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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Ultimate Guilty Pleasure Movie!!!

If you look at my top 10 list of guilty pleasure movies last month, you'll find a lot of great stuff.

As I mentioned in that post, the term "guilty pleasure" isn't a slur or attempt to disrespect all the awesome contained within such classics as Big Trouble in Little China and Starship Troopers.  However, these aren't movies you'd recommend to your boss's boss or mother-in-law.  If the President of the United States asked you to pick 25 films to go into the national archives or be sealed in a time capsule for future generations, the vast majority of you wouldn't pick titles off this list.

Sure, some of you would choose to have a deliciously cheesy selection on your person if you were trapped on a desert island with a working TV and DVD player, but then if you're reading my blog, chances are you're not normal.  You're either some kind of weirdo or adult with the angstful longing for sword & sorcery escapism as a 15 year old boy (hey, I'm both).  Guilty pleasure movies are for the fringe.  We may not feel any guilt about watching them, but perhaps a small part of us feels something akin to alienation or shame when confronted by society's judgmental perception.

Anyway, without further ado, the ultimate "guilty pleasure" movie would have to be Fight Club.  It had been many years since I'd seen it.  Just watched it again a couple weeks ago.  God damn.  This expose is spoiler free, so read on without fear.

I remember seeing Fight Club in the theater. I was into the goth/industrial/dark wave scene.  I loved Nietzsche.  I didn't have a girlfriend or any romantic prospects.  I had just graduated from college with an English Degree without the slightest fucking idea what I'd be doing with the rest of my life.  Yeah, this film spoke to me.  It was just as powerful as The Matrix, except Fight Club hit closer to home.

Ok, let's get to it.  There's a lot of great things to talk about...

  • The sounds:  The Dust Brothers (remember those guys?) created some dark, intense, electronic beats and tones.  It's not really like any other soundtrack.  Original is one word for it.  Iconoclastic is another.
  • The look:  Directed by David Fincher, this film has a specific look.  We see everything through the glass of a beer bottle or maybe it's a transparent tumbler of absinthe mixed with Jagermeister.  Reality is saturated by some kind of unnatural subjective ichor - it makes an impact and stays with you.
  • The time:  Fight Club came out in 1999.  Sure, you can see some questionable CGI (back when a lot of people would have asked, "What's CGI?") but it's also that in-between area where technology was prevalent but not quite to the point where our culture was strangled by it.  Also, on the cusp of Y2K (if you're a teenager, ask your parents).  Movie making at that time was dark but sleek - eschewing the sleaze, grime, nudity and general degeneracy of the 70's and 80's.  However, Fight Club is grimy like a used condom of syringes full of dirty puddle water.  It's kind of a grindhouse classic from 42nd street (ask your grandfather).
  • The philosophy:  There's a lot of it!  How can you not love a movie that embraces/showcases nihilistic Buddhism, national socialism, rugged individualism, anti-consumerism, domestic terrorism, the dichotomy between self-perfection and its antithesis, as well as, a downward spiral of esoteric thelema?
  • The cast:  Edward Norton and Brad Pitt with Helena Bonham Carter, Meatloaf, Jared Leto, and a bunch of other dudes.  This was before Edward Norton sold out and started appearing in tons of shitty movies (Ed, you've been in the same boat with Ewan MacGreggor over the last 15 years).  And this was before Brad Pitt became a super-super star power couple with Angelina Jolie.  Great acting from everyone.  These guys made this movie because they believed in it (artistically speaking), not because they thought it would catapult their careers or net them huge wads of cash.
  • The writing:  Based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club isn't your typical airport novel.  In Chuck's own words:  "...bookstores were full of books like The Joy Luck Club and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and How to make an American Quilt.  These were all novels that presented a social model for women to be together.  But there was no novel that presented a new social model for men to share their lives."
  • The ending:  I won't spoil the big reveal in case you haven't seen it, but suffice it to say Fight Club concludes with a bang rather than a whimper.  

All of these things made Fight Club a flop but also one of the best films of the year.  However, then, as now, it's so weird, dark, intense, and over-the-top that it'll never be heralded as anything other than a cult classic or guilty pleasure by society's standards.  So, fuck society's standards.  Watch and re-watch Fight Club a dozen times or a hundred times!  It's got something that 99% of films don't have: an uncompromising aesthetic.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

GMing (general discussion)

Today I just want to throw out a bunch of questions and see what responses I get, letting the discussion branch out from there...

  • On average, how satisfied do you feel about your GMing?  Does that feeling or your perception change when you're at the table running (in the moment), hours after, days after, months or years after?
  • Have you ever had a (you assumed) moderately satisfied player from the past come up to you months or years later and tell you how much he appreciated your GMing or that you were a great GM compared to what he encountered later?  Ever had a player tell you how much you sucked?
  • Does grumbling, complaining, whining, etc. bother you when it comes to either house rules or a particular ruling vs. book rules (RAW)?
  • Do you ever feel that you don't receive enough credit, recognition, accolades, understanding, or appreciation for your GMing?
  • As a GM, do you feel the need to "entertain" players beyond your usual GM duties?
  • Do you think it's best to keep yourself separate or apart from the group to some degree, similar to an employer around his employees?  Or are you just "one of the guys" and completely informal and chummy with the players when you're not actually GMing?  What about when you are GMing?
  • How often do you get one or more players in your group asking if he (or she) can GM soon?  How do you feel about that?  Do you generally take it as a compliment because obviously you make it look easy and fun?  Or do you take it as an insult for encroaching upon your turf?
  • How often (if ever) do you wonder how much players are enjoying the game, each session, the campaign, and your GMing?  Do you regularly ask for feedback?  If you do, are changes ever implemented?
  • What are the three most important qualities for a GM to have?
  • Do you have a particular word, phrase, question, or statement that you frequently employ during the adventures you run?  What is it?
  • How long, generally, before you start to feel GM burnout?  


Saturday, January 10, 2015

They stumble upon an abyssal dragon

This play report is coming super late.  On the heels of today's adventure, actually.  So it's going to be even more brief than usual.  At least, that's what I told myself.  ;)

The party picked up two new PCs:  Sam and Arick.  Sam is a human wizard raised by gnome tinkerers.  Arick is a rogue... but I can't remember what race he chose.  Yeah, that's why you don't wait 7 days to post about your session of D&D, folks.

West was playing the tiefling warlock Akmenos.  He couldn't make it.  So, I told the party that some time ago, he wandered into the dungeon area below castle Steel Keep, where lies a pool or well of liquid flame.  Indeed, sorcery!  So went Akmenos' flame tongue sword which is the most powerful magic item the party has.  As DM, I provided a way for the PCs to retrieve the sword... a large, red, demonic claw rose up out of the fire, clutching Penelope (the sword's activation word / name).  In exchange for passage into their world, the demon would give them the fiery blade.  Even though there were 8 players, no takers.  Ah well.

Afterwards, Kildrak the dwarf had a vivid dream of a treasure horde to be found somewhere below the tree of life.  Drained of loot by castle upkeep, taxes, servants, extravagant parties, and general repairs, the PCs went after this visionary treasure.

Also, Lilah met with a messenger from her father (or possibly her mother) - note to self: nail down the backstory specifics at character creation, not weeks later - who gave her an amethyst necklace with magical powers.  I totally flubbed the messenger's introduction.  Who knows, perhaps the messenger was really, really nervous and socially awkward?

I came up with a cavern area loosely based on something I found in some book somewhere (Ah, specificity!) and set about coming up with interesting encounters.  As the title of this blog post would show, the adventurers came across a dragon - black.  However, not like a black dragon.  This dragon was as a moonless midnight, soaking up any illumination near it.  A dragon of the abyss!

There was also a really cool trick / trap / weird thing I created for one area of the cavern - a floating skull with ruby red eyes illuminating a large portion of the cave... but not the shadows just beyond!  Dead bodies were piled before the skull.  The PCs really wanted to investigate but put that cave on the back burner until they could explore the rest.

Since this was a "dungeon" I came up with, there was some good old fashioned science-fantasy.  Three "ice people" were talked about by some telepathic violet fungi.  These were cryogenic sleepers (three of them) housed in transparent cylinders.  Waking them was easy, but they had been asleep for thousands of years.  Now what to do with them?  So far, the PCs are having them tag along.

Finally, the dragon again.  There was talk amongst the players of just charging right in and attacking.  Staying impartial but still wanting to give them a clue as to the terrible danger, I told them that if they attacked it, I wash my hands of responsibility, i.e. PC death.  Wisely, they kept exploring instead of charging the abyssal dragon.

I'll leave you where I left them, exploring the outer edge of a cavern covered in spiderwebs.


p.s.  However, I am stoked about the plethora of grid maps I purchased at my FLGS.  $150 worth of flat, plastic terrain.  Doesn't sound too exciting but it laying it out on the kitchen countertop... it looked awesome.  Using it in today's game with miniatures should really put the session over the top.  Especially since last week (the one I wrote about here above), there wasn't a lot of combat and I think a few of the players felt there should be a wee bit more.  Today, there will be more!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Physical Fitness (monthly progress report #3)

It's the 5th.  That means I check in with my blog regarding my monthly physical fitness.  After all, a healthy Game Master is good (yeah, just watch that slogan go viral!)  Here's last month and the one before that.

I've been trying, doing my thing.  It's ever so slowly paying off.  Though my progress is incremental, it's working.  I weighed 182 this morning.

The biggest change is introducing protein powder shakes and shying even further away from soda.  Intermittent fasting is my best friend.  Some of my lifts have been getting bigger and better, but it's also difficult to keep building muscle on a calorie deficit.  At this point, I could keep going for weight loss primarily or ease off on the calorie restriction and try to get stronger.  Not sure which I'll go for.  I guess you'll have to wait for next month.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Purple Islands animated series

For a really long time I've wondered what it would be like to see The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence turned into a half-hour animated series with old school animation like Thundarr the Barbarian and Dungeons & Dragons but mature content like Heavy Metal, Fire and Ice, and Starchaser: the Legend of Orin.  Mind you, I'm not super picky.  If the project became a feature-length movie or live action instead of a cartoon, that would be fine.  I'm also prepared for making it more kid-friendly if that's the only way this project will fly.

That's my goal for 2015.  To turn my RPG book into a TV show.  Currently, I'm working on a 22 minute script for the pilot episode, getting a cast of recurring characters lined up, and trying to visualize the larger story I'd like to tell - one that will last me 10 seasons or more.  There's a long road ahead of me and I'm not exactly sure how to get there, but I'll figure something out.

In the meantime... my wife asked me if this idea was something people would actually be interested in watching (such as the people who read my blog).  I said, "Yeah, I think so."  And she responded, "Well, why don't you ask them?"

So, I'm asking.  Would anyone enjoy watching a slightly gonzo, probably R rated, Lovecraft-tinged, sword & sorcery, scifi series about adventurers trying to survive and conquer the purple islands?  If you need a refresher, flip through the source material on your bookshelf or computer.

Have a happy new year, everyone!