Sunday, 23 December 2012

B2 - Quick play Caves of Chaos

The Keep on the Borderlands holds fond memories for many
Keep on the Borderlands is held as a prime example of how to set-up a sandbox and run an action packed game. Some label it a meat grinder, it can be. I wanted to run a pick-up game while the regular DM was overseas. I selected Keep on the Borderlands and started things where the action is, the Caves of Chaos. It worked great.

Pacing in a game is critical, particularly for a pick-up game. We game from 6 to 9 on Wednesday nights. That's three hours to cram as much D&D in as possible. I wanted to include character generation. Normally character generation slows everything to a crawl, particularly if you don't have enough books on hand. Things get worse when you start buying equipment and look to hire men at arms. So I used Jeff Reints character generation as a party game. Jeff makes judicious use of index cards and I had bought a stack on my lunch break. They proved handy. Each character managed to fit on a single card! 

Owlbear wins
Inspired by this blog entry at Hill Cantons blog I produced a random starting equipment chart to speed things along. The random weapons were modified to account for Weapon v Armour Class. This is something I have never used before as it adds a layer of complexity to the game and slows combat down. Stuart from Strange Magic inspired me to incorporate the bonus/penally different weapons had against various armour directly into the hit roll. His post about it is here. The group ended up as a band of elves accompanied by a Paladin. Their adventuring highlights include:

  • Adam naming his hireling Rob in the hope that I would not kill him. As it transpired Rob was the first to die. His next hireling was called Bob <sigh>.
  • Negotiations with Gnolls saw them directed to a bears den.
  • The Paladin called out a challenge from the entrance to the bears lair asking it to fight them in fair combat. The band then set about preparing an ambush.
  • The bear turned out to be an Owlbear. The party fell one by one to the creatures claws and hug. As each character died they took on the role of a plucky hireling. Adam's elven cleric/mage was the last man standing and was unlucky not to land a killing blow with his hammer. Instead the elf was decapitated by a swipe from the beast as he desperately attempted a sleep spell.

Everyone is Half-Orc
I was a little crestfallen about the TPK but the group took it in their stride. In fact it had been a lot of fun for all. The advantage with Jeff's party game creation method is that no one was that attached to a character. Lightning fast character generation produces some odd results you wouldn't have come up with on your own. 10 minutes after the TPK a new group was ready to face the Caves of Chaos. In the secret allocation of Race and Class everyone had selected Half-Orc fighters. Some had a dash of Assassin and one did a reasonable impersonation of a Cleric. Highlights for the second group include:
  • Shane has a d30. It was used to generate the first letter of the PC's. We ended up with Half-Orcs called Zerbo and Xerxes.
  • Tracking their first batch of 'good' characters hoping to kill them and take their stuff. Everyone knows parties are at their most vulnerable on their way out of a dungeon and these Half-Orcs were a cunning lot.
  • A battered Owlbear was put to the sword. The bodies of their first party were looted and the equipment redistributed. This is the first time I have seen a group loot their 'own' bodies. Bizarre.
  • One of the Gnolls who'd mislead the group was found half eaten in the Owlbear's lair. He had headed into the caves to see how the party had fared before falling to the raging monster.
  • Grey Oozes were smacked off ceilings. They proceeded to corrode halberds and armour before being dispatched.
  • After conquering the Owlbear lair the group headed to their next randomly selected cave. It just so happened to contain the biggest bad in the place. The Minotaur gave them a run for their money.
  • Noting the bovine smell at the cave entrance, Chris determined that whoever lived within the cave owned cattle which in turn meant that they would be rich. Thus the group should enter and take everything. His rational explanation for the bull manure smell was perfect in its naivety.
  • Shooting into combat is a bad idea. A luckless hireling disrupted the Half-Orc cleric's command spell at a crucial juncture. To make up for it the hireling discarded his crossbow and waded into close combat. He was impaled on the minotaurs horns the following round. 
  • The hero's overcame the Minotaur and found a substantial amount of treasure. In all likelihood enough to level despite their multi-classing.
Minotaur - the true source of the bovine smell
Thanks to Adam, Chris and Shane for an excellent game that I had a blast running. In 2.5 hours we went through character generation twice and completed some tough parts of the Caves of Chaos. That's a lot of game for a short period of time. The perfect amount of time for a drop in and have a go game.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Oldhammer - Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition - Orcs verse Chaos

Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition was a staple of my high school years. This time we figured on a bigger battle than our chaos warband skirimishes. We would field over 100 models on each side. Optimus Prime suggested we put everything on the table, points be damned. I fielded my Orc army, most of which was painted in highschool. It was light on goblins as I had stolen their bases for another project. The Orcs opted for big solid blocks of infantry while Chaos went with many smaller bands to set-up flank attacks. As my army was horribly outnumbered we wracked our brains for a scenario that would make for a satisfying battle. Flames of War had me thinking about objectives and so we set some bottle caps on my side of the board representing the nectar of the gods that the Goblinoids would have to defend for 6 turns. We would do battle on a heavily forested board.

Smaug and his Orc army
  • Smaug - small winged firebreathing dragon - 250 points
  • Smaug's Buddy - Manticore - 200 points
  • 12 Orc arrer boys
  • 20 Black Orcs with halberds
  • 20 Orc boys with halberds (Ruglud's armoured orcs)
  • 15 Gobbo's with 3 Goblin Fanatics
  • 12 Wolf riders
  • 1 Wolf drawn chariot (without scythed wheels)
Ravening hordes of Chaos
  • 3 blocks of 10 Maruaders
  • 2 blocks of 10 Beastmen
  • 3 stupidity prone Trolls
  • 6 Ogres
  • 5 blocks of 10 Chaos Thugs
  • Tiberius the feeble - Chaos Warrior serving as General


Tiberius keeps a watchful eye over the Trolls and his horde in general.

Starting positions. The bottle caps are the objectives while the abundance of trees will prove more of an annoyance than anything else.

Mini Smaug and his Orc army
    Ravening hordes of Chaos

      Mini Smaug and his Orc army: The Dragon and Manticore anchor the lines with the aim of holding the objectives. Each is supported by a block of solid orc infantry.
      Ravening hordes of Chaos: Small groups of elite troops spread wide. Maximum coverage that ended up being hindered by the terrain and saw forward units blocking the advance of those behind.

      TURN 1

      The chariot rattles forward, the Orc boys march over to the objective. Manticore takes to the air.

      Mini Smaug and his Orc army
        Ravening hordes of Chaos
        • Smaug got lucky and toasted a Chaos Thug with his fiery breath.

        TURN 1 SUMMARY
        Mini Smaug and his Orc army: General advance. We consult the flying rules. By the end of the night we still don't know how the fly-by attack rules work. Animosity rears it's ugly head as the Black Orcs spend the turn hurling abuse at the neighbouring gobbo's.
        Ravening hordes of Chaos: Another general advance hindered by forgetting to reserve move. We then adopt a 'march' rule that came to be the norm in later editions of Warhammer.

        TURN 2

        The chariot crashes home and we learn the wierd and unique rules for chariots in hand to hand

        Mini Smaug and his Orc army
          Ravening hordes of Chaos
          • 1 unit of Chaos Thugs
          • A handful of Chaos Thugs crushed under a chariots wheels.
          • 1 Troll killed by a gobbo fanatic

          TURN 2 SUMMARY
          Mini Smaug and his Orc army: The chariot crashes home then gets mired in combat. The Goblin fanatics are released and combined with Smaug's breath destroy a unit of Chaos Thugs and a Troll. The regeneration rolls were unkind to the Chaos General all game with not a single success.
          Ravening hordes of Chaos: The horde continue to advance. The powerful Chaos Mauraders are delayed by the units ahead and find it difficult to get into combat.

          TURN 3

          The Goblin fanatics whirl back into their parent unit killing 5 and routing the gobbo's

          The Beastmen learn that it's hard to wound an Orc. The Ogre's lurk in a nearby wood.

          Mini Smaug and his Orc army
          • 5 Gobbo's.
          • 1 wolf rider chariot
          Ravening hordes of Chaos
          • 1 unit of Chaos Thugs
          • A handful of Chaos Thugs crushed under a chariots wheels.
          • 1 Troll

          TURN 3 SUMMARY
          Mini Smaug and his Orc army: The fanatics, lured out by a screen of Chaos thugs, now whirl around uncontrolled. One ploughs back into it's parent unit causing carnage. The Manticore does a fly-by on the beastmen killing one. It will spend the rest of the day puzzling out the intricacies of the aerial rules, banking slowly to the right and playing no further part in the game.
          Ravening hordes of Chaos: The beastmen charge into the block of Orc Halberds. They are ground down and slowly pushed back and yet they will not break. Tiberius the Chaos Warrior herds his trolls into the cover of a nearby wood. The wolf rider chariot is swamped and pulled apart. The rules said it ran amok but it made more sense to say it was smashed to pieces.

          TURN 4

          The Black Orcs charge a troll, drive it back into the forest and then are swamped by Chaos Thugs and Ogres!

          Orc Halberds push back the hordes and delay more powerful units from getting involved.

          Mini Smaug and his Orc army
          • 5 Gobbo's.
          • 4 Black Orcs
          • 1 wolf rider chariot
          Ravening hordes of Chaos
          • 1 unit of Chaos Thugs
          • A handful of Chaos Thugs crushed under a chariots wheels.
          • 3 Trolls
          • 1 beastman

          TURN 4 SUMMARY
          Mini Smaug and his Orc army: Smaug charges into the forest and tears apart a troll which fails to regenerate. The Black orcs charge and are counter charged by Ogres and Thugs. The Thugs are hurled back by the Black Orc General and his troops but the flanking ogres prove a difficult proposition.
          Ravening hordes of Chaos: A troll tears down 3 Black Orcs before succuming to halberd blows. The Ogres and Thugs fell another Black Orc while the Orc Halberds on the left flank are slowly surrounded.

          TURN 5

          Tiberius the Chaos Warrior and General of the horde is incinerated by Smaugs fiery breathe

          Halberd wielding Orcs surrounded by a herd of Beastmen.

          Panic ensues as a unit of Thugs charge Smaug and are butchered.

          Mini Smaug and his Orc army
          • 5 Gobbo's.
          • 5 Black Orcs
          • 6 Orc Halberds
          • 2 Gobbo wolf riders
          • 1 wolf rider chariot
          Ravening hordes of Chaos
          • 2 units of Chaos Thugs
          • A handful of Chaos Thugs crushed under a chariots wheels.
          • 3 Trolls
          • Tiberius - Chaos Warrior General
          • 4 Beastmen - killed by Halberd wielding orcs

          TURN 5 SUMMARY
          Mini Smaug and his Orc army: The wolf riders charge on the far right flank and get bogged down in a fight that goes no where. The Orc Arrer boys fire volleys into the horde and turn back an assualt by Chaos Thugs. Smaug incinerates the enemy general and destroys a unit of thugs single handedly.
          Ravening hordes of Chaos: The Black orcs are slowly pushed back and wrapped around by the ogres. A suicide charge by some thugs into Smaug and their predictable anihilation causes ripples of panic throughout the Chaos forces. The Beastmen swarm around the Orc Halberds charging them in the rear. The Orcs nerve holds and they hurl the Beastmen back.

          TURN 6

          It all comes down to this. Halberd Orcs swarmed by the Ravening Hordes.

          Mini Smaug and his Orc army
          • 5 Gobbo's.
          • 5 Black Orcs
          • 8 Orc Halberds
          • 4 Gobbo wolf riders
          • 1 wolf drawn chariot
          Ravening hordes of Chaos
          • 2 units of Chaos Thugs
          • A handful of Chaos Thugs crushed under a chariots wheels.
          • 3 Trolls
          • Tiberius - Chaos Warrior General
          • A handful of thugs torn down by wold riders
          • 1 Ogre
          • 6 Beastment butchered over many rounds by the Halberd Orcs

          TURN 6 SUMMARY
          Mini Smaug and his Orc army: The left flank and the associated objective was held thanks to those brave Orc Boys who defied the odds and pushed back the Horde time and time again. In the final turn they were surrounded on all sides and refused to panic.
          Ravening hordes of Chaos: Everything is thrown at the left flank but the dice gods are cruel and the Orcs hold.
          The dragon proved too tough for the right flank. Aerial rules are painful to understand and the manticore would have been better spent on the ground. It's ineptitude left it's flank ripe for the taking. However the dice gods were not on the side of the Ravening Horde and the Orc Halberds did surprisingly well. The Orcs were equipped as their models were, with halberds. This gave them a slight edge in pitched battle as the Ravening Hordes came to the table with only standard equipment. Every little bit counts but in the end Orcish endurance won out. The objectives were held for the required 6 turns. A good game and a reminder of just how crunchy the rules for the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle are.

          Generated by WWPD's BatRepper Software.

          Wednesday, 26 September 2012

          The Fane of St Toad

          Ugh, a little help here.’ - Osric as he confronts the formless spawn.

          In a hovel on the outskirts of a pig farm Mugwort, lay-priest and seer of Tsathoggua the demon toad, clutched his forehead and writhed in pain on the muddy floor. Rance, a fellow lay-priest, looked on with concern. ‘What do you see Mugwort?’

          His companion struggled to answer through teeth clenched in pain. ‘I see the temple defiled. The shrine to the holy amphibious trinity, to St Toad himself has been breached by heathens.’

          ‘I see them set out on a forgotten path to the Fane. A half elf leads an armoured oaf and a Halfling wench. He holds a tattered map. It leads to the most sacred of sites. The place we had long thought lost they have found!’ Mugwort became excited and leapt to his feet. “We must go there at once!’

          Rance placed a calming hand on Mugwort’s shoulder. ‘Calm yourself brother. It would take us many days to journey there, if indeed your vision would be enough to guide us. This group you mention reminds me of the Westwood Warriors. Tsathoggua knows them well for they have crossed him before. They slew our high priest many months ago. You will recall the massacre in the tunnels of Enlandrin. Odd though for they are missing their wizard. Tell me what else do you see?’

          ‘The intruders cross the threshold. They examine each thing in turn, the murals, altar and sacred font but they do so carefully for they are no fools. They regard the idols with cowed reverence for they know Tsathoggua’s power in this place. They can feel it. They are the flies in the house toads. The half elf is called by the darkness of an alcove. He trembles before the sacred idol of K’Tehe the Destroyer. Curiosity gets the better of him and he prods the formless spawn of Tsathoggua that lies dormant in an offering bowl. The ooze bubbles into life. They have awoken the guardian and will pay the price.’

          ‘That is the end of them. No one can stand before the fury of the formless spawn of Tsathoggua. A fitting end I say…’

          ‘Hold your celebrations for the vision continues. They battle in Tsathoggua’s sacred hall. Their steel does nothing. I see the formless spawn splitting and now there are two. The heathens realize their insignificance before such an implacable foe.  The bewildered look on their faces is a blessing from Tsathoggua. The half elf flees like a craven. The armoured oaf retreats to cower behind a pit. Like desperate fools they assault the spawn with furniture, they push at the sacred oozing forms with pews and altars. Woe! Oh great calamity! The spawn have been cast into the sacred pit, pushed in by the ludicrous failings of the heathens.’

          ‘All is not lost brother. The formless spawn will rise from the pit and finish them. They are not so easily defeated.’

          “Cruel injustice! I see the heathens tearing down the Fane's great stone doors. They are using them to seal the pit. The formless spawn is trapped! They continue to search and touch nothing this time. They venture down the stairs. I see them walk the corridors. They have found the breeding chamber. They squirm uncomfortably. The murals and the divine ideas contained within revolt them. Their tiny minds cannot comprehend what they see. They seize the wicked toad idol. It toys with them as it speaks to their minds.’

          Rance ventured hopefully ‘Tsathoggua can be most persuasive. Perhaps one of them will turn. The rewards for service are great and the wicked toad idol and its power to enslave with but a thought is a worthy prize.’

          ‘Alas their hearts are steeped in detestable virtue. They do not heed the relic’s entreaties. They move again now to the crypts. The armoured oaf approaches a coffin. He removes the lid and is suitably punished for disturbing the righteous rest of the dead. The blessed of Tsathoggua, half toad and half man, assail them. Mummified, they absorb the blows of their foes. They seem impervious to the arrows of the half elf. The Halfling’s feeble gods will not answer her desperate prayers here in the heart of Tsathoggua‘s temple. They know they are doomed yet still they battle on.’

          ‘About time they perished. I could not think of a more suitable ending than to be slain by the blessed of Tsathoggua.’

          ‘Woe brother Rance! I see the blessed torn asunder by the hated armoured oaf and a simple spear thrust from the half elf. We are undone. The Fane of St Toad lies undefended. The heathens retreat but will not be gone long.’ Mugwort shook his head clearing it of the vision. ‘We must gather our strength and head to the Fane at once. Our god has shown me the way. We will put an end to these blasphemers once and for all.’

          Tuesday, 25 September 2012

          Continuity and the Cthulhu Campaign

          Hint: African magic is never beneficial

          How is a second batch of investigators meant to pick up the pieces from a failed investigation? The various conceits such as prior investigators leaving detailed notes always rang false to me. One option could be to play policemen investigating the disappearance of the prior investigators and then trying hard not to act on knowledge these fresh characters wouldn’t have. I must admit I find it hard not to meta-game in these situations. How do you keep sensible continuity vital to the believability of a clue laden Cthulhu story after a party wipe? Which leads me to a second thought.

          Can you fail in a role-playing game? As people say character death and insanity in Cthulhu are expected and yet it’s still an odd feeling to have a character perish. My character in Cthulhu is probably dead and that’s OK. I suspect my next character will be a lot more paranoid and I’ll probably power game his stats as much as I can so that I pass those critical rolls. I have to wonder if you’re playing Cthulhu in the spirit of the game if you have martial arts, explosives and shotguns at 95%? Here’s what could well amount to Monty’s last tale:

          Well this is a grim situation we find ourselves in. It seems the questionable folk of the Juju house were indeed cultists. I had suspected as much but chose the noble path of not giving in to racial stereotyping and this is the result it seems. Struck down by invisible Nubian warriors. In the dead of night the blighters are difficult to see. I would tell you of events from the start so that in the likely event that I am sacrificed to some nameless bloody tongued god you may pick up the pieces and continue the investigation. I trust you shall be more paranoid than I and shoot all those of colour on sight. This could of course become problematic should your investigations lead you to Kenya. Regardless here is what transpired before my present predicament.

          Our first trip to Harlem was an unpleasant affair. Drunks abound in this ghetto. The Juju house sold African gewgaws of little consequence. Our enquiries of the old shop owner got us an introduction to Mokungo who we were to meet late that night. I noticed a key about the shop owner’s neck and ascertained that there was a basement beneath the shop. An inner voice told me to pull a gun on the owner but I resisted the temptation for such would be the actions of a mad man. Oh how I regret not acting on that instinct now.

          It's ones duty to formulate an escape plan
          We left the Juju house with little to show for our efforts except for the feeling that the African was hampering our investigations. Instead we turned our attention to Erica Carlysle, sister of the clearly doomed expedition leader Roger Carlyle. We got her attention by hinting that her brother was still alive. This got us our audience, where Erica told us of a Nubian princess who had bent Roger to her will. She also provided us with several texts that gave her the heebee jeebees. In addition she told us of Roger’s constant nightmares but not what they were about, as Roger would not tell anyone. Finally she signed a letter giving us access to his psychiatric records.

          We had an 8 o’clock appointment with Mokungo and returned to the Juju house. Suspecting skulduggery we staked out the shop for a good 10 minutes. Seeing no one enter and deciding we had best see what was afoot we headed in. Mokungo was there as was Silas the storeowner. Not liking the situation I chose to remain at the door and watch the alley while Dr Raymond Howser approached the Africans and engaged them in a short conversation. I recall a panicked shriek from Dr Raymond just prior to being struck on the head by a metal object. We had fallen into a trap and it is most unlikely that we shall survive. 

          Monday, 10 September 2012

          Call of Cthulhu is a nifty game

          I didn’t play Cthulhu till I was out of high school. I’d been playing a number of ‘thespy’ White Wolf style games for a few years and got a kick out of the low power, ‘your doomed’ vibe the game gave off.

          I dig playing the average Joe trapped in a terrible situation that gets progressively worse. The first character I played was an antique dealer who was thrown out of a window by malevolent forces, banished an evil spirit trapped in a roof space, sledgehammered a desiccated wizard to his second death before finally being consumed by a slime monster living in the walls of a mansion. In Gary’s current game I’m playing a detective with some incredibly low skills. I am amazed when I pass any sort of roll.

          Which leads me to another point I really like about Cthulhu, the rules simplicity and transparency. With head butt 50% you can expect to land a blow with your bonce half the time. This coupled with the games rules light approach appeals to me. In the last three sessions I have rolled five or six times. The game has focussed on gathering clues, following up leads and asking pertinent questions.

          In the last game we:

          ·       Learned the rumoured demise of the Carlyle expedition was greatly exaggerated.
          ·       The Carlyle expedition survivors want to open a gate to a madness inducing realm.
          ·       Cops are not always the enemy and may help you with useful information. Who knew? Rather than arrest us for fleeing the scene of a grisly murder the police helped us with additional information on a series of ritual killings before sending us on our way.
          ·       White folks in the 1920’s were awfully suspicious of Africans. No doubt they are up to no good with their voodoo witchcraft.
          ·       The Cult of the Bloody Tongue, based in a mountain hideout in Africa, are active worldwide. Surely they are guilty of killing my friend Elijah Jackson for getting too close to the shocking truth!

          With just Roger and me playing we are going to have to be particularly cunning to come out of this alive. A trip to Harlem to see a Voodoo priest is on the cards. It’s a good thing we have back up characters.

          Wednesday, 29 August 2012

          Negotiating in bad faith

          ‘I don’t know who killed the troll child but I killed your Jarl.’ – Ugh practises diplomacy.
          The temple guards bowed respectfully and opened the door of the shrine. Jana strode into the hall and up to the altar. There she paused in quiet reflection till the Patriarch approached.

          ‘You looked troubled.’ The Patriarch noted. ‘I take it the latest venture ended poorly. Was there more misbehavior on your companion’s part? I trust there was no further cannibalism?’

          ‘No, Ugh has reigned himself in. Instead I suspect Milgos slew a child, by accident for the dark elf has no malice in him. Still I find the act unsettling and it only serves to stiffen the resolve of our enemies. Nothing shocks me anymore Patriarch. From the way Milgos and Ugh talk about building towers and keeps it seems the end is nigh.’

          ‘Clearly you are troubled Jana. Best share your burden. I will listen.’

          ‘The last venture saw us clash again with the mountain trolls. We felt we had them routed but they returned to their lair in numbers. I, like the others grow weary of battling them. In the tunnels on the way in we had to deal with a small band of dark elf scouts. These dark elves are not like Milgos. They dress in lizard skins and their eyes have no pupils. They lasted barely ten seconds as Milgos tore into them with fire and ice magic. Clearly he harbors a great hatred for dark elves of all kinds. Interestingly they had a trained basilisk with them. Its head was hooded like a falcons and it was kept lashed to a handler’s pole. During the magical barrage the hood was torn asunder and for the briefest moment Milgos met it’s baleful gaze. He shook it off and the creature perished in a barrage of magic missiles.’

          ‘The trolls had repaired the great double doors which led into their domain. We knocked respectfully and Milgos attempted a subterfuge. Osric and Ugh chatting away in common spoiled his efforts. Osric’s half-elven accent was a particular give away. Credit where it is due however for Milgos would not stop trying to trick his way in. Alas brains would not suffice and so brawn would have to do. Ugh kicked the door in and a melee broke out with the guards. During the skirmish Milgos crept ahead discovering the troll hall, where previously he had disrupted a clan feast, was once again occupied by a score of mountain trolls. A trollish hag was organizing them for war and they marched to meet us in the hall where the door guards were continuing to mount a desperate defence. Acting swiftly Milgos blocked their approach with a wall of ice before alerting us that company was coming.'

          The Patriarch interrupted. ‘Ah Milgos, once again acting impetuously and imperiling the group. Was it not his fireball into a crowded feast hall that slew the Jarl’s child and in so doing started this wretched vendetta?’

          ‘So it would seem Patriarch. Though Milgos' carelessness has not killed anyone but himself as yet. His quick thinking with the wall of ice bought us time to dispatch the mountain troll guards. The last fell before the pair of savage war shrews Osric had brought along. We headed north towards the kitchens, hoping to bypass the bulk of the trolls only to run into the troll hag and some guards. She asked to parley and for a while things looked to be going amicably.
          Where is your leader?’ the troll hag asked. Milgos answered from the anonymity afforded by his invisibility.
          Show yourself. How can we negotiate in good faith when you will not show yourself.’ The hag continued. Milgos was unmoved and so Ugh took up negotiations claiming to be the leader of the group. Ugh speaking for the party should have been warning enough that things would turn sour but alas this appears to be a lesson we have to learn the hard way.
          The one question I have for you is this…’ Began the troll hag.
          We ask the questions.’ Ugh interrupted.
          Just this single question answered and we shall end our grievances. Who was it that turned the Jarl’s son to ash? Who slew the Jarl?’
          ‘That’s two questions but I shall answer you. I don’t know who killed the child but I claim credit for slaying your king.’
          ‘At the news the troll jarl’s wife, who had been invisible up to this point, shrieked bloody vengeance and invoked an ancient trollish curse. Ugh transformed before my eyes. His hands and feet became hooves, horns sprouted from his forehead, his body shrunk and he grew a great beard. He had become a goat!’

          Ugh transformed - possibly gaining a charisma point or two
          ‘Even with our frontline fighter goatified we were able to put the mountain trolls to the sword. The trollish hag was last to fall detonating a great blast of fire that felled Milgos momentarily and charred the war shrews. At the cessation of hostilities I set about dispelling the enchantment on Ugh. It was not long before he was back to his normal self. I must admit I had half a mind to leave him in goat form but Milgos and Osric wouldn’t have allowed that. The loot was particularly scarce as it was apparent that we had cleaned them out on the last foray. There are still some trolls skulking about down there though they will mostly be maids. If they are smart they will leave and trouble us no more. I pray we do not fight them again for I have had enough of slaying mountain trolls.'

          Tuesday, 21 August 2012

          Caverns of Ekim the Lawful

          Last Saturday we got some face to face gaming in; rolling dice, pushing mini’s and making juvenile jokes at the npcs expense. It was a whole lot of fun. I haven’t run a face to face game since the play test for Rot Tower so was feeling rusty and a little nervous; which is stupid because I was gaming with guys I’ve been friends with for almost a decade. Mike was back in town and we managed to get a game going with another friend Adam. I’m an old school DM at heart and, as I’d volunteered to run a game, we agreed on AD&D.

          Once game day was confirmed I had two evenings to write something. With the internet and my D&D obsession I was spoilt for resources. In the end I used a few really good ones to put the game together. I took B1 ‘In Search of the Unknown’ and used it as a shell. The original map of the dungeon is not great and so I replaced it with a redesign found at the Dragonsfoot forum. I wrote it out in a DMing friendly format as –C talks about here so that the adventure would fit on two pages. I then took some interesting elements and random table results to spice up the dungeon from the Yavin award winning and free Secret Santicore, and the excellent Dungeon Alphabet. Finally I gave the rival humanoid tribes in the dungeon an extra spark by using the 'Random Orc Generator' in Knockspell 6 and Monster Business. Alternative magic items were supplied by a post from Beyond the Black Gate.

          The revised B1 map from Dragonsfoot
          Character generation went smoothly though Adam and Mike were unfamiliar with the AD&D books. 4d6 drop 1 down the line. Adam rolled incredibly well and almost qualified for a Paladin. In the end he settled on a Dwarf Fighter/Cleric with amazing saves thanks to a constitution score of 19. The dice were crueller to Mike who ended up with no characteristic bonuses. Mike decided to play a Dwarven fighter. As there were only two players they started at second level with an impressive AC provided by plate mail and shields. They also had 7 pre-generated hirelings to order around thanks to Meatshields!

          As we started the game I asked the character’s names. Mike was Bill. I rolled my eyes and rather foolishly suggested Adam call his dwarf Ted. Adam agreed and so Bill and Ted went off on their excellent adventure. I can't seem to run a serious adventure to save myself and so this set the tone for the afternoon. I'm not so worried as the lighter the tone the more fun I have. While the hirelings had names no one took the time to find out what they were. We all knew they weren’t going to last long.

          Among the highlights of the session were:
          • A showdown in the entrance hall where the band was surrounded by goblins. The goblins were routed but all attempts at parley and surrender were met with dwarven axe and hammer. Racial hatreds die hard.
          • Dungeon chicken. I let players choose 6 things from the equipment list. Mike picked a chicken which he used to check for traps by flinging it at suspicious objects and tunnels. Dungeon chicken may have saved them from a fireball trap by unmasking the illusion that hid it. Amazingly dungeon chicken survived and was joined by a second, more intelligent chicken (see gnomes below).
          • The group got involved in a loot off, racing to secure as much loot as they could while a rival gnomish adventuring group attempted the same. The gnomes greed got the better of them and they turned on the party only to be soundly defeated. A surviving gnome braved the transformation pool hoping to transform into something powerful to seek his revenge. The dice determined that he would become a chicken and so Ted ended up doubling the number of chickens he owned by the end of the adventure. Profit.
          •  The gnomes were playing with the decapitated heads of their goblinoid foes when the adventurers met them. This rapidly degenerated into a ‘head’ jokes and related innuendo at the gnomes expense. Good fun.
          • Hireling's were ordered not to call Bill and Ted 'milord' else the monsters realise the dwarves were important and target them.
          • Hirelings encouraged to carry bright torches into dangerous situations, despite the dwarves not needing light to see. They were further encouraged to serve as distractions by being gifted 'bedazzled' cloaks and 'shiny' armour to wear.
          • The party rescued a blink dog who was trapped in a jar by the owner of the dungeon Ekim the Lawful. On a sidenote Ekim seemed misnamed, as his lair was full of nasty evil things. Thanks to me only having one dog 'voice', the blink dog was dubbed Scooby.
          • The party had found some contact poison which they exploited used to good effect against an ogre. Acting simultaneously, Bill struck the ogre with a vial of poison hurled from his sling. The brute failed it’s save and died but just prior to its projectile vomiting death it plunged the legendary ‘bleeding spear’ into Bill. The dwarf came close to dying but made a mad dash to a pool of healing which he collapsed in at -3 HP. 
          That was great fun. We played for close to 4 hours and by the end I was spent. It reminded me how much I miss face to face gaming. The old groups have broken up with people moving, falling out or having family commitments. I’ve gamed with perhaps a dozen people over the years and it would be great to put a group together again. For now I make do with the weekly Google+ game.

          Wednesday, 8 August 2012

          Against the Mountain Trolls

          'We couldn't rescue one of you. The trolls squeezed him till his eyes popped.' - Milgos consoles the slaves
          The Mountain Troll King's golden throne

          Betty hefted her mug of mead and knocked it back in record time much to the admiration of the tavern patrons. She was never short of an audience, ever since her ventures with Milgos and Ugh had gained the attention of the common folk. She no longer had to buy her own drinks, though on this occasion she supplied the beverages herself. The bands latest expedition had left her in the possession of a vast supply of mead courtesy of the Mountain Trolls. She was becoming accustomed to the taste. The patrons gathered around expecting a story of heroics but she wasn’t in the mood. She’d been brooding for months now, ever since the fallout with Beatrice, her twin sister and temporary adventuring companion. Dirk the apprentice, who at this stage of the night was already roaring drunk called out “Give us a story Betty. Tell us about how you killed the King of the Mountain Trolls and plundered his horde!”
          She’d give them a story.

          “All I ever hear about is how we are these big heroes. We have this reputation now for saving folk. I can’t walk down the street without someone begging me to ‘rescue my daughter from the Chimera’s Grotto’ or ‘save my child from the Keep on the Borderlands.’ Most people don’t like the answer I give, but I give it to them straight. I tell them we aren’t heroes and we aren’t a charity. Unless you’re paying us we aren’t going to save your cousin, brother or whoever. The truth is the last lot of folk we rescued, all those cooks, washerwomen and filthy gnomes, we rescued by accident. In the end we used them as labor, getting them to carry the heaviest loot for us so we could take it easy on the way back to the city. Ugh and Milgos both sat in the Mountain Troll’s throne while the freed slaves carried them down the mountain. One last bout of slavery before we left them in the city square with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We took everything we could from those Mountain trolls, their jewelry, the Jarl’s throne, rugs from their floors even the crib from the nursery.”

          “You could at least make it sound heroic you know. I much prefer the bard’s tales to your bitter ranting.” Complained Kirk the disappointed apprentice just before an empty mead mug smashed his ugly face. Betty continued her tale as the unconscious fool fell to the ground. “He’s right you know. The story could use a bit more heroism and a little less reality.” She said with a wicked gleam in her eye “Here is the pretty version you can tell your kids before you tuck them in at night.”

          “We had earlier slain the Jarl and put the trolls to flight. We knew it was only going to be temporary as the trolls would regroup under the leadership of either the Jarl’s ruthless wife or the foul troll crone who had befuddled Ugh’s mighty intellect with her trollish wiles. This is the reason Milgos hounded the trolls retreat blasting them all the while with his wand of ice and frost.”

          Anther patron deigned to interrupt though not as rudely as the last “I heard Milgos was out of magic. He had a wand that shot pink energy missiles but it was ashed by a dragon.”
          The Jarl's son prior to the fireball
          “You heard right but in the time we spent burning the bodies of the first troll onslaught Milgos had rummaged through our bag of holding. In it he found the wand of frost we had torn from the cold dead hands of none other than Enlandrin the notorious bastard and evil mage. And so Milgos blasted the hated Mountain Trolls with great storms of ice from Enlandrin’s wand, leaving many trolls rent asunder by great jagged hail stones the size of your head!” The crowd gasped in terror. 
          “Well may you gasp for I too was shocked. Ugh and I picked our way through the carnage trailing the mad Dark Elf in human guise. Ugh probably wasn’t concerned by the horrific scenes as he had personally committed far worse. Do you recall the story of him eating fried goblin?”
          The crowd nodded and one called out “It weren’t true Betty. That’s just lies.”
          “Of course it’s true.” Betty cried incredulously “I saw it myself. He’s done some terrible things but cannibalism is likely the worst. I already told you we aren’t heroes and what we do isn’t pretty. Do you want to know the real reason the Mountain Trolls were so mad at us? It’s because we killed the Jarl’s son. Milgos fried the infant with magic. He burnt a few of the trolls as well but seemed to do a tremendous job incinerating the Jarl’s son. This had the predictable effect of inciting the trolls to hurl themselves at us seeking murderous retribution. While Milgos had them on the run with icy blasts from his wand some of the Mountain Trolls were too stupid to know they were beat and fought us in the halls. They didn’t last long. Ugh and I cut them down. Then it was off to free the slaves and take everything of value that wasn’t nailed down. And here we are. The heroes return triumphant to the city. Let the bards spin their tales of heroism; at least you lot got the true story. Now leave me be. I have some drinking to do.”

          Tuesday, 31 July 2012

          Hackfest or when things go wrong!

          ‘My name is Milgos and I am here to free you.’ – Milgos emancipates the slaves
          A mountain troll
          ‘Here she is my lord.’ Lord Winthrop’s manservant ushered in wild-eyed woman in servant’s garb ‘Just hired her this morning as a kitchen hand. She says someone called Milgos liberated her from one of the Mountain Troll halls. I recalled the name Milgos from the minstrel’s tales your fond of and thought you might want to talk with her.’
          ‘Your intuition serves you well.’ Lord Winthrop praised his servant before turning his attention to his new kitchen hand. ‘Your name girl?’
          'The trolls called me Brigitte me lord.’
          ‘Very well Brigitte, tell me how you came to meet Milgos and his group.’
          “Isn’t much to tell me lord. I was serving in the halls of the Mountain Trolls. Carrying haunches of mutton and steins of ale from the kitchens. It was one of the Jarl’s many feasts where he would ramble on about faded glory and then drink to excess. Dradeel, a slave like me only a gnome, approached and whispered  ‘Head to the corner. There is a wizard about and he means to free us with magic.’ Now I think to myself ‘the kindly wizard must be about to teleport us to safety. But no.’ The wizard, who I learned was Milgos, starts chanting and waving his arms from his hiding position under one of the giant trestle tables they bring out for their feasts. His chanting and waving gave his position away but it didn’t matter as a great ball of fire engulfed the Mountain Troll Jarl and his hearth guard. All hell broke loose as troll warriors and maids raced towards their attacker. We servants ducked under benches trying to keep out of harms way. The Jarl’s wife was howling in anguish as the fireball had roasted her child alive. The Mountain Trolls filled their hearts with hate and vengeance as they poured from the hall seeking wizard blood.’

          ‘Fighting all sense of self-preservation I edged towards the halls exit so I could witness the unfolding fight. I hoped my cruel masters the Mountain Trolls, would be defeated and Milgos would rescue us. While I couldn’t see much I did see three armoured figures, whom I would later learn were Ugh the toad-slayer, Jana wizard-bane and Betty the corpse-guardian. They were fleeing before the horde of trolls. I heard a high-pitched voice exhorting them to run faster but could not see who uttered the warning. I would later learn it was the invisible Milgos.’
          ‘I heard he spends more time invisible than visible and that he slowly ebbs and fades from this world.’ Lord Winthrop mused.
          Onkel the three headed troll
          ‘Couldn’t say me lord. In fact I saw little of what he got up to during the battle, probably all the more so given that he shrouds himself in invisibility wherever he goes. Though I did hear some of what unfolded from those working in the kitchen. They say he severed the spine of Onkel the three headed troll. Stabbed him in the back when he wasn’t looking. He’s good at the sudden stabbing as he gutted a troll maid towards the end of the struggle. He strikes from the invisible then fades into the shadows. He’s like an assassin only without the evil.’

          ‘While the warriors where putting up a stout defence in the hall, driving back the troll horde, Milgos was leading a band of troll chefs a merry chase in the kitchens. The trolls hunting the evasive wizard threatened the kitchen staff hoping they would give up the heroes position. Even when they squeezed a gnome so hard that his eyes popped from his skull the kitchen staff would not betray their potential savior. Milgos eventually distracted his furious troll hunters with a sound cantrip and in doing so saved the lives of many kitchen staff.’
          ‘Perhaps he is a hero after all?’ Interrupted Lord Winthrop. ‘I had heard mixed accounts up to this juncture. I had been erring on the side of Milgos being a rogue of ill intent who wears the trappings of a hero only to lend legitimacy to his larcenous and murderous inclinations. This unkind reading of his character I owe in the main to his dark elf heritage.’
          ‘Dark elf me lord? He aint no dark elf. I know dark elves on account of how some were guests at the Jarl’s feast. They ran at the first sign of trouble. They didn’t look like Milgos at all. He’s a hero my lord, no doubt about it. He fought the Troll chefs while his friends faced off against the furious horde.’

          Send more trolls!
          ‘I could hear the Jarl and his wife cursing and wailing behind me over the death of their son. While they where distracted a troll crone lead the assault. She charmed the Toad-slayer into leaving the safety of the corridor that the heroes held. The warrior staggered into the midst of the mountain trolls his mind ensorcelled till the brutes brought their vengeful axes down upon him. Somehow he survived the assault and even managed to fight his way back to the defensive position of his companions.’ 
          ‘There was much blood shed in that corridor. Troll’s retreated or where slain. The troll’s remorseless assault wore down the heroes. Ugh in particular took some terrible blows. Yet Jana’s prayers to the gods soothed his wounds and kept him standing. The battle raged for almost half an hour before the grief stricken Jarl pushed through the ranks in order to bring the conflict to a head. He faced off against the toad-slayer. The Jarl’s mighty two-headed battle-axe, easily 6 feet in length, clashed against the toad-slayers dragon slaying sword. There could be only one and as it turned out that one was Ugh Toad-slayer. With the Jarl’s head separated from his body the tide had turned and the remaining trolls, despite comfortably outnumbering the heroes, had had enough. They turned tail and fled leaving the heroes surrounded by corpses. They immediately piled up the bodies, dowsed them in oil and set them alight.’

          ‘And that’s all there is to tell. Me and the other servants fled to the surface. From there we made it to the city.’
          ‘Thank you Brigitte for a most enlightening tale.’ Lord Winthrop gestured for his manservant speaking quietly in his ear at his approach ‘Bring me the sage.’