Thursday 13 June 2024

OD&D Session 010: Humiliated by My Own Dice

     Last night saw the longest combat encounter to date, a staggering 15 rounds broken up into 8 and 7 round brawls respectively, with a small reprieve in the middle. Lotta dice, a lotta deeply PATHETIC rolls from my Chessex set when I was trying to kill the PCs, I will not be using them anymore. Only Gamescience is good enough for me now.


The Plan:

    The players spent some time and money asking around, wondering if anyone had heard of any lucrative rumors. Two came up, some trolls have been seen in the mountains up in Gnome Country, and the Swamp People envoys last week spoke of a wizard in the jungle north of their swamp territory. After much deliberation, the party elected to go troll-hunting. Rolling with a pack of men-at-arms and lair-busting has been very profitable for them, and they like their odds better this way. They loaded up on torches and oil flasks, bought some mules to haul things for them up into the mountains, and set off. On this expedition we had:

1. Dobias, an elf back for his third (NOT SECOND) session of D&D ever
2. James, the fighter with 5 heavy foot and 5 mules
3. Boros the Dwarf, played by the same guy as Akaviri the Elf
4. Sir Gerric the Elf, with 2 heavy foot and 5 mules
5. Figel Narage the Neutral Cleric, with 2 heavy foot and 1 archer
6. Yon the Elf, with 3 heavy foot and 2 archers

    21 men all together, enough to handle small packs but any real warband met in the wilds would need to be avoided. They set off into the wilds in search of trolls and the associated troll cave full of loot.

The Journey:

    They had a few random encounters as they ventured, but in all cases they hid, moved along, or otherwise avoided contact (easy to do in the jungle when encounter distances are up to 240 yards away!). Because of their judicious application of the better part of valour, we will cover them only briefly as they provide world-data, but not play-data yet:

    - On day one they came across a hunting party of ape-like proto-humans. Protruding brows, simian mouths, long hairy arms, these men were not at their home camp, but gathered around a fire eating some kind of roast game. The party retreated into the night and slept without a fire well away from them. 

    - On day three they had to hit the dirt, hiding in the foliage of the jungle as a green dragon circled overhead. The surprise mechanic is such an elegant way of handling stealth I don't know why it got canned from future editions. But it has been established: there is a dragon living somewhere in these hills and this means that there is dragon-treasure somewhere in these hills. The players agree to a vow of secrecy, to tell nobody about this. 


The Trolls:

    On day 5, at around 3 in the afternoon, they found the troll lair. A cave in the side of a mountain, overlooking the sagebrush flats where Pabal the Wizard dwells, outside which sat a hideous troll, surveying the landscape. The searching took longer than they anticipated, and having already crossed the threshold that would put them in time jail for next week's session, the decided to take their time. They set up a watch and simply observed the cave mouth for a few hours. At 5pm the sitting troll returned to his cave, and at 5:30 3 other trolls lumbered out and headed down the mountain towards the sagebrush. It was at this moment the party mobilized to fight. It was at this moment that I was betrayed. 

    The thing with the troll in OD&D is that despite having 6+3 HD, it only gets one regular attack per round. Pair this with a brutal string of very bad rolls from my Chessex set and it turned what could have been a massacre for the trolls turned into the trolls getting massacred. As the party squared off against two, then two more trolls that came as reinforcements, they ended up having a relatively easy time of it. When I rolled the HP for the first 3 trolls, I saw so many 1s and 2s! One troll, despite having 6HD, only had 9 hitpoints! Unforgivable! The party made judicious use of flaming-oil molotovs to keep the trolls from regenerating. 

    We use side-based initiative, and the rule is that the player who rolls for the PCs keeps rolling each round until he loses initiative to me, the DM. The duty of "Initiative Roller" passes around the table clockwise, in theory to concentrate the task into whichever player seems to be luckiest. Well, last night Yon's player beat me in initiative SEVEN ROUNDS IN A ROW before losing to me and passing the initiative die on to Sir Gerric. I persistently rolled lower than 8 on my attack rolls. It was horrible. All I wanted was 2-3 PC deaths, really make them pay for their treasure, but NO they cakewalked me! Terrible. After killing 4 trolls they retreated outside the cave, to set up an ambush for the hunting party that went out earlier (And to get out of the smoke-filled cavern and its stench of burning trollflesh.)

    The 3 trolls that rolled out at 5:30 returned at midnight, and having smelled the smoke and manflesh on the air, attempted to sneak up on the party. Despite successfully evading ALL THREE watchmen from the adventurers, and managing to ambush them from ALL SIDES, I didn't land a SINGLE attack in the surprise round. My life is ruined. In the ensuing melee the party lost a few men-at-arms, but the PCs got away unscathed and killed the three returning trolls and the last one hiding in the cave. They plundered the place and set off back for home. 

    I will say that rolling for lair treasure live at the table is a great treat, I've done it since I ran 5e. Telling the players to roll d100s for each category, having them quarrel over who gets what afterwards, great fun. The players walked away with a good haul of silver and gold pieces, some gems, and two magic items:

    - Figel Narage has acquired a Ring of Invisibility (Woo!)
    - Dobias has claimed a -2 cursed sword (Yikes!)

Afterthoughts:

    The party is plotting and scheming to assassinate Lord Barotha in hopes of creating a power vacuum that will boil over into a Braunstein, pitting humans against the elvish aristocracy that runs things. But they fear that they aren't "Powerful" enough to get away with it, and want to get some sessions in doing lair-busting to level up. We'll see if they can meet the deadline! 

    Gave Dobias' player a ride home after, asked him how he likes the game. My brother and I have known him since we were kids, but this is really his first foray into RPGs. I was very pleased to hear how intuitively he grasped the 1:1 time, if a person doesn't have Conventional Play presuppositions it really is a simple and approachable concept. I do have to brush up on some setting material, he had a lot of questions about the gameworld and the motivations of people therein, and much of this is stuff that I haven't figured out or nailed down yet! 

    We have onboarded more factions, and orders are rolling in with loads of espionage, preparation, and diplomacy. I cannot reveal many details as it stands, to preserve the fog of war, but the things that are simmering now will almost certainly boil over when the next Braunstein occurs. I eagerly look forward to being able to spill the beans on the schemes of my faction and patron players when this occurs. The campaign is picking up steam and I have to be careful not to let it get in the way of my IRL obligations. The energy is palpable, the frenetic enthusiasm undeniable!

OD&D Session 009: Ancient Aliens

 This was a quick little crawl in the dungeon beneath Dschungelberg Keep I ran online last Thursday. Just two players, and the session was beset on all sides by terrible dangers (My children were uncooperative at bedtime). But once we actually got down to play, it was a busy session to say the least!


Take One: Common Pitfalls

    The crew set out with Tnk (Pronounced "Tank") the Elf and Olaf the Cleric. They each had 5 men-at-arms for a clean dozen men delving down into the dungeon. Now, it should be noted that for the online games where players have been crawling the Dschungelberg dungeon, I've been procedurally generating it using Appendix A and some handy-dandy Abduction. So these sessions really are an analogue rogue-like with the dungeon being generated as it is explored. It's been a very good time to say the least.

    So the party set off down to Level 1, stopping off at the one room they've never entered. Almost immediately a pit-trap with spikes culled several of their men-at-arms and nearly killed the two PCs. This was the 6th pit-trap that had been generated on this floor of the dungeon. The dice are a cruel mistress sometimes. They went back up to hire more men, to replenish their numbers, and returned for a new delve. Getting down to the 2nd level of the dungeon, they poked around at some empty rooms, negotiated passage with a cluster of kobolds who did NOT want to tangle with the much larger party of adventurers, and discovered a hidden passage that leads first to the cistern that the keep's well lowers into and then into a room full of 20 brigands! The party, almost certain that they have uncovered a smugglers ring, run some fast talk and good reaction rolls into getting to leave without an altercation. Pressing onward, the dice were ONCE AGAIN a cruel mistress.

    Not to the players, mind you. To ME, the poor beleaguered DM, all I want is for the Appendix to give me some of the cool, punitive, EVIL traps from the Tricks/Traps table. But instead of darts, or a covert elevator that plummets them to a deeper level, the party encountered another pit trap. BORING!!!! This one killed both PCs and several more men-at-arms. Technically speaking, the first TPK of the campaign! We were only about 30 minutes in and I had just hit my stride getting into the flow of running, so I asked if they were done for the night or if they wanted to roll up new characters and try again.

Take Two: Just Another Snake Cult

    After I went and re-tucked the kids in, got back to my desk and the players had whipped up a new party. Claus the Fighter has been here before, and the other player generated the first thief of the campaign, Han. They rustled up some men-at-arms and set down into the dungeon. It was broadly uneventful for much of the evening, in part because the appendix was giving us a lot of long, empty hallways. But not so fast! Some of the table results saw me have an opportunity to connect this dungeon to the other one thematically. 

    The adventurers came across a stretch of hallway, straight with one door after the other. The walls in the final stretch were of polished black stone, and the final door was ornately carved brass. The players heard chanting on the other side of the door. They burst in, a group of emaciated men in loincloths were worshiping at an altar covered in various treasures, and on the ground before the altar: a truly enormous sarcophagus. The d├ęcor and atmosphere had noticeable overlap with the snake cultists that have been encountered in the Library of Shuga-Koth. These cultists, unlike the ones in the library, had human heads instead of snake heads. They were no less hostile though, and they drew their Thulsa Doom Snake Daggers and attacked. They were no match for the PCs, and the room was soon being looted. 

    There was a few magic items on the altar, some gems and coinage. But the real treasure was in the sarcophagus. The mummified corpse therein had a huge aztec-style death mask and serpentine jewelry. It was 7 and a half feet tall, with distended fingers, sharp teeth and an elongated skull. 

Looting this guy will not have any far-reaching consequences
    
    Han plundered the Acheronian corpse and the party headed back to the surface to sell their loot and cash in the XP. At first I did a double-take, thinking there was no way this much XP could fall in the hands of the players from a single session. And then I remembered that instead of being divided between 6-9 players, it was instead being divided up among 2. Suffice to say, Han sling-shotted his way to Level 4 in a single session (OD&D has no prescriptions for training or slowing the rate of advancement) and Claus made out pretty darn well himself. They sold the mummy's loot to a suspicious broker who claimed to have a buyer lined up. We'll see how this plays out. Mummy treasure never has any consequences for taking it anyway.

Friday 7 June 2024

For My Amigos 002: What is a Battle Braunstein?

     Some of you have been a bit out of the loop as to what exactly I mean when I mention Braunsteins in the past or present tense, some were not present for Fortress Orkmerica, some have been out of town or missed sessions. It's all good. The big thing is that there is likely another one of these events looming on the horizon and I would like to drop a quick post detailing exactly what is meant by this term in the context of our campaign.

    Simply put, the Battle Braunstein is a special type of session that emerges when the activities of factions and major players in the gameworld converge sufficiently that they can no longer be resolved as background activity. Instead of "DM Fiat" simply hand-waiving the activities of these major players, the Battle Braunstein brings people to the table in a session format similar to our regular adventuring, but now instead of controlling a character in a moment-to-moment adventure, you control a powerful figure or even a whole faction and dictate the activities therein on a turn-by-turn basis (With a turn generally referring to a single 24 hour period). 

    The two things that make the Braunstein exciting and dynamic is the multiple controlling players working at cross-interests (as opposed to the general cooperation you see in a regular adventuring session) and the presence of a mediated Fog of War. The game plays much like Diplomacy, with characters writing out their orders and having these orders resolve simultaneously. Where it differs from diplomacy is the scope of activity. Orders can include everything from troop movements, ambush tactics, spell-casting, attempts at diplomacy, the construction of fortifications, espionage, assassination, the list goes on nigh-indefinitely. In order to make this work, the DM serves as a referee, taking all the orders, looking them over, resolving how they will all play out, and then revealing the new game-state to players. 

    This preserves a Fog of War where characters do not know if their allies are helping or hindering them, they may not even know where their enemies troops are! In the last Braunstein, the troop movements resulted in more than one instance of the humans not reliably knowing where the orcs were as their intel was rendered useless by some new maneuver of the orc player.  

    For a detailed exposition of how this can look in practice, go ahead and read the Fortress Orkmerica post linked above. The important thing about this post is that you need to understand what a Battle Braunstein is in order to conspire to bring one about via adventuring session activity. The key thing is to think in terms of "How can the state of the world become messy to the point that the major players need to duke it out in order for stability to emerge?" To conclude this post I am going to list some example scenarios from our past campaigns that could have been resolved via a Battle Braunstein if we were using this system at the time:

    - In the Blades in the Dark campaign, the conflict between the Bridge Street Bastards, the City Watch, The Crows and the Lampblacks could have been resolved with a gang-war Braunstein (#GANGSTEIN)

    - In the Star Wars game the hot war between the Hutts and the Empire, with the Black Sun Syndicate trapped in the middle, could have been resolved with a Braunstein (And maybe a space/naval wargame for some BIG BATTLES)

    - When the adventurers in our other AD&D game firebombed a village as a distraction in order to steal magical artifacts from that village, and then framed the Inquisition for the firebombing, and then with one of the magical artifacts accidentally summoned a giant demon lord that resulted in a pitched battle between the demon lord, our previous High-Level PCs, the remnants of the tribe that got burned AND the invading subterranean horde of Skaven looking to capitalize on the chaos? That ABSOLUTELY could have been a Battle Braunstein. 

    Really all it takes to make a Braunstein happen is to think AUDACIOUSLY and aspire to MANGLE the equilibrium of the campaign so badly that it simply must be addressed on the scale of a special Wargaming Event. I have full confidence that you guys will be able to make this happen, because you've done it so many times before without even being told to. 

For My Amigos 001: The Henchman/Hireling Distinction

    There has been some confusion at the table as to the distinction between hirelings and henchmen, so I feel it is appropriate to lay out in clear language the precise distinction between the two in a place that can be easily found and referred back to. We will start with the shared traits, variables that are true regardless of which category we are talking about. Then we'll cover the unique characteristics of hirelings, then the unique characteristics of henchmen. 

Common To Both

    Neither henchmen nor hirelings are directly under the control of you, the player. They are NPCs in the traditional sense, and rather than simply being additional character controlled by the Player, the player gives orders which they may or may not follow. In play this is often expedited by having the players move and roll for their respective hired help, but it must be noted that this is a matter of convenience, not procedure. A hireling or henchman that is ordered to do something exceptionally dangerous, or strongly contrary to his interests, may make a Morale or Loyalty test, failing which would result in him refusing to do the thing which was asked of him. Both the treatment of the hired help by their employer and the general conduct of the employer are factors that impact loyalty. An employer who is of opposed alignment to his troops, or regularly asks them to shoulder the greatest risks, and so forth, will expect lower loyalty. A liege who treats his men well, maintains good discipline, and so forth will expect higher loyalty. 

    Both Henchmen and Hirelings must be ADVERTISED FOR. This is a rule that I missed and will be entering into effect this coming week (With existing hirelings standing, no need to retro-actively make you pay for past missed recruitment). Whether by distributing posters, paying a town crier, or whatever, you need to invest coinage to put out the call for men. This recruitment cost ranges from 100-600GP per week of advertising, and various factors including this investment will determine if there is anyone available and how many answer the call. Because it takes a week for the ads to circulate and pull results, players should indicate at the end of session whether they are putting out advertisements so that the following week the prospective recruits will be available. Advertisments are per-type, so if you need to hire an Alchemist, an engineer, and a group of archers, this will require three separate advertisements. 

    This new inconvenience does come with an upside, namely that other thing we have been doing incorrectly is how many turn up. Basically, there should be more men-at-arms available than we have previously been distributing. It should be at least possible that 20 or more men answer the call of adventure. We'll explain the weeny turnout thus far as having been an issue of not properly advertising. 

Hirelings

    Hirelings are paid a monthly wage, and they cover everything from men-at-arms, alchemists, assassins, animal trainers, smiths, sailors, labourers, spies, and others. These people are the staff that make adventuring at scale possible. The monsters of the world are numerous, so you need extra men. At scale these men need their equipment serviced, you'll need armourers and smiths. Establishing a forward operating base outside a dungeon would allow rest and recovery to happen without factoring travel time into each excursion, this would need guards and camp followers. Hirelings is a broad category, but covers all the logistics of running an adventuring operation. 

    Hirelings are on a fixed wage, but additionally do not progress in level. Sages and alchemists never start to gain levels as wizards or clerics, and men-at-arms do not gain levels as wizards. If you wanted to take an untrained non-fighter and whip them into shape as light or heavy foot, this could be done as a downtime activity, but they would still be 0-level fighters, and never progress to level 1. If you want them to progress in this way, you need to set them up as henchmen, rather than hirelings. 

Henchmen

    These guys gain experience. You give them a portion of your cut when treasure gets divided, and they level accordingly. While still independent NPCs with loyalty scores, the Henchmen serve two key functions:

    1. As your operation expands you will need NCOs, officers, men you can rely upon who are a cut above the rest in terms of competency and ability. The henchmen are the NPCs that keep the wheels of your enterprise turning.

    2. Henchmen are a great solution to the problem of death. If your PC dies, and you have nobody to replace him, you're back at level 1, and that can really suck. While this is somewhat ameliorated by the presence of a "Roster" of multiple characters that you may control, choosing session to session which one to level. The benefit of a henchman is that if you are the sort of person to zero in and focus on playing one particular character as often as possible, you can bring along an assistant henchman that doubles as an "insurance policy" against untimely PC death. 

Wednesday 5 June 2024

OD&D Session 008: Reform Looms

     This week is special, because three big things are happening:

    1. The first "Rules Patch" is being implemented, content from Supplement I: Greyhawk is being added to the game, beginning the process of "Graduating" to playing the fullness of AD&D. This "Boil the Frog Slowly" approach has had a lot of upsides, it gets the game going and gets the players invested, and when they are invested they care more about the rules. New rules are opportunities to improve one's position in the Gameworld, new means of solving problems, new types of characters to play. I know at least one player is quite excited for the arrival of the Thief.

    2. This is the first session wherein the persistent faction/patron dimension of play is being implemented. We have 6 factions being actively controlled by players who submitted orders last night, and they have SCHEMES upon SCHEMES that I cannot divulge here for threat of breaking the Fog of War. Suffice to say, the Gameworld has started to shift, and the balance of peace may well collapse in the coming weeks. But on the other hand, it may not. Maybe instead we'll get a gradual slide into a fractured, corrupt setting where powerful forces scheme and plot against each other in the shadows, nobody is really in charge, and the enforcement of law and stability is unlikely. This would be just as great as all-out war, in many ways that sort of environment is tailor-made for an Appendix N game.

    3. WE ARE THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET! The players have been confronted by BDubs, he has issued the next phase of the operation. They must, while in a regular session at the scale of the individual adventurer, initiate, cause, instigate or otherwise contribute to the emergence of a new Braunstein, and they need to make it happen in the next month. If they succeed: +15% Xp to their character for the subsequent 4 sessions. If they fail: -25% Xp to their character for the same duration. A hefty consequence! Enough to motivate behaviour, while not punitive enough to simply trash the experience for someone. 

   First thing's first: the players arrived and I helped make sure all their characters were up to date with the new rules patch. One player said "I finally feel like I'm really playing D&D now that I've been nerfed". Good stuff. Second I gave them a quick overview of the state of affairs in Dschungelberg (Pronounced "Jungle-Berg"). The HMS Greyhawk arrived today with peasant families looking to start a fresh life in the new world, reinforcements for a mercenary company drained by Orcish guerilla tactics, a very angry group of paladins and inquisitors, and worst of all: criminals trapped in penal servitude and clans of H*lflings. There goes the neighbourhood. 

    It was at this point that I explained the Bdubs challenge. There was one player running late due to some bad traffic, so I took the time to really articulate the fine details of the challenge. Almost immediately a plan started getting hatched. The players have established a sort of core "A-Team" of reliable characters that adventure together consistently, and so they started scheming. They set the scene: Its late night at a pub in town, they've all had some ale, and they start spitballing ideas. How can they get some real power? They've had a number of successful expeditions and are starting to level up, starting to really roll in cash. At this point we should establish which character's are being played:


1. Seamus the Fighter, who has been reliably played by my brother, who controls the Church Faction, along with his men-at-arms

2. Yon the Elf, also reliably present, whose player is in control of Siegfried the Evil Wizard, along with his men-at-arms

3. Sir Gerric the Elf, whose player controls Big Chief Gorkamoley. along with his men-at-arms

4. Akaviri the Elf, whose player controls the Mountain Gnomes, along with his men-at-arms

5. Figel Narage the Cleric, whose player controls The Swamp People. Figel had some Men-at-Arms, but he specified that they had been travelling together for a while. They were a party at one point, then broke up, but then they got back together, you see? They were a "Re-Formed Party". This becomes important later so it should be specified that one of these men-at-arms was an archer who rolled exactly 1 hitpoint. We ruled this as a character who, despite his frail and sickly body, was seeking glory and potentially a death for some greater cause. Little did we know when this was declared that he would get his wish.

6. James the Fighter, whose player controls the Mercenary Company of Osman Rausch, along with his men-at-arms.

 

   With most of my patron players present, I was very pleased to see them engage in good faith. The late player arrived and I pulled him outside to bring him up to speed on everything he missed. When we re-entered the garage what I saw amazed me. Seamus, who in previous sessions was already talking about setting up a castle and building an army (I had sent him this excellent video from Jon Mollison a year or so ago) was in full conspiracy mode. Him and Yon the elf were hotly engaged in an idea of how to drive a rift between the mercenaries and the church, to start a war of some kind. Assassination came up as a possibility. James' player asked me if the mercenaries were responsible for law and order or if that was handled by the church. I explained that the mercenaries were less like cops and more like a PMC, they might retrieve criminals on behalf of the state, but they don't wield any judicial authority except on contract. That the loyalty of the local military is strictly financial is certainly useful data.

    Figel Narage chimed in. His player is deeply concerned with agency and with immersion. While some of the schemes being hatched might produce a Braunstein, per the challenge, this was not sufficient. He needed the plan to make sense and be in-line with character motivations. That means no arbitrary goofy schemes the trick factions into fighting for no reason. The characters need to have a reason for upsetting the gameworld. He proposed independence: the welfare of the city of Dschungelberg should not be in the hands of some cabal of aristocrats on the other side of the ocean! Self-determination was the name of the game! What Dschungelberg needs, he says, is a way to make the city independent from the empire, out from under the yoke of those blasted elves with their short memories and long hair! Sir Gerric catches on, if the empire is allowed to rule this city it will be drained of its resources, all the riches of this land funneled away from the people who live here! Seamus was on board with this, a power vacuum is a time of great opportunity for ambitious men. 

Suffice to say, a very productive night at the pub

    It was at this point that after 20 minutes of sustained in-character dialogue and discussion things started to derail into Brexit memes and assertions that Dschungelberg must not abide taxation without representation. But they had the beginnings of a plan, to assassinate Lord Barotha Carvalloman and take advantage of the power vacuum. The utter cheek of it! The audacity! They'll flesh out details in downtime, but they know the general idea of what they want to achieve. At this point they decided that for tonight they would go back to the Library of Shuga-Koth and see about finding the stairs down to the third dungeon level. 

    As they were hiring men-at-arms and getting ready to go, the town was abuzz with excitement. That morning, a delegation of visitors from the Swamp People arrived. They wore pelts and furs, curiously tailored in a fashion reminiscent of the clothes that would have been worn by the original colonists 130 years ago. They came to parley with the colonial leaders, which was no small thing, this is the first contact anyone has made with a human faction in this strange new world. Having witnessed the arrival of the diplomats, the party set off up the river to the dungeon. No random encounters, they arrived to the dungeon without issue. 

    First thing they encountered as they entered was a group of hobgoblin refugees, fleeing the exterminating efforts of the Mountain Gnomes and looking for a place to establish themselves. The party, with men-at-arms accounted for, outnumbered the armed hobgoblins 2:1, but the presence of women and children made many in the party squeamish about extermination. They made an arrangement with the hobgoblins that, if they left immediately and never returned, the adventurers would spare the lives of this clan on the run. Seamus was disappointed in a lost chance to up his K:D ratio, but the hobs decided to live to fight another day and took their families back out into the jungle. 

    Returning after nearly a month to the second level of the dungeon, where the titular Library resides, the party encountered a group of 3 snake-headed Magicians. I did a double-take when I saw that what this meant was a group of 6th level magic-users, potentially a total deathtrap for the players. Intiative was won by the players and they scrambled to kill them off before they had a chance to Fireball the party to death. However, when I rolled to see what spells they had, I was shocked to see not a single damage-dealing spell. So, on their turn, the two surviving Magicians caste Haste on themselves and bravely ran away to alert the lord of the dungeon.

    The party continued looting and exploring, but eventually the magicians returned with their master in tow, a Vampire named Ramsugra that I had generated months ago when I first made this dungeon for a different game. Despite the hostile circumstances, I checked his reaction. Double sixes, though modified down from purely friendly on account of the way these adventurers have been running roughshod all through his subterranean home. Open to discussion, he asked them why they had come to this place, what is it they were seeking, and in the initial negotiations Seamus mentioned the name of Siegfried as their on-again-off-again employer. This caught the attention of the Vampire. 

    Last Saturday, when I sent out the initial faction dossiers indicating resources and intel that each patron had access to, I told Siegfried that the "self-described owner" of the Library wished to meet with him. As of today, the wizard has not met with this vampire, so when these adventurers came around claiming to be employees of his, the vampire simply could not resist further parley. This sort of thing is the kind of organic serendipitous event that makes running 1:1 Fog of War so satisfying. Threads just naturally overlap in dramatic and exciting ways that I do not need to plan ahead for or try and railroad the characters into. This whole sequence produced some very good immersive role-play from the party as they bandied about with this deathless dungeon duke. Eventually he made them an offer. If Siegfried had stopped paying the players to gather intel on the library, Ramsugra would treat turnabout as fair play. While, he explained, he was lacking in coinage to pay them, he would reward magic items to them if they provided him with the location of Siegfried. 

    They mulled it over and worked out some terms and stipulations, but they eventually agreed. Ramsugra had one more condition. He was happy to work with them, but only if they paid him tribute. There were 30 of them all together, and he wanted one of them to stay behind as food for his vampiric hunger. Figel Narage's sickly man-at-arms managed to pass an extremely unlikely loyalty check and gave himself up for the cause. He was promised good food and lodging, and an absence of pain, and that his sacrifice would cement the relationship between this group of adventurers and the vampire lord. Yet another convergence of previously established facts and emergent random events. I love this game so much. This whole sequence was deeply unsettling, the casual banter between the neutral-at-best-chaotic-at-worst adventurers and the charming but predatory vampire was funny but bleak, and brought out some top-notch in-character play from several of the players. 

    Figel asked the vampire if he would like to become a party member and receive a blue ribbon in exchange for 5 gold pieces. The vampire smiled and instead offered an advance payment on the whereabouts of Siegfried, a small gold ring that increases the wearer's charisma by 2. With this first magic item reward revealed, the party eagerly began thinking about how they were going to deliver on their agreement with Ramsugra. They set off for home, but they weren't out of the woods yet.


    As they made camp the night before they would get back to town, they were once again attacked by the wereboar that lives along the river. They were, however, not unprepared. After the last attack, several players had prioritized the purchasing of silver daggers and arrows for just this sort of situation, and fought it off. The beast, heavily wounded and shocked at prey that was able to harm him, fled back into the woods. The players, having not really gotten any loot from this session, decided to pursue him in hopes that he might lead them to his lair. While they did manage to find him in his lair, and kill him, the dice were against them as we rolled for treasure and they walked away with a meagre 10,000 copper pieces. Nonetheless, they were pleased to have taken down a dangerous 9HD monster and made the river safer to travel along. 

    When they got back to town Figel's player let them all know that, as it was now June 12 in-game, his faction (The Swamp People) had put up a 1000 gold reward to anyone who could Remove Curse on their kinsman who was living in exile as a lycanthrope along the river. The 200gp value of his lair treasure didn't feel quite as good, but the missed opportunity was not enough to make them regret doing something as cool as killing a wereboar. 

    From Figel witholding this info while the party hunted the lycanthrope, to Yon eagerly entering into a contract with a potential threat to Siegfried, I was very impressed with the many ways I watched my players keep their factions and their adventurers separate. At no point did I see them let the motivations of their faction bleed over to selfishly impact the activity of the characters. Total good-faith separation of the two levels of play, this sort of high-trust behaviour can't be bought, you can really only get it by having good friends that you can rely upon. Running the game for these guys is such a privilege, and I can't wait to see the new ways they are going to completely wreck my campaign world. 

Thursday 30 May 2024

Dschungelberg Session 007: It's Quiet.... Too Quiet...

     Extremely quick little excursion into the dungeon beneath Dschungelberg Keep with just me and my godfather, he rolled up with a party of 5 dudes:

- Olaf, Eckhardt, and Moldof the clerics

- Gavin and Claus the fighting-men

    Something that happens when you run the traditional dungeon-crawl for a single player controlling a party of characters is everything is more efficient. Without multiple cooks in the kitchen to mull and discuss about what to do next, things move very quickly. The crew entered the dungeon and spent 6 consecutive turns exploring, mapping the place out, and looking for monsters and treasure. They found none. They came across a staircase leading up, not to the main floor of the keep, but all the way up to a secret door into the master quarters, where they found Elf-Lord Barotha Carvalloman deeply inebriated and screaming for the guards "HELP ASSASSINS HELP HELP" 

    After being politely escorted back to the dungeon by some very tired looking guards the crew came across a room which was full of treasure, but also protected by a pitfall trap. Poor Eckhardt didn't make it. They decided to hide the treasure (6k in value) and venture down to the second level. I had not prepared the second level, so we engaged in some Appendix A on-the-fly dungeon generation. Another 4-5 exploration turns went by, not a single monster (Random encounters can be fickle dice!). It was downright eerie. 

    Finally, after much poking around, they came across 8 angry goblins in a long corridor. They fought valiantly, but after Gavin bought a farm they decided to bravely run away. They were pursued for a bit but managed to shake them (Still working out exactly how pursuit in OD&D is supposed to work...). The three survivors took their treasure and headed back to the surface, levelling up with the 3-way split of the treasure. The player was not sure what to do with 2000 gold laying around, and I suggested that one such use would be to hire some 200 men-at-arms for a proper wilderness adventure. We'll see what he does next week, but for now this was all we were going to do. 

    Simple, very simple, but I look at how much actual ground and exploration got covered in this 90 minute session and there is no doubt in my mind it would have taken a group of players 2 or even 3 hours to accomplish the same! What a single player lacks in the social pleasures of D&D, the table-talk, the kibitzing, the character dynamics, he makes up for in unity of mind and focus of play. Very efficient, but a totally different experience from running for 3-9 players as I typically do. 

OD&D Session 006: Wizards in the Purple Sage

     This one is coming in almost a week late (We played last Wednesday), but better late than never. The party elected to go out into the wilderness and do some scouting, though I warned them that wilderness encounters are meaner than dungeon encounters and they should come prepared. This produced a problem, as I took the existence of multiple available player characters as license for my players to bring more than one "Levelled" PC per player. Out of Character, this makes fine sense, more firepower is more useable. Additionally, when running games for just one player I often let them roll up a whole party. In a table dynamic, this produces problems under the question of division of loot. The question of "Does loot divide by character or by player?" has never come up, as the number of players and the number of characters receiving loot (And therefore EXP) was a 1:1 ratio. If it is divided by player, we break verisimilitude. Why would Gromnil the Barbarian and Fikklbod the Dwarf accept a smaller cut, simply because they are both controlled by the same non-diegetic Elder Being (Player)? However, if it is by character, then the decision to bring an extra character increases the amount of exp going to one player and diminishing the amount going to every other player. This creates a game incentive where unless every single player is bringing 2 characters, the table is encouraged against doing this, or can develop sour feelings towards an ambitious player who tries to bring an entourage of PCs. 

    Suffice to say, this tension resulted in some table conflict towards the end of the session, and going forward the table has decided that the rule is to be "One Levelled Character per Player". If you wish to bring a henchman and see him gain loot and experience, this must come from your main characters cut. Henches and NPC's are not entitled to any compensation beyond what the PC who hired them is willing to offer from his own pockets. Despite this friction with learning this new (old) style of play, the session was nonetheless very well executed by the party and they made some great gains and progress. So, without further ado:

INTO THE WILD

    I finally took the time to use the DMG to populate my surrounding region's hexmap, and discovered some very interesting things. First, the town is surrounded on all sides by mountains and jungle. The town now has a name, Dschungelberg (Junglemountain). More intriguing is that north of these mountains and jungle is a surprisingly large region of plains, scrub, and rocky badlands. I'm interpreting this as the point of arrival for the colonial expedition being less analogous to Peru or Brazil, and more to a region with a gradient of verdant growth similar to the range in the gulf of Mexico, from Yucatan to Corpus Christi. As a lifetime enthusiast for the Western, I'm never going to pass up a table result that lets me put sagebrush flats in my gameworld. 

Marching into the mountains north of Dschungelberg we have quite a posse (Clustered together by player):
- Manfred the Cleric and Gerric the Elf
- Seamus the Fighter, Dean the Fighter, 5 heavy foot and 5 archers
- Yon the Elf and Tnk the Elf, 2 heavy foot, 2 elven heavy foot, and 1 elf archer
- James and Jack the fighters
- Thorp Windrop and Blony Tair the Magic-Users
- Brockhaus the Dwarf, 3 elven archers

    The party covered a lot of ground, so the encounters will be largely described in brief. While in the mountains, they came across a travelling convoy of gnomes, nearly 300 heads strong. The party avoided them entirely, so where the convoy was headed or if the gnomes were friendly remains un-gnown. Later they encountered a hunting party of a dozen hairy men who (12 on the reaction roll!) shared some rations with the adventurers, warned them that the gnomes are mad about something and ought to be avoided, and finally spoke in vague euphemism about why they were so far south, away from their people, isolated in the mountains. Maybe this will be investigated further, maybe it won't, but the players certainly thought it sounded like exile. They were unable to find much of anything in the way of treasure, so the party decided to push north one more day before heading home (The extra rations from the hunters enabled this ambition). 

    They came out the other side after days in the mountains to a huge sagebrush flat. The north face of the mountains was dry and arid compared to the cool and humid south face, and the party set out to do some hunting and scouting of the sage. They didn't catch any food, but they did get a wizard on the encounter table. Some good reaction rolls and some #zeroprep improvisation from the DM later and we found our heroes in the secret underground tower of Pabal of Eolor, a friendly if certainly insane wizard who claims to have been a citizen of the original Dschungelberg colony some 130 years ago. He doesn't seem to be an elf, but the party was unable to deduce the source of his longevity. When invited back to town, he frowned and said he was not able to venture far from his home, but that he was happy to see them whenever they are in the area. 


    Pabal gave them some intel on a nearby lair, since this is what the party was looking for in the first place, and the dice did smile on them. In the foothills of the mountains Pabal knew there to be a cave housing a group of hobgoblins. He used to do business with them against the local orc clans, but relations have soured in recent months and they have been causing problems for his research. When rolling to answer the question of "No. Appearing: 20-200" I rolled 2d10x10 and got double 1s. A lair containing only 20 hobs is just as likely to have a motherlode of loot as a lair of 200, and fortune was with the players today. They set up an ambush near the hob lair using a campfire, hiding among the sagebrush waiting to strike, but this ran into problems as the hobs had the same idea, and as they crept around the campfire to surround the bait-men and ambush them, they stumbled right into the hiding adventurers. Nonetheless, short work was made of the wretched demihumans and the party set about to loot the place. 

    Some good rolls on the jewelry tables meant that while no magic items were found, the party was sitting on ~15,000 gold value of treasure. They packed up James' mule with the goods and set off back to town, with some helpful navigation instructions from the hairy hunting party. On the road they saw a pair of basilisks in the distance, but avoided direct contact, and things were almost in the clear. Only one problem, Thorp Windrop had been scheming to get more of the treasure for himself, and fomented a mutiny among the men-at-arms, who deemed a cut from 15k was certainly more than the monthly wage they were receiving. This was the first instance of hirelings failing a loyalty check, and the resultant combat saw Thorp and his band of mutineers butchered. What they had not accounted for was that by striking in the night, while people were in bed, the elves would be out of their armour and free to cast the spells they had memorised for this adventure. Yon, with his trap-card activated, cast Sleep and rendered the rest of the combat something of a cake-walk for the heroes. The wages paid to the men-at-arms were collected from their corpses and added to the loot value, and the heroes got back to town in breezy good health, with almost nobody injured. 

    Next week is the first "Patch" getting added to the game, with Greyhawk material being added. While some are excited for the addition of Paladins, I am most enthused about the arrival of thieves (Who I love dearly) and percentile Strength (The best part of AD&D by a wide margin). Tonight I have an online game with my godfather, we shall see what he decides to get up to!

OD&D Session 010: Humiliated by My Own Dice

      Last night saw the longest combat encounter to date, a staggering 15 rounds broken up into 8 and 7 round brawls respectively, with a s...