Archive for August, 2013

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.


Thursday, 29 August, 2013

241/365 Eastern Water SkinkI’ve had a couple of good days for spotting wildlife. I saw this fellow sunning himself on a rock as I was walking home from work today, just 50 metres or so from where I saw the brushturkeys yesterday.

This is an Eastern water skink (Eulamprus quoyii). It was maybe 40 centimetres long. I managed to poke my camera fairly close before it scooted away.


Wednesday, 28 August, 2013

Australian brushturkeyFollowing up my urban bird post of the other day, I was astonished this morning to come across a pair of Australian brushturkeys while walking to the station to catch the train to work. I know these birds are around the city, but I’ve never seen some so close before, nor so close to my home.

They’re very territorial, so I’ll probably see them again in the future if they’ve moved into the area. At this time of year they’re probably either building compost mounds to incubate their eggs, or already looking after a clutch of eggs or chicks somewhere nearby.

Tiramisu without coffee

Tuesday, 27 August, 2013

For years and years and years I have wanted to try tiramisu, because it always looks so good when I see it in restaurants and cafes. But I do not have caffeine, and from what I remember of coffee flavoured things when I was a child, I really hate the flavour of coffee too – so I have never tried tiramisu.

I mentioned this to my wife the other day, when we were in a restaurant and I saw on the menu: orange “tiramisu”. I figured the quotes around “tiramisu” were to indicate that this was a tiramisu-inspired dessert, made with orange flavours, and so probably without coffee. I thought this would be awesome, because I might finally get to taste tiramisu for the first time. Being extra careful, I asked the waiter if the “tiramisu” dessert had any coffee in it. Alas, she replied that it did in fact contain coffee. So I didn’t order it.

Undaunted, my wife decided to find a recipe for tiramisu without coffee, and to make it for me. Here’s a simple one we found, and a more complex one. We’ll try the simple one first and see what I think of it.

Ice cream prices

Saturday, 24 August, 2013

236/365 Ben & Jerry'sThe first time I travelled to the USA, I tried Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and instantly fell in love. I’d never had ice cream so delicious as that before.

When I got home, I lamented the fact that Ben & Jerry’s was an American company, and they didn’t sell their ice cream here in Australia. Over the years I made a few more trips to the US, and each time I gorged myself on Ben & Jerry’s while over there. In 2009 I travelled to the UK and found some over there, and again sated my desire for this heavenly concoction.

Then a couple of years ago, Ben & Jerry’s began appearing here in Sydney. At first I was delighted, but the delight quickly melted away as I realised an awful fact. Because it’s imported from the US, it’s horrendously, ridiculously, stupidly expensive. It is so outrageously expensive that I refuse to buy it.

Here is a photo of some I took in my local supermarket. $11.99 for 458 mL. That works out to $26.18 a litre. (Aside: that’s about 17 times the cost of petrol!!)

And here is a photo of some Australian made Bulla ice cream, which is a good quality ice cream in your standard flavours of vanilla, chocolate, and Neapolitan. Nothing fancy, but a good solid ice cream if you just want some vanilla. It normally costs $10.29 for 4 litres, or $2.57 a litre. Less than 1/10 the price of Ben & Jerry’s! And today it was on special, for $2.12 a litre, less than 1/12 the price of Ben & Jerry’s.

(The generic supermarket brand ice cream next to the Bulla cost only $1 a litre – 1/26 the price of Ben & Jerry’s – but honestly I wouldn’t deign to eat that. You really can taste the difference.)

So. As much as I love Ben & Jerry’s, and despite the fact that it’s now sold here, the only time I ever eat it is when I’m in another country. I had my last serve when I was in San Francisco for a conference in February. I’m hoping to attend the same conference again next February. For more reasons than one.

Urban birds

Wednesday, 21 August, 2013

Friendly lorikeetI was walking home from the railway station after work today and I noticed an ibis and some parrots flying overhead. And I figured it might be interesting to list what birds I typically see in my daily life here in Sydney.

  • Pigeons. Yeah, they’re all over the place, alas.
  • Noisy miner. This is easily the second most common bird I see. And the most common one I hear – they’re not called “noisy” for nothing. They constantly chatter away as they flit around gardens and parks. The noise isn’t loud or offensive, just prolific.
  • Australian white ibis. Probably the next most common bird I encounter. I often see them flying relatively high and for longish distances across the city. If you look up at the sky much in Sydney, you’ll see these birds travelling from suburb to suburb. I often see them out the window of my office building too.
  • Rainbow lorikeet. Common around my home, since there are lots of gardens and some bushland in a nearby park. Sometimes they come and sit on my balcony (pictured). Some people feed them, but you need to be careful not to give them food that is bad for them.
  • Pied currawong. Usually just called currawongs, these are the only one of three currawong species commonly found in Sydney. These can be loud birds, with a very distinctive crow-like cry.
  • Berry Island Lapwing

  • Australian magpie. Unrelated to European magpies, these are larger crow-like birds. Their most notable thing is that they attack humans during nesting season (spring). A few people are hospitalised every year with wounds caused by magpie attacks; sometimes people lose eyes. The best way to prevent attacks is to look at them – they attack from behind. Wearing false eyes on the back of your head/hat also helps.
  • Masked lapwing (pictured). Pretty common near water and also in open grassy areas, looking for worms and grubs in the grass.
  • Silver gull. Everywhere near salt water. These are the squabbling pigeons of the shoreline. Also seen inland.
  • Sulphur-crested cockatoo. I see these in the parkland around my home.
  • House sparrow. Introduced from Europe and now common.

The above birds are common enough that I see them virtually every week. The following ones I see less often.
Laughing Kookaburra

  • Crested pigeon. These are much nicer birds than the more common feral pigeons. They have a comical topknot spike of feathers and make a squeaking/whistling sound as they fly. It’s caused by the air moving across their flapping wings.
  • Australian pelican. These are common near the ocean and sea lagoons, but I don’t travel out to the ocean every week, so I only see them occasionally.
  • Australian raven. Sometimes difficult to tell from a currawong from a distance. These are a bit less common.
  • Little pied cormorant. Fairly easy to spot on the harbour, rivers, and near the sea.
  • Laughing kookaburra (pictured from my living room window). I see one of these maybe a couple of times a month. Or hear them – they’re very loud.
  • Galah. These can be seen occasionally in large flocks, either flying across Sydney, or settled into grassy areas to graze on seeds. There’s a flock that I see occasionally in the park areas near my work.
  • White-faced heron. I never used to notice these, but since I’ve been keeping an eye out for birds, I see them moderately often, all over Sydney.
  • Pacific black duck. Seen near waterways and, well, everywhere ducks are seen.
  • Australian wood duck. Ditto, but a bit less common.
  • King parrot. I’ve seen these a few times in the park near my home.
  • Channel-billed cuckoo. These are more often heard than seen. They make loud raucous calls.

These birds I see a few times a month to a few times a year. There are other birds that I see occasionally or rarely within Sydney as well, such as: black swan, willy wagtail, purple swamphen, Australian brushturkey, superb lyrebird. Occasionally I’ll spot a raptor of some sort, a falcon or small eagle, flying far overhead. The coolest bird I’ve ever seen in the city is a powerful owl, perched on a power line as I was walking home from a restaurant one night.

I’m sure I’m missing some species, probably including some fairly common ones that I just don’t know the names of yet.

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!