Monday, March 30, 2015

The Goblin Fort, End of 4th Round

A.  Part of the cavalry getting trapped in the melee; the remaining cavalry turning to go around the back side of the N gate combat.  B.  The last cavalry fighting hobgoblins.  C.  Elves fire against the pole-arm bearing attackers; bowmen on the walls firing back.  D.  Ladder division smashed.  E.  Cavewights, drow, other attackers turning away from the wall to attack the mastodon & ranger.

Something bad has happened; the end of the third round showed a group of men, at the bottom of the map, rushing towards the south wall with ladders. This image shows those men largely obliterated, some of them shown in white to indicate they are stunned and unable to do anything. A fireball exploded in the middle of them (cast by a drow), and so much for that assault.

The elves in the bottom left still waiting for the rush of hobgoblins from the SW Gate. The drow (yellow square) approaching the ranger is marked 'Prince.'  Note I don't play daytime/nighttime rules for drow.

The interesting part of the battle is what is going on at the N Gate ... where all hell is breaking loose. The cavalry which hit the goblins in round 3 are pulling out now (Neema, the paladin, is 5th level). Meanwhile, hobgoblins that were on the wall have leaped to the ground (it is a wooden wall, 12' high); and goblins are still streaming from the main gate - although the druid, now appearing as a man (Pikel), has warped wood to force the gate to remain open, so that when the goblins are killed the gate can be entered freely. Over the next ten rounds, he will wonder about this strategy ... but there was no way to warp the gates shut, for once he was close enough to warp them, they were already open. Meanwhile, the cavewights have dropped off the wall and are attempting to flank the party on the party's left.

At the SE Gate, the dire wolves are playing havoc with the zero levels ... this is just the beginning of that combat.

The Goblin Fort, End of 3rd Round

A.  North gate battle pushes back the assault.  B.  Front of the cavalry breaks into full gallop to slam into the side of the enemy at the N gate, turning the enemy's defense.  C.  Rear of the cavalry breaking up the crack team of hobgoblins.  D.  Pony and hippogriff, along with Falyn, getting swarmed.  E.  Rush of hobgoblins with pole-arms flooding out the front gate.

The front four horsemen, wheeling a little bit faster than their train (one 60 degree turn per round), were able to smash into the side of the goblins at the top gate, overrun their way through the mass and cause unbelievable turmoil. It took a good forty minutes to sort out this mess as it really got going, but damn! Was it a lot of fun! It is the sort of thing that no mass combat rule simulation can invent, but which ordinary combat rules (plus some refinements about overrun) manages with magnificent excitement. No telling yet if this group will break its way in easily, or flounder in the morass that's forming. It's supported by a 9th level druid (who just transformed from a mouse into a human) - found right against the wall and named 'Pikel' ... and much hinges on his ability to get off a few significant spells.
The mastodon continues to maraud.  The ranger was 7th level at this time.  I thought at the time that they were foolish to get inside, but if the mastodon breaks at this point, it would probably flee and be unstoppable.  The ranger can take to the wind on the hippogriff in a crisis - in the meantime, together, they look to slaughter heartily. This is good, because there's clearly a lot of bodies to slaughter. The air was thick with spears.

The ladder crew at the bottom were able to regroup and not be routed; but they lost a lot of time due to morale failure.

The glaivers supported by Garalzapan and the 6th level player monk (Shalar) are doing good work with the dire wolves ... looks like those won't be much trouble after all, despite their averaging 22-30 hp. But then, they haven't gotten close to the walls yet, and the slingers inside haven't deployed.

The Goblin Fort, End of 2nd Round

A.  Engagement at the north gate.  B.  Rushing to make use of the breach created by the mastodon (Pony).  C.  The mastodon breaks through the wall, goblins inside begin attack; cavalry turns to the left at the wall.  D.  Rushing up the hill, men-at-arms getting hit hard by slingers.  E.  Engaging the dire wolves.  F.  Crack team of hobgoblins leap from the wall to break the cavalry charge and break up use of the breach.

Incidental damage rules for the mastodon were spectacular as the beast breaks up the nearest goblins when smashing through the wall.  Ivan the thief breaks apart from the main body, starts heading for the NW tower.

At the top of the map, goblins and cavewights (the latter more or less the equivalent of ogres in the Monster Manual - my ogres are tougher still), rushed out through the gate and over the top of the wall (the cavewights can simply rush up the stairs and drop beyond the wall). They were met by glaives set vs. charge, which made quite the mess of them. A single glaiver was able to roll triple damage, doubled for the set glaive, with a bonus of +1 from a bard's martial strains, for a total of 42 damage (maximum possible). Much celebration followed.

At the very bottom, the group of men approaching the wall with ladders were stymied by the appearance of a wall of fire (the red line), which fried the front rank and left the whole unit in confusion. If the unit routs, it could be a disastrous delay in opening up that front.

To their left, the weakest group facing the castle, comprising of elven archers and peasant elves (few hit points), are faced with a group of hobgoblin's armed with polearms, coming out the gate. My elves are not 'super humans' ... they are mere creatures with 1+1 hit dice, not much in this battle with so many high leveled persons, and more or less equivalent to hobgoblins. The only leader among the elves is a second-level mage, a member of the party. I don't know why they left this group so weak, but they've now sent out for help.

In the bottom right, the dire wolves, intentionally starved, are hitting the front line of glaive-setting humans. A party cleric is marching in six zombies, and the party's 10th level mage (Garalzapan) is invisible at the top right of this mass.

The Goblin Fort, End of 1st Round

Yesterday, my daughter referred to a "mass combat" that I ran in my world.  I have never properly accounted for the combat, even though it has been five years.  I did put up three posts that in part covered some of that combat - but it never ended.  Those posts cover rounds two and three, rounds four to nine and rounds ten to thirteen.

Now, looking for the pages, I see I've lost several of the rounds that happened.  Partly, I suppose, because I forgot to record the image at the end of the round, like I intended; but probably because it has been so long, something got lost.

Anyway, I decided that I would put a collection together that covers the whole combat, at least as much as I can cover.  I have images that cover to the 28th round.  These images are HUGE . . . 4mb+ each (with the exception of those I will have to steal from the 2010 post).  I did write some about the earlier rounds, so I'm just going to re-post content from the earlier accounts.  Everything I have to say about these is from memory.  I have no notes that I'm working on.

Thinking about it, I've decided to print these one round at a time.  Names given below are for player characters and player henchmen.  I'm including this largely for those players.  Remember, this took place in my campaign in 2010.  Long time ago.

A. Pikel the druid's animal friends.  B. Men-at-arms under the command of Ivan the thief, Lyrial the bard and Falcon the mage.  C.  Cavalry under the command of Neema the paladin; singular box above is Penn the illusionist.  D.  Trained mastodon and hippogriff possessed by Falyn the ranger.  E.  Elves under the command of Frederick the mage/thief.  F. Men-at-arms under the command of a local lord (Karl), supported by Lorell the assassin.  G.  Men-at-arms under the command of Garalzapan the mage, Shalar the thief, Bartholomew the cleric, Widda the cleric and Hig the fighter.

H.  Dire-wolves guarding the SE gate.  I.  More than 350 goblins, hobgoblins, cavewights (ogres) and a few drow elves thrown in for fun. Many of these are levelled.  J.  The front gate.

The grey on the map shows a steep slope; breaks in the grey are sloped places where approach is easier.

The party chose to hit the fort from every side, since "getting in" would let the mages do their work (they would be able to see targets for fireball and such).  The Pony at D is the mastodon; it is being driven into the NW wall to simply smash through it.  B is hitting the north gate, G the southeast gate.  The elves at E are bowmen, meant to hold position.  The group at F is hoping to get over the south wall with ladders.  The six defending towers each have a ballista.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Daughter to Father

I received this letter today from my daughter. A gift, unbidden, for no special occasion at all. The words are hers. It is re-posted with her blessing. I have added few links, a few clarifications.

I began D&D by hiding around a corner listening to my Dad and his friends play. I was never kept from the game, but I understand that, perhaps, it’s not a game for a 4 year old.
Many would like to chalk this up to the supposed “violence” of the game, but the simple fact is, when you are focusing on learning to tie your shoes, D&D will have to wait.

It took eight years before D&D was available for me on my comprehensive level. We played 2nd Edition every morning before class. My teacher encouraged our play: 1) because kids’ holding a book is a good thing; and 2) because it all looked like math on paper.
Patrick, my DM, was very good for a 12-year-old boy. His games were slow, he struggled with the books and he hesitated on the rules. Like all first-timers, the stage fright was his ultimate hurdle, but he told a good story. We were railroaded to the max! I can best describe it as a choose-your-own-adventure book. You felt in control, but ultimately there were only so many pages to choose from.
Anyone who has played can describe railroading: “We don’t like it; we just accept that if we’re going to play, this is how it is going to be.” (Ah, yes: the mind of a 12-year-old, just accepting what it’s given). 
Our group held together for a little over a year, until our schedules had changed and we couldn't meet before class. This was the same year I first played in my Dad’s world.
I struggled, switching from 2nd to 1st Edition; but having a strong DM who knew his rules inside and out made all the difference. Knowing the tradition of picking a fighter first, because it is the easiest, I started there.
The character suited my age. I had no tact, no concept of ambush; I was a hit-and-ask-questions later player. This is where I differ from others. Due to a low head count, only 2 [players], my father also played a character along with us. He played a thief (Frith) and by the power of the dice he often blew his checks, landing him in very bad positions. It was a great time for me. I could watch Frith dig himself out of situations I had never considered getting into. I suppose most people would become more cautious watching this behavior; not me. I was inspired. All I could think was how it would have all played out if it had worked [his attempts to do things].
Once again, a year of play passed and it was all over.*
I am fundamentally a traditionalist. I play paper and pen. I truly like 1st Edition only. This does not mean I do not believe in change.
Am I a player or a DM? I asked myself at 16. It wasn't a choice, being the most knowledgeable and gifted with a purple hand, I was elected a DM. I found this to be a constant struggle. I didn't want to railroad. I wanted my own stories, my own world. I think that is how we all start out; but like so many, I couldn't deliver my dream. I found myself suckling at the Greyhawk teat, grasping for guidance. I looked up how to be a DM online, finding nothing, sinking nights into a scribbler and telling myself, “If I can just make it interesting, my players will invest.” The stress of it all ended it for me after just six months. I remember feeling very guilty, asking my players if I should have ended it sooner.
“We just wanted to play,” they told me. The truth was the same phrase: “We don’t like it; we just accept that if we’re going to play, this is how it is going to be.” (Ah yes: the mind of a 16-year-old, just accepting what it’s given).
At 18, I found myself sitting at my father’s table. Playing the pied piper of D&D, I had brought two people to play with us, making us a group of four. We played for one year like that, in my father’s designed world with largely original rules.
The following year, two more had joined us, taking us to six. We had now started to see gaps in the book. Our druid was starting to have leveling issues (too fast, too much power). Our ranger was a well of hit points considering her mass. These are things that required ‘adjustment.’ This was also the year we began rolling against our stats.
What a dimension it brought to the game! You wouldn't think it mattered, if you liked to play chess vs. cards, but these tiny details were all our players needed as first time role-players.
Having one hand forced a cleric to consider other weapon types. Weak upper body took bows out of people’s hands, building community support characters. And my personal favorite: gymnastics for highly dexterous characters (hand walking, round offs, back springs, etc.). We were excited for both negative and positive outcomes: how would you play a blind character?
We went on like that for five years. People came, people left. Every running brought new house rules, deeper and more descriptive play. Each rule was tailored to class styles of combat.
The mass combat was an utter game changer. 100s of monsters on the field; groups working both together and miles apart, making choices that we only hoped would improve the battlefield and not make road blocks for other groups. Months passed while we rolled dice; nights filled with battle plans, wondering what to do next. At the end, the treasure was wonderful, but the sensation of having survived the battle filled us. Players don’t get a sensation for long and challenging outside the mega-dungeon universe. The truth was – we were always allowed to run.
My Dad often views our long months of die rolling as something he wanted to make simpler, easier to process. We told him, “It was fine, that we were great.” The same as, “We don’t like it; we just accept that if we are going to play, this is how it is going to be.” (Ah, yes: the mind of a 23-year-old, just accepting what it’s given).
Thankfully, he did not agree with us, but continued to improve the system. This brought on a better character generator for NPC’s and monsters.
Now we have been playing seven years. Three of our now seven players have been here since the start. Our rules book has developed into a personal tome for each class; and I look forward to the evolution of my game. Bring on the digital characters and the laptops!
And remember that, “We don’t like it; we just accept that if we are going to play, this is how it is going to be”??

* My circumstances had changed; I couldn't run D&D for a year and I had to let the campaign fold.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What Players Will Accept

Some years ago, a discussion about something called 'wilderness damage' made the rounds of several blogs.  I never implemented it into my campaign (for all it's slashing brilliance), largely because it was bound to be unpopular with my players.  Like many new ideas, it would increase the player's record keeping requirements while at the same time actually making the campaign more strenuous and therefore less pleasant.  Therefore, after several private attempts to play with the idea, I shelved it.

Once digging into the matter, I expected that the most difficult thing to manage would be the weather or the choice of route - those things that appear on the original table I proposed back in 2011.  Instead, the real trouble arises as we consider what individual conditions for each player serve to exascerbate those effects.  Listed below are some of those conditions:

  • wearing armor; types of armor vs. clothing
  • clothing itself; wool vs. cotton vs. linen vs. silk in various climates
  • footwear; hard boots vs. soft boots or sandles
  • shelter; tents vs. 'sleeping under the stars' or choosing to pay money for an inn.
  • constitution; who fares best where it comes to poor weather?
  • dexterity; who is most likely to fall in rough places, the thief or the clumsy cleric?
  • intelligence & wisdom (see above)
  • characters who keep watch vs. those who sleep all night
  • cleaniness vs. filth
  • food that is eaten
  • riding vs. walking
  • rangers & druids vs. other characters
  • elves, gnomes & halflings vs. other characters

It is these individual differences that make it hard for some characters to comfortably make their way through the outback as opposed to others.  Take any expedition where survival became a critical factor:  the Greeley Expedition, the Shackleton Voyage, the Donner Party, Edmund Kennedy's third expedition in Australia, violence that occurs among Canadian surveyors described in Pierre Berton's National Dream, even the 1996 Everest disaster, and the reader cannot help but understand that there are differences in each person's ability to endure.  What is always weird in these cases is that some live, not because they're special or able or strong, but simply because they have a greater will to survive than others.

No system that sets forth to describe the wilderness in terms of damage can be applied equally to all persons.  Some will live.  Some will die.  It is useless to pretend that a system like this can be universal.

The players understand this.  That is why, if said system were put in place, a DM could absolutely count on players producing arguments like, "If I keep my shoes in repair, will I suffer less damage?  What if I carry a lighter weapon?  What if I take a swim in the pond in the middle of a hot day?  Do I take the same amount of damage if I drink more water?"  And so on.

Here is the problem.  Now the solution.

Embrace the chaos.  Why?  Because it is worth all the chaos, all the individual arguments, all the trouble of having to assign point values to every tiny change or infringement on the character's welfare, however long it takes to finally assign (and possibly to program) each aspect into a calculation system that keeps this character going and makes this one take a day of rest.  It is worth it because finally, finally, it would be nice if a journey taken by players actually felt like a journey.  It is worth it if players would only view a distance of 700 miles with doubt and indecision, knowing that its very possible someone will die along the way.  It is worth it if travel isn't just a math problem of dividing the distance between the number of kilometers travelled in a day, producing the number of wandering monster rolls that must be made before the party gets where they're going.

As yet, I have not introduced the rules I conceived with these two posts on climate, here and here.  However, my players' embrace of the ideas has confirmed for me that the 'feel' of my campaigns are changing.  They are steadily moving towards maturity, towards a desire for the kind of problem solving that challenges the norms, that demands a higher approach to overcoming hazards.  I feel that, more than ever, my players are beginning to program themselves towards agreeing that yes, wilderness travel should not be a walk in the park.  It should feel like travel.  The world should be more than fighting in 19th century mobile theatre devices (presented on computer, in my case).

So I am returning to this idea . . . but I have a new twist on it.  Something that I think will massively change the way that parties - particularly young, low-level parties - approach adventure.

Experience for damage taken.  Somehow, in 2011, I was somewhat leery of this idea.  Just now, I can't think of why.  It seems reasonable to me that players, faced with taking damage along a journey from exhaustion or from minor incidents while hunting up wood for a fire, tripping over stones, losing their balance under a heavy pack and so on, would grow stronger and more durable through the simple process of covering the distance between here and yonder.  How many monsters did Lewis and Clark fight?  If you were going to assign 'bonus xp' to their journeys, how much would you give?  Now give me a total for Nikolai Przhevalsky.  For Alexander Gordon Laing.  For Jacob Le Maire.  For Martin Frobisher.  Distance in miles just isn't going to cut it.  Some of these went through deserts, some of these went by ship, some of these hacked their way through jungles.  What measurement are we going to use?

Because surely all these explorers went up levels.  Surely they grew more handy with their knives and weapons, their hands grew calloused, their wits sharper, their minds more ready for the unknown and unexpected.  Don't tell me that because they never had to fight monsters, they're not worthy of being in the upper levels!

Players will do the record keeping if it gets them closer to another level.  We all know that is true.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Moving deck chairs because that is what we know how to do:

Playing with themselves.

Stories for Players

The lost city of Thepsis was found in the year 3742 B.C., on a fertile, grassy plain that can be found some sixty miles east by southeast of Luxor on the Nile River.  By the time of Julius Caesar, this plain had already been reduced to a desert for a thousand years, called the Eastern Desert, a desolate plateau of sand.  Until the time of the Middle Kingdom, however, during the Nile's time of inundation, when Egypt was flooded, a channel of the river would overflow the Nile's modern banks and flow to the east, drowning the plain of Thepsis and making the land fertile and green.

Dedicated to the lion goddess Sekhmet, the city grew wealthy through trade with the Red Sea coast and Nubia.  It was said that the spirit of the city was defended by the brethren of Phix, the first Sphinx, who dwelt upon the plains of the Sahel for thousands of years before the founding of the Old Kingdom.  The lifespan of a sphinx is believed to be near to 4,000 years, although this has never been confirmed.

Thepsis includes the great tomb of Sekhimib-Perenmaat, an immense catacomb that was built in a progressive series of galleries, said to include fourteen great chambers.  This tomb was designed by Horajefa, a polymath who served Sekhimib and is said to be buried in the second gallery of the tomb. The first gallery is said to contain "a phenomenon such as has never been seen in the world since that day" - but nothing beyond those words, found in a tomb near Asyut, is known.

According to legend, in the 8th century the lost city was located by Arabian astronomers, who determined that the city could be found if the plain were observed during a full eclipse from Abozaed, an isolated mount located in the Eastern Desert.

View of the Thepsis plain as seen from Abozaed.
The legend says that after the city was revealed, the discoverers kept the secret to themselves while carefully making plans to transfer the treasures within to Babylon, where they would be given as a gift to the Caliph - but while en route to Luxor, the whole party was caught exposed to a sandstorm and buried forever in the desert, the secret lost.

Another eclipse is set to take place on April 12th, 1651 - but this is known only to a small adventuring party that is now making their way from Gazira, through the Holy Land and into Egypt.  The date for them is January 30th, 1651.  Will they reach the right vantage point in time?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More Figures

A bit more work regarding top-down images for use in computer-generated combat mapping:

These seem to look better when they're smaller, which is probably a good thing.  The fellow on the right end, Penn, is meant to be an illusionist with a quarterstaff.  I think the robe worked out rather well.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I was thinking on something Preston Selby wrote today, regarding the ideal for presenting a campaign:  "I'm here to have a deeply immersive fantasy experience."

Well, it works in context.  Selby goes on to talk about the difficulties of obtaining 'catharsis.'  Amen.

For those who don't recognize the word, or perhaps don't have a handle on it, a catharsis is a "purification and purgation [sic] of emotions - especially pity and fear - through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration."

Try to identify a moment when stress pushed you to the edge of a breakdown - and then over that edge, so that you actually went to pieces.  Did you feel better afterwards?  That's catharsis.

Recall the last time you were at total peace, where the experience you were having was so complete and relaxing that you lacked the will even to remark upon the thoroughness of the experience.  That's catharsis too.

For many people, catharsis is something they reach only through the use of recreational drugs.  Pot, hash, ecstasy, heroin, Demerol, Vicodin, Percocet . . . these are very effective at producing catharsis because they discombobulate your brain, separating you from your own thought processes.  Stress gone.  Worries gone.  Cognitive processes - distracted.  You're at peace.  And when you rise from that peace, you get an extra little comfort from the small vacation you've taken - the same 'feel better' that came from going to pieces on your own.

Now, I've never 'done' these drugs.  I'm merely providing information based upon reliable sources.  I took Percocet when I snapped my quadriceps tendon back in '08; while it did put me to sleep, it gave me these bizarre hallucinations about things floating over the bed - so I didn't finish the proscription.  I wouldn't say I was feeling much catharsis from it.  I've had a number of very intense cathartic experiences and none of them were associated with the kind of pain the Percocet was only half-managing.  But I digress.

Most morality-based groups would prefer you got your cathartic experiences in a way that did not involve the use of drugs.  Of course, many of those would also rather you did not get your catharsis through table-top role-playing, so there we are.  I would guess it is really up to the reader.  Of course, 12% of the American prison population is not made up of people who screamed, "DIE purple jam thing!" before throwing a 20-sided die.

Woah.  That would be a world.

Screaming during a game - any sort of excessive emotion, actually - is a means of obtaining a catharsis.  It will get on the nerves of other players, however, so we do encourage players to scream in their own heads and to do their best to concentrate on their die-fetish instead.  Thus bringing us, at last, to the point of this post:

You can make catharsis happen.

Yes, yes, I know you're bored with the DM's dungeon.  I know that you're horribly jaded and savvy.  I know you haven't got the spirit to even pick up the die any more, much less give a shit what it rolls.  But try, O Brethren, to remember what was working for you when you first played.

It was new, yes?  Of course it was.  Back then, you could count on the natural chemicals in your body, the hormonal juice that always gets rolling when you're forced to deal with something unknown.  You don't know what the die will roll.  You don't know what it will mean.  Wow, wasn't it all kewl.

Those days are past now.  You'll have to deal with that.  The game isn't going to be fresh and new again, not like those first days, no matter how many new games you try or how many ways you try to make the armor and weapons rules work.  You're chasing a dead dream.  Yes, you're addicted to that old juice, but that old juice ain't gonna make you high any more.

You need some new juice, friend.

Let's try an experiment.  This is going to sound crazy, so chase everyone out of the room, close the door, put a chair under the knob, take a deep breath and then just let go of your natural doubts.  No, this isn't the experiment.  Not yet.

Find your favorite 20-sided die.  Yes, you have one.  If you have to take the chair away from the door because it's in another room, I'll understand.  I'll wait.  Good.  Have you got it?  Is the chair back in place?  Then we can begin.

Roll the die.  Go ahead, don't think about it, just roll it.  Now take your eyes away and give the number as little thought as possible.  There.  That's how you normally roll that die.

Now, bring it up to your eye and stare at the die.  Don't roll it.  Just turn it over and over in your hand, very slowly, and concentrate all your attention on the object.  ALL your attention.  Push everything else out of your mind.  Bring all the thoughts you have to bear on making the die the only object existing in the universe.  Think about how it is going to look when you let it roll off your fingers onto the table.  No, don't roll it, not yet.  Just grok that one simple vision.  The die rolling.  You holding the die, you releasing the die, your eye following the die, the die coming to a rest.

Why does it matter?  You are making it matter.

You are using your will to rid yourself of the clutter of emotions, of details, of random thoughts, of the stress that underlies your present moment in time - all that, so you can meditate on this die and give it power.

If you can muster any self-control at all, you will feel something.  It won't be new or unique or something you haven't felt before.  In fact, it will be a familiar feeling, a feeling you have whenever you become exceptionally conscious of what's going on around you.  This is a feeling that you sometimes enjoy, that you sometimes dislike - but one that you associate with moments you remember.

Right now, this is a die in your hand.  The die itself doesn't matter.  The only thing that matters is how you choose to look at the die - right now, in your hand.

When you're ready - when you're completely ready - throw the die.

Now, sit down to start working on your world.  Draw yourself together the same way you did with the die, only now, apply it to your world.  Visualize the moment that you will run the place or the events you are creating right now.  Push out everything else.  Take your time.  Don't rush.  Live this moment.  Be in this moment.  Make it matter.

To have a deeply rewarding game experience doesn't require some special rule-system or game genre; it doesn't require a super-special DM or miniatures; it doesn't require a perfect space or great rolls for your character.  You don't have to be 'in character' or possessed of detailed gear or magic character sheets.  These things help but they're not required.

All that is required is you.  Aware.  Invested.  Concentrating.  Alive and in the moment.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Saga of Demifee, Part II

It's always a bad thing when we're lowered to telling war stories.

Almost two months ago I wrote a post called 'Breaking Death.'  I thought, selfishly, that some readers might be interested in what is happening with that party . . . and along the way I can talk about a sandbox, about making conflict and just generally anything else that seems interesting.

Now, to refresh, the party's mage, Demifee, died.  With details that can be read on the link above, the mage was raised (not in the usual way) with the stipulation that the mage had one game year (from Dec 29, 1650) to return four holy symbols back to their proper place.  If this was not done, the player's character would irrevocably die and be cast quite definitely into the fiery pit.

So, a quest.  Do or die.  What is my responsibility as DM?  Upon what circumstances does that responsibility rest?

It is important to recognize that I did not compel the quest.  I let it be known that the player's 'permanent' death happened in unusual circumstances, and that therefore something could be done if the player's wished.  The players considered their options, considered whether they wished to take the steps necessary to bring back the mage.  Which they then decided to do.  Free action, decided upon freely.  Consequences to follow.

Every time the players follow through with the decision (the mage now being alive and fully able to act) to return the items, they are effectively restating their resolve.  It may look like I'm holding a gun to the mage's head, but the mage was in fact already dead.  If I kill the mage because the party fails, they are precisely at the point where they started.

However rough the process is, then, the players have already committed.  They are still free to pull out at any time, accept the consequences and move on.  Are there good reasons for doing that?  Yes.

I run a world where the players typically have more than one character once they have been playing about six months.  The player operating the mage also has a 4th level druid.  If this druid progresses to 5th level, this druid will also gain a hench - thus the mage can be made to stand down, accept fate, pass over everything the mage possesses and the player will still possess two characters.

Because the player does not depend upon their mage for everything (and won't be slapped down to first level if the mage dies or stands down), I am free to play with the mage's survival in ways that I might not otherwise.  By this I mean that I can put the player (and by extension, the party) into situations where they should feel considerable ambiguity about their actions.

For example, they have just recently returned the first holy symbol.  This was a six-pointed star, the apparent Hebrew symbol.  Only, it wasn't.  Sometimes, I really enjoy fitting real-world groups or ideas into my world - this was a terrific opportunity for that.

In the 1st century, there was a group called the Ebionites.  To simplify wikipedia, these were 'Christians' who were determined to continue following the mosaic law of their preceeding Jewish roots.  In effect, they wished to straddle the two religions - but what they managed to do was to get themselves so hated by both Christians and Jews that their marginalization became inevitable.  By the 5th century, they were basically gone.  (wikipedia gives examples to show otherwise, but for my world I chose to dismiss those as rogue Ebionite cults who ceased to be the 'true' believers).

So, armed with this little detail about history, I envisioned a singular tomb in the mountain wilds overlooking south Gazira (Jazira), where the party found the "last of the Ebionites."  The party, remember, is in the year 1650.  The last Ebionite dies sometime (I'm arguing) around 525.  So how does the party return the holy symbol (the Star of Michael, I called it) to its rightful religion?

Well, I made the last Ebionite a mummy.  Embalmed by a gnostic in 525, following Egyptian practices, so that one day the Star of Michael could be found and ultimately returned - whereupon the mummy's power would be vastly increased by the possession of said item.

The party descended into the tomb and found a dozen somewhat focused slaves praying to the mummy, "sustained" by the process of praying so that centuries could pass without them aging, sleeping or needing to eat.  I love D&D.  This allowed the party to get all the information they needed before actually handing over the item . . . making it perfectly clear that if the mage were going to be preserved, the mummy would be given all kinds of wonderful power.

The dilemma was thoroughly effective.  A debate raged over whether or not anyone could think of a third option, but I kept the details simple and pretty tight.  No one liked handing over the item.  Imhotep from Sommer's Mummy franchise came up a good deal.  The party got pretty excited over something that didn't actually require a combat.

So they asked the minions to raise the mummy, which they did.  Then the party made save and the 6th level fighter ran, Demifee ran and the 5th level cleric ran.  This left the 7th level thief and a 2nd level fighter (henchman) to fight the mummy - if the plan of  "Give the mummy the item and then kill it" has occurred to the readers.  It occurred to the players - who, given that the party was running out of the tomb felt they ought to ditch that plan.  And yes, I know, they're supposed to be paralyzed, but this simply fit the situation better; it was a Christian mummy.  Perhaps they're different.

The thief very quietly handed over the star and left.  One down, four to go.  And if the mummy terrorizes the middle east, well . . . the party decided they saw that as more of a YP than a MP.

After all, the party is bound for Egypt to get rid of an ankh.

A clarification.  This is a different campaign than the one that featured the combat pic and the video from this post.  The combat features the younger party, including my daughter, which I ran on the 21st.  They will run again on April 4th.  The party described above ran last on the 14th; they will run again this Saturday, the 28th.

Hidden Hiddins

If you're not familiar with the Bush Tucker Man series of the late 1980s, then you really should be.  Les Hiddins (stay away from the other fellow) was a military officer with the Australian army, whose mission it was to identify and evaluate food sources in the Australian outback for operations that would take place in that country.  As such, he has a straight-forward, honest, somewhat jovial attitude towards what he's doing - a breath of fresh air.

Here's the first episode of the first series, from 1988:

It's worth the look for the visuals, the information and for ideas that will undoubtedly 'thicken' your fantasy campaign.

Hard look should help you find most of the three seasons this fellow and his team provided.