstract combat fit the type of “realism” I prefer…the one where knives are just as deadly as heavy flails, just used differently. Hit points and experience level provide plenty of heroic “edge” to player characters…I’m not interested in modeling video game reality.
; )

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2nd Printing of B/X Companion - COMPLETE!

I've got a big box in the trunk of my car, and it's filled with beautiful, beautiful books.

Literally...they are lovely to look at. I don't know if it's just my wide-eyed, rose-colored glasses or what, but these copies of the B/X Companion seem to look nicer than the first batch. 'Course it could just be the typos have been corrected.

But also, my printer was able to do all work in-house this time 'round...maybe the first printing lost something in the out-sourcing? Who knows. All I know is, I feel like a guy who's been running on fumes and now suddenly has a full tank of gas!

All my back-orders will be going out in the mail TOMORROW, even if I have to work through midnight addressing envelopes! My deepest, heartfelt apologies to everyone who's been waiting...and waiting...and waiting... You folks sent me your money and I've failed to deliver, and I accept full responsibility for that. But I will endeavor to not let it happen again...these books will ship!

[by the way, I had a big essay on B/X combat planned for posting but this news is too exciting not to publish. Expect the essay tomorrow morning...]

Hope it was worth the wait, folks. And again, I am so so sorry it took this long!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Onward and (slightly) Upward

AKA Big Ass B/X Session Part 4

[one thing I completely forgot to mention in my last post was how Sweet Tito got into the fight with the the only "magical support" on the party, he wanted to cast a spell at the ghouls. "Use lightning bolt!" said AB. "No! Not in'll fry everyone!" said everyone else. "They're dead already! F it...use lightning!" You may recall AB's earlier ease with which he casually roasted fellow party members when he was the one wielding the fireballs. However, cooler heads prevailed and Sweet T. instead gunned down a ghoul with magic missile]

Once everything was through the copper-plated hallway, conscious, and fully dressed, the party took stock of its situation.

“Anyone need healing?”

Ah! The party cleric! Echoing the words of magical paramedics heard around gaming tables in many nations.

“Me! Me!”

Ah! The cries of Gustav! Echoing the words of incinerated fighters everywhere.

Actually, Borgnine was in pretty bad shape (I ruled he had taken some “eating damage” prior to the battle being joined), but he was willing to allow the bulk of the healing to go to Gustav.

I use the term “bulk” loosely, as Luke proceeded to roll “1s” for every single healing roll. What the hell is it with Game Science dice? I had wanted some previously, but my own dice seem much more random than Luke’s snake-eyes-prone rollers.

Fortunately, once he was out of “cure spells,” Alstar could still use his staff of healing.

For 1 point cured.

AND…for 1 point cured.

[the B/X staff of healing can only be used 1 per day per individual]

Gustav was still under 10 hit points. “Maybe we should camp here guys!” What? The room is filled with water. “How about in the ghoul’s room…does it look safe? Could we secure it?” The chamber that had housed the ghoul’s was even less inhabitable…a dank, filthy, probably-disease-ridden chamber…and also filled with water. “Maybe we should…” Everyone was on-board to continue the expedition, and Gustav lost the argument to rest/sleep at this point; though they DID allow him to walk in the back instead of point.

Part of their wariness at stopping, might have been due to the wandering monster I rolled while they were waiting on the paralysis to wear off. Wandering monsters are uncommon in White Plume Mountain, but they ARE present…and waiting in one place for too long is a sure-fire way to meet some.

In this particular case, the party was still spread between two ends of the copper-lined hallway, when a set of invisible foot prints when splashing by…past one group of party members, down the corridor, past the second group, and thence off into the darkness. The party had no time to even draw swords but could just stare at the footsteps of whatever it was.

Disconcerting to say the least.

“We need to get out of here before the Predator comes back!”

The ‘Predator’ (or whatever) did NOT come back and the party didn’t go hunting for it (just as well), but it did cause them to spare a few glances over their shoulders as they made their way deeper into the heat of the mountain.

Up the stairs and onto a dry (if slick with moisture) corridor, the party heaved a collective sigh of relief (“Can we rest here?” “No!”). Down the corridor they find themselves at a door: stout oak, iron-bound. After having Sly listen (nothing) and try the lock (“It’s unlocked”), they kick it open to find themselves at one end of a great hall, extending off to their right into darkness.

By the light of Blaarthislaarv, the party can see that the rest of the hall (if hall it is) is barred from them by a 5’ wide pit extending from wall to wall. Holding the light above they can see the pit is lined with gruesome, jagged razors, crusted with some sort of blackened residue like ancient rust that has putrefied in the slime of evil (sometimes my prose waxes all weird like that…I’m trying to get across that they didn’t like the looks of the pit). However, 5’ is nothing right? Easy-shmeazy to jump the gap.

“This looks like some sort of trick…maybe the other side is slippery?” The players decide to cast continual light on a coin and toss the thing across the gap. It hits the floor…and bounces…and bounces…and bounces…ricocheting off walls and floors and ceiling down along the hall until finally dropping out of view, presumably into a similar pit near the other end of the hall. In the brief flash of the bouncing light, the party did see there appeared to be a similar door on the other side of the hall.


A rope was tied around the halfling’s waist. The solid oak door was removed from its hinges, and carefully laid across the pit. Bryan gingerly walked across the makeshift “bridge” and edged his foot onto the floor beyond. His foot instantly skidded into the air on the frictionless surface, though a fortunate dexterity roll allowed him to land on his back on the door, catching himself.

After this abortive (and near fatal) attempt, the party hunkered down to think. “Um, anyone have a fly spell? No?! How about levitation? What kind of party is this?!” I let him stew awhile on their dilemma.

[truth be told, it was just as well they did NOT have a fly spell, as these kind of spells don’t function in the frictionless area of the room…anyone who tried to fly over the pit would probably have gone from bird to pinball to pin cushion. Tim…who was watching the game by now even if he wasn’t participating…later remarked that I was pretty good at “not giving hints” or advice to the players. Hey, there were seven of them…they had plenty of “brain-power!”]

“Fine,” said Luke, “I guess I’ll use my potion of gaseous form. All my equipment turns to mist, too, right?”



Turns out this was yet another (weird!) difference between standard B/X and Labyrinth Lord. I mean the B/X text for gaseous form is pretty clear:

Upon drinking this potion, the user's body will take the form of a cloud of gas. Anything the user is carrying or wearing will fall through the gaseous party to land on the floor.

Doesn’t get much clearer than that, right? There's even an illustration.

Meanwhile, LL’s description of the potion is equally clear:

The person who quaffs this potion, in addition to all items on his or her person...
Guess which one we used?

Right. Welcome to Naked Land, population YOU.

I’m not sure when D&D started to wuss out on things like this (I’ll have to review my 1st edition DMG...yep, there it is), though I suppose having gaseous form affect one’s equipment IS consistent with other magic potions, like growth and invisibility.

However, “consistency” (like “game balance”) isn’t something I’m all that concerned with. Why can someone quaff a potion of polymorph and change their armor into the fur and hide of an owl bear? ‘Cause it’s magic, of course! Why does a person drinking a vial of gaseous form leave all his or her gear behind while drifting away as fog? Because it’s a damn cool effect, that’s why!

So Alstar semi-reluctantly used his potion (he may have been saving it for a quick escape). He drifted across to the other side of the chamber where (after an hour or so of waiting) he finally recovered his physical (naked) form. The party members tied a rope to an arrow and fired it across the room for him, and he tied it off to the knocker/ring of the far door. The party members spiked the other end (good thing they kept those spikes!) and were then able to (carefully) navigate the frictionless floor, using the removed door as a portable toboggan/slide/bridge and the rope like a ferry-line.


One thing I forgot to mention earlier: the far wall was illusionary, with the actual stone wall being some ten feet or so beyond where it appeared to be. This was discovered when they initially fired an arrow (with rope) down the hall and into the far wall. Having discovered this little “hidey-hole” (between illusionary wall and real), the party decided that here at last was a location where they could “make camp” and rest up, recovering spells and such.

Boy was Gustav glad about that!
; )

And THAT is where we ended for the evening, around about 11:20 or so. Everyone lived (thanks to my exceedingly generous nature!), though a couple were definitely a bit battered by the experience. All seven of the dudes said they wanted to come back for our next Thursday meet-up at the Baranof, including the two new guys, Vince and Randy. Hook, line, and sinker folks.

As in the past, I’m having fun with White Plume Mountain. I know I’ve joked a bit through these posts that I’ve been “too easy” on the players and “let them live” but really I’ve just been giving them the benefit of the doubt at times…and I AM being fairly tough (I don’t “give hints” or suggestions on how to overcome challenges…and a lot of WPM’s stuff is of the “challenge the player” variety). The ghouls? I was able to use them to beat the characters but good, even with the cleric getting off his “turn attempt.” If I hadn't it simply would have meant another TPK notched on the belt.

Don’t think so? Those ghouls were naked AND hungry…if the party had not “taken the battle to them,” they would have had no problem running down the corridor and chasing them down from behind. Except for the thief, all the adventurers are wearing plate mail (with only one magic suit between ‘em) and are a lot slower than the gibbering horde of ghouls. Claw-claw-bite is an f’ing nightmare for characters…especially in hordes of six to eight. Anyone read Steakley’s book Armor? Ever see a genestealer horde rip open space marines in on the 40K battlefield? Same kind of deal.

Like this: a 2 HD ghoul needs to roll a 16 or better to hit AC 2 (that’s plate mail and shield)…a 25% chance. Now multiply that by three and multiply that again by six (the maximum number that can surround you and attack)…that’s an average of 4+ hits per round, each hit requiring a save versus paralysis. And if your back is turned ‘cause you’re running from the horde, you don’t get your shield bonus.


As it was, one ghoul (and some lucky/unlucky rolls) took down a 7th level character (the cleric)…that’s pretty buff for a 2 HD monster! And I remember feeling confident about taking the halfling eventually as well (if Farnsworth hadn’t roared up like a naked Beowulf!)!

So I don’t really feel bad about leaving out the “medallions of turn immunity.” The encounter was scary enough. Same with the guy running through the induction field…isn’t it more fun to have him ALMOST killed by the microwave attack? Plus his gear was toasted pretty good. If we were running Star Wars instead of D&D, they’d be fitting Gustav with a black body suit and breath mask right about now.

As for the frictionless room…I may not have made it sound all that dangerous, but then, the players took every precaution to keep danger at a minimum (which is good since those razor lined pits had a little something-something referred to as “super-tetanus” in the module). Of course, I suppose I could have interpreted the “no flying magic” to include a drifting gaseous form…but as it was, there was always a chance a wandering monster might have showed up while they were waiting for the potion effects to wear off…

Suffice is to say, it was a good little two hour session, and I can only hope this Thursday is as much fun. I hope so! If I truly “held back” from killing off the player characters, it was at least partly due to wanting them all present for the next few encounters…when things get REALLY deadly (and fun!).

: )

JB Goes Soft, Everyone Survives

AKA Big Ass B/X Session Part 3

Let’s see, let’s see…where was I?

Oh, yeah…going soft in my old age.

Sludge, slosh, slosh trudged the party through the heat and humidity of White Plume Mountain’s interior dungeon complex. It wasn’t long past the pit that the players encountered their next challenge.

The length of the corridor was lined with gleaming copper plates, each mounted from just above the waterline nearly to the ceiling. The copper was polished to a highly reflective sheen, reflecting the flickering torchlight many times, lighting the corridor with their gleaming luster.


One party member (Gustav? Maybe) was chosen to sally forth along the length of the corridor. As he slowly advanced, the warm air seemed to become even more oppressive. He found he was sweating. Touching his armor he found it warm to the touch, growing hotter even as he advanced. Tiny sparks flashed around the edges of his metal plate armor. He was becoming decidedly uncomfortable.

Gustav turned back. “Maybe we should send the thief.”

[Sly the thief was the only character NOT wearing metal armor]

Sly advanced farther down the corridor than Gustav, until he started to note the smell of burning cloth and leather…the rivets and buckles of his leather armor were actually starting to radiate heat, and a curl of smoke was rising from the dagger in its scabbard. Sly decided HE better turn back as well.

What to do, what to do…Brian the halfling volunteered to crawl the length of the corridor on his back, underneath the line of the plates, and simply poking his head up for occasional sips of air. Shucking his backpack and magic ring, he prepared to attempt the maneuver.

But Borgnine the dwarf had a better idea. “I have a ring of fire resistance…perhaps it will allow me to cross the hall unscathed!” The party figured this was worth a try and Borgnine plunged ahead, ready to turn back at the first whiff of singed beard.

No problema.

The party gave a little cheer as the dwarf waved to them from the end of the long hall. “There’s a chamber here!” he called. “And stairs going up to dry ground!” The party talked about how he might string the ring on a rope and pass it back to them for a one-at-a-time crossing. “Let me just make a quick check for secret doors, first!” Okay, the party would wait.

Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. Borgnine (who was very good at analyzing the stonework whenever the party entered a new area), was just being thorough. However, imagine his surprise when a section of the stone wall actually began to swing out from the wall adjacent to where he was searching.

“Huh, I don’t think I did anything to trigger that.” He wondered aloud…as the gibbering horde of filth-crusted, slime-gleaming creatures poured forth, raking the dwarf with blackened nails ands and sharpened teeth.

He never even had a chance to lift his axe before being paralyzed by the ghouls.

Now let’s pause the action for a moment so that I can have a sidebar: ghouls are some scary mother-f**ers, okay? Flesh eating cannibals, sure…that part’s bad enough. But claw-claw-bite attacks? Any one of which will paralyze your ass? It’s a good thing that elves ARE immune to ghoul paralysis (which I always thought was kind of weird), otherwise a pack of ghouls would tear a number of parties to shreds.

Now I don’t know about you, but I generally play that a paralyzed character can be slain immediately by any creature taking a round to do so. In practice, getting paralyzed by ghouls pretty much means you’re destined for the soup pot. There’s precedence for this (I think of the “example adventure” in the DMG), but really it’s kind of left up to the DM how to handle this. Can a “held” or paralyzed individual only be slain by an edged weapon? Do ghouls’ claws and teeth count as “edged weapons?” Yeah, probably.

However (and I can barely believe I’m writing this), at this point in our session I wasn’t ready to outright kill any of the party members. See, contrary to Trollsmyth's opinion, I don’t think death is boring…I’m sure poor Borgnine would have found being eaten alive while unable to scream a fairly UN-boring experience. However, heroism (in my mind) is courage in the face of suffering, and the party hadn’t suffered enough yet to warrant a hero’s death.

Besides Josh was one of the new guys…Jeez, JB, how mean are you?

Actually, Josh was more afraid that he was going to drown from being paralyzed facedown in 12 inches of water. Man, I don’t even need to try…the players are ready with suggestions for offing themselves! I decided that the dwarf had been paralyzed face-up, and the ghouls were taking their time with eating him…cavorting around, ripping at his armor, pulling a tender morsel from here or there…

The party decided it was time to mount a rescue. Brian was already set to go…and started crawling…slowly. Farnsworth started stripping out of all his armor and gear to make a “bundle” he could haul down the corridor with a rope. Gustav asked, “what if we just ran down the length of the corridor as fast as possible?” and decided to try that.

The induction field heats metal as it passes between the copper plates…the farther one travels the hotter metal gets (and the more damage an individual takes). Each 10’ interval beyond 30’ or 40’ does a certain amount of damage, the amount increasing the farther one travels. The module states that anyone running the length of the corridor “takes all the damage” from each 10’ section. Enough damage to flash fry anyone foolish enough to try such a tactic.

I rolled for damage and it was plenty enough to incinerate Gustav…but here again I paused. Certainly, the fighter should be penalized for his folly, but would any sane person push himself past the point of flesh crisping pain and bone melting agony? I decided to allow a saving throw versus Death Magic. Success would indicate the fighter turned back prior to death.

[O the shame of going soft!]

Truly, I thought it silly that anyone could tear through the hallway (in a foot of water and muck!) fast enough to burn to death. Gustav made his save, and I ruled he took 75% of the damage…half what he would have taken before turning back, and one-quarter of the damage on his return trip. Needless to say, he was still in a world of hurt (I believe he was down in the 5-7 point range after being up over 40) and none-too-eager to get into the ghoul fight.

Alstar the cleric cast resist fire on himself and hustled down the corridor (past the halfling) while the others watched. “This is where the cleric gets a chance to shine,” said someone (maybe Josh, maybe Matt #1).

It only took a couple 10 second rounds for the courageous cleric to get past the copper plates, holy symbol brandished, and shield at the ready. “Get thee back to Hell!” (or something) was shouted…at least in my imagination. Luke just said, okay I’ll turn them. Great.

According to the text of White Plume Mountain, the ghouls each wear medallions that make them immune to clerics’ turning attempts.

Now some of you who have been reading the blog lately may recall certain griping I did regarding this very kind of thing…how does one prepare for un-turnable undead? Why would one presume undead would be un-turnable…and thus send your cleric into certain doom? Because that’s what was going to happen in this case…the cleric’s turn attempt would auto-fail and the ghouls would shred him while the rest of the party watched, just as had happened with the dwarf.

I decided to be strict with my interpretation: ghouls could not be TURNED…but a 7th level cleric DESTROYS ghouls and the medallions weren’t strong enough to resist his holy might. The cleric blasted all but two of the ghouls and the players were thrilled even as the remaining ghouls fell upon him, while I hid my secret shame at being so easy on the players…

In the following round, Alstar (All-Star?) blasted another with dispel evil...and then he fell beneath the envenomed claws of the final ghoul.

Meanwhile, Farnsworth was attempting to pull his bundled armor and weapons through the sludge using a rope. The module is pretty specific that this kind of action won’t work; the heated metal burns through any rope or bindings leaving a steaming pile of red-hot metal in the middle of the corridor. Un-deterred, the naked Farnsworth ran back to the party to retrieve the 10’ pole…he was going to push the pile to the end!

Brian the Halfling finally finished his crawl and popped up ready to do battle. However, he was a little beat from his recent submerging and had a difficult time landing a telling blow. Meanwhile, the ghoul clawed and scratched the stout-hearted Leftfoot, but somehow, the halfling’s fiery blood shook off the effects of the creature’s paralyzing attack (love those Halfling saving throws!).

Brian was forced to go toe-to-toe with the remaining ghoul for three or four rounds, both landing blows but neither succumbing. This was the length of time it took Farnsworth to finish prodding the flaming bundle to the end of the hall (his pole was charred down to 8’ or so by this time). Having purposefully left his sword hilt exposed and jutting from the pile, the burly fighter drew and hewed the ghoul from behind, finishing it in one flaming swing. After which, he likely dropped the weapon and cooled his hand in the murky water.

While the party waited for the ghoul’s paralysis to wear off, Brian figured out a way to rig the dwarf’s ring of fire resistance on a rope while Farnsworth joked about tea-bagging his helpless companions.

To be continued…