Thursday, October 30, 2014

[Actual Play OD&D] The PCs Discover Their Class Abilities

Move silently! Backstab! Turn undead!

Now that my young players have absorbed the basic dice mechanics of Holmes-style D&D, they are actually looking at their character sheets and discovering what their PCs can do. As you will see if you read on...

The heroes had just finished off the last of some nasty kobolds and now decided to commandeer their barge. Drifting and poling downstream, the PCs soon bump up against an iron portcullis that bars further river travel into the kobold stronghold (unless the kobolds decide to open the portcullis). On the other side of the gate there are arrow slits hewn out of the rock. Kobolds start firing crossbows through the portcullis at the PCs, who  waste a bunch of ammo firing back before taking a few too many crossbow hits and deciding to withdraw. So much for downstream.

Upstream, they come to the base of a waterfall, and a small landing carved out of the river tunnel, with a door leading to parts unknown. And there's a path that leads behind the spray curtain of the waterfall. They opt to try the door, and have to bust it down. Beyond is a creepy temple or crypt area which looks disturbingly familiar to the old wizard, Corvax, who fought the vampires here a century before. Inching along a corridor, they see a source of pulsing red light around the corner.

The thief slinks ahead, rendered invisible by a spell from the old wizard. He discovers a sanctum with an altar holding a pulsing red gem. Eight robed figures are kneeling, facing the gem. The thief fails his move silently roll but the robed acolytes don't notice him. He reports back, then returns, leading the party to attack the sanctum. He backstabs one robed figure and misses, his slash opening the figures robe to reveal a dusty ribcage sans flesh. Slowly the robed figures turn. They are possessed skeletons with glowing red eyes!

The fight is on. The cleric tries to turn undead and rolls a 2 on 2d6. Ouch. The warrior socks one with a hammer she picked up from the kobolds. Smash! The skeleton lurches but manages to remain intact. The old wizard sees the whippersnappers need some help. He casts web and snares 6 of the skeletons. The druid smacks one with her bow (yes her bow, lucky it didn't break). The thief finds that daggers aren't much use against these bony foes. By the time the two standing ones are destroyed, the others have escaped from the web. Fortunately the fighter has found her mojo and smashes 3 skeletons in three successive rounds of combat. Eventually the undead are all rendered merely dead, and the heroes' attention turns to the pulsing red gem. The cleric, who has a pet fairy dragon, orders the little pet to grab the gem and bring it to her. Into her backpack it goes. Did I mention the gem is full of the souls of the vampires' old worshipers, waiting for  skeleton bodies to be reincarnated into.

Who should come into view down the hallway but two more skeletons, carrying an inert pile of bones between them, ready to incarnate another worshiper. The thief takes one down with a backstab + natural 20 clutch roll. The cleric turns the other skeleton who begins shambling away. "Gimme your bow," says the warrior to the cleric. By the time the warrior has an arrow nocked, the skeleton is nearly out of sight. She shoots. By gosh, another natural 20!

And it was time to call it a day.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

[Preview Map] Lastward Town Map

I'm writing an adventure module called "Entry Level" for the Dungeonteller FRPG and this is the local map. You can find the town of Lastward on the Quibble March map from Big Hexyland. As usual, there will be a matching node version of the map too.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dungeonteller Witch Class Now Available as Free PDF

As promised, I'm giving away the first ever expansion class for my Dungeonteller fantasy RPG. The witch PDF includes a two page character record and a page describing her initial cool powers and potential power-ups. This hero class can interfere with the Luck mechanic of her foes in the form of curses and hexes, as well as casting some charms on herself. And she comes with a broomstick and a black cat, of course.
Available here for download.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

[Actual Play OD&D] Non-canon Kobolds and a Jail Break

DMing for newbies is such fun. This is a little update to this post about starting a Holmes blue book campaign for some middle-schoolers.

The PCs are all first level. Wizard, cleric, thief, and fighter.

The wizard and the thief are street urchins living in a dilapidated warren on the outskirts of town, under the tutelage of a Fagin-like crime boss who also happens to be the thief's mom. The PCs wake one morning to find every adult in the town turned to stone. 

The cleric shows up. She's an elf who has been sent by her mother superior to investigate a disturbance in the force the natural order and deal with it as a test to earn her holy orders. She finds the wizard and the thief and they agree to, yes, team up.

Making a recon of the town, they find that the only thing out of place is that someone has smashed one of three statues topping the town fountain -- a monument to a trio of heroes who saved the town from destruction a hundred years ago.

"Hoooey! Ahoy there!" calls out a voice from afar. They look out into the harbor to see a wizened figure of a man waving from the barred window of the tiny town lockup, which is on a rock in the harbor. They come to within comfortable shouting distance, and he introduces himself as Corvax, a wizard who was none other than one of the three legendary town heroes commemorated in the town monument. When the statues had been built, he placed a spell on them so that if evil stirred again, any of the three heroes still alive would be teleported to the spot, the release of powerful magic shattering the statue in the process. Unfortunately no one in the town these days remembers that little detail, so the guards arrested Corvax for being a crazy old vandal and locked him up,  despite his dire warnings.

"And whatever this evil is has turned the people to stone?" asks the cleric.
"Oh no, that was another spell I placed, to protect the villagers from the vampires who we drove back the last time. It's for their own good. I would ask you to rescue me and help me find my spell book, but the dread lake pirates must have noticed that the town lighthouse wasn't shining last night, because their ship is just heaving into view out of the morning fog and is headed this way to ransack the town."

He recommends the players hide in the old dwarf mine cut into the bluffs that nearly encircle the town, but not to go in too far, because that's just where the vampire cult is entombed. Unless of course, they want to take on the cult themselves...

The PCs dash to the mine entrance, which has been prettified with an old mining cart that  now serves as a planter full of flowers. The players encounter the challenge of exploring in complete darkness, until the cleric realizes she can cast a light spell on a rock and use it as a lantern. Looking back, they see a figure framed in the entrance to the mine. It's the 4th PC, the fighter, who was a young stowaway on the pirate ship looking for adventure and who has now found it after jumping off as the ship approached the town dock. They agree to, yes, team up.

The thief is playing his low Wisdom to the hilt and brashly strides down a tunnel that leads to a cavern with a deep pit and a sketchy-looking mine elevator/hoist. He's attacked by the vampires' precious little watchdogs, who happen to be stirges.

The other PCs run up, the wizard gets impaled by a stirge proboscis and quickly gets down to 1 hp before the fighter pops the critter with her bare hands, splattering them all with the wizard's blood. The thief gleefully knifes a stirge before it can attach itself. The cleric saves the wizard with a cure light wounds.Four stirges are dead and the PCs have survived their first combat ever, with no punches pulled by the DM!

They find the desiccated body of an earlier explorer, who was wearing a spiffy ruby ring. Agreements are made about how to split any treasure in future.

They rest for a bit. I'm using Dungeonteller-style resting rules, which means you get all your hp back between fights, and in this case, spell casters get back one spell for each rest. Tense moment when a couple of the marauding pirates enter the mine but then turn back, thinking better of it.

After some tinkering, the PCs figure out how to use the mine elevator. The cleric, who is by far the most sober and strategic thinker and the least stabby, decides that the old wizard needs to be rescued from the jail before they go much further. So she doubles back and creeps into town while the others winch themselves to the bottom of the pit.

Minus the cleric, the PCs check out a tunnel that leads from the base of the pit. Tapping sounds are heard ahead. They enter a terraced mine gallery with a boulder-strewn floor. You really don't want to turn your back on these boulders -- they are kobolds who can polymorph into stone, kinda like the trolls in Frozen. Except evil. My kobolds are more like their Germanic folkloric counterparts -- I don't know why they turned into little horned dog-guys with tails in AD&D. Mine are malevolent little dwarf miners whose tapping foretells danger via a well-staged cave-in. They can also telekinese rock.

Anyhow, the fighter decides that throwing her short sword would be a good idea and nails one of them to the floor, but leaving her weaponless. The thief gets another one and the remaining kobolds turtle up as rocks. The thief jumps onto one of them to annoy it. The other ko-boulders begin rolling towards him to grind him into urchin burger. He and the fighter dash to the far end of the gallery. At this point the wizard realizes a fight is going on -- he was investigating some interesting rock formations. He dashes after them, ko-boulders nipping at his heels. Thank goodness he's there, because he's there to cast hold portal on the exit to keep the kobolds at bay. They bounce off the portal forcefield to comic effect.

Meanwhile the cleric sees that the pirates are happily looting the town. A fight breaks out between two scurvy crewmen over a particularly bedbug-free pillowcase, and it provides the cleric just the distraction she needs to get back to the urchin-house, where the other kids welcome her. (These kids will serve as a ready pool of first level PCs if we have any deaths in the campaign). The kids show her to a rowboat hidden in the bushes on the shore, and she rows out to the jail. Crap! The jailhouse is locked with a very sturdy padlock. Fortunately the jailer is standing there in petrified state with his lunchbox and key ring on the ground nearby. The cleric gets into the jail and finds Corvax. He's half-approving, half-scolding. They look around for his spell book and find it in the jailer;s office, along with his +2 dagger and +2 ring of protection. One quick rowboat ride later, they are back in the company of the urchins.

By this time, the pirates are done looting and starting to get freaked out by the statues, and board their ship, lest they too be turned to stone. The cleric and Corvax get back to the mine.

While the hold portal is in effect, the thief explores down the tunnel and finds a spiral ramp heading down. At the bottom is a subterranean stream/river where the kobolds' barge is tied up. Two kobolds are on guard. Stabby McStabalot ganks one of them, and the fighter arrives to mop up. Lots of loot to be had on the barge, but 4:30 rolled around and we had to end the session.

So now the PCs have a high level wizard with few hp on their side. I think he will last long enough to get them through a tough fight or two and then go down because they won't be able to keep a mob of baddies away from melee-ing him. I'll update as I go.

Monday, October 13, 2014

New Dungeonteller Hero: Witch

In the spirit of the season, here comes a new Dungeonteller hero: the witch. Everyone who has bought the core book or the complete bundle will get a free PDF with a two-sided hero sheet and cool powers list for this first-ever addition to the six standard DT heroes! Until then, enjoy this poster with original art from yours truly.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

[Map] Gnashfang Chaos

Finished the Big Hexyland map I started yesterday...

Big Hexyland 2 Is On The Way

A followup to my continent of modular hex maps...
This set will include more mind-bending fantasy terrain, some more generic terrain types (alpine, desert, forest), coastlines, and deep sea hexes (with and without islands). Here's the first hex in progress. Give me your wish lists now, and I'll see what I can do.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

WInter Eternal Maps Done

The battle maps I drew for Morné Schaap's "Winter Eternal" campaign are now done. I really enjoyed making them.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

HeroForge Elf Spellslinger!

The beta 2 update of the HeroForge character maker lets you mix Western and fantasy elements. Go fer your staff, varmint! And they added a snapshot button.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dwarf Gadgets (from Dungeonteller rule book)

Dwarf characters in Dungeonteller can place a rune on a gadget they have built or found to power it up, at the cost of lowering their maximum hp (or "Luck" in DT terminology). Everybody wants a clockdog and a gunderbuss.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

[Actual Play] First OD&D/Holmes Campaign in 35 years

"My big brothers told me you used to run a D&D club after school. They won't let me play with them. Can you bring back the club for me and my friends?"

I told her that if she could find three friends who could consistently show up after school on Thursdays, I would run a campaign for them. But which edition? I decided to use my beloved Holmes rule set and set to making a village map and a dungeon in the old mines at the edge of town. 

I have not run an OD&D campaign since 1978, when I was exactly the same age as my young players are now.

Opening the dogeared, taped-together booklet and revisiting the character creation rules was like combing through your old camping gear in the basement — this is still good, this is broken, oh wow I forgot about this bit altogether...

Here's a summary of the tweaks I've done to make it work for me.

1. Stat-beefing. What gets me is how little your stats matter unless you're on the extreme ends of the bell curve. Why did my players cry so much back in the day about their stats? Unless you have a 15 or higher or a 7 or lower, it matters not. So I spread the love a little bit so that you get at least some bonus if you've got 12 or higher in a given stat.

2. Saves. I tossed out the standard saves and instead you roll a d20 and have to roll at or under the relevant stat. So roll vs. your CON score for poison, WIS for fear, etc.

3. Weapon damage. I think as written it's totally broken. Even in '77 we had different damage ranges for different weapons in our house rules. My patch:

Daggers do 1–4 damage but you can strike twice each round.

One-handed weapons do 1-6 damage but allow for a shield.

Two-handed weapons do 1-8 damage.

Polearms do 1-12 damage but only once every other round.

4. Spells. Clerics with high WIS get a spell at 1st level.

5. Healing and spell recharge. I use Dungeonteller-style healing, where a brief rest between fights gets you back to full HP and you get a spell back. No 15-minute adventurer work days.

What I didn't compromise on: hit points. I told the players, when you get to zero hp, you are dead. Period.

The party includes an elf fighter/cleric (illegal in Holmes, I know, but I just swapped out her magic user class for cleric, is that so wrong); a human magic-user with and enviable 18 INT and 17 CON; a human thief with no stats higher than 12; and a human fighter who hasn't acquired any weapons or armor yet, but kills stirges by popping them with her bare hands.

Their first fight was against some stirges, and two PCs out of four could have bought the farm if I had rolled differently on the blood loss die.

It was incredibly fast-moving and exciting play. I loved it. Best newbie quote, as I took out the rule book: "Whoa, there's an instruction manual too? No way!"

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