Sunday, March 31, 2013

Night job is great for game design

I picked up a night job driving railroaders around .  It's a pretty easy gig, but there are plenty of times when, because it is graveyard shift, things are just plain dead.

So dead that there is lots of time that can be filled uninterrupted by designing dungeons and writing adventures.   I am already getting to be two games ahead of the kids allowing me to get even more detail and thought put into them.

We've been focusing so much on the Middle Earth campaign, we haven't done a decent dungeon crawl in a while.  They love to do dungeon crawls.  So, I am making one that fits in to, where else?  Middle Earth.

The one I am drawing up now is pretty big, it will easily take the kids more than one session to complete, especially now that they only get to play about once a week for about 2 to 3 hours at a time.  Normally,  I like to make dungeon crawls that are quick to get through, one session usually.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Age of Men: Road to the Tower

Well, this is the second adventure on the "Age of Men" Middle Earth campaign I am running for my kids.  They are just getting the adventure underway and the party is comprised of two 2nd level Rangers, one 2nd level fighter, a first level cleric and a 3rd level magic user (NPC).

They stopped in a little town about a day's travel South of Bree and were able to talk to some locals to get some clues and pickup some gear.  one of the PC's was able to purchase a +1 longsword and another somehow managed to obtain a pair of Gauntlets of Ogre Strength.

After leaving the town late in the day, the party traveled on for about another 4 hours, till about 8 pm and decided to investigate an abandoned looking farmhouse.  They had heard a rumor in the town that somewhere nearby was a "haunted farmhouse in which the family had all been killed by "something.

They investigate the farmhouse and realize that, yes, this is the house they had heard of in the stories.  They decide to go as a group to check out the upstairs level.  in the second room they check, they encounter a wraith.  Only the one Ranger has an enchanted sword and after 2 rounds of melee, the members all realize that the creature they suspect is a wraith, based on the party's dwarf cleric of Thor remembering from his days as a novitiate.

The fighter is wearing the gauntlets and throws a punch at the creature.  Being magical, they do make contact and cause some damage, but by making contact, the fighter experiences a drain on her life force suddenly.  The members of the party flee the room leaving the ranger with the enchanted sword to do battle.

The wraith is able to strike the ranger 3 more times before the Ranger finally does enough damage with the enchanted sword to kill it.

(in my games,  I do not have undead cause life force drain by dropping levels.  instead, contact by undead results in loss of 2 points from Constitution score.  if Constitution score is brought to 4 or less, the PC dies and becomes one of the type of undead that killed it.  otherwise, if not killed, PC's gain 1 point of Constitution per week until fully restored.)

After the battle, the party finishes searching the house with nothing else to be found.  They establish a camp in the house and toss old furniture and wood items into the fireplace to settle in for the night.

This was my players first time fighting a wraith and they really, really don't like losing those Constitution points by undead contact.  They are going to think twice before just going up against something that looks like this in the future.

Finally, Finally, they are learning to work together and strategize as a team instead of just arguing and mocking each others ideas.  (typical brother and sister) It's been  lot of fun over the last game and into this one watching them be more careful in their approaches and getting into the roleplaying of each PC so far

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I keep trying, but so far, meh

I am referring to  putting out a published adventure module.  What I keep coming back to is that just as I find it difficult to use  a published module,  neither can I produce one.

The thing is, I like to keep things very random and open ended.  At many points, it comes to making it up on the spot as it seems to fit in.  I am spontaneous that way.

I start all my adventures by creating a basic "story" in the form of sort of an outline.  This gives me a starting point, an ending point and things I know ahead of time that I want to see happen along the way.  After that,  I write up everything that needs to be known about those "scenes" including NPC's, treasure, locations, etc...  So as my pre-planned scenes are concerned, I can get into some detail.\

In between those scenes though,  I leave things wide open, allowing for sometimes complete random activity and spontaneous creativity both on my part and for the players as well.  I like to let interactions and role play determine what comes next.

This makes writing a published module hard for me.   I admittedly lack the discipline it seems to write at that scale.  What is much more fun for me is to let the players fill in the story as they play and document what happens.  After it's all said and done,  I have a story to share with you based on our game. 

I like to run a high fantasy game.  This is my world and there is lots of magic in it for those who know how to access it and use it.   I like to let the players have characters with high scores on their physical traits.  Again, it's high fantasy and in my world, the heroes that players are role playing are exceptional from the start.  They were uncommon before they were trained to be whatever Class they became and it was because of those exceptionalities that they were selected to be trained to begin with.

It is partially because of this that any level character in any game might discover or be rewarded with any type of enchanted items.  Just because I let them be found, they have to be able to make use of it or save it till they can or trade it or sell it.  So many options to roleplay out if say a 2nd level Fighter finds a +3 sword but has no clue what it is or does and by not being able to figure it out perhaps, sells it or tosses it away because they already have a sword, they think, that is as good or better.

A lot of times,  I let those things happen entirely at random because it seems to fit the situation at hand. Sometimes  I have an idea that I might do that thing in such a situation, other times,  I am just as surprised at the turn of events and will add something in the mix spontaneously to reward or punish or otherwise impact the gameplay as it seems to fit the situation.

I guess what it is I'm trying to say and not really getting it out clearly is that not only do  I referee and mange the game,  I AM the game. It's not about being fair or unfair in terms of intentionally trying to make it difficult or easy to the players but more allowing the game to "naturally" respond with organic consequences to the Players choices.

Because of all that, writing an adventure module to be published for others to use just never seems to be something I can do.    The next best thing is to share what happened after the fact and let other DM's take the key theme and "scenes" ad adapt them to their own games.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A New Fighter Sub-Class For Our Game

My son being an almost newly-minted 12 year old and hopeless Marvel Comics addict as well as AD&D 1E junkie has expressed a desire to bring Captain America into the game.

To this end,  I have introduced to our game a new sub-class of Fighter called, wait for it....wait for it...Yes, "The Avenger"! Dun Dun Dun!!!!

An Avenger is a Good aligned character who is specially trained by a secret group hidden away in a place called "The Halls of Thunder" and is known as a group by the name of, yes, you guessed it, "The Avengers".

The "Avenger" sub class requires at least a 16 Strength and a 16 Dexterity as it is a very athletic /acrobatic /gymnastic oriented type of character.  They specialize in close combat and penetrating front lines in order to attack from within .

They are specially trained to use a shield offensively as well as defensively.  As the Avenger advances in levels, they gain new skills at key levels as well as bonuses for gained experience.  Avengers never gain magical abilities like Paladins or Rangers though.

However, much as the Paladin can call for a specialized warhorse at 4th level, the Avenger can make a journey to the Halls of Thunder and after passing a series of tests to prove character and ability, are able to acquire a uniquely designed shield made of Mithril that is both very durable yet very light and is able to be used as a hurled weapon by an Avenger.

The shield itself is a +2 shield and is specifically designed for the individual and the Avenger must be present for the entire 7 days it takes to make the shield to assist in it's "fitting" as it is made for them.

While Avengers do not gain magical abilities, at level 6 they begin to gain bonuses for experience related level gains that add +1 to hit and to damage to their ability to hurl the shield as a weapon.  They also gain a +1 bonus to their overall AC while in possession of the shield.  These bonuses accumulate until they reach +4 at about 15th level.

Avengers are limited to short, hand held and hurled weapons.  They are not able to use any type of sword other than a short sword without a penalty.  They are able to throw a lance, spear or similar weapon as long as it is hurled but not used to parry or otherwise similar to fighting with it.  Doing so will result in a -2 penalty as they use it in such a manner.  Avengers can use bows and arrows and staves IF they have stowed their shield as a backpack or are not carrying the shield.

Keep in mind, this sub class is oriented to using their shield as their primary weapon.

Basically, The Avenger sub-class is somewhat similar to a paladin in that they serve a "higher purpose" as a member of the mysterious "Avengers" group.  Should an Avenger willingly engage in "Evil" behavior, the DM may determine that they are "suspended" from the group and are no longer entitled to possession of the special shield or the protections of the Halls of Thunder unless the Avenger in questions works to make honest amends.

A full 75% of all treasure accumulated by an Avenger is turned over similar to a "tithe" to the Halls of Thunder.

Other abilities of an Avenger are moving as a Assassin able to perform thief abilities such as picking locks an, hiding in shadows, etc...beginning at 3rd level as a 1st level Thief. (always performing Thief functions as two levels lower).

This is what he and I have put together so far anyway.  We will continue to flesh out this "Avenger" and let you all know how it plays out.  He is very excited to test play one of these.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Age of Men Summary game one "The Mad Dwarf"

OK, so, Sam Gamjee sends the party of two Rangers, one Fighter and one Illusionist on a mission to recover "Frodo's Treasure which was stolen from Bag End.

They followed the trail of clues to a hobbit thief in Bree named Tad Longfoot.  Tad sold the treasure to a human who then took it to "The mad Dwarf" who is setting up shop underneath the ruins of Carn Dum.

When the party catches up to Tad, he gets away by lying to a rough but naive Ranger who literally sat on the hobbit to catch him.  The hobbit ran off only to come back in the night to try to steal the belongings of the party in the Prancing Pony.

In the commotion in the dark, Tad gets away again after getting in some lucky shots on the sleepy and disoriented PC's.  Though he was unable to snag any of their belongings.

The party heads out soon afterward going north on the Great Road, AKA the "Green Road" following hints that the human took the treasure north toward Farnast, now abandoned.

While camping in Farnast, the trail goes cold and the party camps out pondering what to do.  Again, in the cover of night, a small hobbit thief is caught cutting the back of a tent open to steal the nearest things.  Yes, Tad followed them.  Not wanting to leave him to follow them yet again, yet unwilling to kill him in cold blood, they tie Tad up and leave him in an abandoned house.

A party of unhappy dawrves comes through Farnast from the East and  let it be known that the Mad Dwarf truly is mad if he thinks they will continue to work for nothing under his demented leadership.

Taking the hint and directions, the party heads toward Carn Dum in the Mountains.  Sadly, along the way, the party is attacked by a pack of wolves and the Illusionist is eventually killed and eaten.  The rest of the party divvies up his stuff and moves toward their goal.

As the group finally arrives after days of travel, they are spotted by a party of dwarven fighters and surrounded and captured.  The dwarves take the PC' s to see the mad Dwarf himself who accuses them of being thieves looking for his treasure.

The party is held captive in a storage area of the cavern that Damli, son of Gamen, now inhabits below the ruins of Carn Dum.  Damli is preparing oto have the PC's sold at the slave market in the next few days.  Meanwhile, another unhappy dwarf looking to get away from Damli offers to aid the team in their escape if they promise to take him with them.

Over the next day, they conspire to sneak out of a rear passage that their new friend has been clearing and during the night he releases them and they follow him to the escape path which leads them through the "treasure room".  The group has the foresight to search for and find the treasure of Frodo and take it with them on their way out, leaving the vast majority of the treasure behind.  Their main concern is to escape.  On their way out, they are confronted by Damli himself and his personal guards.  in the scuffle that ensues, Damli and his men are killed and the escape is made hastily.

Once outside, a party of dwarf guards finds the escapees and attacks them with prejudice.  of the foursome, two are killed and two are near dead, the dwarves leave the remains for the wolves.

The gods took pity on this sad little party (playtesting this adventure as they were) and sent a group of Clerics traveling on a pilgrimage nearby.  The clerics were able to ressurect and heal the party members at a very high cost.  The group of clerics also manged to kill or chase off the remainder of the Mad Dwarf's men.  When the PCs "came to", they went immediately to check the treasure room after seeing the dwarf bodies all around and the treasure had been mostly taken by the Clerics as payment for their services.

They still had the treasure of Frodo they were sent to find and managed to get safely back to Hobbiton to return it to Sam who rewarded them with 50 GP each.

Lessons learned? Never under-estimate a dwarf. Never trust a hobbit thief and most of all, don't tell the clerics who resurrect you about the treasure chamber.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cleric Talk, Part One

For those who haven't read past posts here,  I use this space to kind of think out loud.  My all time favorite classes in AD&D 1E is Clerics.

I am not of the thinking that a Cleric in AD&D 1E is some meek and mild pastor of a church or temple wagging his finger at scofflaws.  Instead,  I see the cleric as a "Holy Avenger" (or unholy as the case may be).

This is not to say that all clerics must be christian type Knight Templars, though that is certainly one good example.  The Cleric has a mission given to him/her by the deity they serve to carry out.

While the Fighter classes are typically oriented toward open warfare, the Cleric is a soldier of faith.  In fact, it is their faith that seems to me to be their greatest strength (or weakness).

Many talk about the weapons restrictions on clerics BtB and some feel it is too restrictive unnecessarily.   I personally tend to house rule that clerics can use any weapon that is the preferred weapon of their deity.  That doesn't mean I let them wander around using any weapon they can buy or pick up though.  Their weapon of choice is very important as it is a reflection of the faith in their deity.

I let them have any one weapon that is the preferred of their deity regardless of whether it is on the restricted table or not.  Because it is their deities weapon, they can use that weapon with a bonus for each 5 levels they gain.  In doing so, I also house rule that they get no benefit of using otherwise enchanted weapons to kind of balance things out a bit.

The exception to that are clerical specific enchanted weapons that have been "blessed" (or cursed) by their deity.

I said earlier that I believe faith is the Clerics greatest weapon.   I created a "faith check" for clerics.  The stronger their faith, the greater ability they have to succeed.  The lesser their faith, the lesser capable they are of wielding their deity's powers.  I admit to taking this idea from books like "The Exorcist" and "'salem's Lot" to name a couple.  The concept is pretty well established in history though.

Having thought of having Clerics make "Faith Checks" then suggested to me that there were times when such a check would be required.  So  I created a table that showed when a Cleric would be required to make a faith check, both to benefit as well as to penalize.

For example, one situation where a faith check would arise is when confronted with a diametrically opposed enemy that is more powerful than the Cleric.

If the 4th level Cleric is Lawful Good and he comes up against a 9th level demon for example, a "Faith Check" is in order.  This may not be required if it were some "normal" opponent because that opponent is not seen as "the Enemy" and is seen as "just another" opponent.  The situation against the higher level demon could shake the faith of the Cleric, making him less able to wield his deity's power and thus less likely to succeed in a battle of swords or a battle of spirit, such as an exorcism, thus resulting in a penalty.

However, their faith may not be shaken at all.  This roll result would mean that things stay the same.

Sometimes when confronted in such a situation, a Clerics faith can grow and be eager to be the champion his deity demands of him to be, in which result, a bonus would apply.

The same thing applies for tasks or challenges that a cleric might find overwhelming to them.  In attempting to cast a spell they have never cast before that is a high level spell, a roll might be warranted to see if their faith is affected.  If their faith is shaken  and they might not feel "sure" their deity will grant them such power or (deity forbid) not be capable of imparting such power, a "faith check" will be warranted.

Does a faith check happen in every task or challenge they face?  Of course not.

Certain things can automatically force a faith check.  Say a Lawful Good cleric encounters a good or neutral opponent in combat due to a variety of possible reasons.  The Good Cleric will not necessarily be up for wholesale slaughter of such opponent.  How this is role-played can lead to a faith check.  If he just goes for the kill anyway, a faith check for the deity will be made when declaring intention at initiative roll. 

Again, if the roll indicates the deity is in his "normal" range, the act will happen without anything significant resulting.  If the roll indicates the deity has increased faith in the Cleric because of such intention, a bonus is applied.  Then if the roll indicates a negative response, a penalty is the result

I use a dice roll to determine the Deity's faith in the Cleric because no man knows the mind of a deity.  They may make decisions based on criteria a follower may never know or understand.  So far, I think in playing Clerics this way in games, a lot of depth is added to the PC and the game itself.  It leads the Players to really think about their Clerics actions and intentions as they go along.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Laugh Or Cry

Sometimes, all I can do when I read certain posts is shake my head and laugh.  it's better than getting upset because no amount of anger or sadness will make a dent.

I'm sure a lot of you folks out there have seen this before.  The hard core, do it all by the book gamer who insists that everyone must play every game, regardless of "home" game or tournament style, exactly as it is written in the core books.

I've said before and I think it bears repeating,  I am all for sticking to BtB play in any kind of situation that players must move from one DM to another.    It keeps the game consistent.

Having said that, at each individual DM's game table, the "rules" become guidelines and the DM and his group can interpret and diverge as they see fit.  If it makes their game better, by golly, go on wit yo bad selves.

And yet...and yet.  There are those who will persist in trying  to tell everyone how to play their own game.  To them, it doesn't "make sense" to change certain rules or expand them or replace them wholesale if it takes you away from the book.

However in the book itself (specifically the Dungeon Master's Guide) good old E.G.G.  (Gary Gygax) has written in plain English in the Foreward and in the introduction that the game is the most important thing, not simulating reality.  if something isn't working in the game you have put together, then do what you have to to make it the best game you can.  He even gives the example of hand-waving random monster checks if it leaves PC's to badly off to face the planned obstacles.

Yes, he advises DM's to stick near to the book wherever possible as it allows players to maintain the AD&D "Experience" and too much divergence will become something else.   This makes sense, without a doubt, almost without saying really.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

To Role Play or to Roll Play

In my way of looking at it,  I much prefer "Role Play" as opposed to "Roll Play".  What is the difference you may ask? 

The difference is in character development and a more "dynamic" adventure.  The interactions aren't so much dictated by a roll of the dice as much as they are how a Player has their PC respond to a situation.

I find using dice for every action and reaction to be a "Static" game.  Everything is determined by the roll of a dice.  Is the PC happy, sad indignant, what?  The Player can roll a dice to see what the PC response is according to a table or the Player can outright decide what the PC's reaction is based on their image of the character.

Using a dice to determine something is fine if the Player doesn't know or doesn't really care what the result should or could be.  I have no problem with Players rolling to find out any result but I encourage them to put some thought into the character.  "What would you do if you were that character?", I ask them. 

I don't insist that Players wear costumes and talk in different languages or accents.  That's acting, not role playing.  When it comes to character creation, if a Player doesn't have a PC in mind with all the personal details figured out, I encourage them to let the dice determine characteristics like age and size.  Secondary skills, and other details. 

By knowing these things, Players are often able to understand their character better and put some thought into what their reactions to situations will be. 

I also have Players write a one or two paragraph background story about each of their primary characters when they are created.  Again, this is too give more depth to the character.  It helps them to think of how the character would respond because it gives them something to relate to.

It's easier to relate to a 24 year old Ranger who came from the town of Nivh in Great Froghert whose family was slain by the king's men for lack of payment of taxes.  After that, the character was raised by a woodcutter who taught him those skills (secondary)  This as opposed to trying to relate to " You have a level 1 fighter, go."

Just rolling dice for every determination can make a game go quicker, but in my mind, much less interesting.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

To TPK Or Not

I read on forums all the time about some folks want to make an adventure a Total Party Kill or not.  Some seem to revel in.  Others are a bit averse.

Myself, especially as a DM/GM for kids, I don't hold the TPK very highly.  I think that first off, this is a game.  Games are meant to have fun and be a bit of escapism.There are plenty of things in realty that show us the grim reality of life.  TV news, First Person Shooter type games, and so on. 

I happen to think the game I run is more fun because it appeals to the "Hero" inside of us.  Sometimes even the "Arch-Villain" inside of us. It's an outlet to put one's imagination into action.

I don't write the adventures I have my kids play in with the intention of "me vs them" or even geared to outright attack the PC's from the moment the game starts.    I start with a mission.  Almost like writing a story or an outline of a story really, Then I leave a lot of room for random encounters.  It's the random encounters that really make it a challenge.  But random encounters don't necessarily have to be rolled out on the tables. 

This is where the DM's creativity gets to shine.  Perhaps a thief that was allowed to escape earlier gets a chance to follow them and try to pick off the party's goods in the night?  Maybe an unplanned ally is introduced. 

My position is to always give the party/PC an out.  Maybe they don't take it, but it's there.  Then they have no one to blame but themselves if someone dies.  The point is, I'd rather give them a chance to succeed instead of ensuring they all die. 

So, is it possible for a TPK in my games?  Well, yes, but,  I always leave an out and I try to make sure they have a chance to succeed.  I'm not above throwing in a little Deux Ex Machina if it helps the overall game.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Age of Men in Middle Earth

The Age of Men
A Middle Earth Setting for AD&D 1E/OSRIC Gameplay
Tony Sandoval

The purpose of this setting is to provide gaming adventures in the realm of Middle Earth as presented by J.R.R. Tolkien in the books “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” using the core game rules of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition and/or OSRIC.

The situation I have set up takes place at the beginning of the Fourth Age which begins after the events of “The Lord of the Rings” concludes.  Using some information from the appendices at the end of that series, Players will be able to interact with some of the characters from the stories in a direct or indirect way.

Tolkien describes the fourth Age as the “Age of Men” and that everything is beginning to change in Middle Earth.  I have taken that opportunity to interject the AD&D 1E world as the world that the Fourth Age is becoming.  This allows the Players the familiarity of geography and history while forging a new and different future for Middle Earth.  This obviously veers away from ideas that Tolkien had discussed in other works but this is where I as the DM/GM and game creator take over to make it something different.

In the timeline, the first adventure takes place about 25 years after the departure of Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf and the others. which began the Fourth Age.  Many things from the days of the Third Age are ending with those who remain behind.  

Some “old” creatures are departing, never to be seen again.  Some are still there, yet hidden and becoming more legendary.  Meanwhile, new creatures are emerging.  Some are variants of old creatures and some never seen before.  

Magic is changing and it is not the same magic as when Gandalf and Saruman walked Middle Earth.  An astral gate was opened with the destruction of Sauron.  He had been tampering with forces unknown to anyone else in his efforts to rule all.  With the opening of this gate, many new beings have found their way to Middle Earth.  Some Good, others Evil.  The impact of their presence on Middle Earth only contributes to further changes of what is to come.

Rolling For Random Encouners

Mind you,  I only talk about 1E and OSRIC on this blog and to be perfectly honest,  I consider UnEarthed Arcana to be 1.5 which means it is not considered  as 1E in my POV.

Ok, now I can go on. Most DM's are aware that in a dungeon setting, when you are rolling to determine if a Random Encounter (Wandering Monster in a dungeon) occurs that 1d6 is rolled and the RE takes place on a roll of 1.

However in an outdoor setting, and I practically live for outdoor adventures myself, the chance of a Random Encounter is different, depending on the type of environment.    In the case of being outdoors, you can use 1d20, 1d12 or 1d10 to determine if a Random Encounter occurs.

It the party is traveling a well populated area, 1d20 is used.  If in a sparsely populated but reasonably scouted area, 1d12 is rolled.  If the party is in a wilderness or unpopulated area, then 1d10 is rolled to see if a Random Encounter occurs.

But let's not forget that when determining Random Encounters, not only does the population level matter, but the type of day and landscape as well.  Determining a Random Encounter in the forest in the noon time is not the same as checking on a Plain at noon  and checking a Plain in the morning as opposed to a Plain at noon.

I don't worry too much about being chained to the book as a "do or die" thing.  It's my game so make my own calls as I see the situation calls for.