Monday, December 29, 2014

The Lords and Lady of Steel Keep!

I don't have a lot of time, so this is going to be a short and sweet write-up of last Saturday's session.  8 players!  Unfortunately, I only remembered to take a picture after half the party had skedaddled.

There was plenty of fresh blood.  One new to tabletop RPGs, another new to 5e, and the other two seemed pretty familiar with it all and I remembered them playing in a game I ran a few months back.  Here are the new PCs...

  • Anders - human ranger taking time out from his family to do some adventuring.
  • Alton - halfling cleric who worships The Devourer - but only because he thought his deity really liked to eat tasty baked goods and other halfling treats.  
  • Miliken - a gnome druid who has a strange, arcane past.
  • Kildrak - a dwarf fighter: tough, muscle-bound, and really good with a great sword.

The previous adventurers made level 2 while the new characters started at level 1.

Alison bought a Player's Handbook and some pretty dice before the session (gaming at a game store has its advantages), along with pizza and soda for the group.  Kudos to her!

The new king, Jeremiah, gave the old party titles of lord and lady before proffering a castle on the northern border of Steel Haven.  Castle Steel Keep was empty (except for goblin-kind) and waiting for them to occupy it and keep that area of the kingdom safe from invaders.

As DM, I prompted the veterans with the idea of seeking adventurers to compliment their dwindling party.  They opted to put up a flyer near a city tavern.  Each new PC came and introduced themselves to the group, in one form or another.

I pulled my "mauvelous" gag.  Incidentally, I didn't want to look up a random gnome name for this trickster in the PHB, so I just told them it was a strange gnomish name they forgot as soon as they heard it.  Since Miliken was there, the party introduced them so they could find out his name.  About to crack open the PHB, someone suggested an enchantment - as soon as he speaks his name, everyone forgets it right away.  Laziness and ingenuity happily coincide!

Instead of taking things one step too far, the purple-infatuated trickster refused to reveal important information about the fiery blade Akmenos wielded.  Because of Akmenos' stinginess, he left the city without a wand of healing or secret knowledge about his flame sword.

The PCs didn't get too far before noticing a caravan that had gone off the road.  Investigation met with hobgoblins and the session's first combat.  Keeping all the details in our head was a little difficult.  Miniatures would have been handy.  I might go that route soon, but my reluctance is born of not wanting the game to descend into the drawn-out miniature battles of 3rd and 4th edition.

The castle was pretty much a straight-up borrowing of the Starter Set's cragmaw castle.  The party came up with a variety of plans to infiltrate Steel Keep.  I probably should have beefed up security and the challenges within but also wanted to reward the adventurers for good tactics.  They took the castle without more than a minor injury or two.  Though, afterwards, Akmenos fell unconscious after a grick pummeled him with its tentacle and then gouged him with its beak.  

Beneath Steel Keep was a pool of fire that recharged "Penelope" Flame Tongue.  That goes back to the nameless gnome.  However, there's more to the sword than that.  Such things (including another visit by the mauvelous gnome) will be revealed this Saturday.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reviews for Revelry in Torth

There's a riveting read over at Nemo's Lounge.  He's got some good points.  I appreciate Joel's constructive criticism and infectious enthusiasm!

Each one of my projects is a learning experience but that's part of what makes it fun.

Happy gaming,


Monday, December 22, 2014

Welcome to Steel Haven 5e

I had this past Saturday free, and you know what that means - roleplaying games!

Since my former gaming group was drastically reduced, I decided to publicly announce a one-shot using the new D&D through my local meetup.  A few veterans I've gamed with before, a couple total noobs that had never played D&D before, much less a tabletop RPG, and a couple people familiar with the hobby but either hadn't played D&D in years or only played sporadically.  The gamut, in other words.

I enjoy sessions where I'm playing with friends or, at least, gaming acquaintances, sessions where mine is their first exposure to RPGs, and everything in between.

Short on time, as usual, I decided to just pick out an adventure I had run before... but then an idea came to me a day before the game.  A kingdom called Steel Haven, ruled by an affable tyrant with a magic sword.  Think Sean Connery when he's being a dick, a charismatic dick but a dick all the same.  That idea churned around in my head until a list of 12 rumors, each with a piece of the puzzle manifested onto paper.

Since all three core books are out and in my hands, choosing 5th edition was a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, character creation still took an hour.  I need to sit down and come up with a Swords & Wizardry approach to rolling up a new character in 5e.  Something ridiculously simple where the emphasis is on background details, personality, and physical appearance without shortchanging players regarding options, abilities, and mechanical nuance.

Even though I spent the briefest of time writing up a scenario, I managed to cobble together a 1d100 list of past events over a period of two weeks.  I really, really wanted to finish my random table before the game and finally write the last couple Saturday morning.

Inspired by the 1d20 table in Crypts & Things, I spent many hours coming up with cool stuff that might have happened to PCs before they began their adventuring career.  And like the aforementioned S&W variant, each entry is tied to a little something special.  For instance, Chris, who ended up playing the cleric,, rolled a #51:  On his deathbed, a cleric devoted to the Dark Gods gave away all his worldly possessions.  By the time you arrived, all that was left was an ink-stained, multi-page letter the cleric had received years ago.  The letter was from a Master of the Fourth Way, detailing the arduous struggles involved in achieving higher consciousness.  [to the right buyer (perhaps a monk or NPC interested in esotericism), this brief manuscript would be worth something in the neighborhood of 500 gold pieces]

Here's the list of PCs...

Erdan, elf rogue played by Ethan.  Erdan, a former soldier, lived in a large colony of elves and struck out on his own trying to find meaning in life.

Lilah, a half-elf sorceress played by Alison.  Though her mother was born into a wealthy family, they were considered outcasts because of that elven business.  Alison wanted to keep going but came up short in description, even though I could tell there was more to Lilah than what had been said.  After a little prompting, Alison volunteered the following:  Lilah has body markings like tribal tattoos, platinum blonde hair, and purple eyes (hence her name).

Fergus, a gnome cleric.  He had been studying at the temple of life when the head cleric died.  Based on the previous life event Chris rolled, Fergus received a letter of esoteric value and his motivation for leaving the temple became the quest for clarity of this knowledge.  Also, Fergus has an incredibly deep voice (for a gnome).

Funk, a human monk played by another Chris.  Funk was well educated and wanted to hone his martial abilities out in the wild.
Iondan Elenvier, an elf wizard played by Mike.  Iondan puts a lot of emphasis on appearances but for some reason looks disheveled and sleep deprived.

Reed Tealeaf, a halfling rogue played by Daniel.  Reed loves people and an audience.  He plays a flute and enjoys adventuring long forgotten places, going places he's not supposed to, and taking things he can't resist.

Akmenos, a tiefling warlock played by West.  Self-described as Darth Maul, Akmenos has demonic horns, teeth, red eyes, and reddish skin.  He feels out of his element and carries a shortbow and light armor.

I won't go into too much detail about the adventure itself because (like the previous life events table), I intend to publish it some day.  But here are some session highlights...

  • Assembling all the PCs in one place.  The cleric really wanted to detect evil and tried to do it discretely but the tiefling would have none of it.  Akmenos saw it and interrupted Fergus' prayer.  I really think 5e has a good thing going with anti-hero PC races.  Tieflings and drow allow players to come alive with their "rebel without a cause" or "misanthropic and proud of it" portrayals.
  • So, the king wants another magic sword, eh?  Alison hatched a great plan just by thinking out loud.  While in town, she asked a couple women in the local tavern about where to buy things.  The women mentioned a general store and another to purchase antiques and such.  Why not buy an antique sword and pass it off as the magic blade we were paid to retrieve?  
  • Reed played his flute and sang at the tavern, a composition that looked unfavorably at the new king of Steel Haven.  Most patrons found it amusing which told him a lot about the kingdom.
  • Fergus did some digging at the town's church.  He found out a little more info about the adventurers who passed this way before the current party was hired.  And acquired a magic ring!
  • The first combat went well.  Goblins and a surprising NPC hiding in the shadows!  There were two uses of the new advantage and disadvantage rule in this battle.  For both, I gave each player the option to choose my O5R alternative, but both declined - which was interesting to me because it implied that rolling 2d20 and taking the best was preferable to +4 while rolling 2d20 and taking the worst was preferable to -4.  In any case, I was excited to use the mechanic in any form.
  • By the way, I used one of the maps at the back of the new DMG for the emerald mine caverns.  Added a rope-bridge across the chasm.  With goblins dispatched, it was an enjoyable trek.  There was a chance for the rumored amorphous, black, tentacled abominations to interfere with the party as they crossed the bridge but the dice had other plans.
  • A few zombies and some necromantic priest wearing a skull mask were no match for the adventurers.  So much, in fact, that I had to invent a ring of tentacles erupting out of the ground to protect the magic sword from being taken so easily.  The tentacles slowed them down but still wasn't much of a challenge.
  • I hastily searched for an interesting magic sword in the DMG but couldn't find anything that grabbed me... so, picked the flame tongue.  The tiefling was all over it.  I whispered as an aside that it's command word was "Penelope".  Though I was joking, West decided to run with it and shouted Penelope as he wielded flame tongue like a sith lord!
  • Agreeing that the king was truly a douche, the PCs put Lilah's plan into action.  With another cry of "Penelope", king Torvil Lionheart's decapitated head rolled around the throne room aflame.  

I was happy to read positive feedback after the session.  Not knowing if I'd be free and if Misty Mountain would be open 2 days after xmas, I didn't mention a follow-up game until yesterday.  Turns out, I was available and so was the game store, so we're continuing with a part 2, though a couple players won't be able to make it because of holiday commitments.  

Note to self: remember to mention (and explain) inspiration at the beginning of next session and to give everyone a point.  Since both Alison and West were the most pro-active and colorful characters of the game, I'm tempted to give both of them an extra point of inspiration.  However, I don't want that to take away from what the other players accomplished.  Since Akmenos has the sword, maybe I'll come up with a customized magic item or reward for Lilah.  Although, I want each player to have something awesome by the end of session #2.  Thoughts?

Will blog about part 2 after Saturday.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top 10 Guilty Pleasure Movies

It's been awhile since I did a top 10 list for movies.  So, here's another.  The theme: guilty pleasures!

Now, some people just don't get this concept.  Why feel any kind of guilt at all about watching something you enjoy?  Well, it's complicated.  While I don't actually feel bad or dirty watching a fun movie, I know these aren't the best films. Sometimes, they aren't even good films.

If a friend came up to me and said, "Hey, Venger, Tango & Cash is pretty cheesy, full of imperfections, and just plain not good."  I probably wouldn't argue with him.  After all, mine is a minority report, a love letter to lost films and obscure half-great almost-epics that never found traction... or an appreciative, mainstream audience.  Nevertheless, the following films are quite enjoyable, despite their less than stellar appearance and tarnished reputation.

The list goes from best to worst.  Ok, here we go...  WAIT!!!  Before we begin, I just want to say something.  Prompted by all the wonderful comments I've so far received, let me clarify this:  I like all these movies.  I think they're cool.  A few I even love and don't personally feel guilty watching them, nor would I place them in my top 10 best films of any genre.  So, even though I enjoy these 10 (12, actually), the mainstream movie-watching public has deemed each and every one of these films mediocre or kinda-sorta good but not worth viewing more than once (let alone dozens of times).

Alright, now that's out of the way...

1.  Big Trouble in Little China: (reverse this pick with #2 if you're a child of the 90's rather than the 80's).  There's something about the gonzo flavor of this flick that just makes me smile.  I love John Carpenter's early and middle work.  Super cool special effects with the magic and creatures.  I love the costumes, makeup, fast-pace, acting, and one-liners.  Even the subterranean neon gets a free pass, it just works even though it shouldn't.  I've probably seen this film around 15 times and it keeps getting better.

I recently found a muscle-shirt like the one Kurt Russell wears in most of this movie.  Can't wait to wear it this spring!

2.  From Dusk 'Till Dawn:  I was living in New Mexico when this came out.  Young, friendless, living with my parents who just re-located to Santa Fe / Albuquerque, and working a series of meaningless part-time jobs just to fill the void... movies are what kept me going.  Driving to the video store to rent awesome VHS tapes like Subspecies, going to the indie theater on Central to see great films like The Last Seduction, and visiting the big theater to watch From Dusk 'Till Dawn and the re-release of Heavy Metal was what kept me going, kept me sane enough to get through that bleak period.  Visiting a goth/industrial nightclub a couple times a month helped, too.

Besides nostalgia, I think the film plays with our expectations.  The 180 the film did was inspired in my view.  If memory serves, I believe I went on a total of one date while I was living in NM, and I took her to see this film.   It was my second viewing of Dusk 'Till Dawn.  I loved it even more the 2nd time.  She hated it and I never wanted to see her again.  So, should it be in the "all-time great" list rather than guilty pleasures?  I think most critics and audiences alike sealed this gem's fate long ago.  Am I wrong?

3.  Basic Instinct:  Ah, socially acceptable soft-core porn for the masses!  This seemed like Deep Throat for the early 90's.  It opened a few doors for imitators and flesh-peddling provocateurs who came later, but you wouldn't know it watching films from the last decade.  Good luck seeing boobs in a movie circa 2009, buddy!

Anyway, good story, solid acting, cool mood/lighting/aesthetic.  If you've never seen it, watch it.  Though not with your parents.  Also, this might be an uncomfortable first date movie unless your with a girl who's DTF (as the Jersey Shore called it).

4.  Body Double:  I recently re-watched this for the 11th time with my wife.  She kind of enjoyed it and saw why I liked it so much, but couldn't get into it that much.  I expected such an outcome.  Seeing it again through her eyes (that's the blessing and curse of watching a favorite movie with someone who's never seen it before), I realized that I probably come off as a perverted, voyeuristic, porn-loving freak.  Guess the guy who writes/draws Cinema Sewer and I have a lot in common.

Weird question:  did Body Double somehow inspire or make Basic Instinct possible?  Short blonde hair, sexual exhibitionist, self-confident and no-nonsense with a sense of humor.  Hmm... inquiring degenerates want to know.

Aside from all that, I dig the Hitchcock vibe, the music video for "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and the acting.  Bonus: Barbara Crampton has a cameo as the cheating girlfriend.  Re-Animator is far too awesome to be just a guilty pleasure.  It rules, I tells ya!

Though I think Body Double is a great film, there are silly parts (the Mexican) and parts that drag (Craig Wasson following the brunette).  BTW, when was the last time you saw a film with Craig Wasson in it?  He did a lot of cool things in the 80's.  Is it because he's not conventionally super handsome (sorry, Craig.  It takes one to know one)?  Or maybe he died?  Nope, just checked.  He's still kicking.

5.  Starship Troopers:  It's got the violence, cool scifi, and weird socio-political propaganda without desiring to be taken seriously.  In fact, I believe it was specifically filmed so you can't.  But without respect, the film still has lots of awesome going for it.  You won't be bored.  Plus, bugs are gross.  Kill 'em all!

6.  Con Air:  Some probably take this film as gold.  Others can't help but see it as B movie trash.  I say, why not both?  It's got some great talent, excellent performances, and a plot so ludicrously stupid-awesome that it's hard to beat.  Three words:  Nicholas Cage vehicle!  Say no more.

7.  The Devil's Advocate:  It feels like you're watching yet another lawyer drowning in corruption story, but it's so much more.  It's a supernatural thriller and morality tale and engrossing courtroom drama all wrapped into one.  The scene with Al Pacino at the end really brings it home.  Plus, an unexpectedly (at that time) great performance by Charlize Theron.  I believe it was her first major film role.

8.  Demolition Man:  Sylvester Stallone was becoming a cliched action-hero joke by 1993.  But this over-the-top scifi film costarring Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bullock doesn't take itself too seriously.  Some neat ideas of what the future might look like; shades of dystopia give it a weird realism you wouldn't expect.

9.  Tango & Cash:  Great chemistry from Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell.  Again, it's an action movie cliche but the cheesiness works somehow.  Stumble upon this while you're channel surfing and chances are you'll start watching it for a minute.  That'll turn into 10 minutes and before you know it, you've been watching it for an hour.  It's addictive machismo fluff that looks good for its age.  Jack Palance as the maniacal villain?  Perfect casting!

10.  A three-way tie between:  Demon Knight, Bordello of Blood, and John Carpenter's Vampires:  Yeah, I couldn't decide, so #10 is a menage-e-trois of good/bad horror comedies from the 90's.  Demon Knight is probably the best of the three.  It's more dark and serious than comedic, but there are times when it goes for laughs rather than scares.  And unlike Evil Dead 2, those laughs are more cringe-inducing than hilarious.  Still... give it up for Billy Zane.  The rest of the cast is pretty good, too.

Bordello of Blood is the almost completely unrelated sequal to Demon Knight.  It's actually funny thanks to Dennis Miller and not really scary at all.  I can't remember any good blood-letting scenes.  However, I do recall some boob-baring bordello action with squirt guns filled with holy water (or maybe that's just From Dusk 'Till Dawn - will have to watch it again).  So, it's a little sexy, a little funny, and not really horrifying (like, at all!).  But enjoyably cheesy.

Cunningham wake, anyone?

John Carpenter's Vampires... John Carpenter, what happened?  You used to be my favorite director of all time.  This is the last decent JC film, in my view.  It's got some cool moments.  I think the antagonist vampire is great.  But all his minions?  Beyond forgettable.  I love James Woods and the priest, but that Baldwin guy has too much screen time for my taste.  And his blonde, dysfunctional girlfriend/prisoner gets on my nerves after awhile.  This film seems like 2 or 3 films stitched together.  It needed to take a step back in order to re-work the script, do some re-shoots, and then better editing.  As it is, definitely worth seeing once.  And a handful of times if it's on TV late at night or you just like guilty pleasure residue same as me.

Was this worth the three hours it took to create this blog post?  Probably not, but what can I say?  I love bad movies, so long as they've got something inside them to love.  Give me a hot mess over universal blockbuster any day.

Got something to say?  Maybe I left off your favorite guilty pleasure or included one that you think shouldn't be there?  Want to virtually pat me on the back, kick me in the balls (again, virtually), or ask me questions about some film or another?  Feel free to comment and happy viewing!


p.s.  This, I believe, was my last top 10 movie list.

p.p.s.  Want to see the ultimate guilty pleasure movie?  It's here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Revelry on

Just found the Amazon/CreateSpace proof in my mailbox.  Guess it came yesterday without my knowing.  Usually, they leave large and/or awkward packages upon my front door or in the garage.  Luckily, it wasn't damaged by shoving it in and then back out of the mailbox.

Anyway, the proof looks awesome!  I just approved it.  That means a softcover is immediately available on CreateSpace and it'll be 3 - 5 days before Revelry in Torth shows up on amazon.

Now that I know Amazon is covered, I'm 99% sure DriveThru's print version files will also be OK.  However, I'd feel like a real jackass if I approved that shit before actually seeing the proof and then found out that DriveThru somehow mishandled it or there was an error created by Lightning Source's interpretation of the files.  So, probably another week on that.

Still waiting on reviews.  All I've been able to find is a 5 star "Nice job, Venger!" on DriveThru and a longer, so-so review over here.  I considered writing a tit for tat rebuttal of his analysis, but realized that probably wouldn't be very productive.  Not that Merric doesn't have valid points, just that his expectations are probably a bit off in regards to my style, how I write, how I GM, etc.  And what he said about my short short story seemed kind of mean-spirited.

My work is somewhere between my personal adventure notes (before, during, and after sessions) and what a big RPG company usually puts out, like Wizards of the Coast or Pathfinder.  Those expecting more of the latter will most likely be disappointed.  As mentioned in Liberation and Purple, I've put 85% of what's required to successfully run a mini-campaign on an aesthetically pleasing platter (you should see the horrendous scribbles from my actual session notes!), it's for individual GMs to add their personal 15%.  The combination is what makes it magical.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Concluding the Temple of Elemental Evil

Yes, it is finished.  Faced with the distinct possibility of going out with a whimper, I always prefer a bang, instead.  My home gaming group was disintegrating before me, my only hope was to conclude The Temple of Elemental Evil next session.  That being last Saturday, I have a session report for you...

  • Prior to the session's start, Daniel (playing Sir Basil) explained his odd behavior last session.  Taken aback by Xar's disregard for human life, Sir Basil uncomfortably "went along with" proceedings even though the holy knight had deep reservations about slitting the throat of that woman cultist/vessel encountered last time.  Basil decided against confronting Xar for the sake of party cohesion and the greater quest of dispatching the foul remnants of the temple.
  • As there was a player shortage, the extra characters who didn't have players to run them (X'fritl and Tidillo, specifically) simply vanished before the remaining characters' eyes.  Left with nothing more than a faint, disembodied evil laugh, the "survivors" marched forward to the unexplored areas of the 3rd level.
  • Having an hour's preparation, I planned for two special things, unique aspects of my own devising that would make the Temple stand out... that would make it truly mine.  
  • 1) a hexagonal room with six doors.  Four of them led to a jungle.  Upon opening those doors, the PCs saw bits of dungeon floor and walls here and there, slowly giving way to an entirely new environment - a mysterious jungle.  Just in case they got curious or needed a break from the dungeon crawl, I provided an escape.  Those doors led to none other than the islands of purple-haunted putrescence.  After their discovery, the players opted not to venture out into the jungle.  That was fine by me, though I had my book full of weird science-fantasy encounters handy just in case.
  • 2) towards the end, I wanted a couple of dimensional travelers to interrupt the party's progress.  We'll get to that later.
  • A powerful demon guarded this section of the dungeon.  One or more PCs could have died, but near-constant magic missiles and Sir Basil's frostbrand made short work of him.
  • More prisoners discovered:  human, humanoid, and elf.  One of the elves became the party thief.  The rest just wanted to go home or stay in the dungeon.
  • An illusion made for interesting combat as the characters were almost totally taken-in by were-jackals.
  • A bronze pit for a bugbear was easily scouted by Markus the ragged - a templar revenant who joined the party last session.  The revenant is a character class provided in FH&W.  Tricky to play and DM, I let a lot of stuff fly that wasn't specially mentioned in the rule book.  
  • A potentially huge encounter with bugbears, ogres, and a hill giant was cut short by Xar's well-placed fireball.  
  • Some evocative and Lovecraftian descriptions provided a dank and dreary atmosphere - perfect for dungeoneering.  
  • Stairways showed level 4 having collapsed some time ago.  That kept everyone on level 3 where the action was.  This being the last session, it made sense.

  • Finally, a purple throne, an inner-sanctum, and a towering spider demon with cyclopean 9th eye shooting burning rays of fire.  Luckily, two out of the three PCs wore rings of fire resistance.  I got most of the stats from Fiend Folio and converted the rest to be the big bad at the temple's end.  When not using its eye ray, it had four attacks.  I pulled out all the descriptive stops for this one.  I mentioned the viscera and slimy entrails yanked out of its abdomen when Sir Basil scored a critical hit - max damage on both dice!  When he finally struck it down, after almost dying (luckily he had a potion of extra healing), I detailed its severed head twitching and wounds oozing a yellow-green substance, etc.  There was nearly an hour left after the creature's destruction.
  • Back to Vengerizing the temple, the party decided to rest up before looting the spider demon's treasure.  Nothing happened while they slept.  Upon waking, however, the party heard voices and clanging noises coming from the inner-sanctum (they slept in the throne room adjacent).  They investigated.  Two humans and a magic portal.  The humans told of their mission - to retrieve a sacred object containing the essence or soul of their unpronounceable god.  Using one of the special abilities of his class, Sir Basil detected that the god contained within the silver container was evil.  The party forced the two dimensional travelers to give up the container.  Before leaving through the portal, they promised to return... with reinforcements.  
  • This led to an amusing, though brief, chase through the third level.  The PCs hid in a large crack where they left off at the end of last session.  After a DM reminder (I usually refrain from that sort of thing, but couldn't resist), Xar used his limited wish scroll to destroy the evil god trapped in the silver vessel.  Not finding any easy loopholes, his wish was granted.  And not having any way to see if their god was still in the container, the dimensional intruders took back the container.
  • Amongst the spider demon's horde of gold and gemstones, the PCs claimed a dragon orb and a few other random magic items from the 1st edition DMG.  At that point, they marched back up to the surface, away from the misery-infused stone of this particular dungeon.  
  • Not that it mattered, but everyone leveled before going home.

I was pleased with this session and The Temple of Elemental Evil as a whole.  However, I'm confident that next time I run it, things will go three times as awesome!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Revelry in Torth PDF

Despite my attempts to schedule the PDF release of Revelry in Torth a few days from now, DriveThru thought fit to put it up for sale ahead of time.  Who knows, maybe I forgot how to use a calender?  Anyways, it's live now.

Ed and I are still working on the print files for Amazon/CreateSpace and DriveThruRPG.  Will post about those when they're squared away.

Thanks again to all the Kickstarter backers who supported this project.  I hope everyone finds many things to enjoy.  Happy gaming!


Friday, December 5, 2014

Physical Fitness (monthly progress report) #2

Gaaaahhhh!  Not that happy with my progress... if you can even call it that.  This picture sucks, too.  I weighed in at 186 this morning.  Of course, it didn't help that half a dozen birthdays and two Thanksgiving feasts (plus leftovers) were part of November.  Also, the wife and I actually got to see a movie!  In the theater!!!  And I had a gift card that practically begged me to buy a large buttered popcorn and mountain dew.

Anyways, enough excuses.  This month I've got to get even more serious.  Because another weigh in and photo like this in January will just be fucking embarrassing.

On the plus side, I believe my strength is going up.  Definitely squats.  On the others it's hard to tell because I'm cycling between heavy weight with low reps and lighter weight with high reps.  Next month I'll start writing down some of my lifting numbers.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Do you DMG 5e?

I think I already know the answer to this one.  I'm pretty sure.  However, I've been wrong before.  Lots of times.  At least a few d20s worth.

So here's my question for those who don't already own it or have it on order from amazon or some other retailer:  If one is to believe the countless glowing reviews for 5e's Dungeon Master's Guide (consensus states this DMG is the best out of all three 5e core books, as well as, being fantastic in its own right), are you more likely to buy it now or in the near future (did you just purchase it a day or two ago because of favorable reviews)?

And for those who currently own it or have it coming do you think you're more likely to use it in your current and/or future campaigns?


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

More Evil Elements in the Temple

We finally got to resume our dungeon crawl through the Temple of Elemental Evil (see here for last session).  Below is a bullet-point snapshot of what went down...

  • Harold returned to the fold.  For awhile there, he was spending every weekend with his girlfriend Carrie.  Luckily, there was space at the table because he brought her to play with us.  She'd never played D&D before but had played Changeling.  Not sure exactly how that happens, but ok.  Carrie played Melanie's character: X'fritl.
  • There was a moment where I thought I'd lost everyone's character sheet (again!).  Thankfully, they were tucked in some RPG book upstairs.
  • We all went through a re-cap and re-introduction because it had been so damned long since the last time.
  • Monsters were killed (owlbears, bugbears, trolls, etc.) and humanoid cultists were either tricked or hypnotized.  Speaking of evil priests, I changed a few things around so that one of the lesser head priests had just murdered the high priest of that level in order to have his way with a nubile envoy from another temple.  It was an interesting diversion for a minute... until both their throats were slit.
  • Sure enough, the party wanted to descend into the 3rd level of the dungeon before they'd cleared out the 2nd.  Not having read that far ahead, I did my best to wing it.  Either porting parts from the 2nd level to the 3rd or reading the boxed text for the first time... aloud to the players.  At least there was only an hour of game time left by the time they explored that 3rd level.
  • Fire's a bitch.  A temple space devoted to the elemental evil of fire contained several salamanders which took awhile to kill.  Kaazor took another PC's life.  Harold's old character Verdilo was chewed up and spit out (or possibly swallowed).  
  • After the salamanders, an iron box containing a super-powerful magic sword was discovered and went to Sir Basil, the paladin.  Incidentally, every battle Basil would try to throw himself in harm's way as a monster or humanoid was about to do damage to another party member.  This happened about 5 or 6 times.  From then on, I decided he'd have a 33% chance to take the hit for another PC or his hireling Milo.
  • Harold created a new character - Murak the dwarf.  He picked up a trident of yearning and attempted to drown himself.  Luckily, he was saved.

Even though interesting things are happening, I'm ever so slightly starting to get bored with The Temple of Elemental Evil.  It's my own fault, really.  Never made it my own.  I'm going to introduce something weird into the mix... something I've been meaning to do for awhile, but time just gets away from me towards the week's end.  

Because next Saturday is Ben's last game for a couple months and it's difficult to keep a diverse and newly formed group together around the holidays, I think next time will be our last session with the ToEE.  Plus, I'm itching for something fresh.  Who knows, maybe Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane (here) or the newly compiled and modified WEG Star Wars d6 RPG (here).


P.S.  Oops, I forgot about something.  I did have a chance to use my new O5R Advantage/Disadvantage system.  Just once.

After opening a door and getting attacked, Verdilo (being a gnome) scurried between the troll's legs and stabbed him in the thigh.  It was inventive, cinematic, and tactically sound.  For me, it goes to show that little things aren't really worth worrying about.  But when something is noticeably advantageous (or the reverse), it should get special treatment.  Verdilo hit thanks to the +4 and did a small amount of damage (due to his size, naturally).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fourth Issue of Draconic Magazine

It's been about six weeks since the last one because I was working on my upcoming adventure, Revelry in Torth.  I think you'll be pleased with all the content over at Draconic Magazine.  Below is a summary of what's in store for you...

  • Tweaking adventures for conventions
  • The importance of 1 (or even 2) in 6
  • In-game lies that GMs tell
  • PC autonomy
  • Bag on a stick
  • Image of Aryd's End
  • Silk of a Thousand Spiders (new spell)
  • A Demilich and his lion
  • Kodarr's Kommandments
  • Pumpkin Giant
  • Adventure hooks that make you yawn
  • The terrible, terrible fan-fiction of Edgar Phillips Reitman
  • O5R Advantage/Disadvantage
  • 100 reasons that characters are together
  • WEG d6 Star Wars RPG revised, expanded, and updated
  • Witch Shackles (new magic item)
  • Lizardmen of Kilkutch (PC regional race)

Thanks goes out to all the many contributors who wrote articles for this issue.  Much appreciated, guys!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Liberation & Purple sale

It's done.  The November 25th sale prices have been keyed in and ready to go.  One day only!  See the sidebar images on the right or use the following direct links to Liberation of the Demon Slayer and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.

Along with Dungeons & Dragons, I turn(ed) 40 this year.  It's been quite the journey for both of us.  The whole damned community, no doubt!

Sadly, no new reviews or play reports.  But here is a great (albeit, familiar) analysis of Purple.  Hope you enjoy, guys.  Oh, and feel free to bring those reviews and play reports in with the new year.  ;)


Friday, November 21, 2014

Hooray for Lulu Hardcovers!

Lulu has a new coupon code valid through November 24th.  Type in "HC50" and receive a 50% discount on hardcover books!!!  You just can't beat that!

Let's read some suggestions from you guys.  Below are a few things I just picked up.  What other RPG-related Lulu hardcovers are worth checking out?

  • Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
  • Dyson's Delves I and II (revised)
  • The Mutant Epoch
  • Narcosa
  • Mutant Future
  • Swords & Wizardry white box
  • The Dungeon Dozen
  • Labyrinth Lord (and the Advanced Companion)
  • Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque (I, II, and III)
  • Barbarians of Lemuria
  • Blood & Treasure
  • Transylvanian Adventures [looks like Ravenloft for DCC]
  • (Almost forgot!)  Encounter Critical


WEG d6 Star Wars Roleplaying Game REUP

I've uploaded the Star Wars RPG revised, expanded, and updated document to my dropbox here.  If anyone wants to use it for their personal, non-commercial use in order to play the out-of-print West End Games version of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, then enjoy!

Even though my hardcover, full color Lulu version was taken down (thanks to an alarm-sounder on - hope you received the Emperor's reward of 30 credits), I'm going to re-upload it presently.  Access will only be granted to those who personally make a comment on this blog post and then email me.

The creators' development blog was taken down by themselves because of excessive traffic.  They haven't received any legal notice, merely focusing on the errata.


p.s.  Boba Fett image by Stephan Burger

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

[d6] Star Wars RPG: revised, expanded, and updated

[See this page for clarification]

A couple days ago, I caught wind of a massive, fan-created document for the old West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game that uses a d6 system.  The rule books (plus supplemental material) of the WEG Star Wars are all out of print.

Several fans went to great lengths in order to create a 500 page, full-color PDF version of the game.  Their development blog is here (with PDF link).  The following is a snapshot of their mission statement...

The goal of the SW3E project is to convert the entire core rules of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game 2nd Edition Revised and Expanded (SW2RE) into a digital .pdf format with a new crisper look. In addition we aim to integrate many of the “expanded” rules published by West End Games (WEG) in various sourcebooks and galaxy guides, and even some of the great house rules that have been developed over the decades.  

We're treated to advantages and disadvantages (merits and flaws, basically) in character creation that's part of the d6 Space RPG.  Also, the Star Wars prequels and post-trilogy fiction influence the flavor text, stat blocks, and artwork.  And, well... there's just so much there.  500 pages is a lot.  Besides, it looks beautiful with pleasing layout, sidebars, different colored headings, easy to read charts and tables, etc.  After a thorough skim, the only real (albeit minor) complaint is the lack of poster art, stills from the original movies, and classic Star Wars artwork depicting several key characters at once it their FULL PAGE glory!!!  That would've been the cherry on top.  I'm sure the designers had their reasons, licensing and legality being paramount.

Being something of a dinosaur, I prefer a print version to PDF.  So, I uploaded the PDF onto Lulu but that left me without a suitable front/spine/back cover.  Stephan Burger generously donated his Star Wars artwork for my personal copy.  You don't know how much willpower it took for me to not swap Luke out for Boba Fett.  If I decide, for whatever crazy, cash-burning reason, I need a second copy, Boba Fett will grace the cover!

Without further ado, my upload of the full color print version of their masterpiece is here.  Yes, it is ungodly expensive.  However, until Dec. 2nd, there's a Lulu 35% off coupon code making it less so:  SAVE35

Or check out Imladris' black and white hardcover Lulu upload here.  Definitely more economical but not as much fun.  Oops, just realized that version is in Spanish (however, the preview shows English... strange)!  Buyer beware.

Well, I can't wait to get my 3rd edition d6 Star Wars Roleplaying game in the mail and run some old school Star Wars games.  When I do, there will be blog updates aplenty.


p.s.  Someone just mentioned the "SAVE35" code didn't work for them (though, it worked for me this morning).  In that case FLASH30 should get you 30% off printed items through tomorrow, November 20th.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Playtest: Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane

I know there are some of you out there in the cyber-land wondering how this game went.  Well, let me tell you about it.

Still unsure what in the hell made me think of such a thing, I went about imagining what Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane would be, or should be about.  I guess I was thinking of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, except instead of the established time periods (there's 1890's Victorian era, 1920's and 30's Prohibition and Gangsters era, 1940's WWII, Ancient Rome, and Cthulhu Now / Delta Green, basically 1990's to the present), it would be set in the decade of disco, bean bag chairs, and psychedelic substances.

Well, why not a 1970's era?  And instead of focusing on the Mythos, how about general unexplained phenomena, the stuff investigated by TV shows and movies from that decade?  The 70's had some interesting tropes that might be just as much fun to roleplay as Lovecraft's 20's and 30's.

I had a Devil of a time finding players.  Sure, it was short notice, but that's not the real reason.  Advertising works.  A name brand gets more notice and conversion than something brand new.  It's why movie studios would rather put out Saw 14 and a 5th Batman or Spider-Man reboot than an untried, untested idea.  If this had been D&D, I would have had a full table.  Luckily, three courageous players stepped forward to see what the hell this madness was all about.

Below are bullet points of the system I created along with notes from the actual session...

  • Here's the essence of VSd6 and how I implemented it into the core BBBSB system: Characters chose a selection of profession, amateur, hobby, or interest.  Each choice equaling a certain number of d6 that could be rolled (from 4d6 all the way down to 1d6).  For instance, if you picked "doctor", that would be your profession (unless you wanted to be an amateur doctor or just had a passing interest in the medical field).  A full profession would yield the most dice (and the best chance to succeed) regarding first aid, diagnostics, getting into bed with nurses, and whatever else doctors did back then.  Professions leave you with little else to put dice in, since it's probably a full time job that requires a lot of energy and focus.  A hobby, on the other hand, allows for an additional hobby or multiple interests but with less proficiency.
  • Ok, let's get to the PCs... otherwise this is going to take all day!  Daniel played Abraham Richter, a police detective with an interest in the occult.  He has a contact inside the police department that gives him information and assistance since he's been demoted and scrutinized because he sometimes bends the law, babbles about occultism, end of the world, etc., and only respects authority when there's a damn good reason.  Detective Richter wears corduroy pants, a turtleneck, and tweed jacket with suede elbow pads. He drives a Chevelle Super Sport.  Back at his pad, there's a waterbed next to a nightstand with lava lamp.
  • Next,  Ethan played Troy, an amateur bounty hunter for the mob with an interest in mechanics who also happened to be an android with laser hand (his fingers dropped down).  He also rides a motorcycle and carries a switchblade and yo-yo.  Troy wears black leather with studs and flared jeans.  Very intimidating.
  • Last but not least, West played Barry Morrison, a psychiatrist MD with sensitivity to the supernatural and a contact named Jackson - one of Barry's patients who was a Vietnam vet who committed suicide a couple years ago.  Yes, Jackson is a ghost.  Barry wore bell bottom trousers, a button down shirt, "going out" tie, and kind of resembles John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever (or thinks he does).
  • I decided to run the "pilot" episode before the characters all meet.  Tricky but usually more satisfying.  So, each had a different reason for entering a local (I don't think we ever agreed on what city this took place in) club that frequently played live music called The Savage Beast.  Black Sabbath was on stage.  Sweet Leaf was played on my phone via youtube.
  • A local gang of youths, Street Thunder, happened to be at this club.  They were going to kidnap Barry because that's what they were hired to do by some mysterious group known as The Weathermen.  In their attempt, the leader of Street Thunder was thwarted by Abraham and Troy.
  • Outside the club, after the excitement was over, Abraham and Troy overheard John, the head of an organization opposed to The Weathermen, talking to Barry about his special power (being sensitive to the supernatural) and possible recruitment.  
  • I modeled John, his group: The Atlantis Project, and high-tech facility on The Tomorrow People (the original 70's version).  That certainly makes it easier to answer player questions, direct PC/NPC conversations, and come up with little details on the fly.
  • The three investigators decided to join The Atlantis Project after mixed feelings regarding a stolen van, otherworldly crystals glowing inside a briefcase, and the threat of another attack by The Weathermen.
  • Using Barry as bait, a couple black trenchcoated thugs tried to grab him at The Savage Beast (while Iron Butterfly was playing - thanks again, youtube).  Troy and detective Richter saved Barry once more.  Abraham interrogated the thugs in the ambulance, finding more information about The Weathermen and its leader - Colonel Veering.
  • Disguising themselves as the thugs in black trenchcoats, Troy and Abraham visit the Colonel with Barry bound and gagged.  Realizing that he and his group are utterly insane and evil - Veering showed them a prisoner's head implode with the turn of a dial - they deposited Barry in The Weathermen's cell as they worked out some kind of plan...

And that's where the session ended.  All in all, I feel it was successful.  I could see where some rule tweaks are necessary.  Such as the table of random 70's gear.  The violence was almost all diceless, which might seem strange, but I thought it worked rather well.  Just a skill roll at the start, then I narrated the events as they happened depending on various factors, such as the PC(s) and NPC(s) involved, weaponry, intent, circumstances, and how well the fiction flowed.  It was nice not to have combat broken down into increments, relying on individual probabilities to hit and do damage each round.  There was a freedom in setting the dice aside when it came to describing the violence.

We enjoyed a few amusing scenes with Barry's Schwarzenegger-esque bodyguard, some cocaine, and cocktail napkins blotting up the leaky oil from Troy's wound (he's an android, remember).  That last one became the first really freaky thing that happened - Barry received a freak-out point and had to roll a d6 (my version of a sanity mechanic).  I should have given another for the head imploding scene but it never crossed my mind.

Not knowing if the pilot episode would last the whole session, I came up with a variety of tables for randomly creating a 70's scenario involving unexplained phenomena.  Didn't get the chance to use them, but I hope we'll continue playing Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane on a monthly basis.  Like most TV shows of that era, it's going to take a few episodes before it finds its feet... and an audience.  Hopefully, we can either get into more Jon Pertwee Doctor Who or Night Gallery type adventures next time!

I can see where a rule book full of 70's illustrations and advice would come in handy.  Though everything from that decade was present, I'm not sure it felt authentically 70's more than a handful of times.  I'd like to develop this into a full-fledged, albeit brief and rules-lite RPG once Revelry in Torth is in the hands of Kickstarter backers... assuming there's interest, of course.

Additionally, BBBSB could be played a few different ways: for laughs via the kitsch 70's nostalgia factor, as ultra-violent exploitation fare, trippy scifi spectacle, or razor's edge between science and superstition.  

Besides it being "An excellent game", the feedback I received pointed more towards BBBSB exploring area 51, X files, government cover-ups and secret bases sort of thing rather than Cthulhuism and Yog-Sothothery.  I couldn't agree more.

Any thoughts, comments, questions, suggestions, advice?  Let me know... I can dig it.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane

There were two cancellations in this Saturday's game: Temple of Elemental Evil with Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.  So, I decided to do something a bit crazy with my lemons.  Behold, my electric lemon-flavored Kool-Aid...

I scheduled a local meetup RPG called Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane.  It's an RPG (with adventure) that I will make up between now and Saturday at 1pm.  All I know is that players will be exploring the dark side of unexplained phenomena in the 1970's.  So, it'll slightly resemble Call of Cthulhu, except with lava lamps, waterbeds, "purple haze" acid, feathered hair, flared jeans, and glow-in-the-dark pet rocks.

Even though I was born in 1974 and love the TV shows influencing this concept (see below), I don't know a ton about that decade.  I mean, I'm not a 70's-ologist or anything.  So, internet searches and re-watching the following will help:

The Tomorrow People, Night Gallery, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker era Doctor Who, In Search of..., Land of the Lost, Children of the Stones, The Omega Factor, etc.

I have no clue if this will be a one-off or turn into something more. Ideas are already brewing but I wouldn't mind suggestions, especially if you have intimate knowledge of that decade.  System-wise, I'm just going to use a stripped down version of VSd6.  Not sure about awarding something special for incorporating the 70's but maybe.

Have a nice day!


p.s.  First playtest session here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Gamehole Con II Experience (part 2)

This is a record for myself, principally.  However, if this write-up serves as some kind of ward or guide for you, dear reader, then more power to you.

Remember the first scene of the 1960 film The Time Machine, when the narrator bursts through the door, bedraggled and out of breath, anxious to tell his story before he starts to forget all the little details?  Well, I felt a little bit like that on Saturday night, except I knew that something important would be lost in a midnight summary after the wife and kids were in bed:  perspective.

Now, where to begin?  My Saturday afternoon session of The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence was the first time running the campaign setting / adventure / hex-crawl since the book was published.  Before that, it was all notes and a collective framework of ideas built upon prior playtest sessions.  Maybe having all of it in front of me, at my fingertips made me cocky.  Or perhaps it was my over-reliance on a randomized narrative via rolling the dice...

Months ago, I decided to run one game and one game only due to my first Gamehole Con experience - a disturbing lack of players on Friday and Saturday's Liberation of the Demon Slayer games; a meager one and two players, respectively.  I thought if spreading myself too thin wasn't working that a single game would be the ticket.  Of course, I wanted to maximize that solitary session.  So, I decided on six hours.  Six hours!  Adding fuel to the fire, I allowed eight players just in case there were a couple no-shows. In hindsight, WTF was I thinking?

I originally set the game up using Swords & Wizardry.  A month or so later I decided that S&W just wasn't right or wasn't enough.  Caught up with the buzz-stream of summer gaming and the promise of Starter Sets, I changed the system to 5th edition D&D.  My thought process was most likely two-fold.  1) I was still thinking about those empty Liberation sessions which used either S&W or DCC (can't remember which - I assumed it was the former, but +Doug Kovacs recalled the latter).  Certainly, a more popular system would get more people sitting at my table.  2) Just before the 5e Player's Handbook came out, there was lots of talk about the OSR and how influential it had been on D&D Next.  I thought, why not something like S&W, except full color, a bit more rules, options, and choices, flashier, along with advantage/disadvantage and inspiration?

Since holding the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual in my hands and seeing excerpts from the upcoming DMG, I began to regret my decision.  It's not that 5e isn't a great game or couldn't be used for OSRish type sessions, it just wasn't ideal considering my tastes, preferences, and aesthetics.  Alas, it was too late.  People had already signed up.  5e it would have to be.

Anyways, the game itself started alright.  I was a performer.  Part GM, part comedian.  The laughter was welcome and kept me from totally freaking out when the game stalled or took a wrong turn.

For some reason, I assumed the table would contain a couple gamers from my small, tiny, tiny, minuscule sliver of a following.  After all, in my head I'm a big fucking deal.  A celebrity amongst the RPG elite.  Yeah, silly beyond belief.  Still, there it was deep in my megalomaniacal psyche.  Somewhere out there in the unquiet void, Nyarlathotep is laughing.

After introducing myself and exchanging pleasantries with almost everyone who came to sit at my table, I proudly held up the book and asked if anyone owned Purple.  Nope.  Anyone heard of Purple, read reviews or actual play reports?  Nope.  How about Liberation?  Nope.  Anyone read my blog or have any idea who I am?  Nope.

Wow, that was sobering.  Let me post-preface this by saying that just walking around the convention the night before I ran into several people from last year's Gamehole Con, GaryCon, someone who had backed my last kickstarter, one of the artists I'm currently working with for Revelry in Torth, and an old friend I used to game with a decade ago.  That kind of buoyed my false sense of super-stardom.  As Thomas Ligotti once said, "There's no obscurity like minor renown."

Regardless, I proceeded.  I asked them about their expectations for this session and got mostly blank stares in return.  I asked what they hoped to experience today?  One mentioned riding an undead T-Rex in some kind of He-Man / Cthulhu Mythos game the night before.  I knew then tonight was going to be an uphill battle.  Another mentioned "secrets", like finding out hidden lore, mysteries and such.  A third answered something else, but I can't for the life of me remember what he said.  Never mind, I actually wrote it down:  fighting something ginormous and planar travel.  Oh yeah, I just remembered +Glenn Holmer wanted to familiarize himself with 5th edition.

I have no idea where I came up with this idea, but I asked around the table for their favorite scifi, fantasy, or horror movie from the 80's.  I like to include a fair amount of improv in my GMing.  Certainly with five hours of wandering through hexes (I budgeted an hour for character creation), there would be plenty of opportunity for throwing in some geek-culture references.

Pleasantly surprised, I received the following:  John Carpenter's The Thing, Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, Time Bandits, Monty Python's Holy Grail, and the Dark Crystal.  I wrote these down so I could remember them for later.

Then I went into character creation.  Both Purple and Liberation have a lot of ideas for PC generation.  I've had extraordinary luck with them and so proceeded with full force.  Combining that with the strict rules of 5e and a noisy room full of gamers proved... interesting.  Long story short, I did some hand-waving, horse-trading, book-holding, rule-explaining, and hostage-negotiating.
Can 5e be run as both old school and new?  Yes, however, it's going to be really unbalanced in combat.  The party ranger was doing 14 and 16 points of damage each round while lesser optimized characters and/or 5e noobs were doing 3 and 5.

I had everyone make two 3rd level characters because, you know, PCs die.  Only one magic-user in the entire party.  Now, each time a spell is cast, the player has to roll a d6.  Something significant happens on rolls of 1, 3, and 6.  Well, about 10 spells were cast during that session and the player rolled a 2, 4, or 5 every single time!

I explained how inspiration worked.  What turned out to be one of my favorite parts of 5e in theory has really gummed up the works in practice.  Every "scene" there are so many little things, verbal and non-verbal cues, in and out of character words and gestures... how is a GM to judge what is inspiration-worthy and what isn't?  Should it highlight a character's background?  What about his reason for wandering towards a particular destination?  An in-character glance at another player's character?  Merely mentioning his character's flaw or weakness?  Speaking in character?  Doing something kick-ass that has nothing to do with roleplaying or backstory?  In the end, I just threw up my hands and gave everyone a free d20 re-roll in the form of a yellowish stone.

Speaking of stones, the islands are sentient (or can be if the GM chooses to go that route).  I randomly rolled (really, half the session seemed to be random rolls sending the session down rabbit holes of possibility.  I'm going to call this quantum-mastering the game... QMing instead of GMing.  Anyways, I rolled that the islands wanted to awaken the Great Old Ones.  Unfortunately, I rolled a 2 or 3 (if not a natural 1) on my meta-plot improvisation skill.  It never really came up again and no one even had a chance to receive a purple stone for acquiescing to the islands' dread agenda.

Swords!  I allowed each character to start the game with a magic item.  This seemed to be fun for some and a chore for others - I suppose it's a lot of pressure knowing that your decision might mean the difference between life and death.

Most players chose a sword +1.  Such weapons have intelligence and even personalities as per the rules in Purple.  These provided some interesting background hooks but, sadly, I only referenced each sword about one time throughout the entire session.

There was a magic sword that worshiped the Great Old Ones, a sword that used to be wielded by Alhazred, another that was compassionate, a sword that was both self-loathing and spoke in a foreign language, and lastly an amateur paleontologist who just wanted to dig up some dinosaur bones.  All I see now are missed opportunities, but c'est la vie.

Not sure why, but I decided to start everyone already on the islands instead of making their way to them like I usually do.  Each PC had been there for 1d8 weeks.  Before the game, when I was tracing all this stuff out in my head, I thought about rolling a percentile for each character versus their weeks of inhabitance x 10.  Sitting there trying to be heard by everyone as the next table shouted their battle cry, I trashed the fiddly bits and dove right in.

I allowed them to start wherever they wanted as I had Kinko's blow up an 18" x 24" full color map of the region.  Probably another mistake, as no one could decide just where to begin.  There were too many choices and nothing to go on besides variations of landscape and several interesting locales illustrated per island.

The giant purple worm I intended to frighten the PCs away from a burrowed hole ended up being public enemy number one.  They fought it even though I had no stats for it and kept fighting regardless of my mentioning its armored skin.  Then, they wanted to continue down that hole.  I had nothing planned for that, of course, but the party really wanted to explore underground.  The Overlords had a subterranean base, so I decided what the hell.  Eventually they found it.

It didn't take long before the party exterminated everyone in the underground base with a cache of futuristic weapons.  Storming the florescent-lit hallways, some noticed a surgeon trying to resuscitate a patient lying on a steel slab.  Those who chose to investigate witnessed the patient's chest cavity open up into jaws, chewing up the surgeon's hands, while the rest of the patient turned into some slimy, green abomination with spidery protrusions.  Indeed, a callback to The Thing.  There was a lot of welcome laughter from the players and they busied themselves with burning it all away.

Interesting footnote, I was able to get a post-game critique on the game from one of the players I found online.  Asking for feedback, he told me that while the Mythos and spaceship stuff wasn't really hit cup of tea, he enjoyed the session.  However, the inclusion of fav 80's movie cameos gave an unwelcome artificiality to the session.  While I couldn't help but agree with him (more hubris on my part, surely), I still think that scene was a highlight of the session.

After taking over the Overlord base, the party ventured back up to the surface.  I'll cut this short so this post stays under 10,000 words...

My favorite scene was encountering a settlement of Purple worshipers.  One PC, a female cleric, braved the trial.  I should have put more energy into beefing that up so it led to an adventure with an actual goal and stuff.  I assumed the rest of the islands' fauna and flora would bail me out.  Plus, there was a player with a tiefling warlock who seemed bound and determined to "be evil" for the sake of it, killing and stealing indiscriminately.  He snuck away from the party in order to infiltrate the settlement with a clever disguise.  Admirable but in the back of my mind I thought he might derail the entire session.  Ended up being nothing to worry about.  Oh well.  Even if it had, was it worth wasting precious focus on something that could lead to more crazy, high-pressured adventure?  Probably not.

The black pylon scene was cool.  I gave the interior a chance of being endless instead of just 20' x 20' as I originally planned.  Endless black it was.  Also reminiscent of Time Bandit (though I'm not sure that was in my mind at the time).  Half the party traveled to a derelict spaceship via portal.  One of the players had rolled a "connection with the islands" stating they were from another planet and were trying to get back. It fit perfectly, but then almost half the party were on their way to Alpha Centauri while the rest resigned themselves to exploring the rest of the island.

There was another sighting of the Purple Putrescence.  This might have been the fifth and final time of the session.  By now it was an overused crutch that seemed to lose its impact (for me, at least).  I didn't even use the book's cover or go into detail about what the godlike entity was doing.  It just showed up like a floating, purple, Lovecraftian Tarrasque on ambien.

The last 30 minutes devolved into the most bizarre encounter I've ever run.  Maybe I was inspired by last night's dream lands scenario or perhaps I painted myself into a surreal little corner, relying on little more than dice rolls to save the session from death by aburdism?

I won't go into details, but even if some players disliked parts (or all) of the adventure, there's a small chance that what transpired would leave them shaking their heads in disbelief for years to come.  So, I've got going for me... which is nice.
Thankfully, one player had the foresight to call it.  "This might be a good time to stop right here, some of us have 6 o'clock activities to get to and everything."  Indeed.  We ended at 5:45.  It was time to shake off the last remnants of - whatever that was - and go.

Getting up to leave, there were a few "Good game"s said in my general direction.  The player who rolled a natural 19 attempting to pilot the spaceship to Alpha Centuari told me that Purple reminded him of Ravenloft meets Carcosa meets... I can't remember what he said so I'll make up something suitable "B-movie Land of the Lost starring William Shatner."

Yeah, I didn't love my performance and wasn't thrilled with my presentation of Purple.  I couldn't control the loud, distracting convention atmosphere but there were things I could have done to make the game better: shorten the time frame to 4 hours (including pre-gens), a limit of 6 players max, and stick with a specifically OSR rule-set if I intend to run an OSRish session [though I'm still hoping the 5e DMG will allow me to use it more like 80's D&D.  That and have something planned that's more linear and less "anything goes" sandbox.... unless the world needs more sword & sorcery surrealism.

Quantum Mastering for the win!


p.s.  Part 1 is over here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Gamehole Con II Experience (part 1)

I was going to blog about my entire GameHole Con experience in one post but that would get too lengthy.  So, here's my Friday night write-up.

For me, gaming conventions are not a vacation, nor are they just another weekend full of roleplaying in my responsibility-free life.  No, I have a growing family.  Therefore, a certain amount of convincing, pleading, horse-trading, and general spousal complaining surrounds any two consecutive days I'm not around the house for extended periods of time.  So, cons are something of a luxury item to me - not in terms of money but time.

Anyways, Friday night I played in a Dungeon Crawl Classics that +Michael Curtis was running.  It was a playtest session for The Third Phantasmagoria (no idea if that's what it'll eventually be called). He did a great job, standing there, towering over his GM screen as he described a plethora of weird dreamlands type stuff.

He had a good selection of pre-gens.  I've run DCC many times but have never played.  As such, my version of it has always been a hybrid between DCC rules-as-written and a stripped down, house-ruled version of basic and advanced D&D.  But that mercurial magic system is one of my favorite things.  So, when the PCs were presented, I jumped at the chance to play a wizard.  Unfortunately, Michael doesn't use the mercurial table for one-shot con games.  Oops.

I played a purple-robed wizard from a noble house named Pompei (yeah, just one "i") whose patron was Sezrekan.  Finally having a chance to play, I remembered the little descriptor selections from Dungeon World a player could choose upon character creation.  Stuff like "wild hair", "haunted eyes", "thin body", etc.  DW only gives a paltry handful of options per class and race, which is a shame because I think every RPG could do with those.  Sure, players can come up with their own but in the heat of the moment, many don't take the time to do it or feel self-conscious (especially in front of strangers) about taking their character's appearance and mannerisms seriously. After all, this is a wargame with bits of roleplaying (So you can actually feel the war cutting into your hands and singing your eyebrows!), not some kind of sword & sorcery drama club.  Personally, I prefer the latter.

Fortunately I got to see how the spell-burn and mighty deed concepts worked.  Very enlightening.  Next time I run DCC, I'll try my best to incorporate them into the game.  The deed die still seems a bit clunky to me.  Why can't every character do out-of-the-ordinary maneuvers and stunts that are still within their class purview?  You know, kind of like VSd6 (also included in The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence) or this.

Michael took the time to describe this slumber world with the possibility for lucid dreaming.  Though I watched a few attempts (which usually went very poorly), I'm sorry I didn't try it.  After all, lucid dreaming - like manipulating shadow in The Chronicles of Amber - is something I'd really, really love to do in real life.  For me, that's kind of what roleplaying is for.

Apparently, Pompei is a bit of an arrogant, anti-authoritarian asshole.  The party encountered this really interesting and strange "creature" consisting of three mirrors (two small, one big) on the wall.  It communicated with me when I investigated it (the rest of the party, aside from the thief) were cowering in a hallway just outside the chamber.  After a few pleasantries, my wizard asked for a boon - some kind of aid, artifact, knowledge, or power.  Pompei was asked what he was willing to give (I think) or else shot down by a condescending statement.  Pompei tried yet again to make some kind of deal.  "Perhaps I might serve you.  Ask me to perform a service."  Now, Pompei wasn't necessarily going to perform anything for this mirror entity, he was more interested in finding out what it wanted.

Well, the creature asked me to cut out one of my eyes.  Fuck that, Pompei thought to himself!  "I attempt to shatter the large mirror with my sword."  I told the GM.  I don't think Michael expected that.  Long story short, I taught that entity a lesson and for my trouble caught a fair amount of broken glass shrapnel.  The GM said there'd be a small chance that one of the shards got me in the eye.  I smiled in agreement that such a delicious irony was worth rolling.  Luckily, it missed and the rest was healed easily.

Cutting to the end, Pompei was sucked down into the floor by some kind of dungeon Sarlacc.  He almost died except for luck and the quick actions of his comrades.  I've never felt more like Boba Fett than that moment.  So, I was actually ok with dying.  I really didn't expect to survive that... but I did.

Finally, we entered a flaming dog skull chamber and there were wraiths and masked humanoids and I didn't think there was a chance in Hell our 1st level party would survive.  Especially since we already lost our thief (expertly played by +Brendan LaSalle).  Somehow, with elven sorcery, flashing blades, and my own spell-burn fueled magic missiles, we survived!

Michael signed a couple books for me and so did +Doug Kovacs who was lurking around our table.  I got to talk to them both (albeit very little) outside the game and it was a real pleasure.

So, that was my Friday night.  Tomorrow, I'll post about Saturday afternoon where I ran an uneven session of the Purple Islands (with map).  Should be interesting if for no other reason than I wasn't thrilled with my performance.