Monday, October 19, 2020

In Search of OD&D Part 2: Ancient Blackmoorian

In my previous post I reminisced about my favorite game session of Dungeons and Dragons and asked the question - Does my old Friend Mike McDowell's 1992 game style, the one that has for years haunted my memories as being so immersive that it blurs the lines between fiction and reality, exist anywhere other than the past?
 
About a year ago I watched a well made documentary called The Secrets of Blackmoor. In it, the people that played with the father of fantasy role-playing games and co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Dave Arneson, described the sensation of actually being in the Blackmoor world. At the time, the documentary and these revelations so moved me that I began to research the past of Dungeons and Dragons: The World's Greatest Game.

I attempted to correlate my experience of total game immersion in the early 1990's with the original Blackmoor Gang's descriptions of actually being the characters they were playing in the early 1970's. Along with several other avenues of research, I purchased a copy of Arneson's 1978 Judges Guild material called The First Fantasy Campaign (at premium cost) and carefully read the thing cover to cover. There were some interesting stories about the game world but the whole thing seemed to me to be a mess of raw data. 

For instance, the first 14 pages of the book are a section called "Blackmoor, The Campaign". Here is  the entire first page which is prefaced with a short explanation of how the players were in the third year of play and approaching a Great War:

The first time I read that it made little sense in relation to what I thought I knew about my D&D. The rest of those fourteen pages were similarly vexing to me. I thought some of this must be a throwback to the wargames that Arneson and his bunch had come up on but I just couldn't grasp how RPG game play would progress. Perhaps I'm somewhat dense but I feel my confusion was ironically confirmed in The Secrets of Blackmoor documentary!

 "The core concept of (Dungeons and Dragons) is only covered on 2 pages (Of the 1974 White Box rules) by a brief example of how the game is played. Every role playing game published after dungeons and dragons follows this same format: lots of rules and a small example of how the game is played."

A moment later in the film David Wesely, the father of all role-playing games said 

 "One of the things that I find most telling about it is that it continues to be how they do it. That you just can't seem to describe the game by writing down all the rules. You actually have to have somebody talk you through what it looks like when people are playing it so they can get a feel for the social interaction on on a level that's very hard to describe as just simple, flat statements."

 
Here's another example from that section of the book that had me asking "what the hell am I reading?":

 
I read that and thought "why is this here and what am I supposed to do with it?". 
 
With the exception of my failed attempt to use Arneson's world building matrix, I set the publication aside as a trivial work with no practical application. Doing this saddened me because I had hoped to fully understand how the game worked from Dave's perspective but the comprehension had eluded me.

That is, until I attended a virtual gaming convention during the second weekend in October of this year.
 
The name of the convention was Garycon's Autumn Revel 1. In the weeks before that con I had perused the listings over at tabletop.events for games that sounded like they would be fun to play. About halfway through my search I stumbled upon Dirk Collins' listing for OD&D Tamerthya. The description said:
 
"When the original player groups met in order to to play Blackmoor in Minnesota as well as Dungeons and Dragons in Lake Geneva or Illinois several unique things occurred that made these early games very endearing and special for all of the first players, observers, and participants. In previous years as your GM, I have hosted a variety of wilderness and dungeon crawls where players explored in a “sandbox” style original D&D game which is very much like the D&D games that were being played in the mid and late 1970’s. I ran these games to introduce new players to the game, and so that experienced players could remember the original game in it’s full glory.

This year, of course, will be no exception, and Autumn Revel players will be able to enjoy the game as it was played in the very early days. You’ll have characters that are, ...of course great leaders and heroes. The game will begin as each player either picks or rolls up a fifth level character. Then each player will inherit a stronghold, base, or enclave from which to begin play, and everyone will see how they fare as Lords of the New Empire!"
 
That last sentence sent shivers up my spine. It was seemingly calling to me as if I had discovered some long sought after ancient treasure. I signed up for it immediately and when the day of the game arrived, I tell you I felt like a kid again, I felt 1992.
 

Be sure to check back for the conclusion in a few days or so!



Wednesday, October 14, 2020

In Search of OD&D Part 1: 1992

In 2017 I started playing role-playing games again after close to 20 years of hiatus. I've been looking for answers ever since.

 

(source)

Way back in the 90s I had played two dozen or so games of Dungeons & Dragons using TSR's then popular 2nd edition rule set. Most of the games seemed similar in style to me and could best be described as one shot games where one of my Dungeon Master friends would make up content on the spot as we played. I would always be in control of my own character and it's powers but not much else.


There was one stand out game from back then that has always been what I have called my favorite game session of Dungeons and Dragons. It was a solo game where I was the only player with my old friend Mike McDowell as the DM. The basic gist of that scenario was a heavy emphasis on fortification of a fictional frontier town to protect against a looming invasion from unknown forces in the wilds. 

My character at the time, who I remember as being a Ranger named Aaron Presney, Sheriff of Teneth, personally oversaw the construction of a wooden palisade to serve as city walls, the installation of hot oil vats above the one gated entrance, and the training and equipping of a small defense force pulled from the local townsfolk. I initiated all of these in-game changes and Mike narrated their reality.

Before the impending siege I took to the catwalk atop of the newly built defensive perimeter and gave a rousing speech about our upcoming perseverance and victory against the looming invasion. I want to emphasize that so engrossing was this game with Mike, that I can still remember standing atop those walls and seeing the thousands of faces of the townsfolk cheering below. I remember walking the nearby fields and watching the volunteer army train for battle. I remember witnessing the laborers at work in the nearby forest, cutting down the trees and hauling them back to town to build our wall. I remember actually being there!

Unfortunately for village of Teneth, one night we were suddenly under attack from within by large dog men creatures called gnolls. It turns out that while I had my villagers fortifying our home above ground, these gnolls had been digging tunnels under our very feet. The slaughter that followed is a blur of torchlight and blood in my old memories.
 
Gnoll (source)

That's all there was. We stopped playing at the point of the city being overrun. Maybe I was killed in the chaos? Perhaps the city was completely decimated? Maybe my friend saw how attached I was to the character and his life and didn't have the heart to tell me there was no happy ending? What if Mike didn't have enough mastery of the rules to pit thousands of attackers against thousands of villagers?

I may never know.
 
Fast forward to the recent past.

In the last three years, I've been on a role-playing game journey, searching for answers. The questions are always changing and the answers sometimes cause multitudes of new questions but the journey has been fun. I've met a lot of passionate people and played at many different venues but it seems that there has always been one elusive question floating around at the periphery of my consciousness. It's never really had form or structure but I'm sure that it has been there this entire time. It hasn't been put into words until now.

Does McDowell's 1992 game style, the one that has for years haunted my memories as being so immersive that it blurs the lines between fiction and reality, exist anywhere other than the past?

Yes. Yes, it does.
 

Be sure to check back for part 2 in a few days or so!



Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Fight On! Compiled Index +4

Way back in 2008, many up-and-coming role-playing game writers combined varying portions of their proprietary artistic game content to create a quality fanzine named Fight On! This outstanding publication was devoted to the earliest sets of rules for RPG's, such as Original Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Empire of the Petal Throne, and several others. Eventually the 'zine topped out at fourteen issues released over a period of five years. According to a message board or two, there has been a fifteenth issue in the works for several years, but it has yet to manifest to a hard copy.

In May of 2011, the first four issues were combined into one large tome named the "Fight On! Compiled Compilation +4". 
 

This well manufactured Print On Demand book is available from lulu.com. The price is ridiculously reasonable, especially considering the vast amount of content contained within from some of today's heavy hitters in the Old School Renaissance gaming community.

One thing that becomes inescapably clear when I sift through the contents of my personal copy of this treasure is that there are tons of new monsters, unique magic items, spells, and quick reference tables that deserve, no, DEMAND to be used in current game sessions. The book is heavy on other valuable content as well but, in the end, quick access to the information I listed before simply doesn't exist. I've recently found myself wanting to look at the name and location of every magic item all at once to better decide what I would like to borrow to add to my personal campaign world. After fumbling around with fluorescent post-it notes and scraps of paper for several weeks, I have finally decided to take matters into my own hands.

Without further ado, I am pleased to present something I thought

would only take three days to complete but, in fact, took three

weeks. It's the -




Guys, I wanted this thing to look good and be easily accessible to anyone that would like to use it as a free supplement to the book. Hopefully, I have succeeded in both areas but I invite you to be the judge. This PDF file is intended to be printed, stapled, folded in half, and placed inside the front cover of the book itself but you may use it however you see fit. Just use it.

Have fun!

-Brian

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Cult of the Goat


Having prayed through the night for the guidance of Torm, the revered cleric Nermus aproached fellow cleric Fulgoth Tannerson with a proposal. He explained to the dwarf that he would be willing to try to raise Reardon Gray and Naill Ravenwing from the dead at a discounted rate in exchange for the completion of a task that was of a personal nature to the holy man. Our adventurers were to journey to a cave that recently appeared in the wooded hills to the east. There they should retrieve the daughter of the esteemed cleric. She had sent one of her scouts back to inform the elders at the priory that her and her patrol would enter the cave and investigate a strangely colored light eminating from it.

Many days have passed since the patrol entered the cave. Too many.

Fulgoth confered with his friends that were still living and they all agreed that the ritual to return Reardon and Naill to life must be attempted. The steep, but halved price of 3,500 gold pieces was paid and the somber event began soon after.

The Priory of the Disciples of Torm's Victories is a beacon of civilization at the edge of a hostile wilderness. Standing for inumerable generations the fortress is just as imposing below ground as it is above.

Fulgoth, Gunner Tannerson and Alaghast the Goat Whisperer were escourted through a series of interior rooms within the priory before coming to a set of stairs that seemed to be hewn from solid rock. The dank smell of countless centuries momentarily assaulted the senses of the entire group as they began to descend into the catacombs beneath the santcuary. Despite the illumination of the passages, from this point on  there were many areas of uneasy dark along the underground route.

Arriving at a far removed doorway, Nermus informed everyone that these were the "Screaming Rooms" used for rituals such as those about to be performed. Inside, the bodies of the dead friends had been prepared. Their grizzly wounds no longer glistening with the freshness of life, both the body of the half-elf and young human were yellow with the palor of death. Several attendants were standing near the rock hewn slabs that held the dead.

Having held a special place among all of those dedicated to Torm within this room, the ritual to raise the dead was to be adminstered first to the paladin, Naill. After some assistance in preparation by the astute Fulgoth, Nermus raised hands and eyes above him having coated the aforementioned in a carefully concocted blue paste. There he kept his posture for several minutes. With brutal force, the wide-eyed receptacle of Torm, slammed his hands onto Naill's cold chest.

Along with a sharp gasp of breath, Naill's eyes shot open to reveal the dull cloudiness of his light blue irises. That's when the screaming began.

Several of the attendants moved quickly to restrain and try to comfort him with various salves and cold compresses. These seemed to give him little comfort as the yellow tinge of his skin began to give way to the dark red hues of distress.

Calmly, Nermus crossed the room to the still lifeless half-elf Reardon Gray. Fulgoth, having never seen this ritual before now followed the learned cleric with the hesitation of shock. Gunner and Alighast also seemed to be somewhat unnerved by the tortured agony of Naill.

In the same way as before, Reardon was also recalled from the icy grip of eternity except that a full two seconds seemed to elapse from the time Nermus pounded his chest and the when his eyes bolted open. Perhaps this slight delay had something to do with the lineage of the half man? After all, everyone knows elves have no soul and therefore cannot be retrieved from eternal sleep.

As the three witnesses made the long and twisting trek back to the ground floor of Torm's sanctuary, the screams of their two friends followed them nearly the whole way.

Once alone Fulgoth humbly asked Nermus to help instruct him in the ways of faith. Nermus agreed, and over the next few days Fulgoth Tannerson achieved level 2 in the game. This training was given only under agreement that if any loot was returned from the cave, Fulgoth would tithe 30% to the priory.

By day two, Reardon and Naill were beginning to learn to walk and talk again and by the end of the third day they were both feeling capable and in good spirits. Neither had any memory of the encounter with the bears that had led to their demise but both bore the scars of critical wounds in different parts of their bodies.

On the fourth day, the entire reassembled crew borrowed a cart from the priory stables, hitched their mule to it, and were led to the mysterious cave by the scout that knew of it's location. Once there, the scout departed to relay the news back to the hallowed priory.



Map location 1 - The mouth of the cave was peculiar. Both of the dwarf brothers could easily tell that the ceiling should move, however there were no visible seams in the rock. The opening was jutting from sort of earthen mound and a pink glow could be seen emanating from somewhere deep within. As the Gray ranger descended into the opening to familiarize himself with the surroundings a pungent, musty smell hit his nostrils. There was a familiarity to the smell that no one among them could place. Perhaps the smell was out of context in some way?



Finding nothing but mysteries at the cave mouth, the entire party ventured into it's darkness. Soon, torches were lit and one was handed to Alighast's newly formed unseen servant which then was mentally commanded to move to thirty feet in front of Alighast to illuminate the distant environs. As the room was lit several things were discovered. Map location 2 - There was a small pool of clear water that had formed from a steady drip in the ceiling. A school of prawns had taken up residence in the pool that were being fed upon by quick moving reptiles nearby.

Map location 3 -Further back, there was an eight foot tall pile of Guano underneath a sea of bats that seem to roil in the torchlight. At the farthest wall there were three steel doors. From under the door to the left emanated a sharp pink light. Map location 4 - To the left of that door, proped up against the wall was the skeletal remains of a dwarf with a rusty knife lying in his rib cage. Scratched into the floor between his legs were the words "UNDEATH IS THE TRUE DEATH".

...

STOP... It as at this moment that yours truly realizes that he misread the map. There was never a pink light in this part of the cave and there is no pink light under the door. I would usually go with whatever has been played before but that makes the map problematic so I'm doing a roll back. Grrr, that's frustrating and I don't like doing it.

...

While investigating the doors, the movement of the torchlight spooked the bats so much that they swarmed the entirety of the cave before flying out into the sunlit world beyond. This loud disturbance subsequently awoke a pure white cadaver carver from its slumber within the mound of excrement. Battle ensued with the explorers proving victorious except that their goat named Barry was cut in half by the thing. Upon nearly diving headfirst into the foul mound, Alighast found a metal bar with markings upon it indicating that it is a royal bond, redeemable by the royal treasury for 500 gold pieces.

During the battle the mouth of the cave closed, sealing all inside.

Alighast opened his backpack to place the bar inside with his other valuables which seemed to trigger an incursion by nine large creatures resembling Angler fish. These entities are able to move without trouble through solid rock and leave a trail of slime behind them as they seem to swim through the air around them. All were fixated on Alighast or rather the 900+ gold pieces in his backpack. These creatures are officially called Arumeretrix or more affectionately as Gold Diggers.

Quickly all of the hummanoids realized they were sorely outmatched and threw their gold onto the ground but not before the death of Naill Ravenwing occurred. Naill had been swallowed whole by one of the gold diggers. Eventually Reardon slew the gold digger and cut open it's belly exposing the bloodied and deceased body of Naill inside.

Within moments Naill awoke completely naked and in the fetal position, inside of a ball filled with pink fluid. He reached out and pushed on the elastic wall of this mysterious container only to be birthed onto the floor of a pink cavern that smelled of roses. Barry the goat was also there, braying helplessly with his fur drenched by the pink fluid. Also, alarmingly, Barry now had eight eyes upon his head.

Naill realized there was now something different about himself as well. It seemed that now, once per day, he could detect all secret doors in a 100' radius; when he does so, he also emits a high pitched ringing noise, which will be audible for a good distance.

...

More was described before the game ended shortly thereafter but I am going to omit it because it will be one of a few minor changes that will take place due to the map confusion from before.

Thanks for reading and while I feel like I'm pretty good at writing fiction descriptions, I get annoyed with the time that it takes for me to construct, profread and edit the paragraphs. I feel like It's a good skill to hone but there's so little time in the day as it is that this eats up a large portion. I'll probably switch back and forth between paragraphs and bullet points intermittently from here on out.

Also, a friend of mine suggested I get the players to do a write up that would be worth in-game experience. I'll consider it.

Thanks for reading!

-Brian

***SPOILER BELOW***





WELCOME TO SLAUGHTERGRID!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Grisly Reckoning

Back by popular(?) demand!



I had originally taken a break from writing the summaries of the adventures of my AD&D group due to the ever changing pace of life. This was initially met with minor protest but has more recently been protested by at least an additional person which greatly amuses that part of my psyche that is always in the back of my mind telling me negative things about myself.

Let me see if I can give some bullet points to bring us closer to the most recent session.
  • After the battle of many skeletons, the victorious war party returned to the small mountainside town of Savoy.
  • Upon arrival to the quaint village, various bits of loot were sold and the proceeds were stashed in what could be best described as the Bank of This One Guy's Pants Pockets of Holding.
  • Some interesting items that were acquired during this profitable visit include, but are not limited to a Guidebook to Historical Curiosities, Vol. 1 which has yet to be read and a signet ring of what is probably a distant Sword Coast family. 
  • A mule was purchased at Findar's Stables in lieu of renting a horse which still bizarley requires a drop of blood as part of the deposit.
  • The return trip was made to Castle Xyntillan where bandits that had been encountered way back in session one were finally defeated and their leader was captured and questioned.
  • What Gilbert "The Fox" Malevol told them was more madness than useful but Alighast's telepathic connection to the giant brain in the glass jar did produce some useful information.
  • It was decided that Gilbert should immediately be taken back to town to answer for his probable crimes but information from the brain suggested that the Malevol "maintains ties to lawyers and officials in Savoy" which would eventually adjust the method that was used to turn him in.
  • On the way home, another thing that adjusted the game plan was when, on a whim, the adventurers tried to sneak up on a Stone Giant's lair only to be discovered by several large 12 foot long cave bears that the giants used to guard the area.

  • It was during that encounter that Reardon Gray, the half-elf Ranger/Cleric and Naill Ravenwing, the human Paladin of Torm were both savagely mauled in such a graphic manner that when loading their dead bodies for transport, the surviving party members had to take special care not to lose pieces of them.
...okay that part about the pieces didn't actually happen but it sure created a vivid image, didn't it?

  • After "The Battle of Cave Bear SURPRISE!" the general mood of all players seemed to be a mix of shock and gloom, which in retrospect amuses me greatly.
  • Back at Savoy some interesting town folk were met and negotiated with.
    1. Madame Polidori, proprietor of the Cathouse of Mme. Polidori.
    2. Several ladies of the night.
    3. Torg, the hulking bouncer at the Cathouse.
    4. Claude Malevol, an apparent drunk that frequents the local taverns and the Cathouse.
    5. A "handler?" of the Malevols, whose name does not seem to be in my notes, which is frustrating. (Maybe Vince has it, he's good at backing me up on stuff like this.)
  • It was decided that Gilbert "the Fox" Malevol would be traded for an arranged meeting with a priest of high enough level to raise the slain brothers-in-arms
  • The meeting was set at the Priory of the Disciples of the Torm's Victories, which was three days travel to the north along the Old Road.
  • When the travelers arrived, it was impossible to not immediately notice the busy comings and goings of the place.
  • Many men and some women were in nearly constantly training to serve Torm in whatever battles he may call them to.
  • There, at the priory, the weary funeral procession finally met a cleric named Nermus, who prescribed a hefty price for even one persons raising from the dead - 3500 gold pieces.
  • When the group appealed to his sense of mercy, Nermus told them he would pray about the matter and offer a decision the following day.
...and at this point we have come current with the beginning of the most recent adventure which I will detail in the next blog post.

I need a favor from you though. If you've made it this far, tell me either through the comments below, a direct message, face to face, or any other way if the bullet point delivery system is as effective as the book report method I have used previously. I am actively trying to find a way to lessen the amount of time I need to devote to this and for it to still be entertaining and informative. Please, I must have the critique or feedback that only you can give.

Until next time,

-Brian  

Friday, May 1, 2020

Songs of the Dead



Session four at Castle Xyntillan was a good time for all. The finalization and implementation of my much anticipated dungeon master screen provided a major boon for the ease of play that was experienced throughout most of the nearly four hour first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. Before laying out the recap of that very satisfying adventure I’d like to brag about the positive features of my newly crafted screen. If you don’t know what a dungeon master screen is used for let me elaborate a bit.

The purpose of the dungeon master's screen is twofold. First, it serves to add a bit of mystery by blocking what the referee is actually doing to keep track of all of the moving parts of the game the game is actually taking place in person. Since this current campaign I'm running is actually taking place online, the wall between the players and myself isn’t really necessary, which makes the second purpose the number one reason why I need one. This second purpose is that vertical barrier always has quickly accessible charts and graphs on the game masters side. Most will also have some original artwork on the obverse side to display to the players. The absence of reliable reference materials on the inside surface and actually, the complete void of any traditional DM screen at all has been a major headache for me since day one. I've been grumbling about it to my players Vincent, Mike, Bryce, Stefan, and Jacob for nearly two weeks now.

Without further ado, here are the five pictures of what I have created using a combination of screenshots from relevant rule books and a vector graphics program called Inkscape

 
 
This last page is page one from another custom DM screen that I found called "DM_Screen_by Peyre".


Finally, here is a picture of how the thing looks in real time.



Last night was the trial run for this new gaming aid. Initially I was very pleased with it’s usefulness. After a good amount of game time had passed, I did eventually realize that there were at least two much needed reference materials missing from my concoction. In the future, the tables for Thieves Skills and Turning Undead will need to be added somewhere. Otherwise, I’m very happy with my evolving comfort for running the game coupled with this valuable new resource I’ve created. Feel free to share your thoughts or any feedback about my new toy in the comments below.

Now on to the recap. When we rejoin the band of adventurers who are fast becoming brothers, they have just started a daily rest in the previously explored stables. The sole benefit of 90% of the rests that have been taken for the entire campaign to this point seem to be just to memorize spells again, whether that be through intense arcane study or by extensive prayer to whatever deities the holy men have decided to follow.

Sunset quickly arrives and the group divides up into night watch shifts previously decided upon that are based upon grouping of strengths with weaknesses. The actively resting characters bed down in the loft above the stables while those standing guard remain in the stable area below. The first watch passed with nothing substantial to report.

However, during the second watch overseen by the flawlessly good human Naill Ravenwing and Gunner Tarneson the dwarf fighter, the howls of a potentially large pack of wolves could be heard at increasingly closer distances to the watch location. Even Ray the war dog was uneasy about the mysterious unrest of the creatures. Reardon Gray, the half-elf ranger/cleric/thief had fortuitously used iron spikes to brace the doors closed before the night watch had even begun. It was because of this that the door remained unopened when a mysterious visitor “gently” tried to push the one of the doors inward as the wolf-song increased in proximity and intensity over the remaining hours of the nighttime vigilance. This inward pushing was described as giving the door a rubbery appearance as the strength of it was carefully put to the test. Eventually the howling subsided, day broke, and the crew was able to resume their expedition into the unknowns of Xyntillan.

Returning to the hallway that had been filled with cobwebs the previous evening, the adventurers opened the door at the end of it. Inside they saw a soldiers barracks covered in still more cobwebs. Naill took a step into the neglected room only to have a swarm of around 1500 spiders descend from a cluster of webs near the ceiling. After winning the ability to act before the spiders could reach him, Naill quickly dropped the torch he was carrying and slammed the door shut. Soon smoke billowed from under the door as the many webs were quickly consumed by fire and the explorers decided to search two other rooms before returning to see if the fire had died down.

The first of the two rooms was a nearly identical barracks to the one now on fire excepting that it was not covered in spider silk. A thorough toss of the place unfortunately yielded no loot. The second room that got checked was a slightly larger troop barracks with mostly the same furnishings save one: housed in this place was an ornate footlocker adorned with a placard that read “Contains type IV treasure”. The box was not secured by a trap or a lock, so the thief opened the lid to the strange storage case only to find it empty. Furthermore, there did not seem to be a false bottom or any other type of hidden compartment. Several party members ventured guesses as to what the meaning of this situation could be with the most interesting theory being that elsewhere in the castle there could be a magic lock that would work to reveal potentially hidden contents once affixed.

Returning to the room that had been lit afire, the door was reopened and Reardon crawled upon his belly to reach a previously spotted footlocker. On his way, he felt some discomfort as he moved over a couple of hard round marble sized objects. Collecting them, the half elf pushed himself back out of the room. Victory was realized when the thief discovered the lumps to be beautiful pearls worth approximately 80 gold pieces each. A total of eight pearls were discovered after another search was made of the floor below the smoke.Nothing but worn out boots were found in the foot locker Reardon had been attempting to reach.

Pressing further onward with apparent dreams of wealth and conquest, another room was opened where rotten sacks of potatoes and two, thirty gallon wooden drums of flour were found. Two additional doors led out of this room, one to the east and the other to the northeast. As the adventurers listened at the door to the east, they were dumbfounded by the sound of a large group of men singing a drunken tavern song. I would record a lyric or two from the jingle that I was urged to recreate in real time but I don’t wish to distract too much from the excitement of the retelling of this story with my magnificent and awe inspiring musical talents.

The door was opened with little trouble and the front ranks of our heroes were amazed to see that there were 25 skeletons seated at a long refectory table united in undead merriment. Reardon the ranger was the only one to win the element of surprise and chose to use his advantage to unleash an arrow attack he had readied prior to opening the door. Six arrows were loosed into the group of unaware revelers which unquestionably precipitated the ensuing hostilities. What followed was fifteen amazing rounds of bone crunching melee.

Almost immediately after taking to their feet, the skeleton horde split into two groups, one half crowded the doorway that the waylayers had recently opened and the other half cut north to an area as yet unexplored during the these expeditions to Xyntillan. Over the course of battle, several times, portions of the two groups were made to turn and run away by the two living clerics and the one paladin when each brandished the holy symbols of their respective deities. In the end, even as three skeletons armed with short swords tried to go north around the front line through unmapped hallways and rooms to mount an unsuccessful attack from behind, the forces of the living won out against the entire undead troop with an overly superior victory.

Sifting through the destruction, eleven of the short swords the skeletons bore were found to be serviceable and were stashed in the previous room next to the barrels of flour which at one point in the skirmish had been used to barricade a door. It was agreed upon by all of the party members that at some point they would return with a horse and cart to haul the valuables back to the town Savoy where they could be sold.

Only about an hour had passed since the castle had been entered but the spell casters had used a good portion of their spells and the decision was made to return to the relative safety of the stables to rest, study, and pray.

It was still only mid-morning on this 22st day of Tarsakh, 1367 DR or Dale-Reckoning.This is the seventh day in game time since the beginning of the campaign.

Loot gotten – 8 pearls @ an estimated 80 gold a piece.

Monsters slain – 1 spider swarm and 25 skeletons

One final innovation that we put into use during this game was the use of the mapping program at mipui.net At the conclusion of the game, everyone agreed that it was a vast improvement from the mapping styles attempted previously and lent a tactical variable to game play that was lots of fun.

Thanks for reading & play more games

-Brian

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Brain in a Jar



The third session of the Castle Xyntillan, 1E Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game that I'm running had me sweating at times. The finalization and implementation of my custom dungeon masters screen that I have detailed in my previous blog post has been delayed because it's just a lot of information and layout to sort through. This missing game play aid had me sweating at times. Although, other factors may have been at work as well.

In the Forgotten Realms, the group of players were still at the meeting with the caravan driver and guard no more than an hour up the road to the mountainside village of Savoy. Waiting until the lawful good Paladin was out of earshot, the guard offered to sell a couple of the other characters some opium. The players were absolutely uninterested in this, which surprised me. Reardon Gray, the half-elf ranger, then asked the guard and driver if they knew anywhere to buy slaves. This was another surprise to this referee and after a bit of thought I had the guard deny any knowledge of slave trade within a thousand miles. With that final exchange, the caravan began moving north up the Old Road again and was soon out of sight.

Heading south, the characters continued on their there way into Sayoy where they struck up a barter with the blacksmith that works out of the back of Findar's stable. The smith took a barely used banded armor rig and a halberd in "future trade" to resize a suit of plate mail to fit the human paladin of Torm, Naill Ravenwing. Furthermore, Nedd the smith purchased 4 spears and the other halberd for 20 gold pieces and promised the plate mail job would be finished in two weeks

From there, the group visited the Chimera Apothocary for the first time. The proprietor Jacques, offered to identify potions, dusts, or other possible magical components for 50 gold pieces but it seemed that the price was too costly for the crew. Once the business owner discovered that the adventurers had already been to, and returned from the the infamous Castle Xyntillan, he offered them a half price deal as incentive for the acquisition of their future business since it seemed that they might survive longer than others that had come before them.

Again, it seemed the discounted price was too steep at this time and that the "fiery wine" which had been found during the first castle expedition would just have to be identified in the heat of the battle. In truth, the whole party was pretty short on funds.After some condemnation of the greed of the villagers, the crew decided to turn and leave town, preferring the wandering monsters on the roads to the castle over the dangerous prices in town.

Along the way the boys made camp and once on the road again the next morning they spotted two giant, venomous man-sized centipedes north of the traveled road in the forest. Apparently the invertebrates were hungry because they quickly closed the distance between the crew and themselves. Honestly, short work was made of the creatures because they barely had finished crossing the 80' distance before they were struck dead without even being given the chance to attack once. This was probably for the best because monster venom is deadly stuff.

Alighast the magic-user got busy successfully harvesting two poison sacs from the centipedes while Reardon the seemingly expert tracker began his nearly 3 hour long trek into the woods before discovering the centipede nesting cavern. The arcane magician cast Unseen Servant and bade his creation to climb into the cavern with a torch in one unseen hand. The conjuration obeyed it's master and after rummaging for a bit, discovered 70 silver pieces and 40 gold.

As a quick side note out of game, this whole encounter was extremely unsettling to me. It seemed the entire time that I was constantly fumbling with rules knowledge and implementation of combat actions. The encounter mapping using the Webex whiteboard is weird and clunky to me as well. I must either be better prepared next time with the completion of my dungeon master screen and some other aide, or perhaps the solution is just more experience with running combat in 1st edition.
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Back in the game world, the adventurers returned to this increasingly familiar road to Castle Xyntillian and sometime near late afternoon, a shadowy figure was glimpsed by Gunner Tarneson, the dwarf fighter. Soon it became obvious that there were five undead wraiths pulling themselves along the ground in broad daylight. The group panicked because they had some out-of-game knowledge about how deadly the wraith could be, even in daylight. Initiative to attack was a tie indicating both sides would go simultaneously.

The group made a run for it and the wraiths could probably have caught and killed the slowest in the pack but I made the call to make a check to see if the wraiths would even pursue. The Dungeon Masters Guide calls for a check on 1d6 after consideration of some variables. The wraiths failed the check, partly because of the daytime encounter factor. This random situation also left a bad taste in my mouth. I know I will need some quiet reflection later to determine why.

The adventurers broke through the line of trees to once again lay eyes upon Castle Xyntillan. Pushing past the fork in the road and moving straight through the castles' bailey the explorers opened the double doors just past the guard post to reveal a long 20 foot wide corridor with murder holes on either side and another set of double doors on the far end. Midway between the 2 sets of doors there was another door in the south wall, which the group opened noisily and began to enter..

Just inside, the doorway was the animated corpse of a rotting, water-soaked, sack of evil dressed in oversized wooden shoes and an outmoded tailcoat. This disgusting visage reached into his pocket and pulled out several foul looking pieces of candy and offered some to the always purely good paladin. Detecting the evil emanating from the thing, Naill leapt forward and attacked.

Unfortunately, this encounter was yet another learning lesson for myself. Hopefully, these will begin to become less and less as time passes. The group attempted to strike the creature down but he was able to survive long enough to deal some damage to the paladin by bite and by claw. Afterward, his body was searched and the crew took the candy, a live fish, pearl cuff links, a sapphire locket, and a bag of severed and rotten-black fingers.

Once the group finished celebrating their loot and discussing the possibility of popcorn flavored rotten fingers, they made there way farther down this newly opened hallway to find the statue of a zombie standing on a 2 foot tall pedestal. There was a cube of incense burning on top of the pedestal as well. Reardon and the dwarf cleric, Fulgoth Tarneson discovered a secret compartment in the back of the pedestal containing a glass jar 18 inches tall by 24 inches wide. Inside was a preserved brain larger than the head of any party member.

The group seemed to be in shock at the idea of the thing. Eventually, Alighast redistributed the items in his backpack to other party members to make room for this new, unusual item and onward they all pushed into the castle through another door. Next, a hallway was found that was overfilled with spiderwebs. One of the party set it alight with a torch.

It was at about this moment that, deep inside his mind, Alighast heard a voice that said "I am awakened". The mage then asked the voice if it was coming from the brain in the jar to which the voice replied yes. Alighast the Prestidigitator was quick to ask if the curiosity had a name and the answer was "no, its name has been lost to time". Another inquiry was put forth about if it had any knowledge to share and the brain replied that it had access to nearly endless knowledge. Alighast asked a further question but the voice simply stated it was tired and would rest now. Soon after, the magician heard snoring in the deepest recess of his own consciousness..

At this point, time in the real world had run out for the players and they decided to backtrack and rest in the stables they had visited during their previous expedition. Before, there had been a floating hammer working in the enchanted smithy immediately adjacent to the stable, none of the group were surprised to hear rhythmic hammering coming from the next room. No one was tempted even a bit to open the door and interrupt the hammer because they thought it would just attack again. So, there among the putrid hay and offensive excrement observed before, our wanderers made camp for a while to rest before pushing onward.

Outside, the sun was setting on the horizon, bringing to an end this 21st day of Tarsakh, 1367 DR or Dale-Reckoning. Nearly six days have passed in game time since the beginning of the campaign.

Non player characters encountered, Jacques - owner of the Chimera Apothecary and Nedd, blacksmith at Findar's stable.

Loot gotten, 70sp, 40gp, 2 large centipede poison sacs, 3 pieces of candy, a live fish (dead now), pearl cuff links, a sapphire locket, a bag of severed rotten-black fingers, and an oversized telepathic brain in a jar.

Monsters killed, 2 giant centipedes and a Malevol (- 4 - 6 -) family member.

Number of times the DM sweated - approximately three.