Thursday, April 14, 2016

So, you can use miniatures in Roll20...sort of.

Okay, so the DM of our game on Roll20, the redoubtable Mr. Kirk, generously bought some miniatures to be our characters a little while back.  But not long after we started doing sessions on Roll20.  Roll20 uses small portraits/icons to show the positions of characters, monsters, and anything else you might want to move around during a session.  We had been using a mix of images found on the Intertubez and some Order of the Stick style portraits I did a couple months back.  However there were complaints from persons who do not need to be named--but their initials are "Kaiser"--about how top-down images would look better on the maps.  Apparently my crappy little portraits just weren't cutting it.

Fine.

Be that way.

No, I'm okay...I just got something in my eye, that's all.

Anyway, Kirk recently got all the miniatures primed, took overhead photos of them, and put them into Roll20 to play around with (although my Sanjay image, showing I'm logged in, at the bottom has defaulted to the first image I ever loaded in Roll20).


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Academae Campaign - The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel

[Our Pathfinder game run by the redoubtable Kirk, dubbed The Academae Campaign, reconvened in Roll20 on Monday.  Our discomfited band of heroes continued with their second venturing into the nasty old crypt in the graveyards of Korvosa on a quest for the remaining body parts of the son of a Shoanti barbarian chieftain...]

Our group pauses to regroup and assess the situation after a short but brutal fight with a hideous flesh-thing.  Talla claps for our little victory, won despite her sensible advice, and asks sardonically "Was it really necessary to do that?"  Slade points out, correctly, that nobody got hurt.  We debate leaving the damp miserable crypt to rest up, a suggestion which Sanjay supports.  Axion suggests scouting a bit more and first.  Talla suggests scouting might not work well for some party members.  [At this point we notice that our characters have visibility only in a 90 degree sector to the front, but for a very, very long distance.  We discuss whether that is a proper setting or whether we should have a full 360 degree lighted area but only out to torch radius.  We decide that the 90 degree is more realistic but experiment for a bit, moving the characters around to try out the view areas and viewable distances.  After an attempt at scouting through corridors with the limited 90-degree view we decide it's too much of a nuisance and go back to all-round vision, limited to light source distance.] We debate for a bit then go find a reasonably clean room in which to rest.  We rest for some time in the oppressive dimness of the rough-hewn chamber but it is enough for us to recover our mana.

Rested, we resume cautiously exploring--and soon encounter a tall, odd-looking, monstrous fellow in yet another miserable rough-hewn chamber.  Axios, leading the way, quickly steps forward and channels his arcane power to breath a gout of flame all over it.  The fellow is burned horribly and his meagre belongings catch fire.  Axios yells "Run!" at his victim.  "You foul ogre, run!"  The creature shrieks in charred pain, but un-intimidated yells back "You go in pit now!!"  Talla quickly relays what she can see of the scene to the rest of us, and Sanjay is not encouraged.  Talla leaps forward and takes up a defensive stance, crying out "Why, Axios, did you do that?"  Axios is impressed with her badassery.  "Cabbage-head angry now!!" the creature bellows.  He attempts to seize Talla but she deftly avoids him.  The narrow passage leading to the room where "Cabbage-head" was waiting prevents us from attacking as a group, leaving Axios and Talla at the front.  Axios and Talla withdraw a bit into two side-passages to draw it out and allow room for others to join in.  Axios breathes deadly flame again, but the creature endures the injury returns the favor, slamming a huge fist into the young magus.  Sanjay squeezes forward with a mix of exasperation and desperation and blasts the thing with vicious crackling lightning.  To Sanjay's great relief it collapses to the floor, charred and smoking.
We look into the room and peer a short way into a couple small side passages.  Exploring the room a bit more we find three deep pits, two with with malnourished, sickly persons in them.  One identifies herself as Tiora, and admits she was caught, well, trying to take things which didn't belong to her.  She promises if we rescue her she can repay us later.  We pull her out.  She explains it was "Cabbage-head" who threw her in here.  In the second pit we find a male beggar, who collapses and appears dead.  We pull him out, and find that he is actually dead. Axios offers Tiora a bit of bread.  She slumps, exhausted and limp in her ragged clothing, almost too weak to eat.  Ashe applies healing to the woman, alas out of entirely selfish motives.  Seska reminds Ashe that we are here on a mission to retrieve the body of the young Shoanti, not to "help" random women.

Slade checks the third pit, finds nothing, then re-checks the other two pits again.  We debate what to do with the dead man, finally agreeing to leave him here for someone to recover later.  We leave the room, bringing the semi-conscious woman with us.  We explore a narrow side passage but it soon ends in a cave-in.  We back-track and head in a direction which might be north.  [At this point we struggle a bit with moving all the character icons through the narrow passages in Roll20.  Realistic, perhaps, but still rather obnoxious.]  Talla, up front, comes to a door.  Opening it carefully she finds another rough-hewn room with a stench of decay and glistening tools for carving and slicing flesh and bone.  On a table is a large corpse made of parts of other corpses stitched together--and it has the garishly tattooed head of a young Shoanti man attached--likely the head of the fellow we've come to retrieve.  Axios strides forward and begins carefully cutting the stitches to release the head from the corpse-doll.  We enter and look around, noting two or three side passages.  Crow-eye finds a door and listens carefully for any activity on the far side.  He hears nothing and notices it does not have a lock.  Talla peers into another room, spotting a large four-poster bed, a desk, and a large mirror; there is also an opening into an adjacent smaller bedroom.

Talla suddenly hears strange incantations called out by someone nearby.  Slade hears something going on there as well and moves to join Talla.  Talla peers around and spots one of the strange little people-things which were playing the cruel game with the rats in the maze on our previous visit.  Talla realizes the incantations were the strange creature casting some spell.  Slade joins her.  Talla decides to smile as broadly as possible, then says "Hi!"  [The GM now urges Crow-eye to go through the door to really split the heck out of the party.  Crow-eye totally doesn't go for it at all.]  Axios continues his careful cutting of the crude stitching to free the head.

Slade notices the creature--he's floating up near the high ceiling--and blasts it by evoking massive flame.  Crow-eye dashes in to help, as do Axios, Ashe, and Sanjay.  [Numerous jokes about tubby Sanjay getting stuck in the narrow passage like Pooh bear.  Sanjay sees no humor in the situation at all.]  Slade shoots flame again, but misses his target.  Talla drops her torch, draws her second gladius, and attacks, scoring two hits on a summoned zombie as it shambles forward.  Crow-eye assesses the situation and summons two fierce celestial eagles to attack the floating wizard.  Axios launches a magic missile, wounding the wizardling.  A zombie comes at Axios and they battle in the doorway to the small bedroom.  Sanjay finally makes it into the large bedroom and hops on the bed to see better.  Slade blasts with flame and Talla slashes expertly.  One zombie falls.  Crow-eye now summons a small elemental to battle the remaining zombie, which is blocking the doorway to protect its master.  The celestial eagles continue their attack, screeching, clawing, and biting with righteous fury.  The wizard, whom we think is called a derro, dies screaming and plummets onto the bed below.  Ashe charges up with his glaive to engage the zombie.  Sanjay finally manages to focus and zaps the walking corpse with a ray of bitter cold and it collapses.  Talla swiftly moves to the wizard and slits his throat just to be sure he's dead.

We examine the two chambers, finding some skulls and a tattooed torso with an arm still attached.  The arm and torso twitch and thrash occasionally.  Sanjay is reminded is why he swore off necromancy forever when he settled on his course as a wizard.  We check for any valuables, finding a wand, a dagger, some poison, a robe, and a ring; there is also the wizard's spell book.  Sanjay eagerly seizes the book, then realizes it's probably full of hideous necromantic foulness.  He is conflicted but decides to examine the contents later in case there's something decent tucked away inside.

We now argue for a bit over who will he carrying the various bits of the Shoanti back to town, then realize we haven't found the last missing leg.  We decide to check the room which Crow-eye found earlier, back in the room where Axios retrieved the head.  Talla checks for traps, then cautiously enters.  It is a library filled with interesting-looking books and scrolls.  Slade notices there are many on diseases and plagues.  We gather them up.  Suddenly Slade spots a secret door!  We find the last leg.

We return to town with our loot and burdens.  The woman we rescued is good to her promise and gives Talla a wand of healing powers.  We drop off our stuff and go to see the queen.  Instead we meet a guard at the castle and he says the queen has incited a mob to go after the painter earlier suspected of poisoning the king. <party mass facepalm>

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Academae Campaign - Back to the Crypt

 [This Monday we once again fired up Roll20 and plunged back into The Academae Campaign.  This time we were pleased to have our friend Steve join us, his schedule having ultimately not worked out for the previous session.]

Having just dispatched several monstrous creatures we looked about the room a bit.  It was disgusting.  Filth of every description assaulted our senses.  We had however discovered several items of value hidden therein.  [It was here that our eager DM mentioned that my character, Prince Sanjay, was particularly filthy because he'd crawled around in the muck with his hands to find them.  I pointed out that he would never do such a thing, so we ret-conned it and the treasures disappeared back into the muck.]  Continued searching in the small place was a mistake because several of us reached our limits and added the contents of our stomachs to the already reeking mess on the floor.

Finally we gathered up the two severed well-tattooed legs of a youngish person whom we presumed to be the missing son of the Shoanti barbarian chieftain who we were pledged to seek out.  In search of more of the missing fellow the party backtracked and wandered in the cramped passages and small rooms beneath the ancient crypt.  Finally we emerged into an odd room, more of a corridor, stretching out to our left and right fifteen or so feet.  What made it odd was an array of skulls set into the opposite wall, mouths agape in obscene fashion.  Sanjay suspected some wizardry--likely necromantic foulness--and held back to study them from the doorway.  Several of the party cautiously moved into the corridor to investigate--when suddenly the skulls all spurted acid!  Our intrepid heroes were quite alert and managed to dodge the caustic liquid.  Then, with a strange crackling sound, two strange creatures which looked like a skeletal snake with a human skull, darted from the shadows. [At this point our buddy Steve made his appearance as well--but I'm sure it was just a coincidence.]


Crow-eye quickly summoned one of his faithful eagles to join the fray!  [Crow-eye summoning eagle swarms is quickly becoming a staple of our combats scenes; some might call it fowl play, but the fans seem to like it.]  The eagle immediately attacks one of the skeletal snakes, but does poorly. [We find Dan first needs to build an attack for the eagle in his Roll20 character sheet; Mike works with Dan to build it as we continue.]  The rest of our plucky bands sprang into action, but the weird skeleton snakes began a strange weaving dance and Ashe, Slade, and Talla became entranced by the hypnotic movements.  And suddenly a skeletal, cockroach-like creature scuttled out and nipped Talla.  And then another emerged and went for Ashe!  Crow-eye pushed forward into the corridor and his eagle attacked again, this time damaging the creature.  The young magus Axios, the latest addition to our band, crept up the steps into the corridor and surveyed the scene.  He quickly cast a spell on his longsword and started attacking. 

 Sanjay gingerly crept up on one of the skele-cockroaches, charged his hands with deadly arcane lightning and and destroyed it utterly with a clackling blast.  The snake-thing under attack by the eagle then bit our little feathered hero and killed it immediately!  Sanjay was sure it must have some deadly necro-venom.  Ashe was attacked next by the other bony cockroach-thing but only nipped slightly.  Axios pressed his attack on the snake, striking it with his ensorcelled sword.  Sanjay stepped forward again, mastering his fears, and again unleashed lightning, damaging it heavily.  But he felt a strange sensation, narrowly avoiding poisoning himself!  Axios was attacked next, slightly nipped, but that on top of his injuries from the earlier battle in the room of filth; Axios then is paralyzed by the poison!  Sanjay used his wizard's bonded wand to bring up the deadly Shocking Grasp once more.  However it went awry, missing the creature--but outlining a secret door nearby!

Ashe finally shook off his odd entrancement and brought his glaive into action.  Slade recovered as well and launched a magic bolt, finishing off the skele-snake attacking Sanjay.  Sanjay turned to cover Talla as she recovered as well.  Talla rushed immediately to attack the remaining skele-snake at the far end of the corridor.  Crow-eye commanded another eagle.  It maneuvered deftly around the remaining skele-roach and finished the crawling horror.  It's duty well performed it vanished whence it came.  Low on prepared mana for further lighting, Sanjay zapped the remaining thing for respectable but not terminal effect.  Talla drew her second gladius and double-attacked forcefully.  Finally Ashe stomped on it viciously, crushing it into bits.

The last of the unnamed horrors dispatched, our heroes took stock of the situation.  Sanjay took advantage of the lull to show everyone the secret door he discovered.  Talla examined it, found no sign of traps and easily unlocked it.   [Here things went a bit odd with Roll20.  We suddenly all spotted a new character approaching in one of the previous rooms. For a moment we panic thinking it may be some boss NPC maneuvering for a TPK.  But it's merely that our plucky DM Kirk has the visibility set wrong.]  As Talla and Axios moved forward to explore the new room our mentor from the Academae, Seska [half-elf daughter of Elissa Leroung], emerged from the shadows behind us!   We greeted her and she explained that the queen sent her.  Seska passed on that the queen called a meeting of the peers of the realm.  She also remembered more about the suspect painter.  Seska also mentioned we will get 200 shiny gold coins for finding the painter.  Seska also brought a wand from the queen to help us.  Slade examined the wand and found, to his glee, that it can shoot out  a magic flame attack.. But he is confused a bit about exactly how it works.  Seska noticed Axion and our new companion introduced himself as Axios Leroung, his last name marking him as a relative of hers.

Talla continued exploring and found a set of stairs leading down.  We followed cautiously down the very narrow passage.  [Here again the beauty of the Roll20 "fog of war" feature and limited character view came into play.  Using just the screen view to explore, without the usual mapping on paper, led to more realistic confusion in the cramped, winding passages of the crypt.]  After a bit we found our way back to the main room where we entered.  We then decided to backtrack to the room of skulls to check out a normal door there which we had bypassed.  We found Slade waiting impatiently and we inadvertently blinded him a bit with our light as we returned.

Talla checks the door, finding it not locked.  We push forward into the room and find a room with tables with beakers and vials, three cauldrons along the far wall, one of the tipped.  We spot a fellow with grayish skin and while hair near one of the tables.  Axios suspects he is a race called Derro.  Talla greets him cautiously in Common.  The fellow, slightly surprised, casts a spell.  A blast of intense sound ripples amongst us.  We all suffer injury, plus Talla and Slade are stunned.  Crow-eye summons a small earth elemental under the enemy and it attacks!  Ashe reaches across the table with his glaive to attack but fails.  Slade hits with a force missile from the fiendish diadem strangely embedded in his neck.  Axios rushes up and attacks with his longsword with good effect, finishing the fellow off.

We search the body for anything of interest, but he has nothing.  There is a door to the south and a passage to the east.  Talla heads for a door to the south, while Slade and Ashe watch a passageway to the east.  Talla hears whistling, then examines the door and notices that it is boarded over.  Talla heads to the corridor instead.  Axios tries the door.  Talla wonders why he would try a door obviously boarded to keep something out (or in).  Axios asks whether or not we need to kill everything down here.  We explain that no, we just need to find the rest of the deceased son.  Independently muinded Crow-eye sends his little earth elemental to assault the door.  The door is easily smashed.  (Talla mentally does a face-palm.) We catch sight of something hideous in the new room.  [The dim visibility was excellent in this game.  Newly-encountered creatures would actually be only dimly glimpsed in dark rooms, sending shivers down your spine.]  We notice, horrified, this creature is holding an arm with Shoanti tattoos.  [Cue numerous jokes about the thing "being armed", "we need to disarm him", etc.]  The thing is a lurching, shambling mound of flesh, bone, hair, and who knows what else!!

Crow-eye sends his earth elemental in to attack and force the thing back.  Talla stubbornly decides to watch the corridor she sensibly wanted to investigate while the idiot mages deal with the trouble they've started on their own.  Slade launches a Scorching Ray at the thing for good effect.  [Steve suddenly realizes with amusement that he's only 3rd level!  The rest of us had recently leveled up to 4th.]  Sanjay also summons a small earth elemental, behind the thing, and it joins the assault.  The shambling thing strikes Crow-eye's elemental.  Axios observes the thing carefully--and realizes it is a magically constructed creature called a golem!  Ashe pauses to give us all a holy blessing.

We argue about whether or not to use the dangerous new wand of flaming devastation.  Slade is tempted but Axios argues against.  Slade instead launches a magic missile but the result is a bit disappointing.  I look on with pleasure as my little elemental smashes the disturbing-looking thing repeatedly for good effect.  The golem creature demolishes Crow-eye's elemental with one mighty blow!  Then it fixes its gaze on Axios, with beady red eyes!  Axios steps back, hoping to lure it into the cauldron room where we can hit it from all sides.  Seska casts a spell creating webbing to stop it.  Crow-eye shoots acid at it but misses.  Talla continues to look on in wry amusement.  Slade blasts it with a Scorching Ray again and destroys it with cruel flame.  Slade blows the smoke off his fingers with great satisfaction.  We retrieve the arm, but find nothing of value in the small room.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Might try a digital card game to see if I could make a tabletop game...

Okay, so at the last Tridentcon I got the chance to try the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.  Our group plays Pathfinder as our primary go-to rules for fantasy RPGing so I was interested to see how they'd made a card game of it.  Now let me state up front that I'm not a card game player.  I play RPGs over all other types of games for the group camaraderie and because GMing is a great creative outlet.  But the new PACG seemed popular with the card gamers so I figured it must have something going for it, which why I signed up for it at Tridentcon.

I found the game to be beautifully produced and well structured but not as "fun" as our usual Pathfinder games.  Nevertheless as I played I was wondering if the rules could be applied to tabletop play, a sort of "Pathfinder Lite: same great taste, less rules bloat".  I thought I might deconstruct the rules and put up a homebrew hack.  But the base sets are US$45 to $60 which is more than I want to spend just to test out a theory.

But Obsidian Entertainment and Paizo earlier partnered up to do a digital version, playable on iPad and Android tablets--and it's scheduled to come out at the end of this month!  If it's well under $40 and will play on something I own I'll get it and see if the rules can be hacked for use at the table.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What happened in our last game...on Roll20 - The Academae Campaign

Okay, so we're a couple sessions in with our every-other-Monday game.  We're using Pathfinder for the rules--it's pretty much our group's go-to rules for fantasy genre games--and we've recently moved it onto Roll20 to cut down on late travel on a work night, especially for our members who live farther away.  We've christened it "The Academae Game" because it's set in The Acadamae, a wizard's college in the Varisian city of Korvosa in the Pathfinder game world of Golarion.  Our characters are ostensibly there to study magic, but one's an imposter and two of them aren't even wizards. [My character is a bright and "prosperously plump" young diviner from a poor but proud family posing as Prince Sanjay Guptarama-Khanpooraja of Jalmeray so the prince can avoid the tedium (and danger) of a 10-year stint at the Acadamae.]

"Prince Sanjay"
After various unpleasant episodes at the school and a dungeon romp or two we awaken one morning to find the city torn by rioting--King Arbasti is dead!  What's more, Queen Ileosa Arbasti is suspected of murdering him.

Queen Ileosa ("Trinka")

This is awkward because the oracle in our group, Ashe, has already become carnally involved with her after meeting her while she was incognito posing as the young student "Trinka" at the Academae.  Nevertheless we slipped out of the school and made our way through the streets to the royal castle to see how "Trinka" was doing, found the king dead, the queen detained, confusing clues pointing towards necromantic magic--and we are still on the hook to finish an earlier quest to return the remains of a Shoanti chieftan's son taken down into some big crypt in the graveyard.  In short, we've had a pretty full morning.

With our only big clues being the poison in the king's body and a strange necromantic spell on the queen, which makes her ill when Ashe goes any distance away, we decide some research is in order.  The University of Korvosa has the best library around so it's the obvious place to start.  Sanjay is understandably apprehensive about leaving the obvious safety of the heavily-guarded castle to venture out into riot-torn Korvosa.  Peering out some arrow slits we see some overly-armored types have arrived to deal with the crowd out front--some of the local Hell Knights from the Order of the Nail.  Sanjay determines that their presence simply provides yet another reason to stay inside for the time being.

A Hell Knight

While we observe, a group of castle guards exit the front gate and descend the main stairs to assist in pacifying the crowd.  The queen is suddenly seized with the determination to intervene and dashes down to the gate.  Ashe grabs her arm, a rash act when dealing with royalty, and tries to argue her into staying.  She quells him with a brutal glance fit for queen.  Ashe tries pleading but it is no use and the rushes off.  Our tiefling classmate Slade smacks the back of Ashe's head in irritation.  Our elven friend Talla Sleipnir (who is quite adept with her twin blades) rushes after the queen, also calling ahead to alert the guards to her majesty's arrival.  Queen Aliosa commands the Hell Knights to cease and desist but then launches into a disjointed explanation for the crowd about the king's poisoning and false rumors of a sorceror being involved.  The scene becomes awkward and Talla, sensible as always, begins dragging the queen to safety.  The rest of us rush down and help Talla, with the urging of the castle guards.  Outside the Hell Knights and angry korvosan mob mill about in confusion at the queen's sudden outburst.

Back inside Talla remonstrates with the queen.  "So, you want to go out into an angry mob, who wants your head for killing the king, and you run out and say the king was poisoned, and there is no sorcerer--are you crazy?" The queen is rather abashed, no doubt still a bit confused from the unsettling events of the past two days.  Talla shoos the rest of us off to research the two clues we have from investigating the death of the king: poison and necromancy.  Sanjay is still reluctant to leave, especially with the added element of a force of Hell Knights eager to "restore order".  Our new friend Axios Leroung, a young human former gladiator from Cheliax with a mysterious heretic's brand, wisely suggests we find a side exit.  Before heading out we decide that Sanjay and Crow-Eye (another wizard student, a young human Azlanti chap) will research the poison, because we both have a great antipathy for necromancy, and Ashe, Axion, and Slade will research the necromantic effect.  Talla claims no knowledge of either topic and volunteers to stay with the queen, in case she decides to rush off somewhere dangerous again.



Heading downstairs we meet Field Marshall Cressida Kroft of the Sable Company.  Sanjay is excited to meet a member of this company, famed for their hippogriff mounts, but is able to contain his enthusiasm.  Field Marshall Kroft reminds us of our sworn quest to retrieve the body of the chieftain's son and we assure her that we are on the job.  She then introduces us to a tall human man, well-dressed, with salt-and-pepper hair.  This dashing fellow is Vencarlo Orisini, swordmaster at the Orisini Academy where they teach swordsmanship.  Orisini asks about a member of our group who is gaining a reputation for swordplay and we inform him Talla is upstairs attending to the queen.  Orisini then offers to escort us through the streets.  We are hesitant to accept, since his manner is somewhat mysterious.  But the Field Marshall assures us of the swordmaster's bone fides and we reluctantly accept his offer.

We leave the castle and begin making our way to the university.  As we walk Orisini takes note of our newest companion, Axios.  Orisini points out that the people of Cheliax, whence Axios has come, are quite open in their worship of devils.  Axios is somewhat taken aback but counters that not everyone of Cheliax is of that persuasion.  Orisini continues his probing, commenting that we don't seem like the usual types at the Academae, with the insinuation that the residents there are likely devil worshipers.  Our tiefling companion Slade suspects Orisini is referring to him, and by extension all the tiefling guards at our school.  Orisini demurs by stating that being of fiendish ancestry does not necessarily make on a worshipper of devils.  Slade states clearly that he would be glad to kill a devil.  Orsini changes the subject, asking about our relationship to the queen.  He reveals that he is aware she has assigned us a task.  He goes on to mention rumors that the queen has been spotted visiting the temple of Asmodeus in town.  Sanjay feels the need to defend the queen from such rumors and explains we have not witnessed any such visit and know of no connection between the queen and that temple.  Eventually we arrive at the university.  There is some signs a mob was present sometime earlier but the coast is clear and we enter without incident.

Back at the castle Talla hears a knock at the door to the queen's chamber.  The queen recognizes the visitor as one Venster.  The bodyguard who is also in the chamber explains that Venster is a half-brother to the deceased king.  The queen allows Venster admittance to her presence but insists he speak with Talla and the bodyguard present.  Venster reminds the queen that she hired a person to paint a portrait of the king and suggests that person may have been the poisoner.  The queen remembers the painter.  In fact it was she who found the woman to come paint.  The painter and the king were alone on-and-off for about a month and thus she had many opportunities to poison him somehow.  Talla wonders why this particular woman would want to poison the king.

And back at the university, Orisini takes his leave of our heroes and goes off into the university on business of his own.  Our group heads directly to the library and commences the research.  After some searching Ashe finds information about a cleansing ritual which can only be performed by a cleric of Pharasma.  He recalls there is a temple of the Lady of Graves here.  Ashe also remembers a night time ritual or performance where the pharasmins summon undead and then battle them.  Sanjay tries numerous books but only finds an old news sheet item mentioning a relevant-sounding incident in passing.  Ashe thinks he may have to get in contact with some shady types to learn anything more.

At the castle, the queen again grows ill with separation from Ashe due to the strange necromantic malady.  She does take the time to inform the Marshall about the painter.

Ashe heads off to the temple of Pharasma and we accompany him into the troubled streets of Korvosa.  We arrive at the temple without incident.  It is imposing, surrounded by a wide graveyard.  Ashe knocks and priests greets us, asking if we need assistance due to injury in the rioting.  Ashe explains that a royal personage is in need of a cleansing.  The priest invites us in to wait and leaves to inform one more senior.  He returns a short time later with an older cleric, the chief priest of Pharasma at the temple.  They ask about this royal person, mentioning they've heard the king was poisoned by a sorceress.  Ashe explains that we ourselves are just students but are friends of the queen here on her behalf.  He explains about the old reference to a cleansing ritual of the Pharasmins and asks if they can help us.  The high priest agrees to help.  After arming himself and arranging a small armed escort he accompanies us back to the castle.

The streets are quiet and at the castle the large, restless mob has been replaced with several scattered corpses.  We enter and the Marshall and seneschal of the castle greet the high priest and bid him welcome.  We follow the high priest up to the queen's bed chamber where she waits, still ill.  The priest first calls on his divine powers and determines that she is cursed.  (Cursed to fall for Ashe, thinks Sanjay.)  He brings out an ancient-looking scroll and reads it with much passion.  An effect occurs, which we are later strangely unable to recall clearly, and declares the queen free of the curse.  Sanjay and Slade use their arcane powers to assess the queen's status.  Sanjay finds only a small bit of magic left, which he finds is a bit of abjuration magic on a ring she is wearing.  We are all pleased and relieved---until Sanjay realizes that we now have no excuse to delay returning to the crypts once again.

With the queen apparently safe, we debate returning to the crypts to look for the chieftain's son's body.  Sanjay is less than enthusiastic, but admits that we did agree to pursue the quest.  The queen jokes about coming with us again.  Talla points out that the queen is now the sole ruler.  She further suggests the queen should pull herself together, meet with her advisers, get word out to the people, and call a meeting of all the nobles of the kingdom.  Maybe then, Talla offers, we might consider sneaking her out for an adventure some day.  Sanjay is mildly surprised at this offer--especially with the bodyguard still standing right there.  Before we leave the queen instructs us to be mindful of our commitment to the chieftain.  She gifts us with a pair of healing potions each to keep us safe.  We thank her (Sanjay is particularly relieved) and take our leave.

Not long after we arrive back at the crypt.  Once more we descend the stairs and enter the large square room with large pillars.  [At this point our GM Kirk swapped in the crypt map.  At first the screen went black--because of course he had not set our lighting conditions.  We worked on getting each character's light/vision radius and degrees of field of view for a bit.  As soon as Kirk set the area for my Light spell, I could see the map lit appropriately--as shown below--pretty cool!  The light radius moved beautifully as I moved; my light spell radius moved and illuminated with proper shadows!]


We proceed carefully and at first the place is deserted.  Suddenly Talla spots a statue down a side passage--but no, it moves!  Ashe heads down, glaive ready, to investigate but the rest of hang back.  [Here we paused to struggle a bit with how to bring up the turn order window which automatically displays the characters' order in the round based on our Initiative rolls.]  Sanjay cast his newest spell, Protection from Evil, partly because it seemed like it might be handy here and partly because he was eager to try it out in the field.  The narrow passage prevented most of us from engaging the zombies and odd tentacled creatures in the room at the end of it, but Sanjay was not overly disappointed at that turn of events.  The fight is short and no one dies. We find a pair of young man's legs with Shoanti tattoos and figure that must be the uneaten portion of the missing tribal scion.  The room is ankle deep in mud, moldy rubbish, and repulsive excretia of several types.  We hold our noses (literally) and search it all.  Sanjay is surprisingly effective, perhaps in his eagerness to find anything and get out, finding an amber necklace, a silver dagger, and a sealed elixir of unknown type.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Morning After, A Review of Dungeon World

Okay, so I've been researching one of the "new" OSR games out there: Dungeon World (DW).  I first became interested in it from David Guyll's Points of Light blog where he posted about the Sundered World campaign setting (to be reviewed later) for DW.  At first I assumed it was another OSR clone game, perhaps like Swords & Wizardry with a few indie touches.  A bit more reading led to a mix of excitement and confusion.  I knew it was leading me on but it seemed like the sort of game I wanted to be led on by.  The free download materials on the DW site were intriguing but I just couldn't quite grasp how DMing was supposed to work.  Since I usually DM (and like it) this was a potential deal breaker.  Finally, I decided I'd just have to take the plunge and buy the darn thing.

At first Dungeon World lulls you into a false sense of security.  It is indeed an indie take on the earlier editions of D&D, more AD&D than OD&D.  You have the traditional six stats, eight classes (bard, cleric, druid, fighter, paladin, ranger, thief, wizard), and three races (human, elf, dwarf).  Stats come from placing an array (but there are optional rules if you wish to roll), then you pick your race and class.  The rules as written only allow one of each class per party but it's the first rule I'd toss.  It's a dick move.  Why force a player to play something they don't want when you can just print out another ranger or whatever? But I digress.  So far, so good

Then it starts showing you it's kinkier side by introducing the "move" concept.  There are basic moves, like Defy Danger (all saving throw types rolled into one) or Hack & Slash (make a melee attack).  There are Special Moves for leveling up, carousing, taking watch, etc.  And finally there are the many class moves unique to each class.  Basically these are like class abilities, spells, and feats blended into one mechanical concept.  The moves for each class cover the sorts of things you'd expect but with a few twists and surprises here and there.

Okay, so a little different but so far nothing your mom would disapprove of as long as you're home by dinner.  Then DW lures you into a conceptual back alley, by revealing that all moves are resolved not with a nice, clean-cut d20 roll but one of those slightly sketchy 2d6 rolls.  All rolls in DW (except damage) are 2d6, usually with an appropriate attribute modifier applied, and expressed like "roll + INT".  The basic rule is that on 10+ you succeed, on 7-9 you succeed but there is a downside, and on 6 or less you fail and often suffer a penalty.  Spellcasting is a real departure from D&D, this one most welcome, where if you roll 10+ you cast successfully but do not expend the spell.  It's bit odd, you say to yourself, but your dad's Traveler used 2d6 so no need to freak out or anything.

Then DW suddenly sticks a big needle into your neck to inject you with something called DM Moves, and tells you to stop struggling and relax.  After carefully explaining to your gullible face for many pages about how moves are where you call out the move you want to use and roll 2d6 modified, it explains that there are no rolls for DM moves.  What a fool you were to not see it coming.  If only you'd listened to your mom this time.  Essentially DM moves are all plot twists (including dealing out damage from attackers!?) which you throw at your players like anvils or banana peels to confound them.  These come in response to player actions and questions but also spark them.  DM moves are very generic, like "Put someone in a spot", "Separate them", or "Reveal an unwelcome truth".  Each of these generic moves is then briefly described in an equally generic way.  You start getting a bit light headed and disoriented from the lack of structure, but also a vague euphoria from a rush freedom you've never quite experienced before.

I rolled around in a daze for a while trying to grasp how DM moves really worked.  There were some guides and discussions here and there on line but they only helped things briefly swim into focus, like a friend slapping your face and yelling something like "cake pup" over and over.  Eventually I came to, all feverish and sweaty, and wasn't sure these were the same underwear I'd left the house in this morning.

To clear my head I moved on to the sections on monsters, which are grouped by general environment and delightfully simple in description.  Finally I stumbled into the very cool bit on Fronts.  Fronts are how to build the threats which drive the plot and in a neatly structured way.  After the bad trip brought on by the GM moves Fronts was like plunging one's head in a bucket of cold water and then sitting down in a diner for a big stack of pancakes.

Fronts are a really nice concept for building plots, both for adventures and for larger campaign elements.  There are Dangers, which have Impending Dooms, Grim Portents, a Cast, etc.  I think this is the best thing I've ever seen for showing someone how to put together adventures and campaigns. I almost forgot all about the puncture wound in the side of my neck from that earlier chapter I'd rather not talk about right now.  Along with the Fronts are rules for characterizing "steadings" which are the populated places in your campaign world.  These range in size from little villages to large cities.  Again, the concepts here are absolutely great and usable with any rules set.  For me the rules for fronts and steadings alone were worth the price of the book.

So the bottom line is that I enjoyed reading Dungeon World, will definitely be using the fronts and steading rules, and would like to try running a game with it.  I'm just still really not sure how the DM moves work in actual practice and I want my underwear back.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Review: Technology Guide for Pathfinder

Okay, so this was something of an impulse buy for me.  It's been on my wishlist for a while but I doubted I'd ever use it, except maybe a Pathfinder-based game of Hulks & Horrors.  But the friendly (and devious) people at Paizo offered a discount code for 10% off and, well, you can't just not use a discount code--it'd be like throwing money away, wouldn't it?  So I took the plunge on two of their "science fiction" books, the Technology Guide and People of the Stars.

The Technology Guide is mostly lots and lots of equipment but includes good general rules for technology, including crafting, making hybrid magical/technological items, and handling "timeworn" technology.  Timeworn technology is a nice touch.  The book assumes you will probably be using it to add ancient technological devices to a fantasy campaign.  Older technology will be low on charges and have quirks after all this time.  There is a nice set of tables for characterizing each item so the players never know what exactly will be wrong with this particular frenzychip.  Actually I quite liked several of the device names including frenzychip, cranial bomb, and zero rifle.  In addition to the expected weapons and armor you also have a wide selection of medical stuff, a few cyber enhancement items, comms gear, and more.

For characters there are technology-related feats and traits, several archetypes, and one prestige class called the technomancer. Finally there are some really cool high-tech materials and a quick look at high-tech environmental hazards and traps.

Note that missing from this tome of wonder are robots, vehicles, and starships.  I think some robots appear in the bestiaries and there are definitely several in the Iron Gods adventure path books (worth buying for ideas on running a hybrid fantasy/sci-fi campaign).  Androids are covered in the People of the Stars book as a playable race rather than a technology item.