Thursday, May 2, 2013

A tale of adventure and death in the caves

A play report from my Middle-Earth campaign, by one of the players, of Pru the Hobbit:

The Wizards along with their animals, pony and cat, stayed in town while we trekked to the caves. Armidia was feeling restless, and thirsty for Orc Blood as usual. Shotey was drunk.

We decided to continue sweeping the caves on the left. The first beings we encountered were goblins. Luck was not in the hobbit's favor, and Prudence was of little help. Armidia, Shotey, Elidon, Gilliad massacred most those goblins and Armidia added some teeth to her ever growing collection.

As we walked further into the cave, Shotey was able to use his "stone sense" and find a trick door that led to a secret room and hallway. More goblins met us on the other side of the door. We got most of them, but a couple escaped down a curvy hallway. As we advance down the hallway that was once filled with the sound of what was perceived to be 15 goblins is now eerily quiet. Pru used her spear to carry a goblin body down the hall that she then set on fire and stuck around the corner, it was immediately hit by 3 arrows. Armidia quickly peaked around the last curve where she sees 15 goblins, 5 in front with shields and 10 above with bows and arrows. Using the corner as cover, Shotey and Armidia were able to take a couple of the bowmen out. We then get into a very scrappy fight with the goblins where we all take a number of hit points and become injured. Some used our second wind, some were healed by Armidia's once a day ability to heal each of us.

Behind the goblins is a room that opens up. We see a few goblins speking through a hole in the wall to the left, and as we come through they flee through the opening which we now recognize as a big boulder blocking a passageway. The room is now deserted and we cautiously approach the opening which is five feet up, so Armidia looks through. See surveys a large lumbering creature about 9 feet tall. She throws a Molotov cocktail through which the creature shies away from. Pru tries to stone it, but it's thick hide causes the rock to bounce off. We all decided to jump through the opening and engage the Troll in battle. Early on in the skirmish, Gillian take a critical blow from the troll's club and dies. Enraged by her companion's death Pru is able to cut an Achilles tendon, and Armidia cuts the other. After the troll falls, Pru climbs up his back and stabbs it with her dagger in the head, then Armidia landed a critical hit and cut off the troll's head. Behind the dead troll there is an opening out into the night cloaked valley.

As we are all injured and tired we decide we need to head back to town to rest and recover. As we emerge from the cave we encounter a shady bunch of men/beings that do not seem friendly, but do not attack. For part of the way back to town they follow us a distance. We made friends with the wall guards so they'll stop giing us a hard time when we come back to town. We break into the tavern and demands a room to sleep in. Over the next two weeks Armidia learned how to use light of valinor (sp?), Shotey bought a wolf warrior dog that he bonded with and cleverly named Wolfie, while this was happening Pru was making friends at the local tavern and hired a new human companion. I think Elidon was getting it on with Ent Moon the Green the whole time and Ezria was trying to find a wife. Before leaving the town, we decide to buy a chest with a lock on it and place most of our valuables locked in side and place it in the room  we pre pay for a month. We also visit the shops to buy supplies like oil and slings and spears that were damaged or used up.

We head back to the caves after saying our goodbyes to the wizards. We keep an eye out for the shady men, and finally come upon them when we decide to explore the small wooded area at the end of the valley. We throw them some money and head into a new cave hoping they will take our peace offering and not pursue us. We notice that the cave is damp and seems to have been created naturally over time by some water source. we take every fork to the left and come upon a gigantic bear that is snarling and vicious and 15ft tall on its hind legs. In this battle Pru is having little effect and keeps out of the way. Shotey, Armidia, Elidon, and Wilborne take down the beast with minimal hits as Wolfie flees the cave. Shotey takes his trophy by turning the bear's claws into fight gloves and Pru skins it and sets it to dry for a bear pelt that we suspect may be worth a full crown. 

While the pelt is drying we venture into the closest fork to the right and are overcome by an unfamiliar acrid scent. We come to a pond filled with white fish. As Pru is about to dip her fishing net into the pond the group notices that the water is begging to move and a jellyfish type blob is coming toward them. Before we can retreat Pru's leg is touched and burned by the acid. After getting away down the corridor, Armidia takes a role for her lore knowledge and learns that the blod eats metal and flesh, and it susceptible to stone and wooden weapons. As we walk past the bear cave we grab the pelt, but something doesn't feel right. Armidia perceives that the shady group of beast men are preparing to ambush us outside the mouth of this cave. At the same time, the blob is slowly making it way towards us. The hobbit has dexterity and a a sling with rocks, so she quickly head back toward the blob and hits it several times, weakening it, but it is Armidia with a spear that finally kills the blob.

As we approach the entrance to the cave Pru throws caution to wind and charges out throwing a a Molotov cocktail setting 3 of the 7 men on fire that were waiting to ambush the tribe of adventurers. She and Willborne go after the the two on the left while Elidon and Armidia take the two on the right. Shotey and Wolfie stay back to help whoever gets in trouble. Willborne gets hit, Pru goes after her man with an ax and does some damage. Shotey comes to help Willborne while Armidia and Eldion engaged their counterparts. At one point Armidia turns to assist on the left after she cuts the heads off of the two savages on the right. We notice that the man opposite Willborne has a horn that he's trying to reach for. Armidia immediately focuses her energy on stopping him for fear that the horn has magical powers or that he may call for help. She acquires to horn and adds it to her collection of  trophies while the rest of us finish off the barbarians.

As soon as the last beast man falls we looed up to see a shield wall of 5 more beast men advancing toward us from about 60ft away, with an even more stout looking leader trailing by about 7ft. Pru and Willborne jog out about halfway and try to throw a stone and a spear at the leader. Armidia and Elidon follow and try to hit using either their bows or spears, but neither hit for much damage. The group of men is now upon us; Pru and Willborne are the first to be attacked. Willborne is hit and Pru counters by going under the large men's round shields and critically injuring the 3 men at the right side of the armor shield by slashing their Achilles, stabbing them in the groin, and killing them. She also brings a fourth man to within only 2 hit points. Armidia follows up by beating the men into unconsciousness. We tie the two lowly men up together and the chief seperately while we try to decide if we should execute them or use them for some type of reward or knowledge. Shotey feels strongly that we should at least execute the two men, and proceeds to do so, cementing the trait of cruelty in his heart. We drag the leader back to his horse and slump him, and an unconscious Willborne, over the back of the horse he rode in on before we started to make the trip back to town to recover and see what kind of reward we might get for this warlord.

Drearily we head back to town. About half way there we detect a large group of Orcs before they see us. We tie the horse with Wilborne and the chief to a tree that Elidon climbs up into while Pru, Armidia, Shotey, and Wolfie hunker down in the tall grass. We exchange a few arrows and rocks before Armidia and Pru stand and move closer while preparing the last 4 bottles of oil at hand for Molotov cocktails. We throw the first two and kill 5 of the Orcs but begin to come under major fire. Pru is it hit hard and falls to the ground injured and unconscious  Shotey jumps out from the grass to throw another of our makeshift bombs. This bombs is less successful, but Armidia manages to kill a few orcs with her bow before she too is injured to the point of unconsciousness. Shotey does little more before he is also overwhelmed by the forces coming at us....

Thursday, April 25, 2013

About the D&D I'm running now

After finding out that some friends I have in the city I moved to a few months ago would be up for playing some D&D when they've never played before, I figured I wanted to try a new system of D&D I had been eyeing.

Adventurer Conqueror King, while an awesome version of D&D overall, had a few flaws.  Most importantly, it's based on Basic D&D and so starting character are pretty fragile. That can lead to some cool moments of "run away! run away!" But people who've never played before, whose ideas of D&D are movies and kicking ass, generally seem to dislike being as weak as a goblin or modern man, and want some more heroics. The usual solutions of lots of henchmen is counterintuitive to them, so I wanted some more highly powered first-level characters. Starting at slightly higher level, like 3 say, is also unappealing because I still wanted a system where they move up.  ACKS also has problems with a number of proficiencies I don't like, and I didn't want to mess with the list of those before starting a new group on a new campaign. I wanted to just be able to point at a book and say, "Pick from these."  Finally, I wanted to use a Middle-Earth setting, for reasons I'll probably explain later, and ACKS would require alot of other modifications and house-rules to make me comfortable with that.

So, I decided to use a version of AD&D I found on the internet specifically modded to play Tolkienish Middle-Earth campaigns. I could have used one of the various Middle-Earth RPGs, like One Ring, but I after play-testing those in the past, I was highly disatisfied with all non-D&D (d20 if you will) based systems for gaming, especially for new gamers.  The version of D&D I picked is called Balrogs & Bagginses, a homebrew, fantasy heartbreaker (for the unitiated: some dude's pen-and-paper fantasy rp game system, generally based on D&D) by this guy over on I messaged him once, but he never responded. Here's the basics of his system, and what I like about it.

1. It takes AD&D as a baseline so you can use your AD&D first edition or second edition materials with it. Including descending AC.  I like using 2e stuff cuz it's what I played as a kid, and the spells are alittle more forgiving at first level (I'm looking at you Flaming Hands).

2. The classes are loose. In fact, in the rules as written, there are no classes, only roles. The way the mechanic works is that characters get 6 "abilities" that are things like Tracking or Divination. If you have an ability, you get to add your ability score bonus (say Intelligence for Tracking) and add your level to it.  This mechanic is dead simple, easy to explain, allows creation of totally different "fighters" while retaining the "few simple choices" benefit of a class system. So, if you pick a Elven Fighter, like 5 of your "ability" choices are made for you by your race (generally requiring 2 picks) and class (3-4 default picks).  Because many of the nifty class/race choices, like Ranger or Dwarf, simply require you to start with XYZ abilities, it allows the creation of unique archetypical characters, while giving those who want to create their own style alot of options (a man thief, for instance, has plenty of abilities to choose from). Abilities like Swords or Axes & Hammers allow for the use of an easily understandable group of weapons, add the level bonus like normal, and the use of associated armor types. It makes things a snap.

One thing I did to "improve" the game for new players was to force them to choose a role like warrior, thief, or wizard with certain restrictions I added in the game. For instance, Wizards can be men in my version of Tolkien's middle-earth, but they have to be like D&D wizards: no armor, no weapon abilities. Elves on the other hand, as naturally magical, could pick certain Elvish magic abilities (like charm and illusion) even if they pick a main class like Warrior, since, you know, elves have that shit. It's all intuitive and yet I get some of the benefits of class-as-race.

3. There's a nifty trait system ala Pendragon. Basically, all characters start with a couple of traits like Courageous, Greedy, etc. You roll a Wisdom/willpower save, which like all saves in the game is just ability score modifier plus d20 versus target number 12 (or 15 or 20 if rare high-difficulty saves).  If you succeed, you can gain an advantage for the rest of the scene or combat.  An advantage is to roll two d20's and take the better.  The players loved this when we played it, it gave their guys alot of life. I added to the game a few set racial traits I felt appropriate, like Keen-eyed and Sorrowful for elves. When you don't want something to happen, like your Greed to cause you to get into deadly danger, you can see if your willpower will stop you.  The trait system is also not too min-maxing, because its freeform and depends on what's going on in your game.  It's like the best of The One Ring and Pendragon, but works with D&D.

4. There's slight fiddle on the combat rules. Weapons have some set qualities, like Hacking or Charge or Balanced, that let them do extra stuff. Like Hacking allows a +1 attack bonus versus enemies using shields. It's like a weapon versus armor type that's actually simple enough to use in game.  Similarly, the coin rules in the game are awesome and irregular, like the there's four farthings (copper) to one pence (silver and the main currency), and 240 pence to one gold crown (a pony is like 3 crowns for point of comparison).

5. Experience points are at 500 XP intervals for all classes. I find this the best interval. I like simple experience rules, and like Zak S over at dndwithpornstars, I find that players just "go where the action is" anyway. I also like the scale of that threshold: I can dole out 10 XP here and there for stuff I think is cool without it breaking the system and without it being a meaninglessly small amount for the PCs. 100 XP for a major quest completion, like bringing back the head of an orc warlord from the wasteland, is also a big f'ing deal. I like the idea of cash for XP in theory, but in practice, it causes too much inflation for my tastes.

6. Magic rules. The author of the rules split everything into micoschools rather than Wizard/Cleric. So there's a Beast school, a Light of Valinor school and a Weather school. The schools he picked are very Tolkien-evocative, and although they're D&D spells, because of how they're broken down, the spells all seem to "fit" in a Middle-Earth setting. Sorcery, for instance, covers alot of the flash-bang overtly magical spells of D&D, but is reserved for villains and those under the sway of the evil enemy- a very Tolkien-reminiscent idea. Instead of slots, you roll to cast, and lose 1 hp/spell level, whether you fail or succeed. But you still need to go find new spell books and scrolls to actually learn a spell to which you have access because you "know" the spell school. So, I get to put in all the cool stuff from vanilla D&D where PCs hunt out old libraries and try to extract secrets from evil sorcerers and dragons. Yes please.

Now that I've got a regular face-to-face group again, the utility of blogging has returned in force. Expect to see some play reports, some reviews, and other musings coming in the next few weeks.