Sunday, 27 January 2013

Minotaur smack-down and a choice - Drow or Dragon?

 Just like the party but with more powers

Players are right to fear the Drow. AD&D traditionally starts hard. You have a handful of hit points and have to scramble for your wins. Then you hit mid level and a buffer of hit points protect you from mistakes. The beasts of the monster manual fall before your might, particularly creatures that are sacks of hit points with no powers. Things seem easy. Which is why Gygax introduced Drow. Drow, like players, don’t play fair. They cast spells, use poison, have magic resistance and allow the DM to indulge in mean underhanded tactics. The kicker is their sweet loot, like Drow cloaks and adamantium chainmail, decay in the sunlight. The pay-off for battling them isn’t always great. Drow were Gygax’s leveler, they make things tough again.

Which is why I was a disappointed when the group decided to avoid drow territory preferring to take their chances dragon hunting. The group love killing dragons and rightly so, they tend to be rich!

Things that happened last game were:

  • Milgos the mage thief, Betty the swordswoman, Chuck the priest and Ratnik the barbaric tribesman ventured into the silent halls of the Mountain Trolls. The signs of the Troll purge obvious to all. Great piles of burnt bones lay where the heroes had stacked them in pyres and the walls remained scarred from the assault of both magical fire and ice. Nothing was foolish enough to assault the band in this place.
  • A Minotaur outpost was discovered with the beasts seizing the initiative, charging into the narrow confines of the tunnels to do battle. This made casting area effect spells a risky proposition. Milgos fled and was head butted twice by great bull headed men who pursued. Betty barely withstood the barrage of axe blows and Ratnik fell. Chuck kept folk alive by channeling Dunethain’s power into healing spells. Soon Ratnik was back in the fight, three Minotaurs were caught in a web and the tide turned. The party had been horribly mauled by their first encounter and retreated to the city of Khare to lick their wounds.
  • In Khare Chuck scrounged some healing scrolls from the curators of the library which served as Dunethain's temple.
  • The second venture saw Milgo’s scouting and as soon as he heard the lowing of Minotaurs he let fly with a devastating fireball into the darkness. The burning Minotaurs fled in panic, setting off a crossbow trap. Those not killed by the trap had their throats slit.
  • The parties own dark elf assessed the trap and determined it was of Drow manufacture. He retrieved a number of bolts from the device then decided to leave what lay beyond the traps protection alone. As far as he knew the trap marked the beginning of Drow territory.
  • The group turned north as Milgos recalled a tale of a dragon lairing in that direction. The northern tunnels where part of an abandoned mine. Many of the tunnels looked dangerously unstable with one collapsing before their eyes.
  • Shrieking fungus sounded the alarm in a fungus covered chamber. Lizard like rooster creatures raced in to investigate. Chuck hurled a mine cart into the chamber disrupting a patch of yellow mold at a critical moment slaying two of the monsters.
  • Past the abandoned mines and fungus the group found a snake temple. In a pillared hall a huge constrictor attacked them and at one point swallowed Ratnik. The henchman was spared the indignity of dying in a snake’s stomach as the party eviscerated the creature. Chuck was so incensed at the snakes audacity for swallowing one of the Dunethain's favoured that he hacked off the head of the beast, Conan style!
  • An ominous pair of double doors was discovered beyond which the party suspect lairs the dragon. The dragon they hunt had defeated the party very early on in their careers, though Ugh is the only character to have survived that initial encounter. The band retreated to plan their next move.
Snakes often get chopped in the head

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Nostalgia, Cave Demons and Sorcery!

I ran an AD&D game on Google+ recently. Part of running older games is recapturing the wonder and excitement I experienced as a kid, nostalgia I guess. I had pondered creating a sandbox setting for the game I’m running and figured that I should draw on the things that inspired me when I was growing up. The major influences were Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf books, games of Talisman, Warhammer 3e and countless readings of D&D Red Box. Visually Gary Chalk and John Blanche were huge influences on me. While I am reminiscing, Callum an old DM and friend, joined the game calling in from NSW. Excellent!
Gary Chalk illustrated my childhood.
Callum had rolled up Chuck the dwarven cleric/fighter and zealot of Dunethoin. Dunethoin is the god of secrets and mysteries. Brendan brought Milgos and his henchwoman Betty. After a substantial Google+ hic-up killed about an hour of game time we got underway and achieved the following:

·       Chuck met Milgos in one of Khare’s many taverns and immediately made all present aware of his zealous unwavering faith. Milgos was not impressed by the dwarf's fanaticism. He had recently taken up the title of 'Milgos the Glum' as he brooded on the loss of his dark elf form.
·       Chuck was looking to explore the location of some cyclopean ruins that were held by a band of Slaang worshipping marauders. Slaang is the chaotic god of malice.
·       Upon arriving at the caves they were questioned by a man concealed in the undergrowth who insisted he was a hermit and that the group had to leave as there were “definitely no cyclopean ruins here to explore, thank you very much.” After a drawn out conversation Chuck became suspicious and peered into the cave. While the ‘hermit’ had stalled for time a band of marauders had gathered at the caves entrance. Combat was swift thanks to a hold person spell and some terrible rolls.
·       Efforts to push the ‘held’ marauders off a cliff face were interrupted by the main marauder group led by a Witch of Slaang. Once they were dispatched a marauder was spared and brow beaten into forsaking his god Slaang and instead worshipping Dunethoin.
·       Chuck’s new ‘ally’ spilled the beans on the caves layout and features mentioning some tunnels that were too small for the bulky marauders to explore. These tunnels would be ignored.
·       The witch’s body turned to mist and began to float away but was frozen solid by Milgos’ magic. The frozen chunks were then scooped into a bag of holding.
·       A cave demon was found and dispatched. Milgos’ displacer cloak gave him the confidence to enter melee.
·       A giant stone head was discovered in the cave demons lair. It was said to allow direct communication with the god Slaang who would grant a wish to any who bested him in a contest of wits. Milgos was torn but would have no truck with dark gods despite his desire to return to his drow form. Chuck got out his chisel and defaced the head ruining it.
·       Further exploration found a survivor of a prior expedition, Mad Mord, who gave them some extra information on the cyclopean ruins which the players didn’t really pick up on. Probably because at this point we were rushing things.
Sorcery! The feared Cave Demon turns out to be a manticore. 
The adventure I ran was a homebrew influenced by the Sorcery! series of books, specifically the Shamutanti Hills, with an eye to fine tune it into a one page dungeon entry. No adventure survives contact with the players and despite my fatigue on the night I picked up on a few things that didn’t really work:

·       The adventure needed more detail as the caves were overshadowed by combat. Callum thought they were moving through a dungeon when they were moving through natural caves. This could also be because the fighting started well before any exploration.
·       More build up was required. There was a big fight at the entrance and then some rushed and muddled exploring.
·       Some other sort of opponent beyond the marauders and the cave demon was required. Is there room in the caves for another faction if I space things out?
·       The puzzle, which led to the portal concealing a cool encounter and substantial treasure, was either too well hidden or simply not picked up on by the players. The primary goal seemed to be clear the dungeon of monsters first and if there's any play time left explore.
·       I got the impression the players weren’t impressed with re-skinned humanoids preferring to battle the classic creatures. The players searched in vain for the spell book of a witch after she was killed. They became disheartened and queried how she could cast spells. It’s hardly my job as a DM to explain that she was a re-skinned ogre-mage.
·       The marauders were re-skinned minotaur’s with a random mutation. Thanks to the random mutation roll one of the marauders could psionically cast sleep. I think this met with raised eyebrows that he cast a spell without a spell book and do it while wearing armour. This is probably a bit of the old 3e fairness/monsters built like players mindset creeping in. 

I’ll keep working on this adventure and the Sorcery! setting as I think both have potential. It was great gaming with both Brendan and Callum. It has been far too many years. Nostalgia is a good thing.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Caves of Chaos, burning oil and how we roll.

Pete, Optimus Prime and I have gamed together for most of our lives. We tend towards farce, mucking around and disrupting the DM’s plans at every turn. Yet we keep coming back. When someone runs a pre-written adventure like Optimus Prime's Barony of the Damned or Pete’s Power Behind the Throne we take things seriously for the most part. 
These adventures worked for us.
But if its one of our written adventures look out. Perhaps this is due to their one-shot nature. Lately I’ve been thinking about doing the following to prevent frustration on my part as the DM:
  • Discourage disruptive PC’s like Halflings. Halflings are inevitably played as squeaky voiced Mickey Mouse clones. The voice will eventually drive you mad. One occasion saw the group play Barbarians as cavemen that don’t play nice with society. Which makes sense but made the city based adventure planned for the night problematic.
  • Curtail oil. It’s rules effectiveness sees it used till it becomes a monotonous crutch. I have seen oil flasks ruled as alchemist fire as opposed to lamp oil. This makes sense given the flammability and raw damage and I should reduce availability accordingly. It was amusing to see it used as a tool for assassination though.
  • Hand wave as much ‘town’ as I can. My problem with the ‘town’ is that one person does their own thing for a bit leaving the others bored. I have been in this position many times. Bored or frustrated players tend to set things, like taverns, on fire. Therefore I hand wave the whole thing “gain d3 hirelings each and buy whatever you like off the equipment list within reason.” To me the adventure happens at the adventure site, be it a ruin or dungeon, and not in the village.
  • Hirelings are a finite resource. Players become frustrated at not being allowed to hire a dozen hirelings post expedition to replace losses.  I have come to see the pool of hirelings as a finite resource but my players don’t see things this way. 
Last Friday we gamed. I wasn’t sure what to run and had been speed-reading Tomb of the Iron God and Dwimmermount. I settled for something I knew. B2 Keep on the Borderlands. After swift character creation we began at the ravine’s entrance with the players facing a series of caves. I decided to pick things up from where the last group had left off. A Halfling fighter, Half Orc assassin and a mob of hirelings headed straight to the Temple of Evil Chaos. There was much burning. The following happened:
Goblins always show up as wandering monsters.
  • A reaction roll dictated that a wandering group of goblins was friendly. A roll on the Monster Business chart saw they were rock painting. They offered to serve as guides in return for a shovel and ’magic’ whistle.
  • Booted feet caused loud echoes in the temple corridors and so all footwear was abandoned. The Half Orc and Halfling crept ahead with the Halfling abandoning his armour, favouring stealth. Before going into combat the Halfling would have a hireling strap him back into his armour.
  • A horde of skeletons were delicately roped together and their weapons deftly stolen. They would only animate if the gem they guarded was touched or if assaulted. Ultimately they animated and promptly fell over each other becoming tangled. They were easily dispatched. Had this been a straight up fight they party would have been butchered.
  • A horde of zombies was lured into an expansive field of oil laid out as a trap by the adventurers. Their brainless shambling approach saw them badly burned and then simply dispatched. Another TPK avoided.
  • A band of acolytes were interrupted as they complained about a ‘priest’ who was not sending enough victims their way. The players found out the usefulness of maces as we again used the AD&D Weapon verse Armour charts. Pete wasn’t impressed and I am reconsidering it’s use.
  • Excursion number one was a great success and the Half Orc assassin levelled up!
  • A trip to town saw the heroes desperate for oil. They went door-to-door begging for supplies and offering ludicrous prices. They also hired a Priest of Thunder and his acolytes.
  • Further exploration of the Temple of Evil Chaos saw the group barge in on a second band of acolytes. During the melee the Priest of Thunder betrayed them. All the hirelings, including the goblin guides, were slain. The high priests efforts to cast powerful spells like hold person were disrupted by lucky blows before the spells could be completed. The dice were running hot for the players.
  • Powerful chaotic artefacts were cautiously liberated, being lassoed onto a cloak before being bundled up. They would later inflict their curse when touched while being cleaned. The curse was seen as a frustration to the players and honestly was better resolved quickly and painlessly with a shabbily role-played trip to the priest back in town. There they blatantly hinted that they were cursed till the priest cast a remove curse spell.
  • A second horde of zombies was lured into a field of burning oil and suffered greatly for their brainlessness. The arrival of the Temple’s High Priest saw the Halfling fail his save verse spells and become paralysed. The Half Orc grabbed him and legged it, lighting several flasks of oil behind him to cover his retreat.
  • Excursion two was a great success, despite all the hirelings being butchered, as the traitorous Priest of Thunder was loaded with magic gear. Everyone levelled! No one would hire on with them nor was there additional oil for sale.
  • With no one in the tavern willing to join them the players looked to recruit from the monstrous populace for their next assault on the Temple. A wandering monster roll determined a band of goblins setting snares in the woods; the reaction roll said they weren’t immediately hostile. The Half Orc’s appearance helped and soon they were directed to the orc caves. Some solid role-playing saw the recruitment of 10 orc warriors and an ogre mercenary.
  • The Temple High Priest was caught by surprise as he organised an ambush. The ogre cut him down and his zombies were dispatched. While prior hirelings had not been used as fodder the orcs certainly were.
  • The main temple was discovered. The Halfling failed a save and was hypnotised by some pretty temple lights. A horde of skeletons descended upon the group. It was a dramatic and close fight but once more the dice favoured the hero’s. A bloody ogre was their only ally left standing.
  • With the battle over the assassin put a war hammer into the ogre’s eye. The assassin had had a few attempts to assassinate creatures and on every occasion he had failed his % chance of success roll. This attempt was no different. He did automatically hit on each attempt and, thanks to another lucky roll, the damage inflicted was just enough to kill the ogre outright. The two heroes’ then looted the temple and the ogre’s lair.
  • Excursion three was a great success and everyone levelled again! The treasure in the temple is insanely high and the pair now has impressive magic armour, shields and weapons. As both characters are now level 4 I suspect the Caves of Chaos may not be as much of a challenge going forward.
Ogre 'ally' prior to war hammer to face incident.
It was 3 am when we finished gaming. Once again the Caves of Chaos produced the goods. It thoroughly deserves its status as a classic. There is just so much you can do with the module.