Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Demi-Humans and Level Adjustments

Gary Gygax once commented that the purpose of limiting demi-human level advancement in OD&D was to promote a human-dominated world, as was seen in most fantasy literature. Humans were the only race that could advance to any level in any class, and that was intended to be the incentive to play the over the front-loaded powers of the dwarf or (in the extreme case) the elf.

When 3rd edition came along, the limits on the demi-humans were removed, but they were also brought into line with the power level of the human. I think that was a bad move from a fluff standpoint (although it made the game simpler to learn and had more variety of play).

The ancient demi-human races of legend had strange supernatural that made them creatures of wonder to the humans that met them. These were the dwarves that crafted Thor's hammer or turned to stone in sunlight. These were the elves that drew men into strange and unknowable realms, or cast a thousand-year sleep on a helpless king. They should feel supernatural, not just different.

At the same time, as far as Galadran is concerned, these ancient races ruled in the Days Before Days, the unknowable length of time before the Age of Broken Dreams and the creation of the human race. They were masters of magic and weird technologies, the secrets of which have been lost in the intervening centuries of strife and war. They should feel powerful but fallen, their time forever replaced by the flexible and innovative human race, despite their incredible natural advantages. Their fall from grace should feel like a loss to them as well.

But how to represent them? How to make the demi-humans more powerful, but at the same time keep the world human-dominated, as Gygax originally intended?

The answer is simple: make all the demi-human races have a Level Adjustment of at least +1.

This solves all the problems: A Level Adjustment allows for more front-loading of a supernatural being, while penalizing them by slowing the rate at which they advance in level. It allows human to have greater levels of skill at the same "level," representing their mental flexibility and the ease at which they learn.

This lets my demi-humans have vastly different supernatural abilities, while keeping them playable, making them appear more than just "different" humans, and maintains game balance.

I'm off to build the adjustment - next play session will be updated in 2 days.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


This originally came from the Tao of D&D (see sidebar), but the sentiment is so completely similar to mine that I thought I'd post it. Everything he says here is how I see it.

I have never liked the term ‘referee’ where it is applied to RPGs, fundamentally because I’m not one. Whereas I have on occasion interceded on a player’s behalf to defend them from another player, I don’t do this as an authority figure, but as another person in the game. My players learn from experience that I never take any opportunity to ‘punish’ players for wrongdoing, either for their behavior as players or as human beings. If someone offends me, I demand an apology. But my role as DM doesn’t include spanking bad players.

Running even a sandbox campaign requires that certain details are worked out in advance of the party. Strangers must have motivations and plans which the party will not discover until a later date. There must be a room designed on some level, even if it only in my head, beyond the door that is yet unopened. And I’m a human being – I am not above subtle changes in the next room based on what is happening at a given moment.

I love irony. If I can make my world a bit more ironic by changing the number or variety of monster in the next room, I will. I’ve tried running a world where I’ve steadfastly obeyed the dice on every occasion and the result is an adventure that lacks continuity, rhythm and the steady, demanding build to a climax.

In the same context, I’ve also ‘rushed’ a party through a potentially boring travelling campaign in bypassing encounters and events, just so that I can get them from point A to point B in a minimal period of time. Now and then, I’ll have someone teleport them. Most times, I’ll simply calculate the number of days and move on.

As I say, I draw the line at the world itself. I won’t move cities, I won’t have monsters die from spontaneous heart attacks, and NPCs don’t just give over magic items out of the goodness of their hearts. I will move things along to keep the campaign from getting boring, but I won’t furnish the party with a ring of teleportation just to get them out of one jam.

This sounds very much like I’m changing things all the time, whereas I’m really not. In my earlier campaign incarnations, twenty years ago, when I didn’t have maps and developed house rules, or the solid campaign design I have now, I was forced to make spontaneous changes constantly. The campaign I used to run simply didn’t hang together as well as it does now, I was not as well-versed in a wide variety of subjects the way I am now, I was not as adept at creating complicated plot weaves and so on ... and I had to take short-cuts.

And now very often I read on other blogs about how these short-cuts cause a world to be more ‘imaginative’ or ‘fluid’ ... further supported by arguments that forethought and foreplanning make a world stale and predictable. I find all this a kind of ‘praise of half-assery’ – where it makes an argument that magic and mysticism can’t been developed thoughtfully and intricately and then laid out ahead of time, on a grand scale, because it sounds like ‘work’ and this is all supposed to be ‘play.’

Creating a world is very much ‘work’ to me. When I step out of the room, I say to my wife, “I’m going to go back to work now.” I take the whole issue seriously. Players depend on me to be clever and as precise as possible, and D&D is a huge, cumbersome system that defies my attempts to take into account every detail. That’s why I love it. It is labour. It is effort. We don’t call them ‘plays of art.’ It is a Work.

It is only during the session that I refer to the game as ‘playing.’ And during the session, I apply my hard-worked world to making things as much fun as possible ... through driving my players through every emotion from fear to excitement to hilarity. For that I make changes on the fly. I’m thankful now that most of those changes are tweaks rather that sweeping shifts.

I cannot begin to imagine why every DM doesn’t want to work so hard on their worlds that their fingers bleed. I cannot imagine why, once they’ve created their worlds, they seem to treat them with such disdain. I continue to be puzzled when I see long time players announcing that they have a ‘New’ campaign they want to run. Didn’t they work hard enough on their old campaign? Couldn’t they find any respect for the things they worked on?

Are they incapable of falling in love?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Last Few Sessions, Part Two

Quickly, Charles and Marko fell back out of the cave,pulling Aleena to safety and unlimbering their crossbows. Cain and Hren stayed by the mouth of the cave, ready to cover a retreat. With a terrible battle cry, Meggan withdrew her spiked chains and advanced eagerly on the trio of vicious beasts. Meadwad advanced behind her, carefully sizing up the opposition for weaknesses. No member of the group had ever seen such vicious creatures up close before, and he wanted every tactical advantage.

Hinda, Alaric, and Wahleed remained at the rear, close to the mouth of the cave as well. Hinda saw no reason to clutter the narrower defile of the cave, where a wild swing could be more dangerous than any number of owlbear claws. Alaric remained close to his scroll case, having expended his spells for the day on mundane matters. The Shi'ar, on the other hand, wanted room to cast. Already, the fires of magic coursed through him and he began to recite the ancient commands reported to his by his genie servant, bending and shaping the arcane energies to take the form his will demanded.

As the owlbears rushed forward to repel the intruders from their cave, the first arrows from the sentries at the entrance flew. Seconds later, a fiery explosion errupted among the beasts, scorching their fur and feathers. The monsters roared in confusion, drawing up onto their hind legs and raising their massive paws in fury. One creature, wounded and uncomprehending, fled back into the darkness of the cave. Without hesitation, Meggan leaped into battle, with Meatwad close behind. The two managed to land significant blows on the remaining beasts in the initial confusion, but when the owlbears recovered, the counter-attack was fierce. Huge claws raked against Meggan's side, while another creature bit into Meatwad's arm, numbing it immediately.

As more arrows and crossbow bolts found their mark, Meggan drew back several paces and fixed her eye on the strange beast before her, using the ancient ways of her people to lay a curse on the beast that dare hurt her. Although the creature could have had no way of understanding what was being done, a chill raced up its spine and into the primitive recesses of its brain, causing it to stumble fearfully, giving Meatwad the opening he needed. Using the left blade of his double-sword to keep his own creature at bay, the fighter quickly sank the other half of his weapon into the owlbear's exposed flank. The creature screamed, a horrible combination of an bear's roar and the screech of a barn owl, and turned its attention on Meatwad. Meggan used that moment to swing the barbed tips of her spiked chain into the creature's back.

At that instant, a perfect sphere of magical flame materialized in the midst of the owlbears, even as they were turning their combined attentions on Meatwad. The ball of fire rolled through the two monsters, burning them further and inciting them into greater rage. From his vantage point in the rear, Wahleed mentally commanded the fiery sphere to stay among the beasts, spreading further panic and pain as they attempted both to avoid the flame and battle Meggan and the fighter.

Meggan leapt into action, encouraged by the magical assistance. Her chains swept into the closest beast, wounding it terribly. Unfortunately, the attack placed her too close to the owlbear's claws, and it left terrible wounds upon her as the barbs from her weapon sank deeper into its flesh. Meatwad fared little better against the other animal - after striking it in the face with the haft of his weapon to stun it and gain some room to maneuver, he was taken by surprise when the creature advanced suddenly, raking its claws across his face and chest. The world began to swim before him, and Meatwad sank to his knees, his weapon slipping from his numbed hands. His vision would clear in a moment, but the monster needed less time than that to eviscerate him, He had one chance remaining - the holdout dagger he kept in his boot. If he could just get to it, he could plunge it into the creature's neck as it closed. Groggily, Meatwad fumbled at his boot for the dagger. The owlbear closed in, its claws extended...

...and exploded in a shower of gore and bone as a bolt of lightning struck it squarely in the chest. Alaric smiled with satisfaction, withdrawing another scroll from his case. If there was to be glory from this fight, the magic-user wanted his share.

The final owlbear, outnumbered, wreathed in flame, and entangled in Meggan's spiked chain, went down as bravely as such a creature could. Its claws slashed at the satyxsis that tormented it, at the arrows as they slammed into its sides, even at the weird dancing shadows cast across the cave wall by the flickering magical flames that seared its skin... but to no avail. Meggan finally closed upon it and dealt a killing blow to its skull, ending the foul beast's life. As the monster's final breath left it, the party stood in the entrance to the cave, wondering if it was safe to remain there, fearful of what might lie within.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fram Framson's Monsternomicon

Fram Framson started as a last-minute filler name for an NPC that I wanted the party to talk to.

I had been playing plenty of the Middle Earth CCG, and the name had been bizarre enough to stick in my brain. So when the party asked for the wanderer's name, I blurted it out.

The rest is history.

Fram became one of the most prevalent characters in my campaign world for many years, providing plot exposition and party assistance, always working for the Explorer's Fraternity as he travelled the world, ending up wherever the party happened to be at the time.

So when the time came to begin drafting my Monster Manual, there was no doubt in my mind who should write it.

The idea is not totally mine, either. The Monsternomicon for Iron Kingdoms uses the adventures of a travelling scholar as well, although he covers far less area than Fram. It occurred to me that Fram should be compiling this book in a different way than either the IK Monsternomicon or the Monster Manual - I could combine the two methods, providing personal notes from Fram when these were monsters he had seen, rather than simply heard about. It seemed a good compromise, and one I could finish.

As for the manual itself, I found myself gravitating to large numbers of animals, beasts, and low-intelligence monsters. I like the idea that the primary threats in Galadran are creatures, rather than complicated societies of vicious, intelligent monsters. I have NPCs for intelligent threats, the wildreness should be populated with savagry and be ruled by the law of the jungle.

It should also have a feeling of weird fantasy as well. Owlbears, rust monsters, scorpion-men, Kyuss spawn (who will be aligned with Nimis in this world), oozes, molds, and cannibal birds. That evokes the sort of feeling I want. Once you step out of the more civilized parts of the world, expect anything.

I've also found some converted creatures from the old Magic: the Gathering CCG that I always thought would make good D&D monsters. In this case, thallids and slivers. I'll have some fun repackaging them for my world, but it was the mechanical aspects of these creatures that really attracted me to them, so I think they'll fit in just fine with the rest of the assembled weirdness that is the Wilderlands. Semi-sentient fungi allows me to use a lot of fungus-related monsters and threats that I would have had a hard time individually explaining. And slivers are just plain fun - low CR swarms that quickly become high CR challenges. Scalable for a mid-to-high level party, they are a lot of work, but worth it.

Whatever is in the book, its got to have a place. Each monster has to fit the ecology, sure, but it also has to be part of the Galadran story as well. Monsters don't just happen - animals do, even large predators, but monsters should feel like another part of a normal world that has gone wrong, like the murder of a God, or blood-drinking immortals living off the suffering of a underclass of slaves. Monsters are another part of the wrong-ness of Galadran, and they should feel that way. They should add to the feeling of anxiety and fear that adventurers feel, and a lesson about the effects of a world gone mad with blood and magic.

A world that needs fixing is the point of D&D, after all. That's what heroes are for. And the world should remind them of that.

That's it for now,friends. Excelsior!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Last Few Sessions Part 1

The following synopsis is a result of several scattered and haphazard sessions the party managed to have over the past couple of months. Between work schedules and day care and school, it has been difficult to get the whole party together for more than a couple of hours at at time for gaming. Nevertheless, they have made some progress, and I thought it best to bring the record up to speed.

After returning to camp, the party discussed their options. It was obvious that there was both wealth and shaft wights to consider, and the group was in no shape to continue in the caves without diverting the water to travel into the tunnels, or purchasing specialized gear to explore the crypt. It was finally decided the party would return to Borderville, collect what money they had stored in the bank there, and take it to the city of Long Lake. There, it was hoped they could purchase enough equipment and supplies for a major excursion into the caves, hopefully driving a portion of the creatures from an area and gaining a foothold from which to launch more extensive expeditions.

The return trip was nothing like the outbound journey. There were no songs, no bragging, no talk of wealth... this excursion had been a failure, with the group only managing to learn that the cave system was more extensive an better defended than they had supposed. Hinda was optimistic, however, that the wealth in the caves could be taken, if a concerted effort was made to drive back the undead. To that end, she planned to recruit more clerics in Long Lake, hopefully establishing contacts with powerful individuals interested in destroying evil or keeping the environs safe.

For his part, Wahleed considered this mission a fact-finding tour and little else. He had learned more about the cave system, and the extent of the crypts below them, and he felt that there was much potential in these mountains, if properly equipped. There was also the dragon to consider, and its mention of a leader that commanded these undead that bore consideration...

Both Meatwad and Meghan were disappointed in the mission. They had not managed to make any headway on either major front, and had little or no gold to show for their troubles. This sort of adventure tried their collective patience. Meghan wanted to demonstrate her prowess on the field of battle against hordes of foul creatures, proving the superiority of her race and its combat culture against all comers. Meatwad wanted to get paid. Neither goal had been met in the last excursion to either's satisfaction.

To top it all off, it began to rain.

Great sheets of ice-cold autumn rain poured down on the party when they had been travelling for less than an hour. Tired and cross, the group maintained its march until nearly dark, making it roughly 10 miles in the rocky and muddy terrain until finding a dry cave at the foot of the mountains to take shelter.

It took nearly half an hour to get a good fire going - the wood from the nearby forest was wet and cold. Finally, they managed to heat some food for supper and make camp. The meal was unsatisfying (boiled hardtack with a few exotic seasoning commissioned by Wahleed from Long Lake), but at least it warmed them up.

Perhaps it was the smell of the seasoning, or the noise from the front of the cave that brought the creatures. Perhaps it was just their time for hunting. Whatever the cause, Charles first spotted the movement from deeper in the cave, and hurriedly sounded the alarm as three large creatures emerged from the shadows and converged on the huddles adventurers. Without that warning, they would surely have been killed. These were beats the like of which the party had never seen before. They held much of the same countenance as grizzly bears, with deep chestnut fur and wicked paws. But from the neck up, the beasts' appearance chnged, becoming one of sharp beaks and feathers. They stood before a perversion of nature, created in times lost to memory as weapons for a long-forgotten war.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Owlbear Attack!

Why don't people use some of the more unusual monsters in D&D anymore? The most common creatures used in games today seem to be orcs or some other racial variation of Orc (goblin, kobold, hobgoblin, what have you), and a few of the more typical sort of monster - giant, dire animal, undead (skeleton, lich, zombie, vampire), or demon (devils and demons used interchangeably, and always the combat-oriented ones).

What happened to the rust monster, the carrion crawler, the otyugh, the grell, or the beholder? These creatures are often talked about among grognards or old school gamers like myself, but I haven't seen one of these creatures used in a campaign in years. Hell, I haven't fought a rust monster since I went through the solo adventure in the red box. I've never fought an otyugh (although I have used them in games against other players).

My favorite creatures in the Monster manuals are the oozes, fungus, and the gelatinous cube. But they don't see much play either.

Part of this is that the D&D genre has moved from the "weird fantasy" of the 20's and 30's pulp with the "epic fantasy" in the Tolkien style. Conan has been replaced with Drizzt Do'Urden, and the cunning and sinister sorcerors of Conan's world have been replaced with Elminster. The idea of what adventure fantasy means has changed, and so we see fewer strange monsters, and more "classic" villains.

The other part of it may be that the newer class of DMs just doesn't think about fantasy in the same way - its much tamer now than it was in the 70's. Ruins are filled with rocks and rubble and the occasional kobold, instead covered in strange molds, weird fungal monsters and deep, mine-like shafts descending into in the underworld. Tentacles, claws, and multi-headed abominations are less and less common, because people no longer see fantasy this way. They want their orc hoards, their dragons, and their bandit kings. And as far as their games go, I guess that's fine. They've bought the books, they can wear them as a hat for all I care. Your books, your games, your rules, your monsters. Game on.

But for me, the essence of adventure fantasy is the strangeness. I want tombs full of semi-intelligent spider hordes, forests teeming with Ettercaps, and ancient temples full of nagas and giant slugs. It just isn't fantasy without those things. I want creepy atmosphere, and monsters that make the party sit up and swear at me for throwing them at me. That is the measure of a good encounter - not that encounter is unfairly unbalanced, but that the players are afraid for their character's lives. And that comes from throwing them out of their rut, putting them on the defensive. Nothing does that better than a creature they can't quantify.

That feeling of sudden fearfulness doesn't come from scaling up a regular monster. A bigger dire bear is just a dire bear. But a carrion crawler with the Kaiju template is truly fearsome. It will make players sweat just to see the thing. And if you give it two heads and add the half-dragon template as well.... you get the idea.

Just to prove this to my players, I'm going to throw an owlbear encounter at them. Ross has been mocking them for awhile, and as a new player, he's never faced them before. A few of them should change his mind. You'll see how it goes when I next post.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One Night In The Caves

This part of the adventure took place as a one-shot all-nighter. Ross was not present, so Meatwad was left behind to guard the animals, and some of the NPCs were sent in, so that they could gain some experience. The game went from 8PM until 3AM, when I had to take Cassandra to work. It was good to have the session, but I'm getting too old for these sorts of things.

The party woke up the following morning to find that Hren and Charles had returned some time in the night with a deer, which Hren had bagged and Charles had skinned and crudely butchered. Hren was pleased with herself, as this was the first thing she had ever killed. Hinda and Meghan cooked the beasts, and after breakfast, the adventurers discussed what to do about the caves, and whether or not to return to town.

Alaric, for his part, was eager to return to Long Lake to resupply and possibly purchase excavation equipment and hire more hands. He firmly believed that the flooded areas of the caverns were where the richest veins were, and that diverting the water would allow the party to mine the area quickly. None of the guards cared very much what was decided, since they were getting paid to guard a wagon and mules, and the pay was the same no matter what the wagon and the mules were doing.

Hinda was ready to return to town, wanting to begin setting up a relationship with the clerics of Borderville. She felt that the risks involved in exploring the caves had become great enough that the party might need more divine assistance. Meghan was eager to reenter the caves and kill the creatures that lay within, wishing to prove her might as a warrior, and to view the abilities of the men for breeding purposes.

In the end, the decision came down to Wahleed. The Shi'ar was interested in further exploration of the flooded caverns, with an eye on draining them into the tomb they has explored the previous day. For that to happen, they would need some understanding of how much water needed to be diverted, and if there was anything else in the caves that needed their attention before it could be done safely.

For this expedition, the party reorganized itself, with an eye toward defensive ranged battle. The Shaft Wights they had been fighting in that area were dangerous in melee, far more so than the party could withstand on equal terms. The expedition left Meatwad behind to supervise the guard detachment (since the shooting of Alaric proved some supervision was probably necessary). In his place, the party took Hren and Marko, the ranger armed with a longbow, and the guard with his heavy crossbow. The added ranged power would, Wahleed hoped, provide them with much-needed support against any shaft wights.

Upon returning to the caves, the party found the flooded cavern deserted, save for the corpses from the previous fight. Not wanting to risk bumbling into creatures, Wahleed sent Jambi, his gen into the water to investigate. The genie returned with reports of more wights, as well as two purple creatures that were unfamiliar to it. Wahleed decided to have a look at the creatures himself, and told the rest of the party to prepare for a fight here, as he would try to lead whatever creatures he encountered back to this place. With his trusty gen at his side, Wahleed dove into the dark water and, using a coin with a light spell on it, explored one of the three openings under the waterline that led from the flooded chamber.

The opening he chose brought him to a partially-flooded cavern covered in luminescent fungus. There were signs of mining in the cavern, as well as evidence of a copper vein that had been partially exploited. Using Jambi as a distraction to lure the creatures back into the flooded area (and so back to the party), Wahleed made a break for the cavern entrance.

He arrived just before the Shaft Wights did.

The battle was pitched and furious. The only saving grace for the adventurers was that the five wights came in a staggered procession, allowing them to concentrate fire. Even so, it was a close call. Wahleed, despite his cunning use of defensive magics, narrowly escaped with his life. Meghan fared even less well, falling unconscious after suffering the combined attentions of two of the foul creatures. Marko and Hren did their duty, using ranged attacks and fading to the rear of every defensive line, allowing the better melee attackers to hold their positions. The real heroes of the fight were Hinda and Meghan, who each took turns holding the defensive line together as the shaft wights savaged the party. Finally, the foul creatures lay dead (again) and the adventurers took stock of their health, deciding to return to the camp.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Am A Grognard

Grognard (noun): A gamer, especially war gamer, who has considerable experience with a particular game or genre of games, has seen that game or genre of games go through many iterations, and who may often complain about new versions of, or newbies to, that game; also known as Old Guard. Etymology: French, nickname for a member of the French Old Guard during the Napoleonic era, referring to said members’ frequent imbibing of grog, an alcoholic beverage consisting of watered down rum, and synonymous with their tendency to grumble about all things new.

I am a Grognard.

I have no trouble with that classification. I am proud to be counted among their ranks. Our society has an enormous amount of disdain for older things, and for people with experience - if you're not young and doing the new thing, you're second rate. For some things, that makes sense; I don't think we should go back to typewriters, or get rid of the Internet, or burn all our cell phones. Those inventions make our lives more productive, and allow us to communicate with our friends and loved ones. It's foolish to resent change for the better, even if the changes are difficult.

But change for the sake of change is wrong.

And Fourth Edition D&D is change for its own sake.

I've given the game a year before making my decision, not because I wanted to see how it worked, but because I wanted to see what they did with it. It was a bad idea, in my opinion, but it was always possible that it would turn into something great with enough time.

It has not. It is a desperate attempt to stay relevant from a company that has lost touch with what it meant to be Role Player. It is in essence a computer game, with all the algorithms placed in table format in books, the way textbooks in the 70s were formatted for computer programming, or for language and conjugation. That's not a new criticism for this edition, but it's extraordinarily apt.

But that's not the reason I hate it.

I hate it because it's banal. Because it has no redeeming value. Because every single negative quality about gaming has been highlighted through this edition, and every positive quality has been pushed away.

It has become a meaningless game, with no redeeming feature. It has all the value of Monopoly or Clue, where once it was an exciting new paradigm in the field of leisure.

Allow me to explain.

I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was seven years old. I began with the red box, and managed to get a hold of all the supplements from that edition. I loved the game - I loved it for its endless creativity. I was interested in building a world with it (I never saw much point in playing as a character - why limit yourself?) and have my friends crawl through endless tunnels filled with treasure and monsters.

When AD&D came to my attention, I was excited. The game could move beyond basics, and become more complicated, which meant I could do more with it. My game world became more fleshed out, more detailed. And my players could do more in the world, which made the experience better for them.

But it also engaged my intellectual curiosity. I began to study history, in order to see what a medieval society was like, so I could make the game better for my players. I studied feudalism, in order to make the world feel more real. I studied weather patterns, economics, and political science, applying all I learned to my world, making it richer, fuller, and more real.

Not everyone went to those lengths, I understand. But it used to be when you attended gaming conventions, you could get into a discussion about medieval weapons, or army formations, or historical events that could set precedents for your world. The atmosphere was charged with people who were interested in history as well as fantasy, and had fun merging their interests. I leaned more in a weekend that I did in a month of school. And it was more fun at the same time.

When 3rd edition debuted, I was prepared to hate it. It threatened to destroy the game as I understood it, and I was angry at that. But I came around. I played the game, and found that it kept the essentials intact, and gave me a new topic to explore - what would a world that had always had magic have evolved into? Reading and extrapolating this made my world a better and more realistic world, and my players enjoyed it. I studied different subjects, read more alternate history, and looked into what a world that developed magic as a science would look like.

And I know many people who did the same thing. D&D engaged their minds, making them take their fantasy in a new direction.

4th edition did no such thing.

It's been a year, and all the discussions on D&D Fourth Edition are still based around manipulating the game mechanic for maximum effect. There is talk about new classes, new monsters, new spells, and new adventures, but no exploration. It's no longer about creating an experience for your players - its about playing an interactive board game with supplements that come out every month. It's a medieval Arkham Horror.

I already have Arkham Horror. I don't need to buy it again. So I will not.

Critics of my assessment say "Well, what do you expect? WotC is a business, and in order to stay in business, they have to produce new products. Eventually, they have to remake the system. You want to see WotC stay in business, don't you?"

No. I don't care if they are in business or not. I want a game I enjoy playing. If WotC produces that game, I will buy it. If they don't I won't settle for whatever they are offering on the grounds that I owe them my support. I don't owe them anything. They don't owe me anything. If I like what they're selling, I'll buy it. Period.

I will not buy a game that substitutes imagination for board game rules, or that abstracts the game into a glorified version of Clue with a combat system. I see no reason to.

But I weep for the passing of a game that once inspired children like me to read literature, science, history, and physics. It died with 3rd edition, replaced by a hollow shell, with all the trappings, but none of the soul.

I continue to play 3.5, and enjoy it. I have no interest in staying current, or in playing with anyone not interested in playing the game I wish to play. They will have much of the world to choose from - they won't need me. I'll keep playing the game that changed my life, the game that turned me into a historian and teacher, the game that opened the doors of my imagination.

I'll keep playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Because I'm a Grognard.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Session #4, Part 4

Alaric's wound was a result of an argument with the mercenaries. Interpreting Wahleed's command to "stay together" as a command to stop the mercenaries from moving the camp to the forest. When he protested, they shot him in the leg. The party returned and restored order among the hirelings, then noticed that Hren and Charles were gone - they had gone into the woods to find some game.

As Wahleed remonstrated the guards for attacking the magic-user, as well as allowing the group to separate, the rest of the party began to discuss the strange book they had found in the tomb. Now that they had a little more time, Hinda sat and studied the markings on the cover and spine of the strange volume. After a few moments of study, she began to find patterns in the strange spidery script that she remembered from her years abroad... something about the spider goddess...

In a flash,Hinda remembered where she had seen these markings before. It was the Book of The Dead, written by the goddess Shaku, goddess of death and mistress of spiders. The book was dictated to a coterie of mad clerics nearly 300 years ago. Each of the clerics made a single copy, sending them out into the world to spread the glory of their goddess to all the lands. Hinda informed the group that the book was an item of incalculable evil, a vile tome of a hideous god.

Meatwad saw opportunity in this find, believing that the item's rarity made it valuable. Sale of the book could give the party the funds they needed to set up the mining operation needed to get the platinum out of the mine. Alaric was in agreement, though he cautioned that finding a buyer would be difficult, since no one would want the public at large to know they were interested in such a find.

Wahleed carefully weighed the options, finally deciding that the item could not be safely left behind, nor could the group keep it in good conscience. They would need to hold on to it long enough to find a person who could destroy it.

As the discussion continued, Hinda took the book over to the cart and fished out the Bag of Holding that had belonged to Ielenia. Just as she was about to place book inside, the earth began to rumble, and creatures long-dead erupted from the ground, crawling toward the cart.

With a cry, Aleena leaped from the cart, tackling the closest animated skeleton to Wahleed. As she struck the foul creature feebly on its face, the rest of the party moved to engage the rest of the pack.

The fight was short - between the mercenaries, the party, and the surprisingly bold but futile actions of Aleena, the skeletons were overmatched. Wiping bone marrow and filth from their weapons, the party decided to double the guard for the evening, and decide what to do next.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Session #4, Part 3

As soon as the necrosis was purged from Wahleed, he was restored to health by means of a healing potion and some ministrations from the cleric. After jumping over the pit, the party made their way to the altar.

At that moment, a magical message relayed itself to the mind of Wahleed. It was from Alaric, stating that it had begun to rain, and that the mercenaries were pulling up stakes and attempting to build camp in the woods, rather than remain at their posts. Wahleed insisted that the party stay together.

The altar stood on a podium over fifteen feet from the ground, carved in relief as a pile of skulls. On the altar lay a book, open but unreadable at the party's present distance. Without hesitation, Meatwad sprang up the altar (with Meggan at his heels), and peered into the book, hoping to find a way to identify it. As his eyes scanned the pages, he felt something strange overtake him, and his mind was transported to another time in this same room...

In his mind, he was a cleric, standing atop this podium and looking out over a sea of hopeful faces. These faces were squires, men-at-arms, and lesser nobles - a sea of trusting faces here to give their honor to the fallen Teshy at what they believed was his burial chamber.

Only he, and the knights and clerics behind him, knew better.

As Meatwad's speech to the men reached its climax, he placed his hands upon the book in front of him, and spoke aloud the words of power that it had whispered into his mind.

"Ia! Ia! Talg'lesh kholm'in!
Dresh u'log sashin Shaku!
Shaku! Shaku! Ia! Ia!

As the crowd looked up at him in stunned incomprehension, countless swarms of spiders descended upon them from every conceivable dark corner of the tomb. The men fell, screaming as the poison coursed through them, darkening their faces as blood clotted in their veins, withering as necrosis seeped through them, or simply dying as the poisons stopped their hearts. Larger spiders - some as big as a cart - walked among the dying, wrapping some of the larger ones in webs for later eating. Meatwad stood as stone-faced as the rest as the men that he had fought with for six years were devoured, their screams of pain and cries for help falling on the deaf ears of those they had willingly followed.

When the feast had ended, and all that remained were the corpses of the crowd, Meatwad the cleric and his fellow nobles burned the accoutrements of battle, as well as the standards of Malikk they had displayed on the walls. The god would know of their treachery by now, and their path was clear...

Shaku would be pleased....

Meatwad awoke, his head throbbing with the memory of this place and the horror that had occurred here. His mind seethed with the enormity of it, repelled at the evil he had just witnessed, yet unable to articulate anything but fear and disbelief. A scream tore itself from his lips, and he sank to his knees. Thinking that he must keep the book from him, he lashed out at it to dash it from the altar.

As his hand struck it, he was thrown from the platform, hurling through the air, landing on Wahleed, who had intercepted him. Meatwad relayed the horror he had witnessed, and it was decided that Hinda should be the one to carry the book, until it could be identified.

At that moment, a magical message relayed itself into the brain of Wahleed. Alaric needed help at once. The party took the book, and made their way back to the entrance, where the found Alaric in the entrance chamber, a crossbow bolt protruding from his leg.

Session #4: Part 2

The shaft that led from the statue's base descended 30 feet, and led to a corridor covered with bones and spiderwebs. After a few moments to get their bearings, the adventurers followed the hallway into a large hall, nearly 100 feet long, with the entire floor covered with bones. At the far end of the hall, facing the way they had just come, was an enormous brass statue on a green and black marble base. The statue was obviously of the same man as the statue above, but in this rendition he was wearing a great helm.

The party investigated the chamber, and found numerous archways and blocked passageways. Beyond the statue, a large hallway, also filled with bones, stretched on towards a large altar. Aware that the most likely place for a trap was in the hallway between the saute and the altar, the party decided to brave that passage first.

They were not disappointed. Halfway down the hall, the floor beneath them gave way. Hinda managed to leap aside in time, but Wahleed fell into a roughly excavated hole with sharp rocks and bones at the bottom. As soon as the trap was sprung, a horde of tomb spiders descended on the party, covering Wahleed and surrounding the rest of the party.

As the party battled the spiders surrounding the pit, the vile creatures within swarmed over Wahleed, covering him in bites that infused his body with a vile necrosis. Feebly, he struggled to escape from the pit, his hands scratching at the rough walls, his struggles made vain against the swarm of arachnids.

Above, the rest of the party was faring no better. Meatwad and Meggan suffered the worst from the bites, but even as they struck back, they found their bodies beginning to weaken. Finally, Meggan fell, overcome by the horde. Her breath became shallow, but Hinda sensed that all was not lost yet. If they could rally quickly, they may yet be able to save her.

Finally, in desperation, Wahleed summoned up what divine power his pact with the genies had afforded him, and attempted to heal himself. Only then was the true nature of the tomb spider's poison revealed. As the healing power surged through him, the necrosis in his veins rebelled, tearing his body apart even as it healed. With a shriek of warning, Wahleed collapsed to the ground. The spiders descended on him, seeing easy prey for their webs.

Above, Meatwad and Hinda had battled back the creatures, scattering the swarms and reaching Meggan. As the cleric tended to the fallen Satyxis, Meatwad slid down the wall of the hole, and scattered the remaining spiders, hauling Wahleed to safety.

Session #4: Part One

With the battle with the Shaft Wights concluded, the party retrieved the body of Ielenia from the water, and contemplated their options. Meatwad and Wahleed were still interested in the platinum vein the mining had uncovered, and asked Alaric what he could do about the water in their way. The magic-user told them that he could try to pump the water out of the area and build a sluice to drain the water from the mine, but it would take a few days to construct. All members of the group felt that security during the construction would be impossible, and that more men and supplies were needed.

The next problem was how to get the extra men and equipment the party needed. They were already low on money, and the kind of materials they would need to pump the amount of water needed to drain the chamber (to say nothing of clearing the area of any additional Shaft Wights) was out of their financial range. It was then that Wahleed proposed that the party investigate the hole they had previously uncovered. If there was anything of value in the chambers below, they could use it to finance the mining.

Security was still a problem - Shaft Wights were still in the water, and the outside held unknown terrors. The party's mercenaries and various hangers-on would have to be put to use. In the middle of the discussion, and new wrinkle appeared. Emerging from the woods came a six-foot tall woman with horns on her head. She identified herself as Meggan, a Satyxis from lands beyond the Cirric. Her people had sent her to a new land to look for mating stock, and she had happened across the party en route to Long Lake.

Meggan took an immediate liking to Meatwad (much to Aleena's relief), and offered to join the group, in exchange for monetary compensation (and perhaps other forms of compensation as well). In light of the deaths of Tordek and Ielenia, the party felt that another warm body could not possibly hurt, and allowed her to join.

Enter Meggan, a satyxis from the Iles of Bergalad.

As the party made ready to enter the burial chambers, the group consisted of

Wahleed: A human diplomat and Sha'ir from the Brass Hills in Eastern Kadaq.

Hinda: A human cleric of Ghen from the lands beyond Chey.

Meatwad: A human fighter from parts unknown.

Meggan: A satyxis knight from the Iles of Bergalad.

Aleena: A human tavern wench and love-struck girlfriend of Wahleed.

Hren: A half-elven former slave and current ranger.

Alaric: A human engineer and magic-user from Silva.

Charles, Marko, and Kaine: Town guardsmen from Borderville hired to protect the party.

The final plan was laid out: Alaric and Marko were to guard the mine, and watch for the return of any Shaft Wights. Charles and Aleena were to remain with the wagon and supplies, to guard against animals and the like, while Hren and Kaine were to guard the entrance to the cave, ready to assist either group in needed. The remained of the group would descend into the pit beneath the staute of Teshy to see what (if anything) could be salvaged. They entered the pit a little after eleven o'clock, with a good seven hours of daylight left.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day Session

I was really pleasantly surprised by the all-day session of D&D for father's day that my wife and friends set up for me. We played off and on for nearly 10 hours (the longest time we have spent yet on a session in this campaign) and in between combats, we roleplayed the talking scenes while cooking ribs, drinking beer, and watching my daughter play in Ross' yard. It was an amazing day.

As a D&D player, I'm very lucky. I've had very few bad experiences with gamers at my table, and very few bad games. As a DM, I haven't had that many long campaigns, but every one of the games I've run has been memorable for the players that went through them. As a player I've travelled the planes investigating the Great Modron March, fought Against the Giants, battled Rary the Traitor (lost that one), freed a village from a strange sickness that made them drown from the inside, and bartered away nearly a million gold pieces in dragon's treasure for the possession of a demented magical Pepsi machine. I've used a staff of aging on a juvenile dragon (was eaten), used skirmish tactics to delay an orc column headed for the heart of a kingdom, and rode a beholder like a bronco at a rodeo.

Good times. And all of them shared by my many friends and fellow travellers. This hobby, this game, has had a transformative effect on my life - it kindled my interest in history, fueled my love of reading, sharpened my creative problem-solving skills, and taught me to think on my feet. It has improved my math skills, taught me teamwork and leadership, and helped me connect with many intelligent and interesting people. Could anyone say the same thing about any other hobby?

Over the years, I've seen people come and go from D&D (and from role playing in general) and move on to more "adult" forms of entertainment. They are able to brag about no longer playing the game (not much to brag about if you ask me), but they never seem fully satisfied with their choice. If the conversation turns to D&D, they always jump back into it with relish, enough that I wonder why they didn't just stick with it. "Growing up" does not mean abandoning all recreation - it means accepting the responsibilities of being older. You can be a responsible adult and play these type of games. You just need to balance your new responsibilities with your leisure. This would be just as true if you ran a poker night or played football with your buddies on the weekends. It's all about balance.

I'm 30. I've spent 22 years with this game, and I haven't slowed down yet. I'm married, I have a beautiful daughter, and am starting up a second career as a high school teacher. I'm also a roleplayer, a Dungeon Master, a gamer. I can be a responsible adult and still engage in the frivolities of my youth.

I'm proud of my family, my friends, and my gaming. I will make no apologies for any of them. Ever. And neither should you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Story So Far... Part 3

During their first night at the Comeback Inn, Wahleed used his magic to entrance one of the serving girls, named Aleena. For the remainder of their stay in town, she followed him around at a distance, flirting and being coy.

The party spent the next week in town, during which they learned the following facts about Borderville:

The mayor of Borderville spends most of his time throwing parties for the social elite. The town guard run the day to day operations, including all illicit activities.

The proprietor of the Comeback Inn, as well as the employees of the moneychanger and the blacksmith are former members of the town guard.

The head of security at the moneychanger's vault is the brother of the captain of the east gate.

The party attended the auction, and bought both the slaves (one of whom - Hren - they allowed to travel with them) and the silver daggers. They rented a house on the Street of Two Dogs for a year and freed the slaves they purchased, putting them to work as housekeepers for pay. They requisitioned full plate armor for their cleric, reprovisioned, hired four mercenaries (recommended by the captain of the east gate as "guaranteed dependable") and made their way back to the tomb...

...Only to find it occupied.

The entrance to the tomb had a pack of mules, marked with strange arcane symbols, tethered at the entrance. In the second chamber, they found a dwarf that had been torn in half, and had crawled back to this area before dying. Following the blood trail, the adventurers found an unconscious spellcaster, and the body of a warrior whose flesh had been torn in strips from his body.

The spellcaster, once revived, identified himself as Alaric, and told the party that he and his companions had heard of platinum being found in this region, and had travelled here to set up a mining operation. They had not been prepared for the level of danger in the tomb, and most of them had been slaughtered. The mules outside carried provisions and mining equipment the group had planned to use.

Alaric was sent back with Hren to the provision carts, only to find that Aleena had followed Wahleed from town. Leaving the spellcaster with the serving girl and the guards, the party returned to the mining location where they had last battled the Shaft Wights.

The chamber beyond the mine's entrance was blocked by a cluster of stones that stood about waist deep. Ielenia ventured into the chamber (after some difficulty with the slick surface of the rocks). The chamber was flooded, with water rising up to waist deep. The floor dropped off after about ten feet, giving way to a deep pit filled with water that looked around twelve feet deep. As Ielenia turned to head back to the party, a cold dead hand reached up from beneath the water and pulled her under.

The Shaft Wights had returned.

As Ielenia activated her ability to breathe underwater, the Shaft Wight dragged her further from the surface, biting into her neck and coloring the water with thick, black rivulets of blood. The rest of the party leaped into action, as both Meatwad and Hren made for rocks. Wahleed sent his Gen over the rocks with a lantern in an attempt to locate the fallen comrade. The Gen peered into the pool, and had barely enough time to shout a warning before more Shaft Wights rose from the water and scrambled onto the floor close to the rock wall.

Meatwad attempted to scramble across the rocks, but couldn't cross, becoming bogged down in the slippery stones. Hren vaulted the wall without hesitation, pole-axing the closest Shaft Wight with her quarterstaff, and attempting to make her way toward Ielenia. For all her bravery, she was alone against creatures far beyond her ability. Seconds after vaulting the wall, she was pulled down beneath the water as well.

Hinda brought forth the symbol of the goddess Ghen, the holy light causing several of the creatures to shrink back beneath the water, and away to wherever they came from.

Beneath the water, Ielenia fought desperately with the foul creature at her throat, but was unable to get leverage on it. The Shaft Wight tore into her again, polluting the water with more half-elven blood. Finally, the creature's claws found her heart, ending her life.

Thus perished Ielenia Galanodel.

Desperate to save both women from the undead, Meatwad attempted again to vault the rocks, but stumbled and failed the leap, toppling back onto the floor. In desperation, the Gen struck one of the Shaft Wights with the lantern. Finally, Wahleed managed to get the last creature into his line of sight, and struck them down with his magic.

One the battle was over, Wahleed retrieved Hren from the water, and Hinda revived her in short order. She was frightened and half-drowned, and her wounds from the Shaft Wight's claws still festered, but she was alive. The same could not be said for others. Hren wept for the half-elf that had set her free, and vowed to avenge her death and honor her memory.

The party skimmed the bottom of the pool after the battle, and found some more platinum nuggets and a few uncut gemstones. Meatwad was at first upset, believing that there was no way forward to the platinum he felt lay in the rocks below, but then he remembered Alaric and the mining equipment...

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Story So Far... Part Two

All hopes of escaping unnoticed by the dragon are dashed when Meatwad fails to keep his footing on the slippery ledge. The dragon rises clumsily from the lake, prepared to kill the mortals for their impertinence, when Wahleed begs to parley with the creature. Confident of its superiority, the dragon agrees to listen until it gets bored. Wahleed offers to be of service to the creature, but the beast is uninterested. All it wants is to be left alone, free of interfering mortals and the living dead that harrass him. Wahleed offers to rid the beasts of the undead in exchange for thier lives. Not really believing the mortals will succeed in (or even attempt) this, the dragon allows them to leave, on the understanding that Meatwad never return to its lair.

The adventurers explore the remainder of the tunnels, noticing that these appear to be man-made, and more recent that the burial chambers they entered earlier. Following the sound of activity from within the tunnels, the group finds a large group of strange creatures - Shaft Wights, the lost souls of miners that have died in cave-ins. The party dispatches the first group they encounter only after a difficult fight that leaves most of them horribly wounded. As they search the chamber where the Shaft Wights were mining, they find that a vein of platinum has been uncovered, and that the creatures were mining it for some unknown purpose.

Loading up what ore could be found, the party returns to the town of Borderville to recover from their wounds and resupply. Upon their arrival, they discover that a party of adventurers had started a violent fight in the town and were executed. The captian of the East Gate informs them that new laws against violence have been inacted, making armed combat within town punishable by death.

The adventurers exchange their ore for spendable silver at the moneychanger's establishment, and allow the majority of it to be banked there. The moneychanger mentions that items possesed by the recently executed criminals will be put up for sale at the end of the week. Interested in the items, the party bribes the moneychanger into letting them see the merchandise early. After making a note of the items that interest them (including two braces of silver daggers and four half-elven slaves), the party spends thier first night in town at the Comeback Inn.

The Story So Far... Part One

(click to view enlarged map)

The party is located in the eastern countryside of Silva, on the Cruwin River just west of the Silverlode Mountains, four days south of Long Lake. Previous adventures into the Silverlode have uncovered the remains of an ancient burial site, possibly belonging to a civilization long forgotten by modern man. A party of adventurers has assembled to investigate the ruins and see if there is any profit to be made.

The party originally consisted of

Wahleed: A human diplomat and Sha'ir from the Brass Hills in Eastern Kadaq.

Ielenia Galanodel: A half-elven ranger from parts unknown.

Hinda: A human cleric of Ghen from the lands beyond Chey.

Tordek: A dwarven fighter from the Bloodwall Tunnels.

The initial expedition seemed poorly fated from the outset. The entrance was safe enough, but a little ways into the second chamber, and the party found itself under attack from strange creatures that Hinda identified as Wights. As the group dispatched the first batch, Tordek headed to the southern end of the chamber to scout for other entrances and keep guard. As the minutes passed, he became bored and began to relieve himself on a nearby statue.

It was then that the next wave of horrors struck.

The second wave of Wights struck from two different locations, their very timing and precision speaking of a foul and unholy cunning. The first group struck at the wounded party, while the second made for the pack animals the party had grouped near the entrance to the tomb. As the adventures attempted to rally, Tordek broke ranks in an attempt to save the pack animals. Unfortunately, he was not enough to stem the undead tide, and was slain.

Thus perished Tordek.

The rest of the party managed to kill off the offending creatures, but were horribly wounded, and needed time for rest and recuperation. They carefully bivouacked just beyond the entrance to the tomb, not wanting to face whatever else the tomb might have while sleeping. The following morning, far more rested, the group ventures in again. This time, they attempt to enter the westernmost chamber, where the second wave of Wights had attacked from the previous day.

The chamber is covered in spider webs and egg sacks, and displays a solitary statue, proclaiming this area the burial chamber of those who died serving the great warrior Teshy of Kleed. After a few minutes of investigation, the adventurers manage to discover a secret entrance beneath the statue that leads into the burial chambers. The ancient ladder leading down has long since rotted away, so Ielenia is sent to investigate using a rope. During the exploration, the egg sacks above the party begin to hatch.

The party manages to fight off a swarm of spiders, and a large mother with a poison stinger. Dazed and wounded (again), they fall back to the entrance while Hinda tends to their injuries. It is at this time that they are greeted by a traveller who offers to help them in thier explorations in exchange for a percentage of whatever they acquire. Feeling the need for another swordarm (and believing that the newcomer is not likely to survive long enough to collect his share anyway), the party agrees.

Enter Meatwad, a human fighter from unknown regions.

After a few hours of rest and re-equipping, the party attempts to follow the path of the second chamber, which leads them to a series of tunnels and a cave entrance guarded by two small bands of skeletons. The cave entrance brings them to a ledge above a pile of treasure and bones partially immersed in water from a nearby underground lake. Just as the party is about to descend to the lower level and loot the area, they spy a large leathery beast surfacing from the lake. The treasure is a dragon's lair, and the dragon has come home.