Saturday, January 31, 2009

Song Lyric Adventures : Falling Off the Edge of the World

Once again, I've decided to generate an adventure idea from some really cool lyrics. This time DIO and Black Sabbath burrowed into my ear and the following came of it. Here are the lyrics for the entire song, but I'm going to break it down again as we make the song into the background information for a quest/adventure.
I think about closing the door
and lately I think of it more
I'm living well out of my time
I feel like i'm losing my mind

I should be at the table round
a servant of the crown
the keeper of the sign
to sparkle and to shine

Never, no never again!
listen to me and believe what I say if you can
Never, this is the end
you know I've seen the faces of doom and I'm only a man
Help me, tell me I'm sane
I feel a change in the earth, in the wind and the rain
Save me, oh take me away
you know I've seen some creatures from hell and I've heard what they say!

I've got to be strong
oh, I'm falling off the edge of the world
think you're safe, but you're wrong!
We are falling off the edge of the world!

Look out! there's danger! no where to run!
It seems like desperate measures but sometimes it has to be done
Over, it's over at last
There's a message inside as we build a new life from the past

We're falling off the edge of the world!
Yes, the edge of the world!
It's the end of the world!
The first two stanzas speak of a man who believes he deserves more than his station (brother to the king? Baron?). And a plot has begun. Something sinister. Something long and calculated. Years pass and the brother succeeds in killing his brother (and having the family excommunicated by the church), seizing the throne in the process.

None suspect him. He is above reproach.

But somewhere in the darkness, the shame that he bears for his sins against his brother start to weigh on him.

In the third stanza, the darkness begins to take hold. Spirits visit him. Haunts from another place and time appear whenever guilt grips him. Are they real? Are the spirits really there to teach him anything? Or just a side-effect of his madness. Soon the nation slips a little from his fingers. His lack of control is noticeable.

He seeks absolution for his sins, but fears he can tell no one of what he's done. He sends soldiers to the corners of the earth, seeking a mute priest who will hear his confession. And in the meantime, he grows more and more mad, seeing visions of a world beyond ours (Astral Plane).

He waits months… then years for his soldiers to return, as his kingdom slips out of his fingers.

Madness grips him. The new King can no longer bear the weight of his sins. He climbs the stairs of his tower, locks himself inside, and writes the final words of his madness into the pages of any book he can find therein. Dozens of books litter his tower, each hiding a clue to his madness, each the key to something he's seen.

It is unclear when he dies in the tower, but it isn't long until infighting consumes the castle and the nation. A bloody civil war erupts…

… and the PCs enter, bearing the mute monk in their charge, arriving at the gates of a city consumed by bitter infighting.

And what sense to make of his notes? Are they madness? Or the keys to something greater? Something he's seen? Something beyond the tenuous grasp of man.

Gaming Economics

For those people who think that commerce is the only kind of wealth-generating system of economics and/or people who think Puerto Rico is a really neat game.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Haranshire Burns : Round Two

Okay.

Let me try to make sense of last night's rant for you as best as I can. Stick with me, this is just going to go in an order most convenient for me.

Session 1 and 2 have been adequately posted and I've admitted the first one was not as strong as it could have been. But the second more than made up for it with two good fights and some definite plot advancements.

The session ended with the party killing the farmer-bandits, routing the archers, and capturing Carlanis (the leader of the group). While the original adventure is really lame in WHY Carlanis is doing this, I put him in a more active role within Rachefort's (a better name than Rachefus) camp, having sold his farm two years ago to join the "cult." He carried a potion of domination with him, but the PCs have no idea what it is at the moment.

At the beginning of session three, the players spent about 20 minutes arguing about what to do with Carlanis. A good moral debate if their ever was one. In fact, the 2nd edition writers probably didn't take this into account because of the "adventurers are embraced with open arms" mentality of the 90s.

Drek. No wonder people left the game in droves.

After much debate, Aaron's character pulls out some pliers that they found in the capture wagon and rips out a toe-nail. The other two characters are stunned and think torture is wrong. Aaron is trying to avoid the real bad stuff by making it clear to Carlanis that they want answers. Long story short, they hatch a half-baked plan to lure Carlanis into thinking they are asleep so they can follow up back to his "lair," leaving him loosely tied up.

Carlanis, of course, devoted to his cause, attacks the wizard again, in an attempt to choke him out.

The party has no choice but to kill Carlanis.

It's about 8 at night and that party continues down the road. They've seen the mire to the south of the road growing out of control, and consuming the farmland, so they opt to find a dry farm to spend the night in (still 15 miles from Milbourne). They are let into a farmhouse owned by Ivan and Ignacia. They are offered some home-made vodka and asked about their travels. The wife is nervous about an elf in her home, but the husband is excited.

Until the elf shows off his magic to these backwater farmers.

The wife flees to her room and the husband leaves to console her. Yelling can be heard through the walls and after 15 mintues the PCs decide it's time to leave. They travel down the road a little ways and eventually camp in some rows of cabbage. Come morning, they made their way to Milbourne and stopped at the Baron of Mutton (tavern), where the owner was dealing with the missing Elena (was Jelenneth) and the concerns of Haldelar, Parella, and Andren. The scene was tense, as other patrons in the tavern could hear shouting upstairs for most of the morning and a rival adventuring party was scoping out the PCs. What should have set the stage for a very tense and spirited exchange, became an attempt by the players to convince themselves that "this town sucks."

The next 90 minutes of play was pretty good, though, as the PCs encountered locals of various levels of helpfulness and/or drunkenness. An out of work bargemaster even sold information to Aaron for 1sp. The PCs met Janik (was Layfayer) and Konrad (was Semheis) at different points and Aaron continually tried to meet with Haldalar, who was inconsolable. Andren did ask that he help as best as he could and showed a picture to the Druid.

Realizing they couldn't make much time to Thurmaster this late in the day, Dave and Micha rented cots on the floor of the Silver Crown (a run down tavern for local drunks) and sat down for some drinking. After buying rounds for the whole room, the locals were letting slip with as much information as they could about the surrounding area. I gave them Handout 3 and told them they couldn't let Aaron read it, but they could tell him whatever they could remember from it.

Aaron had an exchange with Grizzler outside, near the river, demonstrating just how little Grizzler thinks of everyone. It was, however, most informative. After that, Aaron finally spotted Haldelar closing up the mill for the day and stopped him before he went home. The two had a less than happy exchange and just before Haldelar could turn and leave dramatically, the campaign ended…

… well

Two idiots — let's call them David and Micha — decided to open the box given to them by a high-level wizard to DELIVER to Tauster. Not open. Deliver. And of course, since they opened the box (a prop I had brought with me), well… boom.

I was not nice about it.

Had they not physically rummaged through the PROP, I may have given them fair warning, but I decided to drop the 6d6 fire trap/glyph that was protecting the box right on top of them.

And that was pretty much when the campaign spun out of control and died in the ditch that is now three PCs flaundering in the middle of nowhere trying to explain away their actions to Kuiper and now… that their in Thurmaster… to Tauster.

Oh yeah. The killed some people with that explosion, too. It wasn't just them that go cooked. It was a tavern full of commoners, all dead… and how long will it take for the locals to blame the outsiders who actually "survived" the blast?

Haranshire Burns : Round One

In a move that I can only call the most obnoxious attempt to absolutely decimate the quality of a campaign, two of the three PCs in the group took it upon themselves to open the magically warded box that they were carrying to Tauster.

Fifteen tavern patrons lie dead and their equipment is decimated. The wizard has no spellbook and the entire town suspects their implication in the act. Having introduce a party of four adventurers looking for work, it won't take long to have the PCs facing down the other party in a future stalemate.

What boggles my mind the most about playing with 2/3rd of this group… is this:

Why spend HOURS learning all the rules and making your characters, just to avoid using things like detect magic at key moments in the adventure? Or avoiding key decisions. I just don't get it.

While this seriously sets them back and possibly stops them from doing half the cool stuff that is present in the book, this is hurts them more than it hurts me.

In short, explosive runes did 27 points of damage to two 2nd level characters and a room full of commoners.

Sigh.

I've now bent the bleeding to death rules TWICE for the party members in order to keep them alive in situations that should have killed them.

Not sure how to move forward running for this group.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tibetan Buddhism : The Three Edged Spear

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the story of the Three-Edged Spear or ritual dagger (phur pa) used in rituals to cure one from the Three Poisons — Ignorance, Hatred, and Desire; represented by the pig, snake, and rooster (respectively). These poisons sicken the soul in Buddhist lore and the cure is to get the mind and soul to act in harmony again.

I always thought this sort of thing belonged in a gaming book or adventure or something.

Greed, Hatred, and Delusion (as specific ignorance) are sometimes referred to as the three poisons (as well), three unwholesome roots, or the three fires. Again, same principles. They are bad for the soul, but have antidotes of their own.

To overcome greed, we learn to cultivate selflessness, generosity, detachment, and contentment. To overcome hatred, we learn to cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and forgiveness. To overcome delusion, we cultivate wisdom, insight, and right understanding.

To Buddhists, there are nineteen kinds of ignorance, including fundamental darkness, ignorance of the self, nidana (spiritual ignorance), and Avidyā (the most complex of ignorances, which breaks down into four more types). Avidyā means a lack of knowing associated with intention, cf. active ignorance of the spirit.

Anyway. Lots of cool for your clerics and "enlightened types" in fantasy gaming.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Night Below : Addendum

So far, I've made a few small changes here and there to the Night Below story. They've not even made it to Milbourne yet, and the PCs can see that the mired land of Haranshire lies on the edge of a border dispute between four separate races (to the South). This is going to make Harleton more important than it previously has been in the story.

I've also found a number of interesting sites and logs detailing the campaigns in Haranshire, so a farm auction looks to be among the principle events to come up soon.

Below is the reward poster hanging on a signpost that points to Harleton. I'm adding a narrow wagon-rut of a road between the edge of Lyrchwood and Harleton (it's not on the map, but makes sense to be there). I'm also adding a lumber yard (where mature wood is reaching its nadir and lumberjacks are begining to forest virgin trees) along the edge of the wood and a road leading up (alongside) Cutter Brook to the River.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Divers Campaign I and II

Session One
Playing with a new group is always tricky and trying to teach D&D players about the INDIE model of ACTIVE players is even harder. So, the first 20 minutes were awkward and difficult. We made characters as went, sort of, although I would have liked to have more prep, personally. My ring rust was definitely showing.

Quickly moving into the story, the PCs made their "stats" and were handed a quest by Kressen, the wizard that trained David's character. The village is about two weeks north and up the coast.

Highlights
Micha's oddly-polytheistic cleric in a world with one god (Anson) had a romp in the back-alley with the local "girl." He worships the "concept" of travel and is all about experiencing new things. Rökker (Dave's character) met with stares as most of the people of Divers did not understand what an elf was doing in their town. Aaron's Druid (Rama) acquired a mangy dog as his animal companion and generally found city life distasteful.

A hermit named Gherind sold them some moonshine, shared some fish, and introduced them to some blue-skinned goblins of no particular threat. Very powerful tabacco was spit into the fire and the PCs got a little "buzzed." A crazy dream was had by the elf, but the player may not have picked up on its significance.

My Favorite Moment
Watching the PCs "draft" gifts left to them by the wizard Kressen who hired them.

Session Two
Much more action this go around. People are starting to find their niche, although the lack of a fighter makes "ambush" scenarios deadly for the PCs. Two combats and a lot more "clues" and roleplaying this go around. Takes a while to get back into it, I think.

Aaron used obscuring mist twice… efficiently, I should add.

Highlights
The PCs continued up the coast toward MILBOURNE (from the Night Below box set). They encountered some contested land — between Gnolls, Hobgoblins, Orcs, and some upity goblins — but the PCs were well-warned by border markers. The PCs fought goblins and then orcs, back to back, in the same camp, then limped north to a wagon that was parked off the road.

They met Ariana, a gypsy, and a few others who belonged to her troupe. From there they headed north to Athwey, a small village in the middle of no-where — primarily a rest-stop for people travelling over the pass inland and/or going north, up the coast. A short stop there — Anson had a fun time with Ariana and Rama was asked by an old woman to deliver a letter to her cousin Haldelar in Milboure. After that, they were on their way again.

The party saw a frigate in the ocean at the mouth of the Churnet River and two days later a barge carrying a lot of copper ore. Just beyong that the party was ambushed in a fantastic fight that was ruined by the lack of fun that D&D can often bring.

Favorite Moment
The ambush just outside of Milboure by the farmers was just perfect — on the part of the farmers. They were waiting for adventurers fitting the PCs descriptions and waylaid them perfectly, subduing David's wizard in two rounds. The rest of the fight, sadly, was a comedy of errors, with Anson and Carlanis (the leader) missing their attack rolls for six consecutive rounds. Rama was stuck fighting five other guys by himself… okay his dog helped a little… and having the farmers drag away Rökker during the battle gave the PCs a little more time to fix things.

Toady Awards at CCFC

I could not pass up posting this twice. It's toy and game related, so I can put it here, right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More Memoir '44

Just played three more scenarios of Memoir '44 with my wife… who is NOT a gamer. I won twice and she won once.

Damn.

I love this game.

I cannot get enough. I bought two expansions, but I've yet to finish the ones in the basic book. Can't wait to see the Russian snipers in action.

I cannot recommend this game enough. Gotta get the Campaign book and Air Pack (which compiles all of their scenarios together).

The real strength of this game is that it's ASL for dummies and/or people who like to be done in an hour.

I am both.

The Night Below

My D&D campaign reached it second session, ending with the VERY FIRST encounter from the Night Below Boxed Set, now some 10+ years old. While I won't be exploring EVERYTHING under the earth, I do intend to play on the surface as long as possible… playing up the creepy connection between the cultists I introduced in the first session and everything else going on in the valley.

I hope my group is not reading this.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

D&D 3.75 Campaign Thing

Hey.

I ran a game.

Seriously. A real D&D session. With die rolls and monsters and everything.

Okay. So there were no fights, but there were goblins, painted blue. And some overland travel… and some not so nice city guards looking funny at the elf… and there was a wizard who gave them a quest…

And… wow…

I am really rusty.

They are half-way to Thurmaster, though... and already off the map.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Divers

Yes, I know there is a Divers in Greyhawk, I stole the name and that's all. I'm going to be running a new campaign using a combination of tools and modules, including excerpts from Raavnia and the old D&D Night Below campaign box.

Town of Divers and Environs
Our game world for the coming months will include a short exploration of the town of Divers and the surrounding areas, which include the villages of Merrow, Cane, Samson, and then Haranshire (from the Night Below boxed set). They are mostly farming and fishing communities, with some anomalies. They trade often in Divers and fall under the town’s protectorate. Well, everything but Haranshire.

The topography and names will be loosely based on the San Luis Obsipo area of California. I’ve drawn up a crude map. See.


As I add more, I will update this file.

Architecture
The towers ringing the town are irregularly tall, defying the average engineer’s knowledge of structures. The main keep of the town was severely damaged during the recent siege and still lacks basic repairs. A 5-10’ wide river runs through the center of the town. The town streets and purposely narrow, to make them easier defend if the town is ever invaded.

The design is post-Roman, pre-Renaissance with a lot of Eastern European touches. The richest structures are also the newest, borrowing designs from Arabia and India (or the fantasy equivalent). The poorest structures are left-over stone buildings from the previous Epoch.

The largest facet of the town is the massive basilica which once served as the town’s religious center. But since the fracturing of the church of Cerul, the basilica has been turned into a palace for the town Czar (a fake title) — Logais — and the political hub of the town.

Recent History
A guild collapse five years ago sent the local economy spiraling. The crisis was felt throughout the valley, impacting the working class the most. Those used to controlled wages and fixed pricing were faced suddenly with an unstable economy. It took several months for the situation to hit rock bottom, and only recently has the economy finally returned to normalcy with the hobgoblin siege (cf.) concluded.

The only guild to survive the collapse was the copper guild, which is stronger than ever due to the massive copper deposits in the hills surrounding the town. The silk, cotton, and leather guilds have only recently returned to the town as the economy returns to normal.

Three years ago, the Czar undertook the prospect of building a new university in the town. And while construction is still going on, it is near completion with foreign scholars eager for its opening.

A sixteen-day siege by a hobgoblin army, shattered the outer keep of Divers. But, the town survived the assault under the command of Field General Ivan Thorne. This siege ended only a few months ago, but the effects are still felt, with important sections of the town destroyed and many poorer families still rebuilding their lives.

Economy and Guilds
Textiles, Manufacturing, Copper Mining (which is slowly starting to rebuild). The majority of people work to provide the basic services of the town — food, lodging, craft goods, metal works, and so on. The rest work in more profitable arenas, shipping finished products north and south, to larger metropolises.

The Copper Guild is not only the most powerful guild, but it rivals some of the poorest noble families in the city for power. It makes sure all miners work, all smiths are paid well, and the local merchant house does not undercut anyone involved in the copper trade.

The Cotton Guild is relatively small, with a growing concern in the town. The Leatherworkers Guild has little to no power, at the moment, since the city already uses a great deal of leather goods without their interference. The Silks Guild is making ground to connect Divers with buyers in larger cities around the world.

A single merchant house (Githmar and Associates) manages all imports and exports in Divers, maintaining their monopoly by keeping a merchant guild out, paying up to the Deshene family, and double-cooking their books so now one knows how well they are really doing. Richer than most could imagine, they keep a low-profile and this makes everything run smoothly.

Begging is almost gone now, thanks to the war, but some poverty remains. Sell-swords can be found most anywhere at the moment, with a number of adventurers still hanging on after the siege. Honest work — cleaning stables, blacksmithing, construction — is easy to come by now, but anyone looking for an easy rush and grab job competes with a score of other eager mercenaries.

[The PCs will not find work, easily, at the start of the campaign.]

Government
A lawfully-controlled town, the people are hard-working and decent for the most part, while the elite work to their own ends. This creates a great deal of tension between the rich and poor, squeezing the already very small middle class.

Government is part plutocracy and part militocracy, with military leaders given free land and housing. Soldiers too are treated well. There is no police force, the military takes care of all patrols. Even with a town of only 6,000 people, there are nearly 800 soldiers and militiamen in Divers. Lastly, only the plutocrats and military have voting rights.

The Copper Guild holds a great deal of power in the town. Especially during times of economic crisis. It is a force, the rich in the town would like to do away with. While it has no voting power, it does have the wealth and influence to make certain issues go its way.

The other guilds go almost unnoticed.

People
Czar Logais is mostly a figurehead, taking on much of the blame of the town’s woes, but having no real power (or desire) to fix them. Logais works toward the gentrification of poorer town districts in order to expand his sphere of influence in the city. Logais is more of a land baron, than a Czar, owning most of the land in the town.

Other plutocrats share in his wealth.

Logais’ eldest son, Solis, is spoiled and greedy; a blight on the family name. For years, Logais has groomed him for leadership, but Solis seems best suited behind the scenes, allowing others to appear “leader-like.” This has forced Logais to stay on as Czar much longer than a man of his age should (now in his 40s).

The Deshene are the second wealthiest family, owning some 15% of the land in Divers and promoting trade with larger settlements.

The Ringhold family is up and coming, owning a great deal of manufacturing facilities in the town.

The Denelden family, Jarnour family, and House Winir round out the gentry of the town. Small in number and wealth, their poorest members still possess more wealth than entire neighborhoods in Divers.

A dwarven ambassador — Angus Grimhand — came to study the town defenses weeks before the attack. His council proved vital to General Ivan Thorne. He remains now during reconstruction, living well in the Czar’s private estate.

Tobias Morgan is Legate for the Cerulean Church, serving as the voice of the church’s “pope.” He remains unmolested by the agnostic majority who run the city, but sees little to no assistance either. He, nonetheless, remains in the town, despite its lack of a religious center. A missionary of sorts, Legate Tobias holds services in a ram-shackled factory, abandoned before the siege.

Race
The population of the town is about 6,000 with a heavy population density in all but the richest districts. The town is 97% human, with a small percentage of dwarves and even smaller percentage of elves and half-elves (almost never heard of). The percentages are small enough that most humans don’t see them at all. When they are seen, it’s a little weird.

Important Streets
Cruicible Street — Largest line of factories in Divers
Longbeard Street — Oldest and most-narrow street in the town
Nadir’s Cross — Rich neighborhood where the Czar and a few other families reside
Tower Boulevard — Widest street in the town, which ends at the Palace/Basilica

Taverns
While there are six taverns and two inns in Divers, there are two that you know well.

The Lazy Dog. Smoky interior with two private booths, a performing stage, seven round tables, and a central decorated stone hearth. Known for its daytime drinking and lax tabs system, it’s not the best place in the world to bring a woman, but it is safe and comfortable. Perhaps the second poorest tavern in Divers.

The Kinsman. Four private booths, four round tables on the first floor, and four round tables on the balcony above the bar for gambling. On certain nights there is a cover charge to get in and the local military makes a habit of visiting the place often.

During the Siege
You served under Decurion Osric Spencer. You were part of a support unit of thirty men, putting out fires, bringing supplies, clearing debris, and burning the dead. Most of your unit died in the final days of the siege (which proved to be the bloodiest), but the three of you (along with two others — Oihan and Rayner) seemed to get along well. Four others from the unit also survived, but moved on to sell-sword work shortly after the siege and left Divers.

Your unit (and others) HQ’d during the siege out of an abandoned factory, once owned by the Deshene family — no real empherical value to that, but there it is.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In a World of Coincidence…

So.

I stumbled upon a new gamer in the Long Beach area through Pen and Paper Games dot com. The site helps GMs and Players find each other across a crowded room. Every week or so, someone about 40 miles away joins the site and I get an update saying, "someone near you wants to game" or whatever — if you're not from Los Angeles, 40 miles is NOT near me. 40 miles is always a 90-drive (with traffic), unless that 40 miles is on some circular, uninterrupted course.

One week ago, I got a notice that someone new was in the area. David lives within 2 miles of house, has a broken leg, and is bored out of his f***ing mind. Aaron (who lives within 200 yards of my house) and I decided to visit with said gamer at around 1pm today (January 10, 2009) to play some board games and get to know him. We played some Isle of Doctor Necreaux (a forthcoming AEG product), God's DIce (expect a review soon), Blokus 3-D, and Don (among my favorite bidding games ever).

At 530pm, we chose to take a break for dinner. David, hobbled out on his crutches (from Apartment 10) and we walked to the street. As we piled into the car, a voice rings out… "Hey… are you Unicorn fan?" [Refering of course to the L5R Clan on my clean t-shirt — disclaimer: I am not a Unicorn fan.]

Jim: "Oh. No. I work for the company." [Thinking in my head, why did I say that? What if he stabs me with a spoon?]

Man: Really? I used to play the CCG, but only the RPG now.

Jim: Oh. Yeah? Cool. I wrote the GM's Survival Guide. [Really? What the heck am I doing? Did I already forget about the spoon?]

Man: Cool. I love that book.

In short. All parties involved say hey, we're gamers and we're playing board games in Apartment 10. Hey. I'm Mike and I'm in Apartment 1. Jim turns to David… how did you not know this?

Everyone laughs at the series of coincidences (after all, I rarely wear gaming t-shirts).

But wait.

It's about to get weirder.

Mike, the new guy, is from SLO (San Luis Obispo), Aaron's home town.

Wtf?

And he works in Aerospace… just like Aaron… and he doesn't have a gaming group.

How the… what? How? Someone…

12 hours ago, I didn't have a gaming group and now, I'm running into random gamers while getting into a car?

What the heck? Seriously? What the heck?

ASIDE: My old roommate, Mike, who I gamed with for seven years and have not talked with for four years, was texting me while I was gaming at David's apartment. Mike now lives 20 minutes away in Lomita, just across the bridge from Long Beach.