Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Northern Reaches: Session 3

This session was played on Thursday, October 28, 2010.

Featuring the PCs:


and the men-at-arms Corgax, Colmar, Hillgax, Murgar, Balson, the torch-bearers Untag and Margrim, and two wardogs Cerberus and Fenrir.

I'm going to start this session report by stating how proud I am of my players. Over the first two sessions, and coversations in and out of game, the players have been adjusting to old school play from 3.5 and 4E. They've experimented with flaming oil and holy water but only with limited success. They've also learned some hard lessons regarding combat - avoid full frontal attacks and only pick the fights you know you can win. Part of this includes fighting on your ground rather than the ground of your enemies, preparing in advance, and having an escape route in case things don't go your way. Keep this in mind as I overview the session.

Having covered most ofthe eastern portion of the dungeon, they now attempted to move to the unexplored western and northern half of the monastery. They've learned that the Iron God destroyed his own clergy by turning them into iron statues for their avarice and for animating the dead they were charged to protect.

The party entered a room with a dry fountain and with two iron statues of priests.

There were strange writings engraved in iron and stone on the walls and Binford the Acolyte was told to read the writing. He fell into a trance and could not be revived by the party!

After considering a couple strange plans that included dragging Binford around the dungeon or outright leaving their only cleric all the options, they fortified their position and waited for Binford to revive. Over two hours later Binford awoke from his trance having received heroic visions from the Iron God wherein he was depicted slaying the deity's corrupt priesthood. Fortunately no random monsters were encountered.

The party began this session having had a number of hirelings (4 total over two sessions) reduced to zero hit points but they all managed to make their save or die roll and revived to 1 HP. Their luck did not continue during this session. The party ran afoul of 8 giant rats. The torch-bearer Margrim was reduced to zero hit points and the following round a big cheeky rat ended his life with a mighty nibble coup-de-gras! Margrim's ignominious end shall be soon forgotten remembered in song as the first casualty of the Northern Reaches campaign.

After the fight with the giant rats, the party continued north and heard two seperate groups of goblins. They didn't know exactly where the goblins were located, but they thought it best to retreat to a location with a known means of exit. They called this their "safe room". Here they concocted a plan to lure the goblins into a trap. They decided to pour oil across a 10x10 section of the hallway adjacent to their safe room. Knowing the racial emnity between dwarves and goblins, they sent Murgar out into the hallway to scream obscenities at the goblins. These included well-known favorites as "Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries!" or "Gold! come get your free gold!".

After a few moments several sling stones buzzed near Murgar's head and he hi-tailed it back into the safe room.

They waited for the sounds of the goblins slipping and falling on the greasy oil. Colmar and Vith ran out, threw torches on the prone goblins, and ran back into the room.

By this time the general raucous got the attention of a large group of goblins who were now moving en masse down the hallway towards their position. To their credit the players fought the urge to enter the hallway and take the fight to their enemies. Rather, they waited for the goblins to come to them where they could concentrate their attacks on one goblin at a time and where the goblin horde was bottle-necked at the door entrance. The goblins were confident in their numbers and repeatedly made their morale checks. The party killed 15 total (without a sleep spell) before the chief, shaman, and body-guards decided the PCs were too much and it was time to flee the dungeon. Sadly, Balson, the farmer-turned-man-at-arms did not survive the battle.

After the battle, the party severed the heads of the goblins for return back to Threshold. Castellan Belrain pays 5gp per head brought to the city gates.

They then moved north to the goblin's base room where they pilfered the grave goods the evil humanoids had taken from within the monastery. Everyone agreed it was time to return to Threshold for tea, cake, XP, rearmament, and to hire some new cannon-fodder hirelings including Werford and Pelwin. Unfortunately they left their mule unguarded so they had to huff their gear back themselves. They honestly didn't think they needed to guard the mule as they "hadn't had to do that in other editions of D&D." Makes total sense but did reinforce to me some of the charm of the game that's been lost over time.

Overall another fun session. It was awesome to see the guys implement some of the strategies and approaches to old school play I'd been suggesting over time. The PCs are about half-way to second level. Leveling is a huge deal in this version of D&D so it would be really cool for them to make it to second level with, effectively, their first PC.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Northern Reaches: Session 2

The second session began with the same cast of characters. They include:

PCs: Vith (El/MU 1), Sweargen (Hu/F 1), Binford (Hu/Cl 1)

Men at Arms: Hillgax, Balson, Colmar, Corgax, Murgar (Dw)

Wardogs: Cerberus, Fenrir

Torch-bearers/Porters: Margrim and Untag

Shameless plug: The hirelings were generated using Meatshields!

This was a slightly shorter session than the first, primarily due to me getting a cold the day before the game. In the first session, the party entered the ruined monastery of the Iron God. The explored a portion of the first level and encountered a large group of goblins. Despite being surrounded and having 3 party members reduced to zero hit points a few bumps in the road, they managed to escape without any casualties.

Instead of wandering aimlessly with no apparent rationale The party began the second session by rethinking their strategy and backtracking to a door they previously left unexplored. They found a dusty room with circle marks on the floor and Binford unwittingly stepped into the center. He entered a trance and received a vision from the Iron God who told him he destroyed his own religious shrine due to the avarice of his own monks. He placed Binford under a Geas to clear the complex of evil. Binford converted to the worship of the Iron God.

The party found a secret door and then another room with a single door. Behind the door was a horde of skeletal undead! The wardogs fled immediately. The PCs wisely did not enter the room but rather closed the door and waited for the skeletons to come to them. After hacking down the door, a lengthy battle ensued with Colmar being reduced to zero hit points. He made his save vs death and revived to 1 HP several rounds later.

Skeletons Behind Door Number 1:

So Turning Didn't Work, Now What?:

In the skeleton room the party found a secret door to a treasure room containing 3 chests filled with silver coins! Each of the characters loaded up with as much as they could carry and decided to high-tail it back to Threshold. They also found some tapestries and carpets of value and hid everything in the treasure room so they could return later with a mule. The party spent a fair bit of time (2 days to Threshold and two days back) moving the valuables back to town. In this session 6 days of game-time passed (for a total of 12 total days).

With one exception, the party didn't run into any random monsters. However, on one trip back to the dungeon the treasure-seekers ran to 2 zombies! The dice represent containers of oil thrown by the party.


Overall this was a fun session considering how crappy I felt. The guys are still experimenting with the flaming oil. They know there's excellent damage to be had but haven't quite figured out how to best use it in combat. The same thing goes for vials of holy water.

We're planning another session for this Thursday.

Totals to Date:
PCs Killed: 0
Hirelings Killed: 0
PCs/Hirelings Reduced to Zero HP: 4 (3 in 1st Session)
Goblins Put to the Sword: 13
Skeletons Destroyed: 10
Zombies Destroyed: 2
Plundered Goods: 1645 gps of value
TPKs: 0

Saturday, October 23, 2010

OW Pig-Faced Orcs, Ogres, and Bugbears, Oh My!

As you know I've been tackling my Otherworld miniatures with reference to the AD&D Monster Manual. The backdrop is my Hirst Arts dungeon.

As a point of reference I've included the description information from the MM. You be the judge. You should be able to click twice to embiggen the images.

Orc: “Orcs appear particularly disgusting because their coloration – brown or brownish green with a bluish sheen – highlights their pinkish snouts and ears. Their bristly hair is dark brown or black, sometimes with tan patches. Even their armor tends to be unattractive – dirty and often a bit rusty. Orcs favor unpleasant colors in general. Their garments are tribal colors, as are shield devices or trim. Typical colors are blood red, rust red, mustard yellow, yellow green, moss green, greenish purple, and blackish brown.”

*Bonus points if you can name where the shield device comes from in the above image :)

Ogre: "The hide of ogres varies from dull blackish-brown to dead yellow. Rare specimens are a sickly violet in color. Their warty bumps are often of different color - or at least darker than their hides. Hair is blackish-blue to dull dark green. Eyes are purple with while pupils. Teeth are black or orange as are talons. Ogres wear any sort of skins or furs. They care for their arms and armor reasonably well."

*In terms of the ogres, I deviated on the eyes. I went the reverse with white eyes and purple pupils. The talons I kept grey. With the bugbears I went white eyes with red pupils (see below).

Troll: "Troll hide is a nauseating moss gree, mottled green and gray, or putrid gray. The writhing hair-like growth upon a troll's head is greenish black or iron gray. The eyes of a troll are dull black."

Bugbear: “The skin of bugbears is light yellow to yellow brown – typically dull yellow. Their hair ranges in color from lusterless tannish brown to brick red. Their eyes are greenish white with red pupils. The odds and ends of armor they wear, as well as whatever cloth, skins, or hides they drape themselves in, tends to be ill-kept, dirty, and dingy.”

*Similar to the ogres, I deviated on the bugbear eyes. I went with white eyes and red pupils.

*Haven't finished the bugbear chief yet.

Comments welcome. I'll have the second session recap up shortly for the Northern Reaches campaign as well.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The 10 Commandments of D&D Gaming

In the comments of a previous post, reader Bluebear Jeff highlighted some of the D&D do's and dont's he learned when he started playing D&D. Two in particular resonated with me, so I thought I would make this a collaborative post wherein we could generate a top 10 list of recommendations to new D&D players who are playing old school editions. Bonus points for humour. We'll begin with Jeff's contributions, in no particular order (yet):

1. Never fight anything that you don't have to.
2. Nothing is ever what it seems to be.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reasons for RPGing II

Thank you to those who commented.

It was interesting to see that few of you outright acknowledged escapism, which the UK gamers we interviewed were quick to identify as one of their primary reasons for RPG gaming. So that's where I'm going to follow-up with you :)

So, here's my follow-up in two parts. Feel free to comment on either or both.

Part I:

Some interviewees viewed their weekly or monthly sessions as a unique space in their everyday lives. That it provided a break in the routine of their personal and/or professional life. Space away from duties, responsibilities, mortgages, children, or whathaveyou. How do you consider your gaming time/sessions relative to the other aspects of life?

Part II:

RPGs are inherently anti-modern. By anti-modern I mean they work contrary to the fast-paced, hyper-mobile, rootless nature of modern society. RPGs are time-consuming in set-up and play, their focus on medievalism (in the case of D&D) inherently looks backwards to an over-simplified past. From this perspective, one might (I'm not saying I do, I'm just saying one might) argue that RPGs offer a retreat from modern society. Agree or disagree?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reasons for RPGing

I'm collaborating with a colleague in the UK on a piece of research that looks at gamers in their 30s and the reasons why they continue to play/return to old school tabletop RPGs, instead of 4E, MMOs, and/or other PC games.

From interviews these gamers suggested they continue to prefer RPGs for the following reasons (in no particular order):

1. Creativity
2. Escapism
3. Sociality

We are just at the stage of writing up the manuscript, but I thought it might be interesting and fun to hear from readers on this issue as well.

Now, I plan to ask a follow-up question and delve into more detail, but for the moment, do any of these reasons for playing RPGs resonate with you? Does one more than another, and most importantly, why?

ps. Happy Thanksgiving (Canadian Edition)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

PC Death

Christian at Destination Unknown wrote recently about PC death.

I don't struggle with this topic (anymore) so I thought I'd share.

In D&D, there must be the fear of death to give the game its sense of risk. How do you develop that sense of risk? Make sure the players understand the tenuous nature of their adventuring existence and carry through with PC death when it arises.

This means that some PCs are going to live and some are going to die.

The primary question though relates to how.

Players need to understand that DMs don't kill PCs, players kill PCs - and PCs die by two means: 1) stupid or reckless play, 2) Fate (dice).

The bottom line is that if you fail to scout ahead, fail to prepare your ground, engage in a full frontal assault, attack an entrenched enemy, or take on an obviously superior foe, you deserve to die. There's no need to over-complicate. That's it. Period.

If you players are dumbasses, then a few deaths will address the issue of stupid tactics. Either that or have them read-up on basic war tactics or take a military history course.

Now if my group were slow learners or new to old school play, I'd probably sit them down and go over tactics, style of play, and approach to the game. There's nothing wrong with that. Also, encourage them to read game reports. You can use other approaches too. I've played in games where, when a PC dies, the DM required the player to recite the glorious nature of his/her accomplishments, "Here lay Jones, defeater of the goblins of Kertle, ransacker of Merle's tavern, wielder of the Blue Star, Digger of the local ditch," or whatever lol. This actually became a lot of fun and people got really good at eulogizing their fallen PC. Death is part of the wry humour and fun of D&D.

In terms of my personal preference, I let PCs do what they want but after a situation, encounter, combat, or whatever, I will normally take a moment to suggest alternative courses of action that may have resulted in fewer deaths or given them a better chance of success. I did this very recently (in my last game report), when the party was attacked from behind.

In terms of a concluding thought, I think death is crucial to the suspension of disbelief in D&D. From that standpoint, I don't think I could enjoy the game without it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Northern Reaches Campaign Underway: The First After-Action Report

Some of my readers may recall that in April of last year I started drumming up interest in playing a regular Old School D&D game using B/X-LL+AEC. The majority of the group are guys in their early 20s who played 3.5, took 4E for a test-drive and disliked it, and then either returned to 3.5 or Patherfinder (who could blame them?).

They were keen to learn about the history of the game and early editions so it was a natural fit for me to DM. We had a good turnout but because it was the end of the Canadian university school year there was only so far it could go with people headed home for the summer. I played with two of these guys during the summer, but nothing major. Just enough to get accustomed to the mechanic and style of play.

So we re-booted Red Box Niagara as a home game setup through a mailing group. We hope to play about twice a month but it might average out to every three weeks. Time will tell.

About a week before our first session last Thursday night, I emailed the following background to the players. I do need to cite my friend Cr0m of Red Box Vancouver and Meatshields! fame and the Red Box New York group for providing inspiration for the background of the Northern Reaches. I have effectively borrowed the basic idea and shuffled the deck.

Five years ago, Lord Stephen reclaimed a remote portion of his northern kingdom overrun by the Dragon Army. The Northern Reaches, as they are called, were once a prosperous region and home to a great dwarven kingdom as well as the human settlement of Threshold. The coming of the Dragon Army scattered the peaceful people of the area and the dwarven kingdom was abandoned. For years the goblins, orcs, ogres, and giants that swelled the Army's ranks held sway in the region until Lord Stephen and his men-at-arms scattered the evil horde. Slowly, the humans, dwarves, halflings, and others returned to Threshold, but many of these were mere ruffians, seedy cutthroats, and lowly adventurers intent on making a few quick pieces of gold.

At this time, only half of Threshold is habitable, the other half remains completely destroyed, a legacy of the battles to take and retake the small northern city. Lord Stephen has placed Belrain the Elven, his brother-in-law, as Castellan of the city and Cardinal Ludwig oversees the re-establishment of the Church of Law. Despite efforts to establish order, the region is far from safe. The Dragon Army wasn't defeated outright and blood-thirsty monsters openly travel the region, destroy hamlets, and waylay merchants and travellers. Only the desperate, or the foolhardy, knowingly travel to The Northern Reaches.

You find yourself in Threshold, the former capital of The Northern Reaches, with little but the shirt on your back and the sword at your waist. The rumours heard around the only tavern, The Flaming Troll, say that Mikko the Dwarven Hero and local Blacksmith is interested in a few strong sword arms to head west. Some say he pays for the recovery of dwarven artifacts. You've also heard that Cardinal Ludwig wants to investigate the ruins of a monastery to the east. Finally, there are the constant reports of monstrous humanoids in the hills to the north. Some say Castellan Belrain pays 5 gold pieces for every goblin or orc head brought to the city gates.

Do you want to talk to Mikko the Dwarven Hero, Cardinal Ludwig, or visit with Castellan Belrain?

Player's Hex-Crawl Starter Map:

Player's Hex-Crawl Exploration Map: Session 1

The group consisted of two players each playing 1 character + hirelings. I also ran a character (effectively an NPC with a hireling). We use homebrew level titles, some of which reflect TSR material but most don't.

Sweargen the Swordsman, Hu F1, Str:9, Int:9, Wis:11, Dex:8, Con:7, Cha:16; Battle axe & Chain
Along with:
Colmar, M@A, Hand axe & Leather
Corgax, M@A, Light Crossbow & Leather (these two hirelings are brothers)

Vith'Aria Illiscuna, El Mu1, Str:11, Int:15, Wis:9, Dex:12, Con: 10, Cha:14; No armour and Sling
Along with:
Untag the Useless, Torch-Bearer
Hilgax, M@A, Club, Shield, and Leather

Binford the Acolyte, Hu Cl1, Str:8, Int:9, Wis:17, Dex:11, Con:12, Cha:10; Chain, Shield, and Mace
Along with:
Murgar the Ill-Tempered, Dw M@A, Leather, Shield, and Hand Axe

After using their meager remaining funds to scrape together some weak-kneed and morally wanting courageous hirelings, the party sought out Belrain to learn more about the bounty on orcs and goblins. Instead of heading north, as Belrain suggested, they instead turned to Cardinal Ludwig. Ludwig desired a group of explorers to head east and investigate the recent destruction of the Monastery of the Iron God. Apparently, a great storm destroyed keep and nothing has been heard of the monks within. Locals would take their dead to be entombed in the monastery and so Ludwig wanted answers (and most importantly would pay gold).

The money-grubbing thieves brave adventurers headed east for a day and camped at the base of a mountain; they planned to ascend the next morning. After their climb they surveyed the destroyed ground level before find a staircase descending into the dark.

The Party Approached the First Room with Caution:

The party investigated a statue of the Iron God in the main chamber. They encountered a strange goblin head and determined that the statue contained some sort of tube or chute. They decided to head through the door on the east wall. The group failed to bring a 10 foot pole and didn't search the floor for recent disturbances did a great job given they're newbie old school gamers.

Despite No 10ft Pole, They Successfully Negotiated a Pit Trap:

Continuing north they entered a room with a door on the opposite wall. Murgar managed to make out the unmistakable sound of goblins on the other side of the door. They considered many options before deciding on Vith reading a sleep spell in concert with combo of Murgar throwing oil and Hilgax throwing a torch. This was quite bold and daring painfully ineffective. Rather than dowsing the floor, Murgar was instructed to hit a goblin, which he did. However, Hilgax missed with the torch. Facing seven goblins, they then decided to cast sleep, but Vith rolled snake-eyes and only two goblins were influenced by the spell. They then decided to close the door.

For Some Reason the Adventurers Decided to Engage the Blood-Thirsty Goblins in Open Combat!:

Having closed the door, the remaining goblins but one opened the same door and attacked. The other raised the alarm to his nine goblin buddies who summarily ran around behind the party and attacked from behind (no, they didn't even have the common courtesy for a reach-around).

The Ol' Attack from Behind!:

The battle raged. In short, Hilgax was reduced below zero hit points (from friendly-fire on a critical miss - gee, thanks Corgax) but made his save versus death or die. Sweargen critical missed and hit himself with his battle axe. He then proceeded to fail his save versus dex for half damage and rolled 9 hit points of damage. Fortunately the Fates were with him and he made his save versus death or die (by one). As you can see maximum carnage was enjoyed by all.

The Battle Raged!:

This battle actually took a long time to resolve because everyone kept missing, but eventually the PCs got hot with the dice, looted the goblins and high-tailed it out of there back to Threshold.

All in all a very fun session. There were numerous laughs as we had a few of those "Ok Hireling B go open the door...the rest of the party stand over here" moments. One of my favorites was "Ok, who has the ten foot pole? Hmm, ok we didn't bring one. We need to improvise. Well, let's tie a rope around a hireling and make him go first!" Hehe.

Oh, and they forgot the goblin heads, and missed out on 5 gps per! Too funny.

Also, this was my first time using my Hirst Arts dungeon and I was VERY pleased with my build and it certainly engaged the players. Add in the Otherworld and Citadel miniatures and it was, by far, the most aesthetically pleasing D&D game I've ever played.

We hope to get two sessions in during October.

PCs Killed: 0
Hirelings Killed: 0
Goblins Killed: 13
Plundered Goods: 745 gps of value
TPKs: 0
Look on their face when attacked from behind: Priceless