athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
"Elsinore" is now up, with original artwork by the inestimable S. John Ross!
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Today was one of the most fun and most gonzo sessions I have had the
pleasure of running.

A new player joined the Vornheim group today. Ronak is playing Rig the
Fighter (Ronak has previously played in the Bookhounds of London and
Grace Under Pressure one-shots).

Nas (Image), Palalladin (usually Amy, played today by Alex because Amy
was ill), Balin (BC), and Ber (Alex) returned to Gaxen Kane from the
Lost City. They had dealt a significant setback to the Temple of Zargon
and freed many of its prisoners from the cathedral in the Lost
City--although they had not gone after Zargon itself, and they had not
entirely broken the cult's power. Nevertheless, they had unified the
factions of the Lost City and Ber had received a token showing her to be
a friend of the League of Tumultuous Erudition.

They returned to Gaxen Kane and Lord Chalk's (Harry to his friends)
townhouse. Nas immediately inquired after Hrezwina and was told that
she had become a successful entrepreneur and could be found at her
coffeehouse. Ah, yes, coffee. In the few short weeks since the party
had left, full-on coffee mania had struck Gaxen Kane. Harry described
it (and gave the party samples) as "almost exactly the opposite of
whiskey, but somehow equally delightful" The party immediately headed to
Hrezwina's Coffeehouse to discover the following:

As previously discussed, Goblin women become pregnant through reading
saucy literature. Hrezwina had been working--she was a little vague on
this point, but I think we can read between the lines--as a specialty
act in a fancy house, where many of the girls had (well-founded) fear of
pregnancy. And there she made a fascinating discovery. If, immediately
after exposure to spicy wordplay, a goblin woman reads something
excruciatingly boring, it is a sovereign prophylactic against

Thus the girls began reading the shipping reports in between customers,
and plying their customers for details of their commercial lives; their
clientele were of course flattered by the attention paid to their
humdrum lives, and the girls...well, the girls suddenly had a
comprehensive, holistic view of trade in Gaxen Kane. This enabled them
to make some very smart investments which allowed them to rent a
building in the financial district. One of the rising stars was of
course coffee, and now Hrezwina is the proprietress of Gaxen Kane's very
first coffeehouse, where pretty girls (goblins, other than Hrezwina)
serve hot coffee to goblins of distinction, sit on their knees, and
offer an appealing social space (VIP booths with privacy curtains are
upstairs) for them to pursue their financial machinations.

Hrezwina was overjoyed to see Nas. She also had a job for the party,
should they wish to accept in. In exchange for a share (current value
1000gp) in her venture for each of them, she wants the party to secure a
reliable source of coffee for her. As far as she knows it comes from
one place, and one place only: the goblin colony at Tanaroa, on an
island far, far to the south. She currently pays about 50 gp per 50-lb
bag, delivered. She goes through about 50 bags a month. But prices are
going up steeply, because she now has competition and there are only
about 120 bags per month arriving at Gaxen Kane. So her aims are at
least threefold: 1) ensure a steady supply of coffee for her, 2) reduce
her cost by establishing a reliable supply chain, and 3) choke out her
competition, if possible.

Tanaroa is about a month's journey away by usual methods: a long
overland trip through bandit-infested wastes, to a seaport somewhere,
and then a medium-length ocean voyage to the island. But there's also
the every-other-day Hog Zepplin service. For a mere 100 gp each,
passengers can travel in style and luxury aboard an 80-hog zeppelin to

After some scraping together party funds, and Nas batting his eyelashes
until Hrezwina grudgingly gave him a pair of earrings to sell, the party
was able to afford the zeppelin. No one seemed to mind the sudden shift
from the reign of George IV to George V.

In the little while before the flight departed, Nas enjoyed Hrezwina's
charms, while Ber found that the League of Tumultuous Erudition had word
of cat-people, monkey-people, and spider-mages on the island, and were
willing to pay good money for anthropological surveys, and excellent
money for a spider-mage's spellbook if such a thing existed.

The zeppelin carries twelve paying guests, an indeterminate number of
crew, official mail and extremely expensive couriered private mail, and
a few hyper-luxury goods. It is called the _Flugelschwein Zwei_, and is
captained by the unbearably Teutonic monocled Captain Dolf Helmenspeik;
the chief engineer and head pig-slopper is Angus McTavish.

Our heroes met at the appointed time, were loaded by means of tethered
hog-balloons onto the zeppelin, and met the other passengers, all
goblins of wealth and taste. I will number them here for reasons that
will shortly become evident. Major Harrumphitol was actually a Captain
in play, and that was a mistake because distinguishing him from the
ship's captain, when planning, became difficult. We rolled d12s for
everyone to determine who got what cabin (if you got an occupied one,
you kept incrementing the cabin number until you hit an empty one), so
there was a map of people and rooms.

1) Lady Dolores Wrinklequim. Likes: rat-things (as extra-horrible
Pomeranians), champagne, pearls to clutch. Dislikes: rudeness, the
Wyvern Of The Well, loud noises.

2) Major Harlan Harrumphitol. Likes: parade dress, orderliness,
well-trimmed mutton chops. Dislikes: foreigners, change, spicy food.

3) Elijah Goldberg. Likes: fine-and-gaudy clothing, fancy women, pinky
rings. Dislikes: stuffy old-money aristocracy, seafood, responsibility.

4) Miss Veronica Adipose. Likes: cleavage, sultry singing, cocaine.
Dislikes: wet blankets, vicious dogs, bedtime.

5) Edward Moleblanket. Likes: pretty women, fast vehicles, deceit.
Dislikes: former acquaintances, policemen, his past.

6) The Widow Esmerelda Elderbush. Likes: pretty young men, gin, too
much makeup. Dislikes: her age, younger and prettier women, waking up

The first night was luxurious but uneventful: Nas provided a way for
Miss Adipose to avoid the attentions of Mr. Goldberg, and as so often
happens aboard a cruise, this somehow turned into cocaine and dancing
the night away (although she rebuffed his attempt to return to his
room); Edward Moleblanket found Ber and her fur unexpectedly
captivating, although then he sized up the Widow Elderbush's assets--no,
no, her jewelry--and shifted his focus; Rig attempted to strike up a
friendship with the Major based on their military experience and did
fairly well considering that he was a damned foreigner and a human to

Then I had the players roll a d6, another d6, and a d4. The first time,
they all came up 1, so I had a reroll. The next time it was 2, 6, and

The d4 table is this one:

1) Sharp trauma
2) Blunt trauma
3) Strangulation
4) No obvious physical trauma

The next morning the servants woke everyone up early as the captain
announced they must meet in the dining gallery at once. Ber earned 50
additional XP by saying "oh! It's a murder mystery!" before the captain
spoke, because, indeed, it was.

The Widow Elderbush had been bludgeoned to death in her room the
previous night.

We now moved into a classical whodunit (inspired, yes, by the EA game
_Murder on the Zinderneuf_). Some clues quickly emerged. The Widow's
door had not been locked--a maid had been instructed to knock on her
door at 6 so that the Widow would have time to put on her (extensive)
face prior to breakfast, and when she did, the door swung open and she
saw the blood (I really should have had her screams wake the passengers,
but alas).

Her skull had been smashed with a few blows from a heavy, blunt object.
Her jewelery box was locked on her dresser--but the key was nowhere to
be found, and when Nas picked it open, it was discovered to be empty.
Her porthole was undogged, although it had been mostly closed. Some
towels and a pillowcase were missing. The single unoccupied cabin was
next door, and was empty. In that room, Nas found a few drops of blood
under the bed, and a missing towel, as well as a shoe-scuff on the
porthole. He also determined that the cabin door locks were trivially
easy to pick.

An examination of the body revealed some additional clues: bruising on
the wrists, consistent with them being held in a single strong, large
male hand--but on closer inspection, those bruises seemed to be a few
hours older than the fatal head wound. Her fingernails were long and
painted--but unbroken and there was no skin under them. And most
strikingly (it took a while to discover this, oddly, but the party did
finally remember they'd been carrying around a copy of _Anatomy of the
Goblin Races_ in an inexpensive student edition for several
sessions)...the Widow Esmerelda Elderbush was *no goblin at all*, but an
ugly human woman who wore a whole lot of makeup and had been pretending
to be a goblin society matron. She also had a tattoo of a cobra on her
left inner forearm, which was determined by Balin (a cleric of Vorn,
although a pretty halfhearted one) to be consistent with the Yig-worship
fad that had gone around the human world about 25 years previously.

Among the other guests: Goldberg had light bruising and some fingernail
marks on his face. The Major was limping and using a cane (the morning
was chilly and damp). Veronica Adipose seemed decidedly unwell. Lady
Wrinklequim looked pale, sat on the settee, and determinedly gulped down
brandy after brandy, and Mr. Moleblanket looked glumly out the window,
nursing gins and tonic.

Nas was able to determine that Elijah Goldberg's facial wounds were the
result of a slap delivered by Miss Adipose after he failed to take "no"
for an answer. This seemed to clear the two of them. General consensus
pointed away from Dolores Wrinklequim as far too frail to have
bludgeoned even another old lady to death. And that left Major
Harrumpitol and Edward Moleblanket as the primary suspects.

A plan was hatched: Ber proposed a sting. Balin announced that he was a
cleric of Vorn, and that he would stay up all night and commune with the
dead, and have an answer from her spirit by morning. He couldn't
actually do that, but of course the other guests didn't know that. Nas
hid under the bed in the empty room (having also climbed out his room's
porthole and in that one's), next to the former Widow's room. Pal and
Ber stayed in their cabins, and Rig went up to stand watch on the deck,
taking what cover he could behind the Big Metal Box, the Pointless
Smokestack, and the Even More Inexplicable Lifeboat. The observation
deck has a tarp about thirty feet above it, designed to sluice the
pigshit away from those enjoying the view. Rigging and rope ladders
lead up to the hogs, and there's evidently planking and stuff up there
so the sailors can slop the hogs during the voyage.

Rig burned his Big Purple d30 roll on being sneaky while on watch duty,
and got a 13. Which is pretty sneaky, but he's wearing chainmail and
he's human and thus doesn't have goblin night vision.

About 12:30, the Major came onto the deck, and toured the perimeter
checking the rigging and smoking a cigar. Then he went below. Somewhat
later, two more figures came upstairs. They made their way to the
lifeboat--it turned out to be Moleblanket and Adipose indulging in a
passionate makeout session. Rig noted that, at one point, he had her
wrists grabbed above her head in one of his hands as he was kissing her.

As the lovers were returning belowdecks, there was a startled "Harrumph!
I say!" as they encountered the Major again. And then he leaned his
cane up against the lifeboat and climbed the rigging. Rig immediately
ran to the door bridge, pounded on it, and explained to the copilot (one
Kurt Schlemiel) that the murderer was cutting a pig free from the mass
to make his escape. Kurt immediately rang the alarm bells, Rig
scampered up the rigging, and Ber and Pal started running for the stairs
to the observation deck.

The Major greeted Rig with a stream of racist invective (the phrases
"smoothskin" and "bright-light devil" were both deployed), and got both
hawsers securing a pig cut. Rig hit him with the flat of his axe, but
the Major manager to grab a line and began to escape, at which point Rig
tried to sever the hand holding the rope. He didn't quite cut through
it, but he did cripple that hand, causing the Major to fling his knife
(ineffectually) at Rig with his bad hand and causing the DM to burn his
d30 roll for the night: I said that the Major needed a 14 to grab the
line with his left hand and swing away. I rolled the d30, and it rolled
and wobbled a very long time before coming up 15.

The major was just lifting off, but by this time Ber and Pal had made it
to the observation deck, and Ber shouted the line that, by all rights,
should have inaugurated the most magnificent TPK in my personal gaming
history: "I Magic Missile the pig!"

So, a bolt of magical force streaked into the night, and impacted a
bloated, hydrogen-filled, giant hog, nestled amongst 79 other
hydrogen-filled hogs.

Unfortunately, Ber rolled a 1 for damage, (and did not roll a 1 on her
d20 roll for magical corruption) and so the pig did not explode in a
glorious fireball, but began to slowly sink, a jet of ghostly blue flame
shooting from its side.

Rig grabbed a line attached to a nearby pig in the canopy, and swung out
to grab the line from which the Major was hanging. He rolled a 1. This
sent us to my Random Fumble Table Table, which, unfortunately, was also
a 1, which was "Hackmaster," which merely meant "your enemy gets an
immediate free attack." And since all the Major was trying to do was to
climb the rope so he could get up to the pig and put out the flame and
patch the hole, that was basically just a "no effect."

But now as he descended, his legs were within Palalladin's reach, and
Pal grappled him and beat him on a contested Strength check, so he had a
firm grip on his legs and pulled him onto the observation deck. Ber
fired another Magic Missle and handily beat her corruption roll of 3,
severing the rope. The flaming pig rose back into the sky, and I ruled
that on a d12 roll of 1-3, it was coming back towards the canopy. 2.

But Rig would get a shot at it with his axe before it got up to the rest
of the balloons. He nailed it, and the pig exploded. This caused Rig
some damage, and covered him in pig guts, but saved the ship.
Palalladin managed to sit on the Major until help arrived. The copilot
corroborated our heroes' stories, and the Major eventually broke and
snarled that it wasn't like he'd killed a person anyway, and how dare
she pretend to be a goblin and it was disgusting and he'd only found out
when it was too late and he was sure that the jewels (which were
discovered in an improvised-from-a-pillowcase moneybelt around his
midriff) were stolen anyway.


The procedural mystery worked great, although I stand by my decision to
not stick with the 1,1,1, which could only have meant that Dolores
Wrinklequim was told what her name meant and stabbed herself in
despair. My plan was basically to use the likes-and-dislikes of the six
suspects and assume that both a reasonable motive and means would appear
and that there'd be room for red herrings--and whatever the party came
up with, I'd roll with.

So, the actual events of the evening went something like this:
Moleblanket was indeed after Esmerelda's jewels. And he did, fairly
early in the evening, engage in a spirited makeout session with her, and
his MO does include the wrist-grab thing. So that's where the bruises
came from. But he didn't kill her--indeed, he didn't even steal her
jewels, because it's only the first night of a 5-day trip, and he'd be
much more likely to perform the heist and get away clean if he did it at
the end of the trip.

But he did leave her hot, bothered, high, and dry. So, figuring any
port in a storm, she collared the Major, who was harrumphing his way
around the deck and corridors smoking cigars. Only once he turned on
the light to put his shoes back on, he realized she wasn't a goblin at
all, and in his anger and loathing (since he's a racist, jingoistic ass)
he held her face down with a pillow and cracked her on the side of the
skull a few times with the head of his cane. Had the characters
examined it at any point they would have noted that it had a heavy brass
handle, and that it was also a sword-cane. But they never did.

Then once he'd done the murder, he stole the jewels, climbed out the
window and in the window of the next-door cabin, cleaned himself up as
best he could, threw the jewelery box key and the bloodied towels out
the window, slipped into the corridor, and relocked the door with his
pen-knife (the Major, as it turns out, is no stranger to skulduggery).


So, the murder was solved, the zeppelin was saved, and the rest of the
trip was uneventful, although Miss Adipose was ever so grateful to Nas
Foullurker, and the other characters' motivations for going to Tanaroa
were mostly-elucidated: Lady Dolores Wrinklequim was meeting her husband
and son, who ran most of the goods-imported-from-the-Imperial-heartland
trade and did some exporting of raw materials, though not, particularly,
coffee. Elijah Goldberg (who had been wearing extremely expensive
clothes trimmed in fine fur throughout this whole adventure) was a
magnate in the garment trade and was buying exotic furs and (especially)
skins from the island's renowned enormous lizards. It was never clear
what, exactly, Edward Moleblanket did, but it sure seemed to be
something like being a riverboat gambler separating rich ladies from
their jewelery, and the zeppelin routes were a magnificent venue for
him. Miss Adipose was a drug tourist, seeking new thrills near their

At this point Rig had to leave, so BC played his character for the
little remaining adventuring we did.

In the colony in Tanaroa, the characters were quick to establish who the
local mercantile players were, and to get some information about the
interior and the natives (mostly human, especially in the seven villages
around Tanaroa, but also cat-men named rakasta, and some sort of
monkey-men, both farther inland). That night, they went to bed in the
inn down in the goblin colony (a few streets near a wharf built for
ocean-going ships, several hundred yards down the hill from the native
settlement). I asked the players to roll a d20, and not to roll a 1 if
they wanted a quiet night.

They rolled a 1. An enraged Tyrannosaurus Rex, wounded, with spears
sticking out of it, was lumbering down the hill from the village. Ber
used her d30 roll and hit it in the eye for 18 points of damage.
Blinded and very badly wounded, the lizard turned to flee, and the
colonists began buying the party lots of free booze--but all was not
well. Ber had to make a Corruption check of 5 this time--and rolled a
2. Fortunately the 78 on Scrap's Mutation Table yielded only an
enlarged chest--double lung capacity and a +2 to damage with blow guns.
This complemented her white fur, spines, baboon arms and different voice
every day, and as she said, tended to confirm her theory that she was
becoming an actual bear.

The next morning, our heroes spoke to Hugh Findlechot, the burgomeister,
who sold them a map of the (coast of the) island, and to Phoebe
Bardridge, Customs Director. She allows as how several enterprising
goblins have set out to create coffee plantations in recent month, and
names three who have actually sent multiple shipments of beans back
rather than vanishing into the wilderness, never to be heard from again.
Her guard, Aku, a native, offers the name "Skiwa" as a reliable guide
from the village, and says that they should talk to Allak, the village
chief. So they head up there, and as Ber is a hero today among the
natives (they pass a lot of destruction and, at the center of town, find
the T-Rex's severed head; the village is mostly engaged in rebuilding
the giant wooden doors that serve as the gate in their immense stone
wall, which Allak explains was built by the long-gone gods, as were the
stone and iron statues of people who look human, but neither with the
South Seas Islander looks of the villagers, nor the Germanic features of
Vornheim, but more like Native Americans). Allak is happy to lend Skiwa
to the party as a guide as far as the Big Tar Lake, and to give them
protective amulets, one from each clan (Elk, Hawk, Sea Turtle, Tiger).
They spend some time getting more tropically-appropriate gear and
getting ready to head out into the jungle next session. And that's
where we stopped. Next time: Coffee Plantations On The Isle of Dread.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)

An Actual Play Report of the "Elsinore" playset by Adam Thornton and
William Shakespeare.

The relationships we had to start with were:

a) Family: senile dad and hottie teen, paired with Location, Intimate:
In The Very Next Stall
b) Work: High-ranking politicians of opposing factions, paired with
Object, Documentary: Terms of Surrender
c) The Past: Former Spouses, paired with Location, Remote: Advancing
Army's Camp
d) Crime: Adulterer and Clueless Husband, paired with Need, To Get Free: of
suspicion, before they find out
e) Romance: Prince and MILFy Mom, Eww, paired with Need, To Get Respect:
from that hottie, by proving yourself.

This led to some...complications. You'll see. It eventually resolved
itself into.

Cast of Characters:
HAMLET, totally hot and vapid PRINCE OF DENMARK
FORTINBRAS (Sr.), still alive in this telling, KING OF NORWAY. And also
CLAUDIUS, KING OF DENMARK. Also, and here's where it gets weird, THINKS
pretty much like West Virginia.

ACT I, Scene I:

The action opens with an external shot onto a privy. There are two
closed doors, and behind each one is a set of boots, one red, one blue.
There's a little tapping, and a wide stance, and a slurping noise, and
an "Oooh, it's big and fat and juicy, just like I like it!"

And then a record-scratch noise. A much older voice says, "Oh shit! We
can't do this!" "Why not?" "Because, uh, well, er, I guess I might as
well tell you. I'm Fortinbras, the King of Norway." "Yeah, I know, I
watched you go into the privy." "Aaaaand....I'm also your father."

Scene II:

Fortinbras is in Elsinore on a diplomatic mission,
attempting to negotiate the terms of Denmark's surrender. He's talking
to Claudius, and points out that his army is only two days' march away.
He offers to make Hamlet scarce and protect him should Denmark come to
harm. He even reveals to Claudius that he's actually Hamlet's father.
Claudius is unhappy and determined to retain power.

Scene III:

Claudius is talking to his dead brother, and says that Hamlet isn't
either of theirs (Old Hamlet had kinda suspected he was Claudius's). He
suggests the Ghost go terrorize the Norwegian Army, which he does.

Scene IV:

Flashback: the murder of the Ghost by Claudius was all Gertrude's idea.
She's tormented by the belief that she turns all the men in her life

Scene V:

Gertrude catches Hamlet with Laertes. She determines to turn him
straight by any means necessary. He rejects her advances, and Gertrude
then poisons him with a slow-acting poison that will, in fact, kill
people who consume his semen more quickly than him. She plans to ransom
the antidote to him.


Scene I:

Fortinbras finds out that his army has fled in terror. He offers Hamlet
both thrones in exchange for taking care of Claudius.

Scene II:

The ghost attempts to frighten Fortinbras and fails miserably. He
settles for just annoyingly haunting him, standing behind him and making
snarky remarks, that sort of thing.

Scene III:

Claudius, feeling the tide shifting, solicits help from Gertrude, which
she promises. She lies.

Scene IV:

The Ghost tells Hamlet to get the hell out of Dodge while he still can.
Hamlet cockily waves him off.

Scene V:

Gertrude has finally managed to get some alone time with Fortinbras, but
he can't manage an erection, because the ghost is standing right behind
him, poking him, and asking what Fortinbras thinks of the ghost's wife.


Paranoia: Two people cross paths, and everything changes / Innocence:
Love Rears Its Ugly Head

Scene I:

Claudius, now that he knows Hamlet isn't actually his son, takes him as
a lover (two pairs of blue boots in the same privy stall, same shot as
the opening). Fortinbras, meanwhile, with the red boots in the next
stall, already slightly unhinged by the ghost's torment, begins to
spiral into madness.

Scene II:

Claudius has now been poisoned by the envenomed blade (as has Hamlet);
however, his long experience with Gertrude has enabled him to recognize
the danger. He and Hamlet will seek the antidote.

Scene III:

The Ghost, his differences with Claudius put aside for the moment, tells
him about a helpful apothecary.

Scene IV:

Gertrude is boning the apothecary when Claudius walks in the door. He
screams, "I've never stuck my sword in a woman, and I don't intend to
start now!" and stabs the apothecary to death, while Gertrude flees with
the antidote.

Scene V:

Gertrude reveals to Hamlet that she has the antidote, but that he's only
going to get it if he has sex with Ophelia. He grudgingly agrees.

Scene VI:

The now-thorougly-unhinged Fortinbras is in Gertrude's secret poison
cabinet. He's trashing the place, throwing bottles on the floor and
smashing them. POTION MISCIBILITY TABLE! Explosion! Clouds of caustic
smoke! Fortinbras is hideously disfigured by bubbling, sizzling
potions, and has become an unrecognizable monster.

Scene VII:

Hamlet has arranged Ophelia on the couch, facedown, and has asked her to
please put her hair up and try to talk in a deep voice. He is grimly
grinding away when Claudius enters; Claudius, in a rage, impales them
both with his sword.

Scene VIII:

The ghost appears in the wreckage and points out to Fortinbras that this
is all Gertrude's fault, every last bit, and he needs to kill her.

Scene IX:

Gertrude returns to her chambers; she opens the door, and the hideous
Fortinbras lurches from the smoke, drags her down, has his bestial way
with her, and snaps her neck.


The ragtag remnants of the Norwegian army reach Elsinore; they are
greated by the shambling Fortinbras flinging the gates wide. From his
perspective, we see them screaming and fleeing in terror across a
blackened, smoldering hellscape, where the only living things are the

We see a pile of corpses. Gertrude's is on the top. Fortinbras shoos
away the crows, reaches for her body, picks it up tenderly...and then
flings it to the side. He leans down again, pulls Hamlet's corpse's
trousers down, and leers.

Cut to the throne room. The hideous Fortinbras is brooding on his
throne. Behind him, the ghosts of Claudius and Old Hamlet are bickering
with each other like an old married couple, which they are, and
occasionally poking Fortinbras. The Ghost of Gertrude keeps walking
through them, trying to get their attention, and they are utterly
ignoring her.

athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
I had another excellent time at GaryCon this year. Again I went up with Amy, Tracy Jo, and Jason-yclept-Rupert.

I started off with Skip Williams running 3.5E in "Into the Salt Mine," which got off to a slow start but then gained some momentum. That was the Thursday 10-2 slot, and it went kinda long, and then we went to dinner with a friend in Waukesha, so that was all I played Thursday except for a card game called "In A Pickle," which was OK but not great.

Thursday night I ended up in an awesome drinking/bull session with Victor Raymond, Tavis Allison, Nick ????, Mark Siefert, and Tracy Jo which went all over the map from kink/RPG community overlap to mythologies of D&D to notions of authenticity. Great stuff.

I was signed up for the continuation of the Skip Williams game, but Sean Kelley had signed up for it specifically to play with Skip and so there were not enough spaces for all four of us, so I took Tracy Jo's ticket and went to Ernie Gygax's 12-4 Old School Dungeon Crawl instead (I am far and away the least shy about playing with total strangers). That was quite a lot of fun too. Ernie was generous on character creation: 4d6, drop lowest, arrange to taste, and I rolled someone who could actually be a paladin, so paladin I was. I also ended up being the party mapper, which, while stressful, didn't explode, so yay. We had a lot of fun and had no fatalities, although I was down to 0 HP once and we had a couple other close calls. This one felt the most like the first session of a home game--we were all playing it cautiously and trying to make it out alive. A lot of good resource-management stuff, even though we missed some cool stuff on the map (just tried the other door, in a lot of instances). Of all the DMs I played with this weekend, Ernie's style is the closest to how I run my games, which was interesting to me.

Friday night I played in Alan Grohe's Castle Greyhawk in a high-level game to take an artifact of ancient evil (in a Bag Of Holding we were told not to open) to a demiplane to sequester it for all eternity. This I played with the Brothers Sloan, and Dex, and some of the other guys I'd played with at GaryCon in years past, so it felt a lot like getting the band back together. There was some excellent resource-management puzzle-solving in the game, and I got to feel clever (I was playing a fighter/mage). We had to handwave the last bit, though, because we simply ran out of time--we played the Castle very efficiently due to a Find The Path spell, but then took the long way around on the demiplane. I suspect this will have been my favorite game of the con.

Saturday noon was the Castle Greyhawk seminar which was interesting largely because of the tension of wanting to See What's In Gary's Binder versus But It Takes Play To Make It Live...which is of course basically the whole bluegrass-D&D-as-folk-art-slash-community-performance we talked about last year on the way back.

Saturday afternoon was Victor Raymond's Periplus of the Planes, a mid-to-high level plane-hopping EPT game, also a ton of fun. I played a Shen warrior whose actual desire was to be a restauranteur, and who was engaged in tracking down three pretty frightening items for N'yelmu, Master of the Garden of the Weeping Snows. We went to a Shunned One spaceship and Ekaronde, a town that was/was run by Ekaronde, a never-seen master who, I think, was an ancient AI of some kind. We did not have time to play out the City of the Red-Tiled Roofs. I won a copy of The Man Of Gold for my roleplaying in that one, so yay! (I'm about 20 pages in.)

I also bought a copy of Jon Peterson's book Playing At The World. This is obviously going to be the foundational text for the critical study of the history of RPGs. Seriously. Go buy it.

Saturday night was Jeff Talanian's Castle Zagyg (yes, I was going for a Castle Greyhawk theme this year). He handed out random characters and I ended up with an elf assassin with amazing stats. I caught a grenade lobbed at me and threw it back, and I got blinded by a giant copper cobra. Good times.

Sunday I lent an old PowerMac (6150, PPC 604-based, System 8.6) and an Apple //e to Victor, along with some serial cables and ADT Pro, so that he can rescue Professor Barker's diskettes to more archivable media. Then we had lunch with Victor and headed home.

Another great year.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Yeah, and, so, today I ran Tomb of Horrors for a different group than The Lost City. Prep time about an hour of rereading it (but there have been plenty of other immersions in it), runtime four hours with another session--maybe three hours--planned. Right now the party is in the mummy preparation room.

No one has died for good yet, although that may be because I was too soft with the use of neutralize poison. It's a fourth-level spell. Slow Poison is L2. Slow Poison says it can be used postmortem to bring a character back, so I ruled that Neutralize Poison can too. But maybe the idea was that you cast Slow Poison after death, and then you have to cast Neutralize Poison, but you need them both.

I guess I could ask Tim Kask at Gary Con.

But I'm playing with a set of players who are, in Nethack parlance, "thoroughly spoiled." My hypothesis is that better than 50% of the characters die anyway...but we haven't gotten to the really deadly parts of the module yet (and they somehow mysteriously knew better than to try some of the really deadly or drastically inconveniencing wrong turns available).

It's not as much fun as The Lost City was. Amy says, and I think she's right, that it's because there's no real resource squeeze yet. There are plenty of characters, plenty of opportunities to rest, plenty of ropes and grappling hooks and spikes and so forth. Maybe that will change as the module moves into the home stretch in two weeks.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
B3, The Lost City, went down like a demented after-school special. The players encountered the Gormites, or Jocks, first, and got the basic story of the factions plus the Priests of Zargon (who are goths; I don't think they are well described in the module, so I gave the high priests Zargon masks and underpriests death's-head masks). Then, in between the fighting-the-lizards-and-beetles-and-other-dungeon-trash-monsters on levels 2 and 3 of the pyramids, the party went to the Madaruans (cheerleaders) and the Usmigarians (nerds) and did the whole "give them the idea of cooperating to ambush the priests of Zargon but make them think it was their idea the whole time" thing.

So there was much note-passing (literally) using the party as intermediaries, and a cunning plan, and the DM realizing that in the module as written that either he'd done a shitty job of understanding the layout or returning to the city for reinforcements and supplies, as the factions apparently do, takes you through some really dangerous areas on Level 5 so what's up with that?

Anyway there was that and a well-laid ambush and everyone learned the value of working together except the Priests of Zargon and their guards on account of them being dead, and it was so after-school-special that everyone wanted to hurl. A good time was had by all.

Although we're playing Swords and Wizardry Whitebox, we used some mechanics stolen from DCC. Ber, our elf wizard with more moxie than sense (she started the session covered in white fur, with a different voice every day, and with breath that hangs in the air as smoky runes of the last words of whatever sentence she said), did her usual thing of continuing to cast magic missiles as her failure die crept up and up and up. Finally she failed, and as she's a devotee of The Lady Of The Flowers, well, she lost 2 HP and 2 Charisma as three-inch thorns sprouted from pretty much all of her skin, in what was, I thought, a pretty awesome Patron Corruption event. There was a crit in the final battle when Nas Foullurker, the goblin thief, fired his blunderbuss (looted from Tegel Manor) at the Big Bad, rolled a 20, and the guy missed his save and passed out from the pain, making the ambush a lot less dangerous for the good guys than it was supposed to be.

Also, it turns out that Ber is totally metal. She took out a stirge execution-style: it was sucked on to her and she put her hand on it and Magic Missiled it point-blank, and then it turns out that when she was slitting the throats of the Slept opponents, she was doing it with her thorns.

B3 ties into the larger Vornheim/Gaxen Kane campaign world in that Zorlac the Librarian has sent the party to learn more about the League of Tumultuous Erudition (yes, stolen from the Elric! supplement Melniboné, and he's heard that the Usamigarans have contacts with them.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, this came out of a discussion on Google+.

Long story short, there's the Traditional D&D Endgame: you reach name level, you build a keep, you pacify the surrounding wilderness, and you retire to enjoy the fruits of your labors. This is in keeping with D&D as a metaphor for the Christianization of Europe, which may well be how Gygax saw it.


First, I don't think that's the way the endgame goes down in actual play, and second, that's not the way the story ends in the myth that D&D actually is, which is, I think, a little different.

I hope we can mostly agree that D&D is an American myth. It's the American myth, in fact, which is the Western, and which kinda resembles the Christianization of Europe in some ways: it's about carving order and domesticity out of the howling wilderness, about taming the frontier. So far, so Gygax.

But after he's made the town safe again, the Man With No Name doesn't settle down there and plant a garden and get married and get old and die. Oh no. Instead, he leaves again; in fact, he's driven out, because there's no role for him in the society he has created.

This gets right at the heart of the core paradox of American self-identity: we have this myth of the rugged frontiersman individualist. And that's great, but it's no way to run a civil society, so the society comes with its own baked-in distrust of itself right in its founding myth.

Now, there's a high-falutin' phrasing for how the D&D endgame really goes down, which is just striking out for ever-more-distant horizons:

"The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die."

Tennyson's very pretty, But "Ulysses" isn't all that appropriate for a quintessentially American myth.

So, I think the best phrasing for the D&D endgame is, well, of course it's found right where it would have to be:

"But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before."

DCC Dryad

Sep. 10th, 2012 11:02 pm
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, we just played the followup to The Tower Under The Stars. Here's my take on the Dryad:

Dryad: Init +0; Atk Tentacles +2 melee (1d4 + grab), Digest auto (1), Charm (DC 12). AC 19 (trunk exterior), 10 (dryad-fruit), 8 (interior). HP: 5 per tentacle, 20 (fruit), HD 15d8 trunk (must kill trunk to kill creature). MV 0, Action 1d20, SV Fort +6, Ref n/a, Will n/a. AL N.

The Dryad is basically a giant pitcher plant. It's about 70 feet high; the trunk is 20 feet in diameter. Branches start about 20 feet up. In form it resembles a very fat weeping willow with a platform of broad, flat leaves atop it. On top of those leaves is what appears to be (from a distance) a beautiful, naked woman. When the tree hears/feels large creatures approaching, it dangles the woman atop the leaves and makes her dance. Viewers must make a DC12 save or be charmed; if charmed, they are compelled to get to the woman.

The woman-thing is actually bait-fruit. It is kind of mushy on the inside, about like a mango, and smells of orange flowers and cloves. It probably tastes awesome.

The willow-frond-like appendages hang down in a ring about ten feet outside the trunk; they can grasp anything from five to fifteen feet from the trunk. There are hundreds of these tentacles, but only one will attack a creature at any one time. If a creature is grabbed by a tentacle, it does 1d4 damage initially, and then the creature must make a contested strength check against the tentacle's strength of 17 (+2) to avoid being grabbed. A grabbed creature takes no further damage, but is lifted thirty feet into the air after one round (standard falling damage applies). After two rounds the creature is over the leafy platform (no damage, but see below); after three rounds it is partially lowered into the dryad's digestive cavity. On the fourth round the dryad drops the creature into the cavity, causing 1d6 of falling damage, and see below for digestion damage.

The base of the tree is ringed by six large knotty sphincter-like openings. Anyone really determined can push a hand, spear, or whatever into one. See below for digestion damage. There is a notable smell of vinegar around the base of the trunk (this is actually digestive acid), and a conscientious search will turn up 1d6 gold pieces, as well as small bone fragments, outside the sphincters. The trunk is easily climbed (DC 5), as it is very knobby and burled. It takes four rounds to get to the lowest branches, and from there only two more rounds to get to the platform.

Once on the platform, anyone who approaches the woman will trigger the big, flat leaves to collapse inwards. Anyone on the leaves must make a DC14 reflex save, or fall into the digestive pit, taking 2d6 damage (plus digestion damage below). Once the pit has collapsed, the bait-fruit will be pulled upwards, and the charm DC is reduced by two. If the fruit takes damage, anyone who sees it happen will realize that there can be no bones or organs inside the "woman", and rather than spurting red blood, she oozes green sap; that is good for another two points of charm DC reduction.

Anyone in the pit takes one point of damage from the digestive acid per round. However, the acid will eat armor first; it reduces armor protection by one point per round, and only when the armor is no longer protective does the acid begin to eat the character. A character can cut his way through the side with a piercing or slashing weapon; it takes 25 points of damage to cut a hole large enough for a human, dwarf, or elf to squeeze through; 15 for a halfling.

If the creature is killed and cut down, or if it is somehow persuaded to void the contents of its digestive pit (perhaps through a timely Acid Cloud spell), a further 2d12 gold pieces will be found in the (acidic) sludge. Anything that is not gold or glass is dissolved over time; every few weeks, the tree will spit out a mass of (white, polished) bone shards.

For a more challenging encounter, allow the tree to move 5' per round, and give it a +2 2d10 Root Stomp. Its Reflex save, if it's mobile, becomes -4 rather than automatic failure.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Humanoid races basically per _Savage Species_.

Very little healing magic other than Liquid Courage. There will be intoxication tables, random vomit tables, and vomit miscibility tables.

I have not decided whether you have to roll what kind of drunk you are at character creation time or whether that will be decided at drinking time. The former seems more realistic, but realism is not a primary goal, and not knowing whether you're going to be a funny drunk (+2 CHA, -2 DEX, -2 INT), a maudlin drunk (-3 initiative, prone to fits of weeping, -2 INT, -2 DEX, +1 WIS, -1 CHA) or a fighty drunk (-4 INT, -4 WIS, -2 DEX, -4 CHA, +3 CON, +3 STR) might be fun.

Studded Leather protects as chainmail + shield. Why? Because it's metal, that's why.

Spellcasting will be enhanced if you can name a specific (metal) song that evokes what you want your spell to do. Even more enhanced if you have it on your iPod and we can play it while you cast it.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, I'm working on a goofy, episodic RPG, tentatively entitled "Monsters and Metal," which is going to play like an episode of Metalocalypse or that Kiss movie about the amusement park.

All characters will be musicians. Who are NOT BARDS. FUCK BARDS. They all play in a heavy metal band, which also travels around and slays monsters and fights crime, or something.

Humanoid races are encouraged.

It's going to be basically D&D 3.5-ish.

Their spells are going to work like sorcerer spells; I haven't figured out the attack bonus and save progressions yet. This post is pretty much to get something on the table for an initial spell list.

All metal musicians have a set of core spells, and then a genre. A genre picks two spells of the appropriate level (or one lower) from any other spell list; you just have to be able to justify it thematically, and the lists must be made in advance. Although there is only one "Black Metal" genre I'm going to give here, it is of course completely reasonable to have "Black Norwegian Deathcore" which differs from another genre only by one 2d-level spell. Naturally, members of different genres hate each other with the blazing fury of a thousand suns, or, more appropriately, the blind gnawing of a billion necrotic corpse-worms.

Core spells:
0: Ghost Sound
Lullaby (reversible)
Summon Instrument

1: Hypnotism
Lesser Confusion
Remove Fear
Sleep (reversible)
Charm Person (reversible)

2: Hold Person
Hypnotic Pattern
Minor Image
Silence (reversible)

3: Charm Monster (r)
Deep Slumber (r)
Geas, Lesser
Sculpt Sound
Good Hope

4: Hold Monster
Zone of Silence (r)
Repel Vermin (r)
Dominate Person
Break Enchantment

5: Greater Heroism
Mind Fog
Song of Discord
Mass Suggestion

6: Charm Monster, Mass
Otto's Irresistable Dance
Greater Shout
Sympathetic Vibration

...and on to the genres....

0: Flare
Dancing Lights

1: Disguise Self
Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter

2: Glitterdust

3: Daylight
Major Image

4: Rainbow Pattern
Phantasmal Killer

5: Dream
Mirage Arcana

6: Permanent Image

0: Mage Hand
Mending (r)

1: Cause Fear
True Strike

2: Chill Touch
Ray of Enfeeblement

3: Magic Circle Against not-very-metal
Vampiric Touch

4: Bestow Curse

5: Cloudkill

6: Wall of Metal
Flesh to Stone

0: Putrefy food/drink
Inflict Minor Wounds

1: Doom
Death Watch

2: Ghoul Touch
Death Knell

3: Contagion

4: Poison
Animate Dead

5: Symbol of Pain
Insect Plague

6: Circle of Death

0: Resistance

1: Expeditious Retreat
Entropic Shield

2: Spider Climb
Touch of Idiocy

3: Fly

4: Shout
Evard's Black Tentacles

5: Teleport
Dispel not-very-metal

6: Wind Walk

0: Ray of Frost
Acid Splash

1: Magic Fucking Missle
Burning Hands

2: False Life
Melf's Acid Arrow

3: Fireball
Lightning Bolt

4: Wall of Fire
Enlarge Person, Mass

5: Cone of Cold
Transmute Rock to Mud

6: Chain Lightning
Flame Strike
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
I went to GaryCon again this year, which again kicked ass. I played a lot of Empire of the Petal Throne run by Victor Raymond, and a bunch of other stuff too.

I also went with a friend of mine, Tracy Jo, who has never been much of a tabletop gamer, but who enjoyed herself and who had a very interesting observation.

First, to set the stage, I've been thinking a lot about a topic that I think I pissed Skip Williams off with. It's this: RPGs are on the cusp of transition from product to folk games. The OSR is dumping fuel on the fire, of course, but it's more generally a symptom of the internet. I know that Google+ is widely derided as a failed Facebook competitor, but as far as I can tell the RPG scene on it is not just thriving, but fecund.

But I think a lot of what is going on--and I have no idea whether RPGing has enough cultural mass to survive this transition--is precisely the transition from product to folk entertainment. We're seeing tons of interesting things that are basically people's hacks of D&D appearing--things The Forge would call "fantasy heartbreakers" but might better be viewed as little pieces of specific-culture folk art: "this is how we play D&D in my neck of the woods."

This is, of course, terrible news if you want to get paid for writing and publishing RPGs. But it's awesome news if you're me, or someone like me, who has a day job, thank you very much, but wants to share the neat stuff I came up with or figured out playing RPGs with other people who enjoy it as a hobby.

So, back to the original point: Tracy Jo points out that this is very much what the bluegrass world is like, and that GaryCon felt to her very much like a bluegrass festival. There was the same thing where the old-and-famous-guard jammed with the newbies, there was the same sense of shared joy in an activity that the rest of the world just didn't get, there was the same family-reunion friends-you-only-see-there thing going on. And both worlds are facing the same crisis: the first generation is passing away. The activity is no longer as popular as it once was, and there's no certainty that it's going to survive the loss of its founders...but there's hope, and there's a younger generation that's also passionate about it, although they may be remixing it in different ways.

I'd love to see RPGs become a non-product entertainment choice some people play when they have a few hours to spare, like a rubber or two of bridge. No one buys "Bridge by Hasbro"; a lot of houses have a deck or two of cards lying around, and some tribal knowledge of how to play various games with them. Why should RPGs be different? Maybe someone has a set of books. Maybe they just remember ability scores go from 3-18, an untrained fighter hits an unarmored opponent half the time, hit dice are generally d8s, and work up something from there.

Fundamentally, playing "let's pretend" is never going to die off, and what are RPGs besides "let's pretend" with some not-completely-subjective method of conflict resolution? This, by the way, is to my mind the thing that separates story gamers from old-school gamers. I think both would end up agreeing that narrative is paramount, but story gamers want the narrative to be the result of negotiated choices between the people playing the game (that is, I include the GM there, if there is one), and old-schoolers prefer to construct narratives using dice as divinatory aids: the results of a succession of choices and the one-damn-thing-after-another falls of the dice eventually yield a chain of events which, then, stepping back, you can see forms some sort of narrative structure.

So, hoist a glass to the shade of M.A.R. Barker, or Earl Scruggs, whichever you prefer, and go play something--a game, some tunes, whatever--with your friends.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Today we played a bit more in the ongoing Vornheim S&W game. Today started again in Gaxen Kane with the party still trying to locate a presentation copy of Anatomy of the Goblin Races.

This led them to the National Archives where their letter of introduction got them to an appropriate archivist who let them know that four of the twelve copies were in state collections (one of which was there, and which they viewed). He then told them that the copy owned by the dissolute heir to the Barony of Chalk was likely to be the easiest to get, as Harry, the baron, was a dissolute rake who would have no idea of the book's value (500-5000 gp, depending on condition), and that the archivist would much rather see it in a collector's hands, albeit in Vornheim, rather than moldering away neglected in the library of a never-visited country house.

The party went off to the noble's townhouse, arriving just as a wiry little goblin fished a ring out of the cesspool and presented it to him. This turned out to be Nas Foullurker, a professional mudlark, played by our out-of-town-but-we-hope-recurrent-guest player. Anyhow, the drunken Harry told some barely-coherent story about his librarian being eaten and that the party was welcome to the book if they dealt with his little infestation.

His butler, Albert, provided the party with three sealed letters explaining their presence, a spider-drawn coach to the manor, and a brace of duelling pistols.

The manor, upon arrival, turned out to be Tegel Manor (and I appear to be running it from a not-yet-documented second-and-a-half printing, where the Booty List goes to 35 rather than 30 or 37; I will scan this for the Acaeum soon). The party went for a circumambulation first, and had a shouted conversation through the Hermitage door with Rabury the Recluse ("Go Away!") that led to their learning that there were two libraries on the premises, one in the east wing, one in the southwest wing, each on the second floor, each at the south end of the wing.

Nas attempted to climb the southeast tower; near the top he disturbed the bats and quickly lost three of his four hit points, before Ber tossed a Light spell on him, which dispersed the bats. He entered the level with the silver bell through the window, started to climb up, heard "witches" hoping he was going to go up and provide them with a meal, headed down (the inhabitants of the room with the chest deciding to leave him alone for a bit because he was glowing), opened the next trapdoor, triggered the Symbol Of Fear, and hightailed it out the window and back down.

After some healing, it was determined that the southwestern wing looked the most hospitable.

The DM's failure to read the map allowed the secret door into the wing to be found too easily, and then there was a little skulking, a fight with a giant frog (this was the one nerfing concession I made: 1d6 rather than 1d10 bite damage, and a 6 would mean swallowed whole, 1d4/rd), and a discovery of the armory (and a case with four blunderbusses, one of which Palalladin took).

Then they realized that the chimney from the Butler's Room would take them up close to the library. They emerged in the Seance Room, gave both the cards and the ball a wide berth, and discovered the wight behind the curtain. They got lucky fighting it (although I did use 3E-like damage resistance of 5 rather than just cannot hit with non-magic weapons), and it didn't drain any levels.

A bit more reconnoitering and they came into the Maid's Quarters, where the werewolf Lucy was knitting and watching her four children play. They gave her a sealed letter; she examined the seal, agreed that it looked legit, and waved them through into the library, warning them that Wally hadn't been himself lately.

True enough, Wally's having been swallowed by a giant frog (he survived, evidently) hadn't done his stability any good, but he accepted the seal as genuine, and provided them the book they wre looking for. When the party apprised him of Harry's plans to auction off manor contents to pay his debts and suggested that he tell them of small but valuable items that Harry could use to forestall a wholesale rummage sale, he pointed out that the crystal ball (which he called "she") and the cards were both very valuable. The party, treating them like plutonium, grabbed them and tied them up without looking at them and hightailed it back to town.

All in all, near-perfect reconnaisance mission by the party. I didn't want to TPK them, so Tegel Manor's inhabitants were open to negotiation, but mostly they want to be left alone, and it's in everyone's interest that Harry raise some money without much disruption. I gotta say, Tegel Manor is so old-school that after the session I had to pass around the module to show that yes, there really is a Deck Of Many Things guarded by a 3HD monster. That's gonna be worth some coin and some XP when they unoad it.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
I took the opportunity of Secret Santicore to teach myself some Javascript.

First I took my table and implemented it as a Web 1.0 CGI script in Perl; then I ported that to Javascript.

The Javascript version is at and the CGI version is linked from there.

The request was "Spells for door traps, the more obscure the better," so what I did was take the list of spells in Unearthed Arcana and select all the ones I could think of plausible door traps for.

Then I created a choice function. Actually, I created three:

One is straight-up Gonzo: equal chance of any spell, any level, any class.

One is Location-Independent: I assigned a weight to the class choice (15% Cleric, 5% Druid, 70% Magic-User, 10% Illusionist), and then a weight to each spell level (the top-level spell got one slot, the second-from-the-top two, and so on, until you get to the bottom of the list). Then within a class/level the choice is equally-weighted.

The third is Depth-Based. Basically, I rolled a d20 for the Level Of Characters That Should Be Exploring Here, and picked the highest-level spell of the chosen class (same weighted function as in Location-Independent) that a character could cast. Then I applied 4DF to it (4d3-8), capped at top or bottom as needed, and then picked a random spell of that class/level. This sort of approximates 3E Challenge Ratings, really.

Then for each spell, you may need to know the level at which it is cast, so that's the minimum level required for the spell plus 1d6-1.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
For my Vornheim/Gaxen Kane game. Draft 1. Subject to change.

Each time an M-U spell is cast, caster must roll:

SL = "Spell Level"
CL = "Caster Level"

(SL ^ 2) / (10 * ( CL + 1 ) )

Round that fraction to the nearest 5%, and caster must beat it on a D20. 1 is always a failure, 20 is always a success.

If the roll fails, the caster must make a saving throw vs. magic with a penalty of the spell level (so, -1 for a first level spell, -3 for a third level spell, etc.)

If *that* saving throw fails, roll 1d6. The demon powering the spell:

1-3) devours 1dSL from a random ability score
4-5) devours 1dSL maximum hit points
6) confers a mutation: roll on the d100 mutation chart from

We can also use this for "overcasting" ; each time you cast a previously-memorized spell no longer in memory, it is treated as if you added the spell level to the effective spell level.

Thus: you're a first level magic user with _Magic Missile_ memorized. You cast it. That creates a 1/20 chance of something bad happening.

Then, you cast it again: it's now an effective level of 2, so there's a 4/20 chance of mishap. Your third try? 9/20....and your saving throw penalty increases too. can do this for learning and casting spells too hard for you at your current level, as well.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)



athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Players finally got to roll some dice this last session.

I did the old Incredible Shrinking Man thing: at the dinner party, they drank a shrinking potion and shrank down to about 3 inches high. Then there was a kind of weird feast where I was totally ripping off the Mouser-in-Lankhmar-Below bits of Swords In Lankhmar--and then a kitchen fire broke out and the servants ran off to deal with it, and the (shrunken) dinner party was beset by cateagles. These were immature cateagles, really just adolescent kittens. (Cateagles are exactly what they sound like; there are also pigwidgeons in my Vornheim.)

This was intended to be an insurmountable challenge. However, I had established, before they showed up, a little something about magic in this world. We've already decided that black magic--which is to say, traditional MU-stuff (Clerical magic is white) (yes, also cribbed from Lankhmar)--is all done by means of demon-pacts. Well, turns out that demons don't scale (the actual demon at the party, K'k'krallak of the Seventeenth Hell, was unaffected by the potion). So when Ber cast a drying cantrip after spilling her drop of wine all over herself, she was a little surprised when a demon nearly as big as she was showed up, and ate a little of her soul (mechanically, she failed a save vs. magic, and lost a point from a randomly-determined characteristic; in this case, constitution).

But, even knowing that, when the cateagles showed up, she cast Magic Missile. This cost her 4(!!) points of Dexterity when she blew her save (at 1/25th scale, 1d6 per spell level to a random characteristic), but she used a d30 roll on damage. Now, at normal scale, the cateagles each had one hit point. The missile (revealed as a red spiny demon with an unwholesome leer) did nine points of damage, reducing the first (of three) cateagles to a fine red paste. Spark followed suit, but did not use the d30. Three points of damage had the same game effect (well, slightly chunkier red paste), except she made her save and lost no characteristic points.

Then we had a fun battle with the smilodon-sized cateagle (which, at little-tiny scale, had 37 HP--it was an 8HD monster). Palalladin realized that fishbones made fine spears, and with some help from the other partygoers (mainly the 9' (or, er, 4-1/2 inch) goblin ambassador, Uriah Thorpwhistle), did some damage to the cateagle. It still should have been too much monster for them, which would have led to Part Two of my cunning plan.

I had that all set up: Lady Görbler enlisted help to knock over one of the spare potion vials, and drank more potion, encouraging everyone else to as well, so they would shrink to be so small the cateagle wouldn't notice them anymore. However, Ber, using a fishbone spear, tipped with shrinking potion, rolled a critical hit on the cateagle and jabbed it in the mouth, delivering the potion to *it*. Whereupon Balin punched it (now kitten-sized) to death.

This was a bit disappointing, as there was going to be an Incredible Shrinking Man battle with a spider at double-shrunk size, but oh well.

It may be a cheesy old cliche, but "shrink the party and then have a battle with small creatures made large and fearsome" was really quite fun, in practice.

The party has also earned the gratitude of Uriah Thorpwhistle and Alice Gradgrind, two of the goblin ambassadorial contingent, and will be accompanying the diplomatic pouch on its journey in our next session. They've found out a bit about goblin economy and trade. My job will be to map Dickensian London onto an inverted-wedding-cake three-dimensional space, and then populate it with GURPS: Goblins (read, Dickensian) characters and plots.

I tried to make them take on the Dark Elf bereaved girlfriend of one of the devoured partygoers, 'cause they need some more muscle, as a hireling. She's all Pam Grier Bad Girl (and yes, Yzonde was dating her just to piss off his parents). The party wasn't having any. At least they did buy a dog (an Avellinish Hound named Edna, from Zak's wonderful random dog table). I hope that it is a quarter the faithful protector that dear departed Gleichmann was. Because no one has more than five hit points, except the dog. She has six.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Well, it's happened. I can rightly be accused of corrupting the morals of the young, just like Socrates.

See, as our old RPG group withered due to player attrition and apathy, Amy and I happened to attend "Queenfest"--a party devoted to appreciating the music of the band Queen--thrown by one of our old college gaming buddies. This year it was at the house of a friend of his, and that friend lives in St. Louis. With his wife and their daughter, who has just turned 12.

So I'm now running a D&D (well, Swords and Wizardry) game with them and Amy...and (and here's the moral-corrupting part) Amy and I just gave Alex, for her birthday, copies of the first edition PH, MM, and DMG. "Here, kid. Here's something incredibly addictive. Never did *me* any harm!"

So that game:

It's set in Zak Smith's Vornheim. But the nice thing about Vornheim is, it's a city toolkit more than it is a city. So my Vornheim is way different than the D&D With Pornstars Vornheim.

It shares some features: the verticality, the important buildings built like grasping hands, the Cathedral and the Palace, with the square with the Well and the Wyvern in between them. It's on the River of Unfathomable Despair (Vornheim clearly needs some real estate agents for the nomenclature).

But beyond that....

So, let's see.

Street addresses are where you are on the street, counting up from where the street first leaves a bigger street more toward the river, and the number after the address increases from ground level. Posh is higher up. So, "6 Ironstar Way 1524", where Lady Stiella Görbler lives, is very posh indeed. Her tailor, Unvelt Ohn, is at 443 Toad Street 26: the garment district, but a pretty good spot.

Across the river is Goblintown. The human was sent to find out why many elves are disappearing to Vornheim, never to be heard from again. One of the elves came because the opportunities for scholarship were that much greater; one came because he can't marry his betrothed until he's a Person Of Importance in the Church Of Vorn; and the last one came because she was kicked out of her tribe for practicing black magic.

Which is another thing: I've gone the Lankhmar route, where clerical magic is white, and sorcerous magic is black, and all black magic basically involves making pacts with various demonic entities. Low-level spells are really no big deal. But once you start being able to cast heavy-duty spells, there's going to be a lot on the line.

We already have three competing religions: the Church Of Vorn, about which the acolyte's a little disillusioned now that he's come to the Big City and sees how wealth-driven and corrupt it is (my Church of Vorn? Catholicism with a cosmetic makeover; no celibacy and no male-only priesthood, though), the Titivillians, about which my players know nothing other than she's the demon-goddess of fleshly pleasures and scribal errors, and Our Lady Of The Thorns, responsible for the Thornbabies (Zak calls them Thornchildren, but I thought Babies was creepier), worshipped by one of the three elves in the party, and kinda-sorta based on The Lady Of Pain from Planescape, in that even her worshippers would really, really rather never meet her. She's a beautiful and very severe goddess. Druids--who, if we meet any in this game, are going to be my Scary-Ass Dead-Eyed Killer Druids--dig her.

We know that Görbler is a major benefactress of the greenhouse which serves as the cathedral of Our Lady Of The Thorns, down by the river (I'm playing it like the Gardens in Wolfe's _Shadow of the Torturer_, if that helps you place it). When my group was in there paying their respects, she came in, left an offering on the altar, and began taking cuttings from the poison garden. She took a shine to the innocent young cleric of Vorn (name: Palalladin, played by Amy, my wife) and has invited him and his elvish retinue to her dinner party (which is the subject of the next session).

The group also--since Palalladin decided to make a little coin shriving people in a bar--has found out about Zorlac's library, since they talked to someone who took a lot of money for stealing his master's copy of _The Clutching Cow_ and delivering it to Maarten Tull.

And in my Vornheim, the group has:
a) gone to Ohn's tailor shop, and gotten a quote of 450 gp for suitable clothing for the party. Which might as well be a million
b) gone to the secondhand shops and found three lemon-yellow satin Snuggies for the retinue, and a red zoot suit for Palalladin, and a half-elf tailor who will alter them for the party. They're just renting the suit, and Palalladin's longbow is the collateral for it.
c) paid a visit to Zorlac, who understood immediately what services the group was offering, in terms of book acquisition from the recalcitrant, and has opined that he sure could use a copy of "Anatomy of the Goblinoid Races", which was written by a Goblin scholar at the University within Gaxen Kane. Since the poor benighted goblins don't have the printing press, no more than a dozen copies are known to exist, and all else being equal, he'd like one of the five manskin-bound presentation copies, thank you.
d) Found that Görbler has been a widow for about ten years, and is known for i) taking a succession of younger, handsome lovers, who never last long, and ii) throws extravagant, themed dinner parties. One was entirely in utter darkness, for instance (Eshrigel was invited, although the players don't know this, and enjoyed a party where she could go maskless), and another one had all the guests given water breathing spells and was a fourteen-course dinner served and eaten underwater.

So play has currently broken off the afternoon before Görbler's party. After that (whatever may happen), the group is planning to try to attach themselves to a diplomatic mission to Gaxen Kane to get access to a book they can steal.

See, the goblins in *my* Vornheim...well, they don't walk on the ceiling. But there's a good reason that the way they talk sounds very backwards to humans. In short, the entire metaphorical structure of their society is based on the idea that down is good and up is bad (and if pressed, I intend to say that their language is like Latin or German where the verb goes at the end, as opposed to Common, which is pretty much English). Almost all of Gaxen Kane is belowground; the aboveground watchtowers are what you get sentenced to when you've really pooched your military career. The goblins in Vornheim? Really troubled sorts. Calling someone a "low-down dirty rat" is a high compliment in Goblin. The earth is the nurturing womb of the Goblin races (this may, or may not, be a metaphor), so dirty is holy. Rats burrow and dig and are sacred animals. Low-down speaks for itself. And the goblins consider all stone and metals rightfully theirs. The surface dwellers have those nasty-ass trees--why do they have to steal stone and metal from the Goblinish folk to build their buildings and make their tools? (If you're detecting some Baum Nomes here, yeah, you're totally right).

Vornheim and Gaxen Kane are at peace, though kind of hostile. Each has an embassy in the other. Vornish diplomats hate it there--in fact, most of the recent ones have been clergy of Titivilla, being punished for their heretical faith. But Vornheim buys mushroom wine, dried fungus, and spider silk from the Goblin Lands, and the Goblins import wooden furniture, textiles, and some grain from the human world. Walking--well, stooping at best, and crawling much of the time--in Gaxen Kane, for your typical adventuring party, is about as hazardous as, in our world, for your basic suburbanite to saunter carefree around North St. Louis or Detroit. It's not instant death, but the odds are good that, pretty soon, something unpleasant is likely to happen to you. To be fair, that's pretty much also exactly what happens if you're a goblin in Vornheim, and you wander out of your ghetto alone.

So far, we're having fun...but we've played two entire sessions with zero combats, which has been kind of weird for me.

[EDIT] Oh dear, he said, in some consternation. Prompted by a niggling little voice at the back of my head, I got down _GURPS: Goblins_--a volume for which I have playtest credit--from the shelf.

It appears that we are not actually playing D&D (or even S&W). Rather, we are playing _GURPS: Goblins_ with a variant ruleset.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
This is a response to Zak Smith's post:

Which is in turn a response to Steve Yegge's G+ post about Platform vs. Product at Amazon vs. Google:

This deserves more space and thought than it's gonna get here. One of these days, maybe.

I come to it from...well, OK, let's put it this way:
1) the group I'm leaving at work to go join Infrastructure was called Platform Engineering
2) I applied (unsuccessfully) for Google SRE
3) I've played D&D for more than 30 years (holy shit, he said, as the realization of THAT hit him)
4) I appear to be obsessed with collecting, reading, and often trying to play D&D variants.

So: D&D is *of course* a platform. It's an extensible framework for building The Awesome on.

The interesting discussion comes from what parts of D&D are Platform, and what parts are Product.

And, you know what? There's actually a canonical legal answer to that. That would be the d20 SRD.

Now of course that only really refers to Type III, but still, that's going to be a useful and not-wholly-inaccurate starting point. The Platform is everything that you could extend with the OGL.

Of course, that's way too big. The Platform as thus-defined contains a hell of a lot of Product. The way I currently like looking at this is the question "What Is The Essence Of D&D?" I remember several months, maybe longer, ago, reading someone's argument in the OSR Blogosphere about: "Six ability scores, saving throws, classes, levels, Vancian magic, abstract hit points, fantasy-melange setting" and probably some other stuff I've forgotten about.

Me, I'd say even that's too big a tent. I'd say that Microlite20 and, especially, Microlite74 ( are D&D...but they have 3 ability scores and no Vancian magic.

And then there are experiments like Terminal Space--or for that matter, Gamma World--that use the D&D Platform to do completely different genres. And given that GW and Boot Hill were TSR games, clearly Gary and Co., early on, saw D&D as a Platform.

The point is: whatever that irreducible core of D&D is is *definitely* Platform, not Product. Platformy bits go out at least as far as the borders of the SRD, although towards the edges it's mostly more Product than Platform.

To bring it back around: Platforms by their nature say, "Hey! Go make something cool with this." Products don't, although they may not discourage it either. The OSR, and gamers who dig stuff like the OSR (and, although it will make them vomit into their hipster goatees, I include Forgeites in this) inherently dig Platforms over Products. Sandbox play? Platform. Dragonlance? Product. Vornheim? Some of both. The Zoo? Product. The charts? Platform. The city itself...more Platform than Product.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Went and saw the Tom of FInland show at phd gallery in St. Louis this weekend ( -- go if you're in town and you don't mind Tom of Finland; there's some good stuff there).

I finally realized what I like about Tom of Finland and why it dovetails with what I was doing with Stiffy Makane. Namely, there's Tom on his art:

"In those days, a gay man was made to feel nothing but shame about his feelings and his sexuality. I wanted my drawings to counteract that, to show gay men being happy and positive about who they were. Oh, I didn't sit down to think this all out carefully. But I knew, right from the start, that my men were going to be proud and happy men!"

The thing I really like about Tom of Finland pieces is--and hang on for a second here--their innocence.

Yeah, I've thought about that noun and it is actually the one I mean.

These are sexual beings, happily engaged in indulging their lust, in a fantasy world in which there are no emotional or physical consequences for doing so. And that's pretty much the Stiffyverse as well (Carthage notwithstanding, in _Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis_), it's just that Stiffy is into girls too. (And fruits and vegetables). Now you certainly can make the case that this is a peculiarly male fantasy. I think you're wrong, but it's a case you can make.

So, that, in turn, probably helps to clarify why in _The Undiscovered Country_, the character portrait at the start is a fat, late-period, sweating Ron Jeremy (well, late-period for 2001--he's, ahem, even more so now), but after the player character undergoes Tantric Jedi Training with Space Moose he becomes--what else--a Tom Of Finland leatherman. Also you'll note that the highest rank you can achieve in *that* game is "Tom Of Finland", although it's also revealed that you have become Space Moose's Bald Dwarf.

So Stiffy--the ithyphallic Hermes--is simply another avatar of Kake. Not sure quite what to make of that yet.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
As part of the ongoing discussion at Cold Text Files I wanted to post the Jean Wells nereid from Lost Tamoachan.

Nothin' else to report.

Well, except that I got this picture signed by Jean Wells at GaryCon, and a bunch of other autographs all over the module. I'll scan those...sometime.

Page generated Jul. 30th, 2014 03:08 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios