Friday, January 31, 2014

A Bit More on Santicore (2013)

Okay, so I finished reading through volume 1 (yes, there are two more amazing volumes on the way).  There is a lot of cool, creative stuff in here.  Some of it is the sort of thing I'll read, enjoy, and let my brain digest for ideas.  Some of it I will rip out immediately and put to use.

In that latter category is "OSR Starting Jobs and Equipment" by Florian.  I was intrigued by this little Santicore present right away because it draws on the Traveler job career tables but turns them into OSR D&D.  I've always wanted to see a D&D/fantasy game done Traveler style so I was liking it right there.  Also, I like that you can use it to quickly build background for a PC or NPC with just a few quick rolls.  As I've mentioned before I want ways for my players to add fun and interesting background to their characters without having to write a novel.

In Traveler you get to roll for skills or possibly items gained each 4-year tour.  Here you get to roll on tables but there are more entries and most are some sort of item.  Most of the table entries are a colorful item, like "pet chicken" or "set of signal flags", but some are an extra bit of background, such as "favor of a dryad".  The table items are great and you could use them apart from the job tables as well.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Your Money's No Good Here

Okay, so usually in fantasy RPGs the currency is generic gold, silver, and copper coins.  Occasionally you'll find games wherein the local authorities will insist that "foreign" coins be exchanged for locally minted ones.  This is usually presented as a straight up racket to force foreigners to pay a percentage on coinage brought into the area (and a racket by the DM to keep the PCs from getting too rich).  There could be various other reasons, such as foreign coins being different sizes and thus having different values or coins from a certain region known for being debased with other metals.  But recently I came across this interesting bit on Wikipedia from the story of Jesus driving the money-changers from the temple:

"Gentile money could not be used at the Temple because of the graven images on it."

Hmm, that's a much more interesting idea.  Imagine our heroes score a hoard of coins from the evil cult temple dungeon.  Hooray!  But when they get back to civilization the locals refuse to take any of it because it has the symbol of an evil deity on it, which our heroes failed to notice in their excitement.  Maybe they are forced to melt it all down to destroy the images, perhaps into plain bars, costing them some cash.  Maybe priestly types from the temples of good deities insist that it undergo cleansing rituals to make sure it's not cursed or otherwise tainted.  Weird coinage can be turned into interesting role play situations.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


YES!!! Finally, it's out--well, volume one.  Thanks Joey!!   Go get yours now over at Metal vs. Skin!

(Yes, that's me in the "Hellves and Paindeer" section.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Happy 40th, D&D!!

This weekend I finally got back to the blogosphere and was pleasantly surprised to find that the 40th anniversary of D&D was being celebrated by all and sundry.  (And I think you sundry people know exactly who you are.)  Then I found myself looking on with a sense of wry amusement.  As I've mentioned on previous occasions, when I first came across the original D&D I thought it an amateurish bit of rubbish.  It compared very poorly to the more professionally produced board wargames I was used to playing and "Gygax" was obviously not even a real name.  Luckily for me, a lot of other people liked the game anyway and so now we have this amazingly fun and creative hobby to enjoy.

I also find it interesting that this anniversary also coincides with launch of Next/5th Edition, and thus also the final death knell of 4th Edition.  I only got to play a couple short sessions of 4E and was intrigued by many of the design elements.  I was really hoping that for the follow-on edition they would "fix" 4E.  It's kind of a shame because it's looking like I'll never get a chance to really try it out.  Oh well.

Will I play Next/5E?  Well, I'll probably buy it because I like reading new games for ideas.  I'm also interested in seeing what the art in it will be like.  My group will probably play a game or two to try it out and who knows, we might really like it--even if the author isn't using a fake name.

Review: Ultimate Campaign for Pathfinder RPG

Okay, so I bought this book quite some time ago and only just recently finished giving it a thorough reading.  Far and away the best parts of this book are the sections on character backgrounds, both by race and by class.  Most of the people I've played with aren't into building deep character background.  For the majority their character's background is of little interest.  Some GMs insist that their players come up with good background material but to me that sounds too much like homework rather than a game.  I see no point in forcing players to do up background info if they don't want to--there's no fun in that.

But with the character background charts at the front of Ultimate Campaign anyone can roll up some useful background in about two minutes.  It's handy for GMs as well for quick NPC generation.  Since this is Pathfinder, the various backgrounds also tie into associated traits (which are sort of half of a D&D 3.x feat).

My other favorite bit is how to roll up the outcomes of activities during downtime, such as earning some cash or training.  They require a little math but not too much (I've seen much worse).  The first set of rules I ever used, Chivalry & Sorcery, had a simple formula for earning XP during downtime but this is vastly better.

Next there are rules for building a kingdom (well, starting with a settlement and expanding out).  These are based on the rules in their Kingmaker adventure path and a bit abstract.  But that's probably a good thing because it keeps this from becoming an entire game within a game.  Some people would be cool with more detail (Chivalry & Sorcery had extremely detailed rules and charts) but most RPG players don't come to the table to play a board game.  This section also ties in with the downtime rules.

Finally there are mass combat rules.  Frankly I didn't look this bit over too closely.  If I ever do warfare or mass combat in one of my games I'll likely use Hordes of the Things (HOTT) with a lot of DMing poured over the top.

Verdict: buy it. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

White Dragonkin, the "Patient Faithful"

The White Dragonkin, or Metal Dragonkin, are native to the western reaches of the world, the lands around the elemental pole of Metal.  Many also live in the Metal Desert in the southwest.  The White Dragonkin are a people in exile, both physically and spiritually.

In ancient times the Great Divine Guardian Dragon of Metal spawned her immortal dragons into the world and they possessed all the lands of the west.  In time they birthed mortal dragons and the dragonkin.  All loved the Great White Mother and did her homage.  But during the War of Angels and Demons the mortal dragons and dragonkin were inevitably drawn into the conflict.  The immortal dragons saw how the Angels and Demons became as gods and goddesses against all tradition.  They were powerful and the immortal dragons became envious.  The Divine Dragon warned them to remain true.  But one by one they arrogated to themselves similar powers of worldly divinity and demanded worship from the mortal dragons and dragonkin.  The Great Mother raged and wept but could not bring herself to harm her first-born.  Instead she punished them with a curse, binding them in incorporeal form to their various abodes.  In fear the remaining mortals below fled into the wilderness.

Today the White Dragonkin live only in the wild places, such as the Metal Desert.  All the old inhabited places are taboo, because most are the binding-places of ancient immortal dragons.  So they wander as nomads on an endless pilgrimage.  They make prayer and sacrifice outside the binding-places for their lost deities and curse the Great Mother for her cruelty.  Thus they have no priests or paladins amongst them.  Instead they rely on the wisdom and arts of many oracles in their tribes.  They see themselves as true believers who know the way, patiently maintaining their faith until the day their gods are freed once more.

Despite being taboo, many of the old cities, temples, monasteries, and other places have inhabitants.  There are covens of witches bound to the immortal dragons who secretly make sacrifices and magicks seeking break the curse of their particular patron.  These witches are the closest thing to priests the immortals have, because they lack the mana to empower mortals as the clerics of other deities.  The witches and their coven-broods scour the land for victims to sacrifice and magical things and knowledge which will further their work.  Also living in the taboo places are small cults of demon worshipers.  While the Great Mother has her face turned away from her children and the immortals are powerless, demons are free to seek followers and wreak havoc.  Finally there are bands of heretics, usually followers of undragonly foreign gods.  They reject the old ways of worship in favor of these strange gods and goddesses from far away who are nothing like a proper dragon.  These heretics form small villages and towns amidst the old ruins, trading or raiding as suits them.

The nomadic faithful are not only strong in their faith but well knowledgeable in the lores and sciences of their land.  They have among them many alchemists and makers of weapons which shoot fire and thunder using an arcane dark powder.  They trade in the metals, gems, acids, and other natural products of their lands, as well as items and materials made with them.

Although the Great Mother turns her face from her ungrateful children, yet does she love them.  When she senses among them one whose heart is open she sends an avatar to call them to her.  Those who answer become her priests, priestesses, and holy paladins.  These she cultivates, and sends out to battle the covens, cults, and heretics.  But more importantly she guides them in the dangerous work of returning to her wayward children and preaching her worship.  The nomad exile tribes hate these so-called holy followers of the Cruel Mother and eagerly execute them as sacrifices to their bound gods.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Another Letter from Tug

Kirk has written another letter home by his character Tug in is my friend Steve's Pathfinder-based game

 Dear Papa,

It is the 17th of Mart, and I just finished talking to the mayor of this town!  He gave us cloaks and broaches of the town guard!  You always wanted me to be on it.  We had a big feast, with strange food and different types of juices.  They gave me many gold coins for the map I made.  But it was not complete until the spirits of the dead were removed, and we just did that.  Let me write about it.

We met a new stranger, half man and half beast.  He buys all of the giant slayers and me a drink of juice.  The more juice we drank, the more fun we all have, and just like me, Pierce welcomes him to join and help us to remove the spirits of the dead from the tower.  This does prove to be a tough bargain for the half beast Tageam, as he does not understand the dangers involved, at first.

I was given the task to learn as much as possible about these spirits of the dead.  I saw them, too, but I will describe them later.  The giant slayers let me stay in a room entirely by myself all day.  Can you believe that?  This room could fit two wagons.  I meditated in prayer, like you taught me, and I focused on what I remembered of these spirits.  After five minutes, I just absorbed the vastness of the room, all to myself and for the rest of the day.  Then at the end of the day it happened.  I had the vision.  I  saw a dark shape, more essence than form and it was bound, trying to get free.  The vision changed to a different place and I saw a very beautiful maiden, dressed in holy robes, holding a silver pot in a strange way.  She held small decorative chains which hung down and held the pot.  This pot had smoke but no flame rising from it.  She moved it about slowly, to spread the odor of the smoke around.  It reached my nose and so sweet was the smell.  Then the vision ended.  I told the others we had to find this beautiful woman.

Pierce did all the talking to Tyla, the holy woman, so that she would help.  I was still fixated by how she appeared in my vision, that I cannot remember much about her now.  We found her at a house of healing.  Naturally, I wanted to absorb the surroundings, so I volunteered to help the many sick people there, and I applied my skills the best way possible.  They let me stay the night.

In the morning, we all gathered back at the tower, with the holy woman.  The bargain was simple, she gets rid of the spirits, and we protect her.  We move to the top where we saw the spirits of the dead last time.  They attacked us through the walls, before we got there.  I saw one, although there were more that others saw who were behind me.  It was dark vapor in the shape of a hovering body with a head and arms, but no legs.  Its eyes were just black holes.  My initial reaction was to think of my happy place, to shield myself from these vapors of malice.  After a moment, I cannot contain the shield anymore and it releases a force in all directions.  This joyous force hurt the creatures, and they became angry with me and focused their attacks on me, which is good, because they will not hurt Holy Tyla.  All they did was reach out to touch me, and they pulled my strength from me.  Many times they did this, and I would not yield.  I again shielded myself and the shield erupted out to them.  They also attacked  others this same way, too.  I could not heal their weakness, however, I know, somehow, I will be able to in the future.  But, we did our job well, for the holy woman purified and sanctified the area.  This freed the spirits of the dead bound to the tower.

I must finish this letter now.  The giant slayers are calling me back to the party.  I know this all sounds fantastic, especially the part about being on the town guard.  I finally did it.  Not as a fighter, but as a healer.  You can be proud of me.

Your son, Tug.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Metal Desert

Far to the southwest, where the influences of elemental metal from the west meet the the influences of fire from the south, is the Metal Desert.  It goes by many other names but this one is the most common.  Like all deserts it is hot, dry, and dangerous.  But the Metal Desert is dangerous in many more ways than an ordinary desert, because it is peculiarly suffused with the essence of the element of Metal.  This supernatural essence forces the land and its weather into forms unknown anywhere else--and it is good they are unknown elsewhere.

A Guide to the Terrains of the Metal Desert
Rust Desert
- Dunes of rust spread for miles, reddish brown and drier than you can imagine.  The rust is a fine powder which works its way into everything over time.  Travel is slow in the soft drifts.  Most of the liquid found here is pools of Red Acid (see below).  The water in any of the very rare oases is stained with rust and tastes bitterly of it.

Salt Desert
- Dunes and rolling plains of brilliant white salt stretch out in all directions

Salt Flats
- The brilliant white surface of dry, flat, cracked salt is hard underfoot.  Salt flats may be as small as a mile across or sprawl out over may miles.  Any water here will be saline, any other pool will be of a dire acid (see below).

Salt Pyramids
-Odd pyramidal or conical salt formations dot the landscape.  Their size varies but all the pyramids in a given area will be roughly the same size (height and base width of 1d20 x 10 feet).  Each is on its own island in a wide shallow lake (1d20 feet deep) of saline or one of the five acids.  Large pyramids in saline lakes are often hollowed out as dens or refuges.

Acid Swamp
- This region is mostly shallow pools of acid with frequent low-lying "land" consisting of marble banks, obsidian scree, or dense obsidian forest outcroppings.  The acid is most often White Acid or Red Acid (see below), but any of the five major types may occur here; dire acids are rarely found here.

Marble Ocean
- A vast sea or ocean of brightly colored marble spheres ripples and glints in the sunlight.  Some areas are primarily one color, others a polychrome riot.  As their name suggests the marble oceans move slowly as the sea does, with waves and currents.  These waves and currents often confuse travelers and subtly guide them in unexpected directions.  The waves and oddly timed tides can bury anything which remains stationary for more than an hour or so--or ebb to reveal things long buried.  Travel across the surface is a noisy affair which eventually attracts monsters.

- This appears to be a region of salt flats or rust flats.  But a layer of mud wet with saline or acid lies just under a dry surface crust here.  In places the crust is a foot thick and will support anything up to carts and large creatures, in others it is deceptively thin and a traveler will fall through in an unguarded moment.  The soft mud underneath may be a just few annoying inches thick or many life-threatening feet deep.  And then there is the threat of the acid to the unfortunates who become mired in it.

Obsidian Razors
- A vicious-looking landscape of shiny black blades glistens all around.  Blade-shaped protrusions of obsidian of all sizes sprout from the rust desert, some towering to 100 feet or more.  Travel is slow and dangerous due to the blades.  In addition, the large blades hinder navigation by restricting lines of sight and paths of movement.  Travelers are often forced off course and lose valuable time--or valuable lives.

Obsidian Plane
- Wide, flat, shiny planes of black obsidian stretch out in all directions.  The surface is as smooth as glass and often slippery.  The highly reflective surface adds to the effect of heat mirages and greatly increases glare when the sun is up.  Local tribes have sailboat-like craft which slide across the surface on runners.

Obsidian Scree Waste
- Vast quantities of obsidian shards lie in dunes, heaps, and hills all across this region.  The small scree shards are shiny and slippery, making movement difficult.  The shiny, multi-faceted surface enhances the effect of  heat mirages and hinders visual spotting of distant objects.  As with a Marble Ocean, travel across the surface is a noisy affair which eventually attracts monsters.

Obsidian Obelisk Henge
- Ranging in size from a small grouping a few tens of yards across to great arrays extending for many miles, obsidian obelisk henges are the closest thing to a forest you'll find in the Metal Desert.  The tall multi-sided henges appear in patterns drawn with some primeval principle.  In some places the obelisks are clustered tightly together, forming caves and covered passages.

Lightning Field
- This wide area (usually of salt desert but sometimes rust) crackles with threads of lightning.  They writhe and arc across the ground or sometime shoot up into clouds above.  The lightning is not as strong as a normal bolt of lighting from a storm but they are plenty dangerous and often quite numerous.

Magnetic Swamp
- Magnetic swamps are called swamps because of their effect on creatures and wagons traveling through them.  In these areas magnetic force pulls on all objects, slowing all movements and making all things heavier.  A person might as well be wading through a swamp from the way it feels. Ferrous objects which remain in a magnetic swamp for any length of time will slowly become permanently magnetized.

A Guide to the Acids of the Metal Desert
  • White Acid -  infused with the element of Metal, White Acid dissolves material as does any acid; it also sends electrical shocks into whatever it touches (1d4 acid + 1d4 electrical damage per round) [color: milky white with gold and silver flecks//temperature: hot//scent: acrid/metallic]
  • Red Acid - infused with the element of Fire, Red Acid dissolves material as does any acid; it also ignites easily flammable materials (wood, paper, etc.) on contact (1d4 acid + 1d4 fire damage per round) [color: bright red with orange and yellow swirls//temperature: very hot//scent: coal smoke & sulphur]
  • Green Acid - infused with the element of Wood, Green Acid dissolves material as does any acid; it also invades organic creatures as a poison (1d4 acid + 1d4 poison damage per round) [color: bright green with purple motes//temperature: warm//scent: roses]
  • Black Acid - infused with the element of Water, Black Acid dissolves material as does any acid; it also spreads frost where it touches (1d4 acid + 1d4 frost damage per round) [color: inky black with tiny white ice crystals//temperature: very cold//scent: peppermint]
  • Yellow Acid - infused with the element of Earth, Yellow Acid dissolves material as does any acid; it also transfers the properties of Earth to the material, causing it to partially petrify (1d4 acid + 1d4 flesh petrification damage per round) [color: dark yellow with bits of brown earth floating in it//temperature: neutral no matter what the surroundings//scent: sharp mustard]
  • Dire Acids - any of the above five acids formed of elemental weirding may occur in a Dire form; dire acids are fiercer (replace 1d4 damages with 1d6) and will flow towards any living creature within about 20 feet in order to consume it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Back from Utah! Visit to Game Night Games

Okay, so I was out in Utah last week (hence the lack of posts) and while I was there I got the opportunity to stop in at a local gaming store.  Game Night Games is located in downtown Salt Lake City.  Parking was limited but I got a spot nearby and headed in.  The store is a typical local store, with products up front and gaming tables in the back.  It's smallish but clean and well-lit and the staff were all very pleasant.

I was a bit disappointed in that they have very little RPG stuff on hand, which is what I was hoping for.  Their website includes a fair mention of RPGs and they advertise D&D Encounters on Wednesday nights.  The stock in the store is primarily a good selection of board games and card games.  I asked about the new Osirion book from Paizo and they offered to order it for me, so apparently you can get RPG stuff through them if you ask.  So I bought a Reaper Bones mini (well, I couldn't leave empty handed, now could I?) which was perfect for the dungeon which my Pathfinder group is working there way into right now.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Call of Cthulhu, the Long and Short of It

Okay, so this weekend my buddy Steve ran another session of his Call of Cthulhu game for us.  It's set in the late 1920's, in classic style, and started in Canada.  Currently the group has made its way to Japan with a cargo of mysterious stone relics which weird creatures from space desperately want for some reason.

While playing it struck me that I've never seen a PC go mad in any Call of Cthulhu game I've ever played.  A number have been killed outright, but none suffered any sort of mental conditions.  And yet the whole Sanity mechanic in CoC is supposed to be a key "cool" feature of the game.  To be fair, several of our current PCs basically started with mental conditions as part of their background (mine included) but that's not at all the same thing.  One problem is that most situations only call for a small loss of sanity and most if not all of that can be gained back by defeating things.  So nobody really starts down that long slippery slope into the darkness of the mind.  Your Sanity point total hovers near your starting maximum pretty much all the time.

Now my friend Bill pointed out that this was because we had only (so far) faced defeatable lesser creatures which only caused small sanity losses, and only if you missed your save.  Larger creatures cause losses of bigger chunks and are difficult to impossible to kill.  So even if you do survive there will not be any comforting recovery of points because you will not kill it.  At best you escape and constantly awaken in the darkness, heart pounding, wondering "What was that noise outside?"

Point taken, but it makes for  a very slow game.  And is Call of Cthulhu really meant for a long campaign anyway?  I would argue that it is not.  Yes, you need some build up to create the atmosphere of relative calm specifically so that you can shatter it later.  But I think that events really should ramp up rather sharply, with things going from disturbing to serious terror in a relatively short time.  The PCs (and players) shouldn't have time to recover.  There should be lots of panic and that sense that "we're all gonna die!!!!"  And really weird shit should be happening, shit that even the players can't make sense of in the rush of the moment (although there should be good reasons behind it which the survivors might discover later).

And those scenes of raging, flaming chaos should be interspersed with periods where they alternate between desperation, paranoia, and hopelessness.  The PCs should be struggling to cope, mentally and physically with what the hell is going on.  Their chances should always seem slim to none.  Every time they learn more about the threats facing them it should be clear that things are even worse than they thought and their chances of stopping it seem slimmer than ever.

Almost every encounter with indescribable horror should leave them with less sanity than before.  A constant downward psychological slope helps add to the pressure.  There should be few, if any, chances to regain sanity.  And some of those should come with a price, such as taking drugs (possibly exotic ones hard to explain to normal people or the authorities).  The Sanity mechanic should probably include levels, say every 15 points, that trigger a permanent worsening with in-game effects.  These effects should make it harder and harder to function against the threat and harder to interact smoothly with normal people.

And physical damage for a game like this shouldn't just be hit points.  There should be scars, probably obviously weird-looking ones which you can't explain to normal people.  Damage during combat should cause impairments, such as having one arm out of commission.  There should be a lot of permanent physical damage, although a lot of that can be internal.  They get some weird goop on their arm from that tentacle and now the bones are going kind of soft and bendy.  The feeling of gradually losing capability in the face of mortal danger helps add to the psychological pressure of combat with things you wish you'd never, ever found out about.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Movie Review: The Four (四大名捕)

Okay, so I just finished watching The Four (四大名捕), a terrific Chinese wuxia martial art film.  In it an investigation team composed of martial arts and paranormal specialists answering directly to the emperor called the Divine Constabulary battles criminals, assassins, and zombies in tracking down a conspiracy.  Their rivals are Department Six (the "Six Fan Gate"), the official imperial investigations department.  Sometimes they work together but sometimes they are at odds.  Some Chinese martial arts films are pretty cheesy, but this one is a cut above the usual.  It's martial arts, plus super-hero powers, plus zombies, plus magic, plus intrigue.

As I was watching it I was thinking that this would be a cool way to run an RPG campaign.  You could have the PCs start out as a team of special, semi-official investigators working for their local magistrate.  As they advance in level and prestige, they will get promoted to working for the county magistrate, then the provincial governor, and then an imperial minister, and finally the emperor personally.  At each level the enemies get more powerful, the stakes higher, and the intrigue deeper.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chronicles of the Amazing Trevor: Chapter Eleven "Chaos on the Road"

I awoke somewhat refreshed but ravenous after several days of irregular mealtimes and far too much traveling about.  My hopes of settling into a proper mansion and leaving the perambulatory life of a carny behind me were fading quite fast now.  At least the weather was decent for the continuation of our trip back to Adan.  I reviewed in my mind the streets we'd passed along in that fair metropolis to see if I could recall any dining establishments.  I was determined to enjoy a bit of steak and kidney pie and a bottle or two of the vintner's best handiwork to wash it down with.

Suddenly a throng appeared on the road in front of us.  It was a mass of clearly low-class types coming towards us covered in road dust with a determined attitude.  At the front was some fellow of middle years in white robes.  He looked a bit priestly, but was not immediately identifiable as belonging to any temple with which I was familiar.  As they drew a bit nearer I surmised that he was one of those "prophet" types who gathers about him a following through sheer charisma and force of will.  We drew up in front of them and the priestly type introduced himself as "Brother Daniel".  He offered no religious affiliation and I took it that I had surmised correctly as to his being a "prophet".

Brother Daniel announced that he and his flock were returning to the recently liberated city of Cliffside.  This was a bit of a surprise, particularly given that we had only just left there and should have been the first bearers of that bit of news.  The people with him were overjoyed that it had been liberated from the goblins and were now eager to return to their homes there.  With a bit of a jolt I realized that this put us in a rather awkward position, in that rather than liberating it we had instead essentially completed its demolition.  Thinking quickly I rose and addressed them.  I had delivered bad news to audiences before and knew it was best to ease into the subject slowly and let them down in as gentle a fashion as possible.  And with this lot we didn't have the option of offering to refund their ticket money.

"My dear people I am quite pleased to see your happy faces today.  My companions and I have indeed just returned from facing the goblin menace at your fair city of Cliffside."  <cheers>  "However, I must warn you that it was quite thoroughly ravaged by the brutes <gasps> and is not the home you once knew." <murmurs of consternation>  "Indeed, it has been tainted by the presence of chaos and can no longer be considered a safe abode for such decent folk as yourselves." <more consternation>  I glanced over at Brute and he looked rather impatient with the mass of bovine peasantry blocking our progress.  To my annoyance Brother Daniel brushed off my warnings rather cavalierly, pronouncing that he and his followers were quite determined to return to Cliffside and restore their homes no matter what; several rustic types behind him called out in affirmation.

I realized that as soon as they actually saw the devastation of the place they would start asking questions about the avalanche  The goblins clearly would not have brought it down on themselves and the obvious alternative perpetrators were standing here in front of them.  "Honestly, I must stress that monstrous avatars of chaos, huge hulking beasts all, still roam the area.  They wield weapons of immense size.  It is far too dangerous to even consider..."  To my surprise suddenly Katherine stepped forward and before I could stop her she explained that the city was quite uninhabitable but that the goblin menace was gone.  Oh, sweet K, why must you always be so painfully honest?  I had just begun to bring some of them around but now they were having none of it.  Angry mutterings ran through the crowd and brows furrowed.  Alas, Brute then finally tossed aside the last scraps of his patience, told the crowd directly that the entire place had been looted and torched by the goblins then buried under a massive avalanche from the cliffs above.  With that bombshell delivered he began pushing his way through the throng to continue the journey to Adan.

I thought it best to push on through as well and be on our way while the refugees were still a bit stunned.  With any luck they'd fall into argumentation until we were out of sight.  Brother Daniel did indeed begin addressing his flock as we passed.  This brought me quite near him and I sought to observe him closely.  The fellow clearly had excellent powers of persuasion and I hoped to profit from observing his technique.

Instead I observed something quite different.  My years of practice and experience as an illusionologist served me well in this instance.  It was quite clear that he was not at at all what he had originally appeared to be.  Brute, too, had noticed that something was amiss.  I had already assumed that "Brother Daniel" was a charlatan gathering a flock that he might shear it at his leisure in Cliffside, but there was strong magic at work here--and some evil beneath.  Unfortunately Brother Daniel became aware of our discovery almost as soon as we did.  His countenance darkened and so did those of his followers. It was suddenly clear that his hold over them involved more than clever words.  We needed to break out of the crowd and flee as soon as possible.  My companions prepared for desperate action, with Boomtock suddenly disappearing somewhere.  I reckoned that if we could quickly incapacitate "Brother Daniel", whoever or whatever he might really be, our chances would be far greater.  Clearly this was a job for that old arcane standby, the lovely Color Spray.

I cast it with a fair bit of panache and it worked beautifully.  A coruscating blast of rainbows laced with small silvery fairies and bright purple butterflies engulfed the charlatan and the crowd nearby.  A few of the dimmer folk collapsed for a sudden nap and Brother Daniel waved his hands about in distress.  "They have blinded me!", he exclaimed.  The crowd was suitably shocked--then angered.  I was about to suggest that we depart with alacrity when Brute stepped forward with his fearsome weapon.  He clove the sightless enemy's head in twain with a devastating blow.

I was mildly surprised to see his victim immediately dissolve, melting down into a pile of empty robes.  Ah, so, now it was clear.  He was not the real "Daniel" at all but an arcane simulacrum.  Well played, sir, I thought.  I mentally tipped my hat to the fellow at carrying off so convincing a deception.  Clearly we were dealing with our first truly worthy opponent.  I quickly informed my companions that the real mastermind must be concealed nearby, likely in disguise somewhere in the crowd.  My lovely K, clever girl, deftly cast a well-executed blast of stunning sound into the surging mob.  And her instincts were well rewarded.  A large part of the herd were felled by the blast, leaving only one likely lad standing.

It was immediately clear that the survivor was our man.  His hands were working magic even as he shook off Katherine's assault.  The rest of the mob, now clearly all under his control, rushed us like a pack of fiends.  I whipped up the horses and drove the cart through the thronging maniacs, K managing gamely as we headed for open ground.  Suddenly a mass of fog appeared, clearly the casting of someone in the vicinity, and our escape was thus enabled.  Looking back I saw the massive Brute come wading out of the mass of humanity.  The hulking odd-fellow looked rather like some oceanic demigod emerging from the foaming surf.  K hurled a blast of arcane power at out mystery opponent but it went wide.  Thus apprised of our new location he directed the crowd to charge us again.

I started to whip up the horses again to avoid the onrushing hordes but they were too close.  K and I were assaulted by several individuals in succession.  One rude fellow actually struck me in my gentleman's bits, though it pains me even now to recall the incident.  I put his unsporting behavior down to the effects of the enchantment and refrained from chastising him too severely.  K broke free of her assailants and assumed a heroic stance in the cart.  She raised her hands in complex motions, her hair streaming gloriously in the morning breeze.  Arcane utterances flowed from her lips and then the spell was released.  A clear chime sounded and the crowd stilled suddenly.  She had countered our enemy's enchantment!

Brute took advantage of the sudden respite to push through the crowd and deliver a massive stroke to Daniel's chest, knocking him to the ground.  Brute seized him by the neck and he began yelling to the crowd for help.  Brute quieted him with a well-aimed punch to the face.  With the enchantment dispelled and Daniel incapacitated the refugee peasants began to recover their wits.  K stood up on the cart and calmed them with words of peace and reconciliation.

With our mysterious opponent in custody and the spell dissipated I paused to take stock of the situation.  All around us were injured persons of every description.  They included many, I admit, run down by my cart.  Uhmri had also dealt out many a savage blow defending himself from the crazed folk.  Some lay on the ground moving only feebly, some crawled or limped, others sat cradling their injuries.  Their condition was indeed pitiable.  My K was immediately in among them with bandages and consoling words of The Light.  I helped as well as I could but my medical skills are rudimentary at best.  I considered entertaining and distracting them with some card tricks and the like but decided that they had probably experienced enough magic for one day.

And then I noticed Bob again.

One of the scruffy rural types clinging to the cart when Katherine so brilliantly dispelled the enchantment of delusions had quickly introduced himself to her as Bob.  He previously showed some interest in Katherine but then wandered off, no doubt to seek his traveling companions.  But now there he was, hovering around my lovely K and looking quite moonstruck.  The cheek of the fellow!  I started over to tell him off, but just then Daniel awoke.

The blighter had bled heavily despite a rough bandaging job by Brute, but still had the strength to threaten us venomously.  "The Circle of Chaos will come for you!" he snarled.  Brute was studiously unimpressed.  "Bring it on", he replied with aplomb.  Very soon afterwards Daniel expired from his wounds.  Assuming he would have items of arcane significance we searched him for anything worthwhile.  He had on him an interesting ring, some vials with potions, and some jars with indeterminate contents.

By now many of the refugees had recovered their composure enough to reassess their goals without the influence of "Brother Daniel".  Most decided to push on to Cliffside and see if they could make a go of it.  Others, particularly the injured and their traveling companions, made camp nearby to rest.  We camped with them so that K could continue aiding them.  The attentions of her new smitten admirer Bob were becoming increasingly uncomfortable.  She attempted to brush him off by suggesting he help by spreading the word of The Light amongst the refugees as she had been doing.  He agreed, but then continued to hang about.  Finally Brute went over and drove him off with a bit of snarling.

The weather the next morning was chilly and brisk.  Most of the remaining refugees moved on, some north towards Cliffside and some south towards parts unknown.  A few considered founding a completely new village somewhere.  After a good night's sleep Katherine remembered hearing of the cult called the Circle of Chaos which Daniel mentioned but she thought it had died out.  Brute brought over the sash which Daniel had been wearing and K thought the design looked like the cult's symbol she remembered.  K then attempted to use her magic to determine the arcane character of Daniel's magic ring but was not fully successful.  It apparently afforded some kind of protection.

The otherwise potentially enjoyable trip back towards Adan was marred by the presence of Katherine's would-be suitor Bob.  After several unpleasant vignettes we literally left him behind in the dust on the road.

When we camped that evening Brute decided that it was time that the romantic gravity which was gradually drawing my lovely K and I closer should come to its natural conclusion--now.  So he arranged for the party to withdraw to somewhere nearby.  I placed my cloak on the ground for K to sit on with me.  Feeling that Brute was right I decided to lay bare my intentions to Katherine that very evening. Although I needed to seize the moment I wanted to avoid being too crude.  I declared there before her that I wanted formally to court her, in as romantic and dramatic a fashion as I could manage there in the wild.  She was somewhat surprised, and showed confusion for a moment before stating that she would have to seek guidance on the matter from her temple.  But then she suggested we go out--the very thing which was next on my mind.  I insisted that this time it be just the two of us.  Brute is a stout fellow but his presence at such an evening would be awkward.

Suddenly K changed the subject to Veronica, perhaps sounding me out further on how her continuing interference might affect the situation.  She was also interested in what had happened with Brute and the Big V in Adan before we left.  Hoping to reassure K that V's attentions would likely be elsewhere from now on I delicately alluded to Brute's contretemps with her just before we left.

Alas that turned out to be quite a misstep.  K immediately called Brute over and insisted on details of the affair.  This was not at all what I had intended and the conversation quickly swerved off course.  How is it that all of my moments with my lovely K always seem to include Brute at some point?  Perhaps one of the gods has placed me under some strange doom.  Brute was his usual stand-up chap and explained it all in a quite straightforward matter, including some surprisingly kind words for V.  Katherine then immediately confronted him with surprising intensity as to his intentions should V subsequently find a bun in her oven.

I immediately had a mental image of V pregnant, an infant on her hip, and surrounded by a dozen other assorted tykes all of whom were the spitting image of their odd-fellow father--including the girls.  The children all squabbling and squalling while V harangues Brute in traditional wifely fashion as he calmly sharpens his axe in front of the hearth.  Several other murderous tools of trade just visible here and there on the walls in between the laundry hanging from the lines in their small rented flat.

Brute assured K that should he unexpectedly become a father he would assume his manly responsibilities in due course.  Still slightly confused as to how he had ended up in the conversation, Brute realizes that the "moment" between K and I is over and recalls the rest of our troupe to the camp.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Gaming Resolutions for 2014

Okay, so I guess it's almost required to have at least one resolution for the new year.  Since this is a role play gaming blog I'll toss out a few related ones I'm aiming for over the next 12 months:

- Do more maps.  I love maps, both real-world and for gaming, and so I'd like to do more of them here.  For now I'll set myself the reasonable goal of one per month.

- Learn to draw like the Order of the Stick cartoon and do occasional short cartoons of fun scenes from the games I'm involved in.  Doing full session write-ups this way would be totally cool but probably way too much work.  I started sketches for my friend Kirk's two characters last night and they're just about done.

- Post more Pathfinder characters with suggested level progressions.  Pathfinder is a very "complete" rules system and there are tons of options.  So I'll do some characters with progression through level 10 to give players (and GMs) ideas to work with.  There won't be "optimized builds", which seem to be the focus of most class guides, but my own approach of "flavorful design".  A base of one a month should be doable.

- Get back to designing my work-in-progress campaign world.  I'd like to do one decent-sized post a month, plus one or two smaller posts.

- Optional: play session write-ups for the Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu games run by my buddy Steve.  These only meet a couple times a year thus there won't be a large volume.  But from my experience with our bi-weekly Castles & Crusades game, taking notes during the game makes it hard to stay engaged during play.  (I may cheat and swipe Steve's notes; he's very good about logging events during play even as he GMs.)