Tuesday, March 31, 2020

I Don't Know How Long This Will Last...

... but I might as well give this blog another try as long as I am stuck in the house.

What Have I Been Up To?

It has been a couple of years since I last posted. As usual, the more I actually manage to game, the less I manage to post, and I have been gaming a lot.

Miniatures Gaming

One of the biggest changes over the last few years is the amount of miniature wargames I play now. I started playing with the Second Saturday Scrum Group a while back, and we generally play a new wargame every month. 

In addition to regular gaming, we have put on a local gaming convention for the last two Februaries. ScrumCon, our convention, is split 50/50 between 

Several of my fellow Scum Club members also have blogs where you can learn more about the games we have been playing and our conventions:




Zach (Many of you will already be familiar with his blog, Zenopus Archives)


Roleplaying Games

Call of Cthulhu

While I have not done much playing or refereeing in CoC over the last year, Jared did publish one of my adventures, "Easier to Fill the Ocean with Stones" in the first issue of his magazineBayt Al Azif. This adventure takes place during the Viet Nam war.

Stonehell

I wrapped up my long running (9+ years) Stonehell campaign at GenCon last year. As many of you know, I ran a persistent version of Stonehell since shortly after its release. Many different groups of adventurers braved this version of Stonehell over the years, in home games, convention games, and at in-store game days. I do not have an accurate count of how many sessions of Stonehell I ran, or how many players took part, but I know there I ran over 50 sessions at conventions and game days alone. The home game sessions far outnumber these.

While I fully intended to set Stonehell aside forever, the reports of its death were slightly exaggerated. At Scrum Con this year, a last minute cancellation left us with a slot to fill. My extreme familiarity with Stonehell allowed me to get it to the table with no preparation, although I ran it from the book instead of persistent version. Perhaps I will throw open the ogre-mouth gates from time to time. 

Tekumel

After setting aside Stonehell, I picked up Tekumel. Similar to my Stonehell game, I am now running a persistent-across-all-games version of Tekumel using a modified version of Empire of the Petal Throne. In September, I started a Roll20 game that serves as the main home game for the campaign. There is another group that meets irregularly in person, and I have run several convention games. I am happy to report that it is going well so far, and there has already been cross over of characters between groups. We have managed to miss very few meetings since starting, which is encouraging.  

Stars Without Number

In the Fall of 2018, I started a Thursday night Stars Without Number group on Roll20. We wrapped up our first campaign early this year, and kicked off our second campaign a couple of weeks ago. While this group hasn't managed to meet as frequently as the Tekumel group, we still average around two meetings a month (and frequently achieve quite a bit more).

If I can keep this blog going again, I plan to spend quite a bit of time talking about the games I am playing, especially Tekumel and SWN. Tekumel is rich for mining from a lore standpoint, and SWN offers a lot to talk about on the system side.

As I type this, Maryland and Virginia (I am in the DC Metro Area) have just entered the lockdown phase of coronavirus mediation. I am planning on starting a third series of Roll20 games to fill this time. I will be calling this Moldy Oldies, with the intention of playing some games that are usually left on the shelf. The first one will be MERP.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

CoC, SWN, Fairfax Comic Con and R. A. Salvatore


Tonight, I finished my CoC adventure for my friend's 'zine. It wound up being quite a bit longer, and taking more effort, than I originally estimated, but I am pretty happy with it. With that out of the way, I can turn my attention to prepping my online SWN game. We have our Session 0 on the 6th, so I have a couple of weeks to get ready. I plan to let my players dictate a lot of what the setting will look like. I will leave it up to them whether we have psychic powers, AI, and aliens. I plan to rough out the sector and some other details. I will cover that process here.

I went to the first Fairfax Comic Con today. It was a bit bigger than I expected, for a first effort, but it was still pretty thin on events. I didn't take any pictures, because there wasn't really anything worth photographing. I did pick up a cheap dinged paperback copy of DCC and another copy of the Moldvay Basic Set. The box is a bit worn, but the books are practically new.

This week I read R. A. Salvatore's Child of a Mad God. It takes place in his Demon Wars world, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It has a detailed magic system and an interesting female main character. I have not read one of his books in years, and that turns out to have been a mistake. I think in my early 20s, I considered his writing to be juvenile (as in "for kids"), but I do not think that way anymore. After reading this book, I would describe his writing as accessible. That is not a bad thing at all. I may revisit Drizzt between new books this year. It has been a long time...

Monday, August 20, 2018

Dungeon Crawl Classics Playtest

This is from Trails in the Sky not DCC. It can be hard to tell them apart.

This weekend I focused on getting further in Trails in the Sky and working on a Call of Cthulhu adventure for my friend's 'zine. I also worked on pulling together the online Stars Without Number games I am planning on starting next month. 

On Saturday night, my regular group play tested a DCC module one of our members is working on.I will now attempt to summarize that insanity. I have written this from the perspective of my characters. They are unreliable sources of information.

It was a funnel game, and there were 6 players, so there were a lot of characters. My four characters were Kenny Rogers, a Gambler; Jeremiah Johnson, a Trapper; Osarb, a Mendicant; and Delta Burke, a Healer. Our characters started on the world of Osarb (no relation), which was just coming out of an ice age. As inhabitants of the town of Halbrinx, we were tasked with preparing the annual sacrifice. This was neither as dark, or as exciting, as it seems as the sacrifice was ceremonial only; an effigy.

Scott drew this at home, so we have no idea how long it took. I assume this is what he has been doing since GenCon.

As the party was setting up the effigy, Osarb, drunk as always, knocked it over. It was through this encounter that we learned that having a 4 in Agility is not helpful. While Osarb was apologizing, the rest of the party managed to finish the effigy. Just as we were getting set to call out to the rest of the village, we heard a buzzing sound from the nearby trees. Jeremiah Johnson used his folksy woods knowledge to identify it as a bee. This was a timely identification, because a giant bee attacked immediately afterwards.

A slave, who I will call Chris LeDoux, attempted to mount the bee and ride it. This did not work. Jeremiah Johnson leapt into action and attacked the bee with his sling. Sadly, his shot went wide and hit Osarb in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Delta Burke was able to make quick work of the bee with her club. In this encounter, we learned that missile fire is dangerous due to the firing into melee rules. When I say "we learned", I mean... well, you'll see.

After dispatching the giant bee, we heard an even louder buzzing sound coming from the woods. Some of the group, who seemed to be pretty smart at the time, built up the fire to smoke the bees. This worked, and we were not attacked by the bees. Instead the fire melted some of the snow and caused an avalanche instead. After being chased down the mountain, we discovered that the avalanche had unearthed a mine entrance. We did the wise thing and entered without preparation.  

The first level of the dungeon. This one was kind of a group project.

After making our way through the partially obstructed opening, we found ourselves in a large chamber (middle left). There were two skeletons against the wall and a lone rail running through the center of the room. As we followed the rail into a tunnel, we noticed glints of silver in the walls. The tunnel opened into a circular room (center) with several exits, a hole in the floor, and some kind of spiky cylinder.

After some investigation, most of us were sure that the cylinder was a bread maker. Chris LeDoux was not convinced; he was sure it was some sort of automatic slave beating device. Despite our grumbling bellies, we did not turn it on.

After following a side passage, we found a chamber with a desk and a cabinet (middle bottom). When Delta Burke touched the desk, a hologram of a lizard man appeared. The lizard man said some stuff about delivery schedules and then disappeared. While Jeremiah Johnson spouted weird skeleton lore, Dick Grayson found a vial of pink goo in the desk. A search of the cabinet netted the party two electro-whips. 

Exactly like that.

As we explored this area of the mine further, Kenny Rogers and Delta Burke began to get lost in each others' eyes. They were so absorbed in each other that they did not notice some of what happened until some good dropped down from the ceiling onto the lead members of the party. Kenny Rogers dove to the rescue, over the objections of pretty much the whole group, and plunged his torch into the goo. Surprisingly, this did not light the coated characters on fire and kill them. Big Government took care of that when he one-shotted Hamlet Machine with his electro-whip though. After some confusion about pulling the trapped characters out of the goo, we were able to defeat it. Jeremiah Johnson put what remained of the goo in his flask.

Our adventures soon brought us to a room full of bats (right chamber in the middle bottom). As the young orphan Dickens entered, he disappeared. Delta Burke, her maternal instincts awoken by budding romance, rushed into the room to save him. As soon as she stepped through the entrance, she was jerked up into the air by some unseen force towards a giant lobster-thing on a ledge. Smarty ran into the room and threw a lit vial of oil up onto the ledge so we could see. The oil ignited a methane gas explosion that killed Legal Eyes. Kenny Rogers rushed to his beloved's side, but was unable to scale the ledge in time. Delta Burke was torn to ribbons by lobster claws, in a shower of gore, before his eyes. Kenny let out a scream of anguish and rushed the lobstrosity (sorry, Mr. King) with his club. Jeremiah Johnson, blinded by grief of his own, accidentally killed Kenny with a sling stone to the back of the head. As the rest of the party finished off the cave fisher, little orphan Dicken's head was crushed by another one of the monsters on the other side of the room. Dickens died young, alone, and in the dark.

After some more exploration, and a seemingly empty underground lake, we came to a tunnel that ended in a small, low, fissure. We wisely decided to not leave it alone and stuck a pitchfork in it. Rats came boiling out. Short Pound, our faithful dwarf whatever, was eaten alive before we could kill the rats. Jeremiah Jameson, who had thought the dwarf's name was Short Round until his death, hung his head in shame at the fortune cookie jokes he had made. We decided to return to the center chamber and descend to the second level.
 
The second level of the dungeon seen at top. Yes, it's a digestive system.
As we lowered ourselves on a rope, Holy Water, our "lucky" halfling Mariner plunged to his/her death. On the lower level we found a giant mechanical drill and some untapped veins of silver. At this point, Jeremiah Johnson suggested returning to the surface with the riches we had already found. Despite his misgivings, the group pressed on. To the south we found a large cavern that seemed to have once had a natural lake in it. There were pillars running the length of the room. After discovering that the air was bad a floor level, we built a rope bridge over the tops of the pillars to get past the dry lake bed. 

On the far side of the lake we found a chamber with a dwarf skeleton. After the inevitable fight with the skeleton, we cleared away some rocks to find the final door. As we opened it, fog spilled out.

This last chamber had several large cylinders in it that contained vicious attack snake people. Smarty was killed by the snake people. Jeremiah Johnson wound up his legendary sling and let loose his deadly missile... right into the back of Nameless, the dwarf's head. Nameless collapsed to the floor dead at his friends' feet.


Big Government, recognizing Jeremiah Johnson as the true threat, cut him down with one crack of his electro-whip. Sadly, this distraction cost the group another valuable member as Nameless, the halfling fell before the snake men could be defeated.

The heroes returned victorious.
 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Fantasy Trip


On Saturday the Second Saturday Scrum Club played Steve Jackson's The Fantasy Trip. As a long time GURPS fan, I have been interested in trying The Fantasy Trip for a while. The current reprint Kickstarter seems to have brought the game to the surface again. The seed that would become GURPS is clearly present in The Fantasy Trip. You roll under a number on 3d6 for your action check, you use a primitive point buy system, there are only two classes and they can learn each other's skills, and fantasy items are priced in greenbacks.

The group on Saturday consisted of me, Joe, Steve, and Francesco. Steve was serving as the "Dungeon Master" by guiding us through a programmed adventure. I played a wizard, and Joe and Francesco each played a different take on the warrior. Joe played a missile/stealth focused warrior, while Francesco's was more tank oriented. This customization highlighted one of the strengths of the system.

The adventure involved us exploring a mysterious ruin, fighting monsters, and making off with lots or recyclable wire. 

I took a lot of pictures, so I will bury them below the break.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Video Games, Stars Without Number, Gary Con XI, and SSSC


This is a game about herding sheep

Video Games:

I have logged about 45 hours in Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky over the last few weeks, and I am really enjoying it. I believe this was originally an early 2000s PSP release, but I am playing the PC port. This game is right up my JRPG alley. It is in the early PS1 style, kind of like Grandia. The world building is excellent. While there are not as many books to read as in an Elder Scrolls game, the ones that exist are more focused on relevant information. This allows the game to feel like it is set in a bigger world. I also really enjoy the combat system. While it remains firmly in the traditional turn-based JRPG mold, it adds just a touch of Final Fantasy Tactics inspired strategy. While there is a bit of anime goofiness, it is not too heavy handed.

I also started Persona 4 Golden on my Vita. I loved Persona 5, so I have been really looking forward to this one.

Stars Without Number:

I am looking for a few more players for an online Stars Without Number game. We would probably meet once or twice a month on Thursday evening, and use Roll20 or something similar. The idea I have been pitching is:

 A future where humanity, faced with it's own extinction, sent out slower than light exploration vehicles for several centuries. They used several different methods (generation ships, cryo storage, seed ships, AI ships etc.) before they managed to pull through and eventually developed FTL. In most cases we settled the stars long before the slow ships arrived. Most of the details on those ships, and their destinations were lost during the upheavals. Now the characters serve as a government unit tasked with finding those ships and reintegrating any sentient beings on board. Of course, others seek those ships for more mercenary purposes.

All of that is subject to change as we start planning the game though. SWN has a free version of the rule book available on RPGnow. Let me know if you are interested.

Gary Con XI: 

I will be going to Gary Con XI in March 2019. I submitted my games and they have been approved. I may add more games later. For now, my schedule is:

Thursday:

2:00 B/X Stonehell Dungeon
7:00 Castles and Crusades: Hall of the Predators

Friday:

2:00 B/X Stonehell Dungeon
7:00 Castles and Crusades: The Conquistador's Tomb

Saturday:

2:00 Empire of the Petal Throne: Fresh off the Boat
7:00 Numenera: Ashes of the Sea

If I get time, I will probably replace Ashes of the Sea with a Numenera adventure of my own design.

Second Saturday Scrum Club:

SSSC meets tonight, and we are planning on playing Steve Jackson's Melee/Wizard and possibly HeroQuest. I am looking forward to both. I am a long time SJG fan with a lot of GURPS hours under my belt. My brother and I played HeroQuest as kids, so that should be a cool nostalgia trip.

I'll post pictures and a recap for this.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Gaming with my Daughter: Fairy Adventure 1 (No Thank You, Evil)

After seeing me run No Thank You, Evil at GenCon, my daughter became very interested in playing it again. We started out with the "Race Against Time" adventure found in the box set. She has actually played this one before, but did not remember it. At the end of that adventure, when Whizbang asked what time she wanted to go to, she answered, "Fairy Time". So I quickly sketched out Fairy Time.

I decided I wanted something that would be simple enough for a 6-year-old to grasp, but complex enough for me to iterate on as she matured. This is in keeping with the way NTY,E is designed. The game rules are in tiers of increasing complexity.

I decided that the fairies were created by the All Tree, the fruit of which is the source of all life in the world. The fairies were made to defend and serve the All Tree during its long sleep after taking root on Earth. As the tree has to be defended at all times, there must always be fairies defending it. Because of this, there are three different kinds of fairies. All of the fairies are powerful and mischievous. None are evil. They have varying different levels of experience with humans and levels of understanding of how pranks might hurt them.

1) Sunshine Court: Gold color. Awake during the day. Very used to interacting with humans, so they are aware of human frailties and the possible negative impacts from any pranks.

2) Twilight Court: Purple color. Awake during the transition periods. Some experience with humans. They would not intentionally harm a human or hurt their feelings, but they do not have a good understanding of the impact of their pranks.

3) Midnight Court: Silver color. Awake only at night. Almost no interaction with humans. They do not even consider humans or the impact their pranks might have on them. Humans are like dolls or animals to them.

In the adventure we ran today, she arrived in the Fairy Time to find a group of people gathered around a crying woman. From a sunshine fairy, Calliope, She learned that the crying woman was worried about her daughter, Mattie. Mattie went to get Feather-Toothed Penguin Fairy (from Uh-Oh, Monsters!) feathers to make a coat. She went into the forest, and now it is getting dark and she hasn't come back. Calliope explained the basics of the fairy types and offered to have her friend, Moon Mist, a Twilight Fairy, go along to help.

Moon Mist, my daughter, and her pony companion set off into the woods. My daughter decided to climb a tree to see if she could see Mattie. A successful Fast check let her find a trail that Mattie might have followed. They started down the trail.

After a while, they encountered another Twilight Fairy, Star Shadow. After learning their mission, Star Shadow claimed that she had seen Mattie in another direction. My daughter decided not to trust her because it might be a prank, and Moon Mist agreed. They continued to follow the trail.

A few hours passed and Moon Mist told her that he would have to go, it was time for him to fade for the night. He warned her again about Midnight Court fairies before leaving. When she reached a clearing, she found Mattie crying with a silver fairy hovering over her. Slice of Night, the silver fairy, tricked them into saying they wanted directions the "whole" way out of the forest and used a spell to put them at the bottom of a very deep hole.

My daughter used her pony's Best Buds cypher to escape and get Mattie home.

She took to the fairy types even better than I expected and was very excited to meet all three. I will probably make some more adventures using this concept.

During GenCon, she also played Threadbare and really liked it. I picked it up and I am reading through it now. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

GenCon 2018



I once again have let this blog lapse for over a year, mostly because the communities I used it to 
interact with largely faded. One of the groups that I game with now has several people who write 
gaming blogs, so I am incentivized to pick it back up again. GenCon has always represented the
 beginning of the gaming year for me, so returning with a recap of that event seems fitting.


GenCon has changed a lot over the last few years, both for me personally, and as a whole. I have 
noticed a positive shift in the demographics to a younger, more diverse crowd. The convention has 
also expanded its support for families, and “cons within the con” like Contessa. On the whole, it is 
a bigger, better, and more interesting convention. For the last three years, my wife and daughter 
have come with me, and there is plenty for them to do (my wife is not a gamer).


Along with the change of bringing my family, the con has changed for me personally. The groups 
that I traditionally spent my convention with have largely disappeared. After the PodgeCast ended,
the group that grew around it dissolved; and Troll Lord Games no longer goes to GenCon. This left 
me wandering the convention alone when I wasn’t running a game or hanging out with my family. I 
did not really have a group of gamers to talk to throughout the con. Sure, the people that play in my 
games are great, but I don’t usually see them again throughout the weekend.This year I decided to 
change that.


In addition to my usual ticketed games, I signed up to demo games at the Monte Cook Games 
booth. This turned out to be the best decision I made this GenCon. I have never done booth 
demonstrations before, and I really enjoyed it. I ran “No Thank You, Evil” and “Numenera” and 
met a bunch of really great people. It was a blast to see how each group of players took a 
different approach to the demo game. The MCG people were great, especially Darcy who took 
the time to chat before I ran my first game. I look forward to doing this again next year.



I ran five sessions of Stonehell (4 ticketed and 1 off the grid) this year. There is no doubt that 
Stonehell has produced more return on investment for me than any other gaming purchase. 
I have run dozens of Stonehell games at conventions (depending on what counts, I broke 
50 this weekend) and players still provide me with a surprising experience every time. As many
of you know, I run a persistent dungeon, so my convention games impact my home games. 
This means that the dungeon has changed quite a bit over the years. Each of my GenCon 
games were for a table of 10, and I find that B/X D and D still works really well for groups of this 
size.


I was lucky to run two games where there were three generations from the same family at the table. 
One of these turned out to be the most surreal gaming experience I have ever had. The 
grandfather caught on to one of my lazy GM shortcuts and, instead of calling me on it, decided to 
play into it and mess with me. Those of you who do not like session recaps can skip the italicized 
text.


The group consisted of a young woman, her brothers, her father, her grandfather, and several unsuspecting people who were not related to them. I need to explain ahead of time that I can be a lazy, lazy GM. When I run Stonehell, there is not really a campaign setting. Each adventure starts at the steps to the dungeon and the town is only slightly more detailed than the town menu in Wizardry. I sprinkle around details that, Star Wars-style, make it seem like there is this whole world. But, I don’t know anymore than the players. I also let the players make up most of the setting on the fly by asking clerics about their god etc. In the rare case where players start digging in for more detail, I fall back on a trick that requires even less effort on my part: lyrics to ‘60s and ‘70s songs. Essentially, my GMing style is to write checks against an empty bank account. In this session, grandpa took that check to the bank.


Before entering the dungeon, the party met an old woman by a wagon. She was concerned that her magically gifted daughter had entered Stonehell and was susceptible to the lure to the dark arts. Eight parties out of ten would just head off into the dungeon to rescue the daughter, this one started digging into the old woman, her wagon, and the why. One of the players started pressing me about who the old woman was and why she had this wagon. I asked her to tell me about the wagon, and described a fairly stereotypical Roma-derived people. 

While the rest of the party started looking around for the secondary entrance described by the woman, the granddaughter pressed the old woman on why she thought her daughter might turn to the dark arts. Still no problem for me, because she had been nice enough to hand me Cher.


GRANDFATHER: I check in the well for a staircase.


ME: You don’t see a staircase. The well seems to be empty.


GRANDDAUGHTER: So, you had to raise her all by yourself? How did that happen?


ME: City folk didn’t trust our people, so we were always poor. Most of our money came from men coming into camp to watch my mother dance and my father sold fake potions. We were never in one place long before some morally outraged crowd ran us off.


GRANDFATHER: I go to the well and bang on it.


ME: Nothing happens when you bang on the well. One time we picked up a young man who traveled with us for a while. Three months after we dropped him off, I knew I was in trouble.


GRANDFATHER: I go back to the well and examine it really close.


GRANDDAUGHTER: Grandpa, stop going to the well. There is nothing there.


GRANDFATHER (staring right at me and smiling): This seems like the kind of game where you can’t go to the well too many times.


ME (now fully focused on the grandfather): OK, you are sure that this is a wishing well. As you lean in you see a ghostly form far below with chains on its feet.


GRANDFATHER: Edmund! Is that you? It has been years! We thought your ship was lost with all hands when a November storm came early.


GRANDDAUGHTER: Grandpa?


ME: It was no storm. It was murder.


GRANDFATHER: Children, I am going to have to step up and take the lead. There is an evil here that is far more ancient than expected; and only I am armed to fight it.


What followed was three of the most enjoyable hours of D&D I have ever run. The grandfather and I riffed on old song lyrics to make up a murder mystery and I am pretty sure no one else was wise to it.


On the family side, my daughter said that this year’s GenCon was her favorite yet. The highlights for 
her were cosplaying as Miraculous Ladybug along with building and destroying Cardhalla.     

  

I suspect that I will be back to blogging for a while now. I have a few things I am working on, as well 
as group session recaps, so I should have plenty of material.