Sunday, October 16, 2016

West Marches sessions 4 & 5

Yup, another two session weekend!

The players are really getting into the game. They've started buying sets of dice, dice bags, and building dice towers. It wouldn't surprise me if before long they begin shopping for their own miniatures.

During the week of recovery needed for Mira, all of them came by some information.
- Widow Penik's shawl being found not far north of the farms and her home.
- A cloaked stranger arrived and took up residence in an unoccupied cottage in the south of town.
- A large number of crows spent an afternoon on the town rooftops then flew off to the north.
- Mira had a strange dream of a stooped over old crone cutting the head off a chicken and splashing the blood Mira.
- The rival adventuring group, the Silver Blades, had gone south to investigate rumors of a treasure hoard somewhere in or near Stonefall Keep.

Having a sense of missing something, they decided to return to the burial mound to the north. There they focused added scrutiny on the sarcophagus where they recovered the gold belt buckle. Careful examination revealed a hidden compartment and within a small scroll. The scroll bore an image of the tile mosaics in another chamber and showed missing tiles. It was now apparent they had indeed missed something.

After an exhaustive search they discovered the hidden compartment and within it an onyx box. Returning to town and consulting with Platte the silversmith revealed the contents as 1000 copper pieces, and a silver sheath inlaid with crushed moonstones and sized for a dagger. The box was worth 200 silver, the copper was equal to 100 silver, and the sheath was worth 700 silver. (silver based economy) They chose not to sell the box or sheath for now.

Going back north to the farms they arranged a stake-out to try catching the animal thieves. On the second night a cow was stolen from a neighboring farm, but they were unwilling to continue pursuit at night into the western wilderness. In the morning they surveyed the scene of the theft and discovered some blood and a trail. Tracking the stolen cow they found some of the thieves.

The ambush was sudden, and injurious, but over quickly leaving 4 goblins dead and another escaping beyond a hill. Dragging the bodies back to the farm they opted to rest and heal before heading back out to find the missing livestock.

Going into town to request help for the farmers, the party leaned that the bandit that had been hanged a few days back was not in his grave. Someone had committed an act of grave robbing/ body snatching.

Taking the time to work with the local constabulary, investigation turned up a gruesome scene. Within the cottage where the cloaked figure was believed to be was a blood and gore soaked cellar. The remains of several animals torn, crushed, splattered, with intestines strung about like garlands of carrion. In the center of an obscured  ritual circle was a roughly human shaped spot free of the wet viscera blanketing everything.

The players feel like the cloaked figure stole the body, animated it as a zombie and then left town.

Returning to the farms the party teamed up with 3 volunteers to continue the search for the goblins and stolen livestock. At the site of the ambush they discovered a cave entrance, but before they could begin a detailed search, a giant hornet set upon them.

One volunteer was slain by the giant hornet as they retreated into the dark, unexplored cave. The angry hornet was trying to squeeze through the narrow crevice to get at the rest of the group and they fought to keep it out. Eventually the dangerous bug forced its way into the open cave. Fighting as they withdrew deeper into cave passages, another of the volunteers fell to the sting and venom of their predator.

It was a battle of attrition that they eventually won, but the cave held another surprise. From behind them a lone goblin crept through the darkness, murder in its one good eye. The goblin had suffered a glancing kick to the head while stealing the cow. Its face was now a horror, half smashed in, missing teeth, with one eye dangling from the socket. Finishing this nearly dead foe they decided a retreat to safety was in order instead of exploring further.

There is a very good possibility of the specialist reaching level 2 in the next session or two. We'll have to see what the party plan are once they've rested.

Monday, October 10, 2016

West Marches: sessions 2 and 3

Woohoo! Two session in two days!

This Friday we played our second session and the players got more into the explorer and investigator mode. The new players are beginning to take a little more initiative in group decision making and character actions. They had a great time and asked for another session Saturday, and that too went well, including addition of another new player.

The party has not progressed in their tasks of finding the missing widow, and finding the chicken thief, however they have been involving themselves in other rumors. They went off to see what was happening at the Lonely Well and discovered a campsite nearby whose occupants were dead or missing. After deciding to postpone delving into the well itself, they returned to town and chose to look into the new bandit situation that cropped up along the east road.

Soundly defeating the small number of highwaymen, they dragged a captive back to the town jail for safe keeping and questioning. The information given by the bandit indicated that the highwaymen were also worshipers of something they call the Eyes in the Darkness, and each of them bears tattoos of red eyes above their eyebrows. The captive also informed the party that the hideout was 500 yards north of the road, in a cave down in a gully.

Along with two town guards and the merchant that first reported the robbery, the party sought out this cave. The cave entrance, was guarded by a vine that attacked them. Defeating that obstacle they carefully and very hesitantly began to explore the cave.

Inside the cave the found a dead bandit that may have been the one that escaped from the battle a few days earlier. They also heard some clicking which made them paranoid within the closed confines and they left the cave.

Setting camp not far from the gully they got some rest until three large scorpions assaulted the camp. The 2 foot long creatures managed to kill one of the town guards and very nearly kill Mira (the group's specialist). Mira remains confined to bed while being treated for the poison and her wounds. Camping by a suspicious cave has taught the party a couple of lessons about becoming potential monster dinner, and about how difficult it can be to fight in the darkness.

(House Rule - one use of a D30 per session by each player, for any of the following - attack roll, damage roll, or a saving throw.)

It was the spell casters (Wizard and two Elves) that allowed them to get through the fight without more casualties. Magic Missile, Faerie Fire, and Sleep spells turned the battle around just in time.

Overall results have been positive for this fledgling game group. Some of the new players have caught the role playing bug and have started buying dice, and planning to make dice bags, among other things.

As DM, I am pleased to finally have gotten back to a frequency of play that has been missing from my gaming for far too long. It is also wonderful seeing the reaction of the players as they discover the world with all of the danger and mystery.

Next week will be interesting. The addition of another rumor to the pile of unfinished threads should really have the players twisted in knots trying to decide what to pursue.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tower of Zenopus - Full Map and Overview

I never did finish all the painting, but some projects will go on forever, and time does eventually catch up to you, but before I dismantled the thing, I wanted to share the complete work, which includes a labeled 'DM's Map' for the room keys, which you can match to Holmes's Key in the basic set. Of course its not an exact recreation, as space, and available pieces simply would not allow it, but having played it out, I can attest that play went very close to the original. The one thing that the players did, that has never happened before, was the use of the tomb lids to block the rat holes in Room N. Very creative, and I think inspired by the fact that there was such a tactile visualization of the place. Please, comment, and share your thoughts below! Thanks for looking!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

West Marches - New Campaign

Ran the first session of a new West Marches style campaign Friday night here in Idaho. We're using the OSR style rule set from Lamentations of the Flame Princess with house rules. Four of the five players were in attendance. The Party consisted of a Dwarf (Dorrak), an Elf (Princess Xena the Big Boobed), a human wizard (Fox the ADHD), and a Specialist aka thief (Mira). The players include two that have some small amount of experience with D&D, and three that are completely new, although one is a big fan of Skyrim and has an understanding of how it translates.
They learned of 4 possible rumors to look into and chose to take on two at the same time since they figured it was possible they are connected. The party decided to help a teenage girl locate her missing mother, and to try and solve the thefts of farm animals from north of town.
While traveling north they discovered a burial mound with a collapsed entrance. Fortunate to have a party member with a shovel, they cleared a way to get inside. Investigating the tomb they found 3 chambers, one blocked by a portcullis, the other two by stone doors. They explored them all and came away with a gold belt buckle encrusted with tiny gemstones.
Their one opponent was a skeleton encrusted with concretions which made it tougher to bring down. The wizard was brought to unconsciousness during the fighting and needed to be nursed back to health in town.
On their second trip north, they got lost a couple of times and wound up circling back to town after a few days. They encountered and killed two giant centipedes the night before getting back to town.
Good first session. Looking forward to next week.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ruins of Zenopus, Session 0.5

Well, my new campaign got started tonight, and things went great. Everyone really enjoyed the visuals the Hirst Arts pieces provided, and I really got a kick running the old school sample dungeon from the back of the Holmes Basic Set in 3D.

I read the background, firmly locating Portown on the 'Wild Coast' in Greyhawk. Gathered at the Green Dragon Inn were The half elf Bard, Killian Sweetongue, the Gnome Rogue Lenora, the Halfing Barbarian, Skitt Runalong, the Dragonborn fighter, Sora, and the half orc fighter, Tempest.

Enthusiastic about what lies in store for them in the old halls of the lost Wizard Zenopus, they climbed through the overgrowth of the hill in town, and descended down the rough hewn stone steps into darkness.

The group elected to turn down the east passage, and took the door to room P, disturbing a couple of foul looking ghouls, gnawing on some poor townsfolk that had been unlucky enough to wander into their grasp. The battle was amazingly short, and the group found 100sp in a satchel hidden in one of the niches. The PCs supposed that the ghouls victim had been using the place to store his coins, and had come to retrieve them, when he ran afoul of the undead beasties.

Anyway, turning north,

led to more catacombs, this room having a collapsed east wall. Small tunnels could be seen, barely enough room for a halfling to crawl through, and hanging at various angles in the dirt were bones from numerous corpses.

The room itself contained more burial niches, and 6 Sarcophagi. Our band indulged in serious tomb raiding as they began to lift the heavy stone lids off of each to investigate the contents within.

As DM this was a bit of fun for me, as instead of rolling a die to determine what contents were discovered, I actually placed the things described in the dungeon pieces. A lot of fun for the players too, as with each new investigation they got to actually remove a lid, and discover what I had placed there. It was like a bizarre 'Christmas gift' opening session, and the players were joyfully giddy about it. For the gas trap, I just pulled apart a cottonball to make it look smokey. For the crown and scepter, I used little doll house gems, and so on. The floating dagger threw them for quite the loop.

Upon opening the gas trap, the half orc Tempest failed his con save and ended up unconscious on the floor. At this point, three diseased giant rats from the tunnels decided to make their entry.
The little rodents of unusual size found their demise quite quickly, and after deciding a certain floating dagger was more trouble that it was worth, the door to the north was investigated. The room beyond proved to be quite troublesome for our wayward band, however.

Now, for those who know this dungeon, Holmes placed a giant spider on the ceiling. I decided to take advantage of the visuals, and placed a spider web in the far corner, and a chest resting enticingly on a pedestal on the east wall.
Certainly this proved quite the enticement, as the party, seeing the web knew something was 'up' as it were, and began chucking, javelins, sling bullets and crossbow bolts at the eight legged monstrosity 'dancing on the ceiling'.

The thing proved to be quite hardy, as it full dodged its way to safety, ultimately scurrying up the western passage, out of line of sight. Seeing his opportunity, Tempest, the Not-so-Bright thought this a good time, to simply run in, and grab the chest off the pedestal, and make away with whatever treasure was within.

Not so fast!!
That's not a treasure chest, that's a mimic!! Its sticky pseudo pod extending and grabbing hold of the foolish half-orc, lashing him for 7 points of damage! Of course, its at this point where our spider returns and casts a web, and ensnares the trapped fighter as well!! Oh no!

You can see where this is going, and its not a place with treasure and a happy ending. A round later, a bite attack with advantage had the orc paying dearly for his bravado (As this DM rolled his only natural 20 for the night) , and into death saves! Of course, the rest of the party was able to save the half-orc's bacon, pulling him out of the fire. The fight was a tough one, but the Mimic was beaten, and our crafty spider, with the mimic ally was sent scurrying into its hidey hole in the ceiling.

At this point, the group realized that they needed to return to town, rest the night, lick their wounds and grab a few additional supplies. Can we say, oil and fire for naughty spiders in hidey holes?

The next day, our group returned, this time, hopefully burning the spider out of its hole, but, the thing, devoid of its ally had since moved onto safer pastures.

Also, learning from their mistakes, our group craftily used the lids to all those sarcophagi to shore up those rat tunnels, not wanting one of the diseased ROUS to make an inopportune appearance.

So.. next door. Heading east, revealed a moderate sized room with a dubious looking demonic statue facing them, and a door for each cardinal direction.

Looking at the set up, the door they had bypassed in the entry corridor appeared like it might connect up with the south door of the demon statue room.

All, the way back around, and 'what's behind door number 1' is quickly answered as the Goblin Adept unleased sacred flame at the meat shield/ door opening dragonborn Sora. Worse yet, a crossbow finished the job, and left the hapless hero sprawled out on the fur heap one of the goblins referred to as its bed.
These newbie fighters really need to learn to take their second wind, but.. you know, its not MY job to tell them these things. Hopefully, they'll live long enough to learn from their mistakes!

Anyway, even though the first round was a tough one, the goblins were no match for the party, and were quickly dispatched, our dragonborn fighter Sora was healed, and they ended up with a captive named Gorfus. "No kill! Me a nice goblin! Be friends, be friends." dropping his crossbow, and attempting to look cute, the hapless goblin managed to buy himself a few more moments of life.

Needless to say, it was 'interrogation' time, and the party discovered that some human named 'Garnath' was paying the goblins to watch for intruders and to dispatch them for him.

The room was sealed, a short rest, and 'till next time' ended the session for now! What a great first game of the campaign!!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Retro gaming session, and my Introduction to Dungeons and Dragons

The last two weeks have been rather ragged as I've prepared to run the 'Tower of Zenopus' adventure again. For those who don't know, the 'Tower of Zenopus' is the 'sample' dungeon in the back of the Holmes basic set

As simple and as crazy as it is, this little dungeon has always intrigued me. It has everything, a crazy magic user, rough hewn stone steps leaning down into darkness, pirates, a damsel in distress, catacombs, goblins, a mysterious talking mask... the sample dungeon champion of the world! And to think, that I got this ruleset 'by mistake. Talk about nostalgia.

I was 14 years old in 1979, and my best friend Jim who lived across the street from me was a year older. He was a sophomore in High School, and I was a junior and in those days there was no "middle school", thus I was still in "junior high." However, the two schools were very close and we still walked to school together as we had since we were in grade school. Many of our conversations on those mornings frequently turned to chess, as we were both avid players, and the superior play and book learning required to compete in high school chess was just beginning to enter our lexicon. We also talked about the players, who was really good, who needed work to improve, etc. We also talked about another board game with great fanaticism... Star Fleet battles, which simulated ship-to-ship combat in the Star Trek universe.

One interesting Monday morning the conversation was not about chess, or Star Fleet Battles at all, but a different game entirely. It seemed that Jim had gone over to my cousin Tim’s house that Saturday (he was the one who introduced us to Star Fleet Battles), to play a strange new game called Dungeons and Dragons. Jim was exceptionally animated as he told me of the "adventure" he had played with this new game, and about his "character" and the other characters in the group.

At first, I had a really difficult time understanding the concept. Where was the board? How did you win? What was the object of the game? Then he told me this game didn’t really have any of those things and all the action took place in your imagination. The game is run by a another player called the "Dungeon Master", and the idea was to tell a story, while your character gains more power each time you played. I was immediately intrigued, but I also knew getting time to go to my cousin’s house was going to be difficult, for he was sort of the "black sheep" of the family and my grandmother’s (I was raised by my grandparents) usually cheery face turned into a frown whenever he was the topic of conversation.

The following week Jim had more stories to tell about the adventures he played at my cousin’s house and of course I begged him to get me invited; but there were problems with that. First, I was "just a kid"... not being in high school (Tim was two years older than me) and, the game group already consisted of eight players and one DM. Tim’s basement was crowded as it was.

A few weeks later I was at the mall and came across a blue boxed Dungeons and Dragon’s game with a red dragon on the front. "Basic Set" is what it said, and I begged my grandmother for the twelve dollars to buy it. She was skeptical, to say the least, as the goings on in my uncle’s basement were starting to capture the notice of the rest of the family. She relented however when I promised to do a few extra things around the house, and my entrance into the realms of D&D had begun.

Now those of you in the know may already see what’s coming, because as it turned out, in my ignorance and blind enthusiasm I had actually purchased the "old" edition of the basic rules. The "Red box" (the Moldvay one that is)

was actually the current version of the basic game at that time. Of course, Jim was all too happy to point this out to me several days later. It seemed like a disaster as twelve dollars was such an investment in those days, but later on, it would prove to be defining.

Anyway, Jim started DMing at his house, and since that was just across the street it was easy to get permission to go play. I don’t remember the first character I created... it was a fighter, and I remember he died quickly and gruesomely by being impaled in a pit trap he had failed to notice (we were playing the Caves of Chaos!). At this point I decided stealth was more appealing than brute force and created a thief, whom I named Ras Al’ Ghul after the Batman villain of similar name (not original I know, but it was such a cool name!).

There were a lot of great adventures and characters that followed that summer. I remember my cousin Tim’s assassin who killed the group’s paladin by pushing him through a dungeon door that lead to the Abyss, I remember the Ranger "Lone" (argh!), who walked around with the god "Law" on his belt, and I remember Ras, who single-handedly burned down the town of Brundenford with a misplaced Molotov-cocktail at the local tavern.

It wasn’t too long after that, that we all got into Advanced D&D in the summer of "80." At this point I knew I wanted to DM, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Just about every module that had come out to that point we had played (we were kids, and it was summer vacation... we had plenty of time). That’s when I flipped through that blue basic D&D rule book I had mistakenly purchased months earlier, and came across the short "sample dungeon" in the back, with no title.

There was a neat background provided... about how the wizard had caused his own demise, and now mysterious blue-green lights and eerie noises were heard by the town folk, and evil looking silhouetted goblin figures could be seen dancing on the roof top of the tower on some nights. The superstitious folks of Port Town had a catapult wheeled through the town proper and the tower was battered to rubble, and that stopped the hauntings for a time.

There were some neat things there in the ol’ remnants of Zenopus’s tower... there was a room with four doors, and a demon statue in the middle, and when you rotated him on his base it would unlock the door he was pointing to. There was another room with four "niches" covered with cobwebs; two on either side of the large room... and when the characters approached skeletons emerged from within! There was an underground river that was being used by pirates in a smuggling operation, and there was another section overrun with giant rats that had dug tunnels to the graveyard above so they could feast on the corpses interred therein. It was perfect for my first dungeon, and because the rule book was "out of date" I knew no one else had read it.

A map of Port Town was not provided, so I developed that first, and added a "second level" to the dungeon, and my DMing career was begun. Fast forward thirty-six years later, and D&D is still my hobby. Over the years I have met many friends, and had many wonderful experiences that I know I would not have had were it not for the game. My time in the military, the trips to gaming conventions over the years and the look on the faces of my own children as I introduced them to the game are all priceless, and indelibly eked into my memory.

I expect that I shall play this game until my beard turns white and I can no longer hold the dice in my hands! But then again, isn’t that what nurses are for?

The current campaign of three years has sort of stalled. Jim has moved across the country, and several new people have expressed interest in joining our stalwart band of adventurers, so I thought it would be fun to begin anew, and dust off that old 'sample dungeon' in the back of the wrongly purchased set of rules. Most of my players weren't even alive when this adventure was first published, so I know they've never played it. This time, however, I'm having a bit of fun, and rendering Holme's infamous dungeon with Hirst Arts pieces.

It is wonderful to know that I can still revisit my childhood on occasion through the game. The game is timeless, and while it has, itself grown up and changed with me, I still get an enthusiastic sense of wonder whenever I look at a blank piece of graph paper and think, "what could possibly be there?"