Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Mountain Awakens

The Mountain Awakens
Being a continuation of the journal of the stalwart Jack Summerisle, Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches, and companions various and sundry, as they complete their quest in the subterranean world of Pellucidar. 

My companions: Thia Moonbrook, elven cleric of life; Jade, half-elven ranger archer; Cankles, ogre barbarian; Flagan d'Gallandha, halfling monk; Yuv, dragonborn cleric of radiance.

We moved on to the final altar, which was in a room containing massive piles of sand. By holding the wand of the giant priest, we kept the sand at bay long enough to hear the altar's demand -- that we forswear all dealings with undead creatures. This we all promptly swore, and we were granted passage further into the temple.

The next chamber contained three sets of giant priestly cassocks. These enchanted robes requested three of our number to take on the mantle of eternal protectors of the temple. We considered this for a time, and when we refused, the robes attacked. The garments bound those whom they could grab tightly, and we fought against them with much violence, eventually defeating the magical frocks. We suffered some wounds, but none of our number succumbed.

Beyond this was the goal of our long quest. The Heart of the Mountain stood before us, but its form was elfin and delicate, not at all as Yuv had seen in his dreams. We called out, beseeching the great Spirit of the Mountain to awaken, but it heard us not. We readied the stone holy texts which we had recovered from Lungbarrow, the living mansion, and holy incense and offerings of the giantish wine. This attracted the notice of several spirit guardians.

We negotiated with the spirits, eventually succeeding in awakening the Heart of the Mountain. We then plead our case, and when the Spirit of the Mountain learned of the Ghoul Kingdom, and the Ghoul King's desire to summon demons to aid his conquest of the realms within the mountain, it took action. We were whisked down a deep pit, eventually feeling the odd sensation of switching from orientation for the world below to the normal world above which we had not seen for so many long months.

We arrived in the kingdom of the Stone People, the only ones not to have fled from the Ghoul King, and witnessed the destruction rained upon the ghouls by the Spirit of the Mountain. We will rest here with our allies the Stone People, then finally venture above. It has been so long since I have witnessed the sun and its warmth. It will be odd to finally return to the green lands above, where my heart yearns. I shall be singing the Greensong in the fields and forests before long. We have achieved victory, and now must seek out a new quest.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation

I finished Stranger Things season 3, and got back to watching old episodes of Star Trek on Netflix. I'd watched the first 3 (the 2-part pilot and the one where they all get 'drunk' and Data & Yar get it on) a few months ago, and for the past few days I've been watching more. It's interesting to see how in the first few episodes, the planet scenery was very evocative of TOS planet sets, but even just 7 episodes in, they've already improved the sets and effects.

The scripts are so far hit or miss. I think it probably will remain so for this season. I'd forgotten that the Ferengi were introduce so early in the series. Quark and family were such a big part of DS9 and I hadn't seen these older TNG episodes for so long that it had completely slipped my mind that they were an early addition to this series.

Tasha Yar's death should be coming up soon. It was a real shocker when the season first aired. She was one of my favorites back then. Yes, teenage me thought she was hot. Now, I'm really finding her to be not such the compelling character. She had potential, with her background as coming from a colony that had devolved into barbarism with rape gangs, which she escaped from. But it's not delved into deeply enough, and the character gets killed off before they really can.

It's not like they've really fleshed out ANY of the characters yet, other than Picard. It's forming, I can see it, but the writers were obviously working things out as they went, trying things to see what worked, and probably the actors were interpreting the scripts in interesting ways that the writers later picked up on and rolled with.

Still, despite a few wonky scripts and some cheesy sets/effects, these early episodes are holding up fairly well in my estimation.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The iron is hot

So my West Marches game is going really well these days with the influx of some new players (especially Justin, who ran the old Vaults of Ur game I used to play in and post about a few years back). And that's been giving me the impetus to get more areas of the map keyed.

Just this week, I've keyed about 25 new hexes. Not all of them have encounters, of course, and some are fairly simple encounters. But those hexes are two different regions, and each has a small dungeon in it. One of the dungeons is finished and ready to go. The other is a bit bigger and more complex, and I drew the map myself rather than repurposing someone else's map (which I often do, including for the smaller dungeon I did this week).

I finished up drawing the map for the larger dungeon today, and I've got ideas for most of the rooms in which I plan to place encounters. There are 33 rooms, so by the old BX/BECMI stocking table, there should be around 11 monster encounters, 11 empty rooms, and the other rooms split between traps/hazards and specials (5 and 6, we'll see how it goes). I know at least one special will be a monster encounter with WAY overpowered opponents who are not hostile (at least at first...if the PCs press their buttons, it's another matter).

Anyway, it has been a while since I'd keyed new areas on the map. I'm up to about 1/3 of the 520 or so hexes keyed, with about 1/6 explored by the party. They've been sticking fairly close to town recently, so it's not like it's pressing to get more areas keyed at the moment, but since I've got the inspiration to do it now, might as well!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Square Circle Retainers

Yesterday in my West Marches game, the players managed to complete the Bugbear Cave in the Caves of Chaos. Those of you familiar with the module will remember that...

Spoiler Alert if you've never played it!

...the bugbears have two prison chambers. In one of them is a renegade bugbear and a captured 4th level Fighter (or Hero). In the previous session the players managed to free the other prisoners. Yesterday, they freed these guys (after slaughtering the captured gnolls, who to be honest had it coming).

Now, I've been having a bit of eye trouble (an eye infection I had a few weeks ago seems to be lingering but of minor annoyance level) and I was having a bit of trouble focusing on the printout (I have the module in PDF, so printed it out for use at the table). 30 year old module with cramped typesetting, then scanned however many years ago and converted to PDF, then printed out doesn't make it the most readable.

The description of the human prisoner is also spread over two pages.

Anyway, I read the beginning of the description: huge and muscular, with a shaggy beard and wild eyes. I kinda glanced over the back side of the description while the players were asking me about him, and saw that he's a berserker who has a chance to "accidentally" strike the players if they fight alongside him.  But I didn't keep reading to the part where it says he'll betray the party the first chance he gets and abscond with the treasure.

Anyway, they were asking for his name, and how big he was compared to the party's Berserker (my homebrew version of the 3E/5E Barbarian for Classic D&D) and the Muscle Wizard (just a Magic-User, but with a 16 Strength and good Constitution as well). He's more muscular than both, with a Str 18. And the wild eyes and beard description made me think of Macho Man Randy Savage.

So, Randy the Savage he became. Oooo yeah!!! And he didn't end up hitting an ally during the next fight with fire beetles. But since he had no armor, when they found the shield +1 in the store room, they gave it to him. So he did abscond with some of their treasure. :D

Anyway, he's now an NPC in town who might be persuaded to accompany the PCs on future adventures.

TL/DR: I made an impromptu characterization of an NPC as a classic era WWE wrestler.

Last night, I was looking for wrestler-themed fantasy art. I've got a picture of Hulk Hogan as a Conan-style barbarian from somewhere (had the picture for many years). I've seen luchador fantasy before. But no one seems to be producing art showing WWF/WCW/WWE wrestlers facing dragons and zombies and whatnot. Curious.
Anyway, I now have a plan to turn a bunch of 80's/90's wrestling characters into NPCs who could become retainers. And they won't all be warrior types. Some will definitely be spell-casters!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review: Spider-Man Far From Home (spoiler free)

Saw Spider-Man Far From Home today. I liked it, overall. It was good, and had a lot of well-done humor in it, and some cool action scenes. If you're a Spidey fan or an MCU fan, definitely go see it.

And I promised to keep this spoiler free, but if you haven't seen Avengers: Endgame, though, DO NOT go see this movie until you've seen Endgame. Certain events (well, one in particular) casts a long shadow over this movie.

So as you've likely seen from the trailer, Peter Parker and his class (those who were blipped out by Thanos) are taking a trip to Europe during summer vacation. He thinks he can leave Spider-Man behind for a few months, but of course not. Nick Fury needs his help against elementals that are attacking. And Mysterio has come from another Earth to battle them.

Oh, and for the parents - is there cursing in the movie? Just a little. In fact, I can't really remember any swears in it. There probably were one or two, I just don't remember them.

I've been sitting here for about 5 minutes after typing the previous sentence trying to think how to best phrase this. I liked Far from Home. It was fun, it was funny, it was exciting.


You knew that 'but' was coming, right?

But there was something just a little bit off about the movie. Maybe it was that the big mid-movie twist was not at all a surprise (although the callbacks to previous MCU movies involved was fun). Maybe it was just that ANYTHING that followed Infinity War/Endgame was going to have some weirdness to it, and lack that emotional resonance of Endgame. Maybe that was it? It was just the MCU returning to normal after this very big abnormal event.

I did really like how they handled Mysterio, and the special effects of his powers was really cool. Spidey having a hard time accepting his position as a big-time super hero was good. Nick Fury and Maria Hill...what exactly are they doing? They aren't S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore, so what's up with their new organization? It isn't explained (and a post-credit scene with them adds more questions than it answers).

Maybe what's bothering me was that the highlight of the film was J.K. Simmons' cameo/return to the role he was made to play, J. Jonah Jameson.

I did like it better than Spider-Man: Homecoming, but again (like Captain Marvel) it's not going to jump up to the top-tier of my ranking of favorite MCU movies.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Test Run

Played some Caverns  & Cowboys last night with the guys on Hangouts/Roll20. There were a few minor issues, but mostly Dean, Jeremy and Ken had a positive reaction to the game.

There was a little bit of confusion with the different ability scores from D&D standard. I've based the system on the Star Frontiers d% system, so the ability scores and their abbreviations can get confusing. For example, in SF there is an ability abbreviated INT but it stands for Intuition, not Intelligence. LOG (Logic) is closer to D&D Int. Also, PER is Personality, but they kept assuming it was Perception.

Char gen is fairly easy as far as ability scores and skill selection, but buying equipment was the thing that slowed it down. Dean missed having "ready pack" options like in 4E and 5E D&D, so I may come up with some suggestions for that. Jeremy just copy/pasted my sample character's gear then added a few things he wanted, so that was fairly fast for him. Ken is a bit of an Old West history buff, so he was pleased to see the wide selection of gear available.

Anyway, Dean's suggestion of some sample starting packs would be a good idea to help people get into the game faster. Also, Ken (who played a doctor) noticed that I forgot to put medical kits and laudanum and other period medicines on the list. To be added. I should make sure other skill sets that need tools/equipment have them available as well.

The big departure from Star Frontiers is the magic system I cobbled together. I did some research on period mystical/magical belief systems (Jeremy appreciated this level of setting detail) and came up with some appropriate magical traditions. Using the SF skill system of one skill with discrete subskills as a package, each magical tradition is a skill and each spell is a subskill. They improve in potency as you level up the magical skill. Dean took Mesmerism as one of his starting skills, and put it to good use with a seance to gather information and later hypnotism to pacify a villain. So far, it didn't seem broken. The other traditions, and magic skills at medium to high level play still need to be tested, though.

The combat system worked well (I knew from Star Frontiers that it should). Chances to hit for beginning characters are low and there are more negative modifiers to attacks than positives, so there was a lot of missing by both sides. Dean was a bit put off by this at first, but since Ken and Jeremy were commenting on how this was more like a real firefight, where lots of bullets do miss unless you're really close to your target, Dean got on board with it. I know from experience that once those combat skills get up to around 3 or 4, combat gets a lot easier.

The scenario I ran them through was a simple one. Sheriff Bart of the town of Justice asked them to go to the smaller town of Liberty nearby and run off some bandits who had taken over the town. After a bit of haggling over the reward, they set out and on the way were ambushed by blink coyotes (blink dogs from D&D of course). They had trouble hitting the blink dogs, and took a lot of small bites. Finally, they wounded enough of the blink coyotes that the creatures decided to find easier prey and vanished. The party decided to head back to town to hire some extra guns to take on the bandits.

In town, Dean's character Schmitt performed his seance to contact a victim of the bandits and get some intel. They each also hired a rifleman to accompany them. When they got to Liberty, there were four bandits guarding a bridge over a creek south of town. They spotted the bandits, the bandits spotted them. Both sides took cover, and one bandit ran into town to alert the others. The firefight was fairly long, as I mentioned above, lots of missed shots (mostly due to range and cover penalties to hit). After five or six rounds the bandit leader, an ogre, appeared and charged across the bridge to attack with its spiked club. They did a good amount of damage to the ogre, but it nearly killed one of their hired guns before Schmitt could hypnotize it to sleep. Then, Sam (the hired gun of Jeremy's character Hezekiah) managed to roll a 01 and 02 to hit, which are knock-out rolls in the system. So two of the three bandits went down the same round as the ogre boss. The final bandit surrendered, and the other bandits carousing in town fled to the wilderness when they got the news.

When the ogre woke up, they questioned him (with a bit more hypnosis to make him talkative) and found their lair was a cave outside town. After securing the ogre with chains in a root cellar, they set out and found the lair, getting just over $1000 in silver coins, a potion, and a magic wand. On Hezekiah's orders, Sam drank the potion (the order was drink, not sip! Jeremy had maybe a little too much whiskey as we played!) and so had clairvoyance for an hour with nothing to view. :D Back in town, the sheriff of Justice arrived with a Justice of the Peace and they gave the ogre his trial, found him guilty, and hung him by his neck until he was dead.

So the scenario I sorta whipped up out of next to nothing worked well, and since the players were into the idea of D&D with Western trappings, it seemed to work out well. I think this little game has some promise.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Had a good session today

In my West Marches game today, the players really took control and directed the game. And I had more laughs during the session that I've had in a while.

First, they debated following up an old rumor or just trying to explore some blank hexes. They decided to explore, but thought they should go back to town first (they had camped at an abandoned elven tree-fort which they reclaimed last session). Back in town, they got a new rumor which intrigued them. After more discussion, they decided to follow up the old rumor after all.

This brought them back to the Caves of Chaos. They cleared out the "Shunned Cave" (the gray oozes had already been destroyed by a previous party, so it was just the owlbear and some random giant rats to deal with). Because of some wounds, they decided to return to town AGAIN.

Then they returned to the Caves and explored the bugbear cave (which one of the players and his daughter, who didn't come today had partially explored before). They did a bit more exploration, managed to weaken the bugbear forces, and freed some prisoners. Thanks to a random comment from one of the players, the captured orcs in the bugbear prison turned out to be some of the orcs they had ransomed and released in the retaking of the elf stronghold in the last session.

They're hoping to sew division among the mysterious Horned Society. Warduke, first leader of the Caves of Chaos, was slain by a previous party, but a new leader is again trying to organize the caves. They also know there are two other Horned Society leaders, Kelek and Lareth. They're name dropping both to try and get the factions in-fighting.

I really like how this current group of players like to play. Makes running the game so much more entertaining for me.