Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Heroes Campaign

Well, after the Kobold campaign stopped, I sat back and played a bit.  Eventually, it became my turn to run again and it had been percolating in my brain that the next campaign should be how the "heroes" developed who raided the kobold & dragon warrens which kicked off the Kobold Campaign.  But I still wanted more freedom from the restricting 3.5 rules.  So, here's what I sent the gaming group (after stating the premise):

This will be more "old school".  Experience will be at 1/2 what the DMG says is "proper" for a CR value.  Only PHB races and classes, period.  28 point buy, max hp for the 1st 3 levels, and you get one "heirloom" magic item of any type of +1 value but you have to have a background story to explain why you have it.

So, sure enough, the weeks before the 1st game I start getting the "please relax this part of the starting bit for me" emails.  The two players who love psionics wanted classes from the psionic handbook, another player wanted to play a knight from PHB 2, and another wanted a minimized cube of force for a magic item.  Ugh....if I only knew what headaches I would be facing.

We also ran into a very unusual problem.  We had up to 9 players + me as DM.  Who has ever heard of "too many players" except at a gaming con?  It was ridiculous some nights.  Combat under 3.5 takes a long time with just 5 players....when you have 9, you're lucky to get past one encounter in two hours.  It sucks.

Anyway, back to the game, I had the group start out with this predicament: they were on the slave block in the CSIO.  They had all been arrested with another 20+ people because a barroom brawl spilled out into the street and turned into a riot.  Everyone was arrested and sent to be slaves.  The party was all bought (along with another dozen folks) and bundled into carts to be carried to Byrny.  One of the other slaves was a rather large & ugly female who appeared to be mentally handicapped in some odd way.  The 4th day of the journey, near time to stop and camp, the caravan was ambushed by a group of hill giants.  Thrown boulders killed all the wagon animals in the first round with a few damaging the slave pens.  Two hill giants rushed the cage where the ugly female was and pulled her out, holding her and crying.....Yep, Mom & Dad came to rescue their kidnapped baby.

Seeing how the slavers were being routed by the hill giants, the party fled their broken open cell.  As they were looking for a place to escape, one noticed that a crate had been split open and all their gear was in it.  Grabbing their stuff, they headed into the hills.  They found a cave to hide in until the giants moved on and the slavers left.    During this time, the party decided that they couldn't go back to the CSIO as they were escaped slaves.  They couldn't go north because they'd be caught by the surviving slavers.  They couldn't go east because that led into the Dearthwood and there were too many tales of death associated with it.  So they headed east into the No Man's region between the City State of the Invincible Overlord and Viridistan. They got a little lost and ended up heading southeast, finally arriving at Bulwark.  This is an interesting town.  The Wilderlands of High Fantasy book lists the town as 90% halfling but all the leaders are human.  So, I made it into a fort, an outpost of the CSIO charged with watching the border for incursions from Viridistan.  In the recent past, a dragon attack on a halfling village drove the halflings west who made a tent city around the fort.  The tents gave way to ramshackle homes and then to proper houses.  The relations are strained between the two, but they have been warming up after the last commander left.

To shorten this long post, I'll summarize a few things.  I used a green city from the Conan d20 game by Mongoose as an adventuring spot near the town.  I also added several features from Necromancer Games' The Vault of Larin Karr and Shades of Gray modules.  Initially, I had a couple of different hooks out there, but then I remembered that this group is too literal.  So, I had to end two of them.  One of the threads involved a potential confrontation later with a married couple who were liches.  Another involved a demon cult.  And the last was dragon based.  Tying them together wasn't too bad.  The liches were actually a time trapped married couple of scientists from before the War of the Pious and Philosophers in the Wilderlands.  They picked up magic quite readily and were in the process of slowly dominating an area in the northern part of the Wilderlands, in the area knows as the Elphanlands.  They were hunting down some lost "artifacts" from before the war in an effort to go back and prevent the war.  The husband had gone to get information for Juiblex, taking with him a way for Juiblex to turn a section of land near Bulwark into a large pool of oozes and slimes.  The party found the portal and closed it, trapping the lich on the other side.  Mrs. Lich was not happy.

At this point, real life interfered with the game.  We had the following shakeup: three of the players dropped out completely (too far from home and too many people were the excuses), two moved to Tennessee because of jobs, and we added a couple to fill the empty spots.  The resulting confusion of plot lines and vastly different character levels forced me to do something I have never done before: a reboot.    Well, the characters ranged from 4th level to 7th level and all had something they liked.  Also, a couple of the others were not happy with their choices of class.

So, how to fix this?  Actually, it was simple.  I did a reboot and tied it to the liches.  The husband managed to get out of hell and the two of them performed the time spell.  However, as is typical with demons, it didn't work as expected.  The world shifted and things changed.  Some people disappeared, others changed personalities or professions, and some just appeared.  The group restarted at a point in which they had just cleared out the gnoll fort (Area C in Larin Karr), but they had all their gear from before and an odd double memory.  I got to throw deja vu stuff at them and it was pretty cool.

Well, the game continued on until about 7th or 8th level when we had a blow up of sorts.  One character brought in a class from the PHB2 which did not fit in with the world.  In fact, if the rules were properly applied, the race was so limited that it couldn't logically go wandering around the countryside randomly fighting things.  But it had "awesome powers and feats"......yeah.....well, by the time the characters had reached 7th level they had killed two young adult green dragons, one adult red dragon, and one (very ill) adult black dragon.  They were beginning to figure out that Tiamat was making a play to return the Wilderlands to the Time of the Dragon Kings, with literal Dragons for Kings.  But I had had enough of 3.5 and we stopped there.  I vowed the next D&D game would be 1st ed or earlier.  No psionics period.  And so, I haven't run a D&D game for them in over a year.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Kobold Campaign

Another campaign story.....

After the CSIO game fell apart and the DM rotation fell back on me, I struggled with what to run.  The group was most decidedly a "3.5 or you're alone" type of group at that point and I was disillusioned with some of the munchkin-y & min/max crap associated with the ruleset.  So, I looked for something to give me that old 1e feel again.  Necromancer Games were putting out books that spanned levels 4 to 10 or 1 to 8 or some such way too long sequence instead of useful little modules.  I had started picking up Goodman Games's little modules because they were inexpensive and fun reads.  Well, I jumped on the support bandwagon and bought Dungeon Crawl Classics #29 - The Adventure Begins book of short 1st level modules.  I'd say about 2/3 of them were worth the price I paid.  As I was skimming through the modules, I had an epiphany....kobold pc's.

The idea of a monster campaign had been bandied about the table a few times and I thought here was the perfect chance to try it out and do it wrong I was, as you shall soon read.  So, picking "The Dripping Temple" as the basis of the adventure locale, I started working on the hows and whys of kobold adventurers.  Well, usually, kobolds work for someone or something that can protect them.  Who would protect kobolds?  Well 3e changed kobolds from dog-like monsters to remote cousins of dragons, so why not a dragon?  But I know a couple of my players would balk at playing evil characters and from past experience an evil campaign usually ends in a blood bath with the players all feeling cheated and angry with each other.  So, what if the dragon was an amethyst dragon?  Okay, that works.  But why are the kobolds out?  Well, adventurers tend to go after dragon hoards unless the dragon is notoriously goood, so adventurers attacked and started killing off kobolds and killed the dragon.  The pc's are one group of refugees and are young.  In fact, they are under the supervision of a kobold shaman who is teaching them the rules of the clan.  Nice.  NPC shaman to feed in hooks and save them should they get in over their heads.  While I'd like to go with a pure 3d6 straight down roll for stats, the group practically demands point buy.  Fine. 28points.  Apply kobold modifiers after stats set.  No starting equipment other than what would be logical if you were told as you were sitting at home, "get your butt up and out the door in the next 30 seconds or die".

Thus, the party consists of: a sorcerer, a rogue, a barbarian, a druid, a ranger and a paladin.  And the shaman.  Game start: it's pouring down rain and there's screaming all around.  The group makes it outside and runs into the deeper hills, hiding under a bush.  They observe a battle between an orc raiding party and a group of 4 adventurers.  The adventurers get killed and only one orc is left standing unbloodied while another orc is binding wounds.  The kobolds attack and take everything.  A lightning blast nearby opens a hole in a hillside.  Investigating, they find what looks to be an ancient mine....possibly dwarven.  Thus, they enter the DCC module and have a fun couple of nights exploring it.

Aside:  our min/maxer was vocally opposed to playing "such weakling characters", then he was opposed to playing "evil characters", then he decided that "druids are worthless underground", then he quit coming until we changed to a "more heroic campaign".  Now, I didn't have to change a lot of the DCC module to make it fun.  Because of the common background starting point, there were no in character problems or bickering.  They worked as a team from day 1.  Once they got the temple cleared, the rededicated it to the kobold gods.  Then they started actively searching for other survivors.  To give the survivors something to do, they restarted the mine.  To make things more interesting, I placed the mine in Barbarian Altanis in the Wilderlands (it's the map aread just below the CSIO map) and connected the mini-adventure from the Judges Guild module Glory Hole Dwarven Mine (The Lost Mine of Kish the Gnome).  This led to more exploring and I had to add the full JG module then.  It grew into a mega-dungeon as I added extra abandoned levels.  Then, the group wanted to make money from the mine so they scouted around for buyers for the ore they were producing.  This drew attention from gnomes and dwarves who wanted to reclaim the mines.  At this point, the unbalanced nature of 3.5 reared its ugly head.  A small company of gnomes (about 40), with six leaders ranging in level from 4 to 7, were wiped out by 7 5th level kobolds.  In 4 rounds.  It was ugly.  I will admit that some of it was due to poor die rolls, but that was a blood bath.  At 6th level, they defeated three Vrock demons.  At 7th level, two Hezrou.  At 10th, I allowed them to resurrect their patron dragon.   And that's where we stopped.  The traps they devised were ingenious and deadly.  It was a great campaign but the kobolds were unstoppable in their home turf.

Maybe I'll write more on this later.  There are a lot of stories about this group.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Perspective on Psionics

This is just my opinion, and I enforce it in my games, but I do not believe that psionics have a place in D&D.  To me, psionics is a manifestation of an innate ability.  The ability is derived from mental evolution of the race based upon solving more and more complex problems with pure intellectual might as well as an intense desire to affect the world around the individual and race.  It is the result of a positive mutation.  And the factors I feel are necessary to push the race into manifesting psionics is not present in the typical fantasy milieu of D&D.  It just doesn't fit.  It's like trying to introduce cattle ranching on the bottom of the ocean.  Why develop a mental ability when you have the resources of clerics, druids, wizards, sorcerers, scrolls, wands, demons, devils, devas, genies, etc.?

Now, I've heard all the reasons and excuses for adding them.  "A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", as Arthur C. Clarke is attributed as saying.  Okay, fine.  Then psionics is just like arcane and divine magic.  Just like it.  Anti-magic shell stops it.  Dispel magic stops it.  Ring of Spell Turning reflects it.  Rod of Absorption absorbs it.  And I can already hear the screams of "But no! It's different!"

Fine, it's different.  Explain to me how within the context of a fantasy milieu that a group of individuals developed a psionic an area with gods, demons, and mages.  Go ahead.  You can't because it doesn't make sense in that context.

But I am perfectly okay with psionics in any other genre of rpg's.  I think it works best in a SF setting in fact.  Just look at Vulcans in Star Trek, Jedi in Star Wars, River Tam in Firefly, etc.  It fits there.  It's the "magic" of the system there.   It just does not fit in fantasy.

That's my two cents on it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gaming Campaigns

I've always had difficulty coming up with fresh ideas for a campaign in gaming.  My players haven't complained but I guess I just feel the need to try new things and different outlooks other than "kill stuff and take its gold".  Even Old School gaming is more fun if there's more options that "Fireball".  Thus, I thought I'd share one campaign idea I developed because I had a player state "Urban games are boring.  There's no adventure in a city."  Challenge Accepted.

This was right after the gaming group had switched to 3.5 and Necromancer Games had a lot of great stuff coming out.  Unfortunately, they appeared to lose their focus and the two owners got busy with life....and we lost a great potential 3rd party gaming company.  Anyway, the reason I bring them up is because they had acquired the rights to update and sell the oldest published game setting for D&D: Judges Guild's Wilderlands.  Many people think Greyhawk was first, but that kinda depends on which one you saw first....and I saw Wilderlands before I saw Greyhawk.  Yeah, subjective judgement, but I'm a DM and that's my ruling.

Well, Necromancer Games (NG) published a wonderful boxed set of the original material including the original 18 maps in their original 17"x22" format.  They published  a Player's' Guide with updated classes, new feats, gods and skills.  And they republished the original City State of the Invincible Overlord.  So, I set the campaign in CSIO.  The characters started at 3rd level in a group.  I ran some individual background games for some of them to help flesh out the characters.  The PC's became a group when they all showed up for a job at the same time.

The first job was to find a missing heiress.  The father was widowed and the daughter was destined to marry another noble's son.  I used an adventure from the Wizard's website, a mini-adventure which was pretty useless as written but had a great basic concept.  The group searched out the city to find out if the young lady had run off with a suitor or had been kidnapped by a rival noble.  In actuality, the daughter had threatened to run off and the dad locked her away to "find" her on his own on the day of the wedding.  Of course, our group of PC's are the heroes so they foil his plan, find the girl's true love and help set things to a happy ending.  But they've made an enemy of the dad.

The CSIO has a wonderful mechanic called the Beggars' Guild, in which beggars are information centers.  If you can find the book, either the NG book or the original JG materials (avoid the Mayfair Games edition), it's worth the price.  So, the group now has beggars watching them.  The news of their success reach the ears of a riverboat captain who's 10 year old daughter is missing.  He asks the group for help.  He fears that someone from his shady past has taken her but he's not sure who.

This is where I decided to lay out different paths for the group to follow.  Basically, I came up with three different adventure paths: 1) the young girl is held in another city by a mage who wants the captain to smuggle something very dangerous into the CSIO, 2) a group is looking for certain items to summon a demon to attack the Overlord so that the leader of the group can ascend to the throne, and 3) another group from a rival City is working on a method to turn the CSIO's goblin slaves into lycanthropes which will weaken the city for an attack.  Well, guess what?  The players thought there was only one adventure path and so chased the clues for all three paths equally.  Then struggled to determine how the different clues fit together.  Linear thinking at its best......even when I outright told them that it's a LARGE CITY so there might be more adventures than one.  They worked from 3rd to 8th level, using CSIO's half XP awards, and never figured it out.  Unfortunately, the campaign fell apart after we lost 3 of the players for various reasons.

For completeness sake, here's what I had planned for each path.  Path 1:  The girl was held by a gnome mage who was trying to slip a special magic item he had created to allow him to use as a focus for a Teleport spell.  He had hoped to make it into a rival Mage's treasury to grab a batch of loot and get out.  When the group couldn't separate the paths, I had him working with the demon group to get the components he needed.  Path 2: this group needed three items to call up Yogg and turn him loose on the Overlord.  They had two of the items and were searching for a 3rd when they picked up that they were being observed by the PC's.  However, the ritual they were going to use was a false on planted by the Overlord's secret police, the Black Lotus.  They were monitoring the situation and decided to let the PC's take the hurt to end the group instead of endangering themselves.  They even tried to recruit the PC with the most street smarts.  Path 3: the spies here were mostly wererats and so would often fight amongst themselves more than push the objective.  They were just beginning to put their plan into action when the PC's torched the warehouse of tainted drink, which the PC's had confused as the hideout for the demon cult.

And it was this campaign which sowed the seeds of my discontent with 3.5.  It was tough producing NPCs and monsters and magic items which fit within the rules.  The players didn't help because they chose either oddball classes or strange races.  The min/maxer wanted a houri type of character.  One wanted a psionic race and class......I hate psionics.....yeah, that'll be another post.  Anyway, long story short, the character's didn't have all the necessary skills or abilities to handle what was thrown at them.  They also thought everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was related to the adventure path.  Well, next time, I'll either lambast about how I hate psionics or I'll tell of another campaign.  We'll see.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monster Idea

Sorry for the lack of posts of late.  School gave us a 4 day weekend and I've been getting caught up on grading tests and lab reports as well as doing some reading, organizing that wreck of a man cave I have, and just resting.  One of the things I came across was an old photocopy of a monster stat block and description.  The creature was used by the guy who taught me D&D way back in 1978.  (Thanks, Grant!) He said this was the creation of one of his frat brothers at Rose-Hulman.  So, if you recognize this, let me know so I can properly credit you.  Below is my best transcription of the page.


Number Appearing: 1-2 (75%), 1-20 (15%), 2-40 (5%), 3-60 (3%), 5-100 (1%), 20-400 (1%)
Armor Class: 6+dexterity
Move: 6"
Hit Dice: 4
% in Lair: 40%
Treasure Type: Qx5; G, W; U
# of Attacks: 2 or 1
Damage/Attack: 1-8, 1-8, or by weapon type
Special Attacks: Cause Depression, Curse (leaders only)
Special Defenses: +1 or better weapon to hit
Magic Resistance: 10%
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic-Depressed (Neutral)
Size: 4 1/2' - 5 1/2'
Psionics: Special

Grumble Beasts appear as pudgy, hairless gorillas with grey skin.  They travel about looking for Luck Stones to give to their leaders.  They were cursed long ago by a high level cleric or a god for some offense and the curse has affected the whole species.  All but the "priests" are cursed with bad luck and continual depression.  Each Grumble Beast  has the ability to Cause Depression (save vs. Spells) in any individual.  Killing a Grumble Beast will transact its curse to its killer (save vs. Magic) with 1-3 days, save for half time.

Leader types: "Priests" are good luck charms.  All Grumble Beasts within sight of a priest will have the curse temporarily negated.  Killer of a priest gains the enmity and curse of the entire tribe for as long as they live.  If the tribe is killed, same as above applies.

For every 10, the "priest" is a 1st level Cleric and the chief has 5 HD with AC 5.
For every 20, the "priest" is a 2nd level Cleric and the chief has 6 HD with AC4.
For every 40, the "priest" is a 3rd level Cleric and the chief has 7 HD with AC 3.
For every 100, the "priest" is a 3rd level Cleric and the chief has 7 HD with AC 0 and +2 or better weapon to hit.
King of the Grumble Beasts has 10 HD, AC -2, and is Chief Priest (5th level Cleric).  Only +3 weapons or better will hit.

Every 50 years, all Grumble Beasts attend a large gathering.  If encountered in numbers greater than 50, the tribe is in exodus for 1-4 years to a new land.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Adventure Hook 2

Here's another adventure hook/idea for any DM.

Scrap of parchment found in room at inn.  "...6 paces from the crypt sundial stands a stone amid tall grass and ruin.  At its base are 4 tiles.  Beneath the fish tile is a key, carved from a single crystal.  It will open the spell book of Orthabbas hidden in...."

Who lost this?  Where is this crypt?  Who was Orthabbas?  Curious adventurers want to know....

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Adventure Hooks In General and One Hook to Start with

This will be primarily a gaming post.  So, if you're not into D&D, you might want to pass.

A post on the Old School Gamers group on FB, got me to thinking about when and how I started gaming.  It was Thanksgiving of 1978 and a friend's brother came back from Rose Hulman with a little white box that had 4 little brown books in it.  He also had some funny looking dice, a blue hardback with monsters on it, and a thin dark colored hardback with this cool pic of guys prying a large gem eye from a giant stone idol.  We rolled up two characters each and entered his dungeon pyramid.  My fighter character died in at a trapped door 30 feet in.  It was soooo coooooollllll.  I was hooked.

Unfortunately, there really weren't that many miniatures being produced of fantasy characters or monsters.  I looked around for almost a year before finding a little store in Odessa which had some of those gaming books, some dice, and a few miniatures.  One still sticks in my head even though I didn't buy it.  I wish I had now.  It was a female in a fancy dress with long hanging sleeves.  Her arms were up as though casting a spell or warding off a blow.  At that time, I just thought it was interesting, put it back on the shelf and kept looking for my Gandalf-clone character.  But the image kept popping in my head every time I sat down to work on my own dungeons.   Eventually, I got the idea of making the mini into a treasure with a back story.   

But back then we didn't call them "adventure hooks".  They were part of the overall story.  I had her as treasure in every single campaign I've run.  No one has bothered to follow up on her, to learn who she is or why she's in that pose.  Even when I pointed out that she radiated strong magic.  So, I'm going to share her with you all in the hopes someone will use her and can tell her story for me.

Found in a rich man's pocket or in a bag of loot from a thief:  A tiny figurine of an angry-looking woman in an ornate dark blue gown.  Her bare arms are raised as if in supplication or warding off a threat.  Her expression is on of anger and surprise.
        Actually is a real woman mage, Nanzil Starspeladine of Kontal'qiru, trapped long ago by an enemy who tricked her into drinking a potion of diminution then hitting her with a temporal stasis spell.  If freed, she will be enraged at Arch-Mage Anthilar, dead now for over 300 years.  She will be confused by the changes in Tandok and upset at the destruction of her city.  She will do anything to get spell books, preferrably her own which may have survived the destruction.
If you use her, let me know how your players interact with her.  Thanks for reading.