Monday, August 29, 2011

Altered Luna

When mankind began to generate more energy than it could easily consume, it turned its sights to the Moon, and dreams of a second, 'real' home. Two hundred years of man-made cometary bombardment and genetic bio-engineering have created the Moon of the 28th century. 

The Moon of the 28th century.  Click to zoom in.
While the atmosphere is not thick enough to support life beyond simple algae and lichen, the lunar seas seethe with bright green genetically altered single and multi-cellular organisms hard at work removing toxins from the environment and creating greenhouse gases as an after-effect. Lack of a breathable atmosphere has not stopped people from building cities on the moon, as can be seen by the lights in the southeastern shaded area.

From ancient times, this area has been called Mare Fecunditatis, but modern inhabitants prefer to refer to it as 'the Sea of Nookie.' Scientists say that we are still two hundred years from having a proper beach party and skinny-dip there.

[Image done with lots of fiddling and painting in Adobe Photoshop.  Thanks goes out to NASA & JPL, for gathering the data, NOAA, for some nifty clouds to steal, and Arthur C. Clarke, a man who inspired me to play with fantasy in a framework of science.]

- Ark

Friday, August 26, 2011

Meet the Victims

It has come to my attention that some of you actually read this blog for my re-canting of the tales of joy and woe at the gaming table.  That's sort of odd to me, as one of the first things I learned about the cultural aspects of D&D Club was not to talk about D&D Club.  No no one really wants to hear about your 47th level Ranger.

However, it appears perfectly acceptable to talk about other people's 47th level Rangers. :)

So here is to the guys who actually write the stories I tell - the guys who put up with my blood rage, funny voices, innappropritae role play, and fuzzy rule recalling.  Come, meet the victims.

(Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

The Boy - my tween son, who's been playing role playing games for four years now. He's a very crafty player, with a recent penchant for playing halflings - though he loves to make fighters named Regdar too.  The Boy achieved Manhood on Jun 8th, 2011, when his character was eaten by a giant carnivorous plant in a game of Metamorphosis Alpha run by JIM FRIKKIN' WARD.  I've never had such a proud or emotional moment in my life. I tear up just thinking about it.

Mervyn - a neighbor in his very early twenties.  Mervyn is an 'in your face' player - the kind of guy who looks for the largest monster in the batch and charges full steam into it.  His naturally high Charisma stat tends to convince others to do the same thing.  He's been playing war games, card games, board games, video games, and role playing games since he was an embryo, and enjoys pushing a game to it's limits.  I played D&D with Mervyn's father for a good long while, until he passed away last year.

Kaye - the new kid on the block.  He's a good friend of Mervyn's and around the same age.  He seems to like to play big, buff fighter types who do a lot of damage.  I'd guess that it might be more of a self-defense mechanism developed while playing with gung-ho Mervyn. :) Kaye watched us play, then wanted to play 4e with us. After that, he wanted to join my Labyrinth Lord game, so either he is mentally unbalanced, or he actually likes Old School Play. Or both, perhaps.

Ron - an old-ass gamer who is almost as old as me.  He always seems to have a game going somewhere.  He drives quite a way to get to the games, so I try to be mindful of that and present something interesting to him during games.  Ron is a thoughtful player, who likes to plan for contingencies and have all of his ducks in a row.  Regretfully, the universe hates Ron, and will fuck him over on just about any dice roll.  He once had three characters die - in a row.  He's a trooper, though, and slogs through whatever the universe hands him.

Tim - Stark . . . Raving . . . Mad. Tim is a Maelstrom of Chaos in a World Gone Wrong. The only predictable thing about him is that he is unpredictable.  In one game, he played a dragonborn who 'wore' a kobold in order to help convert it.  In that same game, he decided to play that very same kobold - as a converted monk.  This game, he is playing an elf who worships a god that doesn't exist.  To be honest, earlier in my career, I would have kicked Tim out of the group for his disruptive ways, but these days - I say screw it and let the chips fall where they may. :)

So that's the gang!  They are going to kill me for the pictures I drew of them - especially poor Tim - but oh well - it was worth it.

- Ark

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Chichén Itzá

Tamoachan/Kukulkan
The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan was one of my favorite modules to look at and read back in the early '80s, so when I had the chance to go to a real life Central American temple complex, I jumped at the chance.

The tour guide looked like a Mexican Saddam Hussein.  I would have never mentioned it, but he seemed proud of the fact and told us at least ten times.  El Saddam also informed us that the best was to remember how to pronounce Chichén Itzá was to say 'Chicken Pizza' as many times as possible.

Chichén Itzá is a wonderful site, dominated by large gray buildings rising up out of the hot, arid jungle.  Any thoughts of fantasy worlds or imaginary dungeons melt away.  This shit is real, and there is a heck of a lot more to it than just a pyramid.

What most people don't realize is that a good chunk of the site was basically rubble when European explorers found it.  A lot of effort went into figuring out how all the stones fit together.  And who knows, maybe they got it completely wrong. Perhaps Chichén Itzá should really look like a gigantic stone EPCOT center.



Okay, maybe not. :)



Below is the Well of Souls. It's a cenote, which is a fresh water filled limestone sinkhole. Supposedly, the Mayans took sacrificial victims, weighted them down with stones, gave them a hallucinogenic drug, and tossed them in the below.



Unlike the other cenote I visited in the Yucatán, this one was dirty and muddy looking, and I could just imagine centuries of corpses piled up on the bottom, intermingled in the ooze. Yuck.



The image above is of part of the Tzompantli, or Wall of Skulls. Supposedly, thousands upon thousands of human sacrifices were performed here. Death seems to be ever present at Chichén Itzá.

Near the end of the tour, El Saddam let us roam the site on our own.  I was drawn to the out of the way nooks and crannies were the crowds were absent.   After some time of wandering, I found myself staring at a blocked entrance.  Where was the entrance to?  Well - it should be obvious.  A hidden shrine - with deadly traps and hideous monsters.  Perhaps there was a  gibbering mouther just beyond the stones - but only Erol Otus would know for sure.



So get off your duff and go to the Mexico.  Or perhaps just go to the Wikipedia page.  Whatever the case, ancient Mayan ruins are a great way to get inspired.  Dream on.

- Ark

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dear Christian

[I intended to write a brief note to Christian regarding his latest post, but it turned into an essay . . .]

I feel your pain.  For most of the last thirty years of game mastering, I've felt I've been too nice to the players, too kind, too wishy-washy.  The threats I designed weren't deadly enough - I didn't push hard enough - I wasn't ruthless enough.  Then there were the rare TPK's where I felt completely opposite.

I decided to become a bastard earlier this year.  I told the guys that I had been playing 4e with up front -  "I want to play old style D&D.  I want to kill your characters.  I want to kill them in a frikkin pit trap.  But more importantly, I want you to be frosty enough to avoid that pit trap with your own wits - not at the roll of a die."

They were interested, but kind of freaked.  "Can we have max hp at first level?" they asked.  "Sure," I grumbled.  "Can we use AD&D/AEC big style hit dice where the fighter would have a d10 instead of a d8?"  "Sure," I sighed.  "Death at -10?"  "Okay." Their freak level reduced drastically and they started looking forward to the game.

In business lingo - they had 'buy-in.'  They agreed to to support the 'gaming project.'  Why?  Well, they trust me enough to keep coming back for more.  But more importantly - we bargained and made a deal.  They had input.  I wanted to kill them.  They wanted more hit points.  Did I want to give them more hit points? Nooooo.  ONE HIT POINT IS ALL YOU GET, YOU SQUIRMY LITTLE MAGIC-USER!  But it was important to them to have that buffer.

They really didn't take into consideration that if they were more powerful, I was just going to throw harder things at them.  :)  Live and learn.

We've made other deals and their characters have had an extra leg up once in a while - like for a period of time during low levels they were allowed to play two characters.  That helped them feel a bit better.  We are phasing that out now with attrition.  I also instituted the Order of the d30, which allows them to use the d30 to replace any single 'in game' roll, which has been quite helpful to them.  But each little concession or boost like that made me feel better about being the bastard - giving me license to throw the kitchen sink at them.

It's not like we have a TPK every week, but in around half a year we've had 4 deaths.  The wonderful thing is that each one of those deaths has been perfectly guilt free on my part.  And almost all those deaths have been when I turned up the heat and something went wrong in their planning.  Like jumping on a frikkin airborne dragon. You know, that kind of wrong. :)

A lot of players these days have a sense of entitlement.  They feel their character shouldn't die.  They feel that their stuff should never be destroyed or stolen.  They want to be immortal gods at first level.  Part of that is because there are more players that GMs, so the gaming companies design games to appeal to where their cash is coming from.  The other part is because GMs let them - to be nice or liked or that's how the damn book told us how to do it.

While playing pumped up glowing-haired wuxia death ninjas out of the gate can be a valid and enjoyable form of role playing - it's not the only one, and it's certainly not the way we started back when we were riding dinosaurs to school.  Forcing the players into an LBB/OD&D style campaign would have been a disaster.  Their expectations were no where near such a thing.  Sitting down and being honest about the type of game we wanted to play has paved the way for a really completely awesome gaming experience that's going on now in our Labyrinth Lord game.  I enjoy REALLY trying to kill them, and they enjoy outsmarting me.  And when someone does eat dirt, we laugh and laugh and laugh - wait for the guy to roll up his next character - and keep on trucking.

I hope that you can get the type of edge in your game you are looking for.  I don't know if what I just wrote will help you achieve that in any way, but I'm crossing my fingers and am thinking happy little tree thoughts for you and your players. :)

- Ark

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beard and Boob Badge

Yeah yeah yeah, show me a parade float and I'll jump on it.

I'd like to present the Beard and Boob Badge, for those DMs who like to play an opposite sex NPC a little bit longer than anyone else at the table is comfortable with.

I guess that's all the badges that fit.  Yay me!

- Ark


Monday, August 22, 2011

Educating The Boy

Actual photo of The Boy.
This last school year was a big bag of not fun for the boy.  Years of bullying from students and pressure to conform by teachers into some kind of Stepford playground attendant left him emotionally exhausted.

My response to a similar school experience led me to become a silent wallflower.  For the Boy, such a compromise was never really on the table.  As those of you have met him know - you know - the Boy is THE BOY, in all caps, the guy who puts a big smile on your face, causes you to laugh to the point of tears during an rpg session, can drive a teacher insane, and has the ability to attract every bully within a ten mile radius that is crusin' to destroy the different and special.

Near the end of the year, enough was enough, and we pulled him out of school and spend some quiet, calm time home schooling and emotionally recovering.

Today was the first day back to school - but this time, no brick and mortar school, and no home schooling.  He's attending an online school.  Enrolling was a bit of a hurdle, but when that was completed, they sent us books, school supplies, and a computer.  Pretty nifty set up - especially since it's a public school so all of that was free (well, we gotta send them back.)  It's kind of like home schooling, but with the heavy lifting done by the state.

After this first day he was absolutely ecstatic.  He gets to interact with teachers on the phone and on the web in a variety of ways.  The kids even get to chat with one another before classes - which are flexible time-wise.  And one of the things he seemed most excited about - he doesn't have to stick with the rest of the pack - he can go do lessons ahead of time.  He's already two lessons ahead on the first day, and we can see his progress right there, live and online as he chugs along.

I'm so happy he's liking it so far.  I'll be doing some supplemental education in the evenings.  Since we are learning to create Pathfinder characters, he'll need to learn algebra and pre-calculus.

HA!  That was a joke.  Sort of.  ;)

Things are looking up.

- Ark


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bloodspurt

image by Nathan M. Rosario 
I am working on my character for the Pathfinder game I'm going to be playing with the Boy, who is playing a Goth halfling sorcerer with a tiny dragon familiar.

My character is, well, just check him out -

Name: Bloodspurt

Race: Half-orc
Class: Paladin
Alignment: Lawful Good

STR: 15
DEX: 13
CON: 14
INT: 8
WIS: 16
CHR: 19

I am seriously considering making him blond with an appearance identical to Fabio. I don't think I am going to be able to stop laughing throughout the entire campaign.  Dear god I'm going to be annoying.  The other players are going to kill me while I'm sleeping.

- Ark

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Six Million Dollar GM: Faster, Stronger, Now With More Funions

Honestly, I don't remember it being so PINK.
I triple dog dared ckutalik over in one of beedo's post to do what beedo mentioned, which was "something I'd like to see more bloggers discuss is their successful table techniques that translate into good games."  ckutalik is still writing, I guess, so I'll go first. ;)  He did post up some rules for the challenge, which I probably have not followed at all, but here we go . . .

Everything important that I've learned about running a role playing game I discovered in the first few years of playing.  The remaining decades are just filled with me having to relearn these basic tenants because I've read gaming advice that sounds good, but ultimately falls short.

Now when I say YOU in the points below, I mean ME.  I'm talking to myself here, and the games that I play.  What works for other people is different that what works for me.  You probably shouldn't even be reading this because it will screw up your game.

1. Stop fucking planning.

Really dude, just stop it.  Being prepared is one thing, but sitting around, imagining what the players are going to do and coming up with some sort of tree branch decision matrix outcome generation system is futile.  It's not going to be exciting.

Let the players do whatever the hell they want and react to it on the fly.  Build the world each step of the way as the players put their foot down on that particular patch of grass.  Sure, sketch out a map, imagine some dungeon ideas, flesh out an npc - but never expect that the players will go to those lands, explore those dungeons, or meet those characters.  The players can't screw up your plans if you don't have any, and it's kind of rude to expect the very free-thinking players that you want to be playing with to hop aboard your choo-choo train of railroadiness, no matter how grand it might play out in your head.

The best 'planning' for a game is to read lots of adventure fiction, ancient history books, geology texts, and Shakespeare.  Go watch Mythbusters and play with LEGOs.  Devour information and play games.  Feed your mind the building blocks of world making so you can have the tools to build on the fly.

2.  Don't you dare open that rulebook.

Looking up monsters stat, equipment lists, or random tables is okay.  But don't waste anyone's time digging for rules DURING A GAME.  If you can't remember it - it was obviously too complicated anyway.

Recently, one of my newer players had a character in the water, fighting a sewer kraken in 4e.  I told him that he was at a negative two to hit.

"Is that in addition to the underwater combat modifications listed in the rules?"

I chuckled.  "I don't remember what the 4e rules for underwater combat are, and I don't care.  You are at a negative 2.  Go."

He looked like I was speaking Martian to him, but he continued.  Later he joined my Labyrinth Lord game as well, so evidently the way I was running things wasn't too repulsive to him.

3. Leave the damn dice alone.

If you roll the dice, accept the result.  You asked the universe a question.  The universe gave you an answer.  Deal or don't roll the dice in the first place.  The universe typically makes better decisions that you anyway, since, you know, it can't be WRONG, so you might as well go with it.  And it works because I never feel guilty about cheating or short-changing the players from the full 'gaming experience.' :)


So, there you have it, ckutalik, my recipe for LEET G4MERZ SKILLZ   You are now 'it.'

:)

- Ark

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Cenote


A few years ago we took a vacation to Cancún.  I desperately wanted to go inland to visit the ruins of Chichen Itza.  No one wanted to go with me, so I hoofed it inland through the jungle.  Okay, not really.  I took an air-conditioned tour bus and sat next to a cute girl from San Diego while being served mass quantities of cerveza. Ah, the life of an explorer.

On the way, we stopped off at a cenote for an hour to 'take the waters.'  Technically, I knew what a cenote was, but when I finally saw one . . . well . . . wow.

The Ik Kil Cenote is over 80 feet deep.  Roots from the forest above dangled down into the crystal clear water below.  Birds and bats flew all around as multiple streams of water formed a myriad of small waterfalls.

While the Yucatán is a jungle, technically, it doesn't really rain a whole heck of a lot.  Its hot and dry.  There are no rivers or lakes to speak of.  This is due to the extreme karst topography of the region.  The limestone creates this porous land, but what seals the deal is that 65 million years ago, a big ass rock fell out of the sky and shattered  the hell out of the subsurface strata.  Oh, and that rock probably killed all of the dinosaurs off too, but that is another story.



So when it does rain, the water goes down, down, down into the ground, ground, ground.  There vast networks of underground rivers in the region.  Sometimes, the rivers find soft enough limestone to erode holes to the surface - and those holes to the surface are the cenote.

Without palatable surface water, the Mayan people built their villages and cities around cenote.  Some of the sink holes had water closer to the surface, but some were much harder to get to.  The Mayans would use ropes or build stairs for access.



Think about that for a second.   A whole group of people having to cluster around holes in the ground for water, and having to descend into those holes to get the water.  On a daily basis.  And who knows where the holes led to?  And who knows what dangers lurked down there.

I'll tell you.  Kobolds.  Orcs.  Dragons.  Gelatanous Cubes and Green Slimes.

I think you'd be hard pressed for a better place to run a cavern based mega-dungeon than in the cenote-filled Yucatán peninsula - or a fantasy facsimile thereof.  

So go Google cenote, get your graph paper out, and start planning some mischief. :)



- Ark




Blogger Makes You Stupid

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled '4e Makes You Stupid.'  Rather than try to address all of the comments one at a time, I'll do it here.

I have no interest in insulting people or making them feel bad.  That last post did just that.  It's a half-baked rant that belongs in the car when driving to Taco Bell for 2am burritos.  I didn't think of how it could be interpreted by a wider audience.  It is a raw emotional response to real life events and needed some editorial review.

The core of the arguement - that RPGs can cause players and GMs to stick with problems and solutions that are easily presentable within the rules structure of the system is, I think, quite valid.  Thinking outside of systems is something I'm very interested in.  However, it's wrapped in a rant that makes some people feel as if I am attacking them.

If you are some psychopath running around killing or hurting people, then yes, I do want you to feel bad.  But if you are playing an RPG?  Sheesh.  No - that's cool.  Really cool.  Play and enjoy.

I will continue to rant about whatever gaming system has pissed me off at the moment.  But note - I'm bitching about words on paper.  My intention is not to belittle the actual players themselves.  Or the game designers.  Both my son and I play 4e.  There is a lot I like about it.  There is a lot that frustrates me.  I have handed WOTC more money that I can comfortably admit.

Some have suggested changing the title of that last post to something less incendiary, or just deleting the post.  I'm not convinced.  I'm thinking it should stay to remind me not to do that again.

And no, I didn't come up with the title to get hits.  It's just the first thing that came to mind.  I have a wonderful base of readers already, and I would much prefer people coming to this blog for positive, life affirming reasons than to jump into a fist fight.  I'll try harder next time.

Thanks for reading.

- Ark

PS - I don't really think that Blogger makes you stupid either.  It just helps to expose it.  An that 'you' right there in the title is 'me,' not you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

4e Makes You Stupid

There is something intrinsic to the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons that makes the people that play it as dumb as friggin rocks.  It's not the players fault.  It's not really the DMs fault either (aside from choosing to run the system.)  It's the philosophy behind the core game design.

Case in point: last night's Vayniris game where I am running 4e.  Vayniris is based on Vornheim, which pulls more from earlier D&D, even though Zak has provided monster stats in a 4e format as well.  But the monsters still behave like early edition monsters.

The players are going up against a medusa.  They know they are going up against a medusa.  They are in the medusa's house.  The Boy has read all of the Percy Jackson books.  The Boy has watched Clash of the Titans.  The Boy has read books on Greek mythology.  He says 'Shouldn't we go get a mirror?'

The rest of the party just ignores him.  They find the medusa.  They run at the medusa and begin whacking at it.  One character, upon finding out the medusa is so bad ass that he can't even hit it, wanders away from combat and begins looking for something that will help.

He finds . . . what?  Can you guess what he finds?

Yeah.  So he takes the mirror, shows it to the medusa, and POOF.  Game over for the medusa.

It's not that the players are stupid, it's that 4e enforces the GRIND.  You have to wear a monster's hit points down all the way from high to low.  In standard 4e, that's what you expect, because that's really all there is. There are no shortcuts - short of tossing someone off a 500 foot tall cliff.  And even then, the monster might survive.

The Boy kept on telling me "I don't look at it.  I attack, and then I look away so when she looks, I can't see her!"  There is no mechanic for this in 4e.  The entry for the AD&D medusa, however, states that if you go around and not look at the medusa, it will tick her off and she'll come at you with her knife.  So not looking WORKS.  Showing her a mirror WORKS.

Such outside the box tactics are not part of the 4e mentality.  The medusa 4e stat block doesn't say a medusa CAN'T turn herself to stone, but it doesn't imply that she CAN either.  The designers don't build the monsters that way.  The rules are not arranged around that type of problem solving.  And what's worse, as a DM, your brain gets stuck into this mentality as well.

It can get bad.  For example, in the RPGA, I've seen people out-think skill challenges and NOT receive the experience points for them, because they went around the skill die rolls needed to properly complete that activity.  BLECH.

Remember, back when you were a kid watching monster movies, that each monster had a weakness to be exploited?  One silver bullet - one stake through the heart, and the monster was dead.  That kind of tradition goes back at least as far as ancient Greece.  The ancient Greeks would HATE the hell out of 4e.

But I'll DM 4e for The Boy as long as he wants.  I'm just going to continue to try to shake things up and force everyone as far out of the box as possible.

However . . . Pathfinder has gotten it's grip on The Boy - and he's super pumped to play a halfling sorcerer with a black cape, a staff that looks like a scythe, and a little dragon for a familiar.  Great.  The Boy is going GOTH.  If it turns out he likes it, we may never get back to 4e.

- Ark

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Halfling Battering Ram

When I was 10, I build Grond out of LEGOs.
A lot of things happened in our last Labyrinth Lord session,  but I would be remiss if I neglected to mention this odd little incident.

In the Invisible Mountain dungeon, The Boy found a little bone Cube of Force.  This was completely random.  I read the item description and thought 'Oh crap, I've just ruined the game with stupid randomity.'  The original AD&D Cube of Force had some drawbacks - which the LL Cube nullifies.   It basically creates a movable 10' foot cube of nigh-invulnerability for 60 minutes each day.

I shrugged and let it be.  The Percentile Oracle had spoken.

So, they left the dungeon, conquered a dragon (completely forgetting they had any magic items at all,) and made their way to the town of Barton Hill.  They were hoping that Barton Hill had not pledged allegiance to the growing army of dragons infesting the Wild Lands.

"Halt, in the name of the Great Dragon King Abaraxis.  State your names and your business!" was the guards' answer to their unspoken question as they stood outside the town gate.

"I am Imbroglio, and we have just slain a dragon.  We are your liberators.  Let us in!" the little elf with the high charisma said.  Regretfully, Imbroglio was well known throughout the Wild Lands as being the worshipper of a god that doesn't actually exists, and being one of the most prolific and unabashed liars on the entire continent.

"We have heard of you, Imbroglio.  Archers . . . kill them," the captain said.  Twenty-nine archers appeared on the town wall.

"Dammit!  Run!" yelled Imbroglio.

"Wait!  Get close to me!" said The Boy's halfing thief, Ferrit.  He took out the cube of force and activated it.

Arrows rained down on them, bouncing off the invisible cube of force.  The party cheered.

"We just came out of the woods.  Can we make a battering ram?" Imbroglio player asked.

"Well . . ." I chewed my lip.  "I think that armies make battering rams before they lay siege to a city.  You can start chopping down a tree, I guess."

"Wait," Imbroglio's player said, "I have a better idea.  Let's all go up to the gate.  The force walls center on the cube in Ferrit's hand, right?"

I nodded.

"Okay, so when we get up to the gate, we pick Ferrit up and use him as a battering ram and smash down the door."

"No!" The Boy howled.  "You'll crush my head and kill me!"

I tried not to laugh as I looked at my son.  "Ferrit will be alright.  The cube of force will act like a shield."

"Oh.  I still don't like it," the boy huffed.

So, my friends used my son as a battering ram.

The guards on the wall were having none of this, and began throwing whatever they had down on the party.  Dirt, rocks, and hot tar created a layer of floating asphalt above the PCs heads.  But finally, they smashed the door down.

"What a minute," the cleric said.  "Why are we invading this town?"

This began a heated argument about burning down the town, or just a part of it.  In the end, the party ran the guards off the battlements and set fire to the town hall.  They booked it out of the place just before the charges ran out on the cube.

There was still the asphalt roof to deal with.  The party helped Ferrit chunk the cube, and it's strange roof, as far away as they could.  With a smash, the asphalt collapsed onto the little bone cube.

I picked up a die and rolled a saving throw.

"Oops," I smiled. "The asphalt shatters the cube."

"Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

The dice giveth, and the dice taketh away.

- Ark

Monday, August 15, 2011

Forget the New Conan Movie . . .

There be monsters in need of pummeling!


Knights of Badassdom:  LARPing never was so cool . . . ever.  I mean it.  Really.

- Ark



Pundit Larva

Well, looking at the followers number over there - to the right - down a bit - no - more down - yeah - there - I have achieved OSR Blogger level of Pundit. I do believe that this is not an actual good thing, but an indication that I am a type of demon from Hades that talks too much.

I would write up some stats for the Pundit Larva, but - yeah, I'm lazy.  You know, come to think of it, I've never even paid the Joesky tax.  Not once.  When Joesky finds out, I fear I will be severely brawled.  I am truly, deeply ashamed.

In other news, the artist who did that baby Huey worm dude is quite awesome.  He's TK Miller, and you can check out his stuff over on DeviantArt.  My only issue is that, to my knowledge, he is not making 25mm minis.

Thanks for reading!

- Ark

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Right Tool For the Right Job

I did everything to warn the guys that the Invisible Mountain dungeon was out of their league.  They pressed on, not believing me, so I did my darnest to kill them with strength stat sucking shadows and worse horrors.  After having their asses handed to them over and over again, they finally decided that the '30 seconds of combat, a day of rest, 30 seconds of combat, a day of rest' pattern wasn't working well, so they went off to greener pastures.

Greener pastures are perfect places for random wilderness encounter rolls.

The party was travelling through a meadowed area within a forest when they heard a thump-thump-thump in the sky.  This has happened before.  They knew it was a dragon - most likely a green dragon.  They ran for the bushes.

Well, except for Thrug.  Out of the entire party, the half-orc fighter wasn't fast enough.  He sighed, drew his sword, and faced the green dragon bearing down on him.

"Let's do this!' Mervyn, the player, said.

The green dragon snatched at Thrug as he flew by, an easy snack to bring back to his lair.  I rolled and . . . missed.

"Can I jump on the dragon's leg as he goes by?"

"Um. I guess. Yeah.  You and the dragon jet up 80 yards as it continues its arc." I nodded.

The rest of the party hopped out of the bushes.

"Guys, I got this!" Mervyn said.

We are an Order of the d30 group, meaning that they get to replace one normal dice roll with a d30 each game session.  A barrage of arrows, sling bolts, and magic missles flew upwards. The d30 flew from hand to hand as they ripped the dragon to shreds.

"Guys," Mervyn muttered nervously.

The Boy got the killing blow.  The party watched the slow plummet of several tons of lizard meat as it fell from the sky, crashing to the ground on top of the hapless half-orc.

"Uh . . oops?"

Some time later, the PCs had dug a tunnel beneath the dragon's corpse to reach Thrug's body, which they began looting.

"Okay, so what do you got?" Ron asked Mervyn, pencil in hand.

Marvyn sighed, looking at his character sheet.  "That +1 sword, a shield, a potion of flying, a suit of plate armor . . ."

Mervyn was interrupted by Ron's laughter.

"What?"

I smiled, "Oh, that potion of flying of yours was smashed to bits on impact"

The cog wheels slowly turned in Mervyns head, then it hit him.  "Dammit!  Dammit!  Dammit!  I forgot I had that!"  He facepalmed, then looked at me.  "That was so stupid.  You have to put that in that blog of yours."

I chuckled, "Oh, it'll be there alright - you don't have to ask."

I'm begining to wonder why I bother trying to kill them.  They do so well all by themselves. :)

- Ark

Saturday, August 13, 2011

It's Labyrinth Lord Game Day - Finally!


Old School D&D puts me in a good mood.  
I plan on slaughtering all the PCs ruthlessly. :)

Ark



Friday, August 12, 2011

Quantum Reality Gates


Christian has been waxing poetic about Planescape, and it reminded me of what I did when I saw Sigil's treatment in the 4e DMG2.  I had never heard of Planescape (yeah, I was asleep through 2e,) but thought the idea was cool.  But my head immediately thought - Quantum Reality Gates.

So when my players hit 10th level, I dragged out my version of Sigil.  I adjusted the City of Doors to have, not only doors to other planes, but doors to other quantum realities.  What this meant was that the city was PACKED TO THE GILLS with alternate versions of the PCs - and alternate versions of their friends and enemies too.

It was quite fun, and pretty confusing too.  This one evil drow lady who had dogged the party for 5 levels - then was finally killed - popped back up in Sigil as a bartender.  A very nice bartender.

The dwarf in the party, Malgrim, was amused when a pack of Malgrims ambushed the party and tried to kill them.  He was upset - and even insulted - when he found out that all of the Malgrim's were just minions - 1 hp wonders.  He felt that his brethren should be much more powerful than that.

The thief - Dash - in the party went through a hell of a time.  It seems that one of his alternates had become the grand poo-bah head of the city-wide thieves guild, and wanted to eliminate all copies of himself in the city.  Poor thief.

It was pretty fun - especially playing the players PCs in the PCs faces.

- Ark

PS - Oh oh oh - and I made LADY versions of the PCs too.  How fun!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dungeonspiration: John Martin


One of the guys who I chase with dragons on the weekends turned me on to an artist named John Martin.  Martin was active in the first half of the 19th century.  His paintings are epic.  Not in the way that The Boy uses the word.  Martin's vision was BIG, his scale HUGE, and his topics LEGENDARY. He painted pictures of places where D&D characters should be travelling to.


As well as a painter, Martin was a fencing master, an engraver, and an amateur sewer engineer.  He hung around scientists, engineers, and science fiction writers, played chess, and experimented with mezzotint technology.  Okay, let's cut to the chase.  The dude was a glorious English nerd-boy and geek extraordinaire.


The scenes John Martin painted and engraved just amaze me, and get my mind going at 90 miles an hour.  I want to design D&D adventures to fit these images.  Go chase his stuff down on Google.  I bet you will too.



- Ark

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Something's Rotten In the State of Vornheim

BRIEF VORNHEIM SPOILERS - STAY AWAY IF YOU ARE GOING TO PLAY.

In our Vayniris campaign last week, I heard the players grumbling about lack of character options.  At the campaign start, I had limited the characters to just using 4e Essentials character classes and options.  I listened and thought about it.  Expanding the options and classes didn't really make my life any more difficult - just theirs - so I opened the floodgates.  The players could use any race, class, or option available in the character builder.

Everyone rebuilt their character for tonight's game.

Tim made a warforged.  For those in the know, that is basically a magic metal robot.  His class was a mentalist (or something like that,)  which basically meant that he was a psychic magic metal robot.  Tim played him very much like C3-PO, but not meaning to.  I had to point it out to him - though I still dont' think he believed me - even though he had named the character THREE.

So the guys were in a bad guy's house in Vayniris - straight outta Vornheim.  They were in the middle of a fight in the entryway.  It was a big room, and the PCs were nicely spread out - all far away from each other.  One was even running into the next room - the kitchen - chasing a minion.  You know - perfect 4e split the party set-up.  It was so perfect that Wil Wheaton's ghost almost materialized.

Well, I took that moment to have a nasty creature of Zak's pop out of a doorway and go for the closest character - which was the Cleric of Pelor - Sunny.  The creature's attack ignored her armor and dissolved Sunny's scale mail into goo with one strike.  I was happy with myself.  Rarely does anything like that happen in 4e.  A player's possessions are pretty sacrosanct.  Only a real bastard would melt someone's armor.

Heh Heh Heh.

Tim's eyes bugged out.  His turn was next.  His magic robot took one look at the metal dissolving beast and ran out of the room.  He ran out into the road and continued running down the road.

Everyone else busted out laughing uncontrollably.  I started laughing so hard . . . I laughed so hard . . . well . . . I laughed so hard that I farted.

I think no one heard because of the laughter.  I said sorry, but no one responded - I think because of all the noise form laughing.  I hope it was because no one heard any of it.

Oh well.  They all know now - or soon will.  But dammit - it was worth a fart.  It was damn funny.

This is why I role play.

Well, not to have an excuse to fart in public - but - well . . . I should probably just shut up now.

- Ark

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Value of a Second

“The Hyperectus malmadonus has a life span of 23 seconds.”

“What?” Charlie turned to Eve. She was sitting across the rickety table from him, sipping her coffee slowly. He had been looking out the window, watching the endless stream of people walking by.

“The malmadonus, a single-celled animal living in the intestines of the swamp cows of Zavijava IV. They are born, reproduce, and are eaten by their offspring, all within 23 seconds.” Eve wound her finger around a long strand of her black hair.

“Oh,” Charlie replied, his attention already drifting back to the passersby again. All of them were different. Some short. Some tall. Black, white, brown. But they all seemed to merge together. Neo-metal punk hippies with staples in their eyelids somehow blended in with the goofy college kids donning white baseball caps and Phi Theta Kappa sweat shirts. Even the corporate suits in their pin stripes and big ruffed collars and satellite dish fedoras melted peacefully in the scene, diffusing like a poorly fueled Zippo on a misty new mooned night.

“Charlie, do you ever wonder if the malmadoni ever take a second or two and evaluate their lives?”

The stupidity of her question sucked him back into the murky coffeetorium. Her pale face stared at him as she dipped the end of her dark hair into the beige coffee and sucked it dry. She had such a lovely round face, but her eating habits left a lot to be desired.

“Honestly Eve, I’ve never once wondered about that,” he sipped his dark coffee. He liked it black.

“Think of how long a second would be to it,” she said with a slurp. “A couple of years to us, at least.”

“It’s just a cell, hon. It doesn’t need to evaluate its life.”

“What did you do yesterday?” She suddenly said. Charlie’s neck twitched. It always twitched when she changed the subject like that.

“I dunno. Worked. Like always.”

“When was the last time you did something different?” His neck twitched again. Maybe it wasn’t just the subject change. Maybe something was up.

“Christmas, I guess.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but paused. Then she took a proper drink from her mug.

“When was the last time you did something you really liked?” She set down her coffee and stared at him. More twitching and the hair on the back of his neck rose up. He felt she was maneuvering somewhere very dangerous. Relationship crashingly dangerous. Planet explodingly dangerous. So dangerous it might rip the sun from the sky.

“Um.” He had to get this right. "I like, love, every minute I’m with you, hon,” he reached out to her hand, but she snatched it away.

“I’m serious, Charlie. When was the last time you did something you really enjoyed?”

Frankly, he couldn’t remember doing anything he enjoyed, ever.

“I dunno. Christmas was fun. Meeting all of your friends. Your old ex-boyfriend Roj was just a blast to talk to.”

She crinkled up her nose. “Very funny. You hated every minute of it. But really, when? When?”

Charlie shrugged. “I can’t think of any.”

“Exactly my point,” Eve jabbed a finger at him. Great. He was guilty of yet another one of those things he had no idea what was.

“I’m sorry,” he said reflexively. “So, um, where did you hear about those bacteria things?”

“Matilda’s daughter did a report on them for school. She was telling us about them just before supper. Charlie, what would you enjoy doing?”

Being five hundred mile away from here. Being in an alternate reality where Eve hadn’t started this conversation. Being forced out of the coffee shop by a bomb threat from the Pecos Freedom Fighters.

“I dunno.”

“There has to be something.”

This was stupid. He didn’t want to talk about it. Couldn’t she see that? It was pointless drivel. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the endless stream of people wandering the ‘drag,’ but he couldn’t turn to look. She would slap him or something.

He looked up over her head at the wall. It was all confusing and mottled. A collage of pictures.

Or not a collage. Not intentionally, at least. He had never noticed it before. Layer upon layer of band posters pasted to the wall, and to each other. The building was ancient and the layers must have been building up for centuries. Perhaps there was no wall, just a papier-mâché shell.

“Well?” There was a clinking as she stirred a spoon in her coffee. Just above her head was a molding black and white poster of a dirty, greasy, hairy musician playing a guitar. Or not. No, he was playing the moon. A moon with a long fretted neck and twelve strings. Charlie’s face cracked into a smile.

“What?” she sat up.

“I dunno. Maybe . . .”

“Maybe what?”

“Well, it sounds silly now that I think of it.”

“Come on, out with it.”

Charlie took another drink of his coffee. “Well, when I was in the boy scouts, we were always planning on going to the Lunar Jamboree, but we never could come up with the money.”

“What’s a Lunar Jamboree?” she asked.

Charlie smiled. “Well, it’s just basically a camping trip to the Moon. I always wanted to get kited out in a space suit and explore. Sounds silly now.”

Eve grinned and leaned in towards him. “It’s not silly at all. It sounds fun.”

“Out at Tranquility National Park. Go spelunking. Jump around a lot and kick up a bunch of dust that won’t settle for centuries.” He grinned back.

Eve waved her finger across the data juke box that was loosely wired to the wall and strolled through several screens.

“There is a shuttle to Apollo City heading out of Austin Interplanetary at 8:45 am tomorrow. Let’s go.”

Charlie inhaled his coffee and had to cough it back up. Red-faced, he grimaced at her. “Are you crazy?”

“It’s just an hour to get there and back. We could be home by ten tomorrow night. It would be fun.”

“I don’t have the money.”

“I’ve got the money.”

“I couldn’t ask you . . .”

“You are not asking. I am. Come on. Let’s go,” she smiled.

“I used up my vacation days on Christmas.”

“You have sick days left.”

“But I might get sick.”

“Ha,” she shook her head. “You are too anal to get sick.”

“I can’t afford to loose that days’ work. Mr. White will have my balls. Besides, rent is almost due and I will barely be able to pay it without a late penalty as is.”

She twisted her mouth and leaned back.

“It doesn’t matter, hon. It’s not important.” He wiped sweat from his brow. “It was just another stupid idea of mine that doesn’t mean anything. I can’t help it if I’m too busy.”

She continued to stare at him . . .

“Why are you always doing this, Eve? There is no problem. Nothing is wrong. Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?”

And stared . . .

“I don’t really want to go. Even if I had time, it wouldn’t be any fun for us. Bad airline food. We’d be tired and cranky and yelling at each other. And what if there was an accident? I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you.”

She didn’t even blink.

“Just calm down, dear. Nothing is wrong,” she said.

He stopped looking at her. The moon guitar was above her. He couldn’t look at it. Charlie’s eyes glazed over the posters on the wall, not stopping to look at any single one. He took a sip of coffee.

Eventually, his head turned and he began watching the people outside again. He could feel her stare on his neck.

“Very well then,” Eve stood up and kissed him on the forehead. “I’ve got to get back.”

“Okay honey,” he kissed her on the cheek and she put on her coat. The change in her pockets jingled as she crammed her hands down deep inside. Eve did not turn back as she walked out.

He watched her through the window as she walked down the street. In a second, she had melted in with all of the other passersby and was gone.


The End


(A story I wrote a while back. I used to think it was the worst thing I had ever written. It's grown on me since then. - Ark)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Freecity of Haldane

I just popped the copy of The Freecity of Haldane that Christian had send me into the mail, marked up with my red chicken scratching that I hope he can read.  Just some grammar-Nazi editing.  There are no problems that a real human would notice.  Just English teachers.

I am incredibly impressed with The Freecity of Haldane.  Christian has done a great job.  It's the portrait of a fantasy city - full of just the stuff you need and none of the stuff you don't.  In many ways, it's the perfect complement to Zak's Vornheim, covering little tidbits I frequently forget - like that members of the watch carry whistles, and a link-boy could be a very valuable friend to have at night.

I have scarfed copious ideas from it for my Vayniris campaign.

So get it.  I mean that.  Get it.

- Ark (Staggering off to go read the first Vayniris Anthology submission.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Horn Tooting

I was going to just sit back and smile to myself and bask in my own glow over here all alone, but after three days - I've decided to say 'screw that.'

My 'Old School Rocks' logo is at GenCon!  It's sitting right there, staring at people's knees!  WOOT!  I'm so proud of it.  When it was a baby, it spit up a lot and nobody thought it would amount to much of nothing - not even me.  But then it grew up, eloped with old Joe Browning, and went to GenCon without me to be a 'booth bunny' at the Old School Renaissance Group Booth.


What a heartless little punk-ass logo!  I haven't even been to GenCon yet - and I've been waiting 30 years!


And you can see here it is hanging out with all the cool people that I don't get to meet!  I bet they are going to go buy it beer and get it drunk tonight.  What an ungrateful little logo.

I refuse - simply refuse - to post it's bail money when it tears up Indianapolis after the bars close tonight.

I suppose it's just empty nest syndrome.  I wish it all the best - and thanks for big taking it places Joe.  I appreciate it. :)

- Ark

Finding a Path

I picked this up today.  I'm not sure what that means.  Been debating it for a couple of years.

But, you know what curiosity killed, don't you?

My wallet!

<tin hat>

- Ark

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Boy's New Thundercats Review

We just sat down and watch the first episode of the New Thundercats series on Cartoon Network.  

The Boy says, "It's a cool series and I want a sword that shoots giant lasers too!"

I think that about sums it up. 

:)

- Ark

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Umm . . .


I detest Erin Palette. She got on this kick about My Frikkin Little Pony.  Over and over and over again.  This pony thing was the complete antithesis of cool when I was a teenager.  While I was trying to watch the Zentradi acquire PROTOCULTURE, my sister was fighting me for control of the remote to watch those ponies with combs.

So This Erin Palatte lady is writing and writing about these dog sized horses being perfect for an RPG and I'm ignoring her posts over and over and then she posts the last one - so I breath a sigh of relief and hope she goes back to talk about guns.  But I look at the pony pictures and think - hmm - those ponies don't look like the ponies of my youth.  Actually, I kind of like the art.  At least it doesn't make me vomit.  So . . . curiosity reared it's ugly head and I loaded up the first episode on YouTube.

Shit.  Shit shit shit.  I watched the next two.  Shit.  I'm not saying the episodes were shit.  I'm saying shit because I LIKED IT.  SHIT.

I am a god-damned BRONIE.

Crap.  It's a good show.  I like it.  I even like it when they sing.

I'm so embarrassed.  Somebody please kill me now.  DAMN YOU ERIN PALETTE!

Um, it's chock full of all kinds of cool ideas for a D&D game.  I won't get into it beacause I'm too embarrassed about the whole thing.  Don't let The Boy know, okay?  I'll loose any street-cred I ever had with him.  Not that I probably had any to begin with . . . but still.

Actually, Erin Palette is pretty cool.  But still . . . I feel dirty.  Ugh.

- Ark

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If Everyone Rolled Their Dice Off A Cliff . . .

Yes, apparently I would too. :)

These are most of my dice - except the ones sitting in game boxes, lost under couch cushions, or still stabbing painfully into the bottoms of my feet.

Whheeeeeee!

- Ark

Vayniris Anthology Project Writing Guide

Wow.  My whole brain hurts.  I finally completed a rough draft of the Vayniris Anthology Project Writing Guide.  For those interested and have an email address that I could find - you should have it in your email now.

Some of you - like Jeremy and and Taketoshi - I couldn't find contact info.  Well, other than spamming your blogs with the pdf.  Comment here with your email, or grab my email from that blogger profile thing and email me your email so that I can email you the email.  Yeah.  Did I mention that my brain hurts? ;)

And for anyone else interested in submitting a story for the Vayniris Anthology Project, let me know and I'll get you the Writer's Guide.

- Ark (off to do copy-editing for Christian's awesome Freecity of Haldane!  Woot!)