Tonight will be the first time I've played D&D with the friend who first introduced me to D&D in probably close to 20 years (not counting pbp, or maybe a random one-off at some point?). Pretty crazy to think about.
As is tradition when playing D&D with Adam, I give you... Snyder's hard pretzels and root beer!
Saturday, October 3, 2015
Tonight will be the first time I've played D&D with the friend who first introduced me to D&D in probably close to 20 years (not counting pbp, or maybe a random one-off at some point?). Pretty crazy to think about.
Friday, October 2, 2015
The campaign we open tomorrow night will be set in the Forgotten Realms, a high fantasy setting with decades of history told through various product authors, novelists, storytellers, and DMs. The decision to use a published world is not one that I took lightly, but one that became more and more apparent to me over the course of my planning. Everything I wanted for the setting, the party, and the individual characters continually fell into place around a specific area of Faerûn.
In addition to its published history, I have a great deal of personal history with the setting. As a player, the Realms was home to my longest-lived PC, Cadazcar (of Mordenkainen's disjunction fame). As DM, my most successful in-person and play-by-post games were run in FR.
The Realms provides a richness that a homebrew setting would find difficult to match. While I have a desire to homebrew again in the future, FR will provide a deep and immersive game for our group that should keep everyone invested for as long as we care to play.
Below are the required core values for the setting that I outlined in a previous post, with brief notes on how FR satisfies each:
Value #1 - The setting must accommodate a player-driven campaign. As my planning came along, the adventuring options around the starting city felt endless. Every time the need for a hook or specific type of location arose, the region accommodated it. Nothing felt forced. The party will be free to explore frontier wilderness, political intrigue, and everything in between.
Value #2 - The setting must be able to feed the primary motivations of the starting characters. When Sara recounted her character's backstory to me, a series of checkboxes ticked in my mind as I considered how the details fit the starting region. The background elements and primary motivation words given by the players (discovery, exploration, riches, and vindication) all melded.
Value #3 - The setting must provide verisimilitude. There wasn't much to worry about here, as I'd not have considered a setting or region that didn't satisfy this value. None of the options I looked at involved anything gimmicky that would keep the campaign world from being believable.
Value #4 - The prep work needed to run the setting must be sustainable. Having historied "anchor points" to build around gives me some helpful mental guardrails. Combined with the simplicity of the AD&D mechanics, I don't expect prep time to be much of an issue.
Value #5 - The setting must "speak to me" and keep my interest as DM. My history of reading, playing in, and running the Realms gives me confidence that sustained interest won't be a problem once the party starts making the world their own through our games.
Value #6 - Preexisting player knowledge of the setting must not be exploitable. While this is always a risk with published material, none of my players are what I'd consider "Realms-savvy." Players that want to wiki every proper name I give will stumble upon pieces of high-level information, but I don't envision the campaign unfolding in a way that will make this very exploitable. Also, see below...
Inspiration vs. Canon
A few years ago, Keith Baker wrote a great blog post on the subject of homebrew vs. established RPG worlds. I ended up reading this a few times over the past several weeks, and it definitely helped solidify the direction I wanted to go for the campaign. One of the biggest takeaways is how it's important when using a published setting to draw from the inspiration it offers without feeling overburdened by its canon. It's very much what I was able to do with Falkovnia, but even more challenging with Forgotten Realms due to the vast amount of canon that exists. The goal is to benefit from the depth and breadth of the world while still creating something that's our own. While I don't have specific plans to overhaul canon or desecrate FR sacred cows, the reality is that the moment the PCs set foot in the setting, they have the ability to enact change and cause the world to deviate from anything that might already be written or published.
And that's the way it should be.
Monday, September 28, 2015
As everyone continues to prepare for session #1, here are a couple good posts to reread (or just read, if you haven't read them before):
Players: What you need to know to play
The Importance of Finding Another Way (and AD&D Combat Math)
These are written more for new players, but if I did a decent job they really should benefit anyone. I also highly recommend A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming as a good AD&D mentality refresher.
On the topic of numbers and rules, one AD&D mechanic that always seems to get house-ruled is the critical hit. By the book, a natural 20 on an attack roll hits automatically. Many groups expand this to the attack automatically dealing double or max damage.
Over the years, I've developed a tendency to leave the critical hit rule alone. As unfun as it is for a player to roll a '1' for damage after scoring a natural 20 on the attack, the problem is that the mechanic tilts both ways. Player characters will generally be targeted by more attack rolls during a session than their enemies, and have much, much more to lose from erratic swings in damage. In the AD&D world, all lives are not created equal!
Hopefully, the frequency with which the players breathe a sigh of relief that we didn't change the critical hit rule will outweigh the times they bemoan it. Keep your tactics sound and the rolls will take care of themselves.
EDIT: Oops, I was wrong on this one. Sean pointed out to me that we did enforce max damage on natural 20s in Ravenloft, despite its potential to be detrimental to the party over the course of many battles. I'm OK with continuing that, in the name of the players' fun superseding the statistics. Anyway, it's far less swingy than extra dice or multipliers.
Friday, September 25, 2015
A little more than a week before our official start date, I have the campaign options narrowed down to two that I actually like. Both are developed at a high level in my mind; both will require more fleshing out over the next several days before we play the first session. Until recently, I had only one option that I felt good about, and a handful of other, disjointed paths that weren't coming together. I'm happy with both options I'm considering now; either should result in a good game.
The choice is a classic debate of homebrew vs. published, and it mostly boils down to whether or not to favor the prevalence of powerful governments and organizations in the world. A secondary consideration is the value of having locked-in anchor points with prewritten details and histories, along with overarching histories of races, kingdoms, and a select number of high-profile NPCs.
I'll spend the next week figuring all this out; in the meantime, below is the set of core values to which the chosen setting must adhere. These line items represent to me the most critical elements that the campaign world needs to provide:
Value #1 - The setting must accommodate a player-driven campaign. By this, I mean that the goals and desires of the PCs should be the main determinants of the campaign's path, not sidelined while the party goes along for the ride in my haunted house. The common term for this is "sandbox"; the setting must provide a large variety of adventuring paths to explore at (mostly) the whims of the PCs.
Value #2 - The setting must be able to feed the primary motivations of the starting characters. This value adds more specificity to value #1. Not only must the setting provide many adventuring options to the PCs, it must also provide the means to satiate the high-level goals of the starting characters as detailed to me by the players. The primary motivations given are "discovery," "exploration," "riches," and "vindication."
Value #3 - The setting must provide verisimilitude. Of course no fantasy world is going to seem real in the way our actual lives do; what's important is that the setting is believable within the context it defines. For me, realism within the fantasy world is a golden rule. It stands upon a pedestal. One of the reasons I stay away from the newer D&D editions is that I find them to be "gamey" in ways that distract from the sense of believability more than I would like. The rules system cannot do this, and neither can the setting.
Value #4 - The prep work needed to run the setting must be sustainable. We are a group of adults (technically speaking) with busy lives. I have a family, a career, and other hobbies and commitments outside of D&D. I have some time to prepare and run a D&D game, but that time is not unlimited. Many RPG campaigns start strong but sputter out after a handful of sessions due to the DM not being able to meet the time commitments to maintain the game. Running a D&D campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. The amount of prep work required of me must be something I can sustain.
Value #5 - The setting must "speak to me" and keep my interest as DM. If lack of time is the biggest reason for campaigns falling apart early, loss of interest by the DM is second. Campaign worlds built around bizarre or gimmicky premises tend to lose their novelty once the honeymoon period is over. The setting for our game must be robust and multi-faceted enough to hold my interest (and the interest of the players) through many sessions and levels over multiple years.
Value #6 - Preexisting player knowledge of the setting must not be exploitable. I would likely not run a Ravenloft game for a group of players whose Ravenloft knowledge eclipsed my own. Such a situation puts too much pressure on me to abide by perceived canon material for fear of being called out on differences, and carries too much risk of certain plot lines being spoiled by players who already know the books. Running a setting that doesn't present the PCs with a sense of trepidation for the unknown would be unfair to both me and the players.
Will be good to get our first game in so I can finally stop thinking about this stuff. :)
Thursday, September 24, 2015
As I'm gearing up to kick off a new campaign (and as I've been bogged down with a cold all week), I've been reading, a lot. AD&D blogs, Realms stuff, DMing books, you name it. One thing I did was revisit my posts from running T1 for high school buddies a few years back. We played four sessions, sorely needing one more, but due to scheduling and life, we never got it in. It'd have been nice to wrap that one up.
In any case, what really stood out to me in those games was how they practically ran themselves. The village and NPCs, everything simply reacted to what the characters did, and the successes and failures they found. There was an overarching plot to the moat house, but it mostly lurked in the dark, away from the spotlight. It was all about the PCs.
The Ravenloft game we just ended was pretty railroad-y, most of the way. Ravenloft's atmosphere demands that, to some extent. But I really want this next campaign to reclaim the "sandbox" element and freedom of direction that we had with Hommlet. It's D&D in its rawest form. Plot is like a good spice: a little goes a long way; much more than that can ruin the dish.
T1: The Village of Hommlet (part 1)
T1, part 2: a mixed bag
T1, part 3: A Feasting of Ghouls
T1, part 4: In the Arms of the Enemy (literally)
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Sunday, September 6, 2015
All good things must come to an end, and so it is that we've chosen to set our Ravenloft game aside, indefinitely, to begin a new campaign. This decision is more a result of real-life changes and availability than anything else, but Falkovnia and Drakov's Talons will surely be missed. We had a solid run of 21 sessions over the course of three years, with six characters between four players. Until we meet again...
In any event, something I'd like to try with the next game (aside from running a more traditional setting) is making the DM screen more transparent, as per some advice I recently picked up on. That doesn't mean players become privy to enemy stat blocks and unexplored map areas, but it would involve making most (if not all) DM dice rolls public. It seems like an interesting and worthwhile challenge - it definitely forces me to up my game, in terms of getting my rolls right and not pulling any punches for the PCs. I think we'll give it a go.
Edition-wise, I'm fairly sure we'll remain on AD&D 2e for the players, and for simplicity I'll likely follow suit, rather than having to deal with conflicting class and spell details in OSRIC. While 1e/2e/OSRIC are all nearly interchangeable at their cores, 2e still provides the best class options for wizards and priests, and remains the AD&D system I know best.
Look for more information on the new game in the coming weeks. Players can start bouncing around character ideas - in that vein, I leave you with this.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
As Gaertorin is laying by the fountain trying to sleep he begins to think about the day's events...
And Aginot was not worried about the dead. It is something evil and unnatural that is doing this, and it must be stopped. I lost my father to the undead already, I will not lose anyone else to them. What to do though? Is it wise to attempt to cross the desert during the day? We barely made it to the town, and had it not been for Carmen's decanter, I fear we may not have made it. If we go out at night we run the risk of encountering Anhktepot if we are to believe Isu, and encountering him could mean a swift death. It is not death I fear though, but undeath. I do not believe that Habbakuk would allow that for one of his faithful servants, but I have seen many things recently that I did not believe were possible before seeing them.
Valana's foretelling tonight was cryptic. I have never been good at deciphering prophecy and foretelling, but this seemed to me to be saying that we need to slay Anhktepot along with his undead minions. This is not a task that I relish, but I will undertake it if that is what is required of me. Perhaps I should discuss it further with Aginot, Leilana, and Carmen. Maybe they can make sense of this where I can see none.
This place that the mists have brought me to is more and more troubling each day. I wish Carmen and I could make our way home. However, I do not know where we are, so I cannot even begin to think of a way to get back. With each day, I become more certain that it will not be as simple as walking home.
As he rolls onto his side Gaertorin concentrates on his ring and begins to slow his breathing in an attempt to sleep. It is a gold ring, and on the top is a sapphire in the shape of a phoenix . As he is concentrating on the ring and slipping off to sleep it briefly flashes as if glowing from the inside. Gaertorin is left wondering if it was moonlight that caused that or something else as he drifts off to sleep.
Safely removed from Gorgi, the party began to set up camp. As they did, a trio of lantern-lights passed along the road, though at too far a distance for their nature to be discerned. The companions took their sleep in turn, though Leilana was startled during her watch when she turned to see Valana suddenly awake and staring at her intently. "One of your company possesses something of great significance to my people," the gypsy uttered. "You."
Valana reminded the druid of the scroll she carried, stating that it was penned by a Dukkar, a rare male Vistani gifted with Sight, many generations ago. The author, Hyskosa, recorded six verses, prophecies that together foretold the unraveling of the mists, rulers, and of the world itself. One of these verses had already come to pass. Leilana pressed for more details, but Valana answered her cryptically, then fell silent.
In the morning, a low haze covered the ground, and Valana explained that she could lead the PCs through the mists to find her family. The party followed the gypsy into a thick fog, walking until the sun shone high and hot overhead, and the ground was covered with sand. The mists burned away to reveal a vast desert, with endlessly rolling dunes in three directions and a steep cliff face in the fourth. They were standing near a road that led to a small village.
Valana was distressed and unable to say where the party was, or why. With little other recourse to escape the oppressive heat, they walked along the road until they came upon a brown, withered hand emerging from sand along their path. They uncovered a corpse, a dried-out husk dressed in a tattered garment. Unsettled, they proceeded on to the village, arriving at a spring in its center as lithe, brown-skinned villagers outfitted in flowing white robes and headdresses looked on. Standing next to the spring was a woman wearing a gold-trimmed gown, a snake's head circlet, a gold medallion, and several pieces of ornate jewelry.
The woman introduced herself as Isu Rehkotep, servant of Osiris, god of the dead. She welcomed the party to the village of Mudar in the land of Har'Akir, and explained plaintively that the villagers were wary due to a series of recent kidnappings. When the PCs mentioned the corpse they discovered along the road, Isu bid them to take her to it, and they did. Upon returning with the body, a female villager rushed to it in hysterics. Gaertorin attempted to comfort her, but the woman shrieked at the intrusion and several men surrounded her and the weathered corpse, finally carrying it away from the spring. Isu invited the PCs into her temple to help answer their questions.
The temple itself was a whitewashed, sandstone building of elaborate architecture, with two great statues guarding its entry. The first, a powerful male figure with the head of a hawk, depicted Ra, the sun god; the second depicted Anhktepot, the last pharaoh of Har'Akir. While Ra's statue appeared to be immaculately maintained, Anhktepot's was damaged and worn.
Inside, Isu led the party through a grand hall adorned with columns, prayer mats and tapestries before passing through a curtain into the priestess's public antechamber. Isu's exotic pet cat, Bashet, paced the room (showing a particular distaste for Aginot) as the priestess told the legend of Anhktepot:
The pharaoh Anhktepot ruled centuries ago in the land of Har’Akir. This nation encompassed the entire Abal river valley in the great Akir desert. According to our beliefs, the pharaoh is the link between man and the gods. The pharaoh is himself a god of this land. The pharaohs ruled by the divine grace of Ra, the sun god.
Anhktepot greatly feared death. It was known that when a pharaoh dies, he becomes a servant of Ra in the underworld, exalted above all other servants. For some unknown reason, Anhktepot did not want to die. Maybe he feared the wrath of Ra should the sun god discover that Anhktepot had been a false pharaoh. Anhktepot commanded his priests to find a way for him to cheat death. Many slaves and prisoners died horribly as subjects in Anhktepot’s gruesome experiments in immortality.
Frustrated by his lack of success, the pharaoh had several temples burned and razed. He stalked into the Kharn temple, greatest in all of Har’Akir, and cursed the gods for not granting him his heart’s desire. Ra answered Anhktepot. He told the pharaoh that when he died, he would live, though he might wish otherwise. However, for cursing the gods, Anhktepot would suffer eternally. Ra did not say how this curse would be manifest.
Anhktepot left the temple elated but confused. He still did not know how to cheat death. That night, when he touched Nephyr, his wife, she died instantly. Everyone he touched that night died. His wife, several of his servants, and his eldest child all died by his hand. According to our customs, they were mummified and entombed in great buildings in the desert. The funerals took over a week.
Anhktepot soon understood that after the sun left the sky, his touch was death. So long as Ra shone upon him, he was safe. But once he was no longer under the sun’s watchful eye, whomever he touched died horribly.
Shortly after the final ceremony of his wife’s funeral, he was visited in the night. A mummy wrapped in funeral linens entered his chambers. By the vestments he knew it was Nephyr. Unable to speak, the mummy tried to embrace Anhktepot. Horrified, he screamed for her to leave him forever, which she did. Nephyr walked into the desert and was never seen again. Her tomb has remained open and empty through all these years.
Anhktepot was also visited by the mummified bodies of those he had killed. He came to understand that he controlled them utterly. They did his every bidding. He used their power and his own deadly touch to tighten the reigns of his evil power over Har’Akir.
He killed many priests, making them into his undead slaves. Occasionally he would find one of his mummies destroyed, burned from the inside out. Some scholars believe Nephyr was responsible for the destruction of Anhktepot’s mummies, but no one knows the true answer.
One day, the priests rebelled against Anhktepot and murdered him in his sleep. He was still the pharaoh-a god and blessed of the gods. The priests gave him a funereal befitting his station. Shortly after the funereal, the Walls of Ra appeared, cutting us off from the rest of Har’Akir. All that remains of the life we once knew is Mudar and the tomb of Anhktepot, which lies a short way through the desert. All of this happened many generations ago.
Occasionally the villagers say they have seen the mummified body of Anhktepot staggering across the sand dunes. They blame most of their ill luck on him and use his name to frighten small children. I don’t know what has happened to Har’Akir or if Anhktepot truly does walk the land as one of the living dead.
Isu offered the party a place to sleep outside, near the spring where they would be safe. Strangely, many travelers had come to Mudar in recent weeks, she explained, but most often, the heat of the desert claimed them. The spring's water was sacred to the village; all were welcome to drink it freely, but filling a decanter or taking water away from the spring was considered a serious crime.
Distraught by the day's events, Valana bade the PCs to participate in a fortune-telling near the outskirts of the village, away from the populace. The PCs agreed, and seated themselves in a small circle, out of sight of any villagers. Valana removed a deck of cards from a pouch around her waist. She asked each companion to shuffle the cards in turn, then entered a trance-like state and revealed the following:
Six of Hearts - "The card of the hex. A sign of mystery and events to come. Look for the sign of six. The king understands the hex as the knave does not. [The heart] is the symbol of loyalty betrayed."
Queen of Clubs - "This card is the traitor queen. She who should serve has betrayed her lord."
Four of Diamonds - "The sun shall set this many times before the king can be sought. This time is called the Night of Thoth."
Four of Hearts - "A strengthening of the aspect of the Night of Thoth."
Jack of Clubs - "This card represents evil personified. He attempts to overthrow the king. The queen now serves this knave."
Four of Clubs - "A further strengthening of the sign of Thoth."
Before revealing a final card, Valana asked each companion to shuffle the cards again.
Ace of Clubs - "A singular presence. A symbol of those who do not belong. They have a terrible task ahead of them. [The club] is the symbol of physical power. This card holds the power to destroy."
Upon finishing the last reading, Valana broke from her trance and collapsed, stating that she needed rest. The PCs helped her back to the spring, where they set watches for the night.
In the late evening hours, after all the villagers had retired to their houses, Gaertorin spotted a lone figured illuminated by the moonlight in the desert, stray ends of cloth fluttering in the breeze as it walked among the dunes. Shaken, the half-elf assured the safety of his companions; when he looked back again, the form was gone.
During the midnight watch, Leilana heard a rustling sound and turned to see a brown, withered corpse attacking her from behind. The druid screamed, awakening her companions as the creature raked across her neck and face with its claws. Injured nearly to unconsciousness, Leilana ran the creature through with her spear, and Gaertorin crushed its skull with his mace.
The party dragged the body to the nearby temple steps, and the final watch passed uneventfully. In the early morning hours, as the sun began to warm the village, Leilana turned her focus toward the spring and began to cast a spell...
I'd never have thought that Carmen's decanter of endless water would come in so handy when I arbitrarily gave it to her as an initial magic item. So awesome when things like that just work out.
The only other thing to mention is that these session recaps shouldn't dissuade players from taking in-game notes - names, maps, and especially specific events like the fortune-telling should be recorded in as much detail as you think you might need later on. This time, I did include the minutiae since Aginot already posted his notes as well, but please don't count on me to always provide this stuff later, otherwise I may start omitting them from my write-ups.
Before settling down for the night, Aginot takes a few moments to ruminate near the spring over previous events.
While the memory is still fresh in his head, Aginot records his notes and thoughts regarding Valana's second reading of the deck.
The Mists are fickle, and they have brought us to Mudar, a village built on an oasis in the middle of the desert. How we came to be here, no one knows...not even Valana, the Vistani seer. But here we are trapped, for the blistering heat of the "Walls of Ra" prevents our escape. It seems we have been brought here for some purpose, and at the moment, it seems that purpose is to rid this land of the curse of Anhktepot.
At our bidding, Valana did a second reading of the cards. Here are my notes--I know not the full meaning of the reading, or how it relates to Leilana's scroll, but I have thoughts.
- The Six of Hearts: "The king understands the hex, while the knave does not. This suit is the symbol of loyalty betrayed." I can only believe that the "king" is Anhktepot, but I know nothing yet of the knave.
- The Queen of Clubs: "The traitor queen." I think this to be Nephyr, wife to Anhktepot, but I know not the significance.
- A Trio of Fours: "The sun shall st this many times before the king be sought. This shall be known as the Night of Thoth." I have no idea what "Thoth" is, but it seems now that we have limited time to accomplish our task.
- The Knave of Clubs: "The knave, evil personified. He attempts to overthrow the king, the queeen now serves this knave." More mystery, but it reinforces my feelings that we must seek out the Temple to Nephyr.
- The Ace of Clubs: "A singular presence. This suit is the symbol of physical power, the power to destroy." Yet another mystery, I cannot guess at its significance.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
From the AD&D 2e Player's Handbook (p. 29):
In their roles as protectors of good, rang-
ers tend to focus their efforts against some
particular creature, usually one that ma-
rauds their homeland. Before advancing to
2nd level, every ranger must select a species
enemy. Typical enemies include giants,
orcs, lizard men, trolls, or ghouls; your DM
has final approval on the choice. Thereafter,
whenever the ranger encounters that enemy,
he gains a +4 bonus to his attack rolls. This
enmity can be concealed only with great dif-
ficulty, so the ranger suffers a -4 penalty on
all encounter reactions with creatures of the
hated type. Furthermore, the ranger will ac-
tively seek out this enemy in combat in pref-
erence to all other foes unless someone else
presents a much greater danger.
As we've been using the 2e rules consistently for character creation and advancement, this applies to Gaertorin. Through a bit of research, though, I'm going to agree with what seems to be a large segment of DMs that restricting the favored enemy to a specific "species" is sometimes too narrow to be relevant in a given campaign. As such, for Gaertorin, the rule will apply to a broader "type" of enemy, which will allow him to appropriately favor "undead." This should be a nice benefit to the party and is very much on theme for the character.
Monday, January 5, 2015
Aginot takes some time to pen his thoughts on to a scrap of parchment, one of several that compose a makeshift journal of thoughts.
When you left us, you stole more than the mask. I hope that the gods can forgive your transgressions, and that debts can be settled, but in my heart, I know it is more likely that you will fall to the darkness within you. Should we meet again, and should you still bear the mask, it will be as enemies.
Despite your shaky moral foundation and questionable judgment, you brought a sense of balance to our group. My own faith pays little regard to justice; a ridiculous term, subject to whims of the spirit and self-righteousness. The Order, however, does concern itself with equity, and for all of your faults, you always tried to distribute your misguided justice equitably. You would have made a good acolyte.
I fear, however, that our new companions Gaertorin and Carmen may not share this trait. They are deadly, each in their own way, but they are seemingly indiscriminate in their lethality, and that makes me worry.
Consider the Talon soldiers, if you will. The Talons as an organization are surely tyrannical in their motivations, that much is without dispute by anyone of a reasonable mind. A single Talon soldier, however, is just a tool of his lord, and is not necessarily deserving of a knife to the back or killing blow while helpless. There have been times where Talons have directly opposed us, and we fought with lethal intent, but it was to save our own lives.
In Gorgi, though I do not know the details of Carmen's assassination of the Talon she encountered, I witnessed Gaertorin crack the skull of a guard I had rendered helpless, killing him instantly. Such actions create imbalance, and can only be answered with equal force, and I fear that we may not be up to the challenge should tides ever turn against us.
I cannot help but think that you would have handled the situation more responsibly, and it is for that, more than nearly anything else, that I regret your betrayal and desertion.