Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ganlant of Escavalon's big adventure + pictures

So I jumped into the Constantcon ring a few days ago when I got a chance to play in Jeff Rients' Wessex game. I used a sample cleric that I had rolled up a few weeks ago for my prospective Arthurian LL game. I equipped him from Jeff's chargen equipment list, hooked up my webcam and we were ready to go, as Ganlant was whisked away by the power of FLAILSNAILS from the time of Arthur to a different Cornwall, hundreds of years in his future.

I had a gas. We explored, we laughed, we cried, we fell victim to traps, and we *almost* got some good loot. Ganlant just about fell down a pit to Hell (narrowly saved when one of his friends grabbed his backpack and pulled him back), and later one of the party was killed drinking from a fountain which made him melt "like a Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark." I scooped up some of this deadly water in a bucket for later use.

While trying to wedge the lid of a wizard's sarcophagus open using iron spikes, we attracted the wrath of a giant golden spider. I threw my bucket of deadly fountain water at it, while the rest of the party threw flaming oil. We managed to hurt it some but it seemed to laugh at normal weapons, so it was time to beat a retreat. In the process of escaping, Ganlant was hit by the spider and I heard Jeff say: "Can you survive 4 damage? I'm just looking for my Arduin grimoire."

Oh crap... He had four fingers on his right hand sliced off in a single critical hit from the golden spider's scythe-leg! Ganlant made it out with just 1 hit point, climbing a 60' ladder to safety with his mangled hand. Yeah, this is D&D all right.

After the adventure, I made sure to add some extra equipment, not least of all a crowbar for the next sarcophagus we happen to find. Life's going to be pretty tough for an adventurer with only 6 digits, but I'll figure something out... probably strap a torch or holy symbol to the stump so it's always ready, and fight with the left hand.

Also, inspired by some posts around the interwebs, I thought I'd post up some artwork and images that I enjoy for gaming inspiration. I'm not very well versed in visual art, and my tastes are simple, and these pictures aren't quite as good as the ones that happen in my imagination. Which probably means I need to spend more time checking out new art.

(A lot of these are really big/detailed, click to expand)

In thirty years they reduced the civilized nations to carrion and ash...

How do you like stone golems now? - The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

"Of course I go adventuring for the chicks!"

Some more Terrible Sorcery.

Best skeletons ever - Jason & The Argonauts (1963).

Hydras are in my Pathfinder wilderness game. Somewhere.
Is this what "creature type: Outsider" means? A thousand times yes.
In terms of "total playtime hours inspired," this is easily #1.
But many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic iacet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus

Not pictured: my young mind, completely blown - King's Quest 6.

More play reports soon!

Friday, February 3, 2012


so this thing...

One of my players reads this blog, and he was explaining this post to me the other day. There are some things to like about it: "Treat The Environment As Another Enemy" is a great way to make things interesting and might be rule #2 of good encounter design.

But "Make Sure Each Player Will Have Something To Do and Give Each Player A Unique Role"? Come on. The only example given is for D&D, so since we're not playing GURPS (where we spend several hours doing math so that each character is different), we'll talk about that. Cross-posted from my comment:

"There’s a reason the classic D&D party is a Fighter, a Mage, a Cleric, and a Thief."

Try playing Original D&D with only one fighter. I dare you. See what happens.

This kind of thing is a direct result of the edition power creep that we've had over the last 25 years. In 3.x D&D we have 2000+ feats to choose from for "infinite customization," but every fighter just chooses Power Attack because it's the best. If you have two fighters in your D&D party, of course one will be better than another, because they'll both prioritize Strength, then CON or DEX, etc. And they won't roll exactly the same stats. One will likely have a higher strength and since so much emphasis is placed on stat bonuses to create a "viable" character, the guy who rolled low is left in the dust. This is the "my precious character" sort of thinking which characterizes the current state of the hobby.

This is, by the way, in direct opposition to your other stipulations: to not say "this monster's invulnerable to swords!," "avoid the roll-fest" and "treat the environment as another enemy." In these contexts, whether your fighter has a +1 to damage rolls or a +6 won't affect the solution you, as a creative player, come up with.

And if you *can't* come up with anything to deal with a monster that's invulnerable to all your plusses, well... I don't know how to help you.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Influences on Land's End and Jeff's 20 Questions

This is an old file of musings that I've cleaned up for posting. These are some of the things I reference and ponder when I'm writing up material for my Land's End game, and which provided the initial seeds of its creation.

The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
This is the only Elder Scrolls game I ever played extensively until my roommate bought Skyrim. An unbelievably big wilderness; a completely optional main quest; huge randomly generated dungeons; a gonzo character-generator and a creepy soundtrack. I reinstalled this game a few weeks ago so that I could get some screen-captures for a forthcoming post about how much better it is than all subsequent Elder Scrolls games (with diagrams).
Surrounded by lava, fighting a demon... Classic.

Exile: Escape From The Pit
This game provided the seed of inspiration for the campaign. For various reasons, the characters have been exiled from the rigorous, oppressive, strictly Lawful empire where no variety is allowed. They arrive in the land of Exile, an underground cave kingdom and have all kinds of adventures against the Sliths, the cat-people called Nephilim and the demon overlord Grah-Hoth. Classic turn-based CRPG from 1995, this is almost as retro as it gets and you can find it here.

Arx Fatalis
This game was fun as hell, back in 2004 or so. You're just dropped bare-ass naked into a big underground world (megadungeon), annnnd go! It's got a cowardly goblin king, dumb trolls, all kinds of stuff. The vibe of this game was just inspiring. I wonder if my shitty laptop could run it?

Myth: The Fallen Lords
My previous thoughts on this game here. The soundtrack of this game slays, and the monsters are great. I think the undead are the best ever. This game exudes vibe from every pore, it's tough and unforgiving. Time to man up and charge them zombies!

All those blogs listed on the side of this page!

originally outlined here.

1 - What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
You're a priest of the 137 gods of the Empire, although you can just pick one if you want (and make it up, since I will never detail them all). It's state-mandated! Later it may be possible to convert to a different god.

2 - Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
The general stores in Land's End have a general selection of weapons/armor/gear, and a few more rare things can be bought from the travelling merchants that come through town.

3 - Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
You'd have to travel to the interior of the empire to get custom armor. The local blacksmith, if he's even good enough to do it, would charge an arm and a leg.

4 - Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
There aren't any wizards in Land's End (it's a shit town). The mightiest one beyond The Barrier... who knows?

5 - Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
In Land's End, it's likely the Guard Captain of the town, who is perhaps a Level 2 Fighter. In the wastes, the greatest human warrior that anyone's heard of is Mullerigern, a bandit king with a 1500 GP bounty on his head.

6 - Who is the richest person in the land?
The richest person in Land's End is the Innkeeper, Kiros.

7 - Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Father Harkwood at the church of the 137 gods in Land's End will heal you - for a small fee.

8 - Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, death, undeath?
Father Harkwood of the 137 gods will cure: disease, curses, small ability drains. It'll cost you though. A druid (maybe living out in the wilderness) could cure poison. Death, Undeath, polymorph, stoning, permanent level drain and other tough ailments might just be incurable.

9 - Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
Nope. Magic is rare and wizards don't congregate or share their secrets, unless they're working for the man (which you ain't).

10- Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
The church of land's end has an alchemist/sage living in the tower who can do a bit of research for the party, and sell them non-magical 'alchemical' potions at high prices.

11- Where can I hire mercenaries?
To go over the cliffs? You gotta be kidding!

12- Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Anywhere further inside the Empire, people start to frown on carrying weapons openly (what could you possibly need THAT for?), and magic-users are either ostracized or are co-opted by the state.

13- Which way to the nearest tavern?
The Crown and Thistle sits right in the centre of Land's End, across from the church.

14- What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
There aren't any that 'terrorize' the countryside, but if you kill a monster of legend (werewolf, dragon, hydra, giant ant, etc) and bring its pelt/head back to town, that could make you famous. Occasionally there are wolves on the plateau, but it's rare.

15- Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Not yet.

16- How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
Maybe in another civilization distantly across the wastelands, that's never met the Empire.

17- Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
There are some nameless monster cults in the wilderness, if you're into frog-cannibalism.

18- What is there to eat around here?
Regular inland medieval stuff: Bread, stew, cows, root vegetables, boiled things, oatmeal, beer, etc.

19- Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
For one, there's the lost idol of the 137 gods that Father Harkwood will pay 250 GP for (there is a sign on the town notice board to this effect).

20- Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
Somewhere in the wilderness. You'll know it when you see it, unless it sees you first.

PS: Hey new Blogger interface?

Up yours new Blogger interface.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unleashed In The East

My home Pathfinder game is directly inspired by the Ars Ludi epic "West Marches" (the uninitiated may receive solid gold chronic truth here). Although at the time of its beginning, my home game only had 2 players and 1 drunk - far from the epic cast of a true West Marches game - I still wanted to explore a massive, dangerous and uncharted wilderness full of strange things, away from the safety of the city (Confession Time: I never liked city adventures. While you're talking to guys in a tavern to get information, I'm pulling the arm of a statue to open the hidden crypt. While you're explaining your antisocial activities to the city guards, I'm climbing into a 1000-foot pit from whence no one returns).

I knew we were playing Pathfinder, because I impulsively bought the book (this was before I really got my head around these retro things). I decided to go for broke and I let the guys play all kinds of different PC races, because adventurers are rare in this world and they're going to stand out anyway. Don't worry, I have a plan for those planetouched kids. It will be awesome.

The cast has at one point or another included:

Arrai Rivenwen - aasimar ranger, he changes colour and age with the seasons
Adrock - tiefling rogue, he has green hair and an ice touch (I rolled on the original Planescape tiefling table for these ones!)
Trigger McGillicuddy - half-elf wizard, always drunk (player and character)
Aercius - human cleric of the 137 Imperial Gods (played to the hilt by my visiting brother, as detailed here)
"Ratticus Finch" - half-man half-rat hybrid lab escapee alchemist (blurb about the Pathfinder Player's Guide to follow later)

The adventure began in a small town at the edge of a giant, bureaucratic empire where nothing fun or exciting or lucrative happens to adventurers. I called it Land's End, and to disguise my influences I placed it at the far eastern border of the empire. It's a one-church, one-inn, one-horse sort of town with a blacksmith shop, farmers selling vegetables and the occasional travelling merchant. A town of simple folk who smile sadly at the occasional kid with a crazy dream who passes through on his way to an obscure death.

From Land's End, explorers head east for half a day to The Barrier, a sheer cliff's edge which overlooks an uncharted land obscured by mist and clouds. Few have ever gone down, and even less have come back up - but for adventurers craving action and gold, it's the only game in town.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nocturnal Supremacy

OK, so back having a job. Right now I'm working nights, and it looks like I'll have some free time so expect more fun posts to come along! In addition to my previously promised writings, I have some more fun stuff to go up as I brainstorm this Labyrinth Lord one-shot for the Friday group. Some good tricks & traps, ruminations on the setting and my newbie encounters with the retro rules. I'm also going to talk more about my home game and some of the hijinks that have happened recently. The actions of one Trigger McGillicuddy, drunk-ass wizard, deserve at least one post of their own.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Evil will always win. Because good is dumb."

Dark Helmet just hates paladins.
OK, I had this long, pissed-off and kind of boring rant written, but I deleted it and wrote this instead.

I've been playing Temple of Elemental Evil for PC recently and barring a few irritating bugs I'm having a great time with it. One of the dudes in my Friday night Warhammer Fantasy RP group recommended it to me, saying it was the best D&D computer game he'd ever played. I wouldn't go that far (I'm all about Planescape: Torment) but I'll give it 2nd place with confidence.

What initially bothered me was my Paladin character. I had a long rant written about the bizarre morality and 'paladin code' of the game, but what it boiled down to was this:

Anyone evil basically gets told to fuck off and I can't interact with them, but it's OK to kill them without a conversation. I thought it was odd that I can kick in the door and kill everyone I see with no 'Paladin Code' violation, but if I accept a quest from one Evil Temple leader to kill another Evil Temple leader, I'm now Fallen. It's not as if I was going to leave any of them alive anyway. I know, I know: it's in the Paladin code! But it didn't make much sense at the time.

This bugged me until yesterday when I was reading Chretien de Troyes and of course remembered that the Paladin class is rooted in chivalric legend. In the stories of Arthur's knights some of these idiosyncratic traits exist. Brutal battles are fought against evil, but nobody considers trickery, strategy, divide-and-conquer tactics or the like except in extreme cases. Siding with one evil man to destroy another is unheard of; a knight simply runs through the first evil man before moving on to the next.

This is combined with the traits most lacking in most D&D paladins: politeness & courtesy. Even the most evil knight is treated with mercy until he has proved several times over to be unrepentant, and finally might lose his head (in De Troyes' version, Meleagaunt duels with Lancelot three times and imprisons him by trickery before Lancelot will finish the job). Most villains are allowed to say their piece and argue with the knight before they decide to do battle. These traits don't combine well with a group of various roguish dungeoncrawlers looking over their shoulders for gelatinous cubes while scooping treasure into a sack, so the result (the D&D Paladin) is a fusion of differing genre expectations, history, myth and pragmatism that can stumble in practise.

Too cool to be a PC.
"I say you sooth, said the damosel, for ye were this day the best knight of the world, but who should say so now, he should be a liar, for there is now one better than ye, and well it is proved by the adventures of the sword whereto ye durst not set to your hand; and that is the change and leaving of your name. Wherefore I make unto you a remembrance, that ye shall not ween from henceforth that ye be the best knight of the world. As touching unto that, said Launcelot, I know well I was never the best. Yes, said the damosel, that were ye, and are yet, of any sinful man of the world."
-Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur

This reading and thinking on Paladins in the Arthurian canon gave me another idea. In any one knight's story, barring a few exceptions he is the best, strongest, toughest of all knights he meets in his travels. During Tristram's tale he beats all comers except Lancelot and when it's Lancelot's turn in the spotlight he can't lose. The stories are structured so the better knights come later in the saga and each can have his spotlight as the best while his story is told (Arthurian power creep!).

This fits in well with the harsh ability requirements for Paladinhood in 2nd edition D&D: Str 12, Con 9, Wis 13, Cha 17. Back in my 2nd ed days, I don't remember anyone playing a paladin over almost 10 years. Even with 4d6 drop the lowest and arrange as desired, what kind of fool frontliner puts a 17 into his *charisma*? One who wants a certain flavour of class, obviously, but no one I knew rolled rich enough stats to gamble survivability like that.

The Arthurian term for Paladin is "The Best Knight In The World," but it amounts to the same thing. A man endowed with strength, skill at arms, grace, beauty, chivalry, chastity, mercy, piety, all the virtues of knighthood. Only with his death or fall from grace can another knight assume Paladinhood.

In other words, there can only be one Paladin in the world at a time. Sir Lancelot is The Paladin for most of the Arthur stories, but his adulterious relationship with Guenevere causes his Fall, and opens the spot up to his perfect son Galahad (in the Malory version, Galahad is taken to heaven by Joseph of Arimathea before he can get old and lose his edge like Elvis). Lancelot can still beat most of the other knights, but he's just a very good Fighter from then on and everyone knows it. He fails to reach the Holy Grail and can't stop Mordred from tearing the Kingdom apart.

I don't know if this idea will fit into my Pathfinder game - the players get upset if they see something in the book and they can't have it. I like to indulge them in this, like a loving parent indulges their simpleminded child, so denying Paladins as unique in the setting won't work in that game.

However, I'm working on a fun one-shot for my Friday group which I hope to develop into an ongoing game - and there will definitely be only one Paladin at a time in this world.