Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beast of the Week: Slayer

Remember Krull?  The fantasy movie from, what, 83?  The one with the cool throwing weapon called the glaive?  The cyclops?  Gooseberry pie stealing polymorph scroll carrying wimpy magic-user dude?

The enemy army were called Slayers, and they were pretty cool.  Here's a stab at them going purely from the memory of having watched Krull numerous times (too busy to watch many old DVDs lately, although Krull is in the library).

Armor Class: 3 (17)
Hit Dice: 1+1*
Move: 90 (30)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: by weapon
No. Appearing: 1d6 (3d6)
Save As: Fighter 1
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: C
Alignment: Chaotic

Slayers are symbiotic creatures used by powerful extra-dimensional entities as shock troops.  The Slayer consists of a bio-mechanical humanoid body, well armored and typically carrying a special spear-like weapon that can fire a magic missile, as the spell, once per Turn.  In melee, the weapon functions as a short spear.  Inside the domed helmet of the bio-mechanical body is a foot-long, intelligent, leech-like creature.  When the body (stats above) is killed, the leech breaks out of the helmet and tries to tunnel into the ground and escape back to its master's stronghold for a new body.  The symbiote is AC 3 (17), HD: 1/4, Attack --, but it is acidic and anyone grabbing one takes 1d4 acid damage.  Non-magical weapons that strike the symbiote are destroyed by the acid.  The symbiote can tunnel underground at an impressive rate, so usually escapes the round after the humanoid shell body is destroyed.  The extra-dimensional entities that employ Slayers typically have few symbiotes, so destroying the leech before it can escape is the only way to whittle down the entities' forces once they arrive in a particular world.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Next, please...

Yes, please read the title of this post as either eagerly enthusiastic or sarcastically uninterested depending on your feelings about the upcoming new edition of the game.

I still feel this is the worst title ever.  I'm not super thrilled about what I've seen in the first release playtest packet.  But it looks interesting enough that I'm going to run a session of it on G+ this Saturday night (Korea time, Saturday morning in North America).  The rules seem simple and fairly intuitive for someone like me who has played plenty of 3E and other d20 System games.  I'm likely to forget some of the 4E style tactical special maneuvers of the monsters, but oh well.

I'm going to make only a few small changes when we play.  As Jeremy/Oxide pointed out, they list heavy crossbows as being modified by Strength, not Dexterity.  Huh?  The mechanical advantage of the crossbow is all about making the user's strength not part of the equation, unlike with a longbow (making bows Str or Dex, like the finesse weapons, might not be a bad idea). 

Secondly, a few numbers don't add up.  The Dwarven Cleric of Moradin has chainmail (AC 15), a heavy shield (AC +2), and a -1 Dex.  Yet he's listed as having an 18 AC.  Even if you interpret the rule that says heavy armors aren't modified by Dex and it removes the penalty (I've seen crazy justifications that it "prevents" you from moving into the wrong spot like some sort of Mr. Bean short), it should only be AC 17.  I'll likely drop it down to 16, though, just because I don't think heavy armor should make you better at dodging a blow than you are when you're unarmored.

Finally, I'll offer XP for treasure.  There sure isn't a lot of treasure, though.  Then again, PCs don't need all that much to level up.  I'm thinking though, I'll give 1XP per 1sp worth of treasure recovered.  That way they've got a chance to see level 2.

And to wrap up this blog post, continuing with the idea of XP.  Experience points reward what the designers (or dungeon masters) think the players should be doing.  3E and 4E primarily offer XP for combat.  So far, the Next playtest document also only awards XP for combat (yes, Mearls has mentioned XP for treasure, interaction, story awards, and what not).  The subtle implication to players then, is that you should kill everything that moves if you want to level up.  Yet there's also this power creep in PCs because of the fear of combat.  Everyone wants to get into a fight, no one wants to die.  It's really bizarre.  Not a new observation, but one that percolated up into my brain again as I was pondering XP for the 5E Caves of Chaos.

Anyway, mission for today: name the various humanoid tribes, their leaders, and the important NPCs at the Keep.  Then write up my own rumors list to give out to the players.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Playing Politics in Ur

Last Saturday we played another session of Justin's Vaults of Ur campaign on G+.  It was a good session, although we only had one truncated combat (which we almost skipped), and found no treasure.  Things are happening, and it was a blast.

Anyway, before I get into specifics, our cast of players/characters were: Dean as Elder Karl the Cleric of the Great Bear, Tedankhamen as the Fighter Leslie the Blue, Alexi playing his Elf Maya Culpa, and myself.  I had thought I'd play my alternate M-U, Thomas the Visionary, but ended up playing Thidrek the Sleestak Crossbowmaster instead due to in-game events.

So we started out to finish cleaning out the alchemist's tower so our work crews could move in, but a delegation from The Hive, led by our buddy Forager, met us near the gates and requested Elder Karl and Thidrek's help.  It was urgent.  So I switched characters back to Thidrek and we all set off for The Hive.

It turns out, the power politics of the Hive is coming to a head.  Forager's faction is facing off against the "red men."  And there's a group of "outsiders" helping the red men.  Well, we were taken to see the Queen.  She's a massive, egg-laying termite with telepathy.

She's much pleasanter than this.
The Queen was unhappy about any outsiders in the Hive, and basically told us that if we don't play our cards right, the Hive will turn hostile to all outsiders, and their territory will be off limits to anyone from Fort Low.  Since the tunnels under the Hive have been our best source of income, and Forager and his faction have been useful allies, that could make our life harder. 

Basically, to keep the Queen happy, we're gonna have to get rid of the other outsiders, who "cloud their minds" from her telepathy, and deal with the Spiked Circle.  Soon.

Well, not knowing really anything about the other outsiders, that became our quest.  Forager helped out, first taking us directly to the red men's quarters where we were turned away rudely, then by showing us some unused side passages where we could approach unawares.

Well, investigating the side passages, we mostly kept to the path (investigating one side room that odd moaning noises were coming from - it was just wind blowing through a vertical shaft), we came to a wall separating us from the room where we could hear voices talking in Common.  Elder Karl's stone fist of mystery came in handy, knocking a large hole in the wall.  It of course also made a lot of noise, so we retreated.  When a group of red men came to investigate, we retreated further to the wind noise room, and soon heard screams and battle nearby. 

After a quick debate - let it go, attack from behind, or go help and try to get on their good side, we chose the third option, and arrived just in time to save two red men from a manscorpion.  After a round of combat with us, taking a fair number of hits, the manscorpion retreated.  We BSed our way into being taken along with the red men, and got more suspicious questions from the large group waiting around the hole Elder Karl had made, but then the "outsiders" called us into their room.

Turns out they're just a bunch of free-loading mercenaries.  They even offered to switch to our side if we payed them enough.  They have no intention of doing anything to help the Hive if they can manage it, and are just living on the Hive's good graces.  They also thought we should band together to loot the Hive. 

Well, we wanted to throw down with them, but Forager would prefer no fights in the Hive, and we were lacking our powerhouse Fighter Ripper, and our Magic-User Mork, so we tried to arrange a "meeting" outside to discuss our options for taking on the Spiked Circle (or looting The Hive) together.  Their leader suggested we meet the next day at noon at a specific marked building north of the Hive, near the Zoo.

Going back to confer with Forager (who is wondering if this is the time for his faction to clear the Hive of the red men...looks like the time is drawing nigh), who confirmed our suspicion that the building of the proposed meeting is a trap.  I suggested then making a nighttime commando raid against the drunken mercs once most everyone's asleep.

Well, we left things off there because it was getting late.  We'll pick it up again in two weeks, and hopefully we'll have a couple more of the regulars (Jeremy, Josh, Brian, if you're reading this, we could use you next time!).  The outsiders are going down, and the red men may be purged! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beast of the Week: Dragon Mount

As I mentioned last week, here are the dragon-beasts that your characters could ride around on in the Golden Axe video game series (the Chicken Leg one is under the dungeon chicken post).

Dragon Mount
Armor Class: 4 (16)
Hit Dice: 5+2*
Move: 90 (30)
Attacks: 1 breath or 1 bite
Damage: 3d6 or 1d8
No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d4)
Save As: Fighter 3
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: A
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 400

Dragon Mounts are two-legged, wingless beasts related to dragons that are often trained to serve as mounts to warriors from monstrous tribes or barbaric humans.  Each may use a breath weapon for 3d6 damage (which may be a 20' long, 10' across at the far end cone, a 30' long, 5' wide cone, or a 10' cube cloud) which deals 3d6 damage.  Anyone in the area of effect may Save vs. Breath for half damage.  The dragon mount's breath may be that of any standard dragon (cold, acid, chlorine, lightning, fire), regardless of the color of the dragon mount.  On their own, dragon mounts may bite (1-4 on d6) or breathe (5-6 on d6) in combat each round.  When directed by a rider, they attack as the rider desires, but no more than one breath every two rounds.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Tower of the Elephant

Finally getting back to my literary tour of the Hyborian Age with one of the better Conan tales.  It is a good blend of both Howard's own personal theme of decadent civilization vs. natural or pure barbarism with Lovecraft's themes of cosmic horror man was not meant to know.

The Tower of the Elephant takes place in Conan's young thieving days.  He's in Zamora - the city is not explicitly named as Shadizar, but if I remember correctly, Shadizar is also said to have a Maul district where the thieves congregate, so it may be Shadizar the Wicked...or not. 

Conan being Conan, he decides to embark on the theft no other thief is willing to dare, the theft of the Heart of the Elephant, locked away in the tower of Yara the Wizard (if you've seen the original Conan movie, they borrowed some of the story elements for Thulsa Doom's Tower).  The tower is guarded by two walls, one patrolled by men, the other guarded by who knows what?  Conan meets another thief, Taurus, one of the most experienced thieves in the city, and they team up to try to beat the odds and steal the gem.

They face various challenges very much like a dungeon crawl adventure.  And if anyone ever complains about save or die or XP for gold, have them read this story (well, and the Lankhmar books for the XP for gold bit).

In the end, Conan discovers why the tower is named The Tower of the Elephant (he's never seen an elephant at this point in his career), gets a crash course in the planet's pre-history, and with an unlikely ally manages to come out ahead in his adventure.  Like I said above, I think this is one of the better Conan stories.  It's not so much the quality of the writing or pacing or characterization in the story (other Conan tales do each of those better).  I think it's just the atmosphere that Howard's prose evokes.  It's the right balance of gritty violence, derring-do, and weird horror that perfectly evokes the Hyborian Age for me.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Beast of the Week: Giant Sheep

Bighara was recently talking about the Cyclops.  Well, if you're gonna throw in Homer references in your games, might as well have some giant sheep stats to go with it!  They go along well with dungeon chickens, too! (And now that I remember it, I'll likely get around to finally giving some D&D stats to the other Golden Axe dragon mounts next week.)

Giant Sheep
Armor Class: 7 (13)
Hit Dice: 8
Move: 240 (80)
Attacks: 1 butt or trample
Damage: 4d4 or 4d6
No. Appearing: 1d8 (3d10)
Save As: Fighter 4
Morale: 6
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 650

Giant Sheep stand 8' to 10' tall, and are in all other ways similar to normal sheep.  They are easily startled and tend to flee from most threats, although if cornered they will butt enemies.  If they flee from threats, there is a chance they will run toward the threat, and any in their path will be targeted with a trample attack.  Cyclopes and other giants often keep giant sheep for livestock.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Metagame is the Game?

Just a random thought that's been percolating in my brain recently.  It's no where near developed fully, but I figure I might as well throw the first draft out there.

One reason that different versions of D&D "feel" different is the metagame that goes on behind the actual play.  Different versions seem to encourage different metagame focuses that run parallel to the actual game play.  Here's my initial ideas about what some of the editions encourage for "metagame play"

OD&D/Classic D&D/1E AD&D: Using player ingenuity to make the most of what the random rolls give you at character creation, and what random shit the DM gives you in play.  It's a little beyond simple resource management on a strategic/tactical split.  It's really about coming up with that odd idea that makes an encounter easy (or at least easier).

2E D&D: Making your character so interesting and fleshed out that the DM grants you plot immunity.  This is not knocking the game.  2E focused on the grand plots, and clever ideas and all that are nice, but making the DM think twice about letting you fail that save vs. petrification counts more when the plot is on the line.

3E/Pathfinder:  Optimizing your character build.  When I say optimizing here, it's not necessarily about DPS (to borrow the MMO term), it's about finding the right mix of ability scores, classes, feats and skills to craft the "perfect" character for whatever it is you want to do in the game.

4E:  Optimizing your adventuring party.  4E really plays up the "tactical war game" aspect of D&D.  Making sure you've got not only a competent character, but that your character fits into the overall makeup of the party seems crucial to successful 4E play.  Fail to "play your role" and those big long encounters can become bigger and longer.

Now, like I say, this is just my initial ideas here.  I'm not trying to knock any play style, just thinking in print about what makes the play of each edition different.  If you've got comments, criticisms, or can think of anything I'm being just plain stupid about, feel free to let me know.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beast of the Week: Headless Horseman

Good old Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Why the Headless Horseman isn't a standard D&D monster I don't know.  Anyway, I'm mixing Washington Irving's version with the Celtic Dullahan (also a Castlevania monster - bonus!) for this week's Beast.

Headless Horseman
AC: 5 (15)
HD: 6**
Move: 120 (40) (or as mount)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: by weapon
No. Appearing: 1 (1-4)
Save As: F6
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: A (U)
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 725

Headless Horsemen, also known as Dullahans, are undead decapitation victims who return to haunt the area of their death.  They ride large, fierce black horses, which may be war horses or riding horses.  Some rare versions may ride an undead horse or Nightmare.  Some Headless Horsemen are searching for the head the lost, others carry it with them in their hands or on their saddle pommel, and search for evildoers to slay and add their souls to the ranks of Hell.  They attack with weapons, but can also use the following spells: Knock, Cause Fear (at will), Cause Blindness (once per turn), Finger of Death (once per day).  As Undead creatures, Headless Horsemen are immune to sleep, charm and hold magic.  They can be Turned as Vampires.

Death by Giant Cockroach!!!

Last night, we had another session of Justin's Vaults of Ur on G+.  Only two players showed up, Dean (Elder Karl) and myself (Thidrek).  This was Thidrek's 10th session.  He's survived quite well, but it was another close one this session.

With only the two of us, we hired on a retainer, Skol the Hippie Viking (Justin's FLAILSNAILS character, actually) to help us clear out the Alchemist's Tower in preparation for us renovating it and turning it into our headquarters.  We've got supplies and a work crew lined up, but we just need to make sure it's monster free before we send them in.

Well, we spent a bit of time exploring the entire first floor, but found no threats and nothing of value.  We did make some notes about what sorts of improvements to make, and what certain rooms might be good for. 

We headed up the stairs, and in the second of two servants/assistants bedrooms, we encountered a pair of gigantic cockroaches.  One surprised us by dropping from the ceiling.  It got a critical hit on Skol and the poor violent hippie was hors de combat.  If I hadn't bought him a pole arm he might have survived, actually.  He didn't have a shield to splinter (and since it was a surprise round, he might not have been able to use it anyway).

In the next round, one of the cockroaches got another critical hit on Thidrek for 30 points of damage!  Thidrek of course took it on the shield.  Elder Karl took the brunt of the rest of the combat, but Thidrek also took another nasty couple of hits before we managed to kill them.  Elder Karl's magical fist also broke a new hole in the floor that we'll have to fix.

Both being wounded (even with Karl's two Cure Light Wounds spells), we decided to head back to Fort Low. 

There's still more of the Alchemist's Tower to clear, but we may want the rest of the gang along next time.

Special Note to Josh (if you're reading this): Sorry.  I sent text messages to you, but I just got a new smart phone, and didn't check.  It was sending them to your old phone number. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Well said

William Dowie, the Great Khan at Ramblings of a Great Khan, summed up my feelings on 4th Edition D&D quite succinctly in his current post on the 5E/Next play test:

I don't have a problem with the game evolving over time, it's evolving it into a tactical miniatures game, that, as DM, I am expected to lose every week that I really have a problem with.
 Spot on.  If the 4E designers really want a tactical minis game, why is it supposed to be set up so that one side almost always wins? 

Anyway, I don't know why I'm still 4E bashing.  Maybe it's because I have yet to playtest 5E so I don't have more bashing (or praising, or indifference) to heap on it.


On a side note, I notice Blogger is now putting ".kr" suffixes on other blogger web addresses.  God I hate people's attempts to localize my web content.  Just because I live in Korea doesn't mean I want a Korean version of every web page.  Neither do the Koreans.  Anyway, that may be why Blogger has been kinda slow for me lately.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

It's gonna be hard to do a spoiler free review of Prometheus, but I'll give it a try.  As a stand-alone sci-fi horror/action movie, it's not bad.  As a tie-in to the Alien films, it's got a lot of cool stuff to think about.  And that second point makes it hard to avoid spoilers, but for the sake of the people who haven't seen it, I'll try.  I may come back and discuss the implications it has on the Alien movies later.

And again, since I get lots of Google search results for "curse words" in any movie I review, there were VERY FEW.  The one time the F-word got used, it was garbled by static.  Not a lot of swearing in general.  It has some fairly intense and grotesque scenes though, so I wouldn't advise bringing kids under 13 to see it.

Now, on to the movie.  We've got what basically amounts to a combination of the Ancient Astronauts crank theory with the Gilgamesh myth here.  Of course, the overall themes of the Alien movies are present - female lead who finds her strength when tested by alien adversity, a primal fear of rape/parenthood imposed by alien gestation, evil corporation with shadowy reasons for wanting to get their hands on alien stuff, and of course the Pinocchio/Frankenstein theme of androids gone wrong.

The story was pretty good.  It didn't feel quite as tight as it could have been.  There were a few places where the characters' motivations weren't clear or were contradictory to their previous actions.  But the story holds together, and again as part of the larger Alien (and Predator?) franchise, there's a lot of good stuff here.

Special effects were good (saw it in 2D), but a few times things looked a bit too CGI.  Don't want to spoil too much, but there's a Cthuloid horror in the movie that looked really good in one scene, and kinda crappy in another.

One thing that did bother me was a "James and the Giant Peach" moment.  Giant disk-shaped thing rolling toward characters.  They run away from it along its path instead of running to the side.  One falls, then rolls over twice and is out of the thing's path.  Sorry for that one spoiler, but by the time it happens you kinda know that this character isn't going to die from being smooshed. 

Something I really dig was the design aesthetic.  The inside of the Prometheus was reminiscent of the Nostromo and the Sulaco.  Of course the "Engineers'" ship looked like the Space Jockey's ship, since it was the same type of ship (pretty sure that's not a spoiler, since it's in the trailers). 

And similar to The Avengers, the bit that I assume is an after credits "Easter egg" was edited to be before the credits here in Korea.  If you're watching it anywhere else, stay through the credits. 

Overall, this was a decent sci-fi movie, and a decent addition to the Alien universe.  Not the greatest sci-fi movie I've ever seen, but better than many I've seen.  And yeah, I've kinda got an urge to run or play in an RPG in the Alien/Predator universe again now...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New toy

Just a quick post to test Blogger for Android. Yeah, got a new smart phone so I don't have to be smart any more.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Beast of the Week: Gogmagog

In the Bible, Gog and Magog (or Gog from Magog depending on how you translate it) are personifications of what academics term "The Other."  The different (barbaric) culture that threatens "our" culture.  They were leaders of a faraway land (or Gog was the leader of the faraway land of Magog), and their barbarous hordes would come and sack the Holy Land in the End Times.

The Biblical Gog and Magog were co-opted by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain [also possibly just adjusting the Welsh/Breton name of Gawr Madoc to a more familiar name for his audience].  They were combined into a giant named Gogmagog, or Goemagog.  This giant, and a bunch of his kin, attacked Brutus, Geoffrey's first king of Britain and a refugee from the fall of Troy.  Corineus, the follower of Brutus who was granted Cornwall as his province, wrestled with Gogmagog and eventually threw him into the sea.

Going off Geoffrey, but using a bit of the Biblical idea of Gog and Magog as beastial outsider barbarians, I present Gogmagog giants for D&D:

Giant: Gogmagog
AC: 3 (17)
HD: 9+1*
Move: 120 (40)
Attacks: 1 club
Damage: 2d8
No. Appearing: 1-4 (2-8)
Save As: F9
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: G
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 1600 

Appearing to be 18 foot tall Orcs, Gogmagog giants are wild and ferocious giants who inhabit the most desolate of regions far from the realms of men.  They tend to fight with tree trunks which they rip from the ground and use as clubs.  Anyone hit by a Gogmagog's club must Save vs. Wands or be knocked back 10 feet for each point of damage dealt (no additional damage for the knockback, unless it results in a collision or fall).  They rarely throw rocks, and when they do throw them with ranges 40/80/120, for the standard 3d6 damage.  Gogmagog giants are often leaders of mixed bands of giants and humanoids, at least when they are on a raid.  In their crude settlements, other more intelligent or persuasive members tend to manipulate the less intelligent Gogmagogs.