Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Man, Gygax could be wordy

I'm restocking parts of the Caves of Chaos that were previously cleared by a (slightly different) party in my West Marches game. Only one PC from that era of the campaign is still with them (although my son will be back in Busan in a little over a month and hopefully rejoining the campaign).

Anyway, I copy/pasted from the PDF of the module to a word processor, and I'm just deleting all these wonderful but extraneous details about the place. It's nice to have that detail there to help set the mood, or if the players start asking detailed questions. But in practice (at the table), I find it all just gets in the way of the important game elements.

So, stripping it all out. Saves paper anyway.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Taking of Nasty Canasta: Rustler, Bandit, Square Dance Caller

We played Caverns & Cowboys again last night and it was another fun session. Ken couldn't make it (which is too bad, he is up on the genre so he brings a lot to the game) but Jeremy and Dean were able to show up.

I threw out three hooks: protect a wagon train of settlers planning to go through hostile territory to a new settlement, try to eliminate a dragon for the local cattlemen's association, or track down the wanted criminal Nasty Canasta. They chose the third.

Savvy readers who had awesome childhoods or who are awesome parents may recognize that name. I stole the character from Looney Tunes (Drip-Along Daffy, where Daffy and Porky try to rid a "typical Western town" of said villain). And funnily enough, although I didn't plan it to go down this way, it actually did play out in a similar manner to the cartoon I stole the idea from!

I also got to try out a simple "stud poker" mini-game that can be played by rolling dice to determine how good your hand is and then betting on it. It's not perfect, but it's simple and worked well enough in practice. With a bit of tweaking it could be used to simulate other types of poker as well. And it fits in well with the Cheat subskill of the Dastard skill set (which both Jeremy's PC and the NPC Nasty Canasta had).

Another successful play test! Oh, and Jeremy has been making some art samples that I think look pretty awesome and will likely be licensing from him to help illustrate the book when I get it ready for publication.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

VR Battle Arena

After our end of semester faculty dinner, I went with three of my coworkers to play a VR FPS game called Battle Arena.

You get an Oculus Rift type headset, two pistols, and a circle to stand on. You teleport around the arena by aiming a gun at a platform and holding the trigger down for a second or two. You shoot by pointing the gun and shooting. Better weapons occasionally spawn in certain squares.

Other than the fact that teleporting from space to space is the only way to move (and options are limited), it's a lot like Quake or a similar FPS game (yes, I'm probably dating myself using Quake as my frame-of-reference game here...I don't play many video games anymore).

There were a few technical difficulties. My headset kept slipping, which made the screen blurry and I had to adjust with one hand (so stop shooting/moving). One of the other guys had trouble entering the game, so the second time the operator had to stop us and restart it so he could get in. Despite that, we played two games and had a lot of fun.

I ended up getting second place in the first match, third place in the second. Not bad for my first time playing, I think. The coworker whose idea it was to go there won both times, as he's played it quite a bit. When my son gets back to Korea, I want to take him there. I think he'll dig it.

There was another cooperative zombie killing game, but it was only a 2 player game and since there were 4 of us we didn't play it. Maybe next time.

And I can't wait for the fantasy adventure VR/AR games that are sure to come out in the near future! A cooperative dungeon crawl game with swords and wands of fireballs would be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A disputed saving throw

Recently in a PbP game I run (house ruled Classic D&D), this situation happened.

The player in question is no stranger to older editions of D&D. He's been playing longer than I have (says he started in '79), and he's played most editions of the game although he mostly plays 5E now.

The game is set in my megadungeon.

To speed up PbP gaming, and to get a bit of rivalry/competition like I read about in the old days, each player runs their own party through the dungeon.

I make no bones about it being deadly. Only one person who signed up to play the game has managed not to lose a character, and that's because he quit as soon as he had his first encounter.

The Situation:
The player in question has his party (all still level 1, with 2 hirelings) exploring the ruins above the dungeon. There's a tower in part of the wall that opens up on two different courtyards at different elevations (it's a hilltop castle ruin with a sprawling dungeon beneath it). The party was at the middle level but didn't know that.

The party thief examines the door for traps, listens and hears nothing.

The player then says that his two fighters "barge into the room" and that the NPC hireling "is on their heels." This is even though, as I said, they heard no sounds from inside and had no reason to expect a creature inside. But if there was one, I guess they were hoping to surprise it.

What was really inside was a 3' wide landing (with no railing...it's a 400 year old castle ruin!) and a 20' drop.

My Ruling: 
If this were real life, there would be a good chance that they would not be able to halt their movement and plunge over the side. But I'm usually generous about these kinds of things. The clincher was that the player said the NPC was "on their heels."

If three dudes are charging through a doorway and there's only about 1 or 2 steps they can take inside before they fall, it seems logical to me that the third guy in would crash into the first two who had just managed to stop short. So I gave them all saving throws with a +2 bonus. Seemed fair to me.

The Result:
One Fighter made his save. The other failed. The NPC hireling failed. The PC was uninjured (9hp), but when I rolled 2d6, of course I got a 9! 0 is dead in this game. The NPC had 4hp and I rolled a 6. Also dead!

The Controversy:
Now I'm OK with how I ruled this situation. It's comical and sad that the fates did this. And it's not the first time this player has lost a PC. It's the third time. But he was apparently surprised and a bit upset at how the situation had unfolded.

My Take:
But really, he could have phrased his PCs' entrance to the tower in so many different ways that wouldn't have required the PCs to make saves to avoid falling. If he'd just said "We open the door," then I would have described the landing inside. He was careless in his orders IMO. And since this is Play-by-Post gaming, he had all the time he could want to decide how to phrase his post.

He seems to feel that I was setting up a "gotcha" moment, and not treating his characters as if they had any common sense. Well, I do make a lot of assumptions for the players in this game. I assume that thieves will be checking for traps when time allows. I assume that everyone in the party is trying to be as quiet as possible unless the player says otherwise. I try to assume competence on the part of the PCs. But in this case, I think an assumption of competence doesn't come into the picture.

Or maybe it's just that I'm a "Mel Brooks" sort of DM. He called it a Three Stooges moment. Either way, it's slapstick. And I'm fine with that. I guess he isn't.

He's not too terribly upset, though. He's still in the game, and rolled up a new Dwarf Fighter to replace the Human Fighter he lost.

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.