Monday, July 25, 2022
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Monday, July 18, 2022
- 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.
Friday, July 15, 2022
Thursday, July 14, 2022
- 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:
- 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."
- The Jester (red joker): 10,000 x.p.
- The Moon (queen of diamonds): 3 wishes (randomly rolled on a d4)
- The Balance (deuce of spades): change alignment or be permanently destroyed
- The Knight (jack of hearts): gain a 4th level fighter henchman
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
- Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a game worth playing and worth promulgating in our society for a variety of reasons unrelated to making money.
- D&D is a learnable game. I learned it myself, as a kid, by reading the B/X books to establish a foundational base before adding to it with the Advanced books.
- Not everyone learns stuff like I do. Many people benefit from having teachers/mentors.
- It is impractical for me to teach everyone in the world. Other teachers are needed.
- Who teaches the teachers? It feels like...at this particular moment in time...there is a LOT of "bad" D&D being played right now.
Saturday, July 9, 2022
- RE Appendix N and retracing roots: I haven't finished Jeffro's book (it sits on my nightstand along with several others), but I've read large sections of it and skimmed others. In addition to providing general overviews of the Appendix N books I haven't read, there are some good insights into certain books impact on the D&D game. There are also (at times) some minor diatribes and obnoxiousness that I find grating, and some "points" that I find a bit wide of the mark. Still, just as I find the main value of the DMG to be in its insight into Gygax's mind (that is, his approach to the game...which one may or may not disagree with), I think going back and reviewing this literature can give one an understanding of how that mind (and, thus, the game) was formed. It's a starting point from which to evolve and build.
- RE the Value of playing AD&D RAW: I have almost zero quibbles with Jeffro's reasons for playing AD&D "by the book." I think the points he makes regarding this (in his interview with Aaron) are pretty spot-on. As I wrote myself (a couple weeks back): the more I play, the more I simply default to the book instruction. Even his explanations of why to use, for example, player grading with regard to training time makes sense: it encourages a particular style/method of play. THAT being said: I'll reiterate that I find SOME of these rules to be A) crutches that are unneeded when proper world building is applied, and B) detrimental to player autonomy that (again) are unnecessary in a richly developed world. Factional play based on alignment, for example, is a limiting and rather elementary approach to determining motivation. It's possible to have a deeper world than that (especially given an adult mindset). I think some of these things, played long enough, can naturally melt away. Still, similar to having an understanding of Appendix N, it's good to have an understanding of the original rules (hopefully based on actual play) BEFORE discarding/replacing them.
- RE running your campaign with 1:1 time keeping ("JeffroGaxian Time Keeping"): First, I'll state the obvious: it is clear that Jeffro is running a wonderfully fun, kick-ass campaign that players are enjoying. He's excited, they're excited, everyone's feeling happy and fulfilled. That's wonderful...keep on keeping on, Bros. Now the less obvious: I think Jeffro is pretty clearly incorrect to state this is the fashion D&D is intended to be played in, or was played in during the 70s. He's made some gross misinterpretations of the AD&D text (and other, early wargaming sources) which are easily cleared up by checking them against the original text of OD&D (from which the bulk of AD&D rules are derived). The section on TIME is the last main portion of LBB3 (before the Afterword, pages 35&36) and states:
As the campaign goes into full swing it is probable that there will be various groups going every which way and all at different time periods. It is suggested that a record of each player be kept, the referee checking off each week as it is spent. Reconcile the passage of time thus:Dungeon expedition = 1 weekWilderness adventure = 1 move = 1 day1 week of actual time = 1 week of game timeThe time for dungeon adventures considers only preparations and a typical, one day descent into the pits.The time for Wilderness expeditions would include days of rest and recuperation.Actual time would not be counted off for players "out" on a Wilderness adventure, but it would for those sequestered in their dens, hidey-holes, keeps, castles, etc., as well as for those in the throes of some expedition in the underworld.TIME in the D&D (and AD&D) game is, as has been pointed out by those from The Old Days is meant to be elastic. When Frank Mentzer states he was in "training jail" for a couple weeks and had to play a different character in Gygax's campaign, I wouldn't see that as a literal need to wait two (real world) weeks for playing a particular character; rather, that's two (or three or four) game weeks that need to be waited out...weeks that could be passed in a hand wave of time during, for example, travel from one town to the next. To the player, of course, it would still seem like a penalty...if the rest of the group was getting to delve some dungeon during the time (in game weeks) that the character was out doing "down-time" activity. But the impetus here is on keeping careful records of character action within the campaign (in order to order/structure where folks are and account for any anomalies/discrepancies...like those outlined in the DMG).
Using 1:1 time in ALL matters, makes the careful tracking of time UN-necessary; "Let's see it's July 8th and it you want to rest for two weeks and then train for three? Okay, we'll see that PC again on August 11th." Certainly that's easier than tracking individuals by day (as I interpret the DMG outlining as the correct procedure), and especially easier if your campaign has a large number of characters. But that's what we did back in the day, taking the HARDER road...and without the advantage of computer spreadsheets. It's what I still do (albeit with spreadsheets)...but fortunately the number of characters in our campaign is small (six at the moment) and they're still in the EARLY stages of their careers (thus adventuring together).
With regard to the "best to use 1 actual day = 1 game day when no play is happening" quote on DMG page 37, I've always interpreted "no play" as nothing going on: PCs aren't on adventures, they're not traveling, they're not doing anything "game related" (like training, spell research, hiring experts, etc.). The party's out of the dungeon, back at the village tavern, and our group doesn't meet/play for a couple weeks or a month...okay, then, a couple weeks (or a month) have passed in the campaign. But time spent on game stuff is game time and game time is elastic. Without elastic time, I would argue that Jeffro & Co. is neglecting a LARGE part of the AD&D game, namely the deeper delves that are possible (expeditions into the Underdark, massive castle/tomb structures, journeys to other planes of existence...or other planets/dimensions). I'm not saying what they're doing ain't fun...I'm just saying there's more fun to be had.
- RE "Patron Play" (giving PCs high level NPCs to run): When I started reading about Jeffro's experiments with (what he calls) "Patron Play," I didn't really grok what he was doing or how. After hearing him discuss it on the aforementioned video, I now have a better grasp of what he's talking about: basically, he's shortcutting what would be a normal part of the long-term (organically grown) AD&D campaign. On page 7 of the PHB, Gygax writes:
Players will add characters to their initial adventurer as the milieu expands so that each might actually have several characters, each involved in some separate and distinct adventure form, busily engaged in the game at the same moment of "Game Time". This allows participation by many players in games that are substantially different from game to game as dungeon, metropolitan, and outdoor settings are rotated from playing to playing. And perhaps a war between players will be going on (with battles actually fought out on the tabletop with miniature figures) one night, while on the next, characters of these two contending players are helping each other to survive somewhere in a wilderness.
What occurs organically in play...and what I experienced in the multi-year campaigns of my youth...is that player characters that achieve great success (i.e. achieve high level, build strongholds, acquire followers) become the faction leaders and 'patrons' of the campaign setting. This does not mean they are retired from play...far from it! Generally they become the movers-and-shakers, hatching their own plots, pursuing their own schemes/goals, raising their own armies of conquests...and, at the same time, starting new, young characters who would be adventuring in small delves, or acting as agents of these powerful scions of the realm. Most players in our old campaign had multiple characters: Jocelyn had half-a-dozen, Matt had five, Scott had (at least) five. One or two PCs of each player were powerful figures with all the trappings and ambitions of such...the rest were minor characters, started because someone wanted to play a Drow or illusionist or whatever. Minor players (i.e. players who didn't play regularly, like Crystal, Jason, and Rob) would only have one character, but some of these were still high enough level to be factions of their own (like Jason's thief guildmaster) or had dedicated henchmen (like Crystal's fighter, Tangina).
While the presence of these power brokers didn't preclude "normal" adventuring (my co-DM and I still ran modules, including Tsojcanth, Ravenloft, and the Demonweb Pits), much of the campaign action was driven by these high level characters, their agendas and their rivalries. My own character...a high level bard with no stronghold...often acted a wandering monkey wrench / force of destruction (something like Elric in the Young Kingdoms, perhaps...but with more dying and resurrection)...and there were many times when some characters would stumble across the evidence of another (player) character's passing army or the remains of a crucified rival, or one group would plan to assassinate another character at his wedding. Things were happening all the time, at multiple levels/layers, all while being (semi-)coordinated between two teen Dungeon Masters. It IS a fun way to play...but it is also prone to a lot of inter-player conflict and PVP issues which, at this particular time (and for many reasons), I'm disinclined to allow in my campaign.
Then again, my players haven't yet reached the "mover/shaker" levels of experience...that critical mass of self-sustaining campaigning, that I was trying to explain the other day. Jeffro doesn't have this issue: instead, he's distributed high level non-player characters of his setting amongst his players. Which is...admittedly...one way to get to the same place. I don't mind this approach (terribly), but right now I'm trying to train up young players in the art of AD&D. Different level ranges have different "feels" to them: a 5th level character doesn't sweat the same encounter as a 1st level character, and a 10th level character looks at 5th level challenge much the same. Likewise, the goals and objectives of play change at the various tiers of play: a first level character isn't going to get as much out of the knocking over the Sultan's treasure vault, while such a score is EXACTLY what a 9th level fighter could use to fund her army and add a curtain wall to her stronghold. 12th level magic-users aren't (usually) going to find coveted 6th level spell scrolls lying around hobgoblin lairs.
Dungeons & Dragons absolutely works...and rocks!...on multiple levels of play simultaneously, just as Jeffro describes. And it is a style of play that probably seems very foreign and alien sounding to folks who grew up with D&D post-DragonLance era (with a story centered on one small group of heroes), or the computer RPG era (limited by its medium to a single party), or post-WotC era D&D (where each "campaign" represents a single story arc to be played out prior to players creating new characters for the "next campaign"). My own D&D play started years prior to those eras and, over time, evolved into something very much like what Jeffro (or Arneson, in The First Fantasy Campaign) describes. However, done "organically" (i.e. without just handing our various NPC faction leaders as "patrons"), this evolution takes years of sustained, committed play to develop. Maybe that sounds like a long time...but remember that D&D is a game that can last your whole life; it's okay to put in the time to do it. In fact, I personally believe it makes for a richer campaign, as the participants have a greater depth of care and commitment to something they've grown and developed themselves.
All right, that's all my thoughts on what Jeffro and the BrOSR is doing as far as their game goes. As far as some of their other stuff (cultivating a particular brand of hostility), I won't say much more than I think it's detrimental...both to the hobby and to what they're trying to promote. But...well, that's all I'll say.
I am now officially back from vacation (pulled into the driveway last night). It was very enjoyable and restful, but I'm glad to be home.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Kid: you, at age 11, have only begun to scratch the surface of this hobby. You have started to experience the "obsession" of it...you can't get enough, you want to play all the time, you get frustrated when you can't. I know...I understand. I've been there...LOTS of people have been there.But YOU have a great advantage. YOU have a parent that understands. When I was a kid, parents did NOT understand. My parents certainly didn't. For good reason: there had never been a game like D&D. Games like chess, card games, classic board games like Monopoly...those games had been around for decades or centuries. For multiple generations of people in our society. When I was a kid, D&D was first published in my lifetime...I was born in 1973, the game was first available in 1976, and not available in an easily accessible (i.e. learnable) form till 1981. And when it first became available, in that easy-to-learn, easy-to-access form [B/X]...where was it sold?In toy stores. To parents of children. For their children. Children like me.If a game marketed to children is sold in a toy store, what are parents to think? Should they not assume that this is a child's game, something to provide momentary diversion and entertainment but, eventually, to be set aside as all toys and games are once a child grows beyond it? Why would they think otherwise? What would lead parents to believe that here was something that could be utilized by a person for their entire life, providing decades of entertainment and endless mental stimulation...through youth, adulthood, and (presumably) even into old age?How could they POSSIBLY understand that...when no such game existed for them as a child. When they had no such experience with any game that came in a box (with dice). It's not like D&D was marketed as a game to last you your entire life.But it can...it does. It can be played in fair weather and in foul, in sickness or in health. It exercises both the imagination and the mind, encourages cooperation and communication, provides powerful experiences in physical safety, and develops learning, knowledge, creativity, and problem solving.Your whole life.Kid: your mom doesn't get it...not all of it, anyway. And that's mainly because she's in the same boat that MY parents were. There was no D&D in Mexico when she was growing up. She sees it as an interesting game (and a weird obsession of your father) but only that. And games serve their purpose (entertainment), but D&D is too long and too complicated to learn for it to be worth her time when she has little time for games. Games are more for kids than for adults; adults have better things to do than play games.Video games are not the same thing as D&D...and yet many of today's video games (particularly those of the "adventure" variety) have their roots in D&D. Many were developed from ideas of how to shortcut the "inefficiencies" of the game: how to play an escapist fantasy without players; how to play when you had no DM; how to calculate numbers without rolling dice and doing he math; how to experience worlds without using your own efforts. Video games have superficial similarities to D&D...but they are not D&D, they remain limited by their very medium, and they provide little lasting value. They are, indeed, momentary diversions, entertaining time wasters, and (in the end) just games. By their very nature, they are isolating, requiring us to interact with a machine (even when gaming with others). The intention of video games...like the intention of most technology...is to increase convenience. The unfortunate side effect (as with a lot of other technological wonders) is to instill alienation and detachment...further separating humans from each other, rather than bringing them closer together.D&D is a powerful tool for stimulating and expanding the human mind. And the human mind is the most powerful, knowable thing in our present reality. Everywhere we go, most everything we see and experience started as an idea in the mind of a human: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the films we watch, the music we hear, the buildings that shelter us, the pets we care for, the vehicles we drive, the institutions and communities and religions...ALL of these things began as ideas in the mind of one or more humans. And then those ideas became concrete reality for us to interact with. The sports and games we play are not found in nature...they were invented. By people, for people. First imagined, then willed into creation.Little Gods are we, cast in the image of our Creator.D&D is not just "a game for smart children." It is a device that develops the human mind, the most versatile and powerful possession every human owns. And because of that, D&D has value beyond entertainment, and is worthy of respect...despite being a game even children have the capacity to learn. Just because it is grasped by the average 10 year old doesn't mean it is a game exclusively for 10 year olds. There is a difference between Little League and the Majors, after all.