Wednesday, June 29, 2022

"We're Rich! We're Rich!"

"We're rich! We're rich! We're really really rich!"

This was the song being chanted (loudly) for about ten minutes yestereve as my players danced around the table, celebrating a particularly large haul of treasure.

Welcome to my campaign.

I have an hour(ish) before I need to start "working," so allow me to tell you a bit about it. The players (a party of four: elven assassin, half-elven fighter, human cleric, human ranger) are currently exploring my re-vamped (no pun intended) version of Ravenloft. No railroad here: the group may have been shipwrecked on the sandbar just off the coast of Port Angeles (that was fun!) but nothing compelled them to stay in town, nor explore/invade the castle of the local Countess (yes, I've a gender-bended "Strahd"). If they'd wanted to, they could have simply purchased fresh horses and been on their way...perhaps to Sequim and from there onto Kingston (a week's journey by leisurely ride). Heck, they might even make a side trek to "the Dreaming City" (Port Townsend); the elven citadel is only some 30 miles round trip off the main road.

But they decided to stay. The town was sad and grimy, somewhat less than effusive in its welcome (though their ship's crew seemed able to get on fine at the aptly named Wreck Tavern), and rather filthy with orcish persons...a small group of whom were drinking at the tavern when the party entered (the orcs paid their bill and left shortly thereafter, not wanting any trouble with armed elvish types). The drinking started in the early afternoon and went long into the evening...though most of the locals muttered their goodbyes and left before sundown. 

Most, but not all. One young man, incredibly drunk, visibly agitated, and belligerently armed became more boisterous...and the evening progressed. Seems he was unhappy with the local lord and bore a grudge against her for the murder of his family and the (recent) disappearance of his sister: an adventurer who had sought redress for various wrongs and never returned from the castle. Wild stories were spun by the man ("Istmark")...stories of devil-worship and blood-drinking and curses. The Countess was a demon, or a sorceress, or both, and took her due in both lives and souls and was a plague on the town.

To the adventurers, it sounded like normal orc-hate (the countess had apparently forced tolerance of the pagan tribe, who made ready and loyal servants) and bourgeois whinging. However, when Ismark offered to hire their elven blades for the "typical service" (elves having a reputation for assassination) and at twice the usual rate(!), the party quickly reached an accord.

The party set off for the castle in the morning, reaching it just after 8am.

[ugh...sorry, got distracted. Yesterday, my laptop crashed and...apparently...took a huge chunk of my Word documents with it...everything I've been working on the last 30 days or so. Yesterday, I spent a couple hours trying to find a document that failed to be "auto-recovered" (not sure why), but today I noticed even more missing files, including my open Word document on Ravenloft! What the F is going on?!!]

Skip ahead, skip ahead (only have five minutes or so)...the party has now been exploring the castle for nearly seven hours (it is 2:50pm in the afternoon).  For rather obvious reasons, an adventure like this requires meticulous calculation of encumbrance, movement, and game time (in ten minute turns)...sunset in Port Angeles is 9:17pm, and until that time, the castle is far less dangerous.

And it's been dangerous enough. Orcs wearing scale and armed with halberds are nothing to sneer at, but so far...whether by luck or cunning...the party has been able to avoid any encounter or trap that might have otherwise finished them. They've also managed to do a fair amount of murder...slaying both the castle exchequer (accountant) and a peasant girl named Gertrude found sleeping in the master's bedroom (they assumed she was the countess). 

Having killed many orcs (and not a few zombies), the bloodied robbers rather easily discovered a secret door within the fireplace of the study. Putting out the hearth blaze with water from a nearby bath, the adventurers used magic to reveal the obvious gas trap (avoided by holding their breath) and then their elvish guile to find the secret passage to cobwebbed belfry beyond.

Again, the ranger failed to prove much use outside a fight on open ground, as three man-sized spiders surprised the party, one bearing the human to the ground. Fortunately, he was able to survive multiple poison saves and the elvish butchers made short work of the huge arachnids. 

They then discovered the REAL treasure room of the castle (behind another secret door).

While I have restocked much of the module to bring it up to snuff for a standard AD&D adventure (in terms of both monsters and treasure), I haven't spent much time modifying the treasures that were already placed by the authors. Okay, I did get rid of TWO of the three +3 maces in the castle treasury (in favor of a crystal ball with clairaudience for the Countess to use in keeping tabs on her realm) but the general loot is all pretty much the same. Needless to say, 10s of thousands of gold and silver coins means a BIG payday for the PCs...and was the direct cause for their celebration.

The party spent the better part of an hour emptying their bag of holding and re-filling it with the most precious parts of the treasure. In addition to valuable, leather-bound books, silver cutlery, and elegant silken dresses already looted from prior chambers, the players managed to gather the bulk of the gold, silver, and platinum well as all the expected magic items, a coffer of gemstones, and a suit of human-sized plate mail removed from a stairway alcove. Their bag and backpacks are stuffed full, as is the half-elf's large sack...a total haul they estimate to be worth somewhere north of 23K in gold. In "real world" terms, that's close to half a million dollars worth of swag...more than the party has ever gathered at one time.

Thus the cause for the dancing and singing.

Abandoning non-essential equipment, the players are now making ready to vacate the castle entirely. They've decided that, at this point, it's probably a better (and safer) option to quietly leave the town than overstay their welcome. They are still considering whether or not to even attempt collecting Istmark's promised fee...they have their doubts that the girl they slew was indeed the countess (she certainly didn't seem like some sort of demon sorceress...also, she bore no resemblance to the raven-haired portrait of the (presumed) noblewoman discovered earlier). Regardless, now that their band is suddenly wealthy, they are disinclined to explore further, simply for the chance to perform regicide.

They're pulling up stakes...while there's still daylight left. About six-and-a-half hours worth.
; )

Monday, June 27, 2022

Warming Up

Just got home from a three day soccer "jamboree" in Skagit County...the daughter's first, the boy's upteenth. Sofia was nervous at first, but had a lot of fun...her team was competitive but didn't make the finals, unfortunately. Diego's team dominated their games and walked away with the trophy for their age/division...the team looks very strong this year, and the new coach seems really on top of his game.

But, man, it was hot. Burlington reminds me quite a bit of western Montana (where I'll be road-tripping next weekend)...a lot of open sky, foothills in the distance. The river through the middle of the town was reminiscent of Missoula (though Missoula has grown so much the last 15's practically unrecognizable from my youth). Ah, well. Lots of inspiration for my D&D campaign to be had in such surroundings...Bellingham, too (where we stayed during the tournament). Probably a good place for a land of giants (everyone there seemed REALLY tall...does Western have a major basketball program or something?). 

Anyway, it's good to be home (with my own coffee). My "running beagle" fifteen years old and more of a "doddering, lazy-ass beagle" certainly glad to be back with her half-dozen sprawl spots for dozing the day away. Too much awake time for the old girl this trip. But it was a good warm up for (what will be) a much longer road trip starting on Thursday.

SO...D&D. The kids are anxious to play and I promised them we'd do so today and over the next couple. I do have some blog posts I want to write, and I'll try to get to those in the early morning this week. Like, GOOD blog posts...I've got a couple-three percolating in the old noggin, but it's a little too late in the day to start them now (apologies...had to catch up on some stuff this morning and, now that it's 10am...I'm sure children will be waking and clamoring for breakfast soon enough).

One more note, before I sign off. Prince of Nothing is hosting his...

[hold on, hold on...the lazy beagle needs help getting up on the couch for her second nap of the morning. Stop taking my seat, you mooch! Jeez, so little respect for the hand that feeds you...every day! *sigh* Go back to sleep...I'll find a different place to write. Need more coffee anyway]

*AHEM* As I was saying, Prince has announced the second run of his (now annual?) "No ArtPunk Contest." Even if you don't fancy yourself an adventure writer/designer, I'd encourage folks to check it out and the compilation book from last year's event; there's a lot of good adventure in that FREE publication (as well as theft-able ideas for one's own campaign). My kids, with whom I share this kind of news, are fairly excited by the contest: both want to write and submit their own entries to the contest. Listening to their individual concept ideas while walking to the local taqueria last night, I think that they'd have a fairly strong piece...if they were willing to combine forces.

[this, with typical sibling rivalry, they have refused. However, Sofia *did* say I can happily steal from her ideas...good since she tends to be more creative/unhinged from convention. We'll see how it all shakes out]

I, too, have an idea or two for a contest submission, though I'm already fairly booked solid with projects for the summer. Do I need one more item on my plate? Probably not...but competitive fires get stoked when you come so close (my entry didn't make the cut last year) and you get a second bite at the apple. I don't know...I'll think about it. Probably depends on whether or not I can find the time to draw a decent map. Most dungeon scenarios are easy to write once you have 1) a concept/theme, and 2) a map. It is, after all, 'just' D&D...not rocket science.
; )

All right...kid is up, time to go. Yak at y'all later.

Thursday, June 23, 2022


Just a quick note on a Thursday morning (before the day REALLY begins):

The more AD&D I play, the more I simply default to the rules as written.

I didn't have all that much deviation to begin with (duh), but the more I play. the less its various oddities and nonsensical bits bother me. Most of the regular rules are pretty dead simple anyway. The complexity and complication of AD&D comes mainly from all the little bits and exceptions one needs to remember to use...and that "remembering" becomes far easier with practice. 

It just does.

For the curious (and for my own recorded history of this moment in time), I offer the following list of modifications currently being used at our table. If it's not listed below, you can assume we're currently doing it "by the book:"
  • No alignments or alignment restrictions. "Evil" (of the detect evil variety) is for supernatural (diabolic, demonic) evil. "Good" (of the detect good variety) is for supernatural (divine) goodness.
  • All 1st level player characters (and classed NPCs) receive full hit points at first level. Assassins roll 8-sided dice for hit points.
  • A "bastard sword" is just a longsword wielded with two hands. Speed factor is 6, regardless.
  • We are not using weapon versus armor this time.
  • Lack of helmet reduces listed AC by 1. Great helms have not been seen in play so far, but I'd be tempted to give a +1 bonus to AC (with associated penalties), for wearing one.
  • First level magic-users receive three spells to start (randomly rolled). A magic-user may cast any spell known ONCE per day (no doubling up on spells). A magic-user only knows the number of spells listed by level, plus the additional two at first.
  • Clerics do not memorize spells at the start of the day, but instead pray for their miracles as needed.
  • Scrolls do not "fade" upon opening; scrolls do not require a read magic spell to use, but may only be used by the type of caster for whom the spell is written.
  • Combat rounds are 30 seconds long (not one minute). Each round is composed of six 5-second segments (not ten). In combat a side takes action on the segment determined by the result on its opponent's initiative die. Spell casting time begins on this segment (and thus a spell may not go off until AFTER an opponent has acted, even if the spellcaster wins initiative). Tied rolls result in simultaneous combat (speed factor is checked in the case of opposing individuals wielding weapons). 
  • A character/creature's full attack routine occurs on its initiative segment (i.e. it is not broken up over the course of the round). In the case of a creature striking multiple times with a "special effect" attack (claws and bite of a ghoul, a carrion crawler's tentacles, a hasted giant spider, etc.) no more than ONE saving throw is made by a single character for a single effect in the round, regardless of the number of hits struck.
  • A side may be partially surprised, completely surprised, or not surprised (depending on the surprise roll). "Complete surprise" consists of two segments; a side is never achieves more than "complete surprise" (thus, no opponent will ever receive more than two free segments of action, regardless of the die result). 
  • Some spell effects have been changed. Not very many, however...maybe half a dozen.
  • I am not using training costs. Full level abilities are awarded upon advancement.
  • I have made alterations to the bard class...however, no one has played a bard (yet). Both my children have started their own AD&D campaigns, and are currently using the 1E bard as written in their games (apologies...I just think that's interesting).
  • I have made alterations to the illusionist spell list...however, no illusionists have yet been seen in play. All other spell lists (despite the hours I spent curating them over Lent!) are as currently listed in the PHB.
  • A demihuman character advancing as a single class in a career that normally allows multi-classing (per the PHB) increases its max level by +2. For example, an elven fighter with 17 strength (normally restricted to 6th level) may advance as high as 8th level.
  • Age, height, and weight tables have been rewritten for my campaign world. My children use the original age tables from the DMG (centuries old demihumans, etc.). Female player characters (not NPCs) are not restricted by strength limits listed in the PHB...although this has not yet come up in the game.
  • At this time, the whole of our canon consists of the PHB, DMG, MM, and FF. Monsters from S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth are nominally included in the canon, but the MM2, as a whole, is not. The UA is used to calculate the XP/gold of some magic items not found in the DMG (for example, a dagger +1 or a battle axe +2). 
  • Players receive individual bonus x.p. for damage inflicted and damage received in combat: 10 x.p. per point of damage inflicted, 20 x.p. per point of damage received. This bonus x.p. is not divided amongst the group. All other x.p. received (from foes defeated and treasure acquired) is distributed evenly amongst all surviving party members (NPCs receive a full share but only advance 1 x.p. for each 2 x.p. awarded).
  • Psionics have not (yet) been included in the game.
  • Player characters all start as independent operators: they are not tied to any guild, sect, temple, etc. They are free to join such organizations in play as they like...assuming they can find such a group and gain acceptance to it.
And that's about it. At this point, I'm not using B/X for any part of the game (I know some folks like it for easy reaction, morale, and/or encumbrance rules). My wandering monster tables are my own (I mostly treat the ones in the DMG as "guidelines"). Economy, population distribution, weight of goods and cost of services are generally based on my own research (except when the information in the books suffice)...but these are "world building" considerations, not rule deviations. Same with issues of cosmology: I don't have a particular pantheon of gods for players to pick and choose from (it's generally either "Catholic equivalent" or "Satan adjacent")...I'll deal with that stuff more (as/if needed) when players start hopping other planes. At this time, that stuff's a lot less important to the players than just trying to make their way in the world.

Happy to answer any questions or complaints folks have.
; )

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

5E Assumptions

As I wrote Tuesday, the weekend was fairly busy for Yours Truly. Rest assured that D&D continues in one form or another 'round my house, but this weekend we'll be traveling to Skagit County for a three day soccer tournament, so who knows when I'll have the chance to write again...figured I should get something up on Ye Old Blog NOW, while I can.

Last Wednesday (before school let out) we had Diego's buddy Kieran over to the house. Kieran is a kid that Diego introduced to D&D the previous school year (I believe at the time it was still just B/X) but who then went out and got the 5E books and started playing in a 5E game, much to my son's chagrin. Back in February, Kieran expressed interest in starting up his own 5E campaign, but it ended up falling through as these things tend to do. Kieran, all things considered, isn't really cut out for the role of "DM" at this point in his life. He'd much rather just sit down and play.

So we offered him the chance to play in our campaign. Here's how it went:

At the time, the players were still in Coeur d'Alene ("Orlane"), tidying up some last bits before starting their new "boat adventure." As this was Kieran's first time playing 1E...and because I was making lunch for the kids...Diego led him through the character creation process (standard Option I procedure from the DMG). He was trying for a paladin, but couldn't quite make the scores and ended up settling for a human ranger. And UN-like our usual practice, I gave the character 4,600 x.p. (50% of the party average) for a number of expedient reasons:
  • While this was Kieran's first time playing AD&D, he wasn't an unexperienced gamer...he's been playing 5E for about a year and has had characters in the teens.
  • It brought the character up to 3rd level, comparable to the other party members, adding survivability while not grossly affecting overall effectiveness.
  • I expected Kieran would NOT end up being a regular member of our campaign (as he was already involved in a weekly 5E game). If he does in the future, we will - of course! - have him create a new 1st level character.
Finally, I thought that the party would be adventuring in MY "Ravenloft" (rewritten for levels 3rd to 5th) and I didn't want him getting one-shot by a half-vampire.

However, we never made it there. 

Our "warm-up" for the session came courtesy of the Inn of the Golden Grain (still in N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God). A secret room in the inn cellars had a barred door that the party had not taken the time to investigate prior to their abduction by (and subsequent conquest of) the titular cult of the adventure. While the party discussed mounting an excursion (while swilling wine and victuals procured from the inn's larder), who should enter the inn but a wandering ranger looking for adventure! "Revlin" was quickly enlisted for the task at hand.

Down into the cellar went our brave adventurers, searching after an ivory idol that one-time cult member (now loyal henchman) Misha had memories of. The network of tunnels beneath the inn were crude, narrow, and only recently dug out, only (occasionally) widening into large caves. For the most part, the cramped conditions required single-file lines and stooping to avoid low ceilings. "Hey, Revlin: what kind of weapons are you proficient with?"

Well, my main weapon is the two-handed sword. That's a 'greatsword,' right? 

"Um, yes, but you're not going to be able to swing it very well (or at all) in these conditions. Two-handed swords are a lot more useful in the open than in underground environments. What else do you have?"

I've got a (horseman's) flail, too.


The ranger ended up walking point, light crossbow in hand. However, it wasn't long before found their way into a large(r) cavern, able to spread out a bit.

At which point a giant constrictor dropped from the ceiling, achieving complete surprise. Random roll determined that it landed on the ranger.

[the adventure location has the constrictor wrapped around a rafter and achieving surprise with a whopping 5-in-6 (!) chance. Rangers, of course, reduce the normal chance of surprise from 2 to 1. After adjustments, it still ended up being 2 full segments of surprise]

Fortunately, the other party members have excellent response times (high DEX). While the ranger literally "flailed away" (he got out his flail and tried to whack the no avail) his companions stabbed the snake repeatedly with short swords and daggers. The serpent snapped at the harriers repeatedly even as it continued to constrict its coils around the hapless ranger....

He was saved, healing was provided via the party cleric (no "short rests" I'm afraid) and play continued. More exploration, the elf now walking point. Cursory inspections of "empty" caves and wariness (ceiling checks!) became watchwords of the party. They avoided spending time in partially collapsed chambers (avoiding the concealed mudvipers that lay in wait) and eventually stumbled upon a huge ivory carving of the naga "god." Realizing it was too large to carry, they broke it into several large chunks, filling their bag of holding with as much ivory as it could hold and vowing to return for the rest. They then proceeded to search for the exit.

And instead wandered into a huge chamber filled with several cadaverous humanoids, hissing at them with drooling, hungry eyes and brandishing filthy claws.

"I've got this!" declared the courageous ranger, dropping his crossbow and pulling his two-hander from its back scabbard. The party dropped back, hurling daggers, as the ranger advanced upon the foes, sword in hand. I think the ghouls hit him 7 or 8 times? I know he was paralyzed by the end of the 1st round (even though I only require one save per creature, rather than one save per successful attack).

The cleric attempted to turn the monsters but failed, and the party was forced to do battle with mace and blade. Fortunately, elvish blood and well-worn iron carried the day: the ghouls were destroyed and the party set a watch till the ranger revived and they could exit the catacombs. 

All told, it was a good haul of treasure, and the party was most satisfied with having secured the cellars of their newly acquired tavern. Revlin agreed to accompany them on their upcoming voyage via ship, and even contributed to the cost of the ballista ("We have a ship in our 5E game, too! It has three magic canons and an aboleth chained to the bottom!"), though some party members had doubts about the young ranger's overall effectiveness. In total, he'd inflicted two points of damage over two encounters while sustaining 28 points of damage himself. 

Kieran DID have fun, however.
; )

Tuesday, June 21, 2022


5:20am on Tuesday morning. I am up (with coffee in hand); the rest of the household sleeps (except for the loyal beagle). Finally, it's time to write.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Solstice/Father's Day/Juneteenth weekend. I know I did. I am going to tell you about it now:

Saturday was a bit of this, that and the other thing, but we did manage to get into Ravenspire (my re-hashed version of Ravenloft) proper. So far, so good, and I'll write about this later. We should be able to play some more of it today, and I look forward to continuing.

Sunday, on the other hand, was dad's day, and while I would have been happy spending the day running D&D, my family had other plans. Specifically, they ran D&D for me. It went down like this: my son was peppering me with his usual slate of questions over dinner last Friday: what was my favorite AD&D adventure, what was my favorite AD&D character I ever played, what was my favorite character class, etc. He does this kind of thing a lot...asking my opinion on stuff, getting my insight, collecting recollections of my youth...unlike my daughter (she prefers to tell the stories, rather than listen to Pops bather on). However, this particular time he had an ulterior motive: 

Look, Pops, said he, I want to run you through an AD&D adventure for Father's Day, and I want you to use one of your old characters. You pick the module and I'll prep it and run it for you.

[it would seem that my family has finally come around to accepting their father is a Big Fat Nerd. Gifts I was given over a breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy, which my lovely wife cooked for me (I am the only person in the household that will eat such fare...their it was a special occasion)...they included a new wallet emblazoned with the Dungeons & Dragons moniker and a 20-sided die and a flat black stocking cap that said "Dungeon Master" across the front. I was truly touched]

Well, I have to say I was pretty darn surprised by this offering. We had just finished discussing my past AD&D characters and the fact that I'd only really ever had ONE (many AD&D characters were rolled up by Yours Truly back in the day, but the vast majority had never seen table play). So it was that I found myself sitting down to play the Tomb of Horrors on Father's Day with a character that I hadn't used in 34 years, with my son acting as a proper AD&D dungeon master. 


...never would I have imagined, as a 14 year old, that such an event would ever occur...

We'll get to the game in a moment. We decided on S1: Tomb of Horrors as the adventure for a number of reasons. For one thing, my character was a high level character...whatever adventure got used would have to be in that high level (10-14) range. For another thing, it was short to 10 pages and a single map, it is one of the shortest classic adventures ever published...and in all honesty I didn't think there was enough time between Friday evening and Sunday for Diego to prep something like Vault of the Drow or Q1 (I know I'd need more time than that!). Finally, Tomb is one of those adventures I've run many times over the years...most recently in 2020 using the original OD&D version...but one that I've never suffered through as a player. As a one-off event using an insanely over-powered character, it seemed like a fine test: would my knowledge of the adventure module allow me to conquer the thing where so many others had failed before? I dug the adventure out of the closet and handed it over to the boy (with strict instructions to not let me read it/re-familiarize myself with it), while I set about doing my own "prep work."

In a dusty folder at the bottom of a pile of dusty folders containing pages collected across decades of RPG play, I have a sheaf of characters from my earliest AD&D campaigns. One goldenrod sheet may be the the earliest AD&D character I ever penned (a dwarf fighter-thief for my brother). And several of the sheets detail various iterations of my character, Landon, from the last long-term campaign in which I played. 

Some of these (the character at 1st level) are hand-written on loose-leaf notebook paper by my dungeon master. Others (later in his career) were printed up on fan-fold dot-matrix printer paper, pages and pages of magic items and "background material" (loves, hates, enemies, allies, etc.) accumulated over years of gaming. I don't usually go through this stuff...I am already painfully nostalgic, and there's a lot of "lost youth" and regret stuff I associate with my old gaming group...but I needed a version of Landon to play in the adventure.

We had decided to run the adventure strictly "by the book" (using only the PHB, DMG, and MM) so the first thing I had to do was clean up the character. Regular readers have heard me expound at length about how my old AD&D group tried to hew as closely to Rules As Written as possible, but we didn't always succeed. We incorporated Dragon magazine articles that we liked. We adopted various bits from the Unearthed Arcana and extrapolated on it. And quite frankly, we got some things WRONG in our interpretation of the RAW that I, as an older, wiser man, find a little embarrassing.  

I settled on the 16th level version of my character...I am fairly suspicious of the higher level versions of the character (my DM was tracking XP and advancement and I distinctly remember some hand-waving towards the end of the campaign). Landon was a 1E bard, so the experience point total for the character, even including his fighter and thief levels would put him on par with a 13th level fighter or wizard...i.e. right in the 10-14 level wheelhouse of S1.  More editing, however, would be required.

Ability scores got knocked down to their original levels (which were high enough) as I'm not sure how many librams and wishes had been used to raise those stats and questioned their accuracy. His exceptional strength was removed (bards don't get that), and his fighter/thief levels reduced to 7th/8th instead of 8th/9th (there's some discrepancy about this in the DMG and later TSR modules but I'm fairly certain this is correct). UAisms were axed from the sheet (including a huge swath of magic items, weapons specialization, etc.), as were unique magic items ("bad luck swords" and "endless bags of food"). Hit points were re-calculated (should have only had one hit die of thief and CON was now back to 15), and weapon proficiencies corrected. Finally, I removed his incredibly beefy psionics (one of his major advantages in our old campaign) because A) Diego hasn't incorporated them into the game, and B) per the PHB, half-elves shouldn't receive psionics. 

[there IS a later Dragon mag that corrects this...i.e. that allows half-elves to get psionics...but we weren't going to use apocryphal texts]

Even after all this, the character had (in my estimation) too much "stuff," so I went a step further: I advanced his age 34 years (real time, Jeffro!) and calculated the total cost of his living expenses from the passage of time: 652,800 gold pieces. I then sold off enough of his magic items and treasure to cover the deficit. What I was left with was little enough in the way of magic (bracers of defense, a magic sword and dagger, a single bag of holding, one ring of protection and another ring of feather falling) and something around 800 gold pieces in treasure. A bit better equipped than the pre-gens in Tomb...but then, this was all gear that had been found in actual adventures. 

Other than my character, our party was composed of pre-gens from the module itself. Sofia would play the 14th level magic-user, and we took along the 14th level cleric and 12th level paladin as NPCs. Since we were going "by the book," spells were memorized beforehand (including clerical and druidic spells) and I did the bulk of the selection, as well as the outfitting of the party members. Sofia chose her own spells (with some suggestions from me) and purchased her own equipment (Tomb pre-gens receive up to 1,000 coins of any type to spend, and up to 5,000 g.p. worth of gems).  Lastly, I recruited two henchmen (a 1st level elven fighter and a 1st level half-elf thief) and equipped them from my own (swiftly diminishing) funds. Light (leather) armor, ten foot poles and lanterns lit with continual light spells was the order of the day. 

So prepared, we set out to the conquer the Acerak's tomb...or die trying.


Hmm. How much to talk about? Well, I'll be brief:

Our extreme competence, our plethora of resources, and my personal knowledge served us well, ESPECIALLY in the beginning phases of the tomb...everything up to and through the "evil/good chapel" area. A piece of cake, really (Diego bemoaned that we were kicking the tomb's butt). But as we got into the middle section, my knowledge started to fail. I knew what was in the Tomb, I knew what we were looking for (and what to avoid), but I was less familiar with the actual logistics and placement. 

Tomb of Horrors is a GRIND. Even for someone like me...who has run it half-a-dozen times over the years and read the thing countless others. Finding and locating secret doors and passages is a pain. Trying to remember the later stanzas of the riddle...or not remembering their proper order can lead to panic. You second-guess yourself. You grow impatient. You fall into a pit or trip some trap that you damn well know you shouldn't have. The thing wears on you, the farther you get into it. Even without wandering monsters, being stuck in the middle of the dungeon with no readily available exit (those one-way teleporters), you end up feeling pressure. Even with the plethora of healing magic at your disposal, there is an attrition of the mind that occurs...the players argue with each other, tempers fray, snap.

It got us. Five and a half hours in (we were keeping time on a stop-watch) it TPK'd the whole party. Didn't even make it to "the columned hall;" opened the wrong door...incautiously...and put the whole expedition to sleep (no saving throw). We were then crushed flat by a stone juggernaut. Thanks for coming.

Totally, terribly unfair. Total asshole move, Gygax.

And it sucked...not because my long-time character had died (for all intents and purposes, he died a long time the Spring of 1988). No, it sucked because I wanted to beat the damn thing. I wanted to say that I killed Acerack and that he "wasn't so tough." But even knowing the adventure, I still screwed up. And paid the price. But really the only "loss" I took was to my pride...something I probably have too much of anyway.

And pride is easily replenished anyway. At least, it is for me. All I have to do is look at my children. My son, 11 years old, did an excellent job as a DM. My 8 year old daughter did a great job working with her old man (even saving my bacon by remembering a couple lines from the Acerack poem/riddle that I'd forgotten). Yes, I had to pull Sofia's character away from a couple of deathtraps that she wanted to wander into, but in the end it wasn't her play that killed us all.

Yeah, I am very proud of my children. I really can't express it.

Afterwards, we ate pombazos (made, again, by the wife) and watched Big Trouble In Little China, one of my all-time favorite films, and one that the kids had never seen. They liked it a lot...a perfect cap to a (mostly) perfect Father's Day. Maybe the best one I've ever had. They sure set a high bar for next year.
; )


Friday, June 17, 2022

Well, THAT's Done

Yesterday was the last of the school year for my kids. I am now in full-time daycare mode (in addition to my other daily duties).

It was a busy week...though not one devoid of fun, gaming, or (indeed) even writing. But the blogging's been tricky to get to, even though I have several discussions percolating in Ye Old Noggin at the moment. 

However, blogging IS going to be on the back-burner over the next couple months, unless I somehow steel myself to rise at 5ish every morning, before the rest of the fam. Maybe. Maybe I'd just end up working one of my other projects.

As far as writing goes, those are the priority. I have THREE (and a half) projects going at the moment, all demanding my attention...a plethora of riches when one considers how dry inspiration can run at times. Ah, well. The trick of the matter is staying focused and locked in so as to finish them; challenging given the size of two of those projects. Hopefully I'll be able to knock-out the long-neglected YEAR OF THE RAT before the end of the month. Boy, that's an embarrassment (though at least the winners already received their prizes). Still, it's nearly done.

The second project is a setting/supplement book and it's a pretty daunting task. The good news it's a collaborative effort...I'm really just organizing someone else's work. The bad news is, there's a LOT of material to shape. More on that one later...I suspect it will take at least a couple months to get a draft of (what will probably be) "volume one."

The third project is a total vanity one: I've got a bee up my bonnet about re-writing a classic AD&D adventure module, and publishing it. This one is all about my own's not even something I'd have an opportunity to use/playtest anytime soon (as it's waaaay too lofty for my current crop of players). But it's an idea that just won't go away. And, no, it's not a Dragonlance or Hickman module. We'll see what happens. It would require a re-drawing of multiple maps (not my strong suit) and working in a classic format (32 page adventure) that I'm not particularly used to. But it DOES get me excited...trips the little wire in my brain that tells me 'ooo, this is a GOOD one.' Usually when that bell rings, it's a sign that I'm actually going to get something done. We'll see if that holds true.

OH...and speaking of the Hickman's: I've finished twisting, re-stocking I6: Ravenloft for use in my own campaign. Completed it circa 2am this morning. Diego has been begging and pleading to play D&D since...well, since the last time we broke off play (on Wednesday), so yesterday I sat down and finished going through the thing, fixing the monsters, correcting the treasure, etc. It was a slog (over 120 numbered encounter areas in the castle alone!), and I had to update my previous (very sketchy) notes for AD&D (since I had been re-writing it for B/X), but I'm quite pleased with the result. I'm looking forward to wrecking the PCs' new sailing ship on the shoals beneath the windswept bluffs of Port Angeles, Washington...we've been in Idaho far too long!

[how do I propose to get their vessel from Lake Coeur d'Alene to the Salish Sea? Magic, fools! Jeez...we're playing D&D here, aren't we?]

'Course I don't suspect the kids will be terribly happy about the loss of the ship...some 56 hundred gold in sunk costs there. But the "new and improved", "Ravenspire"...has some 75 thousand gold worth of monetary treasure...and much more than that should they decide to sell any of the HEAP of magic items scattered throughout the place. 

Yeah, that's what I was up doing till 2am...treasure accounting. I didn't bother fixing the existing hoards (why O why are there so many 6000 coin piles of electrum in this stupid thing?) figuring it will be easier to retain the VALUES while adjusting them on-the-fly, in-play. 

[for instance: 6100ep coin hoard suggests some 600# of semi-precious goods with a total value of 3,050g.p. Now some would ask, why would 600# of anything be lying in a 10' by 10' prison cell under 5' of water (and next to multiple similarly stocked cells), to which the CORRECT answer is "it's Ravenloft and it is poorly designed." But the more charitable answer, based on textual interpretation ("In each cell below, many previous adventurers gave up their gold") is that this is simply another typo/editing error/gross oversight and what they MEANT was for their to be a VALUE of 3050, but perhaps something more along the lines of platinum pieces (61#) which could be accounted for with high priced equipment on dead adventurers: filigreed arms, solid gold buckles, silk clothing and sable capes, and boots crafted by elven shoemakers...all of which have somehow managed to miraculously preserve their value while soaking for years in a waterlogged dungeon]

[hmm. Okay, probably there is no charitable interpretation. Might as well say it's 300# of coal or loose gemstones. Sigh...this module]

ANYway...that's on the agenda for today (as soon as the kids are awake and breakfasted). Oops! They both just woke up! More later...
; )

Friday, June 10, 2022


It's Friday afternoon, which means my time to post is limited...but I wanted to get something up on the blog before the weekend hits.

Tuesday's dinner with the padre went fine...nothing big to report. He's just a normal dude...a big kid in a lot of ways (he's in his early 30s) so many folks are. Age and geographic origin are far more a determining factor of personality than what a person does (or doesn't do) for a vocation...I've found it much the same even regardless of whether a person is a rock star or active military, politicians or drug dealers. Some folks alienate themselves from "normal humans," surrounding themselves by a bubble of subculture and/or sycophancy that fills their world view. But sit them down for a meal, crack a bottle, and act nonchalant and everyone becomes just another house guest. I don't know why I ever expect it to be different.


It's only in the last few years that I've grown to understand and appreciate the importance of maritime trade...both to our present society and the length and breadth of human history/development. Which is pretty ridiculous given my life spent in Seattle, my father's time in the navy, my paternal grandfather's career as a merchant marine, my almost-career in stevedore shipping (thanks to the father of my college best friend), and the amount of time I've spent staring out to sea from coastlines all around the Pacific Northwest.

Ships and shipping. They are the lifeblood of human society, and have been for thousands of years.

Ha! Here's an anecdote: I don't remember the year that I first found (and purchased) a (used) copy of Original D& was probably around the age of 14 or so...long after my friends and I had moved full-time into AD&D. I found it incredibly interesting: it's scale, it's scope, it's well as the primitiveness (is that a word? spellcheck says yes!) of the artifact. The first thing I did with it was sit in my room and create a character...something like a 7th level magic-user...and draw up blueprints of a ship, so that I could run the naval combat rules and see how they worked. You see, I'd always found the B/X rules to be a rather poor system, and the AD&D rules to be overly complex given the other crunch of the DMG.

Small sailing ship
Here, in OD&D, I found a vastly simple system married to a far more interesting set of naval rules. And I always had a hankering for pirate films and swashbuckling stories. My favorite bits of most of the fantasy literature I'd read was all the sea battle stuff.

But the sea isn't just an "interesting location" (or unique environment) to have an adventure or stage a battle. The fact is that the sea...and deep water in a RESOURCE that humans have long exploited for good use. It is (and has been) the best way to transport large amounts of material from one place to another. Ready access to the sea is what allowed great civilizations to grow and flourish into world spanning empires. Without the ability to move freight (and specifically food) over water, the world's largest cities would never have reached the immense levels of population that they did...and those immense populations enabled all the technological and societal advances that have created the world in which we live.

For a game like Dungeons & Dragons...a game that ostensibly takes place in a world lacking commercial air travel, super highways, and railroads...maritime trade and shipping should be an incredibly important part of the world building which (I've been harping on a lot the last few months) is integral to solid campaign play.  Rules for naval battles become imperative when trade routes...and the shipment of goods by sea...become the "way things get done." It can't be taken for granted!

And, yet, it kinda' is. Reviewing the various rules for ships across the various old editions, my main concern is "how much can these ships carry?" What's their cargo capacity? How much lumber, how much grain, how much quarried stone and marble? How much treasure, for goodness sake?! And this, sadly, is the information I find explicitly lacking from MOST of the instructional texts.

Except for B/X, that is, which (instead) is woefully, woefully inaccurate. Check out these numbers:

Small Sailing Ship: 100,000cns cargo capacity
Large Sailing Ship: 300,000cns cargo capacity
Longship: 40,000cns cargo capacity

The "small sailing ship" is compared to a medieval cog, and given roughly the same rough specs (as far as length, beam, etc.). But 100K "coins" is only 5 tons of cargo space, whereas the actual range of such vessels was 30-200 tons burthen. "Great cogs" (the comp for a "large sailing ship") had cargo capacities of 300+ tons, not 15 and some as high as 1,000. Even the snekkja (the most common Viking longship) had a cargo capacity of some 10 tons, the D&D equivalent of 200,000cns weight...five times the listed amount in the Cook/Marsh Expert set.

Even though the DMG fails to list carrying capacity for ships, it's a simple matter to calculate the actual cargo capacity of a pre-steam ship using the vessel's length and width (i.e. its "beam"). The DMG states that "it is up to the DM or the players buying or constructing" a ship to determine its exact dimensions but, for example, gives a range of 50'-80' length and 15'-25' beam for a "large merchant" ship...well within the spec of a 12th century cog. Given an average of 65' length and 20' width we can thus determine such a ship's carrying capacity as roughly 113 tons burthen.

For the price of 15,000 g.p. (the standard cost for a "large merchant ship" per the PHB) perspective merchants gain themselves an excellent means of earning a living. 100 tons of "bulky treasure" (bags of grain, for example) has a rough value of 10,000 g.p. but the markup might be significant given the the supply at the point of embarkation, the demand at the given destination, and the length of the journey in between. For cargo of a "precious" variety (say spices or gold ingots) such a treasure ship has the capacity to make fortunes for all its investors with but a single voyage. 

Assuming it's not attacked by pirates, sunk by a storm, or destroyed by a sea monster.

Going over the potential opportunities for D&D adventures that such lines of thought produce, I am somewhat saddened by my choice of setting for my world...after all, my fantasy Washington State has only one coastline to ply with ships. Yes, does have miles of rivers to explore, but river travel isn't the same as the open doesn't hold the same romance in my imagination, all apologies to Sam Clemens.  Still, small watercraft trading with the various communities around the Olympic Peninsula seems like a pretty awesome campaign idea for players in the low-to-mid level range (as my 3rd level PCs are)...and a "small merchant" ship (5,000 g.p. cost; average 20.7 tons burthen) would be a great way to start.

Now I just have to get them out of friggin' Idaho.

Monday, June 6, 2022


An anecdote:

On Friday, my children had a couple friends over after school. This is ostensibly called a "playdate" (still, though my son is an 11 year old. Not sure when this will just transition to "hanging out;" maybe age 12?). Diego and his buddy, Maceo, spent the majority of their time together playing D&D with Yours Truly...this was, in fact, the reason Diego wanted his friend to come over: to play Dungeons & Dragons. Much fun was had, as usual, and Maceo went home before dinner time. This was, perhaps, the third time Mace had been a guest in our home.

Cut to yesterday (Sunday). Maceo and Diego, besides being classmates, have been on several sports teams together...they both played Little League (which just ended last week) and they're currently on the same flag football team, coached by Mace's dad, Connor. Maceo's parents are "good people," friendly, progressive, kind, intelligent, etc. They are  planning on leaving our school next year (Diego says it's something about them having a problem with God or something...I don't know, though I know they aren't Catholic or particularly religious) but we (my wife and I) have tried to build a relationship with them, as the kids really get along, they live close to us, and we'd like to keep in touch.

[mm...I have some things to say about God and belief and stuff, but I'll save it for another post. Tomorrow night we're having the parish priest over to our house for dinner (I'm cooking my version of Paraguayan asado) so I'm sure I'll have some reflections after an evening of theological discourse]

ANYway...Shaina (Mace's mom) and I were chatting on the sideline, and she was telling me her kid had a fun time and expressing her appreciation that we'd hosted him again when it was clearly their turn to have our kid over to their house. And I said that was totally fine and next time they could host and whatever. And then she added that, funny thing, when we'd invited Mace to hang out last Friday, they had planned on turning it around and asking Diego over, but that Maceo had pleaded with his folks to let him go over to our house instead because they wanted to play D&D and Diego's dad was the Dungeon Master and his own father (who would have been watching the kids since Shaina was out-of-town that day) couldn't do the job

To which I replied, "Oh, I'm sure Connor could have done just as good a job being 'Dungeon Master' if they'd been at your house."

Which is, of course, a blatant boldfaced lie...something I realized roughly 30 seconds after I said it. But what was I supposed to say? Yeah, the father of your kid's friend has spent 40 years playing this D&D game, and it probably would be tough for your husband to just pick it up and run the thing? Or maybe just "hey, your kid's friend has this creepy man-child for a dad and probably it would be good for everyone if our children spent time away from all that D&D nonsense?"


Lately, I've been encountering parents who are...perhaps, maybe...running into the same kind of thing the parents of my generation ran into: their kids are obsessed with this weird, strange game of Dungeons & Dragons. The other night (a week or two ago), we went out to eat with another family who we know through soccer (their two sons play for the same premier club as our kids). They're very cool, international types (dad from the UK, mom from Spain) only slightly younger than my wife and I. Their boys are DEEP into the 5E D& the point that the older boy brought his books and dice to the restaurant and was running a game for the kids while we adults chatted and ate and drank.

And the kids had a great time. Though it was clear that they didn't really know the rules and were "winging" most of it and generally just f'ing around, even my son came away saying "I like 5E now!" (though, he stipulated later, "only the way Manjeet runs it." He also says "1E is still the best."). And the parents, while they were happy about their children's joy were just kind of befuddled by the whole thing. "I tried playing with them but I didn't really get it," confessed their father (Manjeet Sr.) to me. "I don't really think they know the rules even, but they sure have fun." 

"Yeah, D&D is a lot of fun," was about all I could offer.

But my wife, who is always quick to promote me, explained how D&D was totally my thing, and how I wrote books for it, blogged about it, had been playing it for decades, etc. "I don't really understand it myself," says the wife, "But Jonathan knows all about it and can tell you anything you want." 

We ended the night over a gelato in Ballard, promising we'd have to get together again, soon. This time at our house, so the kids could play D&D while the adults hung out and drank wine. "Or maybe three of the adults can hang out," someone (I don't remember who) quipped, "while Jonathan acts as Dungeon Master!" 

Truth be told, that sounded pretty good to me (though I'm sure I'd still partake of the wine).

I am...and have a weird space lately. Once upon a time, I was just a guy masquerading as a normal adult who had this gaming hobby on the side. The same way other dudes play pickup basketball at the rec center, or jam with their old musician buddies, or run a fantasy baseball league. And THAT was fine...normal, understandable. People were cool with it...that's just JB's thing, like someone else might really dig sailing or gardening.

But now my kids are old enough to play D&D. And the kids of my (adult) friends are old enough to play D&D. And the kids are learning the goodness of the game and the obsessive-compulsive nature of it and its potential for absolute immersive fantasy joy and their parents, glad that they're wanting to do something that doesn't just involve a video game console but weirded out a bit by this thing, this "role-playing game" that they don't understand...

And then there's this adult that their kids gravitate towards, who they (the kids) want to "play with" and who is cool playing this game with kids a quarter his age... I mean, it was cool when JB was their soccer coach, but this "dungeon master" thing is a little strange, ain't it? A little cult-ish, maybe?

I wonder if these parents
watch Stranger Things.
Yeah, it's weird. When I was a kid, I wasn't playing in games run by old geezers...or even by old teenagers. I was running the game for my friends (or playing in games run by them). Because there weren't any adults who were interested in, or who understood, or who'd ever played these games we loved and enjoyed and obsessed over. Until I was an adult myself, I only ever met ONE ADULT PERSON (I've related that story before) who was an active gamer. One. As far as any of us knew, these were games for children...they were purchased in toy departments, after all.

Neither my kids, nor their friends, live in the 1980s that I grew up with...but there are still some parallel things going on. Russians are bad again. Music is crassly commercial again. Economy is sucking again. And D&D is sold in toy stores again. And kids are getting it, and playing it, without much understanding from their parental figures.

Well, most of them. But my kids have a weird old man. That's not their fault. 

My wife's colleague has a couple kids who LOVE D&D. During the early days of the pandemic, when everyone was under house arrest and kids were being homeschooled, she found out about my little "hobby" and asked if her kids could play in our home game via Zoom. While I was happy to oblige, the medium sucked and we shut down the game after a couple sessions. Melissa (the mom) did gift me with a six-pack of (disinfected) tasty craft beer for my trouble, however. For her son's birthday, a year later (he was 13 or 14) I know they hired a 'professional DM' to run a game for him and his friends. These parents still don't "get" this D&D thing...and this is a woman who used to compete in Magic the Gathering tournaments (at a high level) in England when she was a teen! 

D&D, though...nope, don't get it.

As I said, it's a weird head space I find myself in these days...and it's only getting more weird. I have a long-running narrative in my head about who and what I am that seems to be butting heads a bit with reality. Like, I long ago made peace with the fact of my "gamer identity" but the more I make that identity public knowledge, the more I have to navigate new waters and ramifications surrounding that identity. 

*sigh* (again) I guess I'm surprised that I keep surprising people. Look, I get it. Humans are self-involved. We see other people as cardboard cut-outs until we start having meaningful interaction with them. But even then, we confine our discussions to general, relatable topics: How's the weather? How are we coping with the challenges of child-raising? Why is the local sports team terrible? Man, that pandemic sucked. Etc. 

I assume I probably come off as a smarter-than-average Average Joe Seattlite. Ball cap over thinning hair, Seahawks hoody, jeans. Pleasant-enough white dude. Wife, kids, house, dog. 

Mmm. Sometimes I feel my persona is only that...a "persona," a dishonest facade. And yet, it IS honest. I look and dress and talk like I do. I am a "pleasant-enough white dude." I do have a wife and kids and house and dog. There's just a lot more underneath all that...the deeper me that I don't advertise. These days, I'm being...well, more honest about it. More open about it. And it's maybe a little more different than, say, revealing I like rock music and used to have long hair. A lot of dudes my age could certainly say the same.

A lot fewer of them would admit to being a practicing Dungeon Master. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Other Games

Watched the first episode of the new Stranger Things last night (well, this morning...around 1am) and now I am annoyed. Like, really annoyed. Not because of the new characters or plot developments or story arc, all that stuff is neat, interesting and welcome. Well done, intriguing, makes me want to watch more.

No, what has annoyed me to no end is the new D&D player boasting about her 14th level rogue 1986. Three years before 2nd edition would introduce "rogue" as general class specification of thieves and bards, and 14 years before 3rd edition would introduce "rogue" as a specific, playable class in lieu of the thief. 

Color me the brightest color of nerd on the planet...fine. For a series that prides itself in grounding its setting in a particular time period, this is an annoying, gross misstep that I simply cannot unsee. It has tainted my enjoyment of the show; it's broken my suspension of disbelief. It's lowered my opinion of the Duffer Brothers' "D&D cred;" born in 1984 did they ever actually play the brand of Dungeons & Dragons their protagonists do?

*sigh* The things that annoy us. Everyone has their pet peeves...this is just one of those things that really chaps my hide.

[the idea that ketamine...i.e. "Special K"...would have been available to a casual drug dealer in '86 in as small a town as Hawkins also seems a bit dicey, though that may simply be my naivete regarding 80s drug culture (it wasn't on my radar till the 90s). But THAT particular anachronism bothers me a lot less...go figure]

Moving on to other, non-"nerd rage" topics: I weekend (maybe?) that I wanted to introduce my kids to some new RPGs, particularly Gamma World and Top Secret. Top Secret it was (or, as my kids call it, "super spies"). My son's British MI6 agent, "Chad" caused me no small amount of amusement (mainly due to his name which, to him, sounded "very English") though his antics were a bit more Johnny English than James Bond. In the end, he was KIA while trying to rescue the U.S. president (Operation: Executive One, from the TS Administrator's screen)...having his foot shot off by a shotgun-tripwire trap.  

Fun, but not as much fun as D&D (that cleric magic can really mitigate missteps, you know?). And I'm afraid Gamma World wasn't even tried, and probably won't be any time soon. There's a LOT that I dig about the GW game...just reading the 1E rules or early adventures like Famine in Fargo and The Albuquerque Spaceport are a JOY. But I'm not a huge fan of the GW's just so...

Mm. I don't know the word I'm looking for. It's kind of immune to planning or manipulation. It's too "swingy;" there's no mastery of design, really. Okay, how 'bout this:

Gamma World, unlike other RPGs, is poorly done when it comes to character generation. Not because it's poorly themed (I rather like the PSH, Humanoid, Animal selection), but because...outside the first choice of "character type" are a slave to the random die roll. It is possible to create an Uber-mutant...or a complete genetic dead end. And it's all based on a random throw of the bones. Vast discrepancies in effectiveness are possible between different players' characters...and the success of the PCs adventures largely comes down to how heavy a hand the GM is willing to take.

Such is not the case with D&D, for example: 1st level characters have their different skill sets, but they are largely comparable in power...and experience/leveling gives a good indication of what types of challenge/obstacle are appropriate for a party of a particular size. That's ain't GW, where a beginning mutant may (by dint of fortunate rolls) come out as a powerhouse while her amigos are all primitive weenies. I saw a lot of this, Back In The Day (when I used to run 2E)...more than GW setting nonsense, this is what eventually turned me off on the game. Somehow, I always seem to forget this aspect of Gamma World, right up till it's time for chargen.

[and I'll probably forget about it in the future as well. Dennis Laffey's GamMarvel World idea remains an intriguing one...something I'd love to run with pre-gens sometime...]

Other games:  I picked up the latest version of Twilight 2000 a few (three to five) weeks back. It continues to sit, unopened and shrink-wrapped, on my living room coffee table. I don't know why. I don't know what I'm waiting for. I'm going to open it. Soon. One of these days. 

Ugh. I'm scattered all over the place this morning. Truth be told, there's nothing burning terribly brightly on my mind this morning, other than the sunshine streaming through the window. I'd like to go for a bike ride today, I think...a little exercise, a little fresh air. That's what I need...not more games. 

I already have/own/run the BEST game. The session with the new kid went well yesterday. I won't bother to bore folks (more than I already have) with tales of the party's exploits, but great fun was had, and much success as well.  I don't know why I need to collect and hoard other RPGs.

All right, this post is going nowhere...maybe I'm just tired (still). Going back to sleep for a bit.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Critical Mass

Critical Mass: the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture.


My players are, somewhat miraculously, still alive and fighting their way back to the surface after defeating "the reptile god." Mud choked hallways and wandering monsters (not to mention a lack of map/direction) has made it a tough slog, but they just found a stairway up and slew the troglodyte guardians camouflaged at the top. Total butcher's bill (to date): one assassin, one innkeeper, one spirit naga, seven troglodytes, one carrion crawler, and two ghouls...the latter of whom managed to achieve  complete surprise, popping out of the mud to rake and rend. 

However, as written before, elves have their advantages in AD&D. Immunity to ghoul paralysis in one. High dexterity (negating surprise segments) is another. Which is all to the good when your 3rd level NPC cleric has a DEX of 9, no armor, and tends to be bum-rushed before she can get off a spell or turning attempt.

[quick fun fact: on the surface, hold person looks like a pretty powerful 2nd level spell for a cleric to stock...until you notice the 5 segment casting time. That's an absolute killer when dicing for initiative in close quarters (i.e. your standard dungeon crawling environment); 25 seconds of chanting is way more likely to be interrupted when a baddie can step up and hit you with its stone axe]

But even Misha has survived to date, and her ability to cast continual light has proven a godsend (no pun intended), even if her mace has been less accurate than the PCs' blades. If they make it out of the dungeon, I might consider her continuing to tag along with the party...especially given the awkwardness of staying in a village where she's a known participant in murder, kidnapping, human sacrifice, probably cannibalism, etc. (all while under the naga's influence...but still).

SO...the players are doing well, they've both hit 3rd level by this point and have hopes of even more advancement once they get all this treasure out of the dungeon. The most successful characters they've ever advanced in AD&D is 5th level, and I think they have a real shot at surpassing that mark...they're playing their characters well, and playing well together (in combination). 

All of which is exactly what I want. It may be frustrating to a player to have to roll up a new character after their 1st - 3rd PC gets slain but, respectfully, it is far more a burden to the Dungeon Master (me). I want to have more content than just goblins and bandits and giant rats. Wracking my brain to justify yet another encounter with skeletons, so low level clerics can "do something" is a pain in the ass that I don't really want to deal with.  That stuff is peanuts...small change...compared to the possibilities of D&D.

And yet, "paying dues" is a necessary part of the is, in fact, imperative to the growth and development of the players. Players need to learn the system: what works, what doesn't, how to interact with it and survive and thrive. When you (the DM) allows that to occur...that natural growth, including all the "growing pains" (failure, death, etc.) allows everyone, players AND referee, to elevate their game. 

"Killing machine."
But it's rough when one misstep, or one string of bad die rolls, can upend the whole applecart. "We're killing machines!" exclaimed my boy after they managed to cut down yet another group of trogs (with no losses). And so they are. But they're still lost in a hostile, subterranean environment, less-than-full strength on hit points, and completely out of healing magic. Things aren't entirely rosy.

What I'm hoping to reach with my campaign is some sort of critical mass...a point of equilibrium wherein I'm not terribly worried about an accidental TPK. I've reached this before with campaigns...usually somewhere around 9th or 10th level...and it is what I consider to be "the sweet spot" of AD&D. All due respect to folks who like to live in the 5th-7th level range, it's still too easy for things to fall apart on such a're still (as a Dungeon Master) quite limited at what you can throw at the party. Dragons, for least the larger, older ones...are probably out of the question. Throwing an ancient green at a group under level eight is giving a coin-flip's chance of having to re-rack the whole thing!

No, give me a couple fighter types with hit points in the 50-60+ point range; give me spell casters with a minimum of a dozen or 15 spells of various utility. Give me a thief with a 65-80% success rate and a cleric who can raise dead and that has at least a chance of turning all the undead on the board. Give me all that...and I can start cooking. Given those ingredients? I can make one heck of a meal.

Success in D&D begets success. Low level characters can adventure with high level characters and advance quickly, becoming solid contributors to the group's success. Copious amounts of treasure is readily spent on equipping and outfitting...not to mention magic like restoration and resurrection. High level characters are far more self-motivated, having both the resources and capabilities to contribute to the game world: establishing bases, garnering influence, crafting magic items, developing networks of followers. Such players help sustain the campaign itself, even as the DM is forced to expand and grow the scope of the setting to accommodate their desires.

Critical mass.

It's not a pipe dream...I've seen it before. So have many others; there's a reason why many of the most highly regarded adventure modules are designed for characters circa 10th level...that's the place where a well-run campaign really starts to hum. For advanced D&D play, it's not the "endgame;" it's the starting point for self-sufficiency. For sustentation. For establishing a foundation on which can be built "the long haul."

It takes patience. I'm not a patient person. But the patience is necessary for the players to learn and for DMs to sharpen their craft. My players still need some training up..."killing machines?" Indeed. But they're not out of the swamp yet. Let's just focus on making it back alive...and successful.

We've got a couple kids coming over to the house Friday. Of course the intention is to play D&D (one has already participated in a couple of our games). More bodies for the pyre, I suppose...but I'm hopeful my kids have developed enough as players that they'll be able to help their buddies survive and thrive and grow, too. We'll see. I suppose that's at least as likely as the whole party getting TPK'd (again).

More later. Dog needs to be walked.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Explictica Defilus

I've run N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God a few times over the years...mostly as a B/X adventure (see these ancient posts, if interested) but at least one time as an AD&D adventure in the early 2000s (before this blog was even a "thing"). That was for my buddy, Kris, but we were both pretty drunk if I recall correctly and I'd never even read the thing...I was just trying to run it as best I could while simultaneously skimming it. A very abbreviated session that didn't go anywhere (as one might imagine).

Welp now, as previously mentioned, I'm running it for my kids, per their request. Haven't yet got around to posting my "first level problems" post (eventually, eventually) but one of the things about playing "no-hold-barred" AD&D: characters die. Sometimes all of them. And then you're left scrounging for low-level resources when what you'd ACTUALLY like to be doing is sending them up against frost giants and kuo-toa.


N1, as I've blathered in the past, has a lot going for it. It also has a lot of problems, especially power curve versus low level adventurers of the type for which it's intended. Some of these things it tries to fix on its own (including a 7th level "ringer" NPC wizard to accompany/aid the PCs); some of it are fixed by getting the rules correct (spirit nagas impersonating deities don't grant clerical spells, so converted clerics shouldn't have any). But still, given the scope of the adventure, I'd hardly call it a scenario for "novice" players...more an intermediate (or tougher!) module for experienced players using low-level characters.

Enter the PCs.

"Investigation" is not my kids' strong suit: problem solving, negotiation, ally building, bold action is their more usual modus operandi. N1 expects players to investigate the town and figure out what's going wrong with it. My players are just looking for adventure. It's definitely not the perfect marriage...they aren't curious about "plot" and "backstory" even when such things might provide them with clues or aid in their problem solving. Here's how things have gone down thus far in our play of N1:

Two zero x.p., first level characters...Salamander the elven assassin and Potter the half-elf fighter...enter the town of Coeur D'Alene drawn by rumors of mysterious disappearances and goings on in the community. After gaining rooms at the Slumbering Serpent Inn, inquiries got them directed to the nearby hut of local eccentric Ramne who, while friendly enough, was rather cryptic and tight-lipped in his conversation. Deciding the old hermit was a dead end they decided to explore the town and, finding the prices at the Golden Grain Inn to be more reasonable, shifted base.

At this point, running low on coins after one too many "simple suppers" the PCs were only too happy to partake of innkeeper Bertrem's free drinks, even as they hobnobbed and traded barbs with the greasiest-looking scallywag at the bar (Derek Desleigh, 4th level assassin). Beginning to feel groggy, and suspecting they'd been drugged, Potter retired to their bedroom while Sal went down to the river to soak his head and sober up. He returned to the Golden Grain Inn just before sundown but found his room empty, his traveling companion vanished into thin air!

Rather than investigate further, Sal decided to wait until midnight, when the inn was shut down for the evening...he then crept downstairs and began a search of the empty common room. Picking the lock on the kitchen door led him to a cellar stair that he descended torch in hand and sword drawn. At first, little of interest was discovered, until his elvish senses detected a secret door that led to a hidden room where he found the odious Derek standing guard over a hog-tied and hooded Potter! Combat ensued, and Derek was defeated by sheer dint of luck and tenacity. Potter was released and the assassin's body searched for goodies, but little was found besides the fiend's short sword and dagger, with which the half-elf armed himself.

The stout, barred door in the corner of the hidden room was ignored in favor of the ladder leading to an obvious trapdoor, which Salamander pushed through, sword in hand. The trapdoor gave way to a bedroom, where a sleeping figure was stirring in a large bed. Sal drove his shortsword through the man's belly before he could fully rouse and a lighted candle revealed the fat innkeeper's startled and death-stricken face, his bedsheets now pooling with blood. Searching a nearby armoire and finding nothing save clothes and a scabbarded longsword (which he took), the assassin descended through the trapdoor where he and Potter decided to "play it cool" and hope the authorities blamed the murder on the deceased Derek. They carefully closed up the secret room and made their way back to their own bedroom(!), there to slumber the remainder of the night.

Instead, they were rudely awakened some hours before dawn by scaly hands covering their mouths. Finding themselves assaulted by three troglodytes and a slim, hooded figure, Salamander decided to struggle using the dagger he kept close by. Unfortunately, his aim was poor and the trog was easily able to put the elf in a stranglehold (130# of elf is no match for a 180# reptile man in a wrestling match). The elf's bite was little more than a wasp's sting as the sleeper hold forced him into unconsciousness. Potter, meanwhile, surrendered and allowed himself to be bound and gagged once again.

After this, the captives were marched some 30 miles north and east, through hill and forest, into the swamplands surrounding Lake Pend Oreille. There they were brought to the very lair of the fiend, an island surrounded by muck and murk, the lake waters held back by a dike of mud and bramble and pinewood, a gaping hole in its center revealing wooden plank stairs descending into darkness.

Down, down, down the adventurers were led...down passages carved from wet, swollen earth and wretched mud. Through nightmarish tunnels, over subterranean lakes, past giant toads and snakes and cold-blooded maws of reptilian monsters (and worse) they were paraded till they reached yet another stairway, guarded by the same hateful troglodytes that forced them grimly on, ever deeper into the muddy labyrinth.

Past giant spiders and poisonous centipedes and walking corpses performing mindless routines, with the screams of captives echoing wetly through the muddy halls, they came at last to a huge underground cavern, yet another grotto of unknown origin, its vault held aloft by stone columns covered in a phosphorescent lichen, bathing all in a ghostly green light. A flat-bottomed barge was poled into the water, ferrying both captives and captors to the lone island where the adventurers would confront their destiny.

It was not a long wait. She slithered from the alcove almost at once, disgorging a shower of coins from the hoard of loot and spoils. Enormous in length, hideous in visage, ancient in her evil, Explictica Defilus the reptile god emerged into the ghastly illumination. 

Only an asshole
puts a spirit naga in
a 1st level adventure.
Salamander and Potter could only stand in awed silence as the spirit naga communed with their human captor, receiving a full report of the going ons in the inn, even while the troglodyte servitors emptied a chest of loot (including the characters') onto the ever-expanding pile. Finally, satisfied, the god focused her gaze on each of the adventurers in turn, swaying back and forth as she enslaved them to her will.

"You will replace my servants whom you have slain," she hissed at them in her sibilant tongue. "You shall assume the roles that they played, bringing me more slaves, more tribute, more worshippers to spread my cult. Only through your worship and servitude may you atone for this offense against my divine will. Now pick up your weapons, return to the surface, and do my bidding."  This the PCs hastened to do.

Except that Salamander had made his saving throw with a 17 and still possessed free will.

The elf only pretended to succumb to the naga's permanent charm ability. I guess I screwed up, because I only now remember and realize that both elves and half-elves have resistance to charm (in my defense, the players didn't remember/remind me either) so I'm glad that at least one of the party members made their save. Explictica, perhaps, might not have been fooled by the elf's false worship (she does, after all, have ESP as one of her spells), but a precedent had already been set earlier in the module itself with the person of Derek...the assassin pretending to be a worshipper despite NOT being charmed. So I let it stand...the PC wasn't doing anything to give it away anyway (running, attacking, etc.). 

SO...pretending to worship the naga and doing her will, the assassin slowly gathered his weapons, studying the creature even as he got within sword's reach...and decided to try assassinating the monster!

A surprise roll was made for Explictica, with a roll of "2" indicating complete surprise. Per the PHB, "if [assassins] surprise (q.v.) a victim, they may attack on the ASSASSINATION TABLE...the assassin decides which attack mode he or she will use: assassination, back stabbing, or normal melee combat." Diego (playing Salamander) elected assassination. The chance of a 1st level assassin auto-killing a 9 HD creature is 10%. Diego rolled an dead.

Oh my.

Explictica's death ended the charm effect on Misha (the cleric) and Potter, but not the troglodytes (who were understandably upset about the death of their god) and the scene turned into a general melee. However, the party emerged victorious; though not unscathed, all three survived and the trogs were cut down. The cleric, being freed of the naga's baleful influence immediately communed with her goddess, Merikka ('Merica?), and provided needed healing...even as the two PCs set about looting the naga's den. 

We stopped there. The tumult of rejoicing in the house pretty much precluded anything else.
; )