Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Goblin Fort, End of 20th Round

A. The appearance of ghouls at the north gate battle.  B. The breaching men under Wilhelm see daylight.  C. The elven group arrives at the west breach and Falun the ranger is supported.  D.  Penn the illusionist is running full out now.  E. The small engagement against the goblin slingers exchanges blows.  F. The SE breach combat, no real change.

For the first time, the men-at-arms/glaivers at the upper west breach are able to see daylight.  This in spite of the goblins next the Prince hurling their first spears.  Wilhelm is fighting a 3rd level goblin fighter.  Falun is still fighting the 7th level hobgoblin, blow for blow; Ty is now beginning to help with that, as he has cut his way through and the line has caught up to where Falun was once isolated.  The Verger drow has been missing repeatedly, and now he is surrounded.

At the north gate, the Queen drow has used her summon monsters III spell [corrected], creating 8 ghouls (pink).  The players, who were getting excited and finally winning this mess, are suddenly stunned to find  themselves in deep, deep trouble.  At least the cavalry has broken their opponents enough to lend some help, if needed!

Garalzapan the mage finishes casting blink and jumps out of the prime material plane.  Shalar misses.  Hig hits and moves forward.  Widda misses.  The goblins move up towards Ariana.  Apart from this, the southeast breach just goes on and on.

Whatever their troubles, the players are making ground.

The Goblin Fort, End of 19th Round

A. The north gate battle.  B. Penn the illusionist running to join the north gate battle.  C. Elven group under Frederick the mage/thief heading for the west breach.  D. Lorell the assassin and Helmut the cleric fighting the goblin slingers.  E. The SE gate/breach battle.  F. Goblins rushing to shore up attacks on the west and north.

Lorel and Helmut engage the goblin slingers, who fight back with swords.  Frederick and a character named Loki (a player who had been taking a break, joining into this combat mid-stream), continue to move steadily towards the western breach.  Penn the illusionist makes tremendous speed, being unarmored.

Despite the tremendous resources, the points of near success where it looked like the goblins were going to win after all, the glaivers, Wilhelm, Ty and Falun are actually winning out.  The Prince drow sends half the goblins making their way to the north gate to shore up places where his line is breaking.  This is probably poor defensive strategy, but isn't it the sort of thing defenders do?  The remaining goblins continue north.  Ivan successfully avoids the dire wolf and attacks goblins instead, leaving the glaivers nearby to fight the wolf.

The goblins at the north gate are still fighting the confused goblins.  The last of them are starting to fall to the party; 

The brownies, meanwhile, are making no further attacks; they have used mirror image to protect themselves, should anyone attack them.  Neema, in the middle of the cavalry fight, is keeping on her horse (paladin's warhorse, Dumar) and keeping the melee under control.

Shalar is still fighting the goblin on the tower.  Ariana has taken a place on the middle floor of the tower (shown as a second image next to the first tower) where she is now shooting at the ground defenders.  A goblin group is climbing up into the tower (they should have earlier, but goblins are dumb - maybe they didn't know the tower was empty?).

And still the SE gate/breach is moving slow as molasses.  The players in this corner of the map are so very, very frustrated.  It's funny - you get a series of rounds where the players miss, miss, miss, miss again, then miss before finally missing.  That's what was happening here.  Widda, Shalar and Hig ALL blew roll after roll.

The Goblin Fort, End of 18th Round

A. The north gate battle.  B. The west breach battle.  C. Elven group one, headed north.  D. Elven group two, moving to attack the goblin slingers.  E. The SE gate battle.  F.  The Prince drow stops to speak to the goblins moving to the north gate.

Plainly, the battle is tightening, allowing me to more tightly crop the map.

The small force moving towards the goblin slingers near the SW tower (D) are led by Helmut the cleric (npc) and Lorel the assassin, only a 1st level.  The second small force (C) has decided not to attack the main gate, but to move up to the west breach.  This group is being led by Lord Karl and Frederick the mage/thief.  Penn the illusionist has broken off from the others and is heading for the north gate.  The remaining elves are still exchanging missiles with the walls.

At the west breach, Falun and Ty's multiple attacks are winning the day, despite the numbers - but the goblins at the upper breach are winning the day.  Ivan the dwarven thief finishes off his goblin and moves down the stairs, readying himself to attack the dire wolf.

No real changes with the north melee.  The Queen drow is reserving her last combat spells.

Shalar is destroying the goblin fighter.  Ariana decides to slip through the window into the tower.  I had forgotten, but way back in the 4th round, Garalzapan destroyed the archers on the tower's middle level with magic missile.  That was not mentioned, but I've added a note on that post.

Below, Widda and Hig begin to make headway.  The glaiver on the wall knocks back the hobgoblin.

Time and again I had tried through the combat NOT to make the enemy of one consciousness.  In many cases, goblins that could have joined in do not; people pause to talk, rather than knowing what to do next.  Such is the case where the Prince stops the group of goblins heading to the north gate, at a time when they really should be hurrying.  It is realistic.

The Goblin Fort, End of 17th Round

A.  The north gate battle.  B.  The west breach battle.  C.  The elves begin moving forward towards the main gate.  D.  The SE gate battle.  E.  Goblins continue to move to support the north gate.

At the west breach, Falun is standing toe to toe with a 7th level hobgoblin fighter, suffering from two wounds.  Ty is down to half his hit points.  The Verger is smashing the glaivers behind them.  Wilhelm and the glaivers at the upper breach are not doing much better.  Ivan misses against the goblin, blowing the back stab, and they fight.

At the north gate, the cavewight leader stands at -7 hit points.  Goblins press against the glaivers and the small group of the party (Falcon, Pikel, Lyrial).  Pikel's animal friends are stunned and fall back.  Many of the cavalry are dead now but the melee goes on, all milling around each other.

Shalar and the goblin exchange blows.  Ariana the thief is one round away from joining them.

Below, the zombies are gone and Hig and Widda fight the hobgoblins directly, now.  A glaiver gets on top of the wall with the help of his friends and is met by a hobgoblin coming up the stairs.  Garalzapan would throw a spell, but he has no line of sight with any of the enemy.

All in all, a slogging round.

The Goblin Fort, End of 16th Round

A.  The north gate battle.  B.  Ivan the thief sneaks up on an enemy.  C.  The elves, free from hand-to-hand, still fighting the missile combat.  D.  The SE gate battle.

E.  The hobgoblin standard bearer moves to support the goblins against the west breach.  F.  The goblins in the center move north to support the north gate.

It is impossible not to notice that the central courtyard of the fort is empty compared to what there was before. The slaughter continues.

The last of the hobgoblins fighting the elves are gone.  The goblin slingers have suffered and lost numbers.  The debate of what to do is going on.

At the west breach, the goblins are getting the better of the glaivers, Falun and Ty.  Falun has gotten separated from the attackers again (yet still surviving, down to about 30% of the 80 hit points she started with).  The group at the upper breach are being led by an npc named Wilhelm, who is proving himself very lucky with the dice.

Ivan has finished off his enemy and is now sneaking up on the goblin standing on the stairs (A).  That goblin is using his sling against the glaivers and doesn't know that Ivan is there (is about to be surprised).

At the north gate, the confused goblins and Youth drow make a mess of themselves; half disappear.  Snuggles the black bear, supported by Pikel's wolf, Lyrial the bard, Falcon the mage and Pikel the druid smash the toughest cavewight and keep the line.  Neema's cavalry surround the goblins - and there is a confused mass of glaivers, hobgoblins, goblins and horses all fighting together, while the NE tower continues to heap down missiles as they may.  Neema gets another Melf's acid arrow.  These are starting to hurt.  If Neema goes down, the cavalry will have to make a morale check.

Shalar the monk engages the goblin on the E tower.  Ariana the thief climbs the wall to join.  The remaining advance is still bogged down.

The Goblin Fort, End of 15th Round

A.  The north gate battle.  B.  The west breach battle.  C.  The elves continue to exchange missiles with the fort.  D. The SE gate battle.

There are three hobgoblins left at the bottom right and the missile exchange goes on between the elves and the wall.  The main gate is being held by only a few defenders, but the elvish troop is in rough shape.  Remembering that Lord Karl's arm is broken, he is debating with his cleric henchman Helmut about gathering a force to rush the front gate (they have no means of getting over it without the ladders).  The players debate on how they want to use these; get the ladders and go over the south wall?

The Prince drow pulls back while the Verger moves forward; the Verger proves to be a monk.  Ty and Falun still fighting, making hay on the goblins with multiple attacks. The dire wolf by the second west breach (at the top) has been freed from its chain and is attacking glaivers (men-at-arms) as they enter through the upper breach.

Inside the NW tower, Ivan is fighting a 4th level goblin fighter, has been for several rounds; but he is getting the better of the fight.  The brownies, having finished their targets at the end of round 13, move to the edge of the tower and cast a confusion spell against the goblins emerging from the north gate.  The goblins turn and attack each other.

The Queen has cast Melf’s acid arrow at Neema and other bows have created a temporary respite in the middle of the goblin line between the right and left sides of the combat.  The cavalry, however, are freeing the three remaining enclosed glaivers.  The cavewight is looking for a new target.

Shalar the monk has gotten into the East tower and come face to face with the 7th level goblin fighter.  They’ve shared thrown missiles at each other (axe and dagger).  Below, Hig the fighter and Widda the cleric are pushing the zombies forward, still trying to break into the fort's courtyard.

The Goblin Fort, End of 14th Round

A.  The north gate battle spreads and gets unstable.  B.  The west breach battle momentarily stabilizes.  C. The last of the hobgoblins are cleaned up by the elves.  D.  The southeast gate battle continues to bog.  E.  The fortress defenders commit their last reserves.

The elves now commit to a missile combat with the goblin slingers on the ground and the hobgoblins on the wall.  I haven't been mentioning it, but the ballistaes on the walls have been firing every six rounds, mostly missing due to my bad rolls.  Those last few hobgoblins have decided to fight to the death.

Falun manages to free himself after being attacked (which breaks the hold person spell, as I run it).  Ty the fighter has driven the Prince drow into negative hit points, but the goblins - no longer being kept down by the incidental damage of the mastodon - are swarming.

At the north gate, the goblins are swarming out and re-starting the battle over again.  The overall combat there has become less tight after the Queen's third fireball.  A group of glaivers has been completely surrounded by goblins, but the cavalry is fighting their way into this pack, while circling around to break the men-at-arms out.

And still the battle at the southeast gate is bogged down.  The players are now very sorry for sending the zombies in first, but those zombies are almost dead now.  The three that are left only have a combined 11 hp.

The Goblin Fort, End of 13th Round

Things were getting serious with the combat and I remember I forgot to save the end of round 12.  So there is no post for that round.

A.  North gate battle.  B.  West breach battle.  C.  Elf-hobgoblin battle.  D. Southeast gate battle.

What has happened at the north gate!?  Well, the Queen drow is a little crazy.  After totalling her own people at the west breach, she does it again (blew her intelligence roll) by burning half the battle at the north gate.  This had the unfortunate effect (for the bad people) of destroying most of the goblins, while the men-at-arms managed to barely survive.  Most of those still showing on the map only have 1 or 2 hit points.

It makes room for the druid's animal friends, Snuggles the black bear and Nibbles sabre-toothed tiger tore into the goblins that were left over.  Then Nibbles got hit and failed the morale check; the tiger has not been with the druid long and has a poor morale for that reason.

At the same time, the cavalry ripped through the goblin slingers and into the back of the goblin/hobgoblin line, doing tremendous damage. They get hung up, however, so that now they're not moving and they're in melee.

The goblins emerging from the north gate now are led by a drow named 'Youth.'  Remember, they're unable to close the gate because of Pikel the druid's warp wood spell.

The SE gate battle has stalled. The zombies are fighting the hobgoblins, while the Shalar the 6th level monk (who has done little in this combat except kill dire wolves) decides to climb the East Tower and fight whatever is there. There is, in fact, a 7th level goblin fighter waiting for him - which the player doesn't actually know yet.

The hobgoblins against the elves are thinning as the elves & humans handle them easily with the help of the illusionist.  Most of the remaining elves are low on hit points and only have daggers for weapons - yet they're doing well.  The standard bearer for the hobgoblins is pulling back towards the SW Gate, recognizing that the sortie is failing. Telling detail, that.

At the west breach, things are going fairly well. The hippogriff has recovered and flown away, the mastodon has been removed from the field (though it is technically still running in the upper left corner)  A glaiver has sacrificed himself to save Falun the ranger (check made), partly because Falun is a very attractive elf.

A second drow elf, the Verger, is helping press the attack with the goblins.

Meanwhile, a second group of glaivers is making use of the second hold made by the mastodon.  

Ivan is finishing off his opponents inside the NW Tower, and the two brownies are now attacking the goblins on the top. So all around a good round for this part of the combat.

This is the end of my in-blog notes.  I wrote the base posts for these back in 2010.  From here on, I'm solely dependent on my memory.  So details will probably get a bit thinner going forward. 

The Goblin Fort, End of 11th Round

A. The cavalry charges.  B. The brownies move up on the tower to help Ivan the thief (who is Pikel the druid's hench).  C.  The mastodon makes another breach.  D.  Engagement at the southeast gate.  E.  The remaining goblins/hobgoblins in the interior move to shore up the west breach after the Queen's 2nd fireball.

There is little to say about the battle between the elves and hobgoblins. Deaths occur on both sides and, if anything, the hobgoblins are keeping Lord Karl out of the main battle. The lines have sorted themselves out, with Helmut the npc cleric rushing in from right.  At least one of the man-at-arms has retreated.

The mastodon makes a convenient second hole as it leaves the fortress at the West Wall. Hathor the hippogriff has been stunned and will soon die if it does not escape - which to do it must both survive one round without being stunned and abandon its master. Falun the ranger is definitely sweating (the ranger is played by my daughter, by the way).

Ty has pushed back the prince and the glaivers are making some headway (the Queen's fireball helped clear the way).  More goblins are coming, so the battle is by no means won.

Ivan is handily killing off his opponents inside the tower, with the brownies coming to help.  They are heading for the ballista on the tower's top, which is in the process of being loaded (9 rounds to go for all ballista).

The flanking movement at the north gate gets to be more of a problem.  The party there is anxiously awaiting for the cavalry charge to hit.  The cavalry is thundering up the hill towards the goblin slingers, who release a volley into the defenders (remember, the gray areas are slopes).  The Queen is climbing the stairs of the NE tower.

The orange bar that has appeared along the SE wall, in front of the gate, is a web spell cast by Garalzapan the mage.  This has trapped most of the hobgoblins that leapt off the wall last round, making them easy to kill.  The zombies are moving awfully slowly.  I felt (unsaid to the players) that it was a mistake to send these through first.

The outer dire wolves are finally gone.

The Goblin Fort, End of 10th Round

A.  Cavalry organizes itself.  B.  The appearance of two brownies (call woodland beings spell from Pikel the druid).  C.  The mastodon, Pony, is out of here!  D.  Pass wall breaches the east wall; animated zombies move in to press the gap.

E.  Enemy hobgoblin footmen and standard slam into the elves.  F. Groups inside the wall move to defend the new breach.

Moving around the field clockwise, starting from the group being attacked by the goblin slingers; Helmut the NPC cleric (attached to Lord Karl) has healed his compatriots and they are getting ready to get out of range of the goblin slingers.

In the bottom left corner the combat between the elves and the hobgoblins goes on as ever. However, the arrival of the Lord and Penn the illusionist has started to turn the tide. The second wave of hobgoblins have arrived from the wall hardly makes a difference.  Every time the elf bowmen shoot, it makes a BIG difference.

At the west wall breach, the Queen has sacrificed her own minions with a wand of fireballs in order to hurt the mastodon.  Pony fails its morale check and now it is going to rampage right through the west wall again and leave the battle (which will have different effects).    The Queen covers a lot of ground as she rushes to the north wall.

The hippogriff (named Hathor) continues to defend its held master, Falyn the ranger, against a 7th level hobgoblin fighter.  Meanwhile, the glaivers still try to break through the breach and pass the drow elf Prince holding it closed.  He is just now being met by Ty, Lord Karl's hench, a 6th level npc fighter.  Ty will try to overbear in the next few rounds and push the much smaller drow elf from the breach.

You may also notice two small figures at the upper left, to the left of the combat just mentioned - these are marked as B1 and B2. They are a pair of brownies, lately conjured by the 9th level druid with the spell, conjure woodland beings.

You may also notice that the 6th level thief, Ivan, is on the Northwest Tower. As a matter of fact he is inside it, fighting a hobgoblin and a 4th level goblin fighter. They can be seen because, by convention, it is easier to pretend they are one floor lower than to create another tower layout for them to fight upon.

The battle royale at the north gate, the top of the map, gets more and more harried as the goblins and hobgoblins are clearly outflanking the left end of the human defendors. It looks horrifically bad, and has the party up at this part of the map pretty much beside themselves. The only thing really keeping them going at this point is Lyrial the bard, who is singing like hell and creating the equivalent to a prayer spell to all within 60'.

To the right, you can see the cavalry arranging themselves, but they have not yet started to charge (moving at normal speed at the moment). The three horsemen who were left behind are joining into their ranks, while there is one horseman moving at triple speed at the top of the map, vying to rejoin.

This leaves the Southeast Wall. The passwall has been cast (as I remember, we had recalculated out the length of time the mage had spent casting the spell, which was not known when I saved the end of the 9th round - if this does not jive with the description on the last post. This is the nature of D&D, and I am remembering things in the order that they happened). A host of hobgoblins has leapt from the wall (12' high) to fight on the ground, rather than open the gate, and to try to cut off the zombies marching into the created hole. And meanwhile the glaivers here are dispensing with the last of the pernicious dire wolves.

The Goblin Fort, End of 9th Round

A. Cavalry turns to charge.  B. Ivan climbing the tower.  C. The Lord Karl and his remaining men joining the elves.  D. Slingers having leapt from the wall move to attack the men-at-arms at the north gate.

I should have added a letter (near B.) that shows the druid's animal friends joining in the north gate battle. Note also that the last separated horse has broken away from the combat surrounding the breach on the west wall.  The three other errant horse are still moving to rejoin the cavalry also.

The slaughter continues unabated at the north gate, on and on ... with no seeming end to goblins rushing out to be ground down. But steadily, the party is winning on the right flank, and losing badly on their left. It looks now like things are sliding out of control ... ah, but look to the right! Neema and the cavalry have turned around, and are now about to ride right at that group of slingers moving down the hill to support the enemy's right flank against the party's left.

Inside the fort, on the west wall, the glaivers are still being chewed up by the Prince, while the ranger Fayln is getting very nervous. It doesn`t look like the glaivers are going to reach her in time, does it? Note that the Queen has paused, and hasn't moved from her place.  She's making up her mind to cast or use her wand again.

Still the elves are fighting hobgoblins, and not much has changed. The slingers on top of the hill to the right of the elves are keeping those four pinned down ... it just takes too long to climb the hill, and the cleric is attempting to restore to consciousness one of the others. But although the battle looks like its ground down, things are about to shift against the hobgoblins (the Lord`s bad luck can`t run forever).

Garalzapan, the mage, is casting the pass wall spell against the SE gate.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Goblin Fort, End of 8th Round

I am afraid that there is a big hole here in my content; two and half rounds have passed.  The party has attacked twice and the enemy three times since my last post.

A.  The cavalry regroups; gathers for the group at the top of the map.  B. Ivan reaches the base of the tower.  C. The men-at-arms manage to tie up the drow.  D. Engagement between the elves and hobgoblins.  E. Ladder party getting decimated by slingers.  F.  Cleaning up the dire wolves.

G. The Queen drow elf (caster of the fireball) moving from the bottom of the map towards the top.  H. Hobgobling standard with ground troops moving forward.  I.  Slingers finishing off the lord and last ladder force.

The group of slingers has dropped off the south wall and have been harassing the blue-colored humans fighting with the elves. However, they have managed to kill a goodly number of hobgoblins (the Lord breaking his arm in the process). This has resulted in a few more hobgoblins, all they could spare, rushing forward from the wall - and even if this doesn't wipe out the elves, it will prove to keep this group busy for awhile.

Some evil has befallen the Ranger; she failed a save vs. Hold person, and is now struck immobile. Her hippogriff, 'Hathor', defends her body, but a hobgoblin champion (7th level) has moved in for the kill. Meanwhile, Pony has been reduced to 2/3rds of its hit points, beset by two cavewights, and although the glaivers are pushing through the wall they are finding themselves beaten down by the Prince, who is attacking twice a round now.

At the time the combat took place, the party did not know for certain that the 'Queen' on the map was the leader of the enemy.

The line at the N Gate has gotten longer, and finally the hobgoblins and goblins are successfully working around the line of glaivers. Much of the force of the party is dependent upon the bard (Lyrial), whose playing through this has given +1 to hit and damage for the party, and -1 to hit and damage for the goblins, hobgoblins and cavewights ... but that is starting to slip.

The cavalry were actually uncertain at this point, deciding whether to charge the SE gate or turn around and go back to hit the N gate again.  The N gate's increasing line of attack was encouraging them to turn around - but they needed to get a distance away before they could build for another charge.

At F., Garalzapan the mage and Widda the cleric are considering assaulting the East tower.

More tomorrow.

The Goblin Fort, Mid-6th Round

Unlike with previous posts, a round and a half has gone by.  This is the middle of round six, before the enemy attacks; so the party has gone twice; the enemy only once since the end of round four.

A.  Remaining cavalry frees itself from the N gate melee and heads clockwise around the fort.  B.  The men at arms, under an NPC named Ty (Karl the lord's main hench) are destroying the hobgoblins and, C., moving through the breach.  D.  Penn is moving towards the elves.  E.  The elves are bracing against charge.  F. The remaining ladder force is moving to rejoin with the elves.

Midway between the elves and the mess at the N Gate, the glaivers who have been hurrying all this time have finally reached the hole left behind by the mastodon. Fayln and Pony continue to fight the good fight. Some of the cavalry have gotten bogged down fighting hobgoblins in front of the wall ... three pass through the glaivers as they rush forward. The rest of the cavalry have reformed and are now rounding outside the walls, looking for their next charge.

At the N Gate, the 1st level mage (Falcon) has managed to sleep two cavewights and two others, relieving some of the pressure . . . the battle line grows longer, the remaining enemy continue their attempt to outflank the good guys.  Ivan, isolated, hiding in shadows (which I now call 'stealth') is seeking his opportunity at the NW tower.

As it happens, at the SE Gate, that party is doing quite well with the dire wolves. In addition, the party's 8th level mage (transformed with a candle of invocation into 10th level), Garalzapan, has let go a fireball at the E Tower - and eliminated everyone there except for one lone goblin (who happens to be 7th level, and now quite weakened). As such, the mage is no longer invisible.

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.  Garalzapan attacks the goblins in the east tower with magic missile.

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 Falun 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 monk, 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.

Follow up on DFD

I haven't heard from anyone who has received or started reading the book, The Dungeon's Front Door & Other Tales of the Deep Dark.  It's available for 20% off from Amazon.

Hey, give me a poke.  Let me know how the book looks!

Sunday, March 22, 2015


As the reader knows, I play my games on the computer; the party sees the combat map and gives their instructions.

As things have gone along, trying to make better and better images of the characters has been a long struggle for me, as I'm not much of an artist.  BUT . . . I think this is my best effort yet.  This is meant to replace the Neema symbol that can be found on the previous post's general combat image:

I think at last I am getting close to the fetishistic quality of the physical miniature.  The character owner told me that her paladin Neema had arm bands - so there they are.

And here is Neema's half-orc henchman, to go along:


A picture taken of the combat ongoing in my campaign tonight, taken by one of the players.  Just got it in an email, so I didn't even know the picture was being taken.  The party names are plainly visible - image taken straight off the monitor.

The bright splash of colour around the orcs (without names) is faerie fire, added to the image once the spell was cast).

And here's a view of me DMing last night.  It includes the party's decision to let themselves into the combat above.  Apologies for the aspect ratio.

Note the point where I just stop talking, letting the party work it out for themselves.  Note also how I try not to even move or have any expression while this is happening, except when it's necessary to make a distinction or keep the party on track.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Effort

We last had the party looking down into the water off the island, and there's a wreck down below.  We may presume they're in a long boat, considering the difficulties of breathing underwater, the dangers of going below with nothing more than a javelin, a dagger and their bare skin.  Hopefully, they're also reassured that the ship holds promise, as well.

At this point, the party can very easily spoil all our plans by simply saying, 'Nah.'  And that is the important thing about sandboxes - that this won't be the last dangerous opportunity and this won't be the end all and be all of the treasure that's in the world.  There's no amulet, no magic helmet, no critical carving waiting in the ship that must be recovered or the world will come to an end.

I can only recommend that DMs stay away from that kind of scenario.  End of the world set-ups, where the balance of fate depends on the party's actions, are great things for films that last two hours, but they are tiresome annoyances when strung out over a period of three or four runnings.  Parties will ask - and not kindly - why it is always up to them to do everyone's dirty work?

Worse, it's painfully obvious where this dirty work is coming from.  Here's an idea.  Give the party a break.  Let some NPC be the world's last hope and let the party dig around for some treasure.

Let's consider this ship.  How much work am I going to do before the party goes down there?

Well, the only reason why I need an actual map of the ship would be if I planned for a fight to happen.  If a fight took place on the deck of the ship, then I would need the metrics for where everyone would be standing when swinging or being swung at.  But here's the thing: this is an underwater adventure.  I can easily move the combat twenty feet to the right or left of the ship, above the soft sand of the shelf where the ship is sitting.  As well, none of the party will be standing on a surface.  They'll be floating above it - so the surface doesn't matter.  All I really need for a combat map is a blank hex map, painted blue.  I can make this in about two minutes during the actual run, so no point in making it ahead of time.  If the party changes their mind and doesn't dive down, I've lost nothing.

I know that most DMs would view the situation - extended underwater movement - as a sign that something ought to be found on the island to make it easier for the party.  The captain has a set of convenient bracers of underwater action or a cache of water breathing potions were found by the party just two sessions ago (with the expectation that they would come to this island and see this ship).  I loathe, hate and despise this sort of shit.  I know the DM is very proud of their ability to think ahead; "Aha, I am so clever, I will give these scrolls of water breathing, then they will go to the island and . . ."

Except that parties are not dumb.  Here are four happenstance suppositories of water breathing, oh so ready for use! You can physically feel the cars being attached to the engine for the next part of the journey.  Isn't that nice.  The party knows the DM has planned this ship and probably has a 3-D diagram ready - can we feel the guilt yet?  How about the responsibility for not disappointing the DM here.  Don't tell me it's not there.  Parties may drag their feet, but they get on the DM's train and go anyway.  "Well, shit . . . he's done all this stuff of us.  I guess we can go on his adventure, since he's made it already."

It is this preparation mind-set.  Granted, it's nice that the DM works on their campaign and has a neat ship graphed out for the party's enjoyment once they descend - but this insistence that the party must have the most obvious and difficult obstacle removed from the start is crippling to the game.  The underwater adventure is interesting because it is underwater.  If everyone has the means to make this submerged nightmare like a walk in the park, where's the challenge?

If you've played for years, you've run into it time and time again.  Going to fight a lot of undead?  Well, I've got special holy symbols for everyone.  The castle is at the top of an impossible cliff?  Here, you'll need these remarkable boots of floating and wafting.  Oh, you have to adventure in the Forest of Always Night?  Just a minute, I've got four sets of goggles in this trunk here.  No matter what the environment, helpful NPCs are soon tripping over themselves to get you whatever special gear you'll need to handle it.  No reason why you should just trust to innovation, determination and luck!

If we put the ship 18 feet underwater, that's deep enough.  The party doesn't need water breathing.  They just need to strip down, dive 18 feet, do what they can for three rounds and then return to the surface again.  Yes, it's hard.  Yes, it's worse if someone gets trapped down there.  But watch what a party does or tries to do to get around this without straight on magic.  Watch them pull out their spells and cantrips and try to figure out shortcuts, temporary alternatives and plans.  Watch their faces when you tell them, "Yeah, sure, that could give you another couple of rounds."

Yes!  The player smiles proudly, looks around at the other party members, gets a few compliments and the party thinks, "Fuck, we're rocking this!"  And what is it that makes them think they're rocking it?  They've figured out a way they can stay down for five rounds rather than three.

Let's not deny the party their small victories.  Let's not ruin their adventures by making their lives easy for them.  Let's try them at having a combat where they can only engage while wallowing about on the surface - it only means that every hit will be ten times as meaningful.

I can't understand why DMs do not see that.