Sunday, April 23, 2017

White Plume Mountain part II pre-summary notes

I don't time to write a game summary tonight, but here are some highlights, specific and vague.

- seven players.

- less than seven survivors.

- Whelm and Wave's guardians were overcome.

- Just about every spell the PCs had was cast . . . except those that went down with their casters.

- They faced Nix, Nox, Box, and Cox.

Fun session. Quote of the night might have been from the player who runs our new Scout in DF - "GURPS is both harder and easier." Yeah, in lots of ways. We'll really enjoy getting defense rolls again.

Gaming Logistics I: AD&D, no minis

Unachimba suggested, and one of my gamers echoed, that I should do a post about what I bring to game when we game.

Well, today is part II of White Plume Mountain. What do I need for that?

Not very much:



- three rulebooks
- a module
- note sheets
- AD&D Adventure Log sheets
- DM screen
- some magic item cards]
- bag of dice (not pictured)

That's it. I really don't even need all of that, but I prefer to have it all handy. If it was a Unearthed Arcana-era game, I'd need at least one more book, possibly two (the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide.) That's a fraction of what I "need" for GURPS, but then again, that's because I run GURPS with a hex map in a megadungeon and use minis. My game isn't truly designed around portability, but this AD&D two-shot absolutely is. When I run GURPS Lite at school, I use all of GURPS Lite, one record sheet, one note sheet, and six dice. I don't even need anything except the dice and record sheet, really. My AD&D game is built around that same principle.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dungeon of Signs on S1 & my comments

There is an interesting and solid look at S1 Tomb of Horrors.



Review: S1 Tomb of Horrors

I have mixed feelings on S1. It's one of the first adventures I owned. I ran it multiple times (my cousin's thief Blackstar went there at least once, and lived). I think I mis-ran parts of it because of the difficulty of the text. It was fun, but it was also a bad influence on us. It set the tone for a lot of play - traps were lethal, often with no save; treasures could sometimes be stingy; games were meant to be hard.

It certainly had to influence the killer dungeons back in the day. DMs often bragged about how lethal their dungeons were. PCs were playing pieces to be expended trying to beat the dungeon. S1 was an example of the type, even if it's more of a puzzle than a monster maze meant to dice up your characters through combat.

But it's an interesting dungeon. It's tough, but it's not impossible. It punishes greed and lack of caution. It's a thinking person's dungeon, and quite possible to get through if you're careful and the GM is fair. It deserves the designation "S" for "Special" but for us elementary school aged gamers it was just one more example of How to Play the Game Right. The modules were gospel, and this was a gospel of strict and lethal play.

It's a module I'd like to run for an experienced group. I like what it's inspired (The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb is an homage that one-ups the original in many ways). But again, it may have been better if we'd never touched it back in the day. We'd have done better with something less special and less lethal.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

GURPS Lite in the Classroom, Session #2

I ran another, very short, bit of GURPS Lite for my speaking-skills student.

First, though, I needed to give him two bits of information about the game.

Skills - I told my student that skills are just what you are especially good at. You can try anything, given the right situation, but your listed skills are just what you do well.

Criticals - I told him 3-4 always works, usually especially well. 17-18 usually means a really bad failure - it doesn't work plus something goes really wrong. That came up his first roll when he rolled two out of three dice and could see he'd failed. Yes, 6 and 5 versus an 11 fails . . . but what if you roll another 6?

Next, we picked up with his character in the dark room.

He carefully searched the room, and eventually found a broken-off wooden handle from what used to be a wooden spoon. (This wasn't planned, but I figured, he searched carefully - I used this Search roll to determine how long it took to find anything, with only a critical failure meaning he'd missed this in his cautious feeling around in the dimness.)

Then he tried to scrape a hole in the door. The door was much too thick for that.

Next he tried to pick the lock with his broken wooden spoon handle. It didn't work; in fact it got stuck. (He missed his default Lockpicking roll by 10.)

All of this woke up the orc guard, who saw the door jammed. Not realizing in his just-woken state that this was a bad idea, he jammed in a key and opened the door. Instead of a shackled prisoner, my student's PC jumped out the door with his wooden shiv to attack.

We stopped there, and agreed to extend the time for GURPS a little next time.

Next up, a simple combat.

And even more chances to explain actions in English, which is practice he needs.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

AD&D Adventure Log sample entry oddities

I have two fully intact copies of the AD&D Adventure Log. I owned one other which I took apart to use in play in various campaigns.

I must have read every single detail of the sample log a hundred times at least. I still quote "Fred 9802 talked back to Odin -- and lived!" on occasion.

It's not a sample of actual play, of course. It barely makes sense as that. But it's fun to look at in any case.



And the are so many oddities on this.

- Who wrote this? It looks like Jeff Dee's lettering.

- The orcs, gnolls, lurker above, fire giant, and umber hulk all have average HP. Most of the HP are clustered right around the average. Many of the PCs? Average on the nose or just off of it. Try it. 7th level ranger? 8d8 HP, 4.5 per die, has 36 HP. Morgan Ironwolf? 43, average is 42. Lakesla? Average is 17.5, has 18 HP.

- the dragon has 37 HP. A huge, adult, black dragon with 37 HP. I guess it was wounded? Actually, it seems more like someone tried to give it almost average HP (4.5 x 8 = 36, 37 is one point higher). If you don't know AD&D dragons, they get fixed HP per age category. An adult has 5 per hit die, and so it should have 40.

- lots of high-ST fighters. Three with 18/01 or better (and Fred 9802 has 18/91 - 99)

- one cleric (who died, heh) out of 10 PCs, yet three thieves. Come on, guys, I know it's hard because AD&D limited multi-class clerics so badly it was pure cleric or purely bad choice, but you can see how you need two here.

- Black Dougal, dead once again. His purpose is to die in the example, I see.

- characters #4, #9, and #10 all appear to have 17 DEX while #2 has an 18.

- 5th through 8th level characters, including three Magic-Users and on Cleric but no Continual Light spells or light noted from magic swords (which are fairly plentiful in the group.)

- All of the multi-class characters have the same level in both classes - no one is at one of those fairly frequent points where one class is above the other.

- I don't think I ever saw a Net of Snaring in play outside of this sheet.

- Divine intervention with backtalk.

- Stat-raising magic chairs.

Still so fun to look at, for me. All of that implied play and weirdness. And that 37 HP dragon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Prepping for White Plume Mountain, round 2 - notes

Notes about Sunday's upcoming conclusion to AD&D White Plume Mountain.

Replacement PCs?

The new PCs are being generated off the old set of numbers the players generated. If someone is missing theirs, I'll probably let them roll up 2-3 sets of 4d6 drop lowest arrange to taste. That may work out better than their lost set, or worse. It doesn't matter to me as long as a viable and playable (even if not particularly good) PC is generated.

Levels, magic items, etc. will all be done the same way as the first time.

Did the PCs leave the dungeon?

No. The two surviving PCs did not. They're hanging out with the gynosphinx who riddled them in the first session.

I am debating letting the PCs leave and come back, so the characters can heal and re-memorize spells as well pick up the replacement characters. I'm leaning towards not doing that, though, because I'd like the choices made so far to stick in a significant way. That's a little unfair to the surviving PCs, but then again, the surviving PCs have five characters' worth of magic items and some nice loot that is all theirs.

Restocking?

No. None at all. The dungeon stays the same. Little or no time will have passed. The PCs are welcome to explore those corridors they didn't go down last time, find Whelm and Wave in any order they like, double-kill those two bugbears that nearly killed off the Lama of the Lioness, etc. It's still right now.

Healing?

One tricky bit is that the surviving two PCs are wounded. One is roughed up to 24 HP from his maximum 41. The other went to 0 and dropped negative from blood loss, and canonically needs weeks to recover.

Well, except in the case of the Heal spell. So a PC coming in with a scroll of Heal and Cure Critical Wounds (3d8+3, average 15.5) should take both of them to within a few HP of maximum. Probably, anyway - worth case is +6 HP for the F/T and the cleric is 4 HP off of maximum. But Heal will bounce her back from needing weeks off without me handing out, say, a Limited Wish and having the PCs decide it's better to save it for something else. No chance of that with healing that's needed right away.

More healing stuff?

A little bit, yes. The replacement PCs get what they rolled and a complement of healing potions like what I initially handed out (2-3 potions total). That's that.

One more session of AD&D Sunday, then back to our normal GURPS gaming. This went well, though, and I'd be tempted to try an UA-era adventure sometime in the future or play more early-version AD&D with the tweaks I made to initiative. It's been fun, even if I think GURPS combat and chargen is more of what I'm looking for from my gaming in general.

Monday, April 17, 2017

GURPS Cardboard Heroes: Dungeon Floors in PDF

In case you missed this announcement, the Cardboard Heroes Dungeon Floors are out in PDF.



Cardboard Heroes Dungeon Floors

$8.00

I'm taking a pass on them for now. I needed this a while back, so I ended up getting a copy of the spiral-bound hardcopy on eBay and so now I'm good on all the ones I wanted. But I'm happy to see this out in PDF. I've been pushing for that for a while, and I think they'll make a fine addition to the DF RPG.

I like these a lot, although they don't match up quite so well with my Chessex maps - the hexes are a bit squished in the paper copy. I'm not sure if that is fixed in the PDF or not. And hexes are hexes - you can't just put any two corridors or rooms side by side like with squares and expect them to line up. That means some fiddling. All of that said, these are nice and they are very useful for tactical combats in a GURPS game.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Ruins of Felltower Castle

I'm not sure I ever named the castle on top of Felltower. Its history isn't really that old in the game, though - it's not the first fortress to be build on top of the nameless mountain north of Stericksburg.

It's only Felltower because the name is cool and then the PCs went and knocked down the only fully intact tower right away.

It has been a lot more important than I thought it would. I selected a ruined castle map from a Judges' Guild supplement I got from a website selling them right around when I first started this blog and got set to play GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. I kind of expected it to fade into the background faster than the terrain between the caves in the Caves of Chaos - there, but you get right on into the tunnels after session one.

It's current state is pretty interesting to me.

- it used to have a thick door and a portcullis that could be raised or lowered. The door was destroyed (I actually can't find which session or between which sessions that happened) and the gate locked down and the mechanism destroyed for looting purposes. The main gate is thus blocked. It can be knocked down, but it'll take some time (it's a heavy portcullis shielded against magic).

- the manor house inside once included a tower with a ghost. The tower was destroyed and the ghost ordered away.

- the manor house's partial roof was once patched up with canvas and hides by the orcs, but it was burned by the PCs in an attempt to discourage the orcs.

- its dry well turned out to be an opening into the dungeon (and thus clearly never an actual water well) but that was broken by the PCs and then the orcs blocked it off.

- the side walls were once crumbling, and usable as an entrance through the walls. The orcs fixed those with rubble-and-wood filled wooden fencing; subsequently someone finished them with magical and/or non-magical shaping.

- one tower held a collection of magical and non-magical treasures stashed by an adventuring group that the PCs looted.

- one tower held some giant maned rats but the PCs didn't explore that tower until long after the orcs claimed the surface and exterminated the rats.

- one gatehouse held the evidence of a previous fight - melted metal and coins and scorch marks of a large fire spell. (My group being my group, they looted the melted metal for scrap.)

As I noted in the Felltower Entrances rundown, the castle is pretty much accessed right now with spells and climbing.

Against my expectations, the castle is still really significant. It's an obstacle to entrance, a potential fortress against delvers, and still sometimes holds encounters. I'm glad I put enough thought in it to make it potentially so. I suppose in the right kind of game, the PCs would take it over, rehabilitate it, and live in it and adventure in their basement. I think my gamers rightly fear what happens in games I run to people who do that kind of stuff - they become backstory the next group of adventurers learns about the dungeon.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Tales from the Yawning Portal

For more reviews, please see my review page.



Published April 2017 by Wizards of the Coast
248 pages
$49.95

Tales from the Yawning Portal is a collection of older AD&D and D&D 3.x adventures, and one D&D Next playtest adventure, converted to D&D5. It consists of:

The Sunless Citadel
The Forge of Fury
The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan (originally C1)
White Plume Mountain (originally S2)
Dead in Thay
Against the Giants (originally G1-3)
Tomb of Horrors (originally S1)

The adventures aren't linked as a supermodule, with a common thread running through them, but they are set up in order of difficulty so you could start at 1st level in the first one and move your way up to finally challenging the modernized Tomb of Horrors at 12th level plus. Actually it doesn't set a level recommendation for Tomb of Horrors, but you're theoretically going to be 11th level when you start G3 so you should probably be at least 12th when you're finished with it.

The maps are beautiful and full-color, and not difficult to read in general - although the numbers don't pop out quite like they do in monochrome maps. My main complaint is that they aren't very large, and they're embedded in the text - lots of page-flipping to run this, unless you're going to make a full-color copy to work off of. Special areas with extra detail do get picked out with zoomed-in maps, however - White Plume Mountain especially needs and gets these.

Monster stats similarly need page-flipping - nothing get statted in their own encounter area - pretty typical for D&D5 adventures. Some monsters get special stats, however, modifying a typical entry. In actual play this seems like it would mean needing to write them both down in a combined stat list to facilitate play.

The art in the book is fantastic. It's very attractive, and like the originals, pictures a lot of special areas and encounters so you can just show people what they're seeing. I'd suggest supplementing them with the ones from the original modules if you have them, however.

In the conversion to D&D5, the numbers of foes often get reduced, sometimes dramatically. For example, there are 9 trolls in three connected areas in the the converted G3. In the original, there are 56 trolls in those three areas. Another area has 6 instead of 18. The sheer numbers you could deploy, and deal with, in AD&D are not the same in D&D5. I have no doubt those reduced numbers are still a challenge, but it's worth noting that this changes. Similarly, some monsters are downgrades - young hill giants fighting as orcs, not as ogres, stuff like that. They had to resort to some tricks to explain other things - such a dragon's lair becoming an extra-dimensional space to accommodate the physically muck larger dragons of D&D5.

Traps and treasure get downgraded a bit. Traps generally aren't the save-or-die, supra-tetanus of the 1st edition adventures and are usually more survivable. Or at less flat-out dependent on you having access to wishes and raise dead to undo your bad rolls. For treasure, that means some hoards are a bit smaller, magical plusses tend to be lower.

How is it for GURPS?

In a way I think the extra detail that comes with D&D5 (DCs for tasks, for example) and reduced numbers of foes makes them easier to convert to GURPS. Just add some magic to more of the encounters, make the monster tough by GURPS standards, and keep the reduced numbers (numbers are brutal in GURPS, too, in a way they aren't in AD&D) and have at it. The reduced but more detailed magical items suit GURPS DF in a way that the larger hoards of magic from AD&D don't quite.

Overall: I really enjoyed this one. The converted and updated adventures read almost exactly like the originals, they stay tight and focused, and they feel like the originals did. It was just a good read, and I really enjoyed reading the updates of the modules I knew by heart from my AD&D days and getting to look at ones I'd missed from after I stopped GMing D&D.

Recommended. Attractive and well done.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Megadungeon Best Practices XVI: the Usually Principle

I think one of the things that makes a dungeon work is a nice blend of safety and danger. Much of the time you're safe, interspersed with extreme danger. If it's dangerous all of the time, you really have no incentive for either moving ahead or staying where you are and great incentives to just leave. Even S1 The Tomb of Horrors isn't dangerous 100% of the time in 100% of the places.

Equally, if you've got a mix of monsters, traps, empty spaces, etc. without a tie-in the players can't predict dangers ahead well enough to make informed choices. And without informed choices and expectations, you can't pull the old switcheroo of the helpful trap, friendly enemy, trick treasure, etc.

Something usually has to be the case to make the other cases remarkable, and something has to almost always be the case to make the other cases a surprise.

I've started to think of this as the "Usually Principle." It's not a great name, but it's how it sticks in my consciousness while I stock my dungeon. It's something that's fairly obvious, but also easy to forget when you're putting in traps, monsters, "trick" areas, etc. without considering the expectations you've laid out. This is how I've learned it applies to my megadungeon.

The Usually Principle

In order to take advantage of player expectations to make something surprising or remarkable, you have to

If you want friendly monsters to be remarkable, then monsters usually need to be hostile.

If you want the dungeon to feel like a big, mostly empty place with pockets of danger and reward, areas the PCs explore need to be usually empty.

Trapsare remarkable when they are occasional, because corridors and rooms and doors are usually not trapped.

No Mana Zones and No Sanctity Zones are remarkable when magic usually works well everywhere.

You can cluster things - an area of friendly monsters, a themed trapped area, and area of safety - in order to make them more predictable and reverse this principle. Themes are good. And things can be reversed - S1 The Tomb of Horrors is a good example of an area where things are usually trapped, D3 Vault of the Drow an area where monsters are usually not hostile (if you've taken basic steps to ensure that), town is a place that is usually safe, etc. The exceptions become noteworthy, and are more likely to take you by surprise and feel more rewarding if you encounter them.

It's tempting to put down the numbers from Pareto's Principle here, 80-20, but that's just trying to attach a basic design goal to specific numbers just because they're out there. It doesn't need to be that specific, and it works better if the players don't suspect there is a specific number they can reverse-engineer.

Ultimately I've found that's worth keeping in mind that you need a lot of one thing before the exception is remarkable, and almost entirely one thing before the other thing is surprising. If 50% of doors are trapped, then expect 100% of doors to be checked for traps. If it's more like 20%, players might start to get lulled. If it's more like 1%, "I check for traps" will fade long before they open that one trapped door.

Corollary: Rules Before Exceptions - in principle, it's better to expose people to the general, typical case before they run into the unusual case. The friendly troll is more interesting when you've met the typical, unfriendly trolls before that encounter. The mimic works best when you've opened chests and listened at doors for a while that weren't mimics. The weak dragon is interesting when you've fought strong dragons before and can sense your advantage here. Generally - there are exceptions, and if they're telegraphed properly they can work. But if you usually lead with the exception, the normal ones will seem bland when encountered and the exceptional ones won't have the impact you want.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

GURPS and the SJG Stakeholder Report

My main interest in the SJG Stakeholders report is GURPS. Let's look at what it says about GURPS:

"Dungeon Fantasy - Our Kickstarter project to create a GURPS introductory box set has run into more troubles and derailments than we would like. A game that was meant to go to the printer before the end of 2016 is still clogging our pipeline and causing constant distractions. The project was not as far along in the process as it should have been, and miscommunication regarding the game components ballooned our costs. At the moment, barring a miracle, what would have been a profitable project is rapidly turning into a loss. This is becoming an ongoing problem for GURPS projects (see Discworld and Mars Attacks, below, under Failures)."


Ugh.

Double Ugh.

I'm not shocked, based on this Kickstarter update.

I don't really have any secret inside insight - I'm a freelancer, not staff. I do know Sean Punch really well, though, and know he's working himself to the very limit on this project. It's actually pretty upsetting as his friend to read about this kind of problem with the project.

The project will come to fruition, but it's not good for GURPS and no help to RPGs if this gets more and more expensive and costs the company more and more money to do it. Instead of expanding GURPS it could potentially contract it.

Again, no inside knowledge here. I repeat that because sometimes people equate "GURPS book author" with "company insider" and nothing could be further from the truth.


"Discworld and Mars Attacks - We published two new GURPS hardcover books late last year. GURPS fans celebrated, and the books turned out well, but their disappointing performance further supported the unfortunate realization that sales are no longer strong enough to make traditional distribution work for GURPS hardcovers. Today's cluttered market, combined with our insistence on getting it right, made both books expensive experiments that tell us one thing: Do not produce more GURPS hardcovers until we have guaranteed that the sales are there. Does this mean more crowdfunding for GURPS? Maybe! But until we see the retail sales of Dungeon Fantasy, we're holding off on any more printed GURPS releases. PDFs will continue, and we'll revisit the question of "print GURPS?" later this year."


My concern with this is that Discworld and Mars Attacks are interesting GURPS hardcover books, but they're both kind of niche. I'm sure Discworld is beautiful, and what I saw of it in playtest was excellent. But it's Discworld. If you aren't into Discworld, it's not really going to be something you want just because you play GURPS.

Mar Attacks, even more so. I'm interested in it, because I think it's kind of neat. But not enough to pre-order one from a so-called FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store) or a bookstore. I checked my loyalty card for what used to be the most local gaming store to me - one down the block from my MMA school. Last time I went was May 2015. The last time before that was November 2014 (possibly 2013 - when I came in that May they made a point of putting the year on it because we weren't sure.) My FLGS is Amazon.com.

So the conclusion seems to be tha two niche hardbacks didn't sell very well, so GURPS books in general won't sell. It's frustrating. I felt some of that frustration when the call for pre-orders went out; these aren't books I need and I need my money more than books unless they make my immediate game better.


Overall, I'm happy they actually mentioned GURPS in more than in passing. I'm unhappy with the news about the line and the assessment of the line but I am glad to get actual news. I'm glad they'll make sure the DFRPG comes out - I've never had a boxed set with my name in the credits. I'll do what I can to make the DFRPG successful, because DF is the kind of GURPS book I want to how SJG make.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Steve Jackson Games 2016 Stakeholder's Report is up

SJG put up the latest Stakeholder's Report. For now, here is the link:

2016 Stakeholder's Report

I'll put up some commentary when I have time to sit and type a bit.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Clarification on "First Time Always Works"

I got some nice feedback and commentary on my First Time Always Works post.

I do have some clarifications about it.

It has to be possible or probable.

In other words, this ruling approach wouldn't say "Anything you think of works the first time." It's a "tie always goes to the players" or "edge cases are always in your favor" or "Maybe means yes" rule. It's not a "Yes to everything the first time" rule.

It can't change the facts on the ground.

Again, it's edge cases. Perhaps this time you sharpen a silver coin and tie it to a stick and it works as an arrow against the lycanthrope. But you can't just throw a coin at the lycanthrope and except it'll die, or say, "I've heard they are also vulnerable to gold pieces" and use gold instead. You're getting the favorable bounce, not getting to change the world.

Impulse Buys works, if you have players that use them.

Mine wouldn't spend a character point on a fleeting gain, no matter how critical that fleeting gain is. And I haven't gotten into handing out impulse point pools. So I didn't even go there. But yes, if you're using Impulse Buys, the GM is within this rule by asking you to pay to invoke it.

Significant difference matters.

"We did the jumping off the cliff and half-falling with Levitate and it worked that one time, so let's do it this time with Flight. Or "Last time we did that, it was everyone in the party. This time it's half of the party, so that's not the same thing." Pretty much as soon as there is a last time, that sets the outside limit of precedence.

The GM can still say no.

This is critical. Again, it's edge cases. It's, "I'm okay with that happening in the world." The GM can still say no. It's the basis for a ruling, not a contractual agreement to say yes. It's more player-limiting then player-enabling, in a way, but provides an understanding of what those limits actually are.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Ruling idea: First time always works

Just thinking about a rules idea, prompted by Denis McCarthy's examples in the comments in this post on AD&D Chargen.

He mentioned using Feather Fall to carry an entire party down a cliff or other drop. I thought about this - it's the kind of thing you would expect would take coordination. If you're going to jump off a cliff holding onto a wizard, you'd probably want to practice that - the grabbing, the coordination of jumps, the timing of the spell casting, etc. etc. You'd want to put some time and effort into perfecting this potentially dangerous task.

Same with, say, timing a charge through an area with a fireball. You move, the fireball is thrown ahead and explodes, you move right in and hack and slash and slay the wounded fireball victims. Time that a bit wrong and it's not unlike untrained troops trying to charge in just behind a moving wall of artillery fire - they're either going to go in too fast and take fire too or too slow and miss out on the effect.

I just think, if you're going to do this stuff regularly, you'll need practice. It's not a given that if it can be done once, it can be done always just because you thought of it. Or because you're assuming you must be practicing this in your copious spare time between sessions.

At the same time, you get times when the party is backed up against a cliff and the wizard says, "Hey, I can have everyone grab me, we can jump off the cliff together, and 1/3 of the way down I can cast Feather Fall and we'll all land with no damage!" You'd want that to work. It's a crazy cool plan. You'll want that "I throw the fireball just ahead of him" plan that allows the PCs to pull off a coup de main or turn a potential TPK into a victory to work.

But you might have those reservations I have above - if I allow this once, does that means it's now a routine action that always works?

Stealing an idea from Discworld, maybe it only works because it's 1 in a 1,000,000 exactly. Maybe it only works that first time because, against all odds, you coordinate it just right under stress. That stuff happens - I still tell the story of winning a grappling match with a move I didn't know and still can't do well.*

So perhaps a good ruling basis would be, yes, your crazy plan works. Perhaps a roll for avoiding calamity ("Don't roll an 18" or "Don't roll a 1.") Otherwise, it's either "Yes" or "Yes, but" or "Yes, also." After that, though, it's subject to all of the if, ands, or buts of thinking it all through. Yes, you perfectly pulled off that cliff jumping to safety. Next time you try to coordinate five PCs doing the same thing there is a roll involved to see if you do it properly, unless you put in some in-game effort to justify making it routine. Next time you perfectly time that fireball, we'll apply this penalty I realized should have applies and just roll on the scatter chart for a miss and see what happens. And so on - you get the benefit of the doubt on your craziness or "it just might work!" plan, but you can't use that as settled precedent for it working in all cases even if easier than the first case.

I think some people would have trouble adjusting to this - especially if you're used to negotiating out "works now and forever" and not "now, we'll see about later." Yet I think it's got promise. It nicely severs the relationship between the worry about allowing something now and then seeing the consequences later, rewards trying new things (the less precedent against it, the more likely it's going to work this one time), and keeps things moving. In my case I'd be less likely to worry that I've just allowed a game-breaking change. Or that I'd turned a ruling meant to keep things moving and reward your cleverness into the basis of all action going forward. "We do the Feather Fall thing over and over until the entire army is down the cliff."

I like the idea of making this a standing, known goal when making rulings - I'm probably going to say yes, but it's likely that it's not precedent. I'm saying you try the cool thing that should probably take a lot of time, effort, learning, practice, etc. and everything just worked out this time under stress. If you want to repeat it, and it seems like it should be harder than it was, that's something we've agreed to. Instead of just saying "No!" because I'm concerned about where it would lead I could say "Yes!" because I know it doesn't have to lead anywhere. It might be precedent, it might just be a one-off set of accidentally perfect circumstances and execution.


* My coach talked me through it in real time, against an opponent who could hear his words as well as I could. Imagine his chagrin when I couldn't pull it off even once properly in practice after that.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

When is the next Felltower session?

As I've mentioned before, scheduling has killed us for gaming this year so far.

Looking ahead, we've got two game sessions on tap before the next Felltower:

- 20th Homeland / Gamma Terra (GURPS), as we try to go and see what they grow up at the Robot Farm and (hopefully) make friends with whoever is up there.

- Part II of White Plume Mountain (AD&D), as additional PCs roll in after the 60%+ casualties inflicted by their weakened state the terrors of Keraptis's dungeon.

Only after those two will we have time for Felltower.

This probably means a session in May sometimes for Felltower.

In the dungeon this means some restocking and reinforcing, naturally, but not a whole lot - I did those passes already recently and the place is ready to play. It does possibly mean some of the alertness that was sparked by the PCs has receded. Who really can keep their attention up, or alertness up, when the intruders haven't returned in a couple of months?

Permanent changes have been made of course. Destroyed doors generally stay destroyed, traps that were set in response to PC actions stay there unless triggered (there is always a chance something else blundered into them), dead monsters generally stay dead. Regular conditions will come up - the orcs keep blocking tunnels and will probably keep blocking tunnels, even if only because of circular actions by themselves and the PCs.*

The dungeon is therefore mostly ready to go. I'll need to do one pass over it and see what could/should/might have changed and dice and decide for that. I'll need to print out an updated roster for foes.

And then I'll just wait for the next time we can play. And see what I can do about clearing out my Sundays better in the future!


* The orcs block the tunnels to keep out the PCs. The PCs dig out the tunnels to get at the dungeon parts they want to explore and kill the orcs for blocking the tunnels. Therefore, logically, the orcs realize they need more and better blocking to keep out those murderous adventurers who keep killing them. That just makes the PCs angrier. Repeat, repeatedly.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Whose game is it, GM or Players? Both.

For a while I've been meaning to sit down and post one of the lessons I've learned from gaming as long as I have.

The Christopher Rice went and encapsulated that lessons in his latest Gamemaster's Guidepost article.

It's basically this: it's not the GM's game. It's not the players' game. It's the GM's and the players' game.

We tend to discuss campaigns as if they belong to the GM. Peter's game. Chris's game. Gary's game. That guy at the hobby shop's game.

But you'll get people who say, no, it's not the GM's game. It's the players' game. If you as the GM think it's your game, you're doing something wrong.

But honestly, it's everyone's game. The GM has to enjoy running it enough to put in all of the effort needed for a good game. The players need to enjoy it enough to keep showing up and put in the effort to make it fun for themselves and others. If either is lacking the joy of their part of the enterprise, it's going to end sooner or (perhaps rather than) later.

Once I really got this lesson deep down, my gaming became better overall. We all have different roles around the table, but it's meant for the enjoyment of everyone. If you put the players' enjoyment ahead of the GMs, or the GM's enjoyment ahead of that of the players, I think you're headed down the "end sooner rather than later" road.

And that's it. It's everyone's game.

Friday, April 7, 2017

AD&D White Plume Mountain Initiative

Running White Plume Mountain, I ran into the issue of the rather complex AD&D initiative system.

I'd downloaded documents like the ADDICT PDF and a by-the-book flowchart for initiative. It's complex. I didn't need complex. It has features that aren't always helpful but can be decisive in very specific situations (weapon length, weapon speed factors.) It has stuff spread all over a number of pages.

I wanted a pretty simple system, but one that didn't depend on arbitrary rules ("Missile Fire Phase" or "No Spells after Melee Begins" or such as that). I also really do like segments as a concept. My favorite initiative system for Rolemaster assigned points to activities and you'd use them to line up who did what, when. Ironically that system didn't go far enough - it had the basis of an overlapping phased system that would like like an overall-round-free version of Champions 1st edition. But it had the effect that not all things took the same time, and starting a long action too soon before someone took a short, opposing action could mean they got to you first.

In any case, I looked at OSRIC and decided it had something to recommend it, but needed tweaking. Here is what I ended up using:


First Round Only:
0) Determine Surprise. Roll 1d for your own side. If the result is a 1, the group is surprised for one segment. If the result is a 2, the group is surprised for two segments. If the result is a 3-6, the group is not surprised. [Segments count as a full round during surprise for melee attacks, but count as normal segments for missile fire or spells, Dexterity Adjustments reduce surprise segments 1:1]

All Rounds:
1) Declare Spells and Actions (For example, cast Fireball, attack in melee, flee, etc.)
2) Determine Initiative (Each side rolls 1d for the other side’s initiative. Each party acts in the segment indicated by the other side’s roll.)
3) Party with Lower Segment Roll Goes (Resolve PC actions clockwise around the table, results take effect immediately. Side without initiative can get specific reactions – hitting fleeing characters, receiving a charge with spears, etc. Spells take effect on the segment indicated by the casting time, even if that’s after the other side. If it’s the same time, flip a coin to see if you get the spell off before anyone attacks you.)
4) Party with Higher Segment Roll Goes (As #3, but for the side with lower segment roll)
Repeat until the battle is over.

Note: Spells are automatically spoiled by a hit during casting. Spoiled spells are used up just as if the spell was successfully cast.

Note: Unlike AD&D, we will not split multiple attacks up into before-and-after initiative attacks. Especially for 3/2, this means every other round we need to remember a second attack AFTER everyone has gone. Instead we’ll treat it as one action.

Then I just set times to do anything - pretty much, 1 segment for any given action. Swap weapons? 1 Segment. Put away your shield and mace, and take out your staff and attack? 3 segments (Put away shield, put away mace, ready and attack with staff). So if your initiative was 4, you'd actually get to go on 7.

Notes

In actual play, though, I ended up rolling surprise for the other side. I still don't love 1 = 1, 2 = 2, 3+ = 0 but it's simple. Reaction adjustments can negate (or prolong) surprise, but since we're rolling by sides for initiative they don't affect which segment you go on.

Declaring actions ahead of time is something we've done in other games, so it wasn't a new concept to the players. It worked very well - people didn't spend a lot of time trying to decide their best option for right now, because they didn't know what the situation will clearly be when they actually get to go. Maybe the bad guys will be killed by people before them in the order. Maybe the bad guys will force their hand by fleeing or using spell-like powers. You just choose what you hope to do and then we resolve it as your turn comes up. It certainly pushes the pace nicely and encourages finding and memorizing 1 segment spells you can use during combat.

In retrospect, you don't need to set this up with rolling the other side's initiative number. You could simply roll your own side's, and hope for a low roll. It wouldn't materially change things except you'd be excited by a 1 and disappointed with a 6, not the other way around. I may change this for next session and say, roll your own

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gaming in the Classroom underway

So at long last I'm getting to use RPGs in the classroom again.

I have a solo young student who particularly needs speaking practice, yet has a solidly high level of English. So I've introduced him to RPGs. It's kind of the perfect tool for the job - his challenge is finding the English words to express what he's trying to express. Give him a paper man, and have try to solve the paper man's problems with his words and some dice.

So I made up a character using GURPS Lite.

The system is simple enough - roll low to accomplish things, roll high for effect. Four stats. Four secondary characteristics. A few skills. A way to roll for skills you don't know.

His guy is a warrior in a generic TL3 world which may or may not be the same one with Felltower on it.

We didn't have a lot of time. I made three mistakes:

- I forgot to do any prep until right before class. I remembered to bring my stuff, but I really did need a little more prep. I'm not sure he noticed but it would have been more smooth if I had more than just a character and a rough idea.

- I should have just started off playing with less explanation.

- I gave him his character sheet all at once instead of revealing stats and elements as needed.

I decided I'd make it a fantasy game, start him off as a prisoner (make him focus on what to do, not what he has) and let him escape from a simple area. Once that's done,

The situation was that he's a warrior-scout who wants to be a great and famous warrior, and he and some other men were scouting the borderlands where the orcs live. They were attacked and he was knocked out. When he came to, he was a prisoner in a 10 x 10' cell and shackled to the floor, and an orc told him he'd be back later. We started there.

(I started him as a prisoner as I figured he'd be less likely to play "find the thing to roll against" given that he had nothing to try and use. I was right.)

He quickly searched around, making a Search roll, and examined the shackle. He found the shackle was meant for his ankle but they'd clamped it around his wrist. He said he wanted to try and work it free. A default Escape roll taught him about trying things you don't know how to do, he made it, and he got free.

(I had decided on these details as I described the room. I was pleased with how quickly he went from "What on this sheet is the answer?" to "Check everything around me and try stuff that makes logical sense." And how well he expressed the idea in English, which is the entire point of the exercise.)

He moved to the bar-windowed wooden door and decided to kick it open. I pointed out that he could do this but it would be noisy - still okay?

No! He decided to listen at the door, and quietly check if it was locked. He heard nothing, and it was locked . . . but peering through the keyhole he could see a snoozing orc guard with the keys on a stool just across from the hall.

That's where we ended. He's got a couple weeks to think it over, and I told him we'd spend 10-15 minutes on this each class if he's finished his other work. Given that he's an enthusiastic and hard worker, that should be no issue.

I figure I'll let him escape from the (small) orc-held fortress and then let him go on adventures with some hired help or recruited soldiers at his side. Maybe I'll use S1 In Search of the Unknown*, or a modified Caravan of Ein Arras, or just make up my own small dungeon or outdoor area to explore.

Oh, and because I get lost in GMing just like players get lost in gaming, I ended up running a bit long. It was like, "What do you do? Oh, wait, think it over until next time, class ended a while ago." Next time I'll keep it tighter. Fun, though, and it's a place and student for whom I think gaming is really ideal.

I briefly considered S&WL or even D&D5, but I decided those would take more explanation than GURPS Lite does given pregenerated characters. Besides, I could run it with no books, no lookups, no nothing - and it's about speaking practice more than gaming. The fragile lethality of S&WL and the complexity of character details of D&D5 seemed like they could get in the way of him getting the speaking practice I want.

Fun, and we'll see how it goes. You may see more updates on this as long as I can easily file off the details enough to avoid any privacy issues.




* Speaking of which, what the heck edition is that for? My two copies, 1st and 2nd edition, are for Basic Set. Yet both feature a Dwarf (race-as-class) with 18/54 Strength, which is an AD&D or OD&D Greyhawk feature (where Dwarf is a race but not a class.) What the?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Mail Call: DCC & Yawning Portal

These two books came in the mail yesterday:



I'd been meaning to get a reference copy of DCC for a while, and I found an inexpensive softcover version. It's still got all I like (crazy magic, amusing setting, interesting mechanics to read up on) and what I don't (contradictory statements, no treasure system.) I'd forgotten just how big it is. It takes up nearly as much space as two D&D 5th edition books and it's the same size across as the GURPS Basic Set hardbacks! Good stuff, though, and it deserves a spot on the shelf if only for its unique twist as a retro-derived system.

Yawming Portal is a fun read so far. Yes, I read White Plume Mountain first. It's a well-done conversion as far as I can tell. And of course Blackrazor, Whelm, and Wave are three of the four example sentient weapons in the 5th edition DMG. Heh.

I'm looking forward to reading the other ways, and it makes me very curious about the Dungeons of Dread version of WPM and the original versions of the other adventures I'm less familiar with. And I think I already see some stuff I can use in my GURPS DF game. Hurrah!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

AD&D Character Generation for White Plume Mountain

Here is how we generated our mid-level AD&D guys for White Plume Mountain.



What levels?

First things first, I needed to know what level people would need to be at.

WPM says it is for levels 5-10 on the cover. Inside, it's more specific:

"at the very least four and at most ten characters, with a combined total of 40 to 60 levels between them. A good party balance would be something like 40% fighters, 30% magic-users, 20% clerics and 10% thieves."
- WPM, p. 2

So I sat down and said, okay, what's the middle range of XP in that? Probably around 80K.

Then just to be sure, and just for the fun of it, I actually calculated the xp that would generate fighters, magic-users, clerics, and thieves at 5th and 10th levels, plugged them into a spreadsheet and weighted it by those 40/30/20/10 numbers.

In the end this came out in the 75,000-80,000 XP range. Heh. Eyeballing was good enough . I tried a few PCs and found that 80,000 would put some PCs right on the "I need 1 xp more" edge of a level, and with triple-classed demi-humans it would be a mess. So I went with 75K, after checking to make sure I wasn't causing any problems, and I said this to my players:

"Roll 4d, drop lowest, six times. Arrange in any order.
Do that for six sets.
Pick one.
You get 75,000 xp (so 37,500 each for 2 classes, 25,000 for 3 classes), yes you can get your Prime Requisite bonus as appropriate

HP are max at first level, then roll."

We actually ended up doing this for most of the group before a session of Felltower, as each person came in and wanted to try a "test set" of rolls. Why test? Just roll and write. We did most of the chargen in a relatively short amount of time, although it did eat into our game session a little.

I did end up modifying the instructions a little:

- no characters with two classes. It's just a big headache, for one, and then I'd need to allow people to hairsplit XP a bit to avoid a dual-classed PC who didn't have access to the first class's abilities yet.

- no Assassins, no evil characters, if only because we knew we'd have a paladin (and we did, although he had to miss the session) and we had another player who'd pretty much said he'd be a LG cleric or a paladin.

- I did say I'd allow a bard, but you'd have to three-way split the XP to do it - no using just enough for your fighter level, just enough for thief, rest in Bard. It's doable, though.

Otherwise, that put people between 6th level and 8th level, which multi-class characters generally one level behind (two classes) or two (three classes). That seemed about right given that we had between six and ten people who wanted to play. If everyone could make it, centered on 7th level would be fine, and if only six did, we'd still be closer to the top end, and I figured that was a slight handicap since they hadn't played AD&D in a long time (some never had) and the extra HP and spells would help buffer against the difficulty.

Gear

Gear was a different issue.

I said, unlimited mundane gear. Take as much as you want. However, only gear in the PHB. No "there are silver daggers, can all of my weapons be silver?" No, silver daggers, silver arrows. Otherwise, help yourself. By this level, you should have more money than you know how to spend on adventuring.

For magic items, I turned to Appendix P in the DMG on page 225-227. I had though of handing out a budget and a theoretical amount of money - like in C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness. But I decided that would take a lot of time and debate, get switched last minute as people rationalized a different choice as better, and might make for very lopsided decisions. Random was better, in my thinking. I almost picked a selection based on tournament PCs from similar level modules (which pretty much means the other S-series modules) but again, random seemed more fun. "I got plate +1 and a shield +1!" beats, "Okay, we should give the fighters all plate +1, and save this shield +1 for the druid because he's our backup healer and needs a better AC, and . . . "

So Appendix P. We calculated the percentages and rolled.

Let me tell you, it's hard to get a well-equipped party that way. We had an 8th level druid with three different +1 weapons and a 7th level fighter with nothing but a single +1 shield. The percentages seem high, but they really are not, and you can't even have a chance of a +2 item until you're above name level for most classes (except Rangers with chain armor and magic-users with magical daggers.) Druids get a lot of chances for different sorts of magic weapons and fighters get one chance at one. You can't even technically get a broadsword, two-handed sword, or bastard sword as a magic weapon because that's not listed.

What we did was honor those * and ** entries, but ignore the qualifies on sword types except for class restrictions.

I also assumed that the scroll % chances were rolled for each type of scroll based on the footnote about thieves. We further assumed that you'd get a number of potion rolls equal to the maximum number of potions.

I allowed PCs to pick the kind of scroll of protection they got, or any spells (although we rolled for levels.)

And then in the end, I gave the group some items and upgrades, specifically:

" 2 potions of healing (2d4+2)
- 1 potion of extra-healing (3d8+3)
- a single +2 weapon for one of your characters*
- an upgrade of any of your current magical weapons from +1 to +2**
- Bag of Holding (500 pound capacity)
- One each of Cloak and Boots of Elvenkind
- Wand of Negation (20 charges)
- Necklace of Adaptation

* Pick any one person.
** Pick someone who has a +1 weapon, make it +2 OR if you've got a cleric with a +1 weapon you can upgrade the cleric to a Staff of Striking (20 charges) instead of his +1 weapon.

Divide them up as you see fit."

When we got down to 5 players, I threw in an extra each of healing, extra-healing, and one chosen or randomly-rolled potion from the chart on DMG p. 227, and said that instead of a swap the cleric could just have a Staff of Striking in addition to anything he had.

Amusingly that Bag of Holding weighs 15 pounds empty. Geez. Who needs Detect Magic? "I grab that empty sack! Oof!" Plenty of "hand this to people, don't throw it to them" jokes abounded.

How was it?

I mentioned some above but:

- we ended up with about half the party in magical plate mail, and half the party in mundane armor.

- Urf Nightsoil ended up with Bracers of AC 6 and a Ring of Protection +2, giving him AC 2 with his Dex adjustment.

- two fighters ended up with 15 bolts +2. I love how there are no magic arrows on the list.

- I had to provide those +2 weapons because some monsters in AD&D need +2 weapons to hit, plus these guys are level 6-8, someone would have a +2 weapon by then.

- I needed to provide miscellaneous items by choice to avoid getting things too good (Wings of Flying, say, or a Rope of Climbing) or too useless in the adventure (enjoy this Wand of Wonder).

I picked items that seemed useful in the context of the adventure but weren't too tailored to it, and were likely pickups from the kind of things I'd hand out back in the day (or would hand out now.) The Wings of Flying and Rope of Climbing were specifically not on my list. Although the latter is fairly common, my players agreed after the session that had they had one everything would have been "How do we use the Rope of Climbing here to get around this?" or "Just use the Rope of Climbing!" instead of "How do we get past this obstacle?"

Replacement Characters

So last session, three characters were turned to frosted corpses and need replacement. The players have their six sets of rolls, and used one set - I told them to simply get the next set they want to use and use that to make their PC. XP will be the same, simply because it's easier to use what's gone before and because the adventure is going to be hard enough without being lower level.

Magic items would be rolled as before, even given the oddness that results, and I will probably give the new group one or two healing potions on top of that. Probably. We'll see.

If I could do it again . . .

I'd do chargen the same. It worked great. It was fun to do, it gave reasonable characters without either too high or two low scores, and made "roll then choose" compatible with "but I really want to run a _____." On top of that, you weren't assured of at least one 18 (I think no one had multiple 18s) and at least one player picked a stat set that lacked an 18 because they needed more prereqs for a given class.

Appendix P isn't so great, though. It gives you a potentially lavishly equipped (with +1 weapons) guy but until name level you aren't really getting anything impressive. Plus, you can get odd results and some of the reasoning isn't clear. I'm only using it again for replacement guys because everyone's characters will be on the same system.

Next time, I'd probably use the magic item tables for NPC parties on pg. 176. I'd probably roll percentage for each one - so a 6th level guy gets three 60% rolls for table I and two 40% rolls on table II. What you can get for gear there is more random, but also potentially more useful. I'd allow certain swaps (so a magic-user rolling Splint +4 on Table II could choose the Bracers of AC 4 instead) but otherwise, that might be good. Plus you can get some sweet stuff no sane GM would just hand to you but which probably would be fine in play anyway.


And that's how we ended up with our AD&D party.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Why AD&D?

So we played AD&D yesterday. We've been planning this for a while, and originally scheduled in March but had to roll it back due to scheduling concerns. Even after doing that we lost 3/8ths of the planned group due to scheduling issues and cascading problems. In my Felltower game, this is a non-issue. In White Plume Mountain, it was more significant - we were doing a one-shot or two-shot, not a campaign.

In any case, though, AD&D 1st edition. Specifically, pre-Unearthed Arcana 1st edition AD&D.

Why?



Why AD&D?

When the idea came up to take a session (possibly two) and play White Plume Mountain, as-written, I had a couple of ideas:

- run it with AD&D 1st edition

- run it with a retro-clone like Swords & Wizardry

I wrote both ideas in an email and hit send, but honestly, by the time I hit send I knew the answer was "AD&D." Why hand out copies of S&W, explain the differences, re-calculate the ACs of monsters for Ascending AC (or point out how to do descending AC in S&W), re-do saves, re-do monster stats, etc. when we could just play AD&D? Why go retro-clone when retro is sitting right there?

Plus, as I've said a few times, AD&D is my native gaming language. I grew up with it. It wouldn't be too hard to get back into it. Just a refresher on how the system works and I'd be good to go.

It wasn't exactly that simple.

The AD&D DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE isn't exactly laid out or written with quick reference in mind. Rules are buried in all sorts of places. Pages in the PLAYERS HANDBOOK refer to things ahead sometimes and to previous things other times - and details for something you choose on one page are often on another. The index for the PHB is in the DMG, and entries in the TOC and the Index aren't always taking you to that specific information you need.

It's kind of a mess. Good stuff, and it generally works, but it's a mess. It's like finding information on someone else's cluttered desk.

I just reveled in it. Any weirdness, oddness, or silliness that came up I generally just said, "Like it says in the book."

It took a while to make sure I read all the things I needed to read, and I made sure to look things up instead of assume I remembered them. I read every monster and spell and magic item in the book. Re-read the module a few times in order and out of order. I made note sheets and crib sheets for magical items in the party. I put in my homework.

Why not GURPS?

Because much in WPM rides on specific notions being true that are not in GURPS. Most foes not using magic - that would be a more trivial issue in GURPS. Cheap-and-easy buff spells ("We just cast Levitation and Resist Fire on everyone and then go down the hall.") Area-changing spells. And fights with terribly serious consequences for being hit yet which lopsidedly favor numbers. None of these really would give the same feel. Things would have the same name, but lacking "Should we use out one Fireball spell here?" it wouldn't be quite the same. Take that from someone who routinely converts and plunders AD&D modules for GURPS - I don't think WPM would match the feeling I wanted to get back if I'd done with 3d6 instead of 1d20.

Why no Unearthed Arcana?

Simply put, because S2 White Plume Mountain pre-dates Unearthed Arcana. Once you factor in d12 HP double-CON bonus barbarians, weapon specialization, higher expected stats across the board, routinely lower AC *(full plate, not plate mail), broad access to new spells not planned for in the dungeon's design, and race and class options greatly expanded, you get a different game. I'd need to sit down with WPM and modify it. More of certain monsters, since fighters would be expected to have at least 3/2 attacks, usually 2/1, and have +1 to +3 to hit on top of superior stats. Magic-Users would have access to a wider variety of damaging spells. We'd have cavaliers and their weapons of choice, barbarians with their intra-party issues and physical prowess, and races with special powers beyond what is in the PHB.

Me, I like all of that stuff.

But it's all stuff that came after WPM. To make WPM challenging, I'd need to change it. I didn't want to change it, I wanted to run it as written.

On top of that, the players would have a very large variety of choices. Up from a handful of races and classes to a large variety. Lots of min-max choosing about weapon specialization. Which race are you, and which am I, and how will that work out if we play together?

So I kept the party back to where you'd start back when I started, with three books on hand - the PHB, the DMG, and the MONSTER MANUAL. It kept it simpler for all of us.

If I ever pull this kind of thing again with a post-Unearthed Arcana module, I'd absolutely break out UA and use it.

Rule changes?

I'll go over these in another post, along with character generation.

But in short, I didn't change much.

We did ditch:

- grappling/overbearing/pummeling in favor of a Dungeon Grappling-based system. It didn't come up in the first session.

- the aging rules. I dislike these because there is seemingly no base case - once you use these every character has to modify their stats based on current age, and what you rolled is never experienced in play unmodified.

- the Helmet rule. I just assumed people have helmets. That rule did point the way to how we were always supposed to handle split-AC monsters, though.

- random height and weight. I don't even think that's for PCs, anyway, but it could be. I didn't care.

We modified:

- encumbrance. I mostly based it on armor encumbrance (DMG, p. 27) with modifiers.

- initiative. I used an OSRIC-influenced stripped down version that worked really well. Unlike back in the old days, I used segments and it played out better than I'd expected.

. . . and that's about it that I can remember changing. Everything else was by the book, even when it did weird stuff. Yes, we even checked for Keen Eared Individuals. No one made the roll.

How did it play?

Generally well. People adjusted right away to the quirks of AD&D. We did a lot of rules lookups, because as easily as I could make a ruling we all really wanted to know what it actually said. That made for a lot of fun, when we'd hit lines like, "Leather armor +1 is usable by those characters permitted to wear this form of armor." So those permitted to wear it can use it? Those not permitted, then, can't? Helpful. Heh. We chuckled a lot over the effects of Potions of Growth, how harsh ghoul paralyzation is (duration, uhm, never specified), the magic-item destroying Scroll of Protection from Magic, the oddly specifically aimed Wand of Negation - all things we hadn't had to deal with in many years.

At the same time, it could be hard to adjust completely. No defense rolls means taking damage is routine - but in AD&D, healing it isn't as simple as "time and energy" like in GURPS. A bad roll - like the guy who rolled minimum HP healed on a Cure Serious Wounds - can dramatically change your upcoming options. You can't expect a fighter to hold people off unless they keep missing (and Parrying is there, but not a very good choice),

AD&D is a good system. It has so many moving parts, though, and so many special cases with special rules, mixed resolution mechanisms, half-explained ideas mixed with overly-explained ones, etc. that it isn't exactly smooth and easy. Often important information is hidden in some corner - like what to do with the 2nd through sixth repeating 20 on a hit table, or the infamous helmet rule - yet profoundly impacts how the game is played. But still, it was a lot of fun. I remember what I miss about it, and some of what I don't.

It had been over 30 years for one player, over 25 for another, and probably around 20 or so for me since we'd last played AD&D. I'd played Swords & Wizardry online, and I guest starred in a single session of 1st edition AD&D back in the 90s (and probably rolled one die, once - it was a talk-heavy session of an ongoing game where the PCs had no immediate goal to accomplish). I hadn't GMed AD&D since my high school UA-era campaign. Yet it all went quite well. And it was enjoyable enough that in a few weeks we'll see if a fresh group of PCs can't reinforce the two survivors and retrieve Whelm and Wave and get them out of the dungeon.

I liked it enough that I might do this again after WPM, maybe with some other module I have that won't play with quite the same feel converted to GURPS.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

AD&D Session 1: White Plume Mountain (Part I)

So a while back, my players and I had this idea that we might consider giving White Plume Mountain a spin. Not with GURPS, which would change the challenge in significant ways, but with AD&D. So we pulled out the three hardback books and made characters like it was 1979.

One special request - NO SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS PLEASE! I'll moderate them all because of this. My players have mostly played nothing of WPM except what they did today, and we're going to do a Part 2 and try to finish the delve. I don't want them to have to avoid the blog for weeks, skip the summary, or anything of that sort in order to avoid learning what's possibly ahead. I also don't want to change the adventure.




Characters
Faolan McDermot - Human Druid 8
Kamora, Lama of the Lioness - Human Cleric 7
Rockford - Dwarf Fighter 6 / Thief 6
Urf Nightsoil - Elf Magic-User 7
Wolfgang Reinhardt - Human Fighter 7

The PCs started outside of White Plume Mountain, clutching their copy of a bragging poem by someone claiming to be Keraptis, a wizard from some 1,300 years ago. They were weeking Blackrazor, Whelm, and Wave for their owners, variously described as important and wealthy collectors (and in Blackrazor's case, probably protectors keeping it from being used.) Their horses and campaign gear was stashed in Dead Gnoll's Eye Socket along with their henchmen and hirelings, and they headed into the Wizard's Mouth and cleared the muck over a trap door. They pried that open and climbed down a corroded metal ladder to a water-covered, muck-covered tunnel steaming and wheezing with vapor from the geyser-cored mountain.

The party was very careful, probing ahead with a 10' pole held by Rockford, flanked by Kamora and Wolfgang, backed by McDermot and Urf Nightsoil. They traveled slowly thanks to a foot of water (with algae floating in it) over the floor. Also, the water slowed them to 4" move thanks to a heavily-laden cleric.

They reached a wall of force ahead of a three-way intersection and a gynosphinx squatting the water. She told them she could take the wall down and let them pass if they guessed her riddle. She recited it, and they answered - Kamora got the answer out first, but at least two other PCs were only a split-second behind in calling it out. The gynosphinx took down the wall, and let them pass. Urf tried flirting with her, but to no avail.

They decided to head left, figuring they could grab Blackrazor first, since they had a fighter who could use it to help them recover Wave and Whelm.

They probed along and found a submerged pit. They dealt with that by hammering in a spike in the wall, stringing rope to it, and sending the druid swimming across with the rope tied to him (he had a Necklace of Adaptation so he wasn't worried about sucking in some water.)

They reached a corridor lined with copper plates. Investigation and Detect Magic didn't tell them anything, and some careful probing found no trap triggers. They quickly found it was heating up metal! They decided to just make a run for it down the end. Those without metal armor got scorched and took some damage - those wearing plate mail took a lot of damage. Kamora paused to put Fire Resistance on herself, which cut the damage down a lot in the long run. They slogged to the end, Kamora trailing. Urf's Bracers of AC 6 burned him badly, and Wolfgang's plate mail hurt him. They reached the end, and a secret door opened and eight ghouls spilled out to attack them in a confused point-blank melee.

This almost become a TPK right here. Three PCs got paralyzed as Wolfgang kept missing easy to hit rolls, PCs got slashed and bitten, and Urf tossed off two Magic Missile spells but split them up. Kamora rumbled up badly injured and tried to turn undead, but Keraptis's magic forestalled that and he was forced to melee. In the end McDermot transformed into a bear to maul the ghouls, Urf went down to 1 HP (he was at 6 and took 5 on multiple hits!) and fled the fight to hurl darts at the ghouls. He nailed every hit with the darts, MrDermot clawed and bit the ghouls. All eight went down, leaving both McDermot and Urf at 1 HP and everyone else paralyzed! (No turning? Unfair. Fun, though)

I ruled ghoul paralysis lasts 1d turns and rolled a 3. The PCs quaffed potions and sweated out three wandering monster rolls before the others could move freely again. They healed up more, using up all of their healing spells(!) and most of their healing.

(The players just started laughing about how they'd gone one whole room and been defeated. Then they moved on.)

They climbed some stairs out of the water, and found a door. Everyone failed their door opening rolls, so they resorted to a Knock spell off of a scroll.

Next up, they found a room with two pits full of razor-sharp yet rusty blades flanking and edged with frictionless floors, walls, and ceilings. They eventually lit up a bullseye lantern to see the far wall, and shot some arrows down to confirm what they saw. The arrows went through - illusionary wall? "That's non-standard for a frictionless pit room," said Rockford.

They tried a Potion of Flying but it would not work in the room (again, unfair but fun). So they eventually sent McDermot across the room in bald eagle form to check the far side, then ferry over a rope, spike, and hammer. He shifted back into human form and hammered in a spike and tied off the rope. They climbed hand-over-hand using the frictionless wall to slide along the wall.

After that, they moved further into the dungeon and found a T, and turned left. They made it to a door. Kamora cast Augury and asked what would going beyond that door mean. "Great risk, but that which you seek is beyond it." So in they went.

They found an inverted ziggurat with alternating levels of dry and wet, with giant crayfish, giant scorpions, sea lions (merlions), and clipped-wing manticores.

They backed off and send in McDermot to talk to the manticores. After all, they are intelligent and McDermot speaks manticore (great choice by someone who had never even seen the cover of WPM before the game.) He negotiated a peaceful safe passage by the manticores and their aid to get revenge against their evil master that clipped their wings. Unfortunately, this was a lie - the manticores were charmed and just lying like crazy (they're lawful, but they're charmed and pledged to their evil master and just tried to convince food to come to them.)

They found this out when they decided to get down to the bottom by having Wolfgang drink a Potion of Growth and stepping down the dry levels with Invisibility to Animals on while the PCs clustered the monsters near them by standing on the edge of the top level. He carried McDermot down, but as soon as he put him down the manticores attacked. McDermot got mauled and Wolfgang nailed with some spikes. Wolfgang managed to pull McDermot out of the level but they took spikes and lots of damage. Rockford shot one twice with his light crossbow, taking some spikes in return (they shot really well, given the range penalties). McDermot, though, was taken to negative HP by spikes and dropped. With everyone clear, Urf tossed a fireball down into the put for 29 damage. (Wolfgang and Urf wanted to start with that approach, by the way). That badly wounded the manticores - the big one failed to save but had plenty of HP, the other two saved and managed to hang on to life. The glass for the merlion level mostly melted and shattered, pouring water down. A Magic Missile spell told for one of the manticores and wounded another, and bow fire from Wolfgang and crossbow fire from Rockford finished the other.

The PCs brought Kamora down and she cast Dispel Magic on a force wall in front of the door. The water forced it open and it began to rapidly go down. Wolfgang ferried the others down and they spent some time shooting the merlions, killing two and blocked the others from flopping over to kill them.

They moved down the corridor exposed by the opened door and found another door. They listened and heard nothing, so they opened it up.

Inside was a sumptuously appointed room with a doughty halfling warrior inside. They spoke with him. His name was Quesnef, and he'd lost a bet with "the master of this place" and had to guard "his treasure" for 1,001 years. He'd been there for centuries, and he was really bored. He told them they could put the druid on a nice divan to rest (since he had been below 0 HP, and was incapacitated despite stabilizing bandaging), and chatted with them. They asked about Blackrazor. "I can't talk about that." "Can you tell us if it's here?" "I really can't talk about it." "Can you tell me where it's sheath is?" "Clever," said Quesnef. "I'm a wizard, too," said Urf.

So he said, "It's under that divan." They went to look, Urf grabbing a scroll case and Wolfgang eyeing a jeweled scabbard with a bastard sword in it. Rockford decided to take advantage of everyone looking that way to fade into the shadows with his Cloak and Boots of Elvenkind. As they went for the items, Quesnef said, "I can't let you leave with that. Sorry about this." He suddenly split into four mirror images.

Urf dropped the scroll and yanked out his Wand of Negation. Rockford hid more. Wolfgang grabbed Blackrazor. Quesnef tried Charm Person on Wolfgang, who resisted and grabbed the blade. Urf shot at Quesnef's left hand, thinking his walking stick cast the spell - he got his ring and cancelled its effects. Kamora cast Prayer.

Quesnef responded with a Cone of Cold that hit McDermot, Urf, and Wolfgang and did 29 damage. Even with saves, that killed McDermot and Urf outright, taking both to -10 HP (or less, even). Wolfgang would live with a save, but missed it and died, also below -10 HP.

Rockford backstabbed Quesnef and did solid damage (14, I think) and Kamora hit him with his mace. Quesnef cast Darkness and swiped Kamora with a claw a moment later. Claw? Oh no, claws, big, darkness, cold ray . . . ogre magi? Yep. In the darkness, despite all of the penalties, Kamora nailed Quesnef twice with a Staff of Striking and Rockford cut him with his sword a few times. That was it - they managed to kill him.

They gathered up the loot - money, jewelry, a healing potion (which Kamora insisted Rockford drink), and Blackrazor. Oh, and some magical plate mail. They took the lot, stripped the gear off their friends and stuffed their bodies into a Bag of Holding, and thought about what to do as they searched for a secret door out - no, they had to go back the way they came.

(At this point, it was getting late. I asked if we should wrap this up, or if people wanted to play a second session with reinforcements. They voted the latter. So I said, if you get to the sphinx and the intersection, we'll pause there and pick up in another session.)

They used Urf's Potion of Polymorph (Self) to turn Kamora into a Roc and fly out of the ziggurat, and then waited out the duration. Then they went back to the frictionless room and ferried the gear across. No wandering monsters turned up.

In the heated hallway they tried to drag their armor but it burned through their cloak. So they resorted to kicking, pushing, and otherwise prodding their gear back. Again, no wandering monsters.

They walked confidently to the sunken pit, never mentioning it. I announced they'd fallen in, but Rockford's player said, "We didn't see the rope? We were looking for that rope along the wall." Ah, yeah, fair enough, they had left it there to get back and as a specific clue.

They went past the pit hand-over-hand, hanging on and dragging themselves along the wall. They just limped back to the intersection where the sphinx sat . . . and I finally rolled a 1 on the d12 for wandering monsters. A pair of bugbears came around the corner. We rolled a 1 for the PCs to be surprised - 1 segment of surprise. The bugbears rushed them. Rockford's Reaction Adjustment negated the surprise segment on him, but Kamora took a hit from a spiked club. They melee'd the bugbears. Kamora managed to badly wound one and Rockford wound his, then Kamora took a couple of hits and dropped at 0 HP. Rockford dueled the last two, killing one quickly and then slowly fighting the other before finally landing a pair of minimum-damage rolls - but that was still enough to kill it.

We'll pick up there next time, with Kamora in bad shape and Rockford wounded but steady . . . and with a load of henchmen who'd been waiting upstairs coming down to help finish the job.

Notes:

We originally had three additional players set to play today. Then within 24 hours, our host had to drop out because he was needed at work. That took out a 7th level dwarf fighter with 18/something high Str. We shifted to another player's house, but that was too far away for another player, who had an event he was running. That took out a 6th level human paladin. Finally, because things came up, we lost a drop-in from an occasional player of ours and lost an elven 5/5/6 F/M-U/T.

With all of that happening 24 hours out, it was too late to really adjust by giving out more levels. I tossed in some extra magic items (a few more potions, and another magic weapon.) Still, it meant the PCs were really on the bottom edge of the power curve for this adventure. I'll post the details of character generation, magic items, etc. as we go.

I didn't use a GM screen today. Well, I did, I lay one down flat and used it for the charts. I concealed monster HP but otherwise rolled things in front of everyone. It was a lot of fun doing that, although had I had a screen keeping things organized would have been easier.

47 turns in the dungeon, and one wandering monster roll on the very last one I made. Heh.

We really enjoyed this. It was fun - we laughed at, and with, all of the odd quirks of AD&D. Tables for everything, often with different sub-systems for things on them. Roll high to hit, low for thief skills and hearing. A 1 on a surprise roll is better than a 2 but a 3+ is what you really want. Spells for one class might work exactly like those of another but with radically different casting time, duration, range - or have the same of those but different effects. Crossbows being slower and radically weaker than any given bow. Whatever. We just went with it.

Generally the players played with good skill. They made some newbie mistakes - such as spreading out Magic Missiles too much, for example, and not ganging up in melee when they could. But they adapted immediately to AD&D play and made lots of good decisions and played with care. Bad luck hurt a few times, and the errors they made were compounded by the fact that WPM is stacked against them. All in all, though, a lot of fun.

I'll post up character stats (and how we did chargen), player impressions, and other notes over the next few days.

Game day today!

It's finally game day again (and then not again for a few weeks - Easter, tickets to an event, family events for others, etc.)

I'll just give a little hint - one of these Jeff Dee illustrations from classic AD&D modules is related to today's delve. Heh, heh, heh.



But which one of these super-heroic scenes is it? Rufus and Burne of Hommlet? The giant monster* on the Isle of Dread? The manticore of White Plume Mountain? The drow vampire and his succubus lover of the Vault of the Drow?

You'll have to wait for the summary to find out.

* I did just watch Shin Gojira again last night, so maybe there is a connection?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Weather in the Dungeon

So Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures covers weather (p. 30-31) for wilderness adventures.



For reasons unclear to me, Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons doesn't mention weather for dungeons. Let's fix that oversight. This is based on the rules in DF16, but weather is less changeable in the dungeon so the ranges have been modified. Weather in the dungeon is fairly stable; roll once per delve (for short delves), once per level (for large or mega-dungeons), once per area (for superdungeons), or once per 1d hours.

3-5Perfect. The tunnels are clear, the usually noisome corridors, creaky doors, damp air, etc. is absent. All Prospecting, Cartography, Tracking, and Perception rolls are at +1. Reduce lighting penalties by -1 out to the normal limits of the light source.

6-14Passable. The usual creaks, groans, moisture, drafts, etc. are present. No effect on travel speed or skills.

15-16Bad. Even dungeons have nasty weather. Drafts - natural and unnatural - abound and seem to blow into the delvers at all turns. The flagstones are slick in spots and rough in others, either naturally or due to mold, mildew, blood, and bits of grue (or actual bits of Grüs.) All Prospecting, Cartography, Tracking, and Perception rolls are at -1. Sound and smell-based Stealth and any Climbing rolls are penalized as well. Light sources are unnaturally dimmed from strange mists, flicker in the drafts, or just seem drained of brightness by the supernatural darkness around the delvers. Light sources project out to 2/3 of their usual distance.

17-18Dire. As above, but the dungeon is hostile to you in a seemingly personal way. Black or grey mists obscure vision, flagstones are slick or feel uneven or warped, drafts abound and occasional real winds blow down corridors. Travel speed is only 75% of usual (round down, and all footing is treated as Bad Footing - and normally bad footing has its penalties doubled. Light sources project out to only 1/2 of their usual distance, and double the penalties beyond that. All of the above skills are at -2.

During Dire weather, one additional side effect will occur. Choose one of the following or roll randomly:

1 - Supernatural Storms. The Mana (1-3), Sanctity (4-5), or purify of Nature (6) drops significantly. For either mana or sanctity, roll a further 1d, on a 1-5, the level drops by one. One a 6, the level drops by two levels. For nature, roll 1d and add that to the existing penalty for the surrounding area, or reduce the level to -5, whichever is worse.

2-5 - Monster Warping. During the weather event, monsters sometimes change . . . roll 1d. On a 1, add two prefixes to the monster (usually distorted, chaos, or berserker plus one other, or two of those); on a 2-4, add either chaos or distorted, on a 5-6 the monster is unchanged. Roll individual or for whole groups.

6 - Delver Warping. The delvers might warp - characters suffer 1d x -5 points worth of additional disadvantages. Choose any, but temporarily missing or crippled limbs, Delusions, Post-Combat Shakes, Wounded (a state which will automatically be visible to all foes), Unhealing, Magic Susceptibility, and so are are especially appropriate. When the weather event ends these go away completely - but the consequences of having adventured while having them will not!

Happy April Fools day. And if you think this isn't useable in play, and that I won't use it . . . then double April Fools on you!
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