Saturday, September 29, 2012

Squishing Freeport into 1st ed. AD&D

This was an interesting experiment.  Well, it's still an on-going experiment, but last night was certainly interesting.  I had expected more resistance from this group about playing something old school.  However, I think my comment about including rudimentary firearms assuaged any arguments.  Since half of the players prefer the newer versions of D&D, and the others just want to roleplay irrespective of the rules in play, I put together a short one page set of starting rules.  Ability scores chosen by arranging the following values (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8) into the 6 characteristics.  These can be modified based upon race chosen.  I dumped the level limits and racial class restrictions but only allowed the classes of Fighter, Ranger, Cleric, Druid, Magic-User, and Thief.  They could choose from any of the races in the PHB.  They all started with the average starting gold for their class.  I dropped weapon speeds and weapon vs. AC adjustments but kept spell casting time limits.  I also went with group initiative based on a d10 where the number is the segment in the round in which you act.  I asked for a Three Sentence Backstory as described here.  Lastly, I added the following house rules, all spelled out so that there would be no confusion:

1.  Magic-users get the same bonuses for high Int that Clerics & Druids get for high Wis.
2.  Weapon proficiency rules apply.
3.  Magic-users may use magical longswords, but not mundane ones.
4.  Clerics may use the preferred weapon of their diety, even if it is edged, with no penalty.
5.  Thief players may choose to use the thieving abilities as spelled out in the 1st ed PHB or may opt to use the 2nd ed point distribution.
6.  No AC adjustments for weapons but size adjustments still in force.
7.  Spell use is modified to the following: spell casters prepare all known spells each day however may only cast the maximum number of spells allowed by their level and ability score modifier per day.  Thus, a first level magic-user with a 16 intelligence can prepare all 7 spells he knows, but is limited to casting only 3 of those spells per day.
8.  After any battle, those injured may choose to down a pint of wine or ale and receive half hit points or 1d6 hit points back, whichever is lower. (I call this my Conan rule.)
9.  When the thief character attempts to use an ability, the player rolls the "one's" die and I will roll the "ten's" die to determine if the ability succeeds or fails.
10.  While the game mat may be used to help draw out rooms and such, the "5 foot square" concept of miniatures movement does not apply.  The original movement in inches does and ignores the grid.

The first one to arrive announced that one of the other players had just texted in to say that he had a job opportunity show up, so he would not be able to play.  However, they had worked together on their character concepts and decided the absent player was going to be a half-orc fighter and the present player would be his half-orc little brother who is a thief.  The older brother is trying to teach the younger brother the respectable trade of being a mercenary and the younger brother just keeps seeing the short cuts.  Next player arrived, heard the half-orc concept and joined in as a half-orc cleric who is helping to shepherd the young one into a better choice of profession.  Next player thought it would be really funny if the entire party ended up being half-orcs and thought the Freeport background helped to encourage that.  So, he made a half-orc fighter who was a childhood friend.  Our video chat player popped in, heard the half-orc pattern developing but had already gotten an idea for a halfling fighter.  He modified it to be a mentally unbalanced halfling who thought he was half halfling and half orc, so he was a quarter orc or a "quorck".  And to compensate for his size, he upped his strength and bought a 2 handed sword.  The last two players arrived shortly after that.  One had zero experience with AD&D so he just opted to copy one of the other fighter's stats and pick different armor.  The other decided to be different by choosing to play an elven ranger/magic-user.  Surprisingly, sort of, he was the one who complained the most about the rules.

Side track for a moment:  I had been reading about the OSRIC rules for a while now.  In fact, I became aware of them a few months before I attended the first North Texas RPG con.  I downloaded them and skimmed through them.  They were initially so similar to the 1st ed stuff that I was happy to say, "at last, a copy of the 1st ed stuff in one place and better laid out".  However, last night as we were doing up characters and the rubber met the road, we found a lot of little nuances which do not match up.  Stuff like XP amounts to go up a level for some classes, proficiency penalties, and little things like that.  It wasn't game changing but it did confuse us until I just mandated that the PHB took precedence.

Back to the story:  So, once all the characters were rolled up and ready to go, I read the opening for the 1st part of the Freeport Trilogy, Death in Freeport.  Since they were mostly half-orcs, I modified it a bit to fit the group.  They had just arrived in Freeport on a ship run by a captain who apparently didn't know much about merchant vessels.  He had hired the group to be sailors on this trip to sell some foodstuffs to the island folk.  However, once the ship arrived, the food was found to be completely rotten and worthless.  Now they are stuck in Freeport, with rumors following them about how poor they performed as sailors.  They decided to hit the first tavern they could find and look for work.  They chose the Heave Ho! Tavern in Scurvytown as it was near where the ship put in (randomly determined).  The place is a dump but they started asking for work after the first round of watered down ale.  The only lead they got was related to the construction of the lighthouse.  A beggar came in to size them up and they promptly threw him out.  Deciding that there was nothing here for them, the set out to look around this area of the city.  They went into a pawnshop a few doors down and asked about work there.  The pawnbroker only told them of his troubles.  He was getting all these folks showing up wanting to buy left shoes because someone in a 4 block area was breaking into houses and stealing all the left shoes of every pair in the house.  Some folks thought they might be pawned so they had come to him looking for them.  For some reason, this intrigued the players who decided at that moment the group was going to become private investigators.

Leaving the pawnshop, they saw the beggar that they had thrown out of the tavern was nearby begging from another group of folks.  They proceeded to grab him and question him roughly about the missing left shoes.  He resisted (of course) and then pointed out that a group of 8 rough looking fellows carrying billy clubs were starting to surround the group.  There was an exchange of threats as the ruffians stated they were a press gang for a large ship.  Our group countered with who they were and their connection with the rotting food.  The ruffians were disgusted and disdainful, and decided that they preferred to grab some others who might be competent.  Once they departed, a middle-aged man in robes asked the group if they would be willing to take on a small job for him.  They readily agreed and the robed man took them into the nearest tavern and bought them a round while relating his story.

He introduced himself as Brother Egin, a monk in the temple of Seker, the God of Knowledge.  He wanted the group to find out what happened to Lucius, the temple's librarian and his friend since childhood.  Lucius had gone missing about 2 weeks ago and Egin was worried that it might be related to the last time he disappeared six years ago.  When Lucius had returned, he acted funny.  He didn't remember all his friends or what his duties were, but he took over the library again and treated it like it was his own personal place.  He was often rude to the other brothers and to visiting monks.  He started asking odd questions about things from the War of the Pious and Philosophers.  Lastly, he started spending the temple's money buying up books and such from that time.  Then he disappeared for a few days.  When returned, he was back to his normal self but very concerned because he could not remember any of the time he was gone.

The group asked to investigate the temple and Egin led them there.  On the way, he pointed out Lucius's home, which caused the group to stop and investigate it.  They found the place messy but not ransacked.  Searching it led to the discovery of Lucius's diary in a hidden compartment of his desk.  The diary mentioned a few names and hinted at something cultish.  The group then resumed their trip to the temple.  They met with a  couple of novices charged with watching over Lucius for the past few months.  They also met with Milo, the assistance of one of the temple's high priests.  He gave a few bits of information but appeared haughty and disdainful to the half-orcs preferring to talk almost exclusively with the elf.

Leaving the temple, the group headed back to Lucius's home which they now claimed as their own.  However, waiting outside the house was a man in chain mail who suggested they stop asking questions about Lucius and mind their own business.  "Okay," they responded in genuine agreement.  Deflated, he leaves and heads off to a tavern in the Docks quarter.  The thief and the halfling follow him.  Chainmail guy meets with a nicely dressed gentleman.  They exchange a few words, gentleman gives a small pouch to chainmail, chainmail exits through back door while gentleman leaves through front door.  Halfling follows gentleman, thief follows chainmail.  Chainmail goes two blocks down, enters tavern, meets with other guys in armor and shares pouch with them.  They stay and drink away money.  Halfling observes gentleman enter dilapidated house with bricked up windows.  No other entrances.  Decides to call in back up.  Gets back to group as thief returns and all head out to house.  Group enters house, finds trap door in floor which leads down to a wine cellar.  One large wine barrel is entrance to underground area, maybe sewers. Going down tunnel, they find a pit trap and two doors.  One door opens into hallway with two doors further down, one on left and one on right then hallway doglegs right to end in double doors of brass.  First door (on left) is locked and thief almost breaks tools trying to open it.  Second door is unlocked and opens into small octagonal room with desk and chair.  Large book with evil writing on desk.  A few smaller books in unknown tongue stacked nearby.  Several reports on building lighthouse as well as letters from a few places on continent again hint at cult intrigue.  Group refuses to try brass doors and goes back to hall way, back to other door by-passed.  This one opens into a large octagonal room painted black with a 10' deep pit in center and stars painted on ceiling.  Opposite of door is altar with stuff on it: silver candelabra, black candles, tongs, silver dagger, black cloth strips.  Pit smells of urine and possibly blood, gives anyone looking into it the creeps.  Group takes books, reports, and cult stuff.

Deciding no one is present, the group returns to the locked door and attempts to break in.  Three tries leads to breaking lock and 20' x 30' room is discovered with 4 large chests, walls hung with gaudy purple curtains, and 6 skeletons rising to deal with intruders.  The cleric steps forward to turn them, realizes he has chosen a Melnibonean god of the sea...who is CE.  So, instead, he takes control of the 6 skeletons and commands them to pull down the curtains.  The thief attempts to unlock the chests, succeeding with two of them.  Just before they can be opened, a secret door which no one had seen opens and 3 snake-men enter.  They attack the group.  The cleric commands the skeletons to attack one.  Everyone else attacked the other two.  Short work, only one fighter injured with a spear thrust.  Investigating chests leads to finding lots of copper, some electrum, and a potion.  The skeletons are dressed in the curtains and commanded to carry the chests back to the house.  On the way out, two more snake men attack, but die with no real effect on group.  Getting to house, group discovers the place was ransacked by someone while they were gone.  Skeletons sent to clean house after putting chests in basement.  Other two chests have more copper and a nice shield.  

So, now the group decides to sell the books to the Temple, getting 600 gp for them.  Tries to find out more about left shoe bandit, but no one has any new info.  They also realize that beggars actively avoid them and everyone gives their purple robed attendants very weird stares.  

Next game picks up from here.  We'll see what happens next.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Continuing Adventures on Mars

So, I've discovered a problem with letting the GM handle/keep all the PC sheets and notes.  I don't have any notes to go by as I write this.  I honestly cannot remember some of the details of our adventures.  Please bear with me as I struggle with this.  Also, please forgive some of my tongue-in-cheek jibes at the Savage Worlds ruleset.  The more I play this system, the less I like it.  It reminds me of all the negative aspects of 1e Munchkin-ism.  (Sorry, Stan.)

We left off last time with the ship effectively destroyed and spiraling into Mars.  Our medical officer, Dr. Scroupe, had been severely injured in a fusillade of gunfire from the hyperactive pirates.  In fact, almost all of us had a scrape or gunshot wound as we tried to find ways to prepare for impact.  Gathering our strength from somewhere, we dumped the dozen or so casks of black powder (as well as Logan's dynamite) overboard to prevent any explosive demise in the first few minutes of sitting down at the table. 

Rules Observation Sidenote:  Rolling damage in SW is very interesting.  The numbers really don't mean much as they are.  They are guidelines for tracking the level of injury.  What I was able to finally figure out (with much help from Dewayne) is that first you roll to determine if you even are injured.  This has a "success" value which you try to roll under.  Of course, everything is rolled with a "wild die", a distinct d6 which can add to whatever you are rolling on another die or dice.  So, to determine if you are injured, you roll versus your Vigor (I think I got his right).  Logan has a d8 Vigor, so rolling a d8 gave me a 2 and my wild die was a 1.  So, since neither was above 4 (the target number) Logan was not wounded.  However, Scroupe's player had a d6.  He rolled a 6 and a 5 on his wild die.  The 6 "exploded" which meant he rolled it again and added 6.  He rolled another 6, boom, and again which resulted in a 4.  Thus, he rolled a 16.  He was wounded, with 2 "raises".  So, his health dropped by three more Incapacitated.  Confused?  Yeah, so were most of us.  But here's how the rules work on this, I think; if you are wounded (no matter by 1 point above the target number or 7 above) you do not subtract numbers.  Instead, you drop the health level number by 1.  It drops by more if there are "raises", which are multiples of the target number.  Thus, Scroupe rolled 16 against a target number of 4.  This meant he had one "raise" at 8 (2x4), and another at 12 (3x4), and probably should have had a third at 16.  To die, you have to drop something like 6 or 7 levels of health, and fail a stat roll for each wound (which you can reroll if you have Bennies.....don't go there, it's another long explanantion.) and then fail one final stat roll against death.  It can lead to very cinematic styles of play but it's dang confusing to us old school gamers.  You roll your damage and subtract that from your HP is easy.  This SW health stuff is confusing.

Back to the story:  So, the characters did their best to find soft places to be when the ship crashed into the Martian landscape.  Since we've had a couple of players out for the past few games and we all pretty much decided this was not our cup of tea, we "cinematic-ally" had them die in the crash so we weren't hauling more unconscious folks about than we already had.  In the crash, Scroupe and Stein were "walking wounded" which meant they could only talk but not act in any real way.  The captain of the ship was also badly injured as well and unconscious.  Reviewing the maps and such, the PC's determined that they were roughly halfway between Thoth and Syrtis Major (two big Martian citiies) and about 70 to 90 miles west of the nearest canal.  Since everything was too far to walk with wounded and since we didn't want to split the party, we started brainstorming and checking on what all we had in terms of raw materials.  There were several dead bodies of crewmen from the ship, some water and food in the galley, some oil in the engine, our clothes, and an old semaphore signal lamp.  Logan suggested taking the masts and some of the ship, spelling out SOS in large letters (like 40 feet tall), putting the dead bodies on the wood, soaking it all down with oil and lighting it at nightfall.  The SOS should be visible from orbit, so other ships might see us and send help.  If a skimmer came by, we could try to signal it with the semaphore lamp. 

The process worked well.  The smoky signal was seen from orbit and from afar on the ground.  Our first set of rescuers were a group of canal Martians who had just survived an attack by barbaric Shashtaph Martians and who would help us get to the canal and then on to Thoth.  However, we were attacked by another band of barbarians as we prepared to go.  During the battle, Logan killed two with two shots.  The 2nd in command of the canal group showed himself to be a traitor and Dr. Upthegrove shot him.  The other barbarians were dealt with rapidly and we gathered their mounts and weapons.  As we prepared again to leave, a large skimmer showed up.  It was from Syrtis Major.  It picked us up and carried all of us into the big city.

Since we had arrived more than two weeks ahead of the DuBois's who were coming here to help a Martian terrorist group, we had time to heal up and explore the city.  We chose instead to heal up and just jump ahead.  We contacted the British authorities and had them issue arrest warrants for the DuBois's and we all met them at the ship when it landed.  Logan was disappointed to not be allowed to shoot down the ship, or to shoot them as they left the ship, and then to be told to not be allowed to be at the ship when it docked.  On the way to the ship, we encountered a group of Martian thugs beating up an older Martian.  Most of us ignored it.  Logan wanted to just dynamite them and keep walking but was told that might hurt the buildings around them, so he walked on.  Boothe challenged the leader to face someone tougher than an old Martian or get out.  The thugs left and warned the old Martian to be ready to hand over "the information".  Then the leader activated some steam-punkish exosuit and wall crawled up out of the alley.

The DuBois's were arrested after a short fight and brought to separate interrogation rooms.  Logan and Scroupe (who had lost some of his human compassion) decided to interrogate Mr. DuBois first.  And by interrogate, we mean discuss and try various torture techniques on him.  If he wanted to talk, that would be okay, but that was secondary to getting revenge for the zombies, shipwreck, and associated chaos thrown into our lives.  Didn't really discover much new information.  Got more of the "special" red sand which makes people into zombies and learned that the old guy we rescued in the alley has vital information for breaking this activity.  We turned Mr. DuBois over to Miss Weathers so she could get her revenge for what they did to her father.  Scroupe waterboarded Mrs. DuBois to gather information and then to break her mind so she couldn't inform her allies who we were or how much we knew. 

And that's where we stopped for the night.  A couple of the PCs are no more than sociopaths and not very nice to play.  I think I went down that dark road initially because I was trying for dark humor.  But I think that my confusion and frustration with the rules began to be expressed in Logan's actions.  At least, that's what it looks like to me in hindsight.  I feel bad about this and I apologize here publicly to Stan, our GM, for this turn of events.  I look forward to finishing this little adventure because I want to see where it goes.  However, I don't think I'll ever want to play SW again. I'm just not into cinematic games. 

So, one more episode and we should be done.  After that, I have offered to run an urban adventure in the City State of the Invincible Overlord using 1e AD&D/OSRIC rules.  I might offer to run a Traveller game instead, but I'm not sure.  Marshall might be talked into running a Cavemaster game.  And Chris has offered to run a B/X game in Castle Mauve/Castle of the Mad Archmage.  We'll decide in a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Turn Behind the Screen Again

There was no post last week because the game fell through.  Folks were attacked by real life adversaries (new job duties, illness, home projects, etc.), so we opted to have a night off.  I ended up watching old M*A*S*H* episodes, reading gaming blogs, and trying to get a grip on Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerors of Hyperborea.  The game has some cool dynamics I'd like to try but I'm having trouble coming up with a good intro adventure for it.  It'll hit me soon enough.

So, last Friday's game was with the Sky Pirates group.  However, half of the group also had life attack them: family time, travel for job, overwork, etc.  Since we're on hiatus with the Sky Pirates until the DM can figure out what to throw at us next, I volunteered to run a Basic D&D game.  Now, in my mind, I was thinking of the word "basic" as in just the original book from the original set.  However, as the group gathered, I had to rethink this because the general attitude toward the rules set was best.  I brought out Labyrinth Lord and my red box book and put aside the Holmes books...and pushed them to roll up 2 characters each (because we ended up with only 3 out of 7 players present and I didn't want to cancel a game twice like this).  Once the adventuring group was assembled, I presented them with the dungeon from B1.  They wandered through the lower quadrant, fighting orcs and discovering that the original inhabitants were not nice guys.  The game wrapped up early after they reached the pool room.  I would try to recount the adventures, but there really wasn't anything that stood out.  There were complaints about the old school approach to mapping...and how clerics don't get spells at 1st level....and how "sucky" a 1st level thief is in this old set.....

Well, I guess I won't be running that set with these guys again.  Not sure what we'll run in two weeks.  I suppose I'll be behind the screen again.  I may either push the AS&SH rules or I might go with my favorite, Swords & Wizardry (3rd printing).

Sorry for the short post.  I'm really feeling hammered right now by allergies.  It's tough to concentrate or work up the effort to type.  I'll try to post more later.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Sailors Who Just Want to Go Home....Get Lost Again

Well, the title is meant to be a summary (of sorts) of our last Sky Pirates game.  We hand nearly the entire complement of players, so it was a great time to work out the "what do we do next" part which occasionally crops up in campaigns.  In fact, I have found this to be true of nearly every campaign I've run or played in.  The group accomplishes one of the major goals...and then looks around for what to do next.  As a DM, that's tough because I don't believe in railroading.  There's absolutely zero fun in riding the rails of the DM's story.  As a player it's tough because unless you were really paying attention to the NPC's and history and hints presented by the DM, you don't know what's out there to investigate.  Once, long ago, I tried to write up a "what every character should know about the world he/she is currently in".  It was at 3 pages when I stopped and realized, no one wants to read this.  So, I have worked hard to make my worlds active and interesting places, and I am not above doing a recap of "what your characters know" when the group appears to be lost.

So, back to the story, we were lifting off with the flying ship.  My character's "girlfriend" had always been earmarked to be the pilot, so that sort of eliminated her role in the game in terms of helping us or anything.  She was busy flying the ship.  We had a quick pow wow and one of our "story driven" players throws out a suggestion.  (This is the guy who hands you 2 pages of back story, with notes that contradict your campaign world's assumptions, when you asked for 5 lines.  And his is in 6 font, narrow margins, and very poor punctuation.)  His psionic dwarf character claimed to have been exiled onto the island where we found him because he discovered a serious problem with the theocracy running his homeland.  He found out that an artifact which was supposed to keep the God Killer asleep had disappeared and was missing....had been missing for who knows how long.  Thus, he felt maybe we could help him go find the missing artifact. 

Since we had nothing else better to do, and because I pointed out that our boat was significantly different from all the flying boats of this land, all of which were owned by ONE Elven guild, that we would soon become targets of this guild.  Also, the orcs which had raided our home had actually raided and invaded several areas.  They were a growing force which we couldn't deal with by ourselves.  The only logical answer would be to run, either into space or to another dimension.  (And no one really commented on how "roguely" my thinking was.)  Everyone then felt that a trip to find an artifact was good.  But we had one thing to do first: Go to the tower of the sorcerer we had defeated and steal her lightweight ballistae since our ship was unarmed.

Thus we rapidly flew to the tower and had to deal with a batch of odd zombies and two goblin things which grew to 8 feet tall and attacked us.  They shot first with the ballistae, hitting our sorcerer and missing our psionic dwarf.  The cleric jumped onto the tower with the barbarian and started laying into the zombies.  Our finesse fighter also jumped in after checking on the sorcerer.  I tried to jump in because we all learned that Pathfinder allows for critical hits and sneak attacks on undead and constructs.  (Now he tells me, after several, SEVERAL battles in which he denied this to me., I'm not bitter....)  I attempt to sneak attack a zombie and fail.  I attempt to sneak attack the goblins, and fail.  I see we're getting clobbered so it's Rod of Wonder time!  First shot was a 16d8 cone of cold on one of the goblin things.  72 points of damage and it only had 20 left.

The surviving goblin Suggests I use the rod on the guys on the tower (two zombies, the cleric, the barbarian, the fighter, and the psionic dwarf).  I fail the Will save and turn the rod on them.  The first shot there was to produce torrential downpour centered on me.  No one can see beyond 10 feet.  The zombies get wiped out.  Those that are out of the rain cloud can see a drake approaching.  The next (and last shot) of the Rod is Chain Lightning.  However the heavy downpour makes it difficult to target the tower so it goes sailing off into space.  The goblin gets smacked by the barbarian and the finesse fighter and the cleric, so he Dimension Doors out.  I'm still Suggested but now I can't fire anymore today, so I just sit down and wait for the rod to recharge.  The sorcerer Dispels the cloud of Despair sent by the goblin (which we learned later was a Greater Barghest) and then Dispels the Suggestion on me.  We ready the ballistae for the drake, I try to use my magical clothes to Disguise myself as the female sorcerer who owns the drake.  Two rounds later, we see she's on the drake...failed plan.

Thus, the lizardfolk who've been avoiding combat had scurried onto the tower, grabbed the ballistae and ammo.  Three of the ballistae make it back on the ship before the drake is in range.  We crank up and shoot.  One hit, two misses.  The next round, we reload the ballistae while those of use with missile weapons attempt to shoot.  Next round, three ballistae shot, three misses.  The psionic dwarf casts Ectoplasmic Ball or some such odd psionic spell which wraps up the drake.  The drake plummets from the sky to take lots of damage on the rocky ground below.  The sorcerer looks irritated as she now has to fly using Boots of Flying which slows her down.  Two bow shots miss her because of some Displacement effect while two hit her.  Our sorcerer casts Hypnotic Pattern and she fails her save.  She's flying 40 feet off our starboard and can't do anything unless we attack her.  Our cleric then chooses to cast Hold Person, thinking this will cause her to fall to her death.  (Always read the spell description, kids, and ask questions.)  It's an attack, so spell broken and Hold Person fails as well because she made her Will save.  Two more arrows shots land and in desperation, she pulls out a rod and slams it into the ship.  All magic turns OFF.   We plummet.  My girlfriend is screaming.  And we fall THROUGH the ground into the Ethereal Plane.

All one time magic items have their magic sucked out by the ship.  All permanent magic items have their magic sucked out for a day by the ship.  The three dryads (reincarnated humans and lizardfolk) are sucked into the wood of the ship.  All our Orb based objects (my sword, the barbarian's sword, the wookie, the helm, everything) is absorbed by the ship.  My girlfriend is grafted to the flying throne chair (think Farscape and the Navigator).  And we're lost on the Ethereal Plane.

We sorely missed our ranger, but we managed to survive.  The next game will be quite a challenge as we try to figure out "how do we get back home"....