Posts Tagged ‘james

02
Jul
11

non-violence (and slime gods)

As convention season approaches, New York Red Box Charter Member E.T. Smith made an intriguing remark while musing about convention games:

I barely even notice game descriptions [at conventions] anymore. They nearly always, to me, read like a variation of “Some dudes are doing something you don’t like. Stop them with violence,” so they don’t tell me anything about what might make the game interesting.

(emphasis added).

And he’s right.  It would be pretty neat to play some games where the primary conflicts couldn’t be solved through violence, if only as a change of pace.

Figuring out how to do a “non-violence” session of D&D:

  • Maybe violence is just a strategically dumb move, like if every monster in the dungeon is way tougher than you.  This becomes more of a stealth mission, either trying to creep into a place, or trying to escape.  For several years now I’ve wanted to run an adventure where PC’s are accidentally teleported into a much deeper level of the dungeon than they anticipated . . .
  • Maybe violence isn’t the focus of the adventure, though this begins to get into areas of play that aren’t well-supported.
    • A cross-country or oceanic race, for example, would offer the chance to overcome a lot of wilderness hazards.  (In D&D, most wilderness hazards take the form of monsters you have to kill; I much prefer Mouse Guard‘s approach to wilderness and weather hazards.  But I suppose with old-school “imagine-the-hell-out-of-it” principles players could try to cope with travel emergencies.)
    • An attempt to solve a particularly vexing problem by means of researching a new spell or magic item.  Spell research is one of those cool things that tends to happen away from the table, but trying to acquire super-bizarre metaphorical ingredients, like “the tears of the moon” or something, might require a lot of creative thinking from the players.
    • An attempt to build a stronghold.  I can imagine all sorts of stuff going wrong here: incompetent architectural design, labor trouble, low-key interference from neighboring powers who want to test the new guy on the block.  And of course the peasants are watching to determine if this new guy really deserves their respect.  Again this gets into social-style adventuring that isn’t always handled well by D&D rules, but would probably be an interesting change of pace.
  • Maybe violence is morally problematic – like, the whole scenario is caused by horribly wrong violence and its tragic after-effects can’t really be remedied by more of the same.

Some of this stuff, like magical research and stronghold-building, skirt pretty close to the carousing mechanisms that the New York Red Box uses between sessions.  (The workings of the carousing system has been pretty opaque to me as a player: Tavis uses some kind of Apocalypse World -derived 2d6 + Ability Mod system, where 10 is an unqualified success, 7-9 is a compromise somehow, and 6- is a bad failure; Eric I think is using something like a saving throw system.)

Anyway: as an RPG player I’d like to play in the occasional game that wasn’t predicated on solving conflicts by the application of superior force, that’s all.  (I am not saying that violence in gaming is bad; just that it’s boring sometimes.)

tax: 2e Slime Cult Specialty Priest

Been mucking around with 2e lately.  The 2e Cleric is ridiculously powerful.  Perhaps as an acknowledgement of this, the 2e Players Handbook introduces Specialty Priests, which are sort of like themed mini-Clerics.  The 2e Druid is arguably one example of this though they don’t explicitly say so in the text IIRC.

Anyway, specialty priest who worships primordial subterranean slime gods:

Restrictions: Constitution 15, Charisma 12.  Followers of the Slime God must be hardy to endure filth and ordure, yet they remain mysteriously compelling.  Alignment: any non-good and non-lawful.  The Slime God is indifferent to human welfare and scorns efforts at systematizing.

Weapons Allowed: Non-metal armor and weapons that are mostly wood.  Flasks of burning oil, acid, and poison are permitted.  The idea is to be immune from most Ooze attacks, while mimicking them in return.

Spheres: Major access to: All, Charm, Creation, Divination, Elemental, and Necromantic.  Minor access to Animal, Healing, Plant.  According to the cult, slime exists at the juncture between insensate matter and all living things–the protoplasmic goo is a link between plants, animals, and the raw elements, and the quintessence of life itself.  I’m throwing in Divination and Charm just because I like the idea of extremely charismatic priests driven mad by unspeakable insights.

Granted Powers: command Oozes, Otyughs and Fungi (as evil Cleric commands Undead).  At Level 7, transform into Ooze (as Druid’s shape-changing ability).

Ethos: To the anti-priests of the cult, we weren’t created by any gods in the service of a divine purpose.  We crawled into the sunlight after countless eons of muck for no discernible reason.  If you’re puzzled and confused by the world you live in, that’s perfectly understandable: it’s not supposed to make sense.   We’re just globs of muck, doing what globs of muck do: eat, shit, puke, ejaculate, and die.  There’s no relief from that: it’s the bedrock of our existence.  And if the social institutions of the surface world appear corrupt, hypocritical, and historically contingent–almost as if there was no divine plan at all–well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise .  If you’re expecing our society to be pure and wholesome, you’re misunderstanding who and what we are.  There’s no destiny.  There’s just the continuous consumption of rotting flesh to shit out nightsoil to keep the thing going.

Amid all that mindless biological twitching, there’s a lesson to be learned.  Don’t let people tell you to do stuff on the basis of some goofball ideology.  Here and now is what matters.  Being left alone, and leaving others alone even if it means they’ll drink their own piss, is a cardinal virtue: you don’t have authority to tell others what to do.  And that applies to yourself too.  You have to reconcile yourself to the fact that your life and its attendant suffering is pointless.  Don’t have hopes, or daydreams, or wishes for anything other.  Just this: over and over, just this.

30
Jun
11

the binocular thief

The Thief, right?  Nobody digs this class.  Every blog and every forum has about 20 different variations on the Thief.  Most of the complaints fall into three categories:

  1. The Thief is weak.  You cannot suck this much without professional training.
  2. The Thief bolts a weird-ass percentage skill system onto D&D, which is as elegant as a brick upside the head.
  3. The Thief doesn’t model the Grey Mouser very well.  (I’d argue, though, that it’s a pretty good fit for the ridiculous number of thieves in Dunsany’s Book of Wonder, which may have been the primary inspiration.)

So check it out: my theory is that the Thief wasn’t really meant to work as a class in its own right.

  • Debuts in Supplement I: Greyhawk
  • Greyhawk introduces AD&D style multi-classing for demi-humans, finally making sense of the OD&D Elf
  • All demi-humans are eligible to take levels in Thief
  • All demi-humans have strict level caps . . . but unlimited advancement in the Thief class (even in 1e)
  • All demi-humans get sick Thief skill adjustments
  • The Thief is pretty much a joke at low levels, so the demi-human is getting half XP in the main class for little benefit.  Maybe this is a handicap to compensate for the demi-human’s racial bonuses over a Level 1 human character.
  • By Levels 7-9 or so, the Thief no longer stinks out loud, and this is approximately when the demi-human hits a level cap in a “real” class.  Thus the Thief class becomes viable around the time the demi-human has nothing better to do. (Halflings hit the level-cap earlier, but their insane Thief bonuses are like having an extra level or two of Thief so they’re viable earlier.)
  • In Greyhawk your XP will always be divided by your number of classes, even after you hit the level cap.  So a Halfling Fighter/Thief who’s hit level 4 as a Fighter is still only going to be getting half-XP to devote to the Thief class . . . which may explain why the Thief XP chart is so ridiculously easy to level.

I mean, I can’t help you if you think the Thief’s percentage score ability thing is a kludge implemented without any forethought (it obviously was), or if you think that the Thief absolutely must model the Grey Mouser (it mustn’t).

But looking at the Thief as a component of a multi-class character, rather than as an independent class in its own right, helps me understand why the class was designed in such a weird way.

No Joesky tax today because I am late for work.

16
May
11

rick jones, sorcerer (pt 1)

“James,” no one asks, “where have you been?

Why don’t you blog anymore?”

I have been on an RPG bender, snorting powdered rule books, line after line of Gygaxian prose, until I’ve ruined my nasal cavities, and sticking irrational-sided dice into various orifices.  I’ve turned myself into New York Red Box’s very own Wandering Monster, showing up randomly at sessions and giggling at things nobody else thinks is funny, encouraging TPK’s through bad advice.  Then leaving early to snort more rule books.  Soon I’m gonna end up like my man Ska-Tay, mainlining retroclones and telling myself it’s no big deal since it’s just micro-lites.

Anyway: content!

+

Crossposted over at the Forge.

While trying to put together another one-shot for Marvel Super Heroes, I ended up thinking about the Hulk.

In the very earliest issues of The Incredible Hulk, which lasted for all of 6 issues in 1962, the Hulk is a rampaging atomic monster hell-bent on conquering the Earth, destroying the human race, and raping Betty Ross.  Not necessarily in that order.

This was a comic sold to children

even creeper in original context

The only thing holding him in check (just barely) is teenage delinquent and high school drop-out Rick Jones.  These early Hulk comics are really the story of an incredibly quick-witted and resourceful boy trying desperately to save the world from a monster he feels responsible for creating.

It’s a Sorcerer story, at least in its better moments.

This write-up isn’t meant to replicate Hulk comics precisely, but rather to play on the desperation, Cold War paranoia, atomic monster fiction of the time.  Rick and the Hulk are just one data point in there.

Sorcerer, for those who don’t know…

Is an RPG where you play Faust.  You’re a mostly-ordinary dude, except that through sorcery you’ve bound a demon into your service.  If you’re a PC, you probably had a really good reason for doing so, but the game is about finding out how well that works out for you. Your goal isn’t just to advance your own interests, but to somehow preserve a shred of your Humanity, which is sort of like your spiritual health.  It’s one of my favorite games and one that I wish I could play more often.

Sorcerer, as a rules text, is all about formal abstractions: “demon” doesn’t have to mean a critter from Hell, all that matters is that, however you define the term in your setting, the rules for demons apply.  (D&D analogy: maybe in your world, Fighting-Man is more of a samurai dude or a Wild West gunslinger, instead of a medieval European knight, but in all cases the rules for Fighting-Men would apply.)

Customizing Sorcerer for the setting

we'll get to you later, Doctor Pym

Humanity is loyalty, friendship, human decency type stuff.  You can roll Humanity vs. Will to compel someone to cleave to you.  Rick does this a lot to persuade the rampaging Hulk to cool it.

Demons are monstrous creatures and unearthly technologies brought forth by the atomic age.  Unprecedented outlanders, these oddities either do not respect or simply fail to understand the reciprocal bonds that make us human.  The monster’s Power score represents the scope or intensity of its loathing.

Sorcery is super science, the relentless pursuit of atomic energies and Space Age revelations that mankind was never meant to know.  Pursuit of knowledge in the abstract, with no regard how it will impact the rest of humanity, marks someone as beyond petty concepts like “loyalty” or “friendship.”

Lore is basically comic-book super science, doing stuff like contacting aliens on other planets, developing biological weapons that turn into blob-monsters, building robots, implanting wasp DNA into teenage girls, and so on.  This isn’t just science, but 1950’s “mad” science, things that just cannot possibly work.

26
Mar
11

the Doom Quest of Nightfang

The latest issue (#11) of Fight On! contains Doom Quest, a micro version of Rune Quest by Friend-of-the-Mule Scott LeMien.  (Scott resisted my suggestion to name it Quest Quest, but otherwise it’s a great little game.)

In case, like me, you are too poor to spring for every OSR magazine, let me sing the praises of Doom Quest a little bit.

Scott’s a fanatic for the whole microlite tradition of game design, where you squeeze one hundred pages of rules and advice into a concentrated, one-page version.  Doom Quest sets out to do that for Rune Quest, and succeeds beautifully.  I used Doom Quest to run a published RQ adventure without understanding the first thing goldang thing about Rune Quest.  It was beautiful and flawless.  If you’re a Rune Quest maniac, but your gaming group is afraid of investing the time to learn a complex new system, Doom Quest is your new best friend.

But speaking as someone who doesn’t know Rune Quest, I was astonished at how elegantly Doom Quest operates.  This past summer, when some of the New York Red Box began dallying with RQ, Scott came away raving about the combat mechanics–and his approach to combat in Doom Quest is exceedingly impressive.

I’m very accustomed to D&D combat: I roll a d20 and a d6, and use the results as a cue for my imagination: “Hmm, I rolled a good strike but lousy damage.  The monster must have left itself wide open to the attack, but I couldn’t quite get a good footing, so my sword-thrust was weaker than expected.”  In Doom Quest, you don’t have to engage in some kind of oracular justification of weird random results: a surprisingly thorough outcome is generated entirely by the dice.  “I rolled a 7, and you rolled a 18, so therefore I blocked your blow, but my sword is badly notched . . . and then I rolled a 13, so I strike you in the leg, hamstringing you, so you fall to the ground, and you’ll be dead in 10 minutes.”  There’s a full table of embarrassing fumbles too, although my favorite outcome comes when you take massive head or torso wounds: given the gore inherent in the system already, the laconic “Horrible death!” makes me shudder because of what it doesn’t describe.

Doom Quest’s combat system takes a simple 1d20 input from each player, and spits out a vivid, plausible, and sometimes very distressing story of men maiming each other with steel.  If you’re bored with the Rock’em Sock’em Robots quality of D&D combat, but are too much of a neckbeard to play 4e, Doom Quest presents a cruel arena built from the bones of Rune Quest.  The rules are worth stealing.

The rest of Doom Quest is less crunchy, but well considered.  The version of the game I played had rules for building customized weapons, thieving skills, and hirelings.  The magic rules are a little anemic for reasons of space, but presumably if you’re reading Doom Quest you’re comfortable making up new spells.

In our game, I ran Scott’s Rune-Priest, his two zealots, and a child squire through Paul Jaquays’s small masterpiece, The Hellpits of Nightfang.  Some weird-ass mutated snakes set upon the crusaders as they descended a dried-up creekbed into the caverns.  The group managed to kill most of the snakes – but not before one of the beasts propelled itself like a javelin through the thigh of the child squire.  (Uncharacteristically, Scott did not then slaughter the child and bathe in its blood.)

Helping the squire along as best they could, the group explored a sinkhole and tried to loot some corpses, before they remembered they were on a holy quest to kill Nightfang the Vampire.  Venturing into the caverns, the Rune-Priest slaughtered Doomlost, Nightfang’s wolf sidekick, with a single well-placed javelin.  As the Rune-Priest and Nightfang fought a pitched hand-to-hand battle–leading to grotesque mutilations–the two zealots bravely tried to hold back a small army of Skeletons.  Even as the Rune-Priest drove Nightfang to retreat, a sinister Ghost took possession of the Rune-Priest and forced him to commit suicide by plunging into an frigid subterranean lake.  The zealots tried to rescue him, but the Skeletons provided stiff resistance, and ultimately cut the men down as they were just a few feet from escaping.

The only survivor was the lamed child, carrying news of unholy carnage back to his village, telling the tale of the Doom Quest.

19
Mar
11

spells for the after school class

Explanation: Tavis and I are running an after school Dungeons & Dragons program for some elementary school kids.  Most of our prep consists of wishing we’d done more prep while on the subway to class.  But I made up this list of spells for the Magic-User.

Every morning, Magic-Users can cast different spells! Roll the d12 a number of times equal to your level, and look on the chart for the spell matching that number. If you roll a spell once, you can only cast it one time a day. If you rolled a spell more than once, you can cast it that number of times per day. So, if you rolled Fire Ball twice, you could cast it twice in one day, but not three times.

 

Roll Spell What Does the Spell Do?
1 Animate Dead You create a number of zombies equal to your level, who obey your orders.
2 Anti-Magic Shell For 1 hour a shimmering aura around you blocks all magic, including yours.
3 Charm Person Unless the target resists with Will, he or she becomes your friend for 1 day.
4 Contact Weirdo Ask an angel, demon, or space alien several yes-or-no questions ( # = level ).
5 Disintegrate Point at a target. Unless it resists with Fortitude, it is destroyed completely.
6 Fire Ball Everyone within 20 feet of the target must roll Reflex or take 5d6 damage.
7 Haste For 1 fight, you and your friends move double-fast and attack twice a turn.
8 Hold Portal Magically seals a doorway, trapdoor, etc. For 10 minutes, no one can open it.
9 Locate Object Name an object: this spell will point you in the right direction to find it.
10 Phantasmal Force You create an illusion that lasts for 10 minutes. Enemies resist with Will.
11 Polymorph Self You can take the shape of any animal for up to 1 hour, but you cannot talk.
12 Wall of Ice Your breath becomes a huge icy surface – a wall, a bridge, a dome . . .

 

Magic-User Research

Each time you gain a level, you can spend one thousand gold coins to research a new spell! The spell can be anything you want. This new spell takes the place of another one on the list. You can choose what spell it replaces. (Example: I don’t like Hold Portal, so my new spell replaces it.) If you don’t have one thousand gold coins, you’ll have to find more treasure or persuade people to fund your work.

Here are ideas for research. Ancient books mention these spells, but I don’t know what they do!

  • Turn to Slime
  • Perfume of Trickery
  • Zolobachai’s All-Powerful Laxative
  • Contagious Dancing
  • Maldoor’s Lesser Apocalypse
  • Hazart’s Infinite Sandwich
  • Speak with Ghost Sharks
  • Levitate Head
  • Turn Light to Amber
  • Summon Monkey Butler
  • Xindi’s Cupcake of Insanity



Commentary: random selection isn’t just done for its own sake, but rather to force the children (especially little boys fixated on killing things) to think laterally.  The best part of playing a Magic-User in a “real” game is the Eureka! moment when you figure a great use for a seemingly lame spell.  The kids, in particular, are in love with Wall of Ice.  At one point in Tavis’s game, they proposed using Wall of Ice to create an airtight bubble to survive an ICBM flight outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.

11
Feb
11

What Made for a Successful D&D Birthday Party

Strangely less popular among nine-year-old boys than the unicorn.

This past weekend James and I ran a D&D birthday party for seven boys, all eight or nine years old. We had two and  a half hours allotted, so here’s how we broke it out:

1) Kids arrived and settled in. They all knew one another from school (third grade). Most were new to D&D, although one was in our afterschool class last semester, one is new to it this semester, and one was my son who I have not stuffed quite as full of D&D lore as James believes because the fanatic pursuit of Pokemon lore he shares with the birthday boy competes for brain-space.

2) Kids chose which color dice they want and which miniature will be their hero, both of which they got to keep as “goodie bags” from the party. We didn’t have them do any further character creation (all heroes had the same stats behind the screen) except for name. Lots of the kids who hadn’t played before had problems coming up with a name, so I asked if they wanted to roll for one. I didn’t actually have a table, I just used the time they were rolling the dice to think them up.

3) The scenario was that the heroes set forth from their stronghold to explore the surrounding wilderness in search of magical items to claim and Pokemon to capture. We had the kids construct the wilderness using Heroscape hexes, and the stronghold using wooden Kapla blocks.

4) While eating pizza, kids chose which one of the magic items their hero wanted to start with. James and I designed 14 these to define roles without having to explain classes (although many kids decided “my guy is a mage” or whatever anyways, either through previous exposure to D&D or videogames with class archetypes), and to do the D&D thing of having pre-defined powers that let you do a particular awesome thing and then find ways to try to apply it to whatever situation you wind up in. This worked really well with kids at this age and experience level; some examples were the Sword of Sharpness and the Wand of Wonder. Not every item got used in play but it really helped establish the tone of the game and made the kids feel that their heroes were chock-full of awesome.

5) The kids divided up into teams – one rides the unicorns that the stronghold has in its stables, the other group flies out on its griffons. They got to keep the miniatures for these too, and I used blu-tak to glom their hero miniature onto their steed’s base. James predicted that nine-year-old boys would shun the unicorns, which was a problem because this was meant to be the way we split them into manageable groups for each of us to DM. We gave the birthday boy the choice of which team he wanted to captain, and when he chose griffons that further stacked the deck in their favor. But in the end, we had four unicorn-riders and only three griffon aeronauts. James and I had decided that we’d try to counterbalance the unicorn’s potential pink-factor by saying that they were more reliable than the risky, hard-to-control griffons (as his PC had experienced first-hand in Delta’s superb Corsairs of Medero scenario at Recess). I don’t know if this was what made the difference, but I had a ton of fun roleplaying the balky griffons.

7) James and I then each ran a hexcrawl for our respective teams. We chose this because coming up with a more planned scenario would have required coordination, whereas a  purely procedural move to a hex,encounter roll, reaction roll, combat or negotiation, morale, etc. was something we could each wing. I got lucky with my first wandering monster – a griffon, which I decided was a riderless mount like one of my group’s. They used their horn of plenty to produce some horse meat with which to befriend this new griffon, and I had a great time roleplaying the reaction of the existing griffons to the interloper and to this bountiful cascade of meat. Some of the riders failed their control rolls, so one hero was wrestling for control of the meat-spewing horn with his mount while another was carried along on a dive after the steaks falling into the sea. The thing that really paid off in this encounter was that I decided that the newcomer’s saddlebags held maps to the likely locations of two of the magic items, the horn of the valkyries (which I’ll post about separately) and the cloak of shadows (which was being worn by a hobbit thief, who coughed it up after one of the kids successfully had his griffon swallow said halfling).  Choosing between which of these to go after, and then being able to count hexes to the location and plot a course, fortuitiously gave direction to the hexcrawl. Without this, James felt like his group was a little more aimless, so having or finding a partial treasure-map is definitely something to do for next time.

8) Cake, ice cream, and singing “Happy Birthday”. I was glad the parents remembered this part! Maybe our party services should include D&D themed cakes so that we don’t forget the traditionals. I was glad to see the kids were having so much fun they weren’t asking “when will we have the cake?” every five minutes like at many birthday parties I’ve taken my son to, but I would have caught hell from him if we left and then he realized there hadn’t been any.

9) Properly hopped up on sugar, the two teams return to their stronghold and find it’s been taken over by intruders! As they were eating their cupcakes, we set up the miniatures for this. A silver dragon and the skeletons he’d created by sowing his teeth into a field crouched on top of the block-castle, and fielded an army of lizard-men who were advancing on the siege organized by the gargoyles who’d been left in charge of the stronghold and the dragon-hunting Lord who had been befriended during another random encounter (which I used to foreshadow this encounter; he reported that the silver dragon was not sleeping in its lair like it should be, bum bum ba BUM!) . The kids knocked down these miniatures, and their own block-castle, by firing discs at it using crossbows and catapults. James and I were kept busy going “arrr!” and narrating the battle reports while sliding the disks back at the kids (having more ammunition would have been good!). This made for a dramatic climax story-wise, and as actual play it was really nice to let the kids do all the yelling, throwing stuff, and bashing miniatures that we spend so much effort in the afterschool class trying to prevent.

Doing all of this was enough fun for me that I’ve set up a company, Adventuring Parties LLC, to offer birthday parties, bachelor parties, events, etc. Its website is active now although still a little skeletal – click the link to check it out, or just email tavis@adventuringparties.com if you are in the NYC area and have an event you want us to do, or if you’re a Dungeon Master elsewhere and would like referrals to do parties in your area.

12
Dec
10

Zolobachai’s Omnipotent Laxative

Arnold Littleworth, known far and wide as “Zolobachai of the Nine Visions,” has spent his time in the Nameless City gathering up spells which might be useful to the party in its explorations. Naturally he names these spells after himself, as the original researchers are doubtless either long-dead, laughably impotent to preserve their intellectual property rights, or surely have no clue of Arnold’s pilfering.

(Spell names drawn from the invaluable Chris Pound Name Generators.)

Zolobachai’s Omnipotent Laxative
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: 60 feet
Duration: 1 day

This spell coats the target with a clingy layer of dust smelling faintly of bananas.  Any creature or item so targeted, if swallowed whole by some other creature, is immediately expelled (avoiding any damage or death resulting from being in the gullet).  This infliction of massive and unexpected intestinal distress forces the swallowing creature to make a Morale Check at a +2 penalty or flee.  This spell lasts for 1 day or until triggered by getting swallowed whole.

(Arnold developed this spell while being held captive by Sorn of Dobar Peak, a white dragon with decidedly little tolerance for mountebanks.  Though Arnold escaped captivity, much of the dragon’s hoard was befouled in the process.)




Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jan    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,047 other followers