Friday, May 20, 2011

The Morning After...

So much to write, so little time...

Today, I'm at work for the first time in, that is to say, my first time working a Friday in many months. And after yet another late Thursday night gaming session, I have to ask:

How the hell do my players do it?

I suppose they all drink less than I do (well, maybe I'M just a light-weight). But while five hours of sleep is something I can usually get over, even multiple nights in a row, I'm struggling a bit with the "five hours PLUS two pitcher" probably doesn't help I was drinking wine with dinner, too!

Ugh. My own damn vault, I know. Anyway, I'm having a bit of trouble focusing at the job and fatigue is definitely part of it, but the other part was that the game went fairly good...good enough that I've been thinking about it most of the morning. It's been awhile since I've really taken the time to write-up an adventure, and this one turned out just fine. Well, so far, anyway...I don't know what future sessions hold, but I was fairly pleased with the results, as I wrote last night.

I won't bore folks with the details but maybe list a few of the highlights/thoughts I had:

- I realize (or at least presume) that the undead-themed adventure is probably a well-worn trope of the D&D game, but it's new ground for me. Mostly, I just find the odd/random zombie, mummy, or vampire floating around the dungeon site...I'm not sure I cna think of any hard-corp necropolis-type settings like my adventure (at least not in the B/X, 1st Edition era of adventure modules). Even as a kid I stayed away from too many undead, as we only had one player who used any kind of "clerical" character (and ZERO paladins, as I've written before). Last night's party was also light on clerical support (um...none, in fact), but we fortunately had a couple of "turners" that could work in a pinch (a necromancer and a witch-hunter).

I found the whole theme (in writing the adventure) a lot of fun and a cool project...having my enthusiasm fired certainly helped in the "tedious" parts of the design process (i.e. map drawing).

- I realize I'm none too fond of "helpful" NPCs. The witch-hunter I made for the adventure was the "motivator" to get the PCs to the dungeon site and is a fairly cool I wouldn't mind playing myself. However, I am having a terrible time using him as an NPC...I want the players to "do their own thing" without guidance from me, which has turned the "zealot" into a "hangs-around-the-back-indecisive-milquetoast" which is NOT what I had originally intended. I find myself thinking of ways to kill him off (might he accidentally slip over the edge of the cliff one misty morning? Perhaps), but his turning ability might be needed by the party. On the other hand, Greg just rolled up a cleric...on the OTHER hand, Greg has a tendency to die rather frequently (the reason he was rolling up a new character)...hmmm...

- There are ways to make 1st level adventures withOUT resorting to stocks of goblins and kobolds. Last night, the players fought a a flock of "harpy-bitches," a half dozen skeletons, and an animated gargoyle. Only one PC (and two men-at-arms) were killed, and the party made off with a nice piece of loot. Quite a decent haul in XP/treasure value and not a humanoid monster in sight. That was neat.

- Miniatures helped PCs visualize their own characters, making them more real in their minds. I think. At least, it helped ME to visualize the characters better. Finding minis that matched their character's description was a bit hard at times, but it was neat to see how the group looked together on the mat. We're playing B/X so the movement and such is still fairly "non-specific" and piece-work, but having the characters' locations plotted on the map certainly helped me when deciding which character was "next in line to get killed" (by trap and by monster). And there was still plenty of decent gaming that went on OFF the mat, if ya' know what I mean.

This is similar to how my friends and I used miniatures when I was a kid: we simply tried to find models that matched our characters' descriptions so that we could look at them and show 'em off. It wasn't about representing anything on a map or battlefield, and it certainly wasn't about 5' steps and attacks of opportunity. Mainly, you just wanted a figurine to mark your place at the table.

However, as I said, I think the minis DID help with the combat/exploration stuff. I don't remember anyone complaining about positioning last night, which was a welcome change.

Well, except for Josh and the harpy attack...what a cry-baby!
; )

- Last night had seven players at the table (besides myself) and the number was just about perfect. I'm still not going to turn anyone away, but if I HAD to choose a cut-off point, seven might be the place to do it. There was no need to use a Caller, and there was a good mix of various adventuring types without ME getting bogged down by "too many voices." On the other hand, they DID need those extra bodies (including the WH) a perfect world, I guess, there would have been a couple PC-controlled henchmen, but no one seems interested in that type of relationship (the NPCs are all just "meat shields" to the players).

- I'm looking forward to next week quite a bit, despite knowing how rough the morning after might be (ugh). Having already established the location and "base" and having made a couple forays into the dungeon, I am hopeful that next week will see even more "stuff" accomplished. Here's hoping!

: )

[by the way, I did NOT come up with any pre-gens for the game...instead I have a table of equipment lists based on class and Social Status. This worked great as far as speeding the chargen process, while still allowing player creativity and input...I'll post the tables later or make them available as a download]


  1. What's the difference between PC-controlled henchmen and the mercs we've been hiring? Are we just not seeking them out effectively? Was one of us supposed to control the cleric NPC from the previous session (that we forgot to invite along to the necropolis--d'oh!)?

    I would be interested in "playing 2 characters" if my sidekick was something more interesting than a tom, dick or harry with 3 hit points, leather armor and a sword...

    It was a good game, and I think the changes (seating arrangement, visual representation of character position, dungeon tailor made for our group, etc.) made for a big improvement. The main problem is that there is no place to put the pitchers of beer!

    It helped that my d20 was hot. I think I actually hit or killed monsters in each of the 3 combat encounters. It felt rather "heroic"...

  2. I think we're starting to learn some default tactics, too: thief scouting ahead, archer positioned behind badass dwarf to enable attacking from the second rank, protecting the wizard more effectively, etc. Seems elementary, but we're just getting around to it...

    Now if we could just get a little more systematic in our exploration, we'd move a little faster.

    Oh, and a ding-dang cleric who can cast a healing spell, so we don't have to rest for a week between encounters with 1st level sentries... :P

  3. I think you are using minis in exactly the right way. I always do so in the same manner. And frequently, develop the characters with a specific mini sitting in front of me. (I have a decent collection) Minis have always been a part of the appeal of the game for me.

  4. I took the opportunity to kill my character last night for the benefit of the group, and following input from the blog.

    So far, we haven't really had a big score of treasure yet, outside of the Tomb of Horrors dream sequence, and it felt like we were getting a little bogged down in meta-discussion of creative ways to use altars to kill NPCs. And, knowing that experience is tied to loot... Plus, as you've discussed, we can die for the small stuff, or try to make it big -- there was a chance I could have gotten away.

    It was also a good opportunity for me to play up the Chaotic alignment. Big shinies all for me? Heck yeah!

    If I can sacrifice a character to benefit the rest of the party, I'll certainly do that. It'll benefit me in the end, as I get to hang out with more experience adventurers on the next character. It also got us to do something a little more fun than flail around rooms. (I attribute this to the lateness, the booze, and everyone being generally agreeable, heh.)

    That said, I'll miss Hexham -- he seemed like he had potential. However, if Rugrin can survive, we'll have a cleric that can heal someday! Maybe! He's already got a badass mini...

  5. My magic-user with spells selected to be effective for B2 Keep on the Borderlands was pretty much useless versus a dungeon full of undead. I do have that boomstick-gun thing but I'm wary of using it because of secret "roll a 1 and it blows up and kills you" rules.

    Hinting to the DM that I might need to get some different spells didn't go anywhere, but apparently B/X doesn't let you learn more spells than you can cast anyway. B/X is full of these "WTF that makes the game less fun" gotchas.

  6. @ Josh: I doubt you'll find any "henchmen" types in the village of Paschendale. A henchman is a fellow adventurer-type (a "class" in other words, not just a "hireling" merc) who shares your adventures (and treasure) and goes up in level, growing as you do. "Sidekick" is a good way to describe it. Maybe Fletcher has a second, younger son who's just come of age...?

    @ Josh (again): I think you all did well, tactically speaking, and I think that having the map laid out in front of you contributed to's a lot easier to plot maneuvers when you have a visual of the environment.

    As for "tailor-made:" um, no idea what you're talking about (see Luke's comment for additional insights). I suppose I DID consider the party's lack of magical weapons when I made the gargoyle "trigger-able."

    @ Grat: I have a rather poor collection of D&D-type minis, though some of my Mordheim ones served well (too bad they're unpainted). The players brought along a decent collection, though...

    @ Greg: You jackass. I was just saying to my buddy that I'm glad your new character is a cleric, as the "paladin-style" seems to suit your goody-two-shoes persona. This kind of "ringer" behavior will not be tolerated! Next time you "take one for the team" I'm going to make sure you wish you hadn't!
    ; )

    @ Luke: And if we'd been playing AD&D and your spell book was similarly limited? Your character doesn't have the cash to buy new spells, dude.

    Listen, man...there ARE going to be instances in THIS dungeon when both Sleep and Charm are going to be effective and needed...the particular corridor you happened down was not one of 'em. Don't fret, you'll get your chance. In the meantime, you're going to have to be clever and use your own esoteric knowledge...your MU has an 18 intelligence, right? And YOU have an extensive knowledge of the game. No reason you can't say your character has studied books and scrolls on monsters and their weaknesses and can provide that info to the party.

    And if you "get it wrong" (because B/X is O So Different from AD&D or DND3), just chalk it up to faulty rumor/'ll probably still be close to accurate knowledge.

    Keep your eyes open, keep a defensive posture (as you did in last night's game), and for God's sake take a wide variety of spells! Your character is about to hit 3rd level...make it count! Reversible spells are like two for the price of one. And magic-users of ANY level can engage in spell research to learn new spells (see the Expert set for more info).

  7. Oh, don't get me wrong, I was trying to screw the team out of cash, but SOME good can come of my death. And my undeath. And my redeath.

  8. Wait, I can just *decide* to have a henchman and roll up a second character? I'm in!

  9. @ Gatzby: Great Marley's Ghost! What the F are you talking about? Have you ever played this game?! "Some good?" Didn't you just say you were trying to act Chaotic? Jeez, man.

    @ Josh: You can *decide* to go about hiring one...I seem to recall seeing a section or two of the Basic book in your possession. Here's the thing: I misspoke earlier when I said "henchmen" (the AD&D term). In B/X, such individuals are called "retainers;" see page B21 for extensive rules on retainers.

  10. @JB Heh, it's a clever ruse for the next time I try to rob everyone blind, or withhold healing for bribes.

    With the high Charisma I usually seem to end up with, I ought to brush up on retainers.

  11. @ Gatz: You're going to have to pick up at least a level or two before you start attracting serious followers...which means, you need to get the loot AND survive, if at all possible!
    ; )

    I already feel bad about the previous week's "death fest"...really, Greg, I just think you have yet to find you "perfect fit" character (I know you liked Thane, but it was not to be...). Here's to hoping the fifth time's the charm!
    : )

  12. Seriously, don't feel bad. I'm still having fun, it makes a good story, and I'll find something that sticks eventually.

    Besides, I've had the urge to create something "paladin-like" since reed the Deed of Paksenarrion a few years back.

  13. @ Greg: Man, I am going to write a whole blog post on you. Seriously.
    ; )

  14. @JB, 1E AD&D starts a 1st level MU out with at least four spells to choose from (and the game has 30 1st level MU spells in the core books vs 12 in B/X). You're right, I don't have any money to buy anything (including spell research).

    Straight B/X monsters don't have that much in the way of weaknesses and such beyond the werewolf/silver things everyone knows about. There's a lot on the DM's shoulders to make a high Int worthwhile as far as in-game knowledge.

    Did you have an awesome reversible 2nd level MU spell in mind? All I see is Cont. Light and ESP. In fact, there aren't really any great combat spells. The best one, Web, has a hilariously gimped area of effect compared to other D&D versions.

    The utility spells would come in handy on rare occasion but you'd rather have Locate Object or Knock on a scroll rather than wasting space in your spell book.

    1E AD&D has Rope Trick, Scare, Strength, Stinking Cloud, Levitate at 2nd level. B/X definitely gets better once you get to 3rd level spells.

  15. @ Fumers: While there IS a dearth of reversible spells, light/darkness and continual light/darkness are plenty useful in the right circumstances. Hold portal and protection from evil may seem to be "utility spells" but can be incredible effective when used tactically...ventriloquism as well, though it's trickier.

    There are plenty of great 2nd level spells in B/X: ESP, invisibility, knock, levitate, locate object, phantasmal force...even web can be used in a utility (non-combat capacity) with a little thought.

    Now, no, none of these spells cause damage to enemies. Boo-hoo. Magic-users use magic. Playing one means you get to do that. It does not mean you get to "blow the shit out of people right and left with blasts of power." Even a 5th level magic-user with that wonderful 3rd level spell fireball can only use it once per day. One still needs to be clever about how and when to use such devastating magic.

    In the end, being a wizard isn't about combat or killing monsters. That's the job of heroes (i.e. fighters).

    As far as AD&D goes: yes, there are many 1st level spells and, yes, beginning magic-users start with 4 spells to start. These spells are Read Magic + one offensive, one defensive, and one miscellaneous spell randomly rolled by the Dungeon Master. Quantity doesn't necessarily mean "quality." If your character ends up with Push, Feather Fall, and Erase as your starting spells, you'd probably be pretty pissed right?

    But even if you end up with Sleep as your 1st "offensive" spell, and choose Charm Person as your one spell selection for achieving 2nd level, your character is STILL limited in the number of spells you can cast: two 1st level spells, total. That doesn't change between B/X and AD&D. It doesn't change at 3rd level either. There are no "bonus spells per day" for magic-users.

    As I said, Luke, there WILL be times in THIS adventure when both your spells will come in handy. Till then, you'll have to rely on your own resourcefulness. If that sucks, um...I don't know what to tell you, man.

    I'm sorry...the game's not really about going into the dungeon, unloading your sleep spell, then going back to town, rinse-and-repeat. If all you want to do is "farm goblins" in this way until you hit 3rd or 4th level...fuck that. I'll just start all your characters at 4th level so we can get down to real role-playing. This isn't a goddamn video game.

  16. Is it surprising that the players are focused on combat when you've been running B2 and are generally considered to be a killer DM? "Going into the dungeon, unloading your sleep spell, then going back to town, rinse-and-repeat" is an accurate description of the game presented so far.

    A game with no healing, death at 0 hp, and rolling-up-new-characters fatigue is going to lead players to focus on combat survival, regardless of the awesome roleplaying potential of the Knock spell.

  17. @ Fumers: Which came first...the killer DM or the running of B2? I seem to recally y'all encountering a white dragon in a non-B2 adventure and NOT getting killed.
    ; )

    It sounds like you're unhappy with how your particular "focus" has worked out for you...perhaps you need a different focus?