Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review: Black Pudding #1

So I've been following James V West on Google+ for a while.  I like his artwork and he's put out some fun OSR stuff such as new character classes.  Very recently he put a bunch of cool OSR stuff together in a zine and called it Black Pudding #1.  I quite eagerly purchased the pdf at DriveThruRPG and dived right in.

It has a couple beautifully illustrated character sheets, seven very different character classes, magic items, two mini-dungeons, eight hirelings, a bunch of monsters, and some house rules.  There is art all over the place in James' engaging style.

Bottom Line: BUY IT!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Old School Hack Race-as-Class: The Dark Fairy

I've been going back over the various OSR rules I have to soak up ideas.  My current favorite, Old School Hack, borrows the race-as-class concept from the earliest editions of D&D.  So I thought I'd come up with something new in that vein.  In one of my early playtest games of OSH for my group they met a creepy dark fairy lurking in a vine-tangled gorge but were able to bribe her with pie.  Dark Fairy sounded like a pretty cool name for a new class so here it is.

The Dark Fairy
- Dark fairies are a fey race famous for their gloomy dispositions.  The drift through life on an apparently destination-less journey with somehow makes sense to them.  They are slender humanoids with grayish skin, hair of muted shades, and a pair of small moth wings which are colored in shades of brown, grey, and black.  They also traditionally wear a lot of black, brown, and gray and prefer silver jewelry.

Inherent Talent: I Am Smiling/constant: you are immune to emotional states such as fear, sadness, joy, panic, etc. because they have been your constant companions for as long as you can remember--not that anyone cares

Classic Weapon: blowgun

Class Talents

Touch of Sadness/encounter: you can share your apathy and ennui with other creatures merely by touching them.  If the one touched cannot pass an opposed Commitment check they collapse into a semi-catatonic state of depression for 24 hours so you'll have one friend who truly understands you.  You can also transmit this touch via any item held in the hand, such as a rose or a willow branch.

Twinkle, Twinkle/focus: with a sweeping gesture you conjure a bit of fairy dust to sprinkle.  Any creature or object, including yourself, sprinkled with it will remain weightless for an hour.  While under the effect of fairy dust dark fairies can use their small moth wings to flutter around.  One tiny handful of dust may be put in a small container instead of being used immediately but only a fairy's most recent conjuring remains magical and effective.

Nobody Even Notices Me/focus: with a sweeping gesture you conjure a bit of fairy dust to sprinkle. Any creature or object sprinkled with this dust becomes invisible for an hour.  The affect only makes the recipient undetectable by vision; they can still be detected by hearing, scent, etc. If the invisible person sneezes the affect is dispelled.  This spell can be cast in reverse to make a dust which dispells magical invisibility effects and makes normally invisible creatures visible for an hour.

Fairy Ring/focus-rested: you can create a magic fairy ring on the ground by dancing in a circle while making music, including simple humming, singing, or whistling.  The ring will be 20 feet across from the center point you danced around.  By sleeping in this ring for one hour a person will be as rested as after a full night's sleep.  However, there is a risk: the person must make a Commitment check and if they fail they will instead fall dead asleep for 24 hours and can only be awakened with magic.

A Rose By Any Other Name/focus: you conjure a magic vampiric black rose.  By touching another living creature you transfer life energy from them into yourself (causing them to lose 1 HP and you to heal 1 HP); if this kills the victim you gain 1 Awesome Point.

Dart of Darkness/focus: you infuse a dart, delivered by hand or shot through a blowgun, with dark ennui.  Any victim struck must pass a Brawn save or go blind for one hour.

Friday, November 11, 2016

My next fantasy RPG campaign...maybe

So I've been tossing around ideas for the fantasy campaign I'd like to run after the current one is done.  This one still has a goodly number of sessions ahead but I like to play with game ideas and the sooner I decide the more prepared I will be when it's time.  I was thinking maybe a megadungeon.  I've never run one or played in one but the idea has always attracted me: What if you could explore all of the Mines of Moria?  Or maybe a big city campaign where all the action takes place in a sprawling metropolis with occasional side jaunts outside. Or something on the Astral Plane--that's a very cool setting--possibly combined with a "Fantasy Battlestar Galactia" concept, like the creative Last Fleet campaign Lowell Francis posted about on his Age of Ravens blog.

So many ideas...so little time.  Or...maybe I could do ALL OF THE ABOVE AT ONCE!

Okay, here's how it would go.  A long time ago a group of peoples were faced with the destruction of their home plane/planet by some vicious enemy.  They were able to build (or already had) special ships/mounts capable of carrying them to the Astral Plane and thus escaped.  But the enemy sent pursuers.  The survivor fleet fought and fled deep into the astral void, finally ending up at a immense floating tomb-like structure associated with a long-forgotten dead (or maybe not) deity.  For some reason the pursuers were afraid of the tomb/building and retreated, but today occasionally still send scouts.  The refugees found that the massive structure had bits they could mine/gather/harvest(?) to survive.  Eventually they found out the hard way that the tomb-thing contained lethal dangers.  The leaders finally forbade all from delving into the place so that no threats might be aroused or released.  Only the outer portions could be used for the activities upon which the community depended  Over time the old fleet ships were expanded, linked, and then increased in number by building additional ships/hulks. Later traders/explorers from distant parts of the Astral Plane discovered the community and some low-volume trade opened up, allowing them to prosper by selling the various rare products obtained from the outside of the tomb.

Today the fleet is a sprawling connected tangle of ships and other floating structures, some permanently connected and some not.  There is a lot going on in the "town" and outsiders occasionally visit.  Inside the tomb-thing is a megadungeon awaiting foolhardy adventurers, possibly multidimensional (like a Tardis) but definitely with a Deep Dark Secret buried deep within it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Powered by the Max Galactica

Okay, so I'm still trying to come up with a concept for a science fiction game I'd actually be excited to run.  I recently bought Dungeon World and found the game mechanics very interesting.  Today I bought the original game, Apocalypse World, and started into it.  I'm finding I like the fresh take on gaming that the Powered by the Apocalypse games all seem to have.  Too many games out now are either later editions of "original" games or retro-renaissance retreads of one of those games.

Two campaign concepts which I think would work for a sci-fi campaign are either a Battlestar Galactica type game where a small fleet travels around fleeing and/or exploring or a space scavengers sort of game where they explore and loot their way through the dangerous locations of a devastated galaxy (basically a sci-fi take on dungeon crawls).  As I read through AW I noticed that a couple of the playbooks (character classes) include a set of followers for the character.  As first I thought it would be awkward to include a large community of NPCs but quickly realized it was perfect for a "wandering ragtag fleet" based game.  For instance, each player with a Hardholder character could design a ship which is home to their community, and each Chopper one for their gang.  A Maestro'd or Hocus character might have their own ship or be housed on another charancter's ship.  Or you could include one big main ship, maybe a former luxury space liner, with everyone on board in their own "neighborhood".  The Mad Max type post-apocalypse background setting of AW also contains a streak of psychic weirdness.  This lends itself well to a space scavenger game set in an area of space ravaged in the fairly recent past by some event which left behind things of horror and wonder.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Roll20 as a Platform for Game Fiction

So, it's been a while since I've posted and that's because I've been busy with various projects.  One of those is our game on Roll20 (using the Pathfinder rules), which went from every other week to now every week.  After we'd settled in to our characters some of the players began posting a bit of fiction from the point of view of their character after each session.  These are part session activity write-up but also part character development.  Some are very autobiographical, including flashbacks to important moments in the character's early life.  There is now as much going on in the write-ups/fiction posted in the game forum as there is in the actual live play sessions.  It is now difficult to keep up with what's going on in the game unless you follow the forums closely.  Our GM Kirk also frequently uses the game facilities to send us files with the content of dreams our characters have had, which we can then relate in-character during the next play session.

I'm pleasantly surprised by this new turn of events.  I assumed we would be using the forums solely for administrative items, much as I use the wiki for the campaign I'm running.  Oddly, given my earlier in-character session write-ups for another game, I have not participated much in this outburst of authoring.  I'm thinking it's partly because I'm not quite as invested in this character's personality but also because, as a very visual person, gaming via headset leaves me feeling less connected to the action.  I actually find the write-ups very useful for making sure I didn't miss anything.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Braille Dice from Kickstarter! (rather disappointing, actually)

Okay, so I backed an interesting Kickstarter for braille RPG dice a little while ago.  I was intrigued because I hadn't really thought about how a sight impaired person would play tabletop RPGs, given that at a minimum you need to read your character sheet and die roll results.  Even as a sighted person I often have to squint to make out the tiny numbers on my dice (yes, even with my bifocals, thanks for asking).  Producing play aids to bring people into the game is a great idea so I jumped into the project for one set of polyhedral dice.  I also got a free dice bag because the first goal unlocked.

I was excited when the dice finally arrived...then quite disappointed.  I'd read a couple postings from the project about poor quality dice which the project owners promised to replace.  I expected the dice to have a relatively rough finish due to the 3D printing process but it was a little rougher than I expected.  In addition, they decided to print the dice in two halves and glue them together by hand.  I'm not sure why they opted for a manufacturing process requiring the extra step of hand assembly instead of just printing the whole die as one--which I take to be to be a strong feature of 3D printing as a process.  The join line always went through at least one face of the die and usually ruined part of the braille dots.  The set I received would definitely need careful cleaning up with a small craft knife, rebuilding of some of the dots, and re-carving of a couple of the regular numbers.

Here are some photos of the set I got:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Getting Some Attention (craft project)

Okay, so I realized recently that my role at work is very much like one of those quest-giver NPCs in World of Warcraft.  People come to me for a "quest" or to get some lore.  When they're done with their "quest" they turn it in and get another one.  So I joked that I really should have one of those big yellow exclamation marks over my head.


Well, why not?

So I went to the craft store, bought some styrofoam and dowels, and made a big yellow exclamation mark which now sits over my desk.  It's fun and provides an easy way for people to find me.

Make hole in hemisphere base, hot-glue wooden dowel

Cut tip off cone to make upper part of exclamation point

More hot glue to secure dowel better

Use cardboard tube to hold base with dowel in place for gluing and drying

Start tunnel in base of exclamation point upper with penknife

Continue tunneling with long screwdiver

Glue dowel into base of exclamation point upper

Use white glue to fill in gaps (bottom of exclamation mark)

Paint exclamation point yellow... 
..and keep adding coats of yellow until styrofoam doesn't show through any more

Paint stem black and base purple (eventually four coats)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Simple Weather for Gaming

One thing which helps immersion in gaming, including setting the mood or tone, is weather.  Some games don't really cover it, while others go into deep simulationist detail.  Recently, I decided I needed some weather tables for my Neo School Hack rules.  I wanted them to use either a d10 or a d12, because that's what Old School Hack uses, and I wanted them to be one-roll simple.

For me, I want weather tables to tell me two things: 1) does the weather impose any effects and 2) what is the general mood or tone for the day.  So I built these 1d10 tables for the four seasons of a generic northern hemisphere temperate zone, such as you'd use for a classic pseudo-European medieval fantasy game.  I think they'll work just as well for temperate North America and Asia.

  1. Breezy & Cool 
  2. Breezy & Cool
  3. Sunny & Nice
  4. Sunny & Nice
  5. Sunny & Nice
  6. Sunny & Hot
  7. Sunny & Hot
  8. Rainy
  9. Rainy
  10. Rainy & Thunderstorms

  1. Sunny & Nice
  2. Sunny &Nice
  3. Sunny & Hot
  4. Sunny & Hot
  5. Sunny & Hot
  6. Sunny & Very Hot
  7. Sunny & Very Hot
  8. Sunny & Very Hot
  9. Rainy & Hot
  10. Thunderstorms

  1. Sunny & Nice
  2. Breezy & Cool
  3. Breezy & Cool
  4. Breezy & Cool
  5. Cloudy & Cool
  6. Breezy & Cold
  7. Breezy & Cold
  8. Cold & Rainy
  9. Cold & Rainy
  10. Cold & Dusting of Snow

  1. Sunny & Cold
  2. Sunny & Frigid
  3. Sunny & Frigid
  4. Sunny & Frigid
  5. Cloudy & Frigid
  6. Cloudy & Frigid
  7. Cold & Light Snow
  8. Cold & Light Snow
  9. Cold & Heavy Snow
  10. Blizzard

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Review: Call of Catthulhu, Book 1: the Nekomonicon

It finally arrived!  I say finally because back in early June by friend Bill got me Call of Catthulhu as a birthday gift (because he that sort of awesome dude) on RPGnow.  But then...nothing happened.  It just sort of disappeared into cyberspace.  Happily it recently reappeared and I eagerly dived in.

Catthulhu is a very rules-light game where you play ordinary cats (well, if any cat can ever really be called "ordinary") having adventures opposing the forces of Lovecraftian wrongness.  The GM is called the Cat Herder, which is perfect (or should I say purrfect?).  There are five roles (classes): Catcrobat, Pussyfoot, Scrapper, Tiger Dreamer, and Twofootologist.  These roles are combined with a Breed and a Tale.  Breed is whether your cat is feral, a house cat, or a show cat.  Each combination of the five roles and three breeds as a couple background tales or stories to choose from.  For instance a Pussyfoot/Feral could have the background of Pitiful Beggar or Friend to All. These stories add talents to your cat.  For instance, a Friend to All will "make a circuit of many associates, from fellow street cats to friendly restaurant workers to house cats in windows to kindly old ladies.  A saucer of milk here, a place to sleep in a catpile there, some choice scraps and life works our pretty well for this free spirit."

The mechanic is very simple, basically rolling 2d6 and seeing how many successes (roll of 3 to 6) you get.  Apparently there was a boxed set with "cat dice" where the 1 and 2 sides are each a sad cat face and the 3 to 6 sides are happy cat faces.  The difficulty of the task determines how many happy cats you need, plus there are some special situations involving an extra die, etc.  Injuries are a simple three-level model with injured, badly injured, and dying--and, of course, you do get Nine Lives.

There are two other books which go with this 40-page basic book.  I haven't read them (yet) but from the descriptions you'd probably need at least the GM book to run a game.  The third book is a selection of settings from vikings to spaceships.

Bottom line: this is a fun game, but you might need at least one other book to play.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: The Petal Hack

Okay, so I was perusing the cornucopia of gaming goodness which is DriveThruRPG, drawn there by their "Christmas in July" sale, and purchased several reasonable priced items.  One item I obtained, particularly reasonably priced in that it's free, was The Petal Hack.  The Petal Hack authored by Brett Slocum is a hack of the old Empire of the Petal Throne (EPT) game using The Black Hack rules.  The pdf is just 64 pages and yet it provides just about everything to play.  The only thing lacking is in-depth information about this unique campaign world but the introduction has links to several excellent sites which provide plenty of resources.  The Petal Hack takes all the cool elements from EPT and mates them up nicely with the simple mechanics from The Black Hack.

I bought the original EPT back in the late '70s.  I still have my boxed set with the extra full-color maps printed on thick plastic like shower curtains.  Alas, back then I was only able to talk my players into playing it once.  This version of the game is simple enough to jump into that I could probably get my current group to try it as an off-night game.  Brett did an amazing job in not only converting EPT to TBH, but also in fitting everything into a mere 64 pages, including cover, legal, etc.

I definitely recommend checking out The Petal Hack.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

First game of Dungeon World...some thoughts

So we threw together another session of gaming and BBQ today.  Since it was an "off" day with less than a quorum of our regular crew available we decided to not play one of the big campaigns.  I offered to run Dungeon World, using the Servants of the Cinder Queen adventure.  None of us had ever played DW before and apparently I was the only one who'd even heard of it, let alone read it.  But my crew was game to check it out and we plunged in.

I ran the game as GM and my five friends played, taking the Ranger, Paladin, Cleric, Barbarian, and Immolator.  The character sheets have a fair number of choices presented but since everything is right there on the sheet it's way faster than any game where you have to pass a book around or look up a bunch of stuff elsewhere.  I had everyone make a 2nd level character so they'd get to make at least one move choice beyond the fixed starting set at 1st level.

We started the adventure "in media res", with a quick prologue from me about what they learned in the village the previous day when they arrived and then starting the action just as they arrive at the destroyed monastery up on the plateau.  The game went very well--with purchased adventures I'm not always certain they'll work.  They visited pretty much all the locations, had a good chase scene pursuing the evil boss, lost him, then caught up with him just at the last moment to ruin his evil plan.  At the close all the characters either had enough XP to level up or were just one away.

From character creation to end it was about four hours, thus well structured for an evening or afternoon one-off, or a convention game slot.  I think everyone enjoyed the adventure although I don't think anyone was really super thrilled with the DW rules.

Some random thoughts:
  • A lot of things in DW are done sort of "backwards", so that in the end you get to the same place as you would with Swords & Wizardry or Pathfinder, but it feels like you were doing something in there wrong.
  • In a lot of places when someone rolled a 6 or less it was hard to come up with an appropriate "penalty".  A lot of the time a simple fail was enough, but DW urges the DM to do something creative with fails.
  • In a lot of cases the "bad things" which happen with a roll of 7~9 to balance the success are worse than the sort of blank space the game leaves with a roll of 6 less.  That often felt off, even if it worked okay in play.
  • We all found the Discern Realities move unsatisfying because the six fixed questions often didn't allow the players to ask the question they really needed, or led to them asking more questions than they needed just to "game" the fact that they had two more free questions to use.
  • Everyone found the lack of a "critical hit" disappointing (or is it in there somewhere and I just missed it?).  I realize this is meant to be a relatively "flat" game, so it fits the overall design intent, but it felt like one of those classes in school where the teacher starts the semester by saying "I don't give out As".  But really, the monsters all had so few hit points that you could kill them in one to two hits without criticals.
  • Even though everyone wrote down at least one inter-character bond they only got used a couple times in play.  This was partly because it was a new concept to remember but also because only some of my group are into character backgrounds like that.  I'm thinking that it would work better to give characters Instincts like the monsters have and give XP at session end if they follow an instinct in a dramatic way.
  • Characters get XP pretty often and I got the feeling that leveling up to the game's maximum of level 10 would not take too many sessions.  I've been evaluating DW as the basis for my next campaign but the leveling would need modification to run a really long campaign with it.
  • I liked that XP came organically during play, plus the short evaluation session at the table at the end.  As DM it is a chore to sit down after each session to determine the XP and DW totally cuts out all that work.
So overall I like a lot of the things DW does, but don't understand why so many of them are "backwards"--it's like doing something by looking in a mirror instead of just looking right at it.  But the core mechanic is solid and the overall simplicity of it all is very appealing.  I think with some house mods I could turn it into something I'd use for a big campaign.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Servants of the Cinder Queen for Dungeon World - via Belgium

Okay, so I jumped in to back a project by this crazy guy in Belgium called Bastien 'Acritarche' Wauthoz to do an edited and translated version of Servants of the Cinder Queen (La Serviteurs de la Reine des Cendres).  I saw this as an opportunity to 1) get an interesting-sounding adventure to show me a bit more about how Dungeon World is supposed to work, 2) practice my Belgian (which I was pleasantly surprised to find is remarkably similar to French), and 3) support some indie type gaming efforts out there.

My Phat Lootz
The project was funded through Ulule, which is just like Kickstarter.  For 25 Euros I got the adventure and an extra "forward" with some nice little additions and play aids tailored to the adventure.  The project funded quickly and I got my loot in a very reasonable amount of time.  One is always a bit nervous tossing money into one of these projects but Bastien came through for us like a champion.  He provided very good updates as things went along to keep us informed and excited.

The book is 24 pages plus the cover.  The art by Keny Widjaja is great.  It has a cartoony feel which I think goes well with the general vibe of Dungeon World and gives the story a unique feel.  The couple of maps are hand-drawn style which I have come to appreciate and enjoy.

The adventure is the classic "villagers are disappearing, find the bad guys are behind it, explore their lair, save the world" type, but in a very compact, clean package.  There are only a couple maps and a diagram to link the locations together, the rest being Theatre of the Mind.  There are only a few "monsters" so you don't get lost in pages of stats, and the two big baddies are explained in just enough detail.

After reading through this I now have a much better idea of what a Dungeon World adventure should look and feel like.  And, more importantly, I think this style of game works well with my actual DMing style.  I'll see if I can convince some of my players to try it out some time.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

More Super Dungeon Explore minis painting

I managed to get some more painting done on the fun miniatures with the Super Dungeon Explore game.  These are the four spawn point models and the six pets you can get as treasures.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Kuro, a Japanese horror RPG

So my good friend Bill very kindly gave me a gift card for my birthday from our local FLGS, Games and Stuff.  I love going in there because it's full of exactly the sort of cool nerdy game stuff I love, but I hate going in there because it's full of exactly the sort of cool nerdy game stuff I love.  Thus, having a gift card helped save me from myself.  After wandering for a bit I decided I should get something new and different rather than adding to my Pathfinder or D&D archives.  Then I spotted this game, Kuro from Cubicle 7.

Kuro (exercise bike not included)
I love the cover and was immediately captivated by the blurb:

The year is 2048, and something dark has returned to Japan. With an international blockade set up around the beleaguered country, there is no escape. To ignore the horror will only delay the inevitable, but do you have the strength to face the nightmares?  Kuro is a developing game setting that mixes a dark near future with unremitting Japanese horror.

I was pleasantly surprised because it sounded a lot like a game I ran in the early 2000s I called Neo Tokyo using a mashup of some homebrew mechanics, skill trees ripped from Paranoia, and hacked anthro races from Teenage Mutant Turtles and Other Strangeness.  The setting was a near-future Tokyo in the aftermath of a mysterious catastrophe, full of Yakuza, aliens, robots, furries, interdimensional wierdness, and a dollop of the supernatural.

Naturally I bought Kuro immediately.

The basic mechanics are a d6 dice pool using dice from your attribute plus any dice for a relevant skill.  One very appropriately Asian twist is that fours don't count because the word for the number 4 sounds like the word for the word for death.  (I was a bit surprised here because I thought the taboo on the number four was a purely Chinese thing.  FYI, kuro/黑 means black or dark/darkness.)

Once I wrap up my current Pathfinder-based fantasy game I'll see if I can pitch a bit of Kuro to my group and revive my old Neo Tokyo campaign.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Another game of Super Dungeon Explore

Following my main birthday party with family I got together with a couple of my gaming crew for some gaming and BBQ in the yard.  I've been wanting to play a full-on game of Super Dungeon Explore (SDE) with the rules properly read.  I took the role of Consul and my two friends shared three heroes between them.  Set up was pretty quick since we have everything sorted into little ziplock plastic bags from the last time.  Also, since I only have the original set we just play with all the cards rather than having to build decks from lots of extra expansion sets.

SDE is a very tactical game with RPG elements.  The players start with minimal resources and equip themselves with loot from vanquished monsters and treasures from the single treasure chest on each board.  The monsters outnumber them to start with and each spawning point can re-spawn from it's dead pool up to three times.  As each spawn points is destroyed it spawns a tough mini-boss, and the lesser monsters still on the board gain "leveling up" bonuses to keep them tough as the players improve their equipment.  The final boss is very tough.  Nevertheless I was only able to take out one of the adventurers--albeit the same one twice--but then that little hero (they respawn at the entrance) finished off the big boss in epic single combat.

The players enter to find the dungeon swarming with monsters.

Quickly clearing the first room the storm into the next!

The defenders do a respawn as the players maneuver against the first wave.

The first mini-boss spawns, but the players get to summon a rooster.

Battling on as the final room monsters move up to reinforce.

The big boss teleports to safety as his "time out" frogknightspawns attack.

So what are the pros and cons of SDE?

Pros: great miniatures, high quality components, plenty of replay value with just the basic set, good tactical gameplay

Cons: game boards almost too busy and cluttered to make out key features, a few rules require a lot of hunting around in the rulebook to figure out; took a bit long to play

One thing I wasn't happy with was how long it took to play.  Granted we were doing a lot of reading and re-reading of the rules as we went but it still took about six hours to play a 3-hero/3-board game.  At that rate a really big game with all the heroes and more boards would take a full day to play through.

A Munchkin Birthday

So I had my birthday recently.  I started the day with lunch at a Korean barbeque place my son recommended--there's nothing quite like eating delicious food surrounded by non-stop Kpop videos on multiple widescreens. 

Back home, I was pleasantly surprised to find my amazing family bought me Munchkin Quest for a present.  Naturally, I insisted we play it immediately.

Munchkin quest is a board game-ish version (expansion?) for the Munchkin card game.  It adds a bunch of room tiles and connector (door/corridor) pieces, all of which are double sided.  They also have nice stand up monsters and little plastic munchkin tokens for the players.

The room tiles all have special characteristics which affect play and the connector pieces have colored directional markers which affect monster movement at the end of each player's turn.  Play is slower because there are a lot more things to adjudicate each turn but the core is the same as in the original card game.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

So, Pathfinder goes full-on sci-fi with Starfinder

 I've always been a sci-fi buff.  I was reading sci-fi before I got into fantasy novels (with Conan books at the library).  My love of fantasy and history led easily to an interest in fantasy RPGs which has continued for over 30 years.  With science fiction, alas, the story is not so rosy.  I've never found a set of rules I really liked.  Either the rules don't appeal for some reason or the setting is a turn-off.  For instance, the first set of rules I tried was Traveler and I really didn't like the rules or the setting.

Pathfinder is the current go-to fantasy rules set for my group and we have several campaigns underway using it.  It's got a definite case of over-crunch but it works.  I've even subscribed to some of Paizo's adventure paths, including the Iron Gods one which introduces sci-fi elements to gaming in their Golarion game world.

So I was excited and intrigued when Paizo has recently (or should I say "finally") announced a sci-fi version of Pathfinder.  (See this interview for lots of info on the new offering.)  Fans have been pestering them for a modern-day or futuristic version of it for some time.  It sounds pretty cool, particularly that it is set in the Golarion solar system but in the future.  I enjoyed their Distant Worlds book introducing the various planets and I'm excited to see what they'll do with "updated" versions of them for Starfinder.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Another healthy gaming snack/meal - Zucchini Pizza

Okay, so yesterday we had zucchini pizza here at chez moi.  It's very simple to make, has great pizza flavor, and is way healthier for you than regular pizza (and is cheaper than ordering out).

Zucchini Pizza
  • a couple large zucchinis
  • your choice of pizza sauce
  • mozzarella cheese (thinly sliced)
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • chopped garlic
  • your choice of toppings--but remember you only have a small surface area to work with
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F/200 degrees C
  2. Slice zucchini in half, longwise (optional, shave a bit off the round side of each half so the have a flat area to rest level
  3. Spread a little chopped garlic (or skip if you don't like garlic)
  4. Spread pizza sauce
  5. Add slices of mozzarella
  6. Add toppings (this is the bit where you get to be creative)
  7. Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese
  8. Bake in oven on pan for 12~15 minutes (watch and check until it looks done)
  9. Remove from oven and let cool a little
  10. Carefully move from pan to plate (toppings tend to slide off easily) 
  11. Eat!
Ready for the Oven

Baked and Cooling Off

Bon Appetit!

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Academae Campaign: Capture of a Renegade & Death of a Doppleganger

 [Our travels, toils, and travails in the city of Korvosa continue on Roll 20.]

Sanjay peers into the back room of the butcher's workship and sees the main abbatoir, with vats, butchering racks, tables, etc.  [The map reveal works great here, as I finally see what is in the room.]  Also the renegade guardsman who fled is fiddling with a key at a door on the wall to his right.  Sanjay calls on him to stop or be set on fire like his fellows.  He considers that for a moment, then drops to his knees and surrenders, pleading that it wasn't his idea.  Axios and Slade rush upstairs in search of the renegade's leader, Vankaskerkin.  [Axios has a bit of trouble here with the teleport to the upstairs map.]  Upstairs, Vankaskerkin and Talla face off, armed.  Axios casts a spell magically weakening the renegade.  The guardsman suddenly becomes pale and slumps.  Ashe rushes upstairs to join them, as does Crow-Eye.  Talla advises him to drop his weapon.  Downstairs, Sanjay takes the key from the surrendered fellow and assures him that we are here for Vankaskerkin and if he is innocent he will not be harmed.

Vankaskerkin sees the game is up and drops his weapon.  Vankaskerkin asks if the guards sent us.  Axios says what guards?  Vankaskerkin says the royal castle guards.  He asks what happened downstairs, claiming he and his fellows were just selling meat here.  Talla points out Vankaskerkin and his fellow guards deserted their posts.  Vankaskerkin counters that a lot of guards went astray in the rioting.  Talla says he should come back to the castle.  Vankaskerkin agrees.  Crow-Eye and Ashe go investigate one of the other rooms off the main abbatoir room, finding a meat salting room.  After looking around a bit, they think some of the meat looks a bit odd--like, as in not any of the meats you'd typically find at the corner butcher shop.

Talla takes Vankaskerkin's weapons and leads him downstairs.  On the way, Talla glances into a side room upstairs and sees a silver dagger stabbed into papers on a desk.  She leaves the prisoner with Axios and enters to look closer.  It is a makeshift bedroom.  She notices the silver dagger is quite exquisite and examines it more closely.  Vankaskerkin tells Talla it is his, given to him by a friend.  Talla says it must not be very important if he's leaving it behind.  Vankaskerkin says it's not important if he's being arrested.  Talla points out that he is not being formally arrested because she is not a guard.  Vankaskerkin calls her a mercenary.  They go downstairs.

Ashe and Crow-Eye argue a bit over what exactly is the odd meat.  [We now encounter some problems with lighting vs. vision in some rooms.  We discuss how this may be due to how the rooms are outlined.  Dan notes that if would be better if  places we've visited should appear on the map, even if we can't see into them.  Kaiser says it should be like in the Diablo games where the map areas you've explored remain visible, but grayed out if you're not there.  Mike says you can have rooms be visible but put monsters on the GM layer and change their visibility when someone can see them.  Bill notes that he's working on some programming to make something like that happen.]  Ashe informs us that he's noticed something definitely odd about the meat.  Crow-Eye asks what sort of meat is in here.  The other captive impudently says it's just pig and cow.  Ashe tells him to eat some, but he refuses on the grounds that it's raw.  Ashe cuts off a chunk and waves it at him, trying to get him to eat some.  The fellow insists it wasn't his idea.  Sanjay demands he explain what's going on. He says it was Parn's idea.  The renegades did a couple jobs as hired muscle for various people, but Parns would bring back parts of their victims to sell as meat.  He notes that Parns is one of those burned to death earlier.  Sanjay is shocked.

As we prepare to leave, Talla asks our captives if anyone else is still here and they say not.  Crow-Eye impulsively decides to investigate another room off of the main abbatoir.  It is a long room, smelling of manure.  There are holding pens for animals with water troughs, including a large wild boar--no two wild boars!  The first boar panics and rushes Crow-Eye, but slips and slams into the wall.  The other boar then rushes Ashe, who has followed Crow-Eye, and gores him!  Talla shouts out to ask what's happening and Ashe shouts back "It's a pig!"  Talla shouts back at him "Well, deal with it!"  It now becomes apparent that there are at least two boars loose in the holding pen area.

Sanjay now ties up the surrendered guard to hand over to the authorities, based on his admission that he knew cannibalism was going on. 

Crow-Eye summons an earth elemental to fight the boar and backs out of the melee.  One boar attacks the elemental.  Ashe struggles to hit the other boar and calls for help.  Talla reluctantly heads in and sees the two enraged boars.  Sanjay's rope tying goes poorly and it all just falls off.  [We have a discussion about where the heck "Use Rope" skill went, then realize that was a 3.5 skill and did not port over to Pathfinder.  Mike looks around and finds that it is now Craft: Knotwork.  Never heard of it.] While the struggle continues in the pens, Axios asks Vankaskerkin how many boars there are.  Vankaskerkin has no idea and the two casually decide to just head back to the castle.   Ashe engages the boar again, cutting it a bit.  It fights back, injuring Ashe badly.  Talla leaps in, twin blades flashing.  The elemental kills one boar. 

Sanjay ties his captive up again--this time he's sure the ropes are well-tied--and pushes him along to join Axios. Slade, and Vankaskerkin in the hall.  (The porcine scuffle in the pens is quite beneath his dignity.)  Talla, Ashe, and Crow-Eye continue the battle with the remaining wild boar.  Talla maneuvers and double back-stabs it to gory death.

[Axios texts "Let's get some hands - never know when you'll meet llamas... "]

[DM Kirk swaps us over to the castle map--without warning which leaves us all concerned that maybe we all just got teleported to the Death Temple of Orcus or something.  With lighting fixed we see we're outside the main door to the castle. The teleport spot on the main steps out front works great and moves us to the entry hall.  We teleport again up to another floor.]
Upstairs at the castle Seska meets us full of excitement.  She notes that the queen is exonerated even though no doppleganger was found.  Suddenly a guard barrels through a doorway with people shouting behind him and knocks Seska down.  Seska gets up--but actually two Seskas get up! It's the doppleganger!!  But which one!!  We stare confused for a moment.  Only Crow-Eye notices that one of the Seskas is holding a dagger with a bit of blood on it.

Slade prepares a spell and shouts for the Seskas to hold.  Crow-Eye summons an eagle to attack the one with the bloody dagger.  Slade blasts the same "Seska" with bolts of fiery magic.  Sanjay casts a spell allowing him to discern the the moral depravity of persons in his sight.  The "Seska" not being attacked has an aura of evilness and Sanjay points to her and shouts "That one is evil, I see it!"  Axios shoots a ray to enfeeble but his aim is poor.  Ashe moves up and menaces the evil "Seska" to surrender.  The evil "Seska" stabs Talla, but is felled.  In death the creature reverts back to its hideous self.  Other guards rush in and the queen arrives.  We see that the queen is injured and Ashe moves to heal her.  Meanwhile we hand the two captured renegades over to the custody of the castle guards.  We reassure the queen that the thing is dead.  Axios congratulates himself on figuring out that it would be a doppleganger.

Seska relates that the Senschal figured out who the doppleganger was.  She she also reports that the queen has pardoned her mother and herself.  Talla notes that this means that now she doesn't have to guard Seska any more.  We enter the throne room and see our school headmaster, along with Lord Yager of the banking house, Lord Zenderhome, and Lady Alessia of House Leroung, and Sabina the queen's bodyguard.  Marshall Croft is there but takes her leave to see to the captured renegades.  A guard enters and says that Venster cannot be found in the castle.  Seska opines that perhaps "Venster" was the doppleganger all along.

[DM Kirk now clears all NPCs off the map simply my shifting them to the DM layer.]

The headmaster scolds us for leaving the Academae without permission.  He says he expects to see us back there in the morning. 

The queen asks if Seska would like to stay, impressed that our group was loyal to her and believed in her.  The queen asks Seska to be her wizardly bodyguard.  She also asks Talla to be a personal bodyguard as well and Talla agrees--providing she gets leave from the headmistress of the University.  We take a little while to wash up and refresh ourselves, the queen offering her the use of her personal bath.  [At this point Steve's token gets stuck on a pillar for a short while some how as we navigate through the castle to the royal bath.] 

Kirk now shifts us to another map--the Academae!  <insert screenshot>  Kirk shows us our dorm room and how to use the door-teleport to go from the room to the outdoor map.

D&D Red Box--in Chinese

So I was digging through my old stuff in the basement and re-discovered my Chinese edition of the famous Basic red box.  It even has the B3 Palace of the Silver Princess module with it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Academae Campaign: Dopplegangers and Renegades

 [The game continues on Roll20 for our Academae campaign.  Our heroes are still at the castle in Korvosa trying to sort out the confusion surrounding the murder of the old king and accusations against his youthful queen.]

We are taken aback at the threats to the queen by the king's half-brother Venster.  We check again to see if the painter, Trinia Sabor could actually have seen the location of the hidden shrine to Asmodeus from the narrow hallway outside the queen's room and find that she really could not have done so in the manner described.  Talla asks the queen's bodyguard whether the queen ever ventures out by herself, other than the couple times she joined us on our crypt exploration.  The bodyguard says yes, but she is almost always accompanied by guards.

We learn that Venster claims he is half-brother to the deceased king because his mother Queen Domina, who is also mother of the king, had him before marrying and having the king. 

The castle seneschal takes Talla aside and asks for help in finding proof about the queen's involvement--either for or against.  He will see to the queen's coronation if she is innocent, but can remove her from the throne if no proof found.  Talla, half-seriously, asks the queen if she can just kill the seneschal off.  The Hellknight commander Severs DiViri is there with Field Marshall Croft, head of the guards.  The queen demands to know where the Peers are, who she summoned for the review.  A guard, fearfully, says the queen said to dismiss them.  Talla asks the bodyguard if she was with the queen all day yesterday; the bodyguard says yes.  And did she see any of the Peers?: no.  Croft says she saw the queen emerge from a room off to the side by herself--so we determine there must be a double.  Axios exclaims there must therefore be a creature called a doppleganger loose in the castle somewhere.  The queen orders a search of the castle, and that the Peers be sent for again.  Sanjay wonders how you can search a castle for a creature who can change its appearance to be anyone.

We talk with the queen about the possibility that the seneschal is actually plotting to replace the queen with the double and thus her life might be in danger.  [At this point DM Kirk accidentally moves a torch from the wall on the Roll20 map.  Turns out that some items are not fully fixed in place as expected.]  We decide to proceed to the chapel of the castle with the queen.  On the way we pass through a small art gallery--where we see the portrait of the king painted by the painter Trinia Sabor--then down a narrow staircase.  [On the Roll20 map, Dan's character disappears as we "teleport" to the next floor.  We spend some time finding him, then trying to find how to get to him on the huge black, unrevealed map.  Finally we all come together on the staircase on the next level, but it takes a bit to get the door on the map open and start revealing things.]    Finally we arrive at the chapel, which has a small fountain chamber outside the doors.  There is actually a statue here of a tall man with his arms out--the dead god Aroden!  The queen asks Axios if he can get it re-consecrated to Iomedae.  Axios is willing, but wonders if re-dedicating it might lead to trouble.  The queen formally puts him in charge of the re-dedication and Axios is pleased.

We head back from the chapel.  [Ashe's character gets lost on the map as we use the stairway "teleports" from floor to floor, apparently because he does not have a currently active light source.  Mike helps us get Light spells set up properly on our spell lists.]   We arrive back at the throne room, where the queen seats herself on the throne.  The queen asks Axios about Cheliax.  Axios realizes that the queen is supposed to be from Cheliax--which makes it odd that she would ask about it.  The queen asks if Axios knows Queen Abrogail of Cheliax.  Axios says he is here to train to become her champion--a champion magus--having been chosen from the gladiator pits.  The queen gets confirmation from Axios that he is, in fact, of noble blood.

The queen then draws Ashe, her former "boyfriend", aside into a side room for a private talk.  The queen thanks Ashe for keeping their clandestine relationship secret, but explains that she acted as she did because of the spell she was under--and besides Ashe is not of noble blood.  Ashe asks if they are over.  The queen confirms they are and asks him to please be discreet, particularly with Venster.  Ashe is openly thrilled they are breaking up, which surprises the queen but she is pleased it was so painless.

The queen wonders if she should arrest Venster, because of his threats and attempts to implicate her in the murder.  But she also wonders if this will make her seem unjust.  [In Roll20 we now have issues with hearability.  We find that if a person suddenly cannot hear anyone else, they need to exit the game and re-enter to restore connectivity.]  We argue that we don't have any real proof against him.  Ashe argues that the painter is an illusionist and thus there are probably illusions involved.  The queen suggests finding the source of the poison as a possible lead.

Field Marshall Croft returns and informs the queen that there is a problem: a renegade soldier, Verik Vancaskerkin.  In the confusion of the recent rioting he left his post and took some other soldiers with him.  They seized a slaughterhouse and are now, strangely, handing out free meat.  Croft is hesitant to send any other soldiers and asks if the PCs can help bring him in.  Sanjay is reluctant, but we think it will give us time away to think.  Seska volunteers to stay behind with the queen.  We head out.
[DM Kirk drags our icons to a new map.  It is all black except my icon.  Then Kirk reveals a starting area and we can see a narrow area outside "All the World's Meat".  Now there's a name for you.]  We enter the shop, and find a lot of flies, no meat in sight, and two people hanging around a little too casually behind the counter.  Talla says we are here from the castle, to inspect the warehouse.  One of then two men says that won't be necessary and we can't come in.  Talla says we'll have to arrest him--and he calls for reinforcements.  [Sanjay rolls a 1 for initiative.  So much for super-cool 3D dice.] 

Now we notice that the "shopkeepers" are clad in chainmail and girt with longswords--as one quickly slips through a door to the back to summon help.  Slade blasts the one blocking our way with a bolt of magical energy.  It is only then we realize that we weren't given any real description of Vancaskerkin--making it possible that we just killed him.  But then [quick Int checks all around] we remember being told he is skilled with bow and spear, making it likely he will be armed with one or both of those.

Axios steps into the back room, sees several guys, and tries to intimidate one into putting down his weapons and just talk to us.  Axios swears he won't hurt him, but it doesn't work quite as planned.  So Ashe just steps up and whacks him in the head with the flat of his glaive, knocking him out cold--and quite badly injured.  Crow-eye summons an earth elemental to grapple another fellow in the back room.  [We continue to have problems in Roll20 with people's sound dropping out.]  Another guy moves to attack Axios, hitting him with a sword.  Another two attack the elemental.  Sanjay and Slade size up the situation and position themselves for action.  Axios threatens to incinerate the renegades all with flame if they do not surrender, and sparks and smoke spurt impressively from his mouth as he speaks.  One fellow drops his weapon.  Axios then spews oral flame across the other two and the elemental.  The two men die in flaming agony.  Axios asks the survivor where Vankaskerkin is and the guy points upstairs.  Axios says to go get him, now.  The guy flees farther back into the building instead.  Axios yells to head upstairs and Slade leaps forward.  Ashe moves to his victim and uses his healing powers to save him from dying.  Upstairs Slade and Axios corner a man wearing a cloak with the insignia of the guard: perhaps our quarry Vancaskerkin!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Academae Campaign: Clues, Lies, and Recriminations

[Another play write-up from our Academae campaign run on Roll20.]

So we were still the headmistresses' office at the University of Korvosa.

There is a knock and a familiar face enters--the headmaster's favorite nephew, Boxter.  He mentions he is looking for a pupil of his.  Axios looks shaken.  Boxter says that Axios must return at once and he will pay for his insubordination.  Axios takes his leave, but promises to return.  He leaves with Boxter.  Talla notes that it was Axios who brought the whole matter here, but now just departs.  The headmistress says her duty now is to bring Trianna the painter to the castle.  As Talla sighs, Seska points out that the painter will be implicating the queen in the king's murder.  Seska and her mother have a heated discussion on this.  The mother says she has the authority of House Leroung and charges Seska with delivering the painter safely to the seneschal at the castle.  Seska is quite opposed, suggesting that swift vigilante justice on the painter might be better to save the queen from scandal.

We bargain with the headmistress for a bit and get her to allow us to wait until the next morning before taking her to the castle, on the basis that some of us are wounded and Ashe is still under the influence of strong drink.

Talla points out that we need to figure out exactly when the queen began coming to the Academae.  We struggle to remember, but finally figure out that there was talk about the queen and her marriage beginning about a year ago and that's when she started appearing at the Academae.  We decide to check the university records on a "Trika" (the queen's alias when she is out adventuring incognito) to help get some info.  Trika turns out to be a fairly common name, unfortunately, and there are seven in the records.  However, only one started about a year ago.  Sanjay and Crow-eye volunteer to go check the records at the Academae.  Slade and Seska are guarding the painter.  Ashe "consults the gods".  Ashe also brings up the idea of finding a senior cleric who can use the power of the gods to discern if a person is lying.  The high priest of Pharasma and the cleric we met earlier at the castle are mentioned but we don't come to a conclusion.  Ashe reminds us that there was actually poison found in the king's body.

Crow-eye and Sanjay head over to the Academae.  Sanjay remembers looking in the big crystal ball there earlier and seeing someone in a location under the library of the university.  At the Academae Crow-eye heads into the records office to research admissions.  The person behind the desk is suspicious and asks why he wants to, and under what authority.  Crow-eye tries to impress the person, noting he is "The Crow-eye of the Clan Antazi!" and notes that he needs to look up a person of importance to the queen!  Crow-eye talks his way in, but finds no Trika mentioned at all [due to a failed Diplomacy roll].  Crow-eye asks the clerk for help.  The clerk finds one, but she left three years ago.

Sanjay makes his way to the office of the Dean of Divination and eagerly communes with the large crystal ball.  He tries to go back in time to see the queen during one of her rumored visits to the Temple of Asmodeus but fails.  He then tries to check on the unusual location under the library at the university and succeeds, seeing the headmistress of the university talking there with the dean of divination but he cannot hear any sounds.  They are talking--then the dean notices Sanjay and tries to communicate by holding up a written note, but it is too fuzzy to read.  Crow-eye joins Sanjay in the office and locks the door.  Sanjay now turns his powers to the queen, and it zooms to the castle with dizzying speed.  The queen is there with her bodyguard, pacing and rubbing her hands.  The seneschal is there.  Various people are coming and going.  The cleric of Pharasma is there as well, with scribes taking dictation.  Crow-eye comes up and asks "see anything good?"  Sanjay manages to focus in on the dictation scrolls and it's about the king having seen the queen dropping something into his tea, also that he doesn't want to hurt Seska.  Sanjay surmises that the cleric has spoken with the king in the spirit world and is dictating the conversation.

Ashe finally awakens in a corner, feeling a bit better.  He attempts a "ritual" to "contact the gods".

Back at the crystal ball, Sanjay searches the castle for the king and finds him laid out in royal style.  Then he sees the king's half-brother pass the chamber.  Sanjay tries to focus on him, sees him possibly talk to someone in a cell, and notices that he had something in his hand but it's gone now.  He tries to look in the cell but can't get it into focus.  Crow-eye watches the ball swirl with colors--go black for a bit and Sanjay go a bit rigid--and then fade out.  Sanjay says he's a bit tired and wants to stop now.  The two head back to the university, but make a stop at the castle guardhouse on the way to get the magical book and other items they left for safekeeping.

Sanjay and Crow-eye arrive safely back at the university.  They fill Ashe and Talla in on what they learned.  Ashe suggests doing a Harrow card reading.  Sanjay performs the reading and the main card is "The Liar" and it applies somehow to the king's half-brother.

Sanjay now checks the book of magic found in the crypt.  Casting a spell to discern magic presences he finds evocation, enchantment, and necromancy.  Sanjay is still suspicious--this was previously the property of a necromancer--and carefully opens it with a poker from the fireplace.  Nothing happens so he goes over and starts reading.  There are spells for someone called "Vreeg":

Feather Fall (L1)
Magic Missile (L1)
Ray of Enfeeblement (L1)
Sleep (L1)
Chill Touch (L1)
Darkness (L2)
Command Undead (L2)
False Life (L2)
Scorching Ray (L2)
Water Breathing (L3)
Gentle Repose (L3)
Fly (L3)
Vampiric Touch (L3)
Continual Flame (L3)

Sanjay also checks the scroll and finds it has two spells: Shield (extended) and Spectral Hand.  He then turns in for the night to rest up.

The next morning we awaken.  Seska is rather tired because she didn't dare actually go to sleep while watching the painter.  We head for the castle, escorting the painter, and arrive safely.  At the castle we walk in and find a lot of activity.  There are a lot of armed guards around the castle seneschal,  The chief cleric of Pharasma is there, as is the queen.  We notice that the queen is trying to be calm and dignified, but is clearly very worried.  The seneschal comes over to us.  "I would like to have a word with you.  It seems this is the person we are looking for", pointing at the painter.  "The painter is a very important witness to what is going on here.  The queen said the painter was with the king and we want to question her."  The seneschal wants to take the painter elsewhere.  Talla asks why, and the seneschal says he merely wants her to be comfortable, adding that one of two of us may accompany her.

Seneschal then takes Talla aside for a whispered conversation.  He explains that he is in charge of the murder investigation.  They got disturbing news when the cleric of Pharasma communed with the spirit of the king: the king saw the queen put something in his tea--but he couldn't remember anything which happened after that.  Talla questions why the king did nothing after seeing this--but the seneschal repeats that the king couldn't remember anything else.  The painter is brought for questioning and seated.  Trianna the painter testifies that she was hired, did paint the picture, and it's hanging up somewhere.  The painter repeats that she saw the queen put something in the king's tea and the queen then threatened to kill her horribly if she didn't keep quiet.  The painter gets up "I can show you something but you have to keep the queen away from me."  Slade points out that the painter was told there was an understanding that she would make no demands, threating her with a clawed hand.  The guards put hands to weapons.   The painter walks quietly down the hallway and we follow, to the queen's chamber.  "I saw her do this", she says.  She presses something and a panel in the wall opens revealing a shrine to Asmodeus with cups and vials, some unstoppered.  Talla questions when exactly she saw the queen reveal this shrine.  The Trianna tries to explain when, but gives a confusing answer as to whether it was the day of the alleged poisoning or another day.

Sanjay, Ashe, and the Pharasmin cleric use their various skills and powers to check the contents of the vials.  Meanwhile, Talla goes to have a talk with the queen.  The queen protests her innocence.  Talla asks if the queen knows who "Trika" is and the queen confirms it's her--but asks that it be kept quiet.  Talla also relates to the queen that a secret shrine to Asmodeus was found in the wall of her bedroom--and she appears genuinely shocked and surprised.  Talla then asks the bodyguard how long he's worked here.  He relates that he came here before the queen, became acquainted with the queen and was later selected for her bodyguard.  The bodyguard is unaware of any construction work on the queen's bedchamber.  Talla surmises the shrine was already there before the queen moved in.

Meanwhile the seneschal is promising the painter protection and Slade, still suspicious, stands by as guard--and possibly executioner.  Talla pulls Ashe and Sanjay aside and asks if we have anything to determine lies.  Sanjay says he has a spell ready which can determine a person's moral persuasion.  Talla asks the painter to close the secret panel for us but she claims to not know how.  Talla finds it is easy to close and closes it.  Talla now asks exactly where the painter was standing when she saw the queen open the panel.  Talla stands at the indicated spot, which is outside the room, and finds there would be a good view from there of anyone opening the panel.

Talla gets confirmation from the senechal that worship of  the god Asmodeus is frowned upon but allowed.  Talla finds it odd that the queen would have a secret shrine and that she would have it where it could be so easily seen and why she would leave the door to the room open while opening the door.  The painter reconfirms that the door was open and Talla questions why it would be open like that.

Meanwhile, Axios has an argument with his mentor Boxter then storms off to the castle to rejoin us.

Back at the castle, the king's half-brother Venster now comes in, goes to the queen.  Talla hears him whisper "Enjoy the throne while you can."  Then Venster goes to the cleric and seneschal to learn what has transpired with the communing, questioning of the painter, and discovery of the secret shrine.  Venster insists the proof against the queen is solid, she must be removed from the throne and hanged.  Sabina the bodyguard and Talla step in to guard the queen, Sabina drawing a two-handed sword and Talla drawing her weapons.  Talla says the seneschal is not empowered to remove the queen.  The seneschal's guards and some hellknights there draw weapons in response.  Axios arrives just in time to view the scene, exclaiming "What's going on!"

Sanjay draws back in alarm and Crow-eye joins him.  Slade maneuvers behind the seneschal.  The queen shouts "There will be no bloodshed here.  Put away your weapons!"  Slade moves over, maneuvering to push Venster out from his hiding place behind the seneschal.  The seneschal's guards block Slade in a tense confrontation.  Slade calls Venster out to stand out like a man if he's going to make such accusations.  Venster comes out and confronts Slade, asking him to back down.  Slade is amused by the lesser man's challenge.  Venster: "You don't scare me".   Slade: "You don't even rate my attention, boy!"  The queen again asks all to put away their weapons, and asks Slade to step back.  Slade courteously accedes to the queen's request.  The guards lower their weapons.  The tension eases a bit.

The queen asks Venster if he is really accusing her of poisoning her "beloved husband".  Slade discerns that she didn't love the king all that much--but thinks that few people actually loved the late king anyway.

Axios asks what the heck is going on.  The queen explains, carefully, that the seneschal thinks he has enough evidence relating to the killing of the king to remove her from her new throne.  The seneschal comes forward and explains that he does have the legal power to remove a corrupt monarch.  We argue that there must be a proper trial.  Venster threatens to have a "hanging judge" try the case.  Talla slides over as Venster exits and says "I heard what you said to the queen about her throne--and I say the same to you."  Talla then asks the seneschal if the cleric was here at the castle when he used his priestly powers to commune with the king.  The seneschal admits he knows nothing of what divine methods were used by the cleric--the cleric merely related what the king;s spirit supposedly said.  And the cleric also used a divine invocation which showed that the painter lied.  Talla asserts that she is determined to have a fair trial.

The queen beckons us all over and pleads for our help.  Axios tells her the Harrow cards said that something is impersonating her.  He also suddenly puts in a personal request for help getting out of hot water he's in at the school.  Axios also suggests replacing the secret shrine of Asmodeus with maybe one of Iomedae, his favored goddess.

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Make a Death Trap: The Crafting

Okay, so when I game I usually use a big flexible battlemat which I've had for years.  It's got a square grid on one side and a hex grid on the other and you draw on it with markers.  But in my current campaign my players are diving into a series of dangerous challenges set by the mysteriously-disappeared demon ruler of a demi-plane.  They're doing a big outdoor challenge battle right now but when (if) they get past than then they go down into more of a dungeon setting with a series of danger rooms.  So I decided that for these rooms I'd do a minor bit of drawing and crafting to make them more memorable.  Below is discussion and photos of making the boards.  When (if) they survive the rooms I'll do a follow-up post with full pics and the rules mechanics for each room.

1. I started with two 20" by 30" foam core poster boards from the craft store, the type with a rough paper surface you can draw on rather than the shiny finish.

2. Since I wanted a grid, I started by drawing registration marks around the edge ever inch.  After I finished the first board using a ruler, I marked the other boards by matching them up next to it and duplicating the marks.

3. Then I used the edge of one board as a straight edge to quickly draw some light pencil lines from mark to mark in one direction...

...and then mark to mark in the other direction to make the grid...

...which went pretty quickly.

(Also, I did grids on both sides of both boards to make them double-sided to save money.)

 4. Then I used a regular felt tip pen to draw the walls and some triangular marks to show the center of each edge in an interesting way.

5. I colored in the triangles using Sharpie brush-tip permanent markers...

...and the entrance alcoves with pencil shading.

6. Finally, and this took pretty long, I used hatching and dots (based on the map style of Dyson Logos) to add some thickness to the walls.  Then some Chinese characters with the brush Sharpies to indicate the dominant element of the room.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Review: Ronden Marr Explorer's Guide

I've been following Jesse Morgan's work on his Ronden Marr setting for a while now.  Jesse's Ronden Marr setting is the eponymous dwarf city (probably the last city in the world) plus the Undercavern below it.   I did a review earlier on the Ronden Marr Campaign Setting Player's Guide.  Like the earlier book this one is also system neutral which I consider a big plus.  I've never felt like I really grasped D&D's Underdark as a place to adventure and thus avoided it.  This guide seemed like a potentially fresh approach and I wanted to see Jesse's take on the concept.

First off, a quick bit about the art.  The first thing I do with any gaming product is jump all over the art.  In this case Jesse did all the art himself, which I think is pretty cool.  Here are a couple nice examples:

The intro with historical background leads you into the setting well.  The content is presented as a compilation of information brought back from earlier expeditions, many of which were hideous disasters.  There is a well-written section "A Feel for the Undercavern" which did indeed provide a good feel--and without resorting to a lot of system crunch you'd have to unpack mentally.  The maps are great but don't come with a grid or scale.  That's excellent for showing them to the players, especially since the earlier expeditions often weren't able to map carefully, but slightly inconvenient for the sort of DM who wants full details.  A set of DM's versions at the back with square or hex grids would be a good addition for later.  The locations are all pretty cool.  Descriptions don't go into heavy detail but give you a clear idea of what's there--well, except for a couple weird mystery places such as the creepy Isle of Nyares.  There's just enough detail to work with while staying away from specific system crunch.  Also, all the major locations have their own map or illustration.
Jesse surprised me (in a good way) by including an environmental danger called "reality fissures": "Throughout The Undercavern, there are places where the fabric of reality breaks down. These fissures lead to other planes and demi-planes, or even into the magical fabric of reality itself."  These allow for fun random old-school weirdness in a region where multiple "dungeons of the mad wizard" would make no sense.

The book includes several intelligent races/societies living down in the depths, unique creatures, and impressive sections on mushrooms and lichens which provide great information on dangers and benefits of the many types.  The information on mushrooms and lichens isn't just for flavor: these items serve as gatherable resources (if the PCs can properly identify them) to keep parties supplied down in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, I loved the labeled diagram/drawing of Rock Formations (Appendix C), a fun visual catalog of underground geophysical features.

So if you want to see an approach to doing an Underdark this book is a good, usable guide.  It's reasonably priced so grab a copy at DriveThruRPG.