Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roll them bones!

I own a lot of dice.

I still own every die I have every bought, I believe. There may be a few incidentals that got lost here and there, either left behind at a friends or rolled under a couch, never to be found, but for the most part, I still have them all.

The die that is the avatar for this blog is my very first twenty-sided die. It is quite worn.

I retired that die after I used it to kill a Medusa.

Steve was running our group through The Caves of Chaos, which is the main source of experience points and treasure in the adventure "The Keep on the Borderlands", which is the first complete module included with the Basic D&D set. There was "In Search of the Unknown" before that, with the Caverns of Quasqueton, but that was just the two maps of the dungeon, with basic descriptions of the rooms, but no monsters or treasure. The DM had to add those to complete it.

So, we were going through the Caves of Chaos, and there is one part of the caves that houses the priests of an evil cult. In the cells of this area, the cult leader is keeping a medusa that had been captured. His plan was to cut the snakes off her head, put her eyes out, and then sacrifice her to his demonic lord.

Well, our group went into that room, not knowing there was a medusa in there. We heard movement from behind a curtain, so Fang walks around the corner of the curtain and whoa!! Medusa!! Steve rolls a saving throw vs Petrification... he makes it! He turns his head away just in time not to be turned to stone! He tells us there's a medusa back there, so Aubry, my elven bard, takes out his mirror, and walks around the corner. Aubry makes his saving throw, and the medusa makes her saving throw against turning herself to stone, so they both looked away just in time...

Aubry kept shoving the mirror in her face, and she kept pushing him away, until she finally shoved him, knocking him back, where he stumbled and fell. The mirror broke, and she went after the rest of the group, trying to "stone" everyone.

I ask Steve what my chances are for cutting off her head. He told me I needed to roll a natural 20 to hit her in the neck, and then roll maximum damage to cut her head off.

Well, she'd forgotten about Aubry for the moment, so he stands up, unsheathes his magical longsword and walks up behind her. He grabs a fistful of her snake-hair, and brings his longsword down on her neck!

I rolled that d20, which looked then pretty much as worn as it looks today, and it rolled...

and rolled...

and rolled...











Well, it wasn't over yet... I picked up my d8, which was in decidedly better shape, and rolled it...







"Fine!" Steve said, disgruntled. "The fucking medusa is DEAD. It's head comes off and rolls across the floor."

Granted, after that was the session where everything went to shit.. when we all got captured, and Alron got tortured... and Aubry got tortured too, even worse than Alron, 'cause the orc torturer REALLY wanted to hurt the prissy grey elf.

Ah well, win some, you lose some... that's the way the dice roll. heh.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Favourite Game, That I've Never Really Played

I've played Dungeons and Dragons the longest, and most consistently, of any of the roleplaying games that I've played, but my favourite game, ever since I first played it, was Gamma World.

If you're not familiar, it's a post-apocalyptic game, where you play humans and mutants trying to survive in the ruins of civilization. It is hundreds of years after the apocalypse, with much of the knowledge of The Ancients lost. They are seen as almost mystical, and their technology bordering on magic. You could choose to be a Pure Strain Human, a human with no mutations, and a high resistance to radiation and disease. You could be a Mutated Human, with fantastical physical and mental mutations, some beneficial, some defects. You could also play a Mutated Animal, choosing a basic stock animal and applying mutations like mutated humans have.

Typically, you started off in a primitive village, your people scraping out a basic existence in the harsh world. Many adventures start off with rites of passage... sending the group of young humans and mutants out to recover some ancient artifact, to prove their strength and advance them into adulthood.

I've owned every edition of this (except the d20 version, which I thought was a faker, undeserving of the name Gamma World), however, I've never really played it. When I started playing 1st edition game, with my best friend at the time, Quintin. I was a pure strain human, who had some psychic abilities, which I'd "stolen" from the show "The Powers of Matthew Star". The main character of that show was an alien who looked human, and it was sort of the typical 70's "on the run, and helping anyone he comes across" show. Kind of like "The Littlest Hobo", but with an alien kid. heh.

(The only way I was able to remember the name of this show was by recalling that Louis Gossett Jr was in it, as Matthew's guardian, and I'm shocked that I was able to remember even that detail. Thinking back, the show was likely HORRIBLE. heh. I mean, look a that guy's HAIR!)

The only things I'd encountered in his adventures was stuff Quintin took from Return of the Jedi, since there is a type of armor called "Plastic Armor", which could easily be Stormtrooper armor, and Quintin and I were obsessed with Star Wars at the time (yeah, I'm not at all obsessed with it today... *shoves his full suit of Stormtrooper armor into the closet, where you can't see it*). I encountered some aliens, and that was about it. No mutants, no ancient artifacts, none of the actual themes of the game.

I played another game of it, for one session, with my friends Steve and Francis, and probably a few others, but I can't remember who. I started them off with the Rite of Passage adventure in the Allegheny County area, near Pittsburgh, but we got bogged down in the rules and me being rather inexperienced with being a Games Master, and we just went back to D&D.

So, I feel that I can't really count either of those two instances.

I'm not exactly sure what has drawn me to this game over the years, despite never really playing it. Maybe it's the message behind it... that the world can be torn down by war and destruction, and we will go on, at least in some form. There is a spirit of rebuilding to the game.

I was told a couple of years ago, by a fellow gamer, that I'm the only person he knows that ever took the game seriously. Every time he got a game going, it was just a silly, wacky game, but I've just never seen it that way. I actually found it pretty strange when he told me that. Okay, yeah, your characters have fantastical mutations that would never happen in real life, and there are mutated humanoid animals (one adventure module even included cycloptic, human-sized, intelligent chickens), however the writing of the game has never inspired any "yucks" from me. I mean, they didn't make it particularly dark or depressing either (not like other post-apocalyptic games have done), at least not any more than D&D was, but it never struck me as game you were supposed to "clown up".

Well, regardless, I've always had my plans to run a game of this. From time to time, I've envisioned what the city I've lived in (Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa, Atlanta) would look like in the setting, and how the unique characteristics of the city would translate. Not in some kind of screwed up, morbid "The world ending would be cool" kind of way, but just "If I were to set my Gamma World game here, what would I draw for the city skyline? What would the iconic places of this city look like? What traditions or superstitions would the people cling to or warp over the years?"

One interesting, and humorous fact... Altanta is considered a Gamma World City.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sometimes, I'm a cheeky bastard.

So, back in Steve's big campaign, I had moved off to Edmonton, Mizraith being my last character before I moved there, and when I returned 6 months later, I took on a new character... Thorn Greenwood, human cleric of Teutares.

Teutares is the god of nature in Steve's campaign world, and instead of druids, he has his clerics. They abide by the same rules as clerics do, with a few of their own special abilities and spells. They're basically like druids, except remove all the elemental connections for their spells and their Hierophant levels. They still had some of the abilites of druids, like shapechange, but they can turn plant monsters, like clerics can turn undead.

So, I had some fun playing around with the new spells that Steve had come up with. Reinforestments was my favorite, I think. When you cast it, you create automatons out of the detritus and debris on the forest floor, and you can make these attack. You got one for every three levels, I think. They would pop up behind an opponent, attack, then next round you could make them fall to the ground and pop up in another place, attacking again. Very neat.

Well, when I was playing Thorn, we were still dealing with trying to save the world, but now the gods were even more involved. At one point, we were in the Seven Heavens, talking with Rhom, and he said he was going to send us down to this one location, and there, we would need to retrieve a suit of armor. We gave a big ole' salute and he sent us down in the right location.

It was winter where we were, and nearby was a big hole in the ground, which turned out to be a steam geyser. It went off every so often, which we timed a few times, to make sure it was regular and predictable. Going down into the geyser, we found these little branch caves, and at the back of each cave was what appeared to be a body part of a stone statue of an armored man. So, we took our time, going after one piece at a time, letting the geyser go off in between, then going after the next, until we had them all.

Figuring we needed to put the pieces together and something would happen, we did so, putting the statue back together. If I recall, the pieces all fit together perfectly, and held together, but nothing happened. So, I believe we made camp, and someone memorized "Stone to Flesh". The next day, we reassembled the statue, and cast the spell. The statue immediately turned into a human man and proceeded to attack us. However, part of his attack was magical dominance. Everyone was affected except Thorn.

Being neutral, I didn't see a way that I could take on the whole group, plus this guy, so I said "Well, I guess Thorn leaves. He turns into an owl and flies away." I don't know what I was thinking at the time... that maybe Steve had something in mind, or the like, but he basically took me aside and said "Come on... you have to do more than that..." So, I had Thorn come back.

By this time, the armored guy had taken everyone to a nearby cave. I had Thorn shapechange into a rat, and skitter along the edge of the cave until I saw them. The big guy was standing there, monologuing to Thorns dominated friends, about how he was going to take over the world or somesuch.

So, I had him cast this "tentacle" spell, which had these tentacles grow out of his back... the rat's back at this point, and then cast Poison, the reverse of Neutralize Poison. He ran up between the legs of his friends, and before any of them could do anything, he reached out with the tentacles and touched the big guy... the big guy failed his poison save and died, which released everyone from his control.

At that point, we either stripped the armor off him and returned, or we just returned with his dead body and the armor. When Rhom got us back, he was pissed, complaining that we weren't supposed to have killed him.

My answer back was something along the lines of "Well, you only said you wanted the armor. You didn't say anything about getting HIM back alive. In fact, you didn't say anything about him at all. So, you got what you asked for."

I'm still not sure why my character survived that encounter... mouthing off to the Head of the Pantheon is not conducive to a long life-span. :)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Stepping Back

Wow, taking a look at the previous posts, I inadvertently covered a lot of time there.

So, let's take a step back, shall we?

Back in highschool, Steve gathered a few of the regular Games Club people together, the GOOD players, and he put together a dungeon for us to play through. We made up some characters... I think maybe 5th level or so, maybe higher. I rolled up a gnome illusionist/thief and a half-elf or human ranger (I can't remember). Funny, the only other player I can remember in the group was my friend Marcel. I've lost track of Marcel over the years. I think I might have found him on Facebook, but I have no idea if it's him or not.

Anyways, Marcel made two characters too... one was a thief... or a fighter... I think. Anyways, that's not really that important for the story. heh.

So, this was a fairly typical dungeon... like the ones I described that we played through in Grade School. Entirely random as far as room layout, and what kind of creatures were inside the dungeon. Oh, there was some rhyme, but not much reason. heh.

So, we're down there adventuring, killin' monsters and takin' their stuff, when we came upon this one room. The unusual thing about the room is that it had a solid walkway through the room, but everywhere off the solid walkway was soft, I think like pillows or the like. I can't remember why it was like that. Marcel's character went off into this adjoining room, where there was possibly treasure or something, but he also found some kind of creature that was like a little bipedal turtle, with a crooked neck. Kind of like a combination of these two characters, if I remember correctly (ignore Bugs, although I guess its personality turned out to be similar to him)...

He called the rest of us into the room, and we looked around, but all we could see was a small area on the floor that looked like it had gold dust on it. He swore up and down that there was this little turtle thing there, but we were all "Ooooookay, Crazy Marcel! Whatever!" and we left the room. When we left, the turtle reappeared, but now it was standing on his shoulder.

He walked out of the room and said "Here it is!" but all we could see was the same gold dust, now on his shoulder. We tutted and shook our heads and he got all indignant and left the room, where the thing promptly reappeared, this time on top of his head.

So, he ran out of the room to where we were, shouting "Look, it's on top of my head!"... but all we saw was that same gold-dust on his head, like he'd sprinkled it there.

And again, we're "Ooookay, Crazy Marcel! Whatever! Whooooo!"

He wasn't having any of that this time, though.

"I'm not crazy!!" he shouts, and says that his character pulls out his sword!

Now, I'll pause here for just a moment to say that we didn't let Marcel finish what he said he was doing, which was trying to take his sword out, turn it around and hand it to us hilt-first, so that we would know that he posed no threat to us. However, with his earnest cry, I just had my gnome illusionist react immediately.

"Holy Crap, he's gone crazy! I zap him with my wand of paralysis!" I quickly shouted!

Zap! He was paralyzed. No more words from him!

Marcel protested, finally getting out what he'd meant all along, but I called out "Too late!"

My ranger threw him over his shoulder and we continued on after that.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Forgotten Era

It's amazing what I'm recalling for each post in the blog so far, but this is stuff that I legitimately remember about my gaming days. It's all fairly fresh in my mind. However, I find it equally amazing what it's bringing back to me.

Back in highschool, I got a job at the Domino's Pizza down the street from my house. Early on there, I overheard one of the drivers, Todd, saying to the manager that he was off to play in a D&D game. I think it wasn't until the next shift we worked together that I asked him about it. He'd been playing with the same batch of guys for several years now. They even played through the entire Dragonlance Chronicles campaign together. So, knowing that I played, Todd invited me to join the group.

Now, here's where my memories remain sketchy. I know we played at Todd's place to begin with, but I can't remember what character I played. There are only two characters I remember playing in that group, a wood elf archer named Daikini Randor, and a dwarf cleric named Rokan Ironfist, but I only remember playing those characters when we played at one of the other player's apartment. I think maybe I played a half-elf ranger first... hmmm... Earendil? That rings a bell. (Yes, I was in the habit of yanking names from Tolkien in those days. Most of my halfling characters were taken from Bilbo's family tree. heh.)

Now this group, being the jokesters they are, was in the habit of coming up with alternate names for characters... Paul, the DM, changed Daikini into "Bikini", and Rokan became "Rodan".

Fortuanately, Daikini didn't last long (so I didn't have to suffer the nickname for long)... actually, I think he got killed pretty quickly. See, another fact of this group was that no matter when you started a character, you always started at 1st level. The rest of the group was pretty high level when I started with them... like, 9th or 10th on average, I think. I remember that in the first session I played Daikini, I was down by the river at the camp, and was attacked by something that he needed saving from. The rest of the group happily abliged, giving him crap about being a noob, of course (granted, this was in the late '80s, so the word "noob" didn't exist yet, heh).

The group was adventuring through "Tomb of the Lizard King" adventure module when I rolled up Rokan... oh, sorry, I mean Rodan, and they found him as a prisoner there. No equipment and 1 hit point. They healed him up, and outfitted him with magical chainmail and two magical hammers. When they finished the adventure, they heaped upon him a mound of gold (his share), and in those days, 1 gold piece gave you 1 experience point, so all of that gold, plus the magical items they gave him, raised him up from 1st to 6th level in one go. That put him on a more even footing with everyone else, which I guess was the point... start them at 1st level, and if they can survive, they'll even out soon enough. I should mention that there was a rule in the books those days that said you couldn't actually do that. You could only gain one level, plus the experience to bring you one point less than the level above that. If you had any more experience points past that, it was lost. However, this group did away with that rule. Once you were of the same level as most of the other character, it wouldn't happen that way anyways. So, it wasn't a big concern. It was amusing, though, that this complete greenhorn dwarf gets rich and suddenly he's a powerful cleric the next day. Well, I guess the rules factored in getting someone to train you when you reach a new level (which was also a good way to relieve a character of plenty of his extra cash. heh). So, it wasn't completely unrealistic. If I became a millionaire tomorrow (*crosses fingers*), I'd probably pay someone to train me in some martial arts (probably kendo first).

One of the other players was playing a halfling thief, and he decided that he wanted to play him like a kender. So, he had his thief steal my dwarf's holy symbol. Then, when I had my dwarf demand he give it back, he ran for it. Well, Rokan picked one of his hammers off his belt and threw it at the halfling. Well, I rolled a 20, getting a critical hit, and ended up knocking him into negative hit points. Rokan took back his holy symbol and healed the halfling up to full, but I got a lot of flack for that. Seriously, though, how was I supposed to know I'd roll a 20?! ;)

I'm having a hard time remembering the other adventures we went on in this group. I vaguely recall wanting to use the Stone Shape spell to form a big stone spike out of the ground, possibly to impale a Purple Worm, but that's really it. All of this only just came back to me, though, so hopefully I'll remember more later.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Okay, Now the Real Break from Reality

Okay, in talking about Laarde, I forgot to talk about what I really started that post to talk about...

My involuntary switch from tabletop to online play.

I'd migrated my Star Wars game to online when I moved to Ottawa, since my players were all back in the Toronto area, and I think that went fairly well. We played via IRC (Internet Relay Chat). We would all sit down at our computers on Sunday night and log in with mIRC (the specific program we used). I started a specific locked chat room for us, which everyone would connect to, and then I would open up a supplementary window for each player so that I can private chat with them if needed. There were a few problems maintaining the connection for all the players, but when everyone could be on, it went really well.

I even ran one adventure where they flew down into the atmosphere of a planet that had suffered a total global nuclear war. They were searching for why they had detected an Imperial signal from the planet's surface. They had trouble with their engines as the approached the signal, so they landed while they could still fly, and put on environmental suits to continue on. As they continued, their communications began to break up, and I was able to factilitate that really well with the IRC system. I told them to type what they wanted to say in the private chat window, and then I would relay it to the others, as they heard it, with all the breaks and static. I thought it was pretty fun, and they learned to keep their messages short to get them through (or to put their helmets together and yell). They eventually wound up underground (someone fell through a weak point in the street pavement, I believe) and that helped with their communications, so I didn't torture them with it for too long. Still, that would have been very difficult to do in a tabletop environment. Online play made it very easy.

The play-by-post games I've been in have had mixed reviews. They went fairly well as long as people posted in a timely fashion, but there were some games that dragged on because people wouldn't post. The D&D 3.5e Dragonlance game I ran was an example of that. I was following the published adventure modules, converted from 1st edition to 3rd edition, and there are 12 or 13 playable modules.

After three years of play, we had only gotten to the middle of the second module. Three YEARS. It really hit home then. We had tried it a few times where we played similar to how I'd run the Star Wars IRC game. I got everyone together online at the same time, and established a Posting Initiative, so that we wouldn't have everyone talking over one another. Each person posted, in turn, and if you didn't have anything to add to the conversation, you would just post your character shuffling their feet, or picking their fingernails, or staring off into oblivion. Whatever, just to discharge your turn. Then, when combat came up, we'd roll initiative normally for that, and play through the fight, then switch back to the posting initiative. After the two or three sessions we played like this, each time I went back and compared how many posts we got through, and compared it to how many we'd gone through just before the session. On average, in one night, we went through three months worth of posting. Amazing.

At this point, I told everyone playing, if we can't switch to playing like we did in those sessions, I'm just going to end the game. It's taking far too long. There were at least 10 modules after that, and so it would take 20-30 years to finish the campaign. Noone could commit to it, so I stopped the game there.

Oh, I forgot another character... I'll have to go back to the Gaming-ology post and add her in. I played a 1st edition D&D Half-elf Cleric/MagicUser named Shandara in an rpol.net game. The plot was that we were all captured by Drow Elves and escaped and were trying to make it back to the surface. Sort of a reverse of the Descent into the Depths module. The DM even called the game Ascent from the Depths. That was a fun game, and Shandara was a pretty good character, and became quite useful to the group. I have to say that I enjoyed that game.

I was playing another Rpol game at the same time. This was the one I played Warren Livingstone in. It was an Against the Giants game, so we were playing through the G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3: Halls of the Fire Giant King modules. I'd paged through these in my younger years, but we'd never played through them. Warren had a similar story to Shandara, with regards to being captured and escaping... he'd gone up against the giants years ago, and was captured by them. He'd been passed along to the three giant leaders, for them to torture, get whatever info they could out of him, and then he was passed on to the drow for the same. He survived for several years this way, and then was brought back to the Hill Giant Chief so that he could have the honor of killing Warren. This is when the group the DM was playing raided the place and freed him. He joined up afterwards and assisted in destroying the Hill Giants and the Frost Giants. We didn't make it to the Fire Giants before the play-speed waned and eventually ground to a halt. It was fun while it lasted though.

Basically, what it came down to was time. I don't mind taking my time with a game. I actually honestly like the extra time to post exposition and descriptions, and I find it easier to remember little details of play that I want to put in, as opposed to playing in person.

However, there are limits. When there are days between posts, and you have to nudge people over PM or email to get them to continue, especially when you notice that they're online on the site, but still aren't posting... well, that's about the time when you give up.

So, the main point of this... I had some fun with the online games, and in some cases, I was able to do things that I couldn't do at the table, but for the most part, the online games were just disappointing. The games all ended prematurely, for one reason or another, so there was never any closure for the characters.

I'm currently running one online game, playing the group through a 4th edition D&D conversion of the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, and what comes after. I intend to at least keep the game going long enough to finish what comes after Danger at Dunwater, but if the group is still interested after that, I will continue on. So far, it's been fun. The greatest hurdle we've had is the conversion from Castles&Crusades to 4eD&D. Everyone seems to be enjoying the new system, or at least they're not complaining to me. Let's hope we can keep it going. :)