Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Garage treasure trove

Sunday, 17 April, 2016

The basement of my apartment block contains individual lock-up garages for every apartment. They’re fenced off with wire cyclone fencing so you can see inside, but are secure enough that people store things in there.

I was walking past a row of neighbours’ garages, and inside one I spotted a big stack of books. Not paperbacks, but large format hardcovers. The pile was split into two, sitting on shelves of a portable storage thingy. The combined vertical height fo the stack of books was about a metre or so. Curiosity being the better part of valour, I went closer for a peek to see what they were.

They were Dungeons & Dragons rule books! Second and Third edition rules, splatbooks, settings, and so on. Must have been 50 or more titles. Wow. I had no idea one of my neighbours was a gamer. Pretty cool.

Awesomely average

Thursday, 15 January, 2015

I am starting up a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign using the new 5th edition rules. I’m going to run a group of friends through the first published adventure for the new rules – Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

Accordingly, the players need to generate 1st level characters. I’ve decided to use the random method of stat generation, which is rolling 4d6 and adding the best 3 dice together to form six ability scores, followed by the player assigning them to the ability scores any way they want. As a fallback, if the whims of Fate hand a player horrid bad luck and a hand of awful scores, they can choose to take the default score set listed in the book (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) instead of the rolls. I still kind of like the slight uncertainty of randomness, but this method at least removes the chance of being stuck with an unfun set of scores.

Anyway, today several of the players rolled their stats. Mostly they were a decent spread of scores. But one player managed to roll: 12, 12, 12, 11, 12, 12.

Now, adventurers are above average individuals, and the best 3 of 4d6 method is designed to generate above average scores. Average is nominally the result of a straight 3d6, which has an average score of 10.5. So five 12s and an 11 is actually above average in every single ability score.

While the player was lamenting his luck and trying to decide whether or not to fall back to the default score set, another player came up with the following backstory:

You come from a small village. While growing up, you realised that you were naturally better at everything than anyone else in your village! You were stronger, faster, more athletic, healthier, smarter, wiser, and everyone loved you. Any task you tried your hand at, you quickly mastered and could outperform your teacher. So, you decided you were made to be… an adventurer!

And so you left your little village and went out into the world to seek your fortune. You are supremely confident in your skills. After all, you can fight, you can cast spells, you can sneak and pick pockets, you can do healing – all better than anyone in your home village! So when you joined an adventuring band, you decided that any task that came up was your responsibility. Need someone to sneak around and scout the enemy – you! Be in the front row to protect the weaker fighters – you! Parley with hostile humanoids – you! You are keen and bright-eyed, and eager to volunteer for any and every job the adventuring group needs!

We all ended up laughing so much that I think the player is probably going to keep his very slightly above average scores, and turn it into a roleplaying windfall.

Return to Legends

Sunday, 29 June, 2014

Return to LegendsMy friends and I occasionally make our own custom Magic: the Gathering sets. We design the cards, print them out (using a custom card image generating script one of my friends coded up), and then play a draft tournament using the invented cards we have come up with. A couple of sets have been designed jointly, but most of the ones we have done have had a single designer. Several of us have taken on the task of designing an entire set of cards for everyone to play with, often keeping the details secret until it is all unveiled at the draft.

We played my latest set last Friday. Usually we invent sets out of whole cloth, but this time I had a different idea. I took the old expansion Legends, and redesigned it from the ground up, using modern card design principles and power levels, including Mark Rosewater’s design skeleton.

I left the card names unchanged and used the same artwork, but updated the card frames to the modern version. Depending on the card, I modified the casting cost, rules text, power/toughness, and in a few cases the card type or the colour. For example, Great Defender, originally a white instant, I turned into a blue Merfolk creature, based on the artwork. I improved the Kobold lords to make kobolds a draftable deck archetype. I made most of the legendary creatures highly playable (most of them were underpowered or overcosted in the original set). And I turned Wood Elemental, often nominated for worst card of all time, into a very powerful card.

I took out a lot of the walls and wall-affecting stuff, and ramped up rules text referring to legends. I gave the snakes generated by Serpent Generator the Infect ability (and made the artefact cost 3 to cast, and 3 to use the ability, rather than 6 and 4). I gave a bunch of green and black creatures Infect as well, to make a poison deck draftable and playable.

The other guys were delighted when I unveiled the concept. I’d made faux-booster wrappers and collated the cards into “boosters” for drafting (pictured). Ripping them open to see Legends cards – and not merely Legends cards, but Legends cards updated and made so that they conform to modern power levels – was really exciting. We all had a lot of fun drafting and playing the games. Legend was never designed for the draft format, and would be miserable unmodified. But revamped and updated in design, it was a lot of fun!

And as is traditional when one of us designs a set for us to draft, I came dead last in the tournament. (Seriously, this has happened more often than not when one of us designs a set.) But still had fun!

Theros is epic

Thursday, 19 December, 2013

353/365 Epic Magic gameI played the most epic game of Magic: The Gathering of my life today. We are playing a draft tournament with the latest set, Theros, which is based on Greek mythology. One of the design goals for the set ( as explained by Mark Rosewater in one of his excellent game design articles) was to capture the feel of epic conflicts between mighty heroes and powerful monsters. I think they succeeded.

The draft has seven players, and we play a full round-robin of 3-game matches, scoring one point per game win (we play the full 3 games, even if one player is up 2-0 after 2 games). Currently three of us are tied on 11 points, with two others on 10 points. Only a few games are left to play, and it’s possible for all 5 of us to end on 11 points. Prior to today, I had two games to play, and so the most opportunities to break away from the pack.

I began my second last game of the tournament against Loki, who I had beaten in our first game. He tossed out a few cheap creatures early on and attacked until I was down to 13 life, at which point I had accumulated enough land to play some slightly larger creatures and shut down his attack. I had a Nessian Asp in hand, and had drawn a Fleecemane Lion, which is a potential game winner once it activates its Monstrous ability. But before I played the Lion Loki put out a Triad of Fates, which was capable of removing the Lion before it could become Monstrous. So I bided my time and hoped to draw enough land to put it into play and make it Monstrous on the same turn, thus activating its Hexproof and Indestructible abilities and making it safe.

I also had out Triton, Fortune Hunter, and was targeting it with stuff to draw extra cards as often as I could. Unfortunately, as well as the Triad, Loki played a Fabled Hero, and buffed it up with auras, creating a large double striking creature, as well as a regenerating creature and one or two other small creatures. I also had a few other creatures. The result was a massive stand-off, with neither of us able to attack effectively, and if we did we would leave a hole in our own defences, so we played several turns in a row with no attacks.

I played Spear of Heliod, giving all my creatures +1/+1, and giving me a weapon to destroy any creature of Loki’s that managed to do damage to me, making it even less likely that he would want to attack me. I drew what I thought would break the game open, Medomai the Ageless. Loki had no flying blockers, so I attacked with Medomai the next turn and gained an extra turn…. but with the extra turn I had nothing effective to do, so simply untapped and drew a card, then passed the turn to Loki. By this time he had put a Triad of Fates counter on Medomai, and then exiled it, allowing me to draw two more cards, but removing the threat.

His Fabled Hero has grown quite large by now, being 6/6 double strike, almost enough to kill me in a single unblocked attack. What’s worse, it was enchanted with Erebos’s Emissary, allowing it to get +2/+2 every time Loki discarded a creature from his hand, so I couldn’t afford to let it go unblocked. Fortunately, I had more than enough blockers to deal with it, and the Spear of Heliod meant that if he did damage me without killing me I could destroy the Hero, so he didn’t attack. At some point I had enough mana spare to make my Nessian Asp Monstrous, making it 9/10 with the Spear bonus, which just increased the stand-off to truly epic proportions. Loki used his Triad of Fates on his own smaller creatures a few times to draw more cards, but I was drawing faster thanks to several spell effects combined with the Triton.

I got out a Prescient Chimera and managed to get Loki down to 13 life also before he exiled it with his Triad. At this point I started to think the game might possibly go down to who ran out of cards first, as neither of us looked like making a combat breakthrough. But I knew I had an Aqueous Form in my deck, so I was burning through it as fast as I could to find it. That would make my Lion or Asp unblockable and be able to kill Loki within two turns. I didn’t know at this stage, but Loki informed me afterwards, that he was trying to draw cards as fast as he could too, seeking a card that would break the deadlock from his side.

I cast Hopeful Eidolon, bestowing it on my Triton, triggering another card draw for myself and hoping the turn the Triton into a 4/4 creature with Lifelink. Gaining 4 life whenever it did damage would have been very helpful, and (in hindsight) probably would have won the game for me, but unfortunately for me Loki had an Annul in his hand and countered the spell, putting the Eidolon straight into my graveyard, meaning its life gain ability was out of my reach. A turn or two later Loki cast a Nimbus Naiad, bestowing it on his Fabled Hero. This would make the Hero 11/11 flying, double strike, which was enough to kill my Nessian Asp – the only large creature I had that could block flyers (it has Reach). Fortunately I also had an Annul, and sent the Naiad straight to the graveyard.

We stalled for a few more turns. Loki bestowed another Nimbus Naiad on his Fabled Hero, and this time I had no Annul to counter it. I was in trouble – it was 11/11 flying double strike, big enough to kill my Nessian Asp without dying. Without an answer I would be dead in probably 2 more turns. On my turn I drew Sea God’s Revenge. This was a card that could not only save me from the Fabled Hero, it could win the game for me that turn! By removing three of Loki’s creatures, I would leave him with not enough blockers to stop a fatal attack from all my creatures. I cast it, targeting his Triad, his Fabled Hero, and another smaller creature. But Loki had a Gods Willing, and cast it to give his Fabled Hero protection from blue, making it an invalid target for the Sea God’s Revenge. However, this had the side effect of also making it an invalid target for the Nimbus Naiad, and it fell off, becoming a creature (after a rapid check of the rulings to see if it actually became a creature or went straight to the graveyard as a result of falling off due to colour protection effect) and leaving the Hero as 9/9 double strike, no longer with flying – making it again easy for me to block if it attacked. This gave Loki two more blockers than I had reckoned when I cast the Revenge, so I could no longer attack for the kill. Attacking would have left me vulnerable to a potentially game-losing counter-attack, so I declined to attack. And so the game continued.

Loki recast the Triad soon after, but kept the other small creature in his hand. He used the Triad again to exile another of his small and unnecessary creatures (his large ones were holding down the fort and making it impossible for me to attack him usefully) to draw two more cards. Eventually, with my library down to just 6 cards, I drew the Aqueous Form I had been waiting for. My Asp was not big enough to kill Loki in a single blow, so I placed it on the Fleecemane Lion, lest Loki destroy the Asp before it could finish the job. The Lion was much, much harder to deal with. (Loki informed me after the game that I had made a very good decision here, because he had in his hand Voyage’s End, which returns a target creature to its owner’s hand – it would return the Asp to my hand and the Aqueous Form would have been destroyed. If I’d enchanted the Asp, I would have lost the game because of that decision.) I attacked, and got Loki to within a single strike of my now unblockable Lion. I would win on my next turn. Loki had no responses that could deal with it.

He took his turn, drew his card, hoping it would be something that could get hi out of this desperate situation. It was Thassa’s Bounty. He could draw three more cards! The other effect of the spell was to mill three cards off my library into my graveyard, leaving me with just three cards in my library.

(Aside: If Thassa’s Bounty had let you target any player with the “draw 3 cards” effect, Loki could have targeted me, forcing me to draw three cards and leaving my library empty, which would make me lose the game at the start of my next turn! Mark Rosewater has argued in his game design columns that card drawing effects nowadays tend very strongly to just say “draw cards” rather than “target player draws cards”, because you virtually never want to target anyone but yourself, and the extra complexity of allowing you to target an opponent isn’t worth it for the ridiculously rare occasions when you’d actually want to do it. That game design decision basically lost Loki the chance to win the game right there and then.)

One of the cards Loki drew into was Prowler’s Helm. He cast it, and equipped it onto his Fabled Hero, making it unblockable, since I had no Walls. It was 9/9 double strike, and I was on 13 life. I was dead.

But then I remembered the Spear of Heliod! After the first strike damage of 9 was assigned to me, I could activate the Spear to destroy the creature that had damaged me, the Fabled Hero, before it could deal the extra 9 points of regular damage! I would survive the turn, then hit Loki with my unblockable Lion for the win!

But Loki saw this. He discarded a creature from his hand to activate the Erebos’s Emissary (the very creature I had made him return to his hand several turns earlier with Sea God’s Revenge! If I hadn’t done that, he would not have been able to make this play) giving the Hero +2/+2, making it 11/11. If he could just discard another creature, he could make it 13/13, and kill me with the first strike damage alone, before the Spear could kill the Hero. But he had no other creature in his hand of three cards! But then he saw that he had that Voyage’s End. “Return target creature to its owner’s hand.” This spell is almost always used to remove an opponent’s creature temporarily. But he cast it on one of his own creatures (using the last two mana he had available – he had tapped most of his land already casting the other spells to get him to this point), returned the creature to his hand, then discarded it to activate Erebos’s Emissary again, giving the Hero another +2/+2, making it 13/13… enough to kill me with first striking damage.

Loki has exhausted his entire set of resources – all his mana, all his card drawing effects, every useful card in his hand – to get to this point where he had an unblockable creature exactly large enough to kill me in one blow, immediately before that strike gave me the opportunity to kill it with one of my open threats on the table. If anything had gone wrong, if I had any response whatsoever that could deal with this creature, prevent a single point of damage, or gain me just one point of life, I would have survived, and then swung back with my massive unblockable Lion for the win. But I had exhausted my deck and my hand.

So I lost the game. I would have won on my very next turn, with just 2 cards left in my library… but Loki’s amazing last turn spun the whole game on its head and pulled out an incredible win. We both agreed (along with Steven who was watching the final stages of the game) that it was the most epic game of Magic ever played. It was like a wrestling match, in which both wrestlers are flexing and bulging muscles, looking for any vulnerability or moment of weakness, probing for that single slip that they can exploit to full advantage, but every time something appeared to give, the other person propped it up again, reinforcing the unbreakable resolve. Several times not just once, twice, three times, but many times, we played spells that seemed destined to crack the standoff and provide a winning advantage, and every time the opponent had an answer that rose to the occasions and reset the deadlock at an even mightier level of power.

In the end it took a truly epic turn to combine the effects of four separate cards to construct a winning scenario for Loki, in the face of losing the very next turn. The whole game felt like an altered state of awareness in which it was just us locked in this gargantuan tussle. I never at any stage felt confident that I would win, but likewise never felt like I was doomed to lose or even battling uphill. It was an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.

Loki and I are now locked at one game each in our match of three. It is possible that whoever wins that game will win the entire tournament. It should be a suitable finale for a fantastic tournament.

Ravenloft: Sessions 2 and 3

Saturday, 16 November, 2013

291/365: Ravenloft session 2Last night we played the third session of our Ravenloft adventure using the classic 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules that the adventure was written for. I intended to update after the second session as well, but I’ll now have to combine them here.

When we left our brave band, they had just sustained serious injuries from an encounter with 4 baby dragons, in the entrance hall of Castle Ravenloft. They decided to beat a retreat to recover and returned to the village of Barovia, in the valley below the castle. They spent the night keeping watch shifts in the Burgomaster’s house. A pack of wolves attacked around midnight, clawing at the walls and doors of the house, but the heroes fought them off. Rested in the morning, Olaf used his healing spells to effect a partial recovery of everyone to near full strength. They set out again to the castle with Ireena.

This time they made better progress, exploring several of the upper floors of the castle. They encountered a few other creatures to battle, but emerged victorious with few injuries. In a decrepit dining room they found the dried remains of a wedding cake, with the figure of the groom missing from next to the bride. In another room was a painting of a woman who looked exactly like Ireena, but the painting was obviously centuries old. They found a holy medallion of platinum, and then came across a partially crazed accountant, held prisoner by Count Strahd for as long as he could remember. With some careful negotiation, they persuaded him to reveal the location of Strahd’s treasure hoard, in exchange for part of the treasure and freeing him from the castle. The heroes loaded up with treasure and returned to the village again before dark.

They visited the priest in the old church, who identified the platinum holy symbol as a missing relic of good from the distant past of Castle Ravenloft. They helped the villagers fortify the town in preparation for any attack in the night. Again the Burgomaster’s house was assaulted by wolves, accompanied by bats, and a distant sound like laughter echoing through the night. But they held out, and returned to the castle again at dawn.

Exploring the upper floors further, they found Getruda, the missing daughter of the distraught Mary in the village, and Ireena immediately took her back to the village, while the heroes explored a bit more. They began climbing levels up the towers and emerged into a room with three black cats, which attacked them. After dispatching these, they found the adjoining room contained a table full of mystical and alchemical ingredients. Then in the next room they were assaulted by a coven of evil witches! This fight took some time, with the witches casting spells to hamper the heroes, but eventually they prevailed. Looking around the room after the fight revealed a spellbook on a table.

Up to this point, the players had been careful to search everything for traps and detect evil with Volrak’s paladin ability, almost to the point of paranoia. Someone had commented on the fact that they went through this checking for traps and evil routine everywhere, and Puegom’s player said, “of course, as soon as we don’t do it, that’s when the thing will be trapped.” So, upon spying a spellbook owned by a coven of dark witches in a vampire’s castle, what’s the first thing Puegom does? Picks it up without checking for traps or evil. He took 3d10 damage, reducing him to -5 hit points and unconsciousness. The others immediately forced a couple of healing potions down his throat, to stave off death.

319/365: Ravenloft 3And that was the end of session 2. Session 3 picked up with the heroes in a bit of a pickle – Puegom their wizard barely conscious on just 3 hit points. They debated whether to retreat from the castle or explore a bit more first, as they had some time left before nightfall. They decided to keep Puegom away from anything dangerous and press on for a while. They also burnt the spellbook while Puegom was too delirious to protest.

They continued up the towers, pushed by Madam Eva’s fortune reading that said that “the object of their quest” was in a place of dizzying heights. They reached the rain-exposed roof of one tower and faced a railing-less bridge across to the adjacent tower. They tied a rope to Westhorn and had him walk across the bridge first as he was the lightest. He failed a Dex roll and fell over on the wet stone, but fortunately didn’t fall. After tying the rope off, everyone else made it across.

This tower proved a bit dangerous, shaking and rumbling as if in an earthquake, and swinging at them with wall-mounted halberds! (This precipitated a discussion on the pronunciation of “halberd” when I announced what they were facing, as I said it with a silent “l”, which everyone else thought was weird, but were not confident enough to contradict me on. This morning I got an email from a player who had checked and found that every source he could find says the “l” is not silent.) With some dexterity rolls to avoid falling down the shaft in the middle of the tower, they managed to break the halberds and destroy the beating heart of the tower, which silenced it.

Making their way to the top of the tower they encountered Count Strahd himself! A great battle ensued, in which the heroes inflicted quite a bit of damage, including Puegom using his wand of lightning, before Strahd turned to mist and fled. After this fight, they explored a little more, finding a long spiral staircase descending deep into the ground below the castle, where they had not been yet. They decided to save this for another day and returned to the village before sunset.

This time, in the Burgomaster’s house, Leaf and Volrak heard a knock at the door around midnight. Leaf asked who it was, and a voice answered “Let me in.” Leaf tried to open the door, but Volrak grappled and stopped him, yelling to wake the others. Leaf had to be tied up to stop him opening the door, while the others shot at wolves outside and the voice vanished with a peal of laughter into the night.

In the morning, half a dozen young men of the village came to join them on their next trip to the castle. Testing their experience, Henri decided to tell them to stay behind and do the important job of guarding the village instead. And so they set out again accompanied by only Ireena. This time they explored more of the ground floor, finding the ancient chapel of Ravenloft, in which Volrak discovered the lost Avinex Regales, the silver holy symbol of his quest. He used it to heal Puegom back to full strength, over Puegom’s protests about being touched with it. Everyone thought it was amusing that Puegom was so keen to pick up an evil spellbook without checking for danger, but wouldn’t let an obviously good holy symbol near him.

They fought some zombie-like creatures with rotting bodies, whose limbs came off when cut and then continued to attack on their own! And then they descended into the dungeons below the castle, encountering various fell creatures and a room that looked suspiciously like a complex trap of some sort, but which didn’t do anything dangerous after they removed two of the doors into the room completely from their hinges. They came across an insane servant who insisted they return to their rooms and shouldn’t be down here where the kitchens are. They explored the kitchen and wine cellar and then decided to check the next level down…

And here is where we stopped for the evening. Session 4 is to be scheduled… probably after Christmas.

Catch up update

Wednesday, 13 November, 2013

So yeah, I’ve been neglecting the blog lately.

Since the last spate of updates I’ve visited Brookvale Public School again, this time to talk to the kids there about volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate tectonics. It was another very fun day, with lots of interested kids absorbing what I showed them and asking some interesting questions.

I’ve also run the second session of Ravenloft, which I’d planned to post about soon after it happened, but now the third session is scheduled for this Friday, so I think I’ll just wait and combine the two into one big post.

Outside the game

Monday, 30 September, 2013

So I was browsing through the Comprehensive Rules for Magic: The Gathering today (as one does). And I noticed this bit in rule 702.72, the rule on the Changeling ability:

702.72a Changeling is a characteristic-defining ability. “Changeling” means “This object is every creature type.” This ability works everywhere, even outside the game.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s a card game, with a bunch of cards that represent various fantastical creatures and magical spells and stuff. The creatures have associated with them one or more creature types, for example: goblin, or dragon, or human knight (2 creature types, it’s both a human and a knight). There is a canonical list of the all the different creature types defined in the game. Creatures can also have abilities on them, which do various game-mechanical things.

“Changeling” is an ability. As described by the rule 702.72a, a creature with the Changeling ability has all of the valid creature types in the game. So a creature card with “Changeling” printed on it in its ability box is actually a goblin and a dragon and a human and a knight, and all of the other 220 different creature types currently defined in the game. Well that’s fair enough, this is a fantasy game after all. A creature can be magical and be multiple things at once.

The interesting thing is the sentence in the rule that says: This ability works everywhere, even outside the game.

So, even if you’re not currently playing a game of Magic, and you have a Changeling card sitting in front of you, that card represents a creature that is a dragon and a goblin and a human… etc.

Woodland ChangelingIf you accept this statement at face value, it has some interesting philosophical repercussions. What if you have no interest in Magic as a game, but you like dragons and are interested in collecting cards with pictures of dragons on them – Tarot cards, Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, Magic cards, whatever, as long as they have a picture of a dragon on them. You love dragon artwork.

Then, because of rule 702.72a and the fact that it applies even outside the game, you must want a copy of Woodland Changeling (shown at right). It sure doesn’t look like a piece of artwork depicting a dragon, but it is. You don’t get to say, “No, that’s not a dragon, I don’t want that card.” If you want to collect all cards with artwork of dragons on them, then you must want to collect this card.

Let’s push this even further. Imagine someone has a pathological desire to collect cards with artwork of dragons on them. They don’t play Magic, they have no interest whatsoever in it as a game, but they love the cards with dragons on them. Someone has a rare Changeling card, and they are found murdered in their study and the card stolen. The card collector is caught and put on trial. The entire prosecution case revolves around establishing motive. (Forget means and opportunity.)

Look, the prosecution argues, rule 702.72a clearly states that even outside the game, a Changeling card represents all creature types, and is therefore a dragon. Ergo, the card depicts artwork of a dragon! Motive established!

That’s ridiculous, opines the defence. You cannot seriously argue in a court of law that a game rule establishes the motive of my client to murder someone in order to gain a card for a game he is not even interested in, by establishing that the artwork on the card of a bipedal, wingless, humanoid creature is defined as being artwork depicting a dragon!

The prosecution calls an expert witness, Matt Tabak, Magic: The Gathering rules manager at Wizards of the Coast. He swears under oath that rule 702.72a defines a Changeling to be a dragon, and that this definition applies even outside the game of Magic.

A person’s fate rests on this!

Now, obviously this is an incredibly contrived discussion, but it was all brought about by pondering on the implications of making such a rule. Before anyone makes the point, I’ll acknowledge that the rule is written that way specifically to allow things like building decks of cards with which to play Magic – an activity that falls outside the playing of the game itself. For example, if you want to build a deck with 20 dragons in it, you are allowed to put in 18 actual regular dragons, and a couple of Changelings. That’s allowed, because of the rule.

The thing is, the way they did it has a much, much broader scope than needed for that, if read literally. I’m not really complaining about this, or suggesting that the rule needs to be changed – I’m just making an amusing extrapolation. (i.e. I don’t need people telling me “Get a grip, the rule is only intended to cover deck-building!” – I know that.)

Ravenloft: Session 1

Saturday, 31 August, 2013

242/365 Dungeons & Dragons: RavenloftLast night we began the long-planned classic original Ravenloft adventure for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st ed). (This post contains some spoilers for the adventure, but if you comment, please do not add spoilers for anything my players have not seen yet!)

To recap and expand on the characters mentioned in the previous post, the party consisted of:

  • Westhorn, a dwarven fighter. A blacksmith’s son, he was press-ganged into a local human warlord’s service, there falling in with the similarly unwilling Puegom to plan and execute an escape. From their the pair journeyed to a city to seek their fortunes, and met up with the others of their current group.
  • Volrak, a human paladin. A child of the barbaric mountain tribes, he left in distaste at their petty feuding and worked as a sword-for-hire before finding his calling in the paladin order. He seeks the Avinex Regales, a powerful icon of Good, lost centuries ago somewhere in the current region.
  • Leaf, a half-elven ranger. Found abandoned by his parents, presumably because of his half-blood heritage, Leaf was raised by the elves. He seeks his parents, and has developed a strong sense of responsibility for children in need of help.
  • Henri leMarche, a dwarven thief. A bombastic dwarf with a penchant for regaling all within hearing range with Munchhausen-esque stories of his past exploits as a Titan, a cursed frog familiar of the famous bog-witch who ascended to godhood, and various other.
  • Puegom, a gnomish magic-user. Fled from his home village after an embarrassing situation which won’t be dwelt on, he book-learned a few minor spells before being captured by the same warlord as Westhorn. After their escape he apprenticed to a wizard in the city, before departing to join the adventuring party with Westhorn.
  • Olaf Northling, a human cleric of Njordr, god of the sea. A skilled fisherman, he turned to the spiritual life after becoming fascinated by his village priest’s stories of Njordr. He left his home with youthful wanderlust and fell in with the present band, but is starting to feel his age and yearns to return home and settle down.

The adventure began in a tavern in a small town they were passing through, with the delivery of a mysterious letter by a gypsy. Answering the call for help in the letter, they journeyed along the Svalich Road to the bleak town of Barovia, which is surrounded by an unearthly fog. They spent a couple of days getting their bearings in the town and meeting various people, including Ismark and Ireena, the son and adopted daughter respectively of the Burgomaster, dead some two weeks.

Everyone else in the village was too scared to help Ismark bury his father, so our heroes assisted with a burial of the decaying body. They also paid a visit to Mary, a distraught woman pining for her teenage daughter, who went missing a week ago. They assisted the priest of the shattered church to reinforce and strengthen the church building – help needed because, as they discovered on their first night, wolves habitually entered the village at night and attempted to gain entry into any building not suitably fortified. Ismark and Ireena spoke of other horrors – missing villagers returning as walking corpses to terrorise the living. Ireena was also suffering a wound, an unnatural bleeding from her neck, visited upon her during a night some days ago, despite her sleeping in a barred room with boarded up window. She spoke in hushed tones of the “Devil” looming over the village, a Devil known by the name of “vampyr”.

The heroes determined that the probable cause of all this misery lay hidden in the dark castle looming over the village from the thousand-foot high cliffs to the north-west. They set out early the next morning, with Ireena, who was determined to accompany them and proudly showed off her sword skills. Taking the road, they reached a fork, and chose the path leading to a gypsy camp by the river. Here they encountered the cackling mad Madam Eva in her colourful tent, who seemed to know more about the heroes than she should have. She read their fortune with the cards, telling of both great evil in the castle, and also icons of hope that may help to defeat the “Devil”.

Continuing to the castle, the heroes entered the courtyard across a decrepit drawbridge, and then into the keep building within, which looked bright and inviting. They made it through three rooms of the entry halls and into a dining room where they caught sight of their adversary, playing a pipe organ. He invited them to dine and drink, but then vanished – an illusion! The candles blew out and the doors all slammed shut! Racing back out to check their escape route, they were ambushed by the 4 small dragon statues in the entry hall, turned to real dragons! After a hard fought battle they defeated the tiny dragons, but sustained some considerable wounds. They are now considering their position… to be continued next session.

Some game mechanical notes: Firstly, the card reading sequence is presented in the module with normal playing cards, but I did a mapping to Tarot cards and ran it with the players actually shuffling and dealing out Tarot cards. It made it a lot more atmospheric, especially with the cackling Madam Eva interpreting the omens on the cards.

Secondly, even baby dragons are a nasty, nasty challenge, especially for the opening combat of an adventure! Despite having only a small number of hit points, they have an insanely good armour class, make attack rolls as 9 hit dice monsters, and do an enormous amount of damage. So they were very hard to hit, while hitting back effectively for devastating damage. I begin to wonder if setting the character levels at the very top end of the suggested range for the adventure will be enough!

The next session is yet to be scheduled – it will probably be at least a few weeks away. Given how tricky it is to get us all together on the same day, I’m cautiously hoping to complete the adventure by Christmas.

Toon time

Monday, 19 August, 2013

As a warm-up for next week’s Ravenloft game, I ran a quick game of Toon at lunch today. I planned to run it later in the week, but one of the players will be away, so I improvised without the rule book. I downloaded a character sheet from the net, printed out some copies, and ran the whole game with no other reference material at all.

The guys created characters:

  • Herman the Merman, who had a trident and a Belief & Goal of “Find the Lost Treasure of Atlantis”.
  • Pattowl Owlhoot, a trench-coated, fedora-wearing owl, obsessed with finding out WHOO-dunnit.
  • Bip, a road runner, who piled all his points into Incredible Speed, Flying, Running, and Teleporting, at the expense of… well every other skill.
  • Zock, a shape-shifting dragonfly armed with a bowling ball.
  • Nugs, a chicken, whose primary goal was “Cross the road”.

The adventure was to run a saloon in an ornery western frontier town, across the road from a rival saloon owned by a huge mustachioed man with a penchant for guns and cannons, and try to make more money than their rival. They ended up destroying his saloon three times, stealing all his liquor, and his dancing girls, and his customers. Actually, they bought all his liquor, using money pilfered from the large moneybags of a filthy rich aristocrat who drove into town in his gold-plated Rolls Royce and decided to slake his thirst in the PCs’ saloon (based on the fact they’d posted a sign on the rival saloon proclaiming it sold poisoned beer).

There was high-stakes gambling, the Lost Treasure of Atlantis was actually found, the chicken crossed the road four times, there were a couple of explosions, there was accordion music and dancing girls, and the filthy rich aristocrat declared the PCs’ saloon so delightful that he offered to buy it from them for 10 million dollars! The dollar signs went ka-ching in their eyes and they accepted… only for the aristocrat to discover all his money had been stolen!

Cue ironic slide flute twang and roll end credits!

It was a great way to spend a lunch hour.

Ravenloft approaching

Thursday, 15 August, 2013

The characters have been created, I’ve reread the module, and the date has been set. My friends venture into Ravenloft on Friday 30 August. The stalwart band includes:

  • Westhorn, a dwarven fighter.
  • Volrak, a human paladin.
  • Leaf (or maybe it was Leif), a half-elven ranger.
  • Henri leMarche, a dwarven thief.
  • Puegom, a gnomish magic-user.
  • (to be named), a human cleric.

Although we’re playing 1st Edition AD&D, I’m basically ignoring the racial class limitations (thus Puegom). I’m currently in the process of working out what magic items they all own, the assumption being they are a seasoned band of adventurers who have already shared some exploits together.

I’m really looking forward to this. I haven’t run D&D for… well, since 1st Edition was the current edition!