Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sprechen sie Neutral? Pt. 2

Got a few comments with last night's post.  One suggesting my proposed system become more complex, another basically wondering why I'd ever change the RAW on alignment languages, the final one sorta suggesting the same thing as Noisms' idea which spawned my own.

Thanks for the comments, though.  Even though I'm not looking to make this more complex than I feel is necessary, I appreciate suggestions for improvements, and hope that they make YOUR game better for YOU.  For those that like alignment languages as written, great!  They are one of the sticky issues for many gamers, and if they don't bother you, that's one less thing to worry about (if you also like Demi-Human level limits, race-as-class, weapons vs. armor charts, psionics, etc. why are you even on the internet discussing D&D?  I thought it was for us cranky old coots who always want to bitch and moan and tinker... :D ).

Anyway, my point tonight is to restate my idea in simpler terms.

"Alignment languages" in my game will CEASE to be alignment languages as commonly understood.  They will be dead languages within the campaign world: the cultures that spawned the languages have disappeared, and the successor cultures may speak a language based on them, but they are still different languages.  People use them for various purposes (religious, mercantile, academic, etc.).  Most educated people (and all adventurers) know one or more of them, but rarely use them in everyday life. 

The only link to alignment will be that your starting choice of alignment determines which of the languages your character knows.  Just like how Demi-Humans gain bonus languages for racial purposes in Old School D&D, these will be just a bonus language characters get.  The fact that others of the same alignment will share it makes it useful for the role of RAW alignment language, but as I said, it's not exclusive. 

For example, let's say I've set up Latin as the language Lawfuls start with, Ancient Greek as the language Neutrals start with, and Ancient Egyptian as the language Chaotics start with.  Bob rolls up Gargamel, a Neutral Magic-User with a 17 Int, entitling him to two bonus languages.  He gets French (Common, everyone has it) and Ancient Greek (for being Neutral).  He wants to speak to dragons, so he takes Dragon as a bonus.  He then decides that communicating with any humanoids he charms would be useful, so he decides that for his second bonus language he will learn Ancient Egyptian.

Now, anyone trying to test Gargamel's alignment will know he's not Lawful, but won't be sure if he's Neutral or Chaotic (if they're using the dead languages as a shibboleth). 

Other than that, the languages are just that - dead languages.  Sometimes things will be written or spoken in them, and PCs that know that language will benefit.  Those that don't will need to rely on translators, magic, or thieves (in the case of written text). 

Other than the artificiality of determining which of these languages a PC knows based on alignment, they're just normal languages.

Now, one thing I forgot to mention last night.  Third Edition D&D already had something similar to this.  Instead of alignment languages, they had the planar languages.  Auran, Terran, Ignan, and Aquan were for Elemental Planar dwellers, while Celestial was the language of all Good outsiders, and evil outsiders were split between Infernal (LE) and Abyssal (CE).  Don't remember which (what?) NE outsiders spoke.

Anyone could learn Celestial, even if you were the most Chaotic and most Evil of people.  Nothing stopped you.  Characters in 3E didn't get one of these languages automatically, though, so that's a point of departure.  Basically, though, my idea will work something like the 3E planar languages, except they're not the languages of beings from other realms.

Also, for those playing AD&D or other systems with more complex alignment, a simpler solution than coming up with nine dead languages would be simply to have five (or six if you want one for LNC Neutral and GNE Neutral).  Lawful, Chaotic, Good, Evil and Neutral each get a language keyed to them.  PCs get to choose one, depending on their alignment.  If a DM is feeling generous, they can get both.

Hopefully this explains my idea a bit better.  If you like it, or at least find some kernel worth modifying for your own games, I'm happy.  If you like the rules as written and don't think it needs tinkering with, that's fine.  I've used the rules as written (in Mentzer's Basic Set anyway) for years and never had a problem with it.  This system, to me at least, seems to offer more oomph for no real great increase in complexity, so I'm gonna at least give it a try and see how it plays.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sprechen sie Neutral?

Alignment languages?  Yeah.  Let's talk about them.  A few days ago, Noisms was talking about making them the secret codes/handshakes of Illuminati style secret societies as a way to justify them and use them to add conflict to a setting.  I've got another take, although sorta similar.

So Gygax likens alignment languages to ecclesiastical Latin, but then tries to limit their usefulness to just checking to see if the monsters are really on your side or not, and maybe getting them to help out against some monster of another alignment.

I think in my games from now on, I'll keep the "ecclesiastical Latin" idea and ditch the rest.  Alignment languages will be specific dead languages in the campaign world.  They're not secret.  They're not exclusive.  They're not even really designed to be used as a secret code language or shibboleth.  But whatever alignment you choose determines which of the three (luckily for me, I run Classic D&D with Law-Neutrality-Chaos only) your PC knows, in addition to Common and any demi-human languages. 

Characters with high Int scores can choose to learn one of the other Alignment languages (or both if their Int is high enough).  This means you can't necessarily trust someone just because they happen to speak Ancient Gardelish and so do you (not that you should implicitly trust someone of your own alignment anyway, even if you're both Lawful).  It also gives a reason why adventuring parties might actually WANT a range of alignments in the party.  Jerrash the Wildling may be able to translate those inscriptions written on the black pit's rim in Albondish, while Stoutheart Aleena can read the holy scrolls written in Zebrionic, and Torgo the Uncommitted can negotiate with the centaurs.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Beast of the Week: Orthrus

Turning to Greek Mythology for this week's beast, we get Orthrus, the two-headed, serpent-tailed hound that Geryon kept to watch his famous cattle (stolen by Herakles as one of his Twelve Labors).

Armor Class: 6 (14)
Hit Dice: 8*
Move: 120 (40)
Attacks: 3
Damage: 1d8/1d8/1d4 + poison
No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d6)
Save As: Fighter 8
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: B
Alignment: Chaotic

Orthrus are gigantic hounds, about the size of a bull, with two canine heads in front, and a serpent-headed tail in the rear.  The serpent's bite is poisonous.  Those bitten must Save vs. Poison or die within 1d6 Turns.  Orthrus hounds are sometimes used by Giants as guardians or pets.  Wild Orthrus packs can sometimes be found wandering in wastelands.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Battle of the Pit

Here's an illustration I did over the past couple days of the big battle in last Saturday's game.  I haven't done a lot of drawing since high school, but my style hasn't really changed that much.  I had just as much trouble with perspective and proportions then as I do now.  But I kinda like my amateur style anyway.  This is the point in the battle just before things go bad.  Thidrek's shield is being splintered.  Ripper is downing the croc-mercenary, but about to be taken down by the vulture.  Elder Karl and Maya are entering the fray.  Not exactly how things went down, but close enough.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I'll try to keep this spoiler free, as always.  I may fail a bit, but I'll try my best not to ruin any of the surprises for those who haven't seen it yet.

And again, for those of you coming to What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse... through a Google search for "curse words in Dark Knight Rises" or something similar, welcome!  I don't remember a single curse word being uttered.  There may have been one or two mild ones that just didn't stick in my memory, but you're probably OK seeing this if you don't want your kids to hear bad language.  Don't bring the little ones, though.  Seriously.  This is NOT a movie for kids.  This is NOT the Adam West Batman you grew up with.  And if you haven't seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, go watch those first and then decide if you want your kids to see this.

OK, for the rest of you, on with the review!

I liked this story.  I liked it a lot.  We really see both Batman and Bruce Wayne drug down to the lowest places they can go, then fighting their way back up again.  Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Catwoman, and young officer Blake all have well-done story arcs.  The story could have used a bit more Lucius Fox, and Bane made an excellent villain, if one without much of a story arc to him, really.

One thing that surprised me was how little actual screen time there is for Batman.  It's really Bruce Wayne's story most of the time.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  It also allowed more time to focus on Gordon, Blake and Selena Kyle/Catwoman.  However, compared to the non-stop tension and release pace of The Dark Knight, DKR is more slow, similar to Batman Begins.

The biggest failing of the movie, I think, is that it tries too hard to tie up all the loose ends, and needlessly conflates the events of Batman Begins with the current events for fairly little payoff.  Maybe if Heath Ledger hadn't died, and was able to return as the Joker, there would have felt like more continuity over the trilogy.  As it is, there's lots of talk about Harvey Dent and Ras al'Ghul, but not a word about the Joker.  Bane could easily have been set up as a villain threatening Gotham without the need to tie him to the League of Shadows.  And that's the only spoiler you're gonna get, folks.

The Dark Knight Rises is a good movie.  Like I said, though, it's somewhat slower paced, and focused on Bruce Wayne.  I wonder if DKR, like Batman Begins, will get a bit boring with repeat viewings.  But then maybe part of that feeling for me was that Batman Begins was on Korean cable channels like every other day two years ago.  Got kinda tired of it.  DKR isn't as good as The Dark Knight, but it's better than Batman Begins.  If you like where Christopher Nolan took Batman in his previous two efforts, you're probably going to like this one, too.  Just don't go in expecting it to top The Dark Knight.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Big Trouble in Little Hive-a

"That?  That was nothing.  But that's how it always begins.  Very small."  -Egg Shen

So last night, Justin's three-part expedition to the Hive to aid Forager and help them against the Spiked Circle had its conclusion.  Part 1, Part 2.

The cast included: Ripper the Orc (Jeremy), Maya Culpar the Elf from beyond the Veil and her henchmen (Alexei), Elder Karl the Cleric (Dean) and myself as Thidrek the Sleestak.

A quick recap for those uninterested in clicking the links above.  We went to the Hive (a commune of symbiotic insects and humans) at the request of our friend Forager, who needed our help against his rival faction, the Red Men.  We learn of some human mercenaries helping the Red Men.  Lots of plans to get rid of them fail, but so do their plans to get rid of us.  The Spiked Circle (doomsday cultists/bandits) cause trouble.  The Great Minds of the Hive want to dissect my PC, but Maya gets a Sleep spell from them.  We learn of three Spiked Circle infiltrators who come into the Hive through the tunnels below.

We start out the day learning of the murder of three Hive farmers down in the pits below.  Investigating their deaths led us to discovering a new secret door that the assassins had used to enter the Hive, and tracks leading further in.  Also, some discarded waterskins that had a strange hippie herbal odor to them.

We followed the tracks until they branched three ways.  Some Red Men were following us, and we sent them down one of the paths to get the Spiked Circle, wondering if they would or not.  We chose another path, and followed it to another air vent room, similar to the "haunted" room we'd encountered in the first part of the adventure.  Climbing down with some rope, we reached the bottom and proceeded down the sloping ventilation shaft when someone above cut our rope. 

Proceeding undaunted, we find a room with a big kettle of blue burning stuff sending smoke into the Hive's air supply (cue New Wave 80's music here, I guess...).  We put out the pot while Elder Karl chases a shadowy figure.  Maya went to back him up, but with his stone fist of mightiness, Karl managed to reverse the thrown clay pot green slime bomb back at the assassin and killed him.  Karl and Maya climbed up to investigate while Ripper and Thidrek retraced their steps to find the other Spiked Circle smoke pot(s).

Back at the ventilation shaft room, we encounter four of the mercenaries working for the Red Men.  They attack, and begin morphing into monsters - two crocodilian, one vulture-like, and one horse headed.  (Did Justin read this blog, or do great minds just think alike?)  Thidrek managed to hold the line long enough for Ripper to make a daring leap up into the room just as the rope was cut. 

Maya and Karl find that the Hive is in a general uproar, rioting and fighting going on everywhere.  And they encounter the other two mercs, the leaders.  But when a sleep spell fails to have any effect and a henchman gets beheaded, burning oil and caltrops stop their advance and allowed the Elf and Cleric to meet up with Thidrek and Ripper, and none too soon.  Thidrek's shield gets shattered, but he has a spare.  Ripper only had one, and after successfully downing one of the croc-mutants, gets taken down by the vulture.  With the help of Maya and Elder Karl, the horse-headed mutant goes down.  Thidrek eventually takes down his croc-beast, and the vulture is defeated as well.  But we lost Ripper and the other man-at-arms.  Luckily, a cure light wounds spell by Elder Karl bound Ripper's soul to his mortal remains, so we have a chance to resurrect him next session.

Jeremy sat out for a bit, then as we were searching for the other smoke pots, I suggested he roll up a spare PC and get back in.  He rolled a Cleric named Parathys, I believe.  Justin dubbed him Parappa the Rapper. 

We find the next smoke pot and put it out.  We can see the third one in the distance.  Never trust the Red Men to do what they say.  We head down there, and find the old man merc, now basically mutated into a drider, guarding it.  The last two Spiked Circle assassins come out of hiding, backstabbing Thidrek and Karl, while the final merc comes up from behind (he was just a giant, deformed thing, not half animal) and kills a torchbearer. 
the merc was no where near this lovable
Thidrek went into negative hit points, but not dead (luckily, unlike Ripper).  Maya made a bold dash past the deformed guy with his last torchbearer, who dropped a burning brand on the fallen guy, hoping for a detonation.  Karl tangles with the old man/spider thing.  Jeremy, fairly drunk by this point (it was nearly 1am as well), almost forgets to cast CLW on me, but does and Thidrek returned to the fight.  He took out his bug translation powder, and threw it in the spider dude's face.  Luckily, he failed his saving throw, resulting in lots of puking.  The fallen torchbearer blows up (right next to Ripper's corpse - I suggested the roasting would seal the soul in better for resurrection).  Forager and his men are making their way down to us.  The monsters and last assassin flee.  Forager's guys kill the assassin, but the monstrous mercenaries flee.

We were all in really bad shape.  So was the Hive.  Imagine an orgy of rioting and factional warfare, induced by nightmare drugs.  That's what happened to the Hive.  We managed to get away with most of our skins intact (Maya is down 3/4 of her hired help, and we may not get Ripper back), but we were in no shape to help with setting the Hive back to rights.  We retreated to Fort Low to lick our wounds and ponder our next course of action.

It was a good game, really tense.  I'm actually surprised that Thidrek managed to survive it all.  He was as good as gone a couple of times, but managed to always pull through.  We may need to let the Hive and Spiked Circle deal with their own matters for a bit, I think.  A good bit of treasure hunting in the ruins might be just what we need to get ourselves up to speed to challenge the Spiked Circle.  They're not the pushovers we thought they would be.  Not by a longshot.  But then you know what old Jack Burton says at a time like this:  "Have you paid your dues, Jack?  Yes sir, the check is in the mail."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beast of the Week: Garthim

A while back, my weekly Beast was the Gelfling from The Dark Crystal.  A couple of comments asked if I'd do the Skeksis and their insect/crustacean thugs, the Garthim.  Well, if you happen to have the Classic D&D Creature Catalog or modules X4/X5 The Desert Nomads series, you have stats for the creature called a Nagpa, which I've always used as a Skeksi.  So I won't be doing those iconic creatures in this series.  The Garthim, however, are a good choice for a write-up.  Here's my take on them:

Armor Class: 2 (18)
Hit Dice: 5**
Move: 120 (40)
Attacks: 2
Damage: 1d10 + grab
No. Appearing: 2d4 (2d6)
Save As: Fighter 5
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: C
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 425

Garthim are large black magical constructs created from the cast off shells of giant insects and crustaceans.  They have very limited intelligence, and must be commanded by their creator to perform tasks.  They have great strength, and are able to hold those they hit with their claws, unless the victim saves vs. paralysis.  Garthim can use nets to capture opponents, and excel in tracking and capturing specimens for their masters.  Other than that, they are mainly good for killing things.  Garthim can break through walls to surprise their opponents.  They have a 4 in 6 chance to break wooden walls of less than 1' thickness, and a 2 in 6 chance to break stone walls of less than 1' thickness.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Megadungeon Pictures

Dean drew a couple of pictures of his and Jeremy's expedition into my Megadungeon.

First, Elder Karl travels astrally between the ruined city of Ur and the strange land of elves, dwarves and non-ruined wattle-and-daub Silverwood, and explores the Great Dungeon of Yeffal the Cursed and Mad Wizard.  In those dungeons, he and Ripper the Orc encountered strange small dog-like men riding goats, and a trio of "elves" who were looking for hobgoblin thieves.

Another encounter the pair faced was that of a zombie mule.  Karl quickly turned the foul beast, only to be tormented by the sound of clinking coins in the saddlebags of the necrotic pack beast!

Some of you may have seen his pictures on G+ already.  I just wanted to get them up here on the blog.

Dean, 200 xp for Elder Karl!  And thanks for the pics!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Odds and Ends

The other day, I clicked on Amazon.com to look for the current release date of A Dance with Dragons in paperback.  I noticed I had one item in my shopping cart, and couldn't remember what it was.

Clicking on the cart, it was a used copy of the AD&D Monster Manual (now sold and unavailable).  I'd stuck it there back when WotC announced the reprinting of the AD&D core three books.  I'd briefly thought about buying them, but I've got the PHB and DMG.  Used Monster Manuals in good condition are under $10 on Amazon.  So I'd put it in my cart but never bought it.

Well, I decided to look for another copy, since the one I'd tagged already sold.  Found another listed in "very good" condition for just under $9.  Then I noticed a copy of Oriental Adventures for about the same price.  And a copy of the MM2 for around $6.  With domestic shipping to my parents' house, the whole deal was just around $35, the price of the reprint MM without shipping.

We're going to be ordering some clothes for our son online (much cheaper, even with shipping costs, than buying them here in Korea), so my folks can just throw the books in with the clothes when they ship them. 

After our game of Arkham Horror, Josh, Pat and Alex all were asking when I'm finally going to get around to running some Flying Swordsmen.  Friday nights are good for them, so as soon as I get some adventures ready, I'll try to get them - and anyone else who wants to play - on G+ for some FS wuxia action.

So expect a bit more FS content around here in the coming months.  It's about time I got back to promoting it anyway.  It's just shy of 1000 downloads on my Mediafire account, and in only four months.  Not bad.

We will be moving to a new apartment in about two weeks.  I need to remember to write up a Beast of the Week monster and schedule its posting, as I may be without internet access besides on my phone the last weekend of July.

We're past the half-way point with the year.  My plan to create 52 new monsters is going along well.  I'll compile all of them at the end of the year, and in January I'll have a comprehensive download of 2012's Beasts. 

I'm not sure if I'll continue into 2013, though.  We'll see. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Arkham Horror

Yesterday afternoon, the old board game group minus Steve (me, Pat, Josh, and Alex) got together to play the board game Arkham Horror.  The premise of this cooperative game is that one of the Great Old Ones is about to awaken.  Monster spawning gates to other worlds are opening around Arkham, Mass (circa 1927).  Investigators have to stop the monsters, explore the other worlds, and then shut the gates before the Old One awakens.  If it does awaken, the investigators then need to fight hard to stop it.

It's a pretty fun game.  The basic turn order rules were fairly simple, but there's a LOT of minutia to deal with, and lots of little things to remember.  We definitely made a few mistakes early on, and I'm not 100% certain we were playing everything correctly even at the end.  If you're into modern board games, this is definitely an "Ameritrash" game, not a "Euro" game. 

In our game yesterday, we were facing the awakening of Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods.  Its powers were that Dark Young (one of the tougher monsters) became "endless" meaning that when killed, they return to the monster cup for recycling, rather than being kept as tokens to be spent.  The other power was that all monsters' Toughness (hit points) increased by one.  So monsters were fairly tough in the game we played, but that didn't stop us from killing lots of them and generally keeping the monster population under control while we explored and closed/sealed the gates.  (Yes, we ended up winning before old Shubby was too close to awakening.)

We had a bit of good luck with our character draws, in that we had some nice complementary characters.  Alex, in particular, had a great character ability which let him declare a reroll of missed dice (keep successes you've already rolled) once per turn.  That really helped a lot, especially with the combat rolls.  My character, the dilettante, got $1 automatically each turn, which allowed me to buy plenty of unique items, scoring two of the Elder Seal cards during the game (Josh also got one of them), which allow for automatic gate sealing.  Six gates sealed is a win condition.

One thing that hampered us later in the game was that the Mythos Card drawn at the end of each turn shows where a gate will open.  But we had a long run of either places where we had already placed a seal or else where a gate was already open, which causes a "monster surge" where lots of monsters appear at once.  Several stationary monsters had collected at one of the gates, and even our best monster hunter Alex (who had lots of good spells and items and that reroll ability) wasn't sure he could take them down.  In the end, though, a few more gates opened at other locations, and we quickly explored them and shut them, winning the game.

I'd definitely like to try this game again.  The fact that you draw a random Great Old One, and random investigators (although some people of course select them) means it's a game that should have a high replay value.  And even though we beat the game on our first time playing it (well, except for Pat who has played it a few times before), I don't think we would be certain of beating it again in the future.

So if you like complex, long board games with lots of randomness (aka Ameritrash), and are a fan of HPL and the Mythos, definitely give this game a try.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Beast of the Week: Ossagi

Last night, I got home to find my wife and son were out.  Got a call about 5 minutes later, just before I was about to call her to see where they were.  They were at a restaurant having dinner with my sister-in-law.  I headed down to the restaurant and found my son, his cousins, and the owners' kid running around being "scared" by "ossagi" [오싹이].  Asking what ossagi was, they tell me it's a ghost.  According to my son, "It comes and goes."  "From the mirror," his cousin adds. 

I'd never heard of this type of Korean ghost before, so I immediately start plying my wife and sister-in-law with questions.  The best they can tell me is that it's transparent/invisible (the word for both is the same in Korean).  And a coward.  At home, my wife sends some text messages to the sister-in-law's friend who introduced ossagi to the kids.  Turns out it's a children's book character, sorta like the Korean version of Casper the Friendly Ghost.  Only he's a scaredy-cat. 

So here's an attempt to turn Ossagi into a D&D monster. One that requires a bit more challenge than just "roll to hit, roll damage" or Clerical Turning to conquer.

Armor Class: 7 (13)
Hit Dice: 2**
Move: fly 150 (50)
Attacks: 1
Damage: special
No. Appearing: 1d4 (--)
Save As: Magic-User 2
Morale: 4
Treasure Type: N+O
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 30

Ossagi are transparent undead spirit creatures that haunt mirrors.  They are drawn to magical auras, and can drain magic items of their power, or even steal the spells from the brains of spell-casters.  Ossagi can use mirrors to travel, similar to a dimension door spell, as long as they have a mirror to enter and one to exit within 360'.  When they attack, they do no physical damage, but instead drain one magic item, chosen at random, carried by the victim of its potency.  Permanent items are unusable for 1d4 Turns.  Charged items lose 1d6 charges.  One-use items are destroyed.  A spell-caster might instead be targeted, losing one of the highest level spells memorized at random.  In any case, a Save vs. Spells is allowed to avoid the magical drain.  Ossagi are cowardly, and often flee battles.  They are Turned by Clerics as Skeletons, except they cannot be destroyed by a Turn attempt (treat all D or D+ results as T).  Adventurers who have been victims of an ossagi attack often wish to chase them down.  When they are destroyed, their bodies explode in a magical burst, recharging any items drained by the ossagi, and refreshing the memorized spells of any caster.  In addition, the mirror in which the ossagi lairs will shatter, often dropping potions and scrolls.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Luau of Death

Last night we played in Justin's Vaults of Ur game on G+.  Our cast consisted of myself as Thidrek the Sleestak, Jeremy as Ripper the Orc, Dean as Elder Karl the Cleric (Dean, you need a blog), and Alexei as Maya the Elf.  My buddy Steve, of the old Ebisu Group and now the 3d6 blog, came to observe a bit, but since he was at the in-laws', and was maybe having connection problems, he didn't stay long.

Steve, I hope you liked what you saw, even though it was mostly just the pre-game firing of projectiles at feces.

We opened the game the next morning after our last session.  Ripper came to the Hive after his carousing with Oogliata's Amazonian Orc Legion, and we hashed out plans to deal with the Red Men/mercenaries.

After much debating - MUCH debating - Thidrek's plan of a pre-emptive strike on the mercenaries in the wee hours of the morning was shot down.  We decided to go out into the ruins in case the mercs did come out, so we could ambush them.  And if they didn't come out, we would return with stories of how we totally looted the hell house they told us to go to, and that there was more treasure waiting - and that we'd invite them to our celebratory feast where there would be plenty of wine, women, and exotic lotus powders (the Luau of Death).  We figured one or the other of those stories would lure them out.

So we camped in the ruins.  And waited. 

Some lizard men approached.  Ripper and Elder Karl presented themselves, and the lizardmen attacked.  We managed to defeat them, but Elder Karl went into negative hit points.  With some Hive healing goop, we brought him around, but he was weakened from being so close to death.  We heard fighting to the south, back toward the Hive, and when we investigated we found some Spiked Circle thugs fighting some Red Men.  We intervened.  Elder Karl used his stone hand to good effect, crushing lots of the Spiked Circle guys with stones.  We also managed to capture one of them.

The Red Men wanted the captive, but we insisted that he was our prisoner, and took him to Forager.  We interrogated him, and learned that the fresco images we'd seen under the Hive, of portents in the sky, demons and diseased men fighting heroes in Ur, etc. is connected to their demon lord, Harkon.  The Spiked Circle are capturing people for use in sacrifices to provide souls for Harkon's return.

We took our prisoner up into the heights of the Hive to the "great minds above."  They turned out to be super-intelligent spiders (sorta like Aranea from the Isle of Dread).  They read the prisoner's mind while we poked through their collected stuff.  Maya found some spell books, and got a sleep spell and maybe one more.  Thidrek and Elder Karl looked out the window, and saw some places of interest for future adventures.  Ripper got a new bug claw axe, similar to Forager's, and Maya took a new spear to replace the one she broke fighting the lizard men.  Oh, and one of the spiders kept asking Thidrek if it could dissect him, as they'd never met a Sleestak before.  I declined their offer.  Maybe next time.

Anyway, the brain probe left the goon in a poor state, but we learned that just before the attack, three Spiked Circle members went into some sort of tunnel.  Seems important.  We're sure they're up to no good.

So we've still got the mercs to deal with, Forager's political power play to assist in, and Spiked Circle shenanigans to figure out as well.  Who knows when we'll ever get our new headquarters sorted out, and get a chance to explore the Observatory we spotted north of the Zoo, or make our way towards the Golden Pyramid in the center of the city.

I've gotta say, though, the sandbox game can really pay off in a good way when things like this happen.  We're all really enjoying the story that's developing, and our characters are evolving as it happens.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beast of the Week: Yothga

Taking more inspiration from REH, here's one of the denizens of Tsotha-lanti's dungeons below the Scarlet Citadel, the Yothga.

Armor Class: 8 (12)
Hit Dice: 3*
Move: nil
Attacks: 2 vines
Damage: 1d6 + special
No. Appearing: 1d4 (2d4)
Save As: Fighter 3
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 50

Yothgas are large, intelligent vines with narrow, pointed leaves and unnatural red flowers.  They are said to come from Hell, the Dimension of Nightmares, or the cursed planet Yag.  None know for certain.  A Yothga is immobile, but can lash out with its vines up to 30' away.  Those hit by the vines must Save vs. Spells or suffer the effects of a feeblemind spell (Int becomes 3) until released from the plant's grasp.  Spellcasters ensnared by a yothga lose their spellcasting ability for 1d6+6 Turns after being released, as the plant feeds on mental energy.  If destroyed but not uprooted, the Yothga can regrow in 1d4 weeks.  Rumors warn that uprooting one is dangerous, though, as the roots go down to Hell, and strange things may be pulled up with a yothga's roots.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Scarlet Citadel

Been a while since I read it now (still taking a little break from the Howard, reading Lovecraft on my commute, so I don't get too far ahead in my reading compared to my posting about the Conan stories), so last night I paged through the story again just as a refresher.

The Scarlet Citadel is the second story Howard wrote to feature King Conan, but it shares quite a few features of the other adventurer Conan stories Howard had been writing after The Phoenix on the Sword.  The story begins with Conan the sole survivor on his side of a massive battle (again).  This time, the kings of Ophir and Koth, working under the direction of the wizard Tsotha-lanti, have lured Conan and his Poitanian cavalry into a trap.  Rather than have archers or hordes of spearmen kill Conan, Tsotha-lanti personally comes up and uses his "magic" (a poisoned ring in this case) to paralyze Conan, and take him prisoner. 

Conan of course refuses the ridiculous offer the kings make him to give up his throne, so he's tossed in the dungeons under Tsotha-lanti's fortress.  He escapes, wanders the labyrinthine passages until he meets a rival wizard, Pelias, and then with the help of Pelias' magic, returns to Aquilonia to battle it out with the usurping nobleman in league with the two kings.

It's a pretty good story.  Not top tier Conan, but still really good.  It's also dripping with D&Disms.  Tsotha-lanti seems to be the sort of wizard who has some actual arcane power, but really just uses science when he can (Clarke's Law and all that) since it's easier.  Still, the poison ring trick seems like a Hold Person spell in action (or maybe Hold Monster, since Conan is Name Level).  The dungeons under the eponymous Scarlet Citadel appear to be a fairly standard megadungeon full of monsters and oddities, built by ancient pre-human civilizations and discovered by Tsotha-lanti and used for his own purposes. 

I can easily imagine Dave Arneson and his buddies, playing out some Hyborian wargames using Chainmail, and someone suggesting, "Wouldn't it be cool if we played out Conan's escape from the Scarlet Citadel with the Man-to-Man rules?"  Pure speculation on my part, of course, but it was likely stories like this one that helped inspire the jump from wargames to role playing games.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Enter the Dungeon

Last night, I tried to get a game going to try out the D&D Next playtest stuff.  Didn't happen.  Josh, Pat and Alex had all expressed interest, but were busy playing Axis and Allies.  A few of the other Busan Gamers were busy, so couldn't play.  It was just me, Jeremy and Dean.  I put out a call on G+ to see if anyone's interested, but since I'm not a big G+ user, I didnt' attract any players.  Or maybe it's just that D&D Next didn't attract anyone.  Maybe there's the feedback for WotC.  Put out a random call of "Wanna play some D&D Next?" and get no responses.

Anyway, with just the three of us, and Jeremy beat from the previous night's excursion, we switched gears and they ran their Vaults of Ur PCs in my Megadungeon.  It went alright.  Elder Karl and Ripper awoke in the town of Silverwood, and quickly learned of the existence of the dungeon, and several rumors about things therein.  They hired a pair of spearmen, Geisler and Kessel, bought them crossbows as well, then set out for the ruins.

In the above ground castle ruins, they explored a dangerously ruined and empty tower, then worked their way along the curtain wall to anther tower in better shape, where they found an unguarded treasure chest full of silver coins.  While hauling it down the tower with ropes (the tower had a ladder, not steps), a trio of Elves came and just watched them at work.  When they finally got the chest down, the Elven spokesman asked rather abruptly if he could search the contents of the box.  After a bit of skeptical questioning from our heroes, the Elf explained that he and his companions were searching for an heirloom gem of their lord's, stolen by Hobgoblins.*  They were allowed to search the box, didn't find their gem, and left.

The party took their loot back to town, bought jewelry to carry the treasure more easily, had lunch, then headed back to the ruins.

The explorers next decided to head down the main entrance to the dungeons.  The first room was full of broken gear, spoiled rations, and other detritus left by previous explorers, and there was plenty of graffiti on the walls.  Ripper decided to write up his exploits in Ur, while Elder Karl and his spearman went to investigate the north door.  They found a large hallway, and a little ways up encountered a zombie mule.  Karl quickly turned it, then heard the saddlebags jingling as it ran away.  The whole party gave chase.

They found the mule being skewered by some strange quadrupedal, two headed shapes at the edge of their light.  Ripper yelled out an insulting challenge, and the shapes charged.  Kobolds riding goats, and armed with lances.  Their initial charge and the heroes' defense resulted in 0 hits for double damage (a shame).  Four of the kobolds, and one of the goats shield bashed by Ripper, soon went down, with the last kobold captured.  The party was able to recover the zombie mule's loot, and was retracing their steps when they heard iron-shod boots approaching, and in greater numbers than their party.  They made a run for the exit, assuming they were approaching hobgoblins, and went back to town.

It was a fun little session, and it's got me wanting to run my dungeon more.

*The gem was actually found by Jeremy and Brian's other characters when I ran my megadungeon for them a while back.  Those Elves will be pissed when they find out...