Tuesday, September 20, 2022

"Let's Go D&D!"


I've got your 6th Edition D&D rule system RIGHT HERE. Free of charge! Feel free to play-test to your heart's content! Totally compatible with 5E!

[disclaimer: you will probably find it useful to own a copy of the PHB (just until the new 6E version comes out), but splat books with your favorite new classes, races, etc. will work in a pinch]

  1. Choose a "class" from any that are available; right it on your character sheet. If you don't see one that suits your character concept, make your own.
  2. Choose a "race" (i.e. species, ancestry type) from any that are available. If you don't see one that suits your character concept, make your own.
  3. Choose a character "background." The 5E PHB has a list of different ideas (the 6E PHB will have a longer list), but you can do anything that pops into your imagination. Go wild! Try to sum it up in a few words (write the elaborate backstory in your spare time), and jot it down on your character sheet.
  4. Write down your character's "best ability" (strength, intelligence, wisdom, etc.). 
  5. Write down your character's "go to skill," some special feat, cool power, or awesome spell that can really save your bacon. 
  6. Give your character any type of equipment that seems reasonable for his/her class, race, and background...it must be noted on your character sheet! Use the lists in the PHB if you need ideas.
  7. Give your character a name. Write "health" somewhere on the character sheet. Your character starts at Level 1.

Gameplay is much the same as it ever was: the Dungeon Master describes the situation, the players describe their actions in response to the situation.
  • Some actions taken by players will automatically succeed ("I enter the tavern." DM: okay, you do).
  • Some actions taken by players will automatically fail ("I fly around the village like a great eagle." DM: no, your character is not a bird and has no magic that would allow such action)
  • Some actions taken by players will have a chance of failure ("I want to fight the orc: to the death!" DM: ok); these are called CHALLENGES and require a die roll to determine the outcome:
    • In a challenge, the player always rolls a D20; a "20" always succeeds, a "1" always fails.
    • The die type rolled by the DM is determined by the relative difficulty of the challenge: very simple/easy (d6), relatively straightforward (d8), burdensome (d10), very difficult (d12), very "iffy" or low chance of success (d20)
    • If the character's "best ability" would play a factor in the challenge (for example, Intelligence for a riddle contest, Charisma for seduction, Dexterity to dodge a trap, etc.) the DM should lower his/her die type by one (so a D20 becomes a D12, or a D6 becomes a D4, etc.).
    • The player's D20 roll must EXCEED the DM's roll to succeed at the challenge; remember a "20" always succeeds and a "1" always fails!
  • If a player does not wish to risk the chance of failure, they may use one of their character's class features to automatically succeed. "Features" of the character include its class, race, background, and go to skill. The player simply describes how the feature causes the character to succeed at the challenge, and then writes a check mark next to the feature. No feature can be used more than once per game session!
For example: Priscilla the tiefling paladin is fighting an owl bear in single-combat (a very difficult challenge!). She could use her "paladin" feature and explain how her training allowed her to suss out the monster's vulnerable spot; or her "tiefling" feature to shoot flames at it, scaring the creature away; or her background of "orphan growing up on the streets" to play some underhanded trick on the monster.
  • Some challenges (notably combat) carry a risk of injury. Every time the PC fails such a challenge, they must reduce their health one step: 
    • Battered: the character looks like they've been in a fight (mussed and tussled)
    • Bloodied: the character is visibly nicked up, bruised, and scratched
    • Beaten: the character has "lost their mojo" and is on the verge of collapse
    • Broken: the character has been knocked out, injured, and/or so traumatized that he/she cannot continue without healing and recovery
  • For D&D campaigns that wish to include a higher level of lethality, add one more level of hurt (Buried) indicating character death, but clerics of 5th+ level are able to bring such characters back to life, providing their bodies are more-or-less intact. In general, it takes one "game day" to heal one health level; however, a cleric may magically heal a character (challenge level determined by extent of injury: d6 for battered, d8 for bloodied, d10 for beaten, d12 for broken); no cleric may heal the same character more than once per game session, except by expending a feature.
  • Enchanted items provide extra features to the PC that owns it and (possibly) extra "automatic" abilities not otherwise available. Permanent magic items (weapons, armor, etc.) last from session to session; temporary items (potions, scrolls, etc.) are removed from the character sheet after use.
For example: a potion of healing could be expended to automatically increase a wounded character's health one step. A potion of flying could be expended to allow the character to "fly around the village like a great eagle." Magic armor could be used to automatically succeed in a combat ('the orc can't penetrate its enchantment!'). A rod of resurrection could bring a single character back to life, once per session.
  • All enchanted items of a permanent nature must be attuned to a character to be used. A character may attune a maximum number of permanent magic items equal to its level of experience; each item attuned to a character should be of a different type (no more than one sword, or one suit of armor, for example).

Characters advance in level based on achievement of milestones. Milestones are determined by Dungeon Masters based on story consideration or (More Often) are already set based on pre-packaged storylines provided by The Company. 

Gaining a level entitles the character to attune more permanent magic items and provides ONE of the following benefits (player choice):
  • Add an extra Bloodied health level (so the character would need to be "bloodied" multiple times befor becoming "beaten").
  • Add an extra Go To Skill to the character sheet.
  • Change the character's Background and/or Best Ability (based on the new background); for example, a PC that wishes to leave their "orphan" background behind to become a "guild master" might change their best ability from DEX to INT. A "soldier" who becomes a "nobleman" might change STR to CHA...or might not.
In addition, each character receives a "Special Benefit" upon achieving 3rd level, and another at 5th level; these benefits are determined by the character's basic class TYPE (priest, rogue, warrior, or wizard) as determined by the Dungeon Master:
  • Priests: reduce challenge die when dealing with undead (3rd level), raise dead characters (5th level)
  • Rogues: miraculously escape death/injury 1/game session (3rd level), automatically defeat opponent using guile 1/game session (5th level)...assassin types might reverse the order in which these benefits are granted
  • Warriors: attack two opponents with single challenge (3rd level), attack three opponents with single challenge roll (5th level)
  • Wizards: affect multiple opponents with single spell (3rd level), create permanent/lasting affects with magic spells (5th level)
6th level is the suggested maximum for all character types; mandatory retirement is expected for any character that has achieved seven milestones.

THE END. Adventures and additional "character option" books to be published soon!
; )

Soccer Haze

Soccer. I'm going to write about soccer. It's not D&D. We'll see if I can tie it into D&D (somehow), but writing out what's in my head at the moment will...hopefully...clear space for the D&D-type stuff folks want me to write about.

This year, due to a lack of sufficient players in any single school, my son's school team is partnered with three other schools. We have a total of 21 kids on the team (at this level...6th grade...we play 9v9) fifteen of whom I'd never met before this year. It's...a lot.

Because we joined them (rather than vice versa), the team does not operate under our school name. For the first time in...mm...six years, I was not expecting to be the coach. Truth be told, I wasn't expecting Diego to want to play, not with all the club soccer he's already doing and after an extremely difficult season last fall.

[last year, our 5th grade class was combined with 4th graders due to them not having a coach or sufficient players...4th graders who, for the most part, were entirely new to soccer or who had not played since pre-Covid. When they were, like, seven years old and coached (poorly) by a volunteer parent. Suffice is to say our team was NOT competitive...at all!...and this caused a LOT of frustration, tears, breakdowns, etc. among ALL the players on the team]

But Diego did want to play, and so did all the kids from last year (minus Maceo who moved to a different school). And, somehow, I got wrangled into being the assistant coach for this year's team. 

I think I mentioned it's a lot of kids?

Anyway. The head coach...I'll call him "HC." He's a nice guy. Totally on the same page with me as far as what's important (kids participating in sport, kids having fun, kids learning valuable life lessons like team work and sportsmanship and effort). Good guy. Not a soccer guy. 

Football guy, yes. Baseball guy, yes. Soccer guy, no.

He told me I could handle the "strategy side" of things if I wanted. His plan for the season was to have one practice a week, consisting of a warm up (he has the baseball guys on the team lead the team in a baseball warm up) and then have the kids just scrimmage each other for the remainder of practice. Because we have so many kids.

The kids from his school include some "really athletic kids" on it. He's not kidding. Many of them are big, strong, and fast. They play flag football on the side. Some of them play "select" soccer and/of baseball. Some also run cross country...right now, during the soccer season. In past seasons, his M.O. has been to put the best athletes up front and the "less strong" kids on defense and let them "kind of figure out their own positions." He won a lot of games the last couple years, mainly, because he had better athletes on his team than other teams. Teams like the team we fielded last year.

Our school doesn't have kids with the raw athletic talent of these kids. They have my boy who, despite being a short, skinny, slow kid (much like his father was, back in the day) is blessed with a pair of incredibly strong, accurate boots, excellent coordination, a wicked intelligence, and a tenacious, ultra-competitive fire. We were blown out every game last year, but we were never shut out because Diego would always find a way to score a goal or two and salvage our school's dignity. And I only ever played him as much as any of the other players (in CYO sports, we are trying to give equal participation time to ALL the players). 

The other kids on the school range from "high motor/effort" to "passable" to "struggling" to "hopeless." I've always seen it as MY role to coach them up and put them in the best possible positions to succeed and contribute (thereby having an enjoyable time and...hopefully...continuing to pursue sport as a fun activity). Until last season, I was always able to do that...with positive, productive results.

SO...enter me and the new team and the new HC. As the kids are now in middle school, this is the first season that results count and that there are "play-offs" in CYO. Kids who don't enjoy soccer or who have decided it "isn't for them" have dropped out...perhaps to pursue flag football or other fall sports. Teams are larger...we're not the only team that's combined schools. Several non-Catholic private middle schools are a part of our league...many with expensive athletic facilities, paid coaches, and (I kid thee not) sports nutrition programs. It's still Catholic Youth Organization where "winning isn't the most important thing" (and where, if you beat a team by more than six goals, you have to appear before the board and explain why you are not adhering to the values of sportsmanship, etc.)...but, still, it's Big Boy soccer. We have seven weeks to accumulate enough points to be one of the top eight teams.

So, I convinced the HC to have two practices a week instead of one, with the rationale that the kids who could make both (because they're not participating in multiple sports) probably could use the extra practice. I convinced him to let me run some drills every practice (before scrimmage) and not just "make kids run." I convinced him that maybe when a kid says he plays "defense" on his select soccer team that he's suitable to play defense, not just striker (because he's big, fast, and strong).

The first week, I spent evaluating the kids, getting to know them. Our first game, I wanted to implement a formation that I thought would play to our strengths. He asserted himself as HC, however, saying the kids would just get confused, wanting to keep it "basic." I deferred to him, though I put forth very strong opinions of which role various kids should play (and why) and HC, to his credit, went with most of my suggestions. 

Our first game was tight...we went down 2-0 before coming back to even, then going ahead 3-2, only to give up the equalizer, before finally (finally) wearing them out and finishing 6-3. And I mean "wearing them out:" we played 19 kids against a team that had 9 total (no subs) and just ground them down with fresh legs. They were tough and played with a lot of heart, even playing (and scoring!) with eight men after one of their defenders took a smoked shot off the face and had to sit down for a few.

Afterwards, HC was positive and (mostly) effusive with his praise, mainly citing "areas of improvement" as being the defense...half of which had been ALL my school's kids save Diego (who played midfield).  One mother later contacted the coaches and apologizing for their son's performance, and asking if there were extra things he could practice to "train up"...when I spoke with her later she related that he had been disappointed with himself because the other kids had been yelling at him for letting in the scores (he was not playing goalie).



For week #2, I told HC I wanted to implement the formation I'd talked about (a 3-1-3-1) as I felt it would give us a stronger defense, and told him I would coach the kids up on it during the week and make it work. He grudgingly agreed to this because our second opponent had just gotten their asses kicked 10-1 in their first week ("this should be a pretty easy one, so a good time to implement new stuff"). He also didn't trust one of the kids who'd be playing goalie (we let the players volunteer for the position and rotate from week-to-week...this week would be one of the "less proficient" kids from my school). We would also be playing without two of our best offensive pieces: a kid with blazing speed who plays striker for the same club as Diego (however, a year up due to an earlier birth year), and an insolent snot-nosed punk of a kid who only knows how to shoot goals (he's a real piece of work...think Jaimie Tartt in miniature).  Little did we know, that our BEST player (in HC's opinion) would spend most of the game on the sideline, getting a bloody nose in the first half.

We won the game 6-0. The last fifteen minutes we just played keep away from the other team, so as not to violate the "lopsided victory" rule. Four of our goals came from assists. It was some lovely soccer.

We are entering the third week (practice...the "extra" one I requested...is today, Tuesday). HC will not be at the game Saturday ("you can do the line-up however you want this week!") as he is going on a camping trip with several of the boys. And I don't even know if my own kid will be available...we're still waiting on his other team's schedule for the weekend.

[the problem with participating in two different soccer teams is that sometimes there are schedule conflicts (duh) and then hard choices have to be made. In our home, we leave this choice up to the kids...even though one team costs about a hundred bucks and the other one costs...mm. I'd rather not think about it. Suffice is to say we've been navigating this conflict the last five+ years]

I know, I know...this is all dumb-ass drama and not worth stressing out. Absolutely right. But I have been stressed...in a year where I thought the soccer season would be, well, stress-free (because I didn't think I'd have to do much, if anything) suddenly I have been experiencing more stress than I have in years. Which is crazy, yeah, I know.

Fact is, I love these kids...my own child not least of all. But the other kids, both the old hands from previous years and the new ones (who are all, rather quickly, growing on me...yes, even the mouthy ones). They're just kids. Well behaved for the most part. Good teammates for the most part. Doing the best they can...for the most part. How can you not love these kids? And want them to have success? For their own sake?

Let's tie this to D&D for a sec. All the games I've run the last couple years have been for kids this age...my son, his peers, etc. And I've prepped the hell out of these games BECAUSE I WANT THEM TO HAVE A GOOD EXPERIENCE. Because I want them to enjoy themselves. Because I want them to come back. Because D&D is awesome and it's something they can do and play and enjoy their whole lives.

Soccer...soccer is awesome, too. For kids this age, it's unlikely to do any permanent harm to their bodies. It's solid exercise. It's good training, not just in the physical realm (speed, stamina, flexibility, agility, etc.) but in the arenas of teamwork and camaraderie, sportsmanship, focus, and discipline. Players learn to both win AND lose with grace and dignity and how to play with respectfulness and gratitude (for their teammates, their coaches, their opponents, and for themselves). Soccer isn't something they can do forever (unlike D&D) but while they have this window of time, I want to instill a love of the game in them. I prep the hell out of my soccer practices and games, too.

My son...he already knows all this stuff. He and I have had long talks about both D&D and sports and why they're valuable and to what degree and their place in the grand sphere of...well, of everything. I'm not really worried about him. He'll give 110% and do his best to win, and shake hands respectfully when he loses while vowing to learn from the experience. Ultra-competitor that Diego is, his head is screwed on right most of the time (probably part of why his premier club coach named him captain of the team this year. Last year he was named captain by the coach, too...and it was a different coach). 

It's the other kids, I'm coaching for. Not my kid, who's already won trophies and has plenty of confidence. No, it these other 11 and 12 year olds...the ones who aren't "great athletes" and, probably, even the ones who are (I've noticed some ego cracks here and there). Because I want them ALL to see their own potential...and to see the potential in each other. Everyone contributes on this team...the team is the sum of all of us.

*sigh* Two practices to prepare. Against the only undefeated team left on our schedule till the playoffs...a team that just spanked some poor bastards 7-1 last week. Notice the goal differential? Another "mercy rule" game...this team is good.  And we will again be missing the same two offensive weapons, at least three defenders, and possibly Diego.  Three other "maybes," too...none of which I want to lose. 12 players. Not a lot to work with. And no help that I can count on from HC, bless his large, carefree heart.

Damn. Better make these good practices.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Monday Morning


Lot of distractions lately, and I'm not just talking about the putrid football coming out of the local team.

[make no mistake: the Seahawks are not good. And I was at that Monday Night Football game where they beat Denver. That victory was 85% crowd...I haven't heard the stadium that loud since the NFC championship game against Green Bay. Hell, I'll even give myself credit for starting the chants of "Geno! Geno!" but, at least in our section, we meant it in a sarcastic, raucous way in order to poke the eye of...and stick it to...Russell Wilson. If you rewatch the broadcast, you'll see that the chants started in the second half (when the offense was stinking up the joint and the ONLY thing Smith was  doing was running the ball like a poor man's RW). We weren't actually backing the QB; we were yelling nah-nah-nah at the Broncos and their $250M man. Longtime fans who remember the AFC West will remember how much we hate Denver]

No, the majority of distraction is all family-related. Good things to be sure...not financial issues or health issues or marital issues or anything like that. School, church, and a TON of sports activity. Yes, sports participation for the most part (two kids on four teams, one of which I'm coaching), but also 2-3 fantasy leagues (that I'm running, or helping to run, for extended family), a Blood Bowl season of 16 teams, and then the ongoing, must-follow fun of the NFL, Sounders team (struggling), Mariners team (ascending), and local college programs.

[let's not forget the Seattle Storm's playoff run...yeah, it ended a few weeks ago, but I didn't post much even in August, and the Storm was part of that. Much love and respect to Sue Bird

Fact is, Dungeons & Dragons has, in general, taken a backseat. Oh, I did get something written up for the second installment of Prince of Nothing's "No ArtPunk Contest"...a little high level one-off for AD&D that came out to some 17ish pages. This one actually got some play-testing from the kids (Diego, Sofia, Maceo, and Winston), and much fun was had.

[a couple quick notes about that (for interested parties): none of the players have "high level" characters, so they used pre-gens made specifically for the adventure (these were included with my submission adding another six pages for a total of 23). Second, on average a party of 10th to 14th level are looking for the same x.p. as a party of 16th, 18th, or 20th level so treasure scale for high level adventures aren't all that tough to write...the main thing is to create scenarios that take into account the higher level of resource attrition. I might talk about this in a future blog post]

But other than that, I haven't been doing anything as far as running/designing for D&D. I was playing in my son's AD&D campaign...absolutely destroying the Keep on the Borderlands (that's a future post, too), but even that's been put on (hopefully brief) hiatus as our focus and priorities have shifted.

And so we come to the "Blues" part of my Monday Morning: I know I've been lax in blogging, but there's two things that have delayed/prevented me from posting. I've kind of decided that I really, really want this blog to be about gaming, specifically D&D, AND I want it to be as positive and constructive as possible...which I've probably said a dozen times in the past but this time (yeah, sure) I really mean it.

I've got multiple posts sitting in draft form on Ye Old Blog because they just tend to go off into fairly negative rants (also, they're not all that good...you folks aren't missing much). And while it's easy to denigrate someone's play style or design work or gaming ignorance...or even The Company's failings...that's all a waste of my time. I mean, it's not like I haven't vented that a gazillion times already, right?

I want to be helpful. It IS useful to tear things down to build them back better and stronger, but I have to make sure that that's what I'm doing. Doing that takes focus...and the distractions get in the way of focus. Right now the majority of my focus has been on my family and (probably not surprisingly) the kids I'm coaching. I could certainly blog about the latter...but, then, that's not D&D, right?

[by the way, ripping on the Seahawks isn't exactly positive, but players and coaches in pro-sports are paid millions of dollars to entertain fans. I don't feel zero remorse about expressing negativity and disapproval to guys making that kind of money: that's the job, dudes]

So, a bit of a quandary. But I'll give it a shot, in the next few days, to get things going. I should have a little more time coming up (especially after next weekend). I'll try to put together a list of topics and see if I can't bang out a couple per week in the next few weeks.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Orks Be Doing Ork Things

In the middle of yet another soccer tournament (both kids) which started yesterday, but did have a chance to watch the final Seahawks preseason game last night.

Orks. Back at it.

Blood Bowl coaches know full well that you don't...you can't...rely on orks to have a great passing attack. Great defense, pounding run game...yes and yes. But in the "modern" Blood Bowl game, putting your hopes in the stone-hands of orcish receivers (not to mention thick-headed decision making of orcish quarterbacks) is a non-starter. And if you have any doubt about it, just look at the QB "competition" that went on in preseason this year as the 'Hawks attempt to replace aging (and now overpaid prima donna) goblin star Russell Wilson.

Geno Smith. Drew Lock. Jacob Eason.

Bad, bad orks.

It doesn't matter that the team has DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, star players both. Everything around them is ork. Receivers #3 through #5 (well, really, all the receivers just vying for a spot on the 53-man roster)...typical goblins and lineorks. But the QBs...the QBs.

Did you know that the Seahawks are the only coaching staff in the NFC that do not have a former quarterback in some coaching capacity. Not as a head coach, OC, QB coach, or even some other assistant coach. How do you coach a player to play the position of quarterback in the NFL when no one on the staff has any experience playing the position?

Answer: you don't. Because you don't need to. They're orks.

We loves Geno Smith, my Precious, but he is a career backup. Naming him the starter for a team that hopes to get back to the playoffs is...so...very...orkish. Pete Carroll is showing his green bloodedness. Again.

A decade of star quarterbacking from Wilson never scrubbed the memories of Charlie Whitehurst from my mind's eye...the archetypal "Checkdown Charlie" (semi-affectionately known in some parts as "Clipboard Jesus" based on his appearance and long-practiced role of standing on the sidelines as a stalwart QB2...or QB3). Pete Carroll duly proclaimed at the beginning of the 2011 NFL season that they had no reason to trade or draft for a new QB (to replace pro-bowler Matt Hasselbeck, released in the off-season), because they HAD their QB in the form of Whitehurst and could win with him just playing "solid" football, in front of a great running game and fantastic defense.

The Seahawks went 7-9, missed the playoffs, and would (very fortunately) draft Russell Wilson in the next season. On the way to that, Whitehurst around midseason for a dude with a torn pectoral muscle

The Geno Smith experiment will be Whitehurst 2.0.

Do I need to cite stats for this. Probably not...the number of people reading this post who care about the Seahawks, their quarterback situation, and Blood Bowl in equal measure are probably, um, few. Probably just me. Which is, you know...fine. Nerds gotta' be nerds, y'all. But for the curious, Geno's stats passing stats for this preseason (three games), which won him the job as a starting quarterback for an NFL team (only 32 of those in the world) boil down to:

23/39, 256 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 4 sacks (36 yards)

No touchdowns. An average of 6.6 yards per passing attempt (not including some terrific "yards after catch" from some of his checkdown throws to running backs). An aversion to risk. A tendency to hang onto the ball and take sacks.

But it's the "zero interceptions" that Carroll cares about. Never mind that preseason is ALWAYS the height of Smith's season potential, when he faces vanilla defenses, and has easy reads to make. Never mind that he choked away multiple games last season (in relief of the injured Wilson), having unforgivable turnovers (picks and strip sacks) in the 4th quarter. Never mind that his ONLY won a single regular season game (playing as a starter) in the last five years.

Never mind that the Seahawks CUT Smith in the off-season, allowed him to swim the waters of free agency, and then signed him back on a one year deal. And then handed him the job. 


I have to go wake up the kids now for day 2 of the soccer tournament. Thank goodness. And thank goodness for the Mariners and the Storm. JB out.

[by the way: there is no need for me to post BB stat lines for Geno Smith. If you want to include a Geno Smith in your Seahawk-themed Blood Bowl team, the basic (unaltered) Ork thrower will suffice. The same holds true for your Drew Lock backup...just make sure you chuck a lot of long balls for picks when desperation time sets in and your team is trying  ANYthing to generate offense. Oh...and good luck with that]

Thursday, August 25, 2022


I realize my last post was a bit negative and I hate just having that up on the blog as the last thing I've written. I got three-quarters of the way through a new post on Monday before realizing that it, too, had veered from positivity into melancholy.

I'm just really busy lately, folks. Crazy for a guy not putting in the 40 hour/week grind, but...yeah. Busy. And I seem to be way behind in everything.

More later. I hope everyone's having a good Friday and the weekend turns out pleasant for those of you who are finally getting a break from the weekly work.

Chin up and best wishes.
: )

Friday, August 19, 2022

One D&D To Rule Them All

It is exactly 12:21am, PST as I start this post.


I've been busy folks, not dead...just in case folks are wondering. Lots of family (i.e. kid, i.e. soccer) stuff.  Things are fine around my parts, a few tertiary deaths and Covid outbreaks aside. Not in my household...for whatever reason, I've been blessed so far. Thank goodness.

ANYway. Let me tell you about my day.

Teaching newbies AD&D. Had six kids around the table today: Diego, Sofia, Maceo, Winston, Jacob, and Julia. Ages of children: 11, 11, 11, 10, 9, 8. Diego, my son, is the oldest; Sofia, my daughter, is the youngest. I was the DM (duh). Because half the players were new, we all went through the character creation process together, making first level characters. Ended up with two clerics, a paladin, a ranger, a magic-user, and an elven assassin (because elves are straight villains y'all). 

Truthfully, this was Winston's SECOND foray into D&D at the Becker Household, but his original character was killed by an adolescent owlbear some 40 minutes into play so, yeah, he's still a rookie.

DMing kids can be...mm, challenging at times, but it's fun, too. When you skim the intro for them in about six sentences (because children have even shorter attention spans than adults), and they spontaneously break into fist-pumping chants of "TREASURE! TREASURE! TREASURE!" you know that you're playing the game right. I ran them through B1: In Search of the Unknown, pretty much straight out of the box I bought it in...literally, it even had the monsters and treasures already penned in by the previous owner, and I didn't bother changing them.

[please let me say for the record that Mike Carr deserves to be drawn-and-quartered for using Roman numerals as a keying mechanism...unless he plans on paying for my laser-eye surgery anyway]

They loved it. All of it. They were cooperative with each other, shared gold, tried to work as a team, tried to do stupid shit, got themselves in trouble, somehow managed to find their way out of it okay, and everyone stayed alive. Not much treasure in B1, but the encounters are VERY forgiving.

We played from 1pm till 5pm. There were healthy snacks: fruit and veg and crackers and water and juice. About midway through the kids took a 40 minute break to have a pillow fight upstairs while I cracked a beer on the sly, lush that I am. Then they came back for more.

Kids don't want fucking video games. They want to play and use their imagination. They want to be rambunctious / active...at times. They want to be empowered to use their minds...at times. They want the support of supportive adults in safe spaces.

I don't know...D&D, even "advanced" D&D, isn't really rocket science. At least, I don't see it as such. It's just poorly understood, poorly explained, and...often...poorly played.

SO...I saw Tim's post about the launch of One D&D this evening, though I didn't have a chance to watch the actual video till after folks had went to bed (fam was up till 11ish, watching disk two of the extend Fellowship of the Ring...go figure).  

Oh. My. 

You know, when Xbox moved to Xbox 360 and then to Xbox One there was a purpose and reason behind their branding (you can read about the etymology here, if you care). D&D moving from version 5E ("D&D Next") to One D&D is...just more stupid shit. There is a LOT of stupid shit here. Lots. 

So much stupid. 

And that's (*sigh*) fine. People spend their money on all sorts of stupid things these days. Beer, for example...I spend entirely too much money on it, as I tend to buy the expensive stuff (though I try to get it on sale) and drink it far, far too quickly (it's been a hot summer). So people want to fall for the shtick one more time and pony up the cash for the NEW IMPROVED version of D&D...whatever. Do what you want. I just bought Trent Smith's Heroic Legendarium a month or two ago (in printed hardcover!) and the only thing I'm using it for is the corrected ACs and psionic points for MM entries (so I don't have to do the work myself). We all have "stupid" that we throw our money at.

But it's GALLING to listen to the idiots...er, "experienced professional game designers"...in this video talking about the what and why of this One D&D thing. Selling it. Selling the shit out of it. Because, make no mistake, this is all about selling folks a product in order to put money in the company coffers. Here are the pertinent bits:

[2:05] "We're revising the major core rule books that every player uses: the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, the Monster Manual."

[2:32] "That's what 2024 holds is this promise of getting new versions of the books that are the game you know but reflect where the game is presently."

[2:42] "One D&D has three pillars and one is the, uh, rule set which is built on the base of Fifth edition, but updated."

The 'second pillar' is "D&D Beyond," of which I know little, but appears to be an additional revenue stream for the company based on doing work for players that is inconvenient, perhaps because of shoddy rule construction. Okay.

The final pillar appears to be the creation of a "digital playspace" that is "still in the early days of development"...because we want to be able to have a video game-like experience because we simply cannot pull ourselves away from our screens? Or something? What? 

I don't know who this idiot...er, professional game designer...is (he shows up at 4:28) but here's what he has to say:
"We chose the Unreal Engine for several reasons. Reason number one: make it look dope. That's the first thing. Number two is: take care of the lazy DM. 'Cause we're all lazy DMs (*laughs*)."
I guess I'M the idiot here, because all this sounds like stupid, stupid shit. When figuring out where characters were in the imaginary gamespace of today's game, I took three, spare 3x5 cards, cut them in half, and had everyone write their character name on a square. Then I told them to arrange the cards on the table how they were walking. The guy with a light source got a die placed on his card so I could not only keep track of illumination, but turn the die as the fuel got used up (works better for torches...with a D6...than lanterns, but they ended up throwing the lantern at the first monster encounter when ambushed by a pack of giant rats). Would it have worked better to have virtual minis in an "immersive digital environment?" Um...no. Would it have helped to players' imagination to have digital images fed into their brain from a finite repository of images? Probably not.

All this is part of the general plan to make money which...as documented extensively by others...involves REselling core books to the same customer base every 6-10 years. That's all this is. It has nothing to do with creating more "inclusivity" by helping women and/or people of color see "heroic characters" that resemble themselves...the art directors have been including illustrations of non-white, non-male adventurers since at least the days of 2nd edition (I have the books and can cite page numbers if you like). The video implying that THIS new edition will rectify some sort of inequity/discrepancy is clearly a bogus one...as is the rope-a-dope, shit-wrangling of 5E being "the most stable rule platform yet" that they are simply ADDING TO, for YOUR BENEFIT.

Sure, suckers. So why revise the core books and sell them to us again? Why not just publish an addendum of sorts. Oh, wait...you already DID ("Tasha's Hideous Hardcover" or whatever it's called). Now, you're just going to cut-and-paste that into the core books and have everyone buy the same thing again. I know this hustle...Siembieda's been running a stripped down version of the same scam for YEARS.

At least Palladium always provides SOME new content.

Mm-mm-mm. Capitalism sucks and, unfortunately, is the world we live in. Astounding ignorance in the masses ALSO sucks and, unfortunately, is the world we live in. I'm sure "One D&D" will sell fine (at least at first), dredging the wallets of the same marks that always get caught (plus a couple extra)...and, you know, that's probably fine. Idiots...er, "professional game designers"...need to eat, too, right? Support those fine folks at WotC that are #LivingTheDream!

But it IS sad, AND galling, that this is even a thing. I was up in Edmonds on Wednesday at Around the Table Games, pawing through the "used" RPG section with my kids, looking for old AD&D stuff; Diego picked up a copy of the 1986 Book of Lairs to throw some mayhem in his own campaign. While we were there, a woman with her two young daughters (younger than D, older than Sofia) came in and purchased a copy of D&D Essentials...clearly for the girls who (like my kids) were also fawning all over the dice racks.

I couldn't help but feel (a little) bad for them. I mean, I already know how that story goes.

D&D is a great game. Personally, I feel you get the maximum benefit from the advanced (first edition) version, but a lot of people feel it looks too ancent/clunky to learn. Here are the number of children under age 13 that I've successfully taught the game (I'll include myself):

Me, Jocelyn, Jason, Scott, Matt, Rob, Adam, Brandon, Spencer, Zach, Diego, Kieran, Maceo, Caro, Eileen, Nicholas, Sonya, Max, Sofia, Winston, Jacob, Julia

[all right, all right...there's a little fibbing there. Spencer and Zack were ONLY taught B/X, and Sonya and Max were taught OD&D, i.e. AD&D Lite. However, the others all stand]

'Course, if you wanted to count the kids who've been taught by the kids I've taught, the coaching tree's got a few more names on it, including Crystal, Manny, Stina, Ryan, Evan, Evie, and Milana. Pretty respectable, considering the MAJORITY of these kids were taught after the game was out of print.

All right, that's enough. It's after 2am, and I've had my say. I'll post again when I can.

Peace, folks.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Pre-August Notes

Monday morning: time for a new post.

Time. Ugh, that word. One of the most precious, most frustratingly small resources in my (real) world. 

My kids are going to be rolling out around noon today to go to a water park of some sort. Normally, that would be an invitation for me to do at least some heavy-ish blogging (in addition to the normal house maintenance). But I really, really want to be a little more responsible about some writing obligations I have, and get to things that need to be gotten to. Projects with deadlines (fixed, implied, and assumed) that have been neglected for the fun of world building and campaign crunching.

Fact is, as soon as the PCs get through their latest excursion/expedition...a short one and, possibly, extremely lethal...I plan on putting my campaign on temporary hiatus, just so I'm not using my free (writing) time to fill out the Olympic Peninsula and redesign elf culture.

[I'll probably blog about the elves and some point in the near future...they are fascinating little (er, tall-ish) guys in my world. Port Townsend is a cross between Gondolin and Melnibone with a HEAVY Spaniard influence. Grays Harbor is now named for the "gray elves" who are still conspicuously absent from the county...Abderdeen is as lawless a human settlement as you'd expect to find west of the Cascades (just like real life!), but the elves of Jackson county provide a bulwark between those perennial pirate-types and the more civilized "Sounder" towns]

*ahem* However, just because I will be back-burnering my campaign...probably till September...doesn't mean I won't be playing D&D. The boy will be handling the reins of Dungeon Master for the next four or five weeks as he develops his own AD&D campaign, ostensibly set in my world albeit somewhat east of the Rockies: he's using Montana and his map. A little more open, a little more wild, a little more "adventure."

Besides, he's starting small: he's adapting B2: The Keep on the Borderlands to AD&D (not much of a stretch...the mods are very small) and sticking the Caves of Chaos where the Lewis & Clark Caverns are. I guess that would put the Keep in Whitehall, Montana (about 14 miles away)? Maybe...it's about the right size (Cardwell is probably too small). 

So far, sessions have been catch-as-catch-can (busy lives) but I've sat in on a couple and they've been fine. He is still RAW AD&D rules for the most part, including alignment (my character is "Neutral"), and my PC (a magic-user named Bartleby) has already hit 2nd level. Probably, I should have chosen to run a cleric (the group could certainly use one)...but the lack of magical power in the party, coupled with the challenge of playing a 1st level MU with only one spell, proved too hard to resist. It's been fun; also, I just acquired a familiar (a hawk), and thanks to my CON 16 my little mage has something like 16 or 17 hit points, plus a winged attack pet.

That's good stuff.

Another soccer tournament this weekend, and lots of practices in preparation; I'll get to blogging as I can, but it should be light and brief in nature. If it isn't, it means I'm procrastinating from the things I should be doing.

[by the way...I realize I haven't been adding labels to my most recent posts. That has to do with posting them in a rush. I will go back and fix that in the Very Near Future]

Cheers, folks!
: )

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Ravenspire "Epilogue"

We play the game to see what happens. 

There's this phrase that gets tossed around a lot in sports: "on paper." On paper, Team A should demolish Team B. On paper, one team has better players/coaches than the other. On paper, this match-up looks to be pretty even. On paper, the Mariners are about an 82 win ball club. Etc.

"Paper" doesn't play the game. "Advanced analytics" and "stats" and "rankings" don't play the game. Perhaps they help set betting lines for sports books (Vegas is pretty good at making money off gamblers), but the games still need to be played. And sometimes teams defy expectations (good or bad)...sometimes in big ways. Sometimes a team like the M's (who I wrote off months ago when they were ten games under .500 and had five teams between them and the last wild card spot) goes on a 22-3 tear, reeling off 14 straight wins, and finds themselves in the driver's seat for a playoff berth heading into the All-Star break. Sometimes a great team like the Sounders lose their best striker (Raul Ruidiaz) and find themselves unable to generate any kind of offense at all without their key piece of the puzzle.

We play the game to see what happens. Because games are entertaining. Being surprised by that unknown is entertaining. My daughter's soccer team won the championship trophy for the gold division in her age bracket in last week's four-day tournament...the final (played Sunday) ended in a 0-0 tie and went down to penalty kicks. The final result was 1 goal made in PKs to 0, with our goalie having to save the final goal. The parents on the sideline were positively shaking by the end of the match...my hands were numb and tingling, my brain light-headed. And I was just a spectator...the players themselves were elated.

We do not play D&D to "tell stories"...at least, I don't play (or run) D&D to tell stories. We play D&D to experience adventure. To have monumental successes and tragic failures. The stories are what get told after the fact about the experiences we have. We play to see what happens...and to be entertained and (hopefully) moved by fantastic events that would otherwise never occur in our lives. Fighting vampires? I hope not!

The PCs spent some time getting themselves organized: waiting for the paralyzed Sir Patrick to revive, stripping the bodies of Misha and Ireena of useful equipment (mainly magic items), getting Potter up on his feet. It took them about 40 minutes (4 turns) to get set to go, and their stout henchman was just shouldering Misha's bulging backpack of treasure when a friendly voice quietly called out to them from the darkness: Revlin the Ranger!

[Kieran isn't playing with us, but he asked that we take his character along on our adventures as an NPC. Revlin had been left behind in what was deemed to be a "safe" chamber after he'd been reduced to less than 0 hit points. Unfortunately, Strasha came along and drained him from level 3 to level 1, the shock (i.e. hit point loss) finishing him. Salamander's wishes had revived him and restored his hit points AND sanity (as a heal spell), though not his level, and I decided the NPC had spent the last couple hours wandering the dungeon level, tracking the party with his ranger abilities as best he could by torchlight. Just wrapping up loose ends]

After greetings, explanations, and assorted backslapping, Revlin took back his chainmail +1 and Potter donned Misha's chainmail +2 and the party was ready to vacate the premises...when Helga, Strasha's maidservant appeared.

[in the earlier fight, Helga had been the only half-vampire that had survived...well, to have not been reduced to gaseous form...and while her hit points HAD been reduced to 1, plenty of time had passed to allow her full regeneration]

Helga wanted to negotiate with the players: they had slain her mistress, but she would lead them out of the dungeon and allow them to leave the castle unharmed...with the treasure they acquired...if they ceased their ransacking of the castle. So long as they agreed to never return, she would agree not to take revenge upon the party, nor seek to hunt them. 

What about Strasha's crypt? they asked. Surely there are more "goodies" to be found in her actual lair. "This castle was my Lady's 'lair,' and you have already looted her treasury." 

What about the other vampires we fought...Strasha's 'husbands?' Will they honor our agreement? "I will take care of them...you need not worry that they will trouble you."

What will become of you? "I will become the new Countess Clallam of Ravenspire. I am the only 'heir' remaining to Lady Strasha, after all." Will you promise to leave the townsfolk in peace? "I will rule them as I must. Their lives were not terrible under the reign of Strasha...it is YOU who have intruded here."

They took the deal. 

The party were shown the way out of the castle, found Sal's horse missing (probably taken by orcs servants who left the castle an hour before sundown) and made their way on foot back to Port Angeles proper. Weary, wounded, and over-burdened by treasure, they were within sight of the town when the wandering monster check came up a "1". They heard the howling of wolves: a pack of 10 worgs appeared from the woods some 50 yards away. Deciding to make a run for it, we used the standard evasion rules found in the DMG which gave them a coin flip's chance of reaching the safety of the town lights.

The dice again came up in their favor. The worgs turned away to hunt elsewhere and they beat at the door of the inn till Old Joe was roused from bed to open the door. He forced them to wait outside as he brandished a wooden cross at bedraggled bunch then, satisfied, allowed them shelter. "Hey, we already paid for rooms for a week, remember?" You can't be too careful around here.

Lots of other 'role-playing bits" occurred, but I'll skip that and get to the pertinent stuff:

Even before counting treasure, Potter managed to level up to three with the death of Strasha and surviving the fight with the ghouls/shadows (Diego said, "hey, what did she do to defeat the vampire?!" Well, she was responsible for dispelling most of the half-vamps earlier with the sunblade, she knocked out all of Strasha's mirror images in the first fight, took damage from ghouls that would have otherwise been coming to other party members... "Okay, okay.") Since her hit point roll (a whopping 10 on the d10 plus one point for her CON 15) took her from -9 to +2, I allowed her to return to full adventuring capability without waiting the week of rest.

[this is a particular "house rule" of mine that's been in effect for a while. The instructions on page 82 of the DMG states characters brought to 0 or lower are required to recover for a week, even if brought back to a positive hit point total by cure spells or healing potions, and I abide by that rule. However, it states specifically that a heal spell will allow return to full activity, which for me sets some precedent for a raise to allow such...in my campaign, I give this benefit to characters that manage to level up]

[no, I no longer follow the training rules of AD&D. See my previous list. I have other things for PCs to spend money on]

Once I had a chance to calculate what all was in their backpacks, it turned out to be a pretty good haul (that bag of holding is a godsend). Monetary treasure that could be easily fenced, exchanged or retained came out to 22,804 x.p. worth (based on gold piece value). Monetary treasure that needs to be taken to a larger city than Port Angeles (rare books, really expensive pieces of jewelry) totaled another 15,150 x.p. Magical treasures that the party have used or decided to retain rather than sell (most items) brought in another 12,350 x.p. not including items like Ireena's broadsword +2 or Misha's chainmail +2 (these are items the surviving PCs wanted to keep, but which don't award experience).  With all that glorious experience being awarded, Salamander was able to go to level 6, and Potter and Carnen both to level 5. 

[NPCs Revlin and Patrick did not level, but they also earned lesser shares of treasure IN ADDITION to earning half x.p. as non-player characters]

Considering the amount of energy draining that occurred during their raid on Castle Ravenspire, this still meant each party member ended one level higher than when we started. Not a bad result, despite losing the cleric.

That still left a few unresolved items of treasure. The libram of ineffable evil, the crystal ball (with clairaudience) and the unidentified wand (of illumination) are all items the party has no ability to use...and yet, there are no buyers to be found in Port Angeles for these items, either. The village priest (who agreed to detect magic and heal the party's wounds in exchange for the silver icon of Ravenspire...which will be used to protect the church)...suggested they might find buyers for such items in the Dreaming CityPort Townsend. The sorcerous denizens of the elven citadel are known to truck with demons, practice black magic and pay exorbitant sums for such items...a book like the libram could probably fetch 40,000 gold pieces or more amongst such folk. The party immediately decided a new journey was in order.

[they also decided it was best to get out of town before the local orc community discovered who had butchered their brethren acting as guards and servants at the castle]

Diego asked: but what will be our next adventure, Pops? You don't think traveling through a forbidding wilderness to an elven city of sorcerers to sell a cursed magic tome for huge piles of cash isn't adventure? Oh, right. 

I informed the players that Port Townsend is four days journey overland to an isolated portion of the (Olympic) peninsula. OR they could purchase a small coastal sailing ship, outfit it, and sail there within a day. The latter would be pricey, but they could also purchase a load of timber, say 30 tons (at 100 g.p. per ton)...it's well known that the elves will pay 2-4 times that amount for good cedar wood, rather than log it themselves.  In a town like Port Angeles, such arrangements can be made in a matter of days (or faster, if the PCs are willing to spend more from their bulging coffers). 

The players immediately jumped at the latter choice. "You better not wreck our ride this time!" Well, we'll see what the dice say.
; )

Perhaps now my gentle reader will understand why the word "Epilogue" in my post's title has quotation marks around it...it's really NOT an epilogue, because my players haven't come to the end of their story. Not yet. In fact, they're still young adventurers, just starting to reach what I'd call "mid-level"...there is plenty left for them to do in their careers, even knowing that (as demi- and semi-humans) they will eventually hit a maximum level. They've had success, they've had set-backs, and they've certainly created stories worth telling people about their "adventures." But they're not playing the game for the story...they're playing the game for the experience. And so far they're enjoying it mightily.

Enjoy your day, folks.

Monday, July 18, 2022


[if you haven't watched the Ms. Marvel series yet, you're missing out; I might post my thoughts on it later, but it's the best Marvel thing I've seen since Falcon-Winter Soldier, and we ALL know that I am extremely biased when it comes to all things Captain America. It's far more believable than a 21st century Spider-Man (I'm not talking about super powers, I'm talking about a teenager living in NYC) and it didn't make me hate Millennials for a change. Quite the opposite, in fact]

I keep looking around the internet for good 1E material to read, and it is a struggle. There are a couple-few posters on various "old school" forums that are good (i.e. they have experience with the system AND can write intelligently about it in an organized, digestible fashion) but few blogs with sizable content to plumb. SO...just in case there are people like me out there, I'll continue to create some.

When last I left off my tales, the party had just been brought back to life and full health by a couple wishes that came courtesy of an amazing draw from a deck of many things. Mm...so many notes here to discuss regarding how to run such a magic item and its effects (the DMG gives adequate description of what it does but not how, you know? It is the magic item equivalent of a funhouse dungeon). However, decks of many things are the stuff of legendary D&D war stories, so raining on the parade of kids given their first exposure to such a memorable experience is NOT what I wanted to do. A quick gloss went like this:
  • Revived characters were left pretty in the same state of disarray where they lay, rather than being zapped into an armed formation in good order. Note, the wishes did not bring back lost levels, waken Maceo's character from the sleep spell, cure Kieran's character's insanity, nor remove the confusion from the NPC fighter. And separated party members (the party was split into three different areas of the castle) were still separate.
  • Diego understood that bringing back the dead AND healing the party were two separate wishes and he was happy to roll with that. Easy come, easy go...like experience points and levels.
  • Speaking of which: the 10K bonus x.p. from drawing the Jester card put him immediately back to his previous level, and I was fine with that. I would NOT have allowed him to earn more than one free level above what he had already earned (for example, if a non-drained 1st level character had drawn the Jester, I would have only allowed progression to 2nd level), but the magic of the deck was simply acting like a hyper-restoration spell. I'm cool with that. There's only one Jester in the deck anyway.
  • Regarding the Knight: again, how to rule this guy? Should the party come across him in the next town they come to? Should he appear the next time the party advertises for henchmen? As a magic effect, I decided to simply allow him to appear, ready for service, although clad as ANY henchman would be (i.e. with no initial equipment). We'll get to "Sir Patrick" in a moment.
Okay, so I made a surprise roll for Countess Strasha as the party leaped to their feet, with a result of her being partially surprised (I said this was probably due to the knight suddenly appearing out of thin air). Given a free action to end the vampire, every party member promptly missed their attack roll. Salamander shouted to his new henchman to "get" the vampire, and he was able to grapple her with a bearhug(!) that she was unable to break(!!). However, in the next round she won initiative and turned into mist before the party could stake her.

Now given a moment of reprieve, Misha the cleric suggested they go back and recover their other party members (at least the sleeping Carnen and the enchanted Ireena). Potter agreed and went with her but Salamander, inexplicably decided to go off on his own...with his new henchman. I'm really not sure what this was about (I don't usually ask players their reasons for doing things during the game, instead just adjudicating what happens, and I didn't have the normal chance to debrief at the end of the session...I'll question him later). Whatever. He and Patrick opened a couple random crypts, first getting a crossbow bolt trap (but finding a nice jade bracelet), then unleashing three shadows (that I had put in place of "giant spiders" who would have long starved to death locked in a tomb). The shadows were pretty hungry as well for living essence and Sal and his buddy were immediately set upon. "My short sword [that Sal gave Patrick] doesn't seem to function, my lord!" "Aaiieee! Too bad I have no armor!" (as the shadows drained the fighter's strength).

Elsewhere in the catacombs, Misha and Potter had reunited with Carnen and Ireena and all were awake, healed, and un-confused. Somewhere in the distance they heard the echoes of battle and the high-pitched screams of distress...

They decided to look for them. The crypt area is pretty labyrinthine, but the PCs were not too far separated. A half-elf's listening chance in 2 in 20: Potter rolled a "1" and so I stated she could distinguish the direction of the battle sounds well enough to track down Salamander. Running up on about the 3rd or 4th round of combat, Misha (now 2nd level) rolled an "18" for her turning roll and sent the shadows packing...good thing, because they'd been pretty beefy (21 hit points apiece).

[the chances of getting those rolls were not good...but, then, neither was the chance of drawing three excellent cards from the deck of many things. Luck, both good and bad, are a part of the D&D game and the ability to weather those results is part of what defines an experienced player. It is also the stuff from which future "war stories" are often spun. Again, I will say that 'fudging' the vagaries of fortune in an RPG like D&D are doing a disservice to themselves and others]

Now regrouped, the party decided it would be best to stick together. Patrick was given the magic battle axe Ireena had been carrying (she already had a magic broadsword strapped to her waist), and they proceeded to explore the catacombs, eventually discovering a barred gate leading to an isolated crypt area: the tomb of Sergei von Zarovich.

[if I ever decide to publish my version of Ravenloft,  I will (of course) have to change all these names to something more palatable. The harbor of Port Angeles was originally named by Francisco de Eliza y Reventa, claiming the region for Spain, and I would probably go with something more Spanish in flavor based on the town's actual history. Maybe. This IS "fantasy land" after all...humans have only been here for a century or three; the "indigenous peoples" of my PNW are all orcs and elves (with subterranean dwarves and goblins being found underground). I have bugbears instead of Sasquatch. Maybe Spanish explorers don't fit...but they fit at least as well as the "von Zaroviches"]

Sergei's tomb is an obvious bit of goodness and peaceful repose in the dungeon. In the adventure module, the coffin lid "opens easily to the touch of any lawful good character." As I've now written upteen times, I don't use alignment in my game, but as far as "lawful goodness" goes, the PCs (especially the assassins) definitely fail to qualify. Instead, I had the thing open to a cleric of the Church (Misha fit the bill), and thus, after multiple (failed) attempts to force the  coffin, the party was finally able to desecrate and loot Sergei's corpse of its plate mail +2

Oh, D&D!
; )

Of course, Strasha had not been idle while the party picked through her relatives remains. Being the lord and master of the castle and its undead inhabitants, she rounded up the three wayward shadows and had them lay in wait outside the crypt of her brother. She then opened a different crypt in which she'd imprisoned eight ravenous ghouls (yet another adjustment: the original module had 15 stone sarcophagi in a 10'x10' vault, each containing a wight. No) and sent them to join the shadows. Then she unleashed both groups on the party, casting hold portal on the gate to the tomb to prevent any escape.

We rolled percentile dice to see how much of the magic plate mail Sir Patrick had been able to don: 100%. Okay, the fight was on!

And it was brutal. Misha's turning attempt failed, and the party, spread around the chamber, was charged by the ghouls and shadows based on the defensive positions they'd taken (no surprise). We don't use a battle map for our games, but for visualizing purposes, we set up Lego minis (my kids have a lot of these), with dice to represent the monsters (lots of these, too...and dice can be turned to represent how many hit points remain to an opponent). Patrick and Ireena were both able to down a ghoul before being felled by paralysis; Potter decided to wind her magic horn (recovered from N1 and never before used) only to discover it was a horn of bubbles. She was blinded, and then paralyzed (no ghoul immunity for half-elves!).

Misha and Carnen were having difficulty fighting the shadows. Carnen's only magic weapon being a +1 hand axe (that he is not proficient in) made it a tough fight for the young assassin. Neither he nor Misha were particularly crippled by the strength-draining attacks of the shadows (neither had a strength bonus to begin with), but they still took damage from the 3+3 hit die creatures. Misha's lack of hit points (being...now...only 2nd level, she had a total of 9) proved her undoing, and she was brought to -3 by the monsters. Meanwhile, ghouls continued to feast on their fallen victims, doing automatic damage every round.

Only Salamander was having much success...the ghouls were unable to paralyze him (thanks to his elvish blood), and having been restored in level and HPs he was in fine fighting trim...he was also able to use his magic longsword to good effect, while a shield (instead of his usual off-hand dagger) gave him an excellent armor class. "Can we break their morale?" Nope...they're undead. He moved to dispatch the ghoul raking at Patrick, then intercepted Carnen's shadow as the younger elf moved to aid Potter.

Eventually, it was down to the two elves versus three shadows: Carnen using the sunblade (only fumbling it away once) with hand axe in his off-hand and Salamander with sword +2 and shield. Potter had been stabilized at -8 hit points, Ireena was dead, Patrick was alive but paralyzed, and Misha the cleric was dead-dead-dead at -10. The three shadows were dispatched, but Sal's strength had been reduced to a paltry 15 and Carnen's to an 11. For hit points, Salamander had 12 remaining while Carnen had been reduced all the way down to one (1) hit point.

Standing by the coffin of the vampire's dead brother, the elves called out the Countess to come down and fight them. 

"Certainly. You've both earned death for your desecration of my home."

As the powerful and (rightly) arrogant noble stepped down the stairs into the tomb, confident in her ability to dispatch the two wounded adventurers, eager to personally rip them apart in payment for the trouble they'd caused and the minions they'd slain, Salamander pulled a small vial from his belt pouch: a potion of invisibility! He quickly drained half and pressed the bottle into Carnen's hand, who followed suit.

Strasha cast wall of fire to cover the only exit from the tomb.

The two assassins had a short amount of time to act, and they weren't getting out of the crypt without a fight. Knowing that any attack would dispel the invisibility, they decided to go for broke: Carnen attacked with the sunblade and hand axe, while Salamander attempted to stake the vampire. Both would receive their backstab attack bonus (+4) but Salamander would suffer his non-proficiency penalty (-2) and due to diminished strength (from the shadows) no other attack bonus would be given. 

"Can I use two stakes...one in each hand?" No...the creature only has one heart, after all. However, any successful attack would succeed in staking the vampire. The vamp's low armor class (1) speaks to the difficulty of striking the creature's heart as much as its speed and proficiency at avoiding damage.

Carnen's attacks with both weapons missed wildly. Strasha shrieked in triumph as the elf became visible. As a 5th level assassin, Salamander required a 16 to hit (including all adjustments). He rolled an 18 and drove his stake deep into Strasha's beating heart.

"Quick cut off her head!" "With pleasure!" replied the other assassin...and did. They then stuffed her severed skull with holy wafers (taken from the local church and listed clearly on the character sheet) and watched while her body rotted into dust.

More later.

Friday, July 15, 2022


I am too exhausted (after yesterday) and too pressed for time (the soccer begins again...in about one hour), to write my own blog post today, so instead I'll direct my readers' attention to this great post over at The Tao of D&D. It's absolutely amazing...definitely worth a few moments of your time...and, well, amazing.

[haha...that last sentence is a joke for Alexis]
; )

It's a riff off my own recent post about teaching D&D to others (and how that's done), and Alexis ably points out some of the issues that crop up when you start skipping down that path. Check it out.

Happy Friday, folks!

Thursday, July 14, 2022

"Get Out Of Jail Free" Cards

I have a VERY busy day today...the girl child has a weekend tournament starting today (did I not mention she has now joined the same premier soccer club as the boy?) with TWO games in Woodinville. Meanwhile, my wife is going into the office and the boy has his own practice, so I have...mm...approximately three hours before I need to wake the kids, get them organized, breakfasted, packed and ready (with solid snacks for later in the day), to drop D at her place of employment (she has a window at 1pm) before zipping S over to the east side. Hopefully, I can pick up some cheap(er) wine (between games) at St. Michelle.

Last night was another late one, but I was in charge of the midnight wrangling and decided to go to bed afterwards. Not that it helped: the old beagle was up at the crack of sunrise getting me up. Tried to go back to sleep...no dice. Now I'm waiting for the coffee to brew while she snoozes on the floor. Man, she is a loud snorer!

Here's how things went down in our game (I'll give the abbreviated, bullet-point version):
  • A session earlier, the party (bags laden with treasure, desperate to find the countess, running out of time as far as sunset coming) had encountered the mad butler, Belview wandering in the downstairs passages. Belview (think "malnourished Mr. Carson on crack") is pretty much as written in original Ravenloft adventure. Salamander (Diego) wanted to take the guy hostage at sword-point and make him give up the location of the countess; Potter (Sofia) wanted to follow him around, pretend like they were guests at the castle, and see if they couldn't bluff their way through things (and not just brutalize the poor NPC). Potter won out but, sadly, was forced to swiftly/mercilessly one-shot the butler when he came at her with a hatchet in the kitchen. Diego was livid, now they would get NO information out of the guy! However, Misha had a scroll with the speak with dead spell, and the party decided to call up Belview's shade for interrogation. Misha informed them they could ask FOUR questions; for your enjoyment:
Where is the countess? 'She sleeps...sleeps...in her cold, stone bed..."
Where is that?! 'In the crypts, in her tomb, in the darkness...surrounded by the dead..."
Where are the crypts? 'Beneath the chapel, of course...the stairs that lead down, down, down..."
How can we pass the masonry wall that blocks the stairs? 'Perhaps a pick axe, master...'
Is there any other way into the crypts?!  (*silence*)
  • The players had quite good maps of the upper levels and had found the chapel and the stairs (with its barrier wall) early in their exploration (within the first hour or so of arriving). Being stymied at this point they proceeded to explore the larders and dungeon, looking for another way in, but not finding it, eventually ending the session with their confrontation with the flesh golem (as told)
  • Picking up the new session: the party continued their exploration, thinking they were on the right track...and then discovering they had simply returned to already explored rooms via different passages. Sofia suggested they go find a large drill to get through the masonry wall. Diego did not appreciate her snark. Then they remembered the party had not one but TWO potions of gaseous form (found in their last adventure)...could we divide their contents amongst the party members and bypass the wall? Only one way to find out...
  • [I had already determined (randomly) how many turns it would take before the vampires would find the PCs. In addition, I decided that any wandering monster results would ALSO indicate discovery by the hunters]
  • The plan worked, every adventurer drinking off a third of a potion, giving just enough time (and then some) to pass the crack in the wall. On the other side, finding themselves in the labyrinthine crypts, they waited for each party member to coalesce and reform. In the distance, they heard a long-wailing scream (Revlin the Ranger...left behind in the iron statue room with zero hit points...had just been discovered). 
  • Ignoring the side passages, the party carefully proceeded through the main thoroughfare of the crypts, eventually coming to the stairs leading downward to a teleportation curtain. This stymied them though they tried several different ways to circumvent its effects (in the original module, the barrier prevents all but lawful good characters from passing...since I don't use alignment in my campaign, I'd already decided a character must strongly present a cross...or other "holy symbol"...to cross the thing; this the players did not try). While still pondering the curtain, the players were discovered by Paris and Sacha (half-vamps) and the first "big battle" occurred.
  • Except that it wasn't all that big: the characters had already found (and were wielding) the sunblade and Potter quickly disposed of the vamps in two melee rounds (dispersed to mist). Salamander was reduced to 4th level, but otherwise the party was fine.
  • More searching of the landing (for secret doors) as the party looked for a way past the curtain when the wandering monster result indicated to other vampires showed up: Strasha, her maid Helga, and Duke Davich. Terse words were exchanged. The countess began casting a spell (hold person); the party threw a dagger and disrupted it. The party charged; the vampires changed into mist. 
  • More discussion amongst the party members what to do; more things were tried. In the distance, a terrible baying noise echoed through the catacombs: the hell hounds had been released! The party prepared themselves (again) as the pony-sized beasts exploded out of the darkness! Combat was joined!
  • A little singed, the party quickly gained the upper hand...however, the demon dogs provided cover for the vampires. First, Carnen (Maceo's assassin) was felled by a sleep spell. Then the party was struck by confusion: Ireena the fighter (an NPC liberated from the castle dungeons) was left standing dumbfounded, while Salamander wandered off into the darkness. Duke Davish attacked...and was quickly vanquished by Potter and the sunblade. The countess and her maid again changed to mist as the party prepared to counterattack. 
  • Potter and Misha (now reduced to 3rd level) abandoned the sleeping Carnen and catatonic Ireena to track down Salamander. They found him a few minutes later, scratching at the door to another crypt. Rousing him from the spell they decided, perhaps, that his madness had been fortuitous and that they should indeed try to open the crypt where they'd found him. However, Potter's great strength was not enough to pry the thing open, and their labors were interrupted yet again by words of magic: they turned to find themselves now confronting THREE Strashas and her maid. Misha attempted to use her cross to turn the vampires...and failed. "Drop that thing and bow to me," intoned the countess as she sought to charm the cleric. However, Misha's saving throws remained good and three remaining party members rushed to engage the creatures. 
  • The battle did not go well for the party: Misha was reduced to -1 hit points (and 2nd level) by Helga. Salamander was able to dispel one of Strasha's mirror images and reduce Helga to one hit point, but was himself drained again (to 3rd level), with three hit points remaining. Potter managed to strike for maximum damage (24 points!)...but again, this only dispelled the second of the vampire's illusions. Strasha then ripped the throat out of the fighter, dropping him to 2nd level and -7 hit points. The sunblade clattered upon the stones. 
  • The countess turned on the lone assassin: "I would not gift you with immortality." She simply kicked him. The damage roll was minimal: 1 point. With Strasha's strength bonus (+4), that dropped him to -2. "You will suffer long in my dungeons. Fetch manacles, Helga."
So ended our adventure for the night.

Except then it didn't...

As per usual we (briefly) debriefed the session, discussing what had worked, what hadn't, who was left alive (Carnen, Ireena, and Sal) and what would happen to them (starvation in a small cell and then zombiefication to replace fallen "soldiers"). The kids were not terribly unhappy about the results (they weren't happy either, but they certainly weren't crying and whining about the session being "unfair"), instead wondering at the power of the vampire countess, appreciating their own ingenuity in getting as far as they did, talking about what they could have done differently...or better.

"Pity we never got to draw from that magic card deck..."

Since it was almost midnight, and we were all a bit loopy (I was three IPAs in...), and because they were being such good sports about what was (effectively) a TPK, I decided to allow the party one more chance. After all, Sal was the one carrying the deck of many things, and he hadn't actually been killed outright (being only reduced to incapacitation)...so I ruled that he could just (barely) work the cards out of his belt pouch and make a draw...one final shot to escape. 

[truth be told, I wanted to see what would happen. Been years since I've seen a deck of many things in play]

Diego elected to draw four. After shuffling many times and making him cut the deck, here's what he pulled (in order):
  1. The Jester (red joker): 10,000 x.p. 
  2. The Moon (queen of diamonds): 3 wishes (randomly rolled on a d4)
  3. The Balance (deuce of spades): change alignment or be permanently destroyed
  4. The Knight (jack of hearts): gain a 4th level fighter henchman
An absolutely phenomenal draw! Since I don't use alignment, I ruled he'd have to give up being an assassin and become a straight thief instead (as, in a "normal" game, assassins are required to be "evil" in alignment and the balance would have forced him to change to "good"). He immediately used his first wish to negate the effect ("I wish I hadn't drawn that card!"). He then used his second wish to "completely heal the entire party."

And that's where I called the evening.
; )

Okay, time to get to work. More later.

[EDIT: It should be noted...perhaps...that Diego's intention, with regards to his last wish, was to bring all the dead party members (like Potter) back to life AND heal all their hit points, restoring them to full fighting strength. In effect, this is two wishes, not one, thus blowing the entirety of the wishes granted...something I will inform him of this morning (as I said, I was a bit loopy at the end of the night). Nicely, this should curtail the 3rd wish he and his sister were discussing as they headed off to bed last night: something-something about wishing for all vampires to be destroyed or something...]

Wednesday, July 13, 2022


In Seattle, it's 12:41am. My kids are still being wrangled into bed upstairs. Summer nights in a home full of nocturnal animals (the beagle snores loudly, roughly ten feet from where I sit). 

In the Port Angeles of my campaign world, in Castle Ravenspire (my version of "Ravenloft") it is, per my turn counter notes, 9:30pm. The sun set approximately 15 minutes ago, and the vampires are (more or less) fully awake. 

The players, however, have little idea regarding this...they are in a windowless chamber, standing over the body of a flesh golem that the managed to completely surprise and backstab to death (yes, I added a flesh golem. If one is going to go "full Hollywood" you might as well have a Frankenstein monster; the werewolf in the dungeon was already killed...though Sofia's PC was infected with lycanthropy. She'll discover that in a few weeks). The four party members remaining in the group have a grand total of 40 hit points remaining, an average of 10 each. They have no more healing spells, no more healing potions. 

Quite frankly, they seem doomed for destruction. True, they have a deck of many things in their possession, but they haven't quite decided whether or not to draw from it. A wish would really come in handy about now...but none of them know the potential of the deck (my players have never experienced this magic item), only that its magic can only be used once. They're holding onto it as a last resort.

There are a total of five vampires in Ravenspire: the countess and her four (half-vamp) thralls. One thing I now realize: I have almost zero idea what these creatures do upon rising. Certainly they have to hunt and feed (I suppose...D&D vampires are somewhat different from the traditional Bram Stoker nosfearatu), but night is the ACTIVE time of these creatures...and Strasha and her brood do have a domain to run.

Per the MM, a vampire moves 12" or 18" flying (though I infer from the text this latter is limited to bat form). The PHB tells us that movement is five times that over a "known" route, and the castle is certainly familiar territory to its inhabitants. On foot, it would take Strasha all of 10 minutes to traverse the distance from her crypt to the throne room, via the chapel...but would she go through the chapel with its silver icon of goodness? By taking the form of a bat, the countess could fly up the 380' shaft of Hightower peak, down Northtower to the Hall of Honor, and from there enter her throne room with some dignity...by passing through the servant's hall?


The countess...like any nobleman...should have a regular, nightly agenda. No need for servants to dress her...or is there? Perhaps. She does have a bedchamber (currently filled with a living human thrall...well, now a dead human thrall after the adventurers got to her), and a dressing suite and bath. From there (where she could reach via the Hightower shaft) she can descend the Southtower stair, check in with her accountant (also currently dead), before entering her throne room. That seems more reasonable. 

Helga (the half-vamp in the servant's hall) is, of course, Strasha's immortal lady-in-waiting, so it will be her duty (upon rising) to head up the servant stairs to the "Rooms of Weeping" to await her mistress. After aiding the countess in the usual routine, it will be Helga's job to clean and tidy Strasha's apartments, allowing the countess as much symbolic "life" as she can muster. 

The three other half-vamps in the crypts...Duke Davis, Sacha, and Lord Paris...are perhaps "boy toys" of the countess. Upon rising, they are probably left to hunt at their leisure (while the countess attends to the business of her domain), until called by their lady. I'd guess it's safe to assume they'd also be flying up the central shaft of Hightower, as it is the easiest egress from the crypts...so long as one can fly.

Well, then...good enough. Strasha will shortly be discovering the murdered corpse of Gertruda (who Helga has certainly just come across). She will then call her paramours back to her while sweeping her apartments. Hurrying to her treasure chamber, she will find its contents ransacked, her giant spiders dead, and her crystal ball stolen. 

Will she assume the interlopers have absconded with her wealth (as they probably should have)? Or will she instead sweep the castle with her undead minions looking for further signs of intrusion? Off hand, I'd assume the latter...after all, she IS a genius, and it shouldn't take long if the vamps run a coordinated search pattern...plenty of time to mount nightmares and release the hell hounds to track thieves fleeing back to town.

No, it shouldn't take long for the vampires to discover the adventurers...not with the trail of blood and larceny they've left in their wake. It's just a matter of time...a handful of turns...before the party is discovered and the entire clan is summoned to descend on them. 

This may end very badly.
; )