Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Capaign Momentum

Here's something to think about.

My buddy and I have started playing AD&D again in the Forgotten Realms. He is running an entire adventuring party which he used to run a few years ago until they were tragically and mysteriously lost. (Not in the game mind you, the actual character sheets, his notebooks and all his dice just simply disappeared!)

So we re-rolled everybody and started fresh with everybody at first level.

Growing up playing AD&D in our small community, we typically had to run more than one character at a time and many times, since there was only one DM and one player, we would run an entire adventuring party.

Most of my friends are pretty good about role playing the different personalities of their characters and so forth, but essentially, it's pretty tough to do that consistently since all the characters are created from the mind of a single person.

This adds an additional problem which I recently pointed out to my friend during his last foray into the Haunted Halls. (Using Greenwood's stuff but having been fleshed out, with an upper and lower level by your's truly.)

I could see him making the same mistakes over & over because he only had his perspective of things to rely upon. Yes, he's playing 6 different characters at once, but they all SEE things the way HE sees them.

This is really working against him and I have to say, I don't think it ever dawned on me all these years just how bad this could be for a player and his characters.

It's also frustrating for me as the Dungeonmaster.

Ideally, AD&D and other RPGs are designed to be played with a group of people, one of them acting as the DM, referee or gamemaster and everyone else running a single character. I'm not telling you anything new here but I'm just making sure everyone knows that I fully understand the concept.

But living in BFE where many of the locals rarely even read a book without pictures and AD&D still has that lingering reputation for being an indoctrination into a suicidal, satanic cult, it's VERY tough to find mature players. You might get lucky and fing some fringe or a dabbler or two, but nobody that wants to play seriously or with any amount of dedication. Ones that you do manage to find have never heard of AD&D as we know it and they only want to play this pitiful shadow of the game that exists today.

If you manage to find enough people to play AD&D the way it was meant to be played with a diverse group of people with varying opinions and perceptions, then you are very fortunate. You run into problems keeping the momentum going and it's much easier to synchronzie schedules when the group is only two or three people that live within 10 minutes of each other.

In the case with my one buddy, we are able to play almost weekly and that way, keep the game flowing without significant gaps in playing time.

One thing for sure, despite all the limitations and frustrations that come with running a single player in a dungeon, I am having a pretty good time.

(I think my player might be too.)

And that's the most important part.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Heroes & Heroics

I know we have beaten this dead horse in the past but I decided to post this to educate both novice and veteran players alike.

Let's put this in the perspective of "winning" any competitive sport or event.

In the game of chess, (Which I ain't half bad at, I'm no Bobby Fischer or Kasparov, but I do alright.) the game begins by moving pieces. In order to win, you have to move pieces around the board and place them in jeopardy.

In order to win a fight, (MMA, TKD tournament, or even on the street), you have to let your hands and feet go. You place yourself in a position to be countered and hit in return or taken to the ground or whatever.

You need to stay on the edge of defeat.

Let's apply this to roleplaying games. AD&D in particular and one of my dungeons specifically.

In order to be classified as a hero by me, you need to show that your character lives up to the name. Some people think that because you are 1st level, have exceptional stats and more hit points than your average 0 level peasant working behind a plow that you are automatically a hero.


What you are is the guy that decided to TRY and become something better than your average peasant. You decided to be an adventurer. That doesn't make you a hero in my game.

What you do with your opportunity does. Just like if you decided on some bold endeavor in the real world, you have an opportunity to succeed gloriously and have your name and deeds sung about by the bards or to fail miserably and become nothing more than a funny smell in the dungeon when the next group of bright-eyed victims comes adventuring through.

If you act as if every single door before you is booby traped with some fiendish device that will slay your character instantly and irrevocably, if every treasure chest is really a triple hit-dice mimic, if every floor is a "Trapper" and every ceiling a "Lurker Above" then you are obviously being an overly cautious, pussy.

After all, it's only a character and you can always roll a new one.

Don't get me wrong! You should never stroll casually through one of my dungeons, booting every door and shouting "Have at thee!" every time you burst into the room.

You need to walk that tightrope between bravery vs lunacy - caution vs cowardice.

That is unless your character IS a raving lunatic or a mincing little coward.

Then you're just role playing.

Let me offer some suggestions if you want to survive one of my dungeons. I discussed earlier that I have always had a soft spot for thieves. For some reason the class has always appealed to me. Partly because of Bilbo Baggins, partly due to Robin Hood I don't know. (I also used to play Thieve's Guild...anybody remember that gem?)

So, I used to think up new tactics and tools beyond the mere "Thieve's picks & tools" to help keep them alive. What's great about this stuff is that ANYBODY can use it! No special training in a shadowy Thieve's Guild in the bad part of town, no need to learn any special ninja skills, just use your head!

What's wrong with carrying a couple of half pound bags of white chalk powder around? You come to a room where something might be invisible and you toss the bags up into the air or let them impact with some hard surface and invisible objects are (possibly) revealed. Of course it can be hurled into the face of an enemy for the same purpose.

Instead of a 10' pole, I like the idea of a 100' piece of string with a small lead weight tied on the end. This is tossed down a hallway so the string lands on trip wires and such. (Special Ops guys use Silly String for the same purpose.)

10' poles are far too unwieldy. Try carrying a real 10' pole around once.

Small wooden wedges for doors vs iron spikes. You can carry more and they can fit in tighter spots.

Many people come up with elaborate tools to open doors. What about simply standing to the side and pulling/pushing the door open? You will avoid MOST traps that way. Maybe not the poison needles and other stuff, but you should be relatively safe.

And I can't stress enough that you need to look at everything and take some freakin' notes if your memory sucks!

The bottom line is you need to be creative. Creative in your tactics, in your characters and in your roleplaying and just let go and have fun!

It's like my friend said, "Embrace the dungeon!"

Wiser words were never spoken!


Monday, October 13, 2008

Horror Story for Halloween...

I just thought I would share a story with you about a D&D game gone wrong.

My first gaming group consisted of me, my brother and two other friends. This group is not the core group that would later be dubbed the Foaming Flagons, but it was my first.

I started my gaming with the purchase of one of every type of gaming die,(Assorted colors.) and the Keep on the Borderlands module.

I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

I was only about nine at the time so you gotta forgive me.

About a week later, my mom, my grandma, my grandpa and my brother went to a Rinks store in New Philadelphia, Ohio where I purchased the first Basic D&D red box. (The Mentzer set.)

I nearly puked with excitement. I was that kind of a kid.

My hands shook as I ripped the cellophane off the box and tried reading bits of text as we passed under street lamps along the highway.

I devoured that Player's Book in about 30 minutes.

Of course I purchased the Expert set and eventually got into the AD&D stuff when I hit Junior High.

I always took pretty decent care of my stuff.

I kept all my D&D stuff in pretty good shape.

(You know this is really funny because after all these years, I have been told I can break an anvil with a rubber mallet.)

But my brother is a walking disaster.

We were gaming in our room with a couple of buddies. I think my brother might have been in the 8th grade and I was in 6th.

Back in those days, he could steal snuff (AKA Dip AKA Chew) or at least get some older people to buy it for him. (We lived in a rather rural area but I never picked up the habit myself.)

Like many people with that particularly disgusting habit, my brother had a large mason jar which he used as a spitoon.

Do you see where this is going?

I was DMing this particular day and my brother jumped to his feet to go to the bathroom. My precious books were spread out on our bedroom floor. As he stood up, he bumped his foot against a mason jar that was three quarters full of tobacco spit, spilling the tarry, foul liquid all over my beloved tomes.

I don't believe and no one can convince me otherwise that the D&D game has ever caused, directly or indirectly the death of any person.

Except for almost once in this occasion.

My brother still lives of course and eventually he took up smoking, but I will never forget the horror and disgust of that day.

At least he was good enough to clean it up himself.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Vorpal Blade or Sword of Sharpness?

I once had this debate with one of my old DM's.

He was queer for the Sword of Sharpness and tried to convince me it was far better than a Vorpal Sword. his reason for this was that it hacked off limbs thus increasing your chances of delivering a crippling blow that ended any fight.

But the Vorpal Sword decapitates.

That means the head comes off.

Doesn't that end the fight too?

(OK! So maybe not against a Hydra or even an Ettin.)

And let's look at the way these blades work. (At least according to REAL AD&D.)

The Sword of Sharpness is typically a +3 weapon. (If you look up Excalibur under the Arthurian Mythos in Legends & Lore, it's a +5 Sword of Sharpness so there must be others with different pluses out there.)

Anyway, these bonus points are not tallied all together. In fact you get a +1 to hit, a +1 to damage, and a +1 to determine if you sever an arm, leg, or neck/head.

So if you don't roll a modified score that is high enough to sever, you get +1 to your damage roll and the fight continues.

A Vorpal Sword is also typically a +3 weapon. It's +3 to hit and damage and the +3 to hit roll is used to determine if you decapitate and kill, (In most cases) whatever you are fighting.

I don't have the score charts in front of me so I could be wrong, but if memory serves me, you need an unmodified roll of 18 or more to score a sever with a Sword of Sharpness.

I believe an unmodified roll of 17 is required for a decapitation with the Vorpal Sword.

I understand that it wouldn't be of much use against beasties with no heads.

Slimes, jellies and pudding have no limbs either so the debate here is kinda pointless.

But to me, it seems the Vorpal Blade wins out since you don't need to roll as high and when you do, it ends the fight. Rather decisively I would say.

I suppose if you are fond of gory battles and whittling your opponent down to nothing, then you would have a soft spot for the Sword of Sharpness.

But if you like headhunting.....


Vorpal Blade or Sword of Sharpness?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Continuation or Clarification of Things Said....

My esteemed friend and fellow Flagon did point out some cool things that Troy Denning did write.

I can't blame him for the Maztica crap. That was all Douglas Niles.

But I sure as hell can blame him for the Tuigan!

My point on this wasn't really to bash on any published author.

I mean, they ARE published and all I do is post stuff on my blog and on some LE Forums.

Who the hell am I?

But, my point is that I simply can't understand why we take a FANTASY world and inundate it with stories inspired by events, wars and calamities that took place in our world.

If I had wanted that, I wouldn't have bought the Old Grey Box in the first place!

I simply would have had PCs adventuring in Scotland until they took ship for Spain and the characters could then have sailed for South America where they, rather than Cortez, could have slaughtered all the Mayans and the Aztecs.

But I didn't want to play in this world.

I guess it wouldn't sell as well if your campaign setting had the major race of PC as Gibbering Mouthers.

Most of the monsters ARE based on legends from our own world's cultures, so it probably came naturally to simply include those same cultures where the MMI, MMII, and FF got their inspiration.

(However, I ain't never heard of anybody, including those crazy Egyptians, having a Rust Monster.)

Now I know why Waterson won't sell out Calvin & Hobbes.

Personally, I will use almost all of Greenwood's stuff. I still think the Ravenloft module is one of the best ever made, but I will adapt it for FR use, and if I ever get to run and Oriental Adventures campaign again, I will probably still use the trail map for simplicity's sake. But it's gonna have a different feel than the Asia of this earth.

(No General Tso's Chicken!)

The martial arts will be different. I can accpet ninjas and samurai, but ninjas will really be able to turn into smoke and the samurai's sword WILL be his soul!

I grew to dislike the Mortal Kombat thing, but the one idea of the martial arts being linked to white and black magic.....I find that appealing.

A kung-fu punch that damages your soul as well as your body?

I'm right there!

Lots of possibilities!

So let's explore those and skip the Mongolian invasion and the slaughter of millions of obsidian club wielding, naked natives.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Where the Realms Went Wrong

I was having a talk with my friend the other night.
It was the first time that we've talked in too many years.
After catching up, our conversation turned to one of our favorite topics.


AD&D in particular.

Anyway, one of the points we discussed is how the Forgotten Realms was so brilliant in the early days and then after a few years, started circling the drain.

Pretty soon it got flushed down the commode of commercialism.

Personally, I think it started during the so called, "Time of Troubles."

If I had been in the IRA, I might have taken offense.

(I know, they refer to it simply as "The Troubles" but let's not split hairs.)

Here we have all the Gods of the Realms sent down to walk the world of men in avatar form and they become embroiled in all sorts of mischief, catastrophes and bloodshed.


Who the hell are we kidding?

In comic books, some of the more popular terms used to describe these events are "Alternate Reality, Crisis of Infinite Earths and Secret Wars."

In business I think they call it "Corporate Overhaul or even Hostile Takeover"

Anyway, I feel that Troy Denning's works were shit.

One of the heroes was named Midnight for Pete's sake! That's what an eight year old names her new pony!

But at the time, I was on a Forgotten Realms craze and I bought all the books and devoured them.

But then they just started flooding the market with mindless drivel! I mean FLOODED!

Is it just me or did anyone else see the problem here?

Look at the Oriental Adventures expansion of Kara-Tur.

Why couldn't they come up with their own Asian flavored hot sauce instead of loosely disguising the world in which we live in? Koryo (Korea), Wa (Okinawa).



I think my brother nailed it when he saw this stinky pile and said, "There are no Spaniards in the Realms!"

(It was really funny because of the way he said it.)

Then we got that Tuigan crap.

The Mongolian Horde invades!

EEK! Run away!


Now with the latest edition, there has been a "Spellplague" or whatever the hell they call it and all magic-using creatures were wiped out. I would have loved being in the room during that brainstorm! I think I would have said something like....

"Are you fucking retarded?"

Here's my advice for anybody that still loves and plays the OG of D&D.....ok maybe not the OG, but the most popular version.

Keep all the old stuff you can find. Keep developing your own world. And keep on playing!

But then again, I guess we can all fall back to the Greyhawk stuff. It was a pretty darn good world too!

Old gamers never die. They just roll away.....


Friday, September 26, 2008

Fates Worse Than Death....

In my humble opinion, a good Dungeonmaster knows that he or she is creating a world and the PC's are a vital part of that world.

I have never had a problem killing off any character. In fact, some could say I was ruthless at times.

Sure, there were traps that decapitated, poisons that killed instantly and deadly attacks that allowed no saving throws.

Used sparingly and creatively, these things will keep players thinking constantly. Which is a good thing.

Even with these grim situations present, I almost never put the PCs in an inescapable situation.

One particular fiendish trap was a cursed scroll that when read, "gated" or teleported the PC to another room in the dungeon. They arrived in a suit of armor that was lined inside with hundreds of spikes much like an Iron Maiden. This did not kill instantly but caused a slow, agonizing death at 1-2 hit points per turn. What was "supposed" to happen, is the loot happy adventurers would most likely examine the scroll immediately. (Like ALL cursed scrolls, the effects are instantaneous.) The unfortunate victim would be heard shrieking from a nearby room, the rest of the party would come to the rescue and pry the poor wretch from the deadly trap.

However, due to a lack of foresight on my part, the party returned to town before they sifted through all their goodies.


Suddenly, one of the adventurers was no longer swilling ale with the rest of the victorious heroes and had vanished in a smokeless "poof" from the tavern.

Being a generous Dungeonmaster, I dropped enough hints that the victim might have been taken back from the trap infested dungeon they had recently explored and overcome.

Unfortunately, they didn't make it back in time since they had to ride through a blizzard.

On top of all this, they couldn't leave the ruined keep with their deceased pincushion since it had been surrounded by evil looking men in black, cowled robes hurling searing bolts of eldritch flame. This was where I concluded the adventure.

(Originally, that was supposed to take place in a dramatic attack upon the inn back in the village in which the PC's were sorting their booty because they had found an item these bad guys really wanted. But I adapted.)

Now all this sounds bad.

Very bad.

However, what I would like to point out is the fact that there are far worse things you can do as a Dungeonmaster.

My good friend and fellow Foaming Flagon will agree with me.

Taking a beloved character from first level nothing up to 8th, 9th or 10th level badass is a wonderful and rewarding achievement. An achievement that I shared in as a Dungeonmaster with all my players. (Well....ALMOST all of them.)

You can't be human and not feel that sympathy with a good player and a great character.

Then that character fights a wight, a vampire or some other level-draining beast.


You HATE to see it!

Even as a DM because you had a great adventure planned for the next weekend!! But now that the 10th level hero is now a 4th level bitch, you don't think they could make it.

(And if you are being fair, you would be right.)

I remember when my good friend acquired a sword from a published adventure that I ran which I thought fit his character perfectly! It was an amazing blade that drained levels/energy from the creatures that it hit.

Unless they were undead.

Then it worked in reverse.

After a couple of really good hits on a vampire that should have nearly vanquished the foul undead, I had to inform the player that they had just lost 4 levels of experience.

(Remember, the hit points, spells, special abilities and everything goes with that.)

My friend was devastated. So much so that he hurled the blade away intent on never using it again.

(This is an AMAZING player here folks!)

I had to convince him the blade itself was not bad. (Reminds me of a really good book.)

I just hated to see him lose such a powerful item. He just had to make sure he carried a spare weapon that he used for undead.

You see, with death, resurrection is almost always possible. Unless your paladin hurtles down a greased chute, cursing his God(s) and plunges into a river of molten lava. That pretty much puts a finale on anyone.

But when your levels are drained. (Vampires in the old AD&D system drain two levels every time they pimp slap you in your miserable suck.)

Do that over 3 rounds of combat and you suddenly need an 18 on the dice to even hit the fanged fiend.

Good luck winning that fight now.

Then of course, it's much tougher to adventure with the rest of the party who are still at a significantly higher level. In order to keep things fair and fun, you have to continue providing challenging beasts, traps and other encounters. Things that may (and should) be more than the lower level, former hero/leader of the adventuring group can realistically handle.

Yes. It can be done. But you just don't get as many experience points hiding behind the crates and boxes in the Illithid smuggler's lair or lurking outside the den of the dragon while everyone else goes in and fights. (And gets slaughtered.)

And face it. Unless the character was a sneaky little spit of a thief or a quivering magic-user that buggered every boy apprentice he ever had, the player starts feeling left out.

(No one I remember ever played a pederastic magic-user, but it would have been hilarious!)

It makes for complexities in a DM's campaign writing that can prove to be extremely difficult to deal with.....interesting at times; yes....but difficult.

Additionally, any catastrophe that befalls a hero that permanently disfigures them, lowers a stat point or otherwise alters them forever can also be entertaining. If you have a good player, it can be loads of fun and will be seen as a chance to develop the character and not just toss them in the waste basket or the "retired" file of character sheets.

But the player has to be good.

If the player is a dick, there's a good chance they'll just start crying.

But NO ONE likes it when they get their hard-earned levels kicked in the nuts!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

On being the DM....

I'm kind of new to this whole blogging thing so bear with me.

I have been given far too much credit for my Dungeonmaster Kung-Fu when in fact, many of my earliest dungeons.....all of them in fact....were completely random dungeoncrawls, hacking apart monsters with rubbery tentacles, dodging fiendish deathtraps and gathering loot.

Not much of a plot in any of them.

I ran several different published modules and after purchasing The World of Greyhawk boxed set, decided then to start adding undying antagonists, (Notice I said undying as in they didn't die, not necessarily undead.) plotlines, background and all that other cool stuff.

I have to give credit to one of my friends who introduced me to the Forgotten Realms for switching on that little light in my brain that took my campaigns to a different level.

I had passed by the FR boxed set numerous times and I admit, I was reluctant to buy it. Face it. Money was tight, and the Greyhawk set WAS very pretty. (Not too much substance really. It's almost written like a modern day census of any major metropolitan area. With hobgoblins.)

If it were not for my friend telling me about this amazing FR boxed set and this bearded lunatic named Greenwood, I don't think I would even have any interest in playing anymore.

To me, the FR stuff back in those early days was what Dungeons and Dragons was meant to be.

I still consider Greenwood to be one of the most creative designers that has ever lived and were it not for the FR stuff, Dungeons and Dragons would have gone the way of Rock'em Sock'em Robots.

Our adventures in the FR campaign were simply the best!

And just when I thought it couldn't get any better.......

The Ruins of Undermountain!

Overwhelming doesn't quite do it justice.

This was a dungeon that ALL Dungeonmasters used to dream about!

(We simply never had enough graph paper.)

If you are fortunate enough to own the first Undermountain boxed set, (The follow up set was crap!) I suggest you try fleshing out that beast! It's not impossible, but it's like building your own space shuttle with your ass. No hands. Just your ass.

Now, here's my thought.....

Personally, I never liked the way they started to "fix" the AD&D system. I think TSR basically gave Gygax the shaft and while I think the FR stuff was used to slowly push him out, it really did a lot to resuscitate the dying dragon.

The system, while never perfect, worked. Sure, empty hand combat was far too complicated and it always seemed to me that they only put in partial rules for psionics. (I was never a math guy and that bullshit was all numbers. Don't even get me started on Traveller! I had to ask my math teacher for help figuring that stuff out!)

But in the words of a famous Dungeonmaster......"Wing it!"

Either let it happen, don't let it happen or bounce a D20 and see what happens.

But I guess some people have to have a rule for everything.

Honestly, I don't know what it is, but I still enjoy gaming even though I have virtually no time for it anymore. I enjoy coming up with gaming ideas and scribbling them into crumbling notebooks that I have had for over 15 years.

While I loved being a player, I think I enjoyed being the Dungeonmaster far more.

Even if I was working with an imperfect system.

Creating or sharing in the creation of a world that challenged and entertained my friends (And caused the gruesome deaths of a few of their characters...heh...heh...heh.), was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in my life.

If you have never DM'd a game, then you should at least give it a try. It's a lot of time and effort, but it has its own rewards.

In the words of a very wise Dungeonmaster......

Shut up and roll!