Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cuttin' Up Yer Mummies

Here's my latest set of paper miniatures on an index card. I thought about making a proper sarcophagus for the mummy like the vamp on a card, but if I can't make these things within a certain amount of time I just want to move on. The mummy here is a heavily reworked still from the movie featuring Boris Karloff... PDF.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dinosaurs and Tanks at Gloranthan Army

I've been thinking about making larger paper minis but at some point it's ridiculous if I want to maintain scale. I mean, what, an 8.5x11 paper miniature? So the larger dinosaurs are out. I could always pick up some plastic ones fairly cheaply at the museum or toy store, but I still might make some smaller ones for use in Athanor down the road or an island adventure... I've been wanting to use X1 again too - maybe in another 20 sessions or so.

Anyhow, just today I saw this post on Gloranthan Army and had to share here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Stick

Sunday, September 26, 2010

King Arthur in the Tomb of Horrors

In recently discussing the possibility of playing the Tomb of Horrors module as a one-shot, I suggested the idea that we use characters picked from Deities and Demigods just for kicks. Sure we could use the ones included in the back of the module, but I thought it might be interesting and a little humorous to see how someone like Sir Gawaine or the Gray Mouser might do down there. My friend declined, though mostly because he’d like to run his own characters through it one day never having played it before.

The conversation later had me thinking about what other quick and dirty gonzo one-shots I could come up with using the old 1st edition stuff. In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t do more of that kind of thing as a kid. I remember we did overrun the village of Hommlet with a high level thief and my friend’s assassin's guild, but that was more sadistic than gonzo really.

I can see mashing together some old stuff. Maybe you step through a door and are transported to a wholly different TSR module, then a few doors later, you teleport back to the original, or yet another one - a sort of 1st edition medley of modules that would really test the memory. Or perhaps to their surprise, all the inhabitants of one module are suddenly teleported and dropped into the various dungeon or rooms of another… G3 becomes S3. Running monsters as PCs and turning the table and having them invade various settlements would be fun. A handful of giants against the Keep on the Borderlands?

I’m committed to our regular games but these ideas would be a fun break for everyone, or something a potential new player might be interested in as a one-shot (lacking the ability to commit to a longer campaign). More than that, using the old stuff like this could give me the extra time I sometimes need for the regular game's design.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vampire on a Card

I've been wanting to do a three dimensional paper mini and a coffin seemed like a good place to start. Here' s a vampire (Nosferatu) mini and two coffins, fairly close to 25mm and formatted to fit on an index card.

You'll need a sharp knife or razor blade for this one, and it will need to be printed on a heavy stock paper if you don't print it on an index card
and want to make the coffins. The coffins are a little tricky, all the more reason for two on the card, there's a good chance one of them will be a little rough when finished.

After cutting out the design with scissors or your blade, the best way to make the folds is to use a razor or sharp knife to score the fold lines making sure not to cut all the way through the paper (hence the use of an index card or heavier paper).When you're done, the folds will almost make themselves as seen below. After this, the hard part - fold them in, put some glue on the inside flaps, and press the top "door" down onto them, holding and lightly compressing the entire form to keep its shape for ten seconds or so, so the glue will hold.
When you're done you'll have something like what's in the top picture (I did a quick black spray paint job on one of them), assuming you made your dexterity roll. After making enough for a vampire's harem you'll be an expert.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Kraken Black Spiced Rum

Today I made the rare journey to the liquor store to replenish the stocks. I’m somewhat of a sucker for novelty offerings when it comes to purchasing liquor, although I do have standards. The bottle and artwork of Kraken managed to reel me in, and its price of $17.95 didn’t break the bank, even with the previously mentioned budget cuts. From a certain perspective, it was a cost effective purchase, though weak kneed land lubbers should take note: the creature within is a healthy 94 proof.

I don’t look up reviews of liquor or beer before occasionally gambling on a particular purchase, unlike most of the wine snobs I know. I’m proud to say that’s part of what separates us beer and boozing types from that crowd. Consequently I am often sorely disappointed or very pleasantly surprised from these somewhat risky purchases. Today, I’m happy to say, was profitable.

A brief background first… I do have one friend who is a rum aficionado, but my own expertise is in the area of single malt whiskies for the most part, and I can say that I was once offered my own TV show segment to be called “Rob the Beer Snob” which I declined out of respect to my wife and dogs. There’s something about being able to walk into a local establishment and not be called out to as “Norm” or the nearest local equivalent in this case.

So knowing little to nothing about rum, I still believe my highly refined whiskey tasting palette can discern the difference between pirate rotgut and fresh water in the doldroms. So take what I have to say next with a grain of salt:

I liked it quite a bit. I was immediately struck by a taste of cocoa, and surprised at the strength of the stuff (this was before I looked more closely at the label to determine its proof). What’s this? It’s bottled in Indiana? Well, I’ll overlook that here. They make some fine moonshine in those parts, who am I to say that they couldn’t make a decent rum as well? Mind you it does give some pause. That’s pretty much it. You can always rely on the meat of this type of review here to last about a sentence or two.

Now following this first taste I suggested to my wife that she should really try some. Normally she would vigorously turn down such an offer, knowing that I favor rye and other whiskeys that make her face scrunch up and force her to consider the location of the nearest sink. In this case, I specifically pointed out beforehand that it was rum. Not only did she taste it, she took another hit from the bottle, which I distinctly heard glug more than once, and after which, she swallowed and planted a wet kiss upon my lucky lips. Especially lucky was the fact that she was wearing some kind of coconut scented lip balm, whose bouquet married the still rich aftertaste and fumes of the high-octane Kraken in a most delirium inducing fashion. Wonderful! After this I poured a bunch over ice and found that it was delectable this way too, although I wasn’t quite ready for its edge on an empty stomach. I did not find a host of subtle herbs and flavors though, mostly just a straight cocoa and coffee flavor with a slight bitterness that still held an appeal.

With anything other than vodka, I’m reluctant to mix the spirit in question with something that might mask its flavor. I am an art critic, not a drunk! So as to whether you might be able to decently make zombies or what have you from this rum is hard for me to say, but I will say this: It’s very good all on its own or on the rocks. Don’t wreck yourself though, it is strong stuff and might sneak up on you. For mixed drinks, I’d go to a lower shelf spirit. For myself, I can see it being occasionally sipped over ice and lasting longer in the bottle than my usual favorites.

Postscript: By the gods these folks know how to put out a media kit - like something you'd find on Propomicon. Not a bad website either.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

S&W Sessions Journal: He's dead, you passed.

I was able to follow through on that assassination solo game idea I had a while back in our semi-regular Swords & Wizardry game last night. Instead of skipping the usual session though, Gulch’s player and I just started a couple of hours earlier on our own. To be honest, it was railroady but I was still glad we did it and he seemed to enjoy the roleplaying.

It played out more or less how I’d originally sketched it out here. Two slightly higher level representatives of the guild that Gulch belongs to came to town. A boy messenger had sent word to Gulch at the inn to expect them. They met up one morning before the others had awoken and these two informed him that they were to observe and rate his first hit, and help him slightly by providing lookouts.

The player was a little uncomfortable upon learning that his target was a lawful man, and a storekeeper who’d previously hired the party. I got the sense this was mostly due to his being worried about what the rest of the party would think if they found out, rather than due to any morals. His new comrades (Udo and Urnok) told him that since the target’s home was close to the local militia’s barracks, each would cover a section of road in either direction to delay anyone coming or be able to provide warning or assistance if something went drastically wrong. The night the hit was planned for, Gulch went down the deserted street towards the house - he saw and nodded to the first assassin, Udo, the higher ranking one he thought, knowing that the other must be ahead and out of sight, past the house and further up the road.

He snuck around the back, tried the door, and found that it was unlocked. He stealthily crept inside in the moonlight. This wall all kind of creepy and tension filled, considering he had murder on his mind, knew the target was married, and that the constable wasn’t physically far away. Gulch had been given some poison, and had originally planned on delivering it in some of the new Harvest Festival beer that everyone in town had been drinking lately. Udo had talked him out of it though for reasons that will become clear.

Creeping from one room to another, he eventually found himself in a living room area with a sofa where he saw the snoring form of the storekeeper’s wife. Around her were several large, empty beer bottles. A little relieved, he spotted a door and a set of stairs up. He chose the creaky stairs of course! Fortunately for him, they weren't creaky enough to wake the wife. He used the bannister to distribute his weight and crept upstairs. After poking around up there, he found the master bedroom and heard snoring. In the darkness, he could see the form of the storekeeper. He couldn’t see his face as it was under sheets and seemed to be turned away from him. As he moved closer he almost dove under the bed when the form began to stir and stopped snoring for a moment. Finally close enough to strike he pulled out his dagger and poison.

Just at this moment, the form on the bed pulled the sheets away from his head, revealing the devilishly smiling face of Urdok. “Don’t worry, your man’s already dead. We dumped him in the river earlier this evening… His wife? We drugged their beer. She’ll have a bad hangover and wonder why her husband ran away.” Turns out Urdok was the senior assassin and the whole thing was a test, one that Gulch had passed. Next time he’ll be given his own, real target.

After this we played with the whole party, which decided it was time they left town probably to Gulch’s relief. There were a lot of options I had prepared, with roughly every compass direction covered in some manner. The idea was to go further down river towards Aleger and Olav’s inherited mining claim but that they’d stop off and investigate a tower along the way - well known in the area because of the continuous lightning striking it.

After selling some loot from the temple, they hired passage on a tall ship. Though they could have followed the road the five or six miles or so it might have taken them to reach a turn off to the tower, Agnal knew from previous experience that there were sometimes goblin ambushes that way and was reluctant to travel on foot.

A couple of men joined them as porters when they left the ship, and they made their way to the tower. Thus began their foray into the Tower of the Stargazer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Skull Mace of Weinberg

Appearing at first to be an ornamental weapon, the Mace of Weinberg’s handle is made of silver with a painted crystal skull about six inches in diameter as its head. The name “Friedrich” is inscribed in runes along its length. Once per day, when the mace is held and this name spoken aloud, the skull will glow and illuminate a 30’ radius with a pale blue light for a duration of three hours. Corporeal undead within range of this light must make a saving throw or else be Slowed for three turns, moving and attacking at half speed. Ghosts and other non-corporeal undead will not be slowed by this light, but still must make a saving throw - if they fail, they become vulnerable to attack by normal weapons for three turns. The mace can be used to hit them in either state, although against living creatures or the corporeal undead it should be treated as a normal mace -1. The item may break if used in this manner, but the crystal itself appears indestructible.

The crystal skull is a kind of magic jar for the ghost of Friedrich and the mace exudes an aura of evil to anyone or thing that can detect it. Friedrich can and will only emerge from the skull to attack if the mace is broken (in a critical fumble or otherwise). If this happens, the crystal will cease to glow and lose its power.

Long ago, a necromancer bound Friedrich to the weapon. It’s magic power derives from this and is very different in the hands of someone like its creator. Every time the magic power of the mace is invoked, Friedrich experiences pain beyond imagining - a fact he will be eager to share with a party and seek revenge for should the opportunity ever arise. Though the mace can be repaired if broken, if Friedrich is not somehow re-bound to the crystal its only value is monetary.

Friedrich the Ghost: AC 0 [19], HD 8, HP 35, Attacks: Touch (d8 cold damage), Saving Throw: 8, Special: Touch attacks also cause aging of 10-40 years (Save allowed); immune to spell attacks cast from the material plane; can only be hit by silver or magic weapons. Friedrich is completely insane and will attack a human male before others in the belief that he’s responsible for originally binding him.

Accompanying image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Based a prior work by Steaphan Greene and public domain image brought to my attention by Telecanter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tumbling Dice

I'm sorry, but I've been wanting to do this for years.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reincarnated PCs

I’ve only just now watched the latest Star Trek movie and it set some gears in motion (I haven’t been to a movie theater in six years!)… I’ve some mixed feelings about it, but it helped re-kindle the idea of running a game of classic Traveller for only one or two players.

In most RPGs I've played, when someone’s character dies, they’re pretty much born back into the game in the same time and space as their last character, or close to it. With only one or two players in a classic sci-fi setting though, the chance that they’ll die in a fantastic inter-planetary mishap or space-battle TPK is fairly high, in addition to the typical high mortality rate of an old school game. I’d like to try to run a campaign where the players experience the advance of history intuitively but directly through the advance of technology. So if they die, their next character won’t be born until their previous one might have lived out the potentially long life they would have had, this span being determined randomly by dice. When they “come back” the campaign world will have advanced slightly. They’ll be on their toes a bit more, not wanting to make assumptions about the current state of technology or extraterrestrial relations, and curious about the new options this state of affairs affords them and the impact, if any, that their previous lives might have had. I’d love to be able to guide the player(s) through a future history where their own planet first achieved interplanetary travel, had their first interplanetary war, and came to grips with the fact that various extraterrestrial species might have genetically interfered with their species evolution.

Taking a longer view of things, this might also mean that a player wouldn’t mind his character’s death so much. Campaign development would be more interesting and dynamic for everyone.

This was my first music purchase, the 45rpm b-side to "Whip It".

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Endless Caption #5: Circus of Fear

A most challenging Endless Caption, and the last for the foreseeable future since I'm all out of these books until my next trip to the second hand stores. Good luck, and thanks for playing...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Helios Creed - Alien Landscape

Take that, John Batten.

The power of the public domain compels me...
My reinterpretation of John D. Batten's "Jack With His Invisible Coat”… I call it, "John's Invisible Griffins". The new public domain still image is here if you can use it. Thanks to Telecanter for bringing the original to my attention, without whom it might never have become corrupted.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ghosts in the Game

Ghosts make their first appearance in AD&D, and were left out of the OD&D, Holmes, and Moldvay versions. In the Monster Manual, they’re powerful creatures indeed. Weighing in at 10HD, AC 0 (8 on the ethereal plane), they have a special attack of Magic Jar (a 5th level magic user spell) or of touch where their target ages 10-40 years when successfully hit. In addition, they can only be hit by magical or silver weapons (the latter of which only cause 50% damage). They can only by effected by magic spells cast from the ethereal plane, and any human or demi-human that they kill is “forever dead”. Presumably that means no Raise Dead, no Resurrection, no Reincarnation… no Wish? I think I read in 2nd edition that a Wish would work. Still, holy shit, huh? All of this is tempered by the fact that they can be turned by clerics… Of 7th and higher level. When I say 7th level, I mean with a roll of 20, although after that it does get easier quickly.

The MM’s description of its Magic Jar ability is not entirely clear to me. How often can they use this - is it “per the spell” as stated, implying once per day? The MM says that “if the ghost fails to magic jar its chosen victim, it will then semi-materialize in order to attack by touch…” So it’s not free to choose another opponent and try again? Maybe the supernatural effort to do so is too draining and that’s why the ghost has to materialize to attack in another way. Although it might be suggested that becoming tangible and visible would take supernatural energy as well, maybe even using more energy than just possessing someone’s body. Mentzer tries to clarify this a bit in the 1984 Companion Rules. There it states a ghost can use a magic jar effect, once per turn. Considering that the ghost would have the spell casting and general abilities and knowledge of the one possessed, it’s a formidable power however often it can be used.

What is this Magic Jar? It’s basically just good old fashioned possession, although the spell as written in the Player’s Handbook specifically involves the use of a large gem or crystal. This is where the spell caster first places his soul, or life-essence before eventually attacking and possessing someone. But why was the ghost’s power of possession written up this way? Are all ghosts inhabiting gems? That can’t be right. The MM describes them as “roaming about at night or in places of darkness.” Was using Magic Jar in its description just a way of easily referring DMs to a similar magic effect, and for brevity’s sake? Do I have to roll the ghost’s intelligence and wisdom in order to make the calculations listed under the Player Handbook’s entry for Magic Jar? The MM already says that they’re highly intelligent. Maybe Mentzer can clarify again. Back to the Companion Rules - he says this of their magic jar effect, “If successful, one item carried by the ghost will glow, powered by the life force of the victim. The ghost’s force then possesses the body of the victim and causes it to attack others. During this time, and for as long as it possesses another, the ghost’s figure stops, merely holding the light (but oozing the Ectoplasmic Net). The ghost and the item both remain ethereal.” Yeah. Ok, let’s look to a later edition - I just happen to have a copy of the 3.0 MM here. Ah, ghosts are now templates, and their power of possession is “similar to magic jar…although it does not require a receptacle.” Aside from potentially confusing things, a “magic jar” sounds a lot more innocuous than the Exorcist evoking “possession”.

Out of curiosity, I looked at Bruce Galloway’s interpretation of the ghost’s abilities in his Fantasy Wargaming book. Say what you will, but that book can provide a lot of perspective. Galloway says nothing about a ghost’s ability to possess someone, perhaps rightly assuming that only demons have this power. Instead, he refers to the ghost’s method of attack as its ability to frighten, period. This ability, depending on a number of factors, will either fail, cause a temporary loss in a character’s Bravery attribute, cause madness, or cause instant death. I like this, it’s very straightforward. Maybe it’s worth checking out yet another set or two of rules.

I looked at my (AH) Runequest’s ghost write up and see that there it engages in spiritual combat with intruders (it’s tied to a site or object). If it reduces its foe to zero magic points, it possesses him. Not surprising, but in a slight departure from the AD&D model, “usually causing the victim to kill himself.” I also looked at what Call of Cthulu has to say, and found my favorite entry thus far on the subject. “Each ghost should be crafted by the keeper to fit the circumstance of the adventure.” They may or may not be vulnerable to magic. They may or may not be exorcisable.

To many people, ghosts are real. More real to most people than ogres and orcs anyway. To me, that’s the appeal of using them in the game… they still stoke primal fears. The ghost and its powers also seem well suited to house-ruling the hell out of, or writing them up however you like. You might have to, depending on what game you play - there isn’t a ghost entry in the Swords & Wizardry rules, the 0e Reloaded Monster Book, or Labyrinth Lord.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Intermission Music - Air Drawn Dagger

Sasha's Mr. Tiddles.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kids and Ghosts

So here's a question: Given that ghosts in AD&D/OSRIC age the people they touch by 10-40 years, if they touch a little kid, does the little kid stay the same size but just get older looking - like a freaky hobbit without hairy feet? Or do they suddenly actually grow in size and their clothes shrink and rip accordingly?

I mean, if their bodies grow, then there's a kind of polymorph thing going on and it just seems very odd or really fantastic somehow (of course, so is magical aging itself). Let’s say that physical growth does occur - might you end up with middle-aged adults whose language and demeanor is that of children? Another option with that approach might be that they’ll stop behaving like a child after a number of years go by that had originally been left to their youth, before it was stolen. Or would they magically and instantly advance in age and size and become the adults that they were destined to become in personality, simply missing the decades of life's experiences that they would have had? I suppose these other options might not be dependent on whether they grow in size or not.

I asked my wife and she chose the freaky hobbit option. She found the idea of a change in size to be silly, and in fact said that the child would not grow in size with natural aging either - that they’d be stuck in that small physical form for the rest of their lives. Crap. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that option. At least she indulges my occasional important question from left field.

I started to actually chart the possibilities to make a vote easier and to clarify it for myself, or even to have a table to roll on, but I just confused myself more in the attempt.

Personally, I like the idea of a more powerful ghost that robs children of their adulthood forever, but traps them in an adult body. It’s tragic, and makes for a good NPC.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Library Sale Score

The last time I went to a library sale, I got there there just a few minutes before they were going to open. The funny thing is, I took the elevator up from the parking garage, and just as the doors opened a gal a few feet to my right unhooked a rope from the doorway she was standing in and said, “Come on in!” Happy to oblige, I stepped forward only to notice a line of over a hundred people behind me suddenly surge and push me into the sales room. Animals! I haven’t seen such a pack of wolves and vultures since last call at the civic baseball stadium. I came out of the place with only a couple of Fortean Times magazines. The only reason one of those was probably left was because of the feature article’s Satanic artwork on the cover.

Since then, however, I have recruited a spy to work the scene for me. She’s a lovely older lady who volunteers at the library. In return, I keep her computer humming like a precision sewing machine. Following some months of silence where her field reports were becoming less frequent, I finally received notice that there’d been a donation of several books with the words “Dungeons and Dragons” somewhere on the front. As this was exactly what my original instructions had said to watch out for, I eagerly sent word to put them aside and buy them for me at the price they’d be sold for at the next book sale. She wrote me back and assured me it was done, and that there were three books which would cost me $6 total.

I anxiously looked forward to her visit. Of course my mind raced with the possibilities - little OD&D books, 1st printing Deities and Demigods, some rare module maybe? Well, she came over, handed me the three books, and my heart sank a bit as I paid her the six bucks. They were that new version the kids are playing these days that everyone’s been bitching about lately (pictured below). Damn! Well, maybe there’s something in them I can use.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

And Two More...

Two more images from the Dordogne region of France that I hereby release into the Public Domain...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Three from the Dordogne

I hearby release these three images into the public domain. Do with them what thou wilt.

Wind Powered Monsters

Theo Jansen makes autonomously moving, wind-powered structures that can seem alive. Check out these amazing videos (my favorite is the "rhinoceros")...

"Self-propelling beach animals like Animaris Percipiere have a stomach. This consists of recycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind. This is done using a variety of bicycle pump, needless to say of plastic tubing. Several of these little pumps are driven by wings up at the front of the animal that flap in the breeze. It takes a few hours, but then the bottles are full. They contain a supply of potential wind. Take off the cap and the wind will emerge from the bottle at high speed. The trick is to get that untamed wind under control and use it to move the animal. For this, muscles are required. Beach animals have pushing muscles which get longer when told to do so. These consist of a tube containing another that is able to move in and out. There is a rubber ring on the end of the inner tube so that this acts as a piston. When the air runs from the bottles through a small pipe in the tube it pushes the piston outwards and the muscle lengthens. The beach animal's muscle can best be likened to a bone that gets longer. Muscles can open taps to activate other muscles that open other taps, and so on. This creates control centres that can be compared to brains."

Oregon Shrewsbury Festival - Ren Faire

This weekend is the annual Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire in Kings Valley, Oregon (not far from Corvallis). I'm going to try to make the trip up again with my nephew Josiah and maybe some friends... Let me know if you're attending and if I see you up there I'll buy you an ale... Here's a festival map I'm tempted to turn into a handout for my players.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Assassinations 101

My new player has begun playing a PC (formerly an NPC) who’s an assassin. His guild is in the nearest large city to where the party has mostly been based: a smallish town with relatively minor problems. The assassin’s name is Gulch, and his background is that his superiors have sent him out into the world to raise funds to upgrade the guild’s headquarters.

This week's game was cancelled, and now I’ve got more time to prepare for the next regular session. I’ve been thinking that it might be great to do a one-shot solo adventure with this player in the interim. Gulch joined the party a bit late after other characters had died, so consequently he’s lagging in experience. I thought it might be nice to line up an assassination job for him to get him up to speed and this might be the right time to do it.

Player spoiler alert!

So I’m relishing the sinister possibilities… One idea I’ve had revolves around two NPCs in town. One merchant was stealing from another. The second merchant hired the party several sessions back to find out who was stealing from him. The group successfully captured the culprits, killing one in the process, both of whom turned out to be the sons of the first merchant. The surviving son is now rotting in a dungeon and the father (who claimed no knowledge of his sons’ activities) has travelled to the big city to hire an assassin to take out his competition once and for all and to avenge his sons.

My loose plan is to have one or two of Gulch’s minor superiors at the guild make a trip into town to check up on him, collect his dues, and assign him the task of killing the friendly merchant who’d previously hired him and his group. I’ve begun to think about the possibilities that the player might decline the job (and be punished by the guild), or that he might feel guilty and fail on purpose, or warn the merchant somehow. If the player takes the job, I have the task of drawing up the target's home, defenses, and daily routine to be prepared for the player beginning the stalking process. It’s all kind of morbidly fun to consider, though I suffer some minor guilt from, in effect, helping to plot the good merchant’s demise.

Because this is Gulch’s first job, and because he’s not yet proven himself, I’m very tempted to have the entire thing be a setup. That is, the two other guild members might have been sent to test Gulch. They may give him some help in plotting the kill, and then when the time comes, they might kill the merchant themselves. One of them might then disguise themselves as the merchant, and taking the proper precautions, pose as him for the planned event. Then if the player chickens out, warns the merchant, or otherwise screws up, he’s busted! All standard operating procedures for first time hits, of course. But will the player consider this?

If the player fails, he might be given a second chance, albeit one requiring even more brutality to succeed. If he succeeds, then I can see an ongoing series of solo games consisting of assassinations when our regular games don’t happen for whatever reason. That might get old quick, or it might not… Though the thief and assassin classes are well suited for solo-play, the thought of running one murder after another might be a little darker game than I’d want to play even semi-regularly.

I’d be interested in hearing about anyone’s fun or enlightening assassination experiences to be able to get some more ideas. From the game only, please.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Poll Results: Ratio of Gaming to Blogging

I wasn’t surprised by the results of the latest poll, which show that most people fall into one of two extremes: either spending a ton of time writing for their blog in comparison to their actual gaming, or vice versa. Personally I fall pretty close to the middle. Occasionally I find myself spending a lot of time writing up a post that isn’t relevant to my current games. Then I might feel a pang of guilt and that I should be using more of my time making better adventures, more flavorful NPCs, plot twists, hooks, traps, maps, etc. for my players. In the end though, I think I have to let my thoughts wander all over the place to stay creative generally… and what seem to be digressions can lead to just the inspiration I needed for our next game session.

Monday, September 6, 2010

More thoughts on character ownership.

For our online/voip games, I keep duplicate record sheets for each of the PCs in our game. Some of my note taking during sessions is recorded directly onto these sheets, such as the actual value or nature of magic items. I find this to be helpful in other ways - I don't have to ask the players for information about their inventory or attributes to make rulings, and I can update their items as we play (while they do) so we're on the same page.

I think this came about because we couldn't easily exchange the sheets - I didn't want to force the record sheet to be a text file continually being edited instead of the usual pencil and paper. Even if it was a text file, having to re-save and file transfer it slows the game a little. So we have this duplicate records method. As DM in our S&W games I use index cards as record sheets. These work really well since there's not as much shuffling and hunting for the right one when needed. I like the tangibility of these records too, as opposed to something stored on disk. Like using miniatures that aren't strictly required, their physical presence still contributes something to the game.

I don't keep duplicate sheets for face to face games, but I wonder if others do... For large groups this might slow the game with too many records to keep track of, but maybe not so much with index cards. I never played this way as a kid, but in retrospect maybe I should have. At that age, it seems like there was always sloppy record keeping and even the occasional cheat that got busted. Cheating at D&D! The very idea. I’ll never forget Willie showing up that day with the Wand of Orcus from who knows where.

I'm also curious as to whether most DMs hold onto the record sheets of their players between sessions or whether the players bring them to the game. I wonder if the DM holding them slightly breaks down trust or the players' sense of character ownership. Back in the day, it seems like my friends and I held onto our own records and our characters might move from one DM's game to another. Rules discrepancy wasn't an issue, since we didn’t have many house rules, if any, and the AD&D books were law. Nowadays I imagine most DMs hold onto these records for their players between sessions just for the sake of convenience.

Perhaps this reflects a subtle shift in how we’ve come to view the game having grown older. The last time I played with my nephew Josiah I thought I saw a little reluctance to turn over his character sheet. I ended up keeping it for fear it would be lost. He got to walk away with his own set of dice, so at least he owns the means of determining his character’s fate (he ended up losing some of the dice though.) Maybe I should have had him keep it, and if he lost it, well, his elf got lost and died. Or else he's fallen into a magic sleep until found and woken up. Hey kid, that paper is someone's life!

When we hold on to the only physical manifestation of our character, the record sheet, when we feel we “own” it and the character, I believe we’re more strongly in the shared, imaginary game space. Being willing to turn it over or give control of your character to the DM or other players may simply be a matter of maturity, but I also think how easy we find it to relinquish that control is a barometer of how immersed in the game we really are.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Endless Caption # 4: Light on Quests Mountain

Number four in a series of posts where you the reader choose your own caption for the included picture...
Today's scan dedicated to Margot Kidder and Brian De Palma

Friday, September 3, 2010

OSRIC Sessions Journal: Smoke 'em out

When the party made it to the abandoned mine they discovered there the remains of a great number of orcs and goblins, and met a ranger from many sessions back who had previously tried to get the party to join him. He and a merchant from town (a high level thief) had been slowly whittling down the numbers of the creatures here, but the thief had finally had enough and left. All of the goblins were afflicted with the strange illness that makes them even more stupid than usual.

They made camp and kept watch on the four entrances. Gladric and Vadco were able to capture a figure which emerged and had tried to sneak up on them. After a lot of questioning and threats, this cloaked human explained how he was a servant of an evil wizard who himself was employed by the leader of the bandits. He was the only one of the slaves kept that wasn’t diseased - and he’d been attempting to pour a poison into the ears of party members as they slept. The poison he carried was a small jar which actually contained a piece of a larger jelly-like creature of some kind. This man said it was intelligent and working with the wizard.

Gladric gained some more information from him about the layout of the chambers closest to the four entrances to the mine. Later, Gladric and several others entered one of the entrances and descended several hundred steps to verify the story they were told - that there was a sealed portal on the ground at the bottom of the stairs. Ouze the cleric identified a glyph of protection from evil on the portal and they were reluctant to open it in case it was keeping something trapped inside. They rejoined the others on the surface.

Then a plan was hatched to cover two of the other small openings to the mine with skins and blankets and build a fire inside the entrance to the one their captive had crept out of… This took a while to make happen but eventually there was a lot of smoke being produced. The idea was that it would be better to try to get the diseased orcs and goblins their captive had described to come out and fight in the open rather than risk ambush or traps. Nothing came out, but they pitched camp another night thinking that even if it hadn’t been enough to drive them out, they might now come to investigate the cause of the fire. Whether they were right or by chance, seven did come out - all were killed with no party losses, though there were a couple of close calls.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Minis, Picking Locks, and Origami

The other night I was putting together some of my paper miniatures when I started to think about other things I could design, like ruins, walls, wells, and various room contents such as treasure chests. In considering how to make easily constructed three dimensional objects, the thought occurred that there might be something to learn from origami techniques.

I started googling the subject and discovered this excellent gallery of origami D&D creations.

Then I had the idea that it might be fun to incorporate actually making origami into a D&D session, under the right circumstances. I understand that making origami is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I could see using it occasionally in place of dice. For example, if a lock has to be picked, a thief player might be told that it’s an extremely rare type of lock that he’s never seen before except in books. Hand him a sheet of origami paper with instructions for a simple design and if he can produce a reasonable result, voila, lock picked! Over time, the designs one might be able to give players could grow more complicated, and the whole group could help (or this might be great for that especially quiet player or one with busy hands.) You could even have the end result be a game clue of some kind, and hand out the instructions piecemeal, so the players don’t know what the end result will be until they’ve succeeded in making it. Maybe if they make a diamond shape, the chest opens to reveal a valuable gem. Locks not withstanding, creating origami could be used for other purposes such as a one time riddle to activate a portal or magic item.

The thing I like about this is that you can slowly increase the difficulty of the instructions and the difficulty itself is easier to gauge. As much as I like the game within game aspect of say, playing chess with one of your players, it seems much harder to gauge the degree of difficulty for the player (unless you know you suck or are willing to throw the game, in which case what’s the point?) There’s also the explicitly adversarial nature of that type of arrangement. I think one of the keys to using something like this is making sure that it doesn’t lead to the game being on hold for the rest of the players. If the origami can’t be quickly made, the locked treasure chest or magic item can be brought along with the party and the origami worked on by the player during slower parts of the game.

Of course there’s a number of puzzle items out there that could be used for this same purpose if your players cringe at the thought of folding paper. Substitute metal puzzle rings, a rubic’s cube with your own rune designs taped over the colors, etc. Still, origami is free or nearly so, and there are tons of free instructions on the web for all levels of ability. One day your players might even thank you for “teaching” it to them. Expect to have their creations thrown at you too.

Update: C'mon. Origami. D&D. Like Peanut Butter and Chocolate!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When Animals Attack! Paper Minis...

Here’s some more paper miniatures. I’m still enjoying making these and becoming a little more proficient at it. This latest set was inspired by a post over at the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. I sometimes forget in my own games that there are more every day types of monsters too. The DMG encounter tables lists badgers, wild boars, wild cattle/bulls, wild dogs, lions, stags, and wolves, among other things. So in the spirit of the TV shockumentary, I present these cuddly critters.

Some notes: These are all intended to be used with 25mm figures. I compared them to the earlier paper miniatures here and the scale seems pretty close. I wanted to fit them onto my usual 4x6 index cards for the heavier stock, but the larger size of the bear and elk wouldn’t work with the usual 3up format. The larger size bases on the elk and bear fit over a nickel or just under a quarter if you can spare the change. The silhouettes are painted in and reworked public domain images found on the web. You may have noticed a lot of empty white space above the small minis. This is because it’s easier to print them out and fold them when they’re longer (and then trim off the extra if you like) than it is to try to fold a cut out paper that would be 1/3 smaller.


I’ve realized that one of the advantages with paper minis, especially non-color ones like these, is that you can write notes or stats directly on them. I considered putting basic stats on their bases. Also with this latest batch, I started thinking about a game I’d call Zoopocalypse that I could use the minis in… Basically, it’s the end of our world as the animals wake up really smart one day and decide to make the human race extinct. Especially unfortunate is that this happens on the day you visit the zoo, and the escaped monkeys have let all the other animals out of their cages too! Will you make it out alive or will the lions eat your guts and the penguins poke your eyes out?