Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The campaign continues

This is going to be the short and sweet version.  Writing and revising the upcoming Game Mastering book is taking up a lot of my time.  Here is what transpired last session.

  • The alchemist living in the caves, Armitage, has decided to work with Sam.  Now they can tinker away and pour strange-colored liquids in each other's beakers to their hearts' content.
  • Faint whispering is audible when touching the Talisman of Ultimate Evil, also one receives a momentary vision of a black monolith rising out of the desert.
  • Beneath a crude stone altar, they discovered a 10' diameter metallic seal embedded in the ground.  An eye within a triangle within a circle is fashioned into the surface, with a circle, square, and triangle on the seal's side, corresponding to the three points of the greater triangle.  Nothing they did could open or activate it (though they tried dozens of things).
  • Senna calls upon the PCs at their castle.  Arik wanted to kill her outright as he does with every dark elf, but the rest had a somewhat open mind.  Lilah read her surface thoughts, knowing she told the truth as Senna described her cousin's ascension to the throne and Sephir's marriage to Alzahn.  Their nuptials required familial sacrifice which Senna narrowly escaped.  She probably would have been shown the door, except that she knew something about the symbol upon the seal.
  • The PCs sneak back into the dark elf city of Trehallvyn in order to steal a book where Senna remembers seeing that symbol.  Well, most of them sneaked.  Sam decided to fast talk his way into the drow library via the "wizard exchange program".  Arik stole a large, platinum covered tome that was kept under glass.  
  • On the way out, their path was blocked by a trio of Hook Horrors!
  • Reading the book that mentioned the seal, the PCs learned about an ancient form of language that predated everything known today.  The circle represented the letter "O", the square an "N", and the triangle an "A".  Together, the abbreviation pointed towards something called Oneiroid Navigation Assistance... possibly a gateway to the Dream Lands.
  • A company of thieves crept into the PCs' castle, attempting to steal Arik's vicious short sword of Xan.  Leaving two of the thieves alive for interrogation, the adventurers learn of a contract between the thieves and "the shadow".  Also, the short sword of Xan is a famous weapon wielded in the war between Azik and Tarneth, two infamous sorcerers who lived and ruled over a century ago.
  • The PCs go to meet the shadow because he was offering 70,000 gold pieces for it.  Arik ended up selling his short sword to some kind of demon in exchange for 75,000 gold and a +1 rapier.  
  • It wasn't until after the sale that the PCs learned of the sold weapon's true value, that he who returned it would be recognized as King of Xan.
  • Looking through Arik's stolen platinum book, Sam noticed a standing stone on the edge of Xan with the seal's circle, triangle, and eye symbol carved into it.  Also, Osker had a dream about walking the streets of Xan, learning of its arcane secrets.
  • After Arik slit the surviving thieves' throats, the party made their way to Xan via teleportation.

That's it for now.  This Saturday will be the next game.  I'm looking forward to it.


Illustrated review for The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

Kiel Chenier of Dungeons & Donuts fame graciously reviewed The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence with purple illustrations on his blog.  Up until the very end, I thought his analysis was really cool, interesting, and funny (though, I'm a traditionalist when it comes to the male pronoun as neutral).  His downgrade of two stars notwithstanding, I still enjoyed Kiel's take on the book. Thanks, hoss!

Those interested in acquiring The Purple Islands for their own bizarre purposes should look on the right side (and down a bit) of this blog or check Amazon (that softcover is printed on a slightly higher grade cream-colored paper).


p.s.  Terrible art?  No such thing!

p.p.s.  Looks like the reviewer got some backlash.  Take a look.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm watching Lost again

Last year (2014) was the ten year anniversary of the TV show Lost.  It was a big deal then.  Not sure how revered or reviled it is now.  Probably most people are "meh" about it, hence my coining the phrase "meh majority" in a conversation with Erik Tenkar a few days ago.

Anyway, I didn't start watching it until the show was in its third season.  That's when I started watching it from the beginning on DVD up until the finale.  While, I didn't love the last season at the time, that's neither here nor there.  Point is, I'm re-watching it.

Even though I have my wife as a viewing partner (she's never seen it), it would still be really cool to chat about Lost with people as we go.  Maybe that's you?

So, if you've never seen it, I highly recommend it. Landmark television that got people blogging about shows back in the 2000's.  If you saw it back in the day, I think it's time to revisit a classic series that really had some cool stuff going on (trying not to give away any spoilers).  Basically, I think Lost is super awesome.  I have tons of stuff to watch, believe me.  I wouldn't be re-watching it unless it was my cup of tea.

I'll be embarking on season two towards the end of next week, but more than happy to discuss the first season as well.

Any takers?


p.s.  this Saturday will be the first session of the campaign after taking a three week break.  Can't wait to get back to Game Mastering!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

DM Support Group

Saw this at Tenkar's Tavern yesterday.  Support Dungeon Masters, support D&D, support fantasy tabletop roleplaying, and the gaming hobby itself.  Seems simple enough.  

Reading all the negative comments over there and on youtube kind of surprised me.  Sure, there are bound to be a few haters, cranks, wet blankets, and douche bags in the mix.  Years of being active on the internet (and Taylor Swift) have taught me that.  But there were a lot of mean spirited and/or dickish comments!  

I mean, even if it's not your particular brand of tea or you didn't think it was that entertaining, funny, or whatever, why shit all over it?  Is this some sort of shadow-criticism of 5th edition since it's too popular to trash publicly without serious backlash?  Would it make a difference if a D&D player made this with a couple hundred dollars instead of the thousands spent by D&D's makers?  Or if it was geared towards the OSR instead of 5e?

A better question might be: is tabletop roleplaying at a place in our culture where we can just sit back and play our own little game without any thought to the bigger picture?  There's a gaming community out there somewhere and tabletop roleplaying is just a piece of that geeky pie.  Individually, we have almost no power... just a voice consumed by the internet's darkness.  Together, we have a small amount of influence.  Hopefully, enough players and Game Masters are supportive enough to appreciate the artform that is roleplaying and keep the hobby alive via blogs, forum posts, and videos like DM Support Group: Ep01.

Originally, I was just going to blog about Game Mastering.  Specifically, asking to read people's failures, problems, leaks, sticking points, questions, and so forth.  Why?  Because the KS for How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss is ending in couple days from now, and I'd like it to be as big and comprehensive as possible.  But then I also wanted to touch on the video and its haters.  So, I combined them into a single post.

Last night, I dreamt about playing guitar and singing in front of an audience with only a few notes to go by.  Basically, making a song up on the fly.  Pretty much improvising the entire thing.  I haven't even picked up my guitar in years and my singing was never that awesome.  As I was trying to find my way from scattered notations on a page to an actual song, the dream audience was just staring at me... waiting.  Upon waking this morning, it struck me that that's a little bit like Game Mastering for noobs - maybe even for a few veterans of the screen.  Creating art, performing in front of an audience.  With roleplaying, that audience is also there to help create and expected to perform as well; however, the Game Master is key.  He (or she) is the maestro orchestrating it all or, at least, getting things started.  

The DM Support Group video is a lighthearted signal in the dark, just something amusing to watch, perchance to chuckle over.  It's not there to help flailing Dungeon Masters and I hope no one is thin-skinned enough to take offense by the ridiculous DM portrayed.  If you were offended, then I feel sorry for you and advise that you leave the internet immediately. Cyberspace is no place for you, my delicate flower.

Have an opinion on what I wrote?  Is there an area of Game Mastering you'd like me to mention in the book?  I'm all ears...


Monday, February 2, 2015

Venger's Old School Gaming Blog is on vacation

Yes, I'm taking a 10 day family vacation to Disney World (weather permitting).  The wife and kids deserve some fun in the sun and in the meantime I'll be thinking about all you guys and all those tabletop roleplaying games out there.

The new KS will definitely be on my mind.  It's about 80% complete and I can't wait to finish the little sucker, possibly expanding it to 20 or 30 pages over what I originally predicted!

The latest issue of Draconic Magazine is more or less ready.  By this time, I thought there'd be contributors and a real sense of community surrounding the idea.  Maybe I fucked up somewhere along the way, maybe it's coming down the pike.  I don't know...

The artists I chose to bring The Purple Islands animated series to life have just simply dropped off the face of the earth.  That's not good.  However, I'm not giving up.  Not by a long shot.  It's just taking a bit more time to get off the ground.

Also, no physical fitness progress report of picture for February.  I'll catch up with you all on March 5th.

Ok, that's it for now.  I've got to start getting suitcases in the car and braving the winter weather.



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Roleplaying in the Dark Elf City

Last Saturday's session concluded the campaign (here's the session before that and this is the origin).  A succession of adventures that started with interaction, talking with non-player characters (what some people roleplaying); gradually moved towards exploration, seeing what was in the caverns; and increased the amount of combat until it seemed silly not to use some kind of large-scale map with miniatures or markers.  I wanted to bring it full circle by focusing this session on interactions with NPCs.

In return for acquiring the indigo crystal for the dark elves of Trehallvyn, their queen, Elaryss, insisted on holding a celebration in the adventurers' honor.  The party was uneasy from the start and their apprehension lasted throughout their traveling to Trehallvyn, waiting for arrangements to be made, having dinner with the Elaryss, her sister Sephir, cousins (only Senna was mentioned by name), as well as, a male wizard, Zadok, and finally mingling in the palace's chamber of celebration with Alzahn and company.

A plot between Sephir and Alzahn to overthrow queen Elaryss created a lot of juicy conflict.  Especially when only a few PCs knew what was going on (nine players that day).  With those in the know acting completely independently, it was delicious chaos!  One favored Sephir, one or two favored Elaryss, and at least one party member wanted to bring down the entire house of cards.

Eventually thrown into prison, the party was forced to leave Trehallvyn and never return.  Some were expecting to fight their way out of the dark elf city and were a little disappointed that everything turned out ok.  Except the party had to leave a large portion of their gold from the dragon's horde behind.  Trying to go back and retrieve it later proved fruitless.

But there was more!  As the adventurers already knew, there was some kind of hellish portal in the foundation of their castle.  No longer a pool of fire, they discovered winding stone steps leading a couple hundred feet down into the earth.  Whereupon, the PCs saw robed cultists and a large demon (a Balor, actually) performing a ritual before an altar with a half-naked man strapped to it.

Yes, one last epic battle.  I broke out the lava field wasteland maps (which looked awesome!) and we had just under an hour's worth of combat.  Several members of the party nearly died.  For their trouble, the adventurer's looted the bodies and are now the proud owners of a talisman of ultimate evil.  Exactly what it is and does is still unknown to them (I often change what's written in the rule books).

A very satisfying, albeit short, campaign.  Everyone leveled yet again, bringing some characters up to 6th level.  Because family vacation looms on the horizon, I'll not be Game Mastering for three weeks in a row.  The horror!  After that, I might pick up where we left off... or not.  I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Thanks for reading my session reports.  Hopefully, they were either entertaining, informative, or both.  I also want to thank all those who played their hearts out and kept coming back for more.  It was awesome!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Dragon, Purple Worm, and Demon Lord

Last Saturday was quite the game.  Eleven players and that's only because I had to turn one of them away.  My highest attendance had been ten players.  Actually, one more wasn't that much more difficult.  It helped that half the session was combat oriented.  Here are the basics...

  • Inside the complex, the party heard a human voice coming from beyond a metal door.  Once opened, the voice became clearer, though not necessarily more intelligible.  "Kavanaugh, O'Grady, Smith, do you copy?  This is space station Alpha Blue.  Your cryo-chamber beacon is active.  We are in planetary orbit at coordinates 9817-vector-75.  Kavanaugh, O'Grady, Smith, do you copy?  This is space station..."
  • The Ice People went home but not without a parting gift.  They gave the PCs who protected their advanced civilization asses a palm-sized pyramid of death that shoots lasers.  One use only, but as soon as they got it, the players knew who would get the business end of their new toy: the abyssal dragon.
  • I realized that Lilah was wearing both a necklace and amulet.  I informed Alison of the risk of having two magic items in close proximity.  So, she turned her amethyst necklace into a belt, being the slender half-elf she is.  Problem solved.
  • The dwarf cleric kept putting himself in harm's way, but thankfully he didn't get killed.
  • Spidery abominations.  I bought a bunch of 4th edition adventures because they were 50% off and came with maps (yes, my addiction knows no bounds!).  The adventures came with two books, one for the adventure itself and the other contained some really cool full-color pictures.  It's always good to have some visual aid - especially when PCs face something really hard to describe like a giant head on spider legs vomiting baby spiders.  Gross!
  • After the spiders, the party decided to rest.  1 in 6 chance of a random encounter during the night.  Guess what!  Yes, a demon lord approacheth.  It took awhile to put him down, and then they finally decided to search for treasure and whatnot, since their spells and HP were refreshed.  They found a vorpal two-handed sword +3, bag of holding, ring of invisibility, wand of polymorph, and jade idol of a tiger.  Socialism must not be a thing in the underdark because there was no equitable distribution.  Whoever got their paws on it first, kept it.
  • A well was discovered.  On the side, in the demonic language of Infernal, was written "Well of Souls".  More stars, space, planets, asteroids, etc. could be seen down there.  Just like earlier in the campaign.  However, the PCs couldn't leave well enough alone.  Arik had to investigate.  A couple others went with him.  Turns out it led a few miles south of castle Steel Keep.  It could have been some alien world or alternate reality but then the party would be divided for the rest of the session (probably) and I wasn't going to fall into that trap again.
  • Then they confronted the dragon - after discovering that Orcus was raising an undead army to conquer the underdark and then the surface.  Among the dragon's horde of gold and magic items was an indigo crystal that would crush the ambitions of Orcus.  Well, that's what a dark elf named Alzahn told them, anyway.  He also gave the party an onyx amulet of resurrection (one use only) which Arik clasped around his neck.
  • First, the laser pyramid from the Ice People.  Second, a fireball from Lilah.  Third (with the helpful suggestion of the German girl - I'm terrible with names), a cave-in.  Down a third of its hit points, the dragon black as the void rushed in to attack.  
  • Anti-climatically, Lilah used her new found wand of polymorph to turn the dragon into an earthworm.  Quickly scanning the rules, we saw that was possible.  Sadly, the abyssal dragon failed its saving throw.  The new party wizard stomped on him.  The end.  But then a couple players read the PHB more closely.  Turns out, if the polymorphed creature is killed, it reverts back to its original form - alive!  By this time, I had already unleashed a purple worm on the party to make up for the lack of an opponent and 30 minutes left before it was time to go home.  Now, they were fighting a dragon and a purple worm at the same time.  No fatalities for the adventurers.  They eventually dispatched both to the lower planes of Hell with only a few gaping wounds for their trouble.  
  • Here's what was in the dragon's horde:  the aforementioned indigo crystal that destroys undead, a helm of intellect, the vicious short sword of Xan, a crimson cloak belonging to one of the Seekers of Doom, a chalice of water purification, three potions of extra healing, a potion of water breathing, a magic staff with ruby skull headpiece, and two hundred and fifty thousand gold pieces!

Last session of the campaign is this Saturday.  Then a three week break while I'll be preparing for a family vacation, vacationing, and then recovering from vacation.  In the interim, West has volunteered to Dungeon Master a few sessions.  I also encourage one of the many players to run a game or two.  It's challenging but very rewarding.


p.s.  Think 11 players is difficult to manage?  Does the thought of rolling initiative make you break out in a cold sweat?  Check out my latest Kickstarter.  Piece of cake.  ;)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss

How's your Game Mastering going?  Pretty good?  Maybe not so hot?  Are you having a lot of fun while doing it?  Are you still growing and learning?  What if your Game Master skills doubled after reading a book about it?

I announced the kickstarter an hour ago.  Check it out.  Feel free to give me feedback.  I've spend three decades learning, now it's time for me to start teaching my fellow Game Masters what I know.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Purple humanoids, fireball, and saving the world

Last Saturday was also quite a game.  Along with miniatures, I introduced those flat, plastic, terrain flip-maps made by Pathfinder, Gamemastery, and D&D.

Back somewhere around 2008/2009, I gave 4th edition and Pathfinder a good, long college try.  Epic miniature battles on home-made terrain that lasted anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes.  Various marking abilities (along with color-coded magnetic circles), healing surges, interrupts, at-will powers, etc. kept the action going.  Unfortunately, it turned our fantasy roleplaying into a miniature wargame for sword & sorcery superheroes.  Since those days, I sold my large dry-erase grid and about half my miniatures.

That's where my reluctance came from.  I prefer theater of the mind, whenever possible.  However, 3 or 4 sessions in, a couple players suggested we use something besides my pen scratching on graph paper with x's and o's to designate enemies and friendlies.  I immediately agreed.  It was time for a better representation of combat unfolding.

Wish I had taken a picture of the maps we used, miniatures of PCs decorating the terrain... but I didn't bring my camera.  This Saturday I'll try not to forget.  In a word: beneficial.  Without overusing the miniatures and maps, it definitely added an extra layer of coolness, reality, and D&D awesome to the session.  I asked for feedback after the game, just in case I was fooling myself or seeing things through DM colored spectacles.  The verdict:  Everyone I asked (who bothered to respond) either thought the minis and maps were an overall improvement, made for better understanding of what was happening in combat, or both.

Since then, I've sadly caught onset map-buying mania.  Thankfully, a long, stern talk with my wife has halted my addiction.  But before she intervened, I managed to acquire a couple dozen!  And I can't wait to use and re-use them.  A few of the players were generous enough to offer a donation to chip-in for all the god damn maps I was buying, but I just couldn't have that on my conscience.  As much as I think quality DMs (and GMs) should be paid for their services, I'm just not at the point where I can charge adults for all the time, energy, expertise, and supplies that go into DMing.  Maybe one day...

Finally, I'm going to mention a few things that happened.

Daniel decided before Saturday's game that he wanted to switch characters.  The party needed a cleric, instead of three rogues.  Props to him for being pro-active, taking it upon himself to be the change rather than simply wishing things would change on their own.

So, Reed Tealeaf went away and Dane the dwarven cleric took his place.  In the span of 10 minutes, the party was investigating these ruins near an underground wasteland with cracks revealing lava underneath (did I mention how much I love these flip-maps?).  One well-placed fireball later, Dane was dead.

Something I came up with before which I've mentioned elsewhere on my blog is that rolling a natural 20 on a saving throw results in nothing... no negative effect whatsoever, even if a successful save usually results in half damage or whatever.  Two members of the party rolled natural 20s.  The rest made their save (a couple helped by inspiration - it's just easier to use it as a re-roll the same as rolling twice and taking the highest), except for Daniel's new character.  He was 3rd level and got knocked down to -5.  I rolled really, really well on that 8d6.

Now, the PHB states that a character isn't dead until he reaches negative hit points beyond his constitution ability score.  Well, I told the players a few sessions back that I was doing things a little differently.  Death comes when you go past negative hit points equaling your level.  So, at -3 hit points, Dane would have survived.  Anything past that is backup character time.

I can see where that would suck.  From a certain point of view, I'm making the game harder or more deadly than the rules as written.  That's true, I suppose.  Although, I'm not using any kind of stability checks.  So, once you're at negative hit points but still not deceased, you can just lay there on the battlefield bleeding until your character receives medical attention.

But more than anything else, this house-rule goes back to my old school roots.  I try to strike a balance between the way things were and the way they are now.  That's what O5R is all about.

While PC death shouldn't be a constant staple of adventuring, neither should it be relegated to the furthest corner of the game.  Yes, unluckiest moment + most foolish decision of the campaign = death.  But it can happen at any time, anywhere; just so long as it isn't always happening.  Death is the occasional lot of adventurers.  To whitewash that possibility - and I do think negative HP up to your constitution qualifies - is to sanitize the campaign to the point where it's not really a concern... when it should be the primary concern!

In my campaigns over the last three years, generally speaking, a PC dies about once every three sessions.  I believe that's a good rule of thumb.  While it may be harsh considering the last couple decades of D&D, there are some grognards from the 1970's who would call it babying.

What else?  An interesting race of humanoid was discovered: purple-skinned, bald, three eyes, no mouth, and telepathic due to their ingesting (via absorption) the violet fungi found all over the caverns.  After that fireball-casting wizard, there were a couple battles: aggressive humanoid squatters and hulking grey alien creatures, the cherry on top being some hideous lobster-aberration.  Oh yeah, and Sam helped the ice people save the entire world when a purple pulse reactor was found cracked and about to go super-nova.  No biggie.

How was your Saturday?


p.s.  Want to read about what happened the Saturday before that?  Click here.