Sunday, December 21, 2014

Idalium Game 7: Whoa, Your Head's on Fire

Session date: Monday, December 15, 2014
Game date: Saturday, December 15, 207 to December 17, 207

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 1509/2000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 1424/4000
Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 1, hp 3, xp 292/2200
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 1349/2500
Vito Aneti, Thief 1, hp 6, xp 852/1200

Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 681/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 681/4000
Wilson, Thief 1, hp 1, xp 340/1200
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 306/1200

Another full house of players, though one had to attend via speakerphone because he was stuck at home waiting for a boiler repairman who never bothered to show up. Brother Jibber and Sprat had failed morale checks after their last adventurers, but Ylil returned from a few weeks of alternative employment, and Caryatid decided to employ both Ylil and Wilson for this venture into the dungeon.

Ylil brought with him news that the thieves' guild had received a notice from some rich old lady offering a reward for the reward of some valuables that had been stolen by the renegade thieves in the undercity, and some of the former members of Cretch's gang were very interested in pursuing this opportunity. The group had "liberated" a matching crystal goblet and platter from Cretch's mansion, and had been keeping it in their storeroom with the thought of eventually finding the proper owner, assuming it would be too difficult to fence in the city.

So, perhaps urged on by the thought of bandits with a grudge coming after them to reacquire their treasure, the group decided to follow up on this reward themselves. Ylil had been given the name of a very fancy "wine bar" in the ritzy quarter of the city, where they were to inquire after the reward. The group made a cursory attempt to spruce up their appearance a little, and then made their way into the nice part of town. A grand plaza stretched out in front of the Great Cathedral of the All-Pervading Light (inside of which Brother Jibber was busy helping with preparations for the upcoming winter solstice holiday), and the plaza was surrounded by mansions, government buildings, expensive shops, etc. The group felt decidedly out of place here.

They found the wine bar, and a snooty maître d' sat them in the back of the restaurant. They ordered expensive wine, cheese, and charcuterie. When asked about the message, the maître d' sent a runner to fetch a man named Roger, who turned out to be the butler of Baroness Millicent Trenevant. He set up an appointment between Lady Trenevant and the party for later that afternoon.

Lady Millicent Trenevant
Arriving at the mansion of the Baroness, they found it to be a grand city estate, though somewhat run down around the edges. They were shown into the sitting room where Lady Trenevant (played by Maggie Smith, in my mind) met with them. Hers was one of the "founding families" of the new city of Idalium, and though Idalium is a mercantile city where the business class wields a great amount of political power, these families still hold an enormous amount of authority in the highest social circles of the city.

Lady Trenevant identified the goblet and platter that were burgled from her house, interjecting some choice bits of disdain for the thieves' guild. "What's the point of me making all these monthly payments if they can't live up to their promises to protect me from common thievery?" The group delivered the items to her, and she had Roger fetch them a pouch containing forty platinum minas as their reward. "It is good to know that the nobility can still count on the loyalty of the working classes." I think a few of the PCs had to smile through gritted teeth after that one.

At this point it was late in the day, so they returned to the Rusty Lantern early the next morning to delve once again into the buried city. Having dealt with the knockers, they tossed around a few ideas for what to focus on in this session, eventually deciding to perhaps check out the garden area behind the mansion Cretch had been using, and checking out a few of the other rooms and halls on their way.

Descending into the ancient city, the group retraced a familiar path through the tavern and kitchen off of the city square, and then stopped in the courtyard containing the small statue of a smiling chef that they had puzzled over some weeks ago. The statue held a tray inscribed with the Ancient Idalian words, "Your generosity is appreciated!" Tyrriel tried offering an old Idalian gold piece that she had been hanging on to, but still there was no apparent effect. They decided to investigate the building connected to the courtyard, and Tod shouldered the stuck door open.

Beyond the door, a dim red light pervaded an abandoned kitchen. Five giant beetles were crawling through the rubble, the glands on their heads and abdomens providing the strange red glow. For the moment, the beetles seemed to ignore the party, but then from a doorway across the room emerged a horrid, shriveled gnome-like creature, with more lurking behind it. The knockers stood in the doorway, scowling at the adventurers. Gulleck cursed the knockers in their own language with the rudest words he knew in that warped tongue, and then someone sent an arrow whizzing over the backs of the beetles, wounding the knocker in front. The knockers hissed at the party and retreated into the dark, and the beetles suddenly became aggressive, rustling towards the door with mandibles clacking. The group quickly backed up and Tod pulled the door shut. As they regrouped in the courtyard behind the building, a dozen knockers came running at them out of the dark, having flanked the group. Tod was stabbed viciously by one of them. Gulleck charged into the fray, hacking at the monstrosities with his axe. With the help of two Sleep spells, the knockers were soon routed, and a couple of survivors ran back the way they came, but were chased down and slain as they ran.

Tod was badly injured, and although the group had barely explored anything in the dungeon, they decided to retreat to the surface and rest for the remainder of the day. Tod slept with the pillow that Quazzle had been using, and found that he woke up remarkably refreshed and energizing (it allowed him to heal an extra hit point per day of rest). Pleased at the powers of this "pillow +1", the group - now fully healed - again descended into the dungeon. They quickly searched the rooms they had found the fire beetles and knockers in, and found a small amount of silver and gold coins, and in the front counter of an abandoned cafe, Vito found an intriguing pair of glass spectacles that allowed him to read Ancient Idalian writing as easily as if it were written in Common.

Proceeding along the back alley, they entered another house, finding themselves in a dark hallway with an open door some forty feet away, from which case flickering lamplight and nervous voices. Vito crept forward to investigate. Lurking at the edge of the doorway, he could hear hushed voices arguing. "Oh, if we can find someone up top to fence this with, he won't have to work another day for months!" "But where can we sell it? Oh, I wish Cretch were still around. He was a jerk but at least he always knew what to do..."

Vito briefly contemplated attempting to mimic Cretch's voice, to startle or scare these bandits, but decided that plan was too risky. Instead, he carefully and quietly poured a flask of oil onto the floor at the threshold of the door, leaving it slick and slippery. He quietly beckoned the rest of the group to join him. They attempted to creep up as quietly as possible, but with several of them in plate mail, there were a few creaks and clanks...

"Shh! What's that noise? Go check it out..." A man dressed in leather armor, carrying a sword and a lantern, came cautiously out of the room and jumped in surprise at seeing himself nearly surrounded by grim-faced adventurers. He stumbled in the pool of oil at his feet but managed to keep his balance. But then Wilhelm spoke the words of the Sleep spell, and he fell, with the lantern, into the oil.

There was some discussion at the table over how likely the lamp would be to just go out upon hitting the ground, versus igniting the oil. Caryatid's player said, "Come on, in all the movies it would just go up like 'whooof'!" So I offered a 2 in 6 chance for the lantern to break open and ignite the oil, the players agreed that seemed reasonable, and lo and behold, the die came up with a 2.

If he was asleep for a few moments, the bandit was awake now, screaming in pain and terror as the flames roared up around him. He rolled on the floor desperately trying to prevent the fire from igniting his clothes and hair. Two other bandits rushed to the doorway to see what was happening. "Holy $#%@!" they exclaimed as they saw their comrade on fire on the ground, surrounded by strange people with weapons drawn. They lunged at Gulleck with their swords, but they were hindered by the pool of flaming oil in front of them, and their thrusts fell short.

Tyrriel put a lethal arrow into the chest of one of the bandits in the doorway. I think Vito's player was feeling actual guilt over the poor sap on fire, and put him out of his misery with a crossbow bolt.

"Well," mused Tod's player, "this certainly got a lot more murderous than usual really fast."

The four remaining bandits in the room completely failed a morale check at this point, and their swords went clattering to the floor as their hands shot up above their heads. "Oh, God! Please don't kill us! Please don't set us on fire!"

The party quickly bound the hands of the bandits, and liberated them of the treasure they had been discussing: four beautiful pieces of jewelry worth about 4,000 gold darics altogether. They escorted the bandits back to the Rusty Lantern, and handed them over to the thieves' guild for their usual reward. And then they returned to celebrate their very successful expedition!

Gaining experience in B/X is really all about finding the jewelry, and the players were quite lucky to stumble upon these bandits with their somewhat disproportionately valuable treasure. I really don't mind the "swinginess" of the random treasure tables - I think they contribute to an exciting style of game where you never quite know when you will strike it rich. And strike it rich they did, with both Tod and Vito earning enough experience to go up to level 2! Tod rolled the maximum roll of 8 for his hit points, and Vito has an 18 constitution, so even though he rolled a 1 on his d4, it was still enough to nearly double his current hit point amount. Both of them are now guaranteed to be able to survive at least one hit with a sword, which may seem a bit funny, but in by-the-book D&D it's quite a bit deal to no longer carry that constant fear of dying from a single hit. A major milestone for these two players!

(Of course, the gallows humor at the table was that now everyone will get cocky and reckless...)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Player Journals from Session 6

Journal of Tod P. Quasit, Jr.
It is with a heavy heart that I must report the death of dear Quazzle. So frail. So delicate. Alas. So dead. He was too good for this world. And too weak to be delving in the undercity. He had managed with for quite a while by staying behind people and things, and he was more than handy at putting our enemies to sleep. I will miss him and drink a toast later at the Two Frogs. This entry is a direct transpose of my notes that I took. My memory is shaky. These will have to do.

Room with sliver ore glowing green and blue.

We mine a bit. SILVER ORE IS BURNING Tyrriel!

KNOCKERS! Death to them.


All asleep... we crush their skulls and slit their throats.

Church of the All Pervasive Light.

We find a dwarf. Just as one member leaves, another arrives. Sitting in a pit with two dead friends and green ooze. Just in the nick of time.

Piles of Gold and Copper. Copper and Gold. We go back to the gnomes. Tainted ore. Tyrriel is doomed. The copper is gold. The gold is copper. The gold is the gnomes. We get a cup and a vile of dream potion. No wait. Vaporous potion. turns you into a cloud.

Tyrriel survives. We all go drinking. Our new friend is named Gullick Stonefoot and he smells a great deal. We ask him to join us because why not? What could go wrong? Trust in complete strangers is what Jibber is always preaching right? Actually, I don't think that is right. I'll have to ask him over a couple shots of grog at the Blind Turkey.

TPQ jr.

Journal entry from Caryatid
Dear diary,

It turns out that our band of adventurers are in possession of some magical items, yay! I LOVE magical items. The pillow seems to have some kind of healing powers, mild or slow-acting, but still effective. The grapes, however, don't seem to do anything except that they remain fresh indefinitely.

Again, I am saddened by the untimely death of one of our team; this time it was poor Quazzle. We nearly retrieved a considerable amount of gold pieces which turned out to be only copper pieces in disguise. Mean, ugly smurfs can be SO utterly disappointing.

I thought I saw Ylil/Paul at the market in town the other day. He didn't see me and I lost him in the crowd. It might not have been him, he looked an awful lot like Eddie Izzard; high heeled boots, painted fingernails, and glitter lipstick…

Anyway, we have a new member in our group: we rescued Gulleck Stone-something from a pit with that Green Slime stuff. I'm curious to see how he will fit in with our group.

We're meeting up at the Rusty Lantern again. We've explored a considerable amount of the tunnels and passages under the city but have heard rumors of at least one deeper level. Oh I HOPE we find more magical items. I still have only the one spell, and continue working on a another Shield scroll which may be useful if we encounter worse demons in the lower levels under the city…

Gulleck's first journal
Well, Whatshisname and Thingy are dead. Complete tragedy. What a waste. Their stuff all got melted by that green gunk. Not a single bit of salvageable gold.
Got rescued by some folks. Seem nice enough. Little too trusting, didn't really think twice about letting me join em. Guess they lost a fella to the Knockers. Terrible thing. Sounds like I don't get any of that gold neither.

Helped the new fellas haul a bunch of gold and copper. Cept the gold was really copper and the copper was gold, and they gave the good stuff to some gnomes. Every penny counts I guess, when you don't have any, but I didn't head down under the city to pick up coppers.

I might just hire this elf fella whose boss bit it. If I can scrounge up enough to pay him, anyway.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Order of the d30

I've mentioned my "big green d30" house rule a few times. I should probably explain it in full for readers who aren't my players. I blithely stole this house rule from Jeff Rients (though he did authorize people to do so). It is as follows:
Once per session each player may opt to roll the Dungeon Master’s big green d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the big green d30 must be made before any roll. The d30 cannot be rolled for generating character statistics or hit points.
The players have taken advantage of this rule in a number of interesting situations. My games tend to spend much more time on exploration and role playing than on combat and other dice rolling, so not every player ends up choosing to roll the d30 every game, but so far it has been used to:
  • win initiative (very important when trying to get the Sleep spell off before the baddies get to attack)
  • make a save-or-die saving throw vs. poison
  • avoid being surprised
  • attempt to pick a lock, on the reasoning that it's easier to roll between 1 and 15 on a d30 than on percentile dice
The last use was particularly interesting to me, since I hadn't originally expected anyone to use the d30 when they were hoping to roll low!

I like this house rule a lot, and the players definitely seem to enjoy it. It gives everyone an opportunity (but not a guarantee) to do something extra heroic each game, and adds a bit of strategy over when it's worth using your d30 roll. I don't feel it unbalances the game much; the game is plenty dangerous for the characters and I don't mind giving them a bit of extra luck. And that's all it is, after all - the element of chance and risk is still there.

By the way, technically the DM does count as a player and is allowed one throw of the d30 per game. I haven't used it yet, since it seems kind of unsporting on my part to stack the die rolls in the monsters' favor, but I might do someday if I had a villain or NPC that I really wanted to live to fight another day or whatnot.

Idalium Game 6: Don't Come a-Knockin'

Session date: Monday, December 8, 2014
Game date: Saturday, December 8, 207

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 1190/2000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 1146/4000
Quazzle, Magic-user 1, hp 1, xp 1126/2500
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 1084/2500

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 554/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 542/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 542/4000
Wilson, Thief 1, hp 1, xp 208/1200

All things do come to an end, and when you are a magic-user with only one hit point, you are basically just waiting for your number to come up. After five sessions of unexpected survival, Lady Luck finally turned a jaundiced eye upon Quazzle, proving his father's irritating expectations correct. Ah well, it's a chance to try out a new character type! The nice thing about D&D is that life goes on, even when it doesn't!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Infestation Managers regrouped on a sunny but crisp December morning at the Rusty Lantern tavern, making plans to invade the lair of the knockers and recover the stolen gold belonging to the gnomes. Vito wasn't available, so the party numbered eight in total today.

Descending into the tavern cellar and paying the toll of a gold daric per person, the group climbed down the cellar trapdoor once more into the buried city of Ancient Idalium. They quickly retraced their steps from last week through the city and the narrow, twisting mine galleries until they arrived again near the house of the gnomes. Wanting to avoid the giant bees that had attacked Tod the week before, they explored a mine gallery to the north, where they found abandoned mining equipment near an exposed vein of silver ore. The silver was oddly discolored, with a strange blue-green tinge to it. Tyrriel decided to spend a few minutes attempting to chisel some silver out of the ore, a fateful choice indeed. Her hands and wrists started to burn and itch where dust from the ore had touched exposed skin.

The party retraced their path through the mine again, and took a new route to the east. They emerged from the mine in a natural cavern area, where the floor was rough and damp, and the walls were uneven. Tyrriel's infravision detected half a dozen small figures in the cavern, and as they entered the chamber, the figures were revealed to be knockers, their wizened and shriveled features again seeming like a mockery of the plump and jolly gnomes. One turned towards the group and hissed, "This is our mine. Leave us alone." "Uh, can we leave by going past you?" someone tried. "No. Leave the way you came," the knocker retorted.

Tod decided that these creepy things just basically needed killing, and drew his big two-handed sword from where it was strapped to his back. The awful creatures dropped into a battle stance, wielding their tiny axes, and charged Tod and Brother Jibber. Stones from the slings of Tyrriel and Wilhelm smashed into the heads of several of the knockers, sending them senselessly to the ground. Tod's sword cleaved through another. The creatures scrabbled at Tod and Jibber with their axes, but could not penetrate their plate mail. Soon, only one knocker remained, and it ran into the darkness to the north.

The group paused a moment to discuss their options for pursuit, but rather than run at full speed after the creature, they chose to carefully follow. They came to a fork in the cavern passage, and not knowing which way the creature had gone, chose the right-hand passage. This turned a corner and opened out into a large cave, dotted with stalagmites and stalactites, and a small stream of water trickling through the cavern. The party could see another passage leaving from the east end of the cave, and they decided to carefully move along the wall towards that passage.

That was when their luck turned against them. The surviving knocker had run back to its lair to raise the alarm, and the knockers had set an ambush against them. I gave the party a 4 in 6 chance of being surprised by the hidden knockers, and unfortunately the dice deemed that they were indeed surprised.

Suddenly, the group was peppered by small, jagged knives, thrown at them by a half dozen knockers that stepped out from their hiding places behind the stalagmites. Because the party was all spread out along the wall, I randomly diced to decide who was targeted by the barrage. Tod took several attacks, and was wounded by one that managed to hit an unarmored part of his body. Quazzle was missed by one knife, but sadly, the dice decided that another was thrown at him, and this time a roll of 19 indicated a definite hit. A rusty knife sank into Quazzle's chest and he collapsed in the trickling stream under his feet.

Tyrriel and Wilhelm both recited the words of the Sleep spell, and before the knockers could repeat the barrage, they were overcome with slumber, the half dozen knife-throwers and also a larger knocker who was watching from farther back and who worn a coronet of sorts of twisted metal. With him were two strong-looking knockers wielding swords, but all fell to the potent magical spell. The party wasted no time in slaying all of the foul creatures in their sleep.

Quazzle's player chose to roll up a new PC (I don't think he was keen on taking over Twiffle as a PC, seeing as Twiffle also has only one hit point). He decided on a fighter, but when he rolled the d8 for hit points he rolled a one! Generally, I would encourage players to just take in stride what the dice give them, but Quazzle's player had already had his share of 1 HP wonders, so I allowed him to discard the scores and roll up a new PC. This time a dwarf, but also with one hit point! All right, I said, one more try. So that unlucky die was set aside, and now he has a dwarf with three hit points.

A passage from the northeast led through the rock and eventually emerged on a ledge overlooking a chasm, a shaft in the rock that led downwards farther than their lantern light would reveal. Another ledge, too far to jump, was visible to their left, and about twenty feet up, they could see a large number of strange bird-like creatures roosting. Some of the stirges took notice of the party, and began to circle the top of the shaft. The group decided to beat a hasty retreat for now.

Back in the knockers' cavern, they explored the passage to the east that they had originally been heading towards. Crude wooden signs stood outside it, painted with a skull and crossbones. Tod cautiously led the way, probing with a long wooden pole. His cautious was well merited, for they came upon a collapsed floor in the middle of the passage, and at the bottom of the 10' deep pit they found a dwarf in chain mail, calling for help. He was standing on a small portion of ground in the pit that wasn't covered in a strange green slime. The bodies of a human fighter and another dwarf were immersed in the slime and were slowly dissolving into it. The surviving dwarf was hauled out of the pit, and he introduced himself as Gulleck Stonefoot, a new adventurer whose inaugural delve had been less than successful. (As the DM, I can never resist amusing myself with things like this, where the fighter and dwarf that Gulleck's player rolled up and discarded were explained as casualties of his original party.)

In the room behind the pit, they found an enormous pile of gold nuggets, perhaps a thousand coin-sized pieces, and a separate pile perhaps twice as large of copper coins. A fair amount of time was spent figuring out how to load up all of the gold and bring it back to the gnomes. Brother Jibber filled a sack with the copper coins as well. Eventually, they schlepped all of the gold back to the gnomes' little hideyhole, where the gnome leader, Tom Pipkin, expressed his condolences for the death of Quazzle. The gold nuggets were not the coins that the gnomes had lost; those ought to be stamped with the image of the gnome king. The party borrowed some sacks and a mining cart from the gnomes to help retrieve the rest of the copper coins. Tyrriel had been getting increasingly weak and feverish over time (a save vs. poison every hour, with failure meaning the loss of a point of constitution). The gnomes were saddened to hear she had touched tainted ore. They had encountered this before, and told her that usually people recovered from it, but some of their people had died. Either the illness would pass within the day, or she would die. She stayed with the gnomes while the rest of the party went back to retrieve the copper coins.

The copper did have the image of a gnome king on it, which perplexed Tom Pipkin, until Tyrriel mentioned that they had found some gold that turned out to be copper when it was brought into daylight. In the end, Tom agreed to keep the copper and send Pluck Fimple with the party back up to the Rusty Lantern with a small pouch of the copper coins, to see if they were revealed as gold in the light of the surface world. They quickly made their way back out of the dungeon, and indeed, the copper coins did show themselves to be gold. Pluck gave them a crystal vial containing a potion he said would temporarily transform the drinker into mist, and a scrap of parchment with a fragmentary map and some words in Ancient Idalian that described where a hidden cache of money could be found.

Sadly, all of the gold nuggets they hauled out of the dungeon also turned out to be copper again, and for all of their troubles, the total financial take from this delve was less than twenty shekels apiece, perhaps enough for a decent dinner out. On the bright side, Tyrriel managed to just barely squeak through the illness from the contaminated ore, dropping to 0 constitution (comatose but alive) before the toxin ran its course through her system. The life of a dungeoneer is a fraught one!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Player Journals from Session 5

There were two player journals from game 5:

Journal Entry for Tod P. Quasit Jr.

I have no heavy heart this week. No one in our party died on our delve into the Undercity.

We decided to find our good friends the Gnomes. A gnome named Pluck Fimple had repeatedly invited us to visit them in the mines on more then one random encounter. We had a vague idea of which direction to go but got hopelessly lost. We found a theater, but my idea to put on a little play celebrating the birth of the little Prince Napoodlia, was voted again. Besides, the stage was in terrible condition. We eventually got through to the underneath of it and found a bottle of rare pills used to cure insomnia. Or so it said on the label. Note to self, get up the courage to eat one of those magic grapes.

So, eventually we ran into another group who delve out of the Rusty Lantern. They were immediately hostile and threatening so we did the prudent thing and ran away. We did spike the door and poor oil on the floor to spite them.

Note to self, don't TOUCH ANYTHING, specially graven images or false idols. We found a workshop full of half finished statues of tentacle head creatures and touching them made me sea sick and filled me with dread. I heard a voice saying Tod... Tod.. don't eat the salmon mousse. I don't know what that means.

Suddenly we were set upon by a group of... wait, did I mention the spooky knocking we were hearing? Anyhow, we were set upon by a group of shriveled hell gnomes and Vito did not like them at all. One of them threatened us for our money and THWACK, bolt through the skull. Down it went and then we fought the little bastards. They weren't that tough but they were unsettling.

Then we found a gallery and behind a curtain was something that paralyzed most of the party. Note to self, don't look AT ANYTHING.

Luckily we all survived only to walk into a room with THREE GIANT BEES. GIANT BEES. In the undercity. Where do they find the pretty flowers for their honey? So we ran away but one stung me, ripped out it's guts and luckily the poison didn't get into my system. Nice.

Finally we met the gnomes, including their leader Tom Pipkin and his lieutenant, Grimble Grumble. That Grumble looked quite good. He kept muttering about needing fresh air.

We found out the shirveled hell gnomes were terrorizing them, crafting fake gold and being a general nusance. We were tasked with destorying every last one of them for an ampe reward. Apparently they had stolen all the gnome's start up cash. So, we have that going for us. Which is nice. Despite spending seven hours in the Undercity, I didn't really feel like I gained much experience. Strange that isn't it? Surviving that other party, and the bees, and the art work. Oh well. I need a drink and a roasted chicken. Maybe I'll grab Jibber and pop down to the Sloppering Dog.

A fifth letter home (Quazzle's journal)
Dear Matron Della,

I hope this letter finds you well, and that Roger has not been causing you too much trouble. I know how difficult I was at his age. Thank you again for your patience and my apologies one more for the episode with the snake. I know you've asked me to stop apologizing, but I don't think I'll ever be able to make up for that.

If I don't get the chance to write to Abigail, please express my regrets that I can't be there for her wedding. From what little I know of the young man, he seems a decent sort, and my lack of attendance is no reflection on my approval. Not that Abigail has ever needed my approval or anyone else's. One of the things I love about my dear sister. I imagine she'll understand my absence. She knows very well how Father and I are getting along these days.

Oh! Something you'll find amusing! We've been exploring the undercity, and discovered a mining operation run by gnomes! I recall fondly the bedtime stories you used to tell of "the small fellows." It turns out that they're not quite as small as the stories describe, perhaps three foot rather than small enough to fit in a pocket, but they certainly are just as friendly. They also quite enjoy wine, a detail that was never mentioned! Perhaps you can amend the stories as you tell them to Roger. Although perhaps he's getting a bit old for that now. How time does get away from us...

At any rate. We're helping the gnomes by clearing some very unfriendly earth spirits out of the mines for them. Twisted things, like gnomes gone wrong. They have the power to warp precious metals and disguise worthless ones. Very annoying! We've eliminated several of them already. Not terribly dangerous to the well-equipped, thankfully!

As I'm thinking of it: Do you happen to know anything of the religion of ancient Idalia? We found a workshop down below with disturbing idols, partially crafted. They seem to have some sort of power to them, which worries me greatly. The idols are of some kind of fish-beast, with tentacles and a lamprey-like mouth. Anything you recall could be helpful.

Thank you for everything you've done for us as we've grown up, Matron. We owe you more than we could ever repay.

Yours always,

PS: If you can give Mother my love without falling afoul of Father's temper, please do.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Idalium Game 5: And Little Gnomes Stay in Their Homes

Session date: Monday, December 1, 2014
Game date: Saturday, December 1, 207

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 1159/2000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 1120/4000
Quazzle, Magic-user 1, hp 1, xp 1098/2500
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 1059/2500
Vito Aneti, Thief 1, hp 6, xp 824/1200

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 540/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 528/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 528/4000
Wilson, Thief 1, hp 1, xp 195/1200
Sprat, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 195/1200

After a lucrative session of looting the empty mansion of the bandits, the Infestation Managers turned their attention towards meeting the gnomes. They have had repeated random encounters with gnomes who keep inviting them to their camp in the mines to the east of the town square, and they decided it was time to make good on their continued promises to go visit the gnomes.

Quickly through the empty streets of the buried city they went, crossing the wide plaza and leaving alone the distraction of the fountain and its talking statues. They headed east, and quickly entered a region where the streets and alleys were little more than pockets in the collapsed rubble and stone that had buried the city over two centuries ago.

Ducking down an alleyway, they investigated a half-buried building that was once a small theatre. The stage still remained, but was visibly rotten and water-damaged. They could see a trapdoor on the stage, but did not want to risk walking on the rotten wood. So they took the time-consuming but safe approach of tearing the front of the stage apart with their crowbars until they had an opening wide enough for Caryatid to slip in and investigate. In the shallow pit below the stage, she found a box full of old musty costumes. Among them were hidden a couple of more well-made robes, with rather sensual designs embroidered in colored thread. These robes looked very similar to the togas worn by the strange youths they had met last week. The two robes were stowed in backpacks in case a future use arose for them.

Continuing through the rubble-filled avenue, the group found an entrance to a narrow and low mine shaft that was dug through the rock and soil that had buried the city so long ago. The mine corridors were narrow enough to require single file, and low enough that most of the group had to stoop as they walked through. The mine shafts were somewhat mazelike, with occasional zigzags and dead-ends, and intermittently an unnerving knocking and creaking would be heard, echoing through the corridors, sometimes ahead of them, sometimes behind them.

They found the backdoor to the house where they had originally met the gnomes, and in a kitchen in the back of the house, they encountered a rival party of adventurers from the Rusty Lantern, led by two arrogant-looking elves. This rival group was clearly on edge, and they drew their weapons immediately when the party burst in. There were raised words back and forth briefly and then the NPC party rather haughtily suggested they leave. "Death Watch, we should let them be on their way, and avoid wasting our resources on such failures," said one elf to the other. "Quite right, Cobweb. They have obvious met with no great success. It would not even be worth our while to shake them down." So the party retreated back the way they came, but not without spitefully pouring a flask of oil on the floor in front of the door, and then spiking a further door shut.

Beyond more of the winding mine shafts, the group found a set of rooms that filled them with unease. In an abandoned pottery workshop, they found half-finished statuettes of some kind of humanoid with bizarre, octopus-like features. When the statues were handled, they gave the adventurers a disturbing sea-sick feeling. Worse, when Brother Jibber and Vito handled some of the pottery tools, they each felt a strong compulsion welling up within them to finish the statuettes, to make one of their own. The group quickly put down the statues and tools and left this room, moving through to explore a bedroom and a living area, both decorated in an extremely spartan and ascetic way, and with disturbing scratched all over the plaster walls. In the living room, they found a small shrine in one corner with a complete statuette of the bizarre creature. This led to a loud debate among several of the characters over whether they should destroy the shrine or if that would cause them more trouble.

Suddenly, in the midst of their argument, they were interrupted by a group of strange creatures standing at the door that no one had thought to close or guard. These creatures looked something like gnomes, but like horrible mockeries of gnomes, their faces shriveled and withered. Where gnomes had brightly-colored tunics and full white beards, these creatures worn tattered rags and had tangled wisps of hair. They clutched small rusty pickaxes in their twisted hands. One spoke in a hollow, rasping voice: "These are our mines. Give us your wealth and we will let you go free."

Vito apparently has a religious enmity against muggers, and he decided that he didn't need to parlay any further. Rolling a natural 20, his loaded crossbow fired a bolt directly into the forehead of the talking creature and it dropped instantly to the floor. Then the rest of the dozen of the grotesque creatures were scrabbling in the doorway, lunging at Tod and Brother Jibber with their pickaxes, but fortunately the warriors' plate armor was proof against their attacks. A couple of Sleep spells eventually ended the battle, but not before Tod and Jibber had slain the creatures they had been fighting.

Whereas the party had been quite generous with the human bandits, they held no such scruples for these creepy monstrosities, and Vito quickly made the rounds with a dagger. One was spared and unceremoniously placed in a large sack carried by Wilhelm.

The group retraced their passage through the mine, exploring further north, and came to an old art gallery, full of destroyed paintings and sculptures. A set of curtains hung across the opposite wall. "Should we look?" "It's probably a painting of a medusa that's so real it actually works," said Tyrriel's player. But curiosity got the better of them, and they opened the curtain to reveal... an extremely life-life fresco of a medusa that was so realistic that it paralyzed half the party for the better part of the next hour. Apparently my poker face was impressive. It was one of those situations where I had to read my notes aloud, so nobody thought I just stole the player's idea on the fly!

Luckily, no wandering monsters showed up while most of the party was standing around like mannequins, and once everyone had regained bodily control, they proceeded to explore the mines. They found a pile of a couple of hundred gold nuggets that seemed like an obvious trap, but they were able to gather them up without mishap. Tod led the way into a room containing a trio of enormous bees ("the size of basketballs!") and we had a slapstick moment when the entire party of ten single-file adventurers backpedaled furiously away from the bees. One flew in pursuit, and despite his plate armor, Tod was stung! He chose to roll the big green d30 for his save vs. poison, and luckily survived the venom of the sting.

The group had escaped into a wider hall with a door at the end of it, curiously containing a drilled peephole at about knee level. They knocked on the door, and were greeted by a gruff voice telling them to go away and make a commotion somewhere else, but when they said they were sent by Pluck Fimple to see Tom Pipkin, they got a much warmer reception. A gnome unbarred the door and invited them into the house that they had converted into their mining camp. The gnomes had decorated the house in an implausibly cozy and homey way, with little comfy chairs, a cuckoo clock, little still life and nature paintings on shelves, and several triple-decker bunk beds. Vito offered wine as usual, and the gnomes shared some tasty seedcakes with them.

The party was introduced to the leader of the gnomes, Tom Pipkin, and his second-in-command, Grimble Grumble. Tom told them of the troubles they have had with the "knockers", which he described as evil spirits of the underground, twisted elementals of the dark places of the earth. "Er, if we theoretically had captured one of these knockers," asked Tyrriel, "what would you suggest should be done with it?" "I should say you should slash its throat without delay!" said Tom with a sudden violence that subsided as quickly as it had come. "Here, have another seedcake." Tom told them the knockers had stolen a significant sum of gold coins from them and if the adventurers could recover them there would certainly be a reward in it for them. They showed him the gold nuggets they had found, but Tom said that the gnome coins would be stamped with the image of their king.

It was getting late, so the group bid farewell to the gnomes and retraced their steps back to the town square, pausing to dispose of the sleeping knocker that Wilhelm was still carrying. In the square, they paused to leave some aural graffiti with one of the statues ("Please make sure to check out the wonderful artwork behind the curtain in the gallery. You won't regret it!"). D&D players are such pranksters.

And then they returned back to the Rusty Lantern tavern. At a table, they excitedly emptied out the sack of gold nuggets they had found, only to discover in the afternoon sunlight streaming in the tavern windows, it was clearly copper rather than gold! "Damn fairy gold!" swore Tod.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Player Journals from Session 4

Two more player journals from last week's game: 

Journal of Tod P. Quasit Jr.
It is with a heavy heart that I must report that my dear friend and com-padre, Vinnie has passed away on one of our delves into the Under City. Killed by a godless bandit. I drink a toast to his memory. A toast or two perhaps.
So I was too ill last week to write in this journal. I think you will remember that I was poisoned by some rot gut I drank at the Slippery Eel. I was warned about their bargain swill but I was also invited there by a person who I could not say no to. It is with a heavy heart that I must report that my old drinking friend Lenore is no longer with us. Her liver just couldn't make it anymore. I drink a toast to her memory. But not at the Slippery Eel. I will have that place shut down.

Last week, after turning in all the bandits except for their leader into the proper authorities, we delved back into the Under City to investigate their hide-out. Somehow, one of the bandits, the one that the Wizzard Twiffles charmed, has now joined our group.

We encountered three young people on our way to the hideout. Dressed in very expensive armor and adorned in expensive upholstery, they were clearly out of their depth. We saved them from some thugs and Brother Jibber gave them a stern lecture. We did let them go and they gave us a little statue as way of thanks. Jibber seemed quite rattled by the thing. I have no idea why. Looked like a panda to me.

So after turning in the four thugs who were accosting the kids to the proper authorities, we decided that our group was in fact quickly becoming "the proper authorities" and it wouldn't not be completely unlawful to behave as the police of this filthy crime filled vermin infested hell hole of an Under City. 

So we searched the hide-out and successfully found several caches of moneys as well as some rather expensive looking items. It was suggested we try to find the rightful owners of the items, but Jibber began expounding on the righteous need for redistribution of wealth and that the very act of owning such extravagant items rendered the owner a moral-less  plutocrat. Not sure where he was going with all this, as most of us are clearly in this for the money. That and the fame. Fame and fortune. And power. And righteousness.  Yes.

I think I'm going to pop off to the Festering Gob for a quick pint and maybe a cold meat sandwich. I believe our group, now officially known as THE INFESTATION MANAGERS plans to delve again soon. Maybe I'll grab Jibber for a drink and talk about his philosophy about property ownership.

TPQ jr.

A fourth letter home (Quazzle's journal)
Hello again Father,

Not a lot to say this week. We've retrieved a large number of valuables from the bandit's mansion, including some pieces that pre-date the fall of the old city, things the bandits didn't even find.

And in case that isn't enough for you, father, we also rescued some rather naive-looking youngsters from muggers. Now, those are the sorts of people who really shouldn't be down here. They claimed to be able to take care of themselves, but clearly that's not the case!

Well, I haven't got much more to talk about. Twiffle continues to be a stalwart companion, though I'm sure you wouldn't approve. You've made your feelings about elves very clear indeed over the years.

Please pass along my best wishes to Mother, Roger, Abigail, and Matron Della. I hope they all are doing well.

Your son,

Friday, November 28, 2014

Idalium Game 4: Thieves' House

Session date: Monday, November 24, 2014
Game date: Saturday, November 24, 207

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 730/2000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 700/4000
Quazzle, Magic-user 1, hp 1, xp 670/2500
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 669/2500
Vito Aneti, Thief 1, hp 6, xp 356/1200

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 325/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 323/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 323/4000
Wilson, Thief 1, hp 1, xp 0/1200
Sprat, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 0/1200

In spite of a couple of colds and an impromptu request by a friend to help hang a door, the entire crew of regulars decided to play after all. I guess the fear of missing out on the XP from looting an empty bandits' HQ was just too strong. Sprat, the bandit, has been adopted as Vito's new retainer. He made his saving throw and broke free of Twiffle's charm, which means he is extremely resentful and distrustful of Twiffle. I'm looking forward to that coming up in play. Ylil, Caryatid's retainer, failed his morale check between sessions and left the party for a few weeks to try his luck with other ventures. (I said there's been a rumor going around the city that someone named "Paul" has started managing a gambling ring for the thieves' guild.) Caryatid took on a new retainer: Wilson the lumberjack thief. Not sure how helpful his background will be in the undercity.

During the week of downtime within the game, two of the magic-user characters opted to create scrolls of their spells (I've borrowed the Holmes Basic rule that allows scrolls to be created for 100 gp and one week per spell level). The party reassembled at the Rusty Lantern tavern, and proceeded again into the buried city of Ancient Idalium.

With Sprat as a guide, the group retraced their steps back to the bandits' mansion. As they approached the tavern where they had found a box of silver the previous week, they interrupted a group of rough-looking thugs mocking someone in the back kitchen room. "Haw haw! Just be glad that's all we took from you!" "Help!" called a plaintive voice from the back room. "Those guys just mugged us!" There was a tense stand-off for a few moments. The four bandits drew swords and snarled at the party, "This don't concern you. Just keep on walking." Tyrriel, as usual, eventually got tired of talking and cast Sleep. The party won initiative and all four bandits fell in a heap.

From the back kitchen a young man and two women entered the room. They were wearing plate mail armor, but also strange archaic-looking togas over the armor. They looked entirely too green and fresh-faced to be in the dungeon. It turned out they were in the undercity to conduct some sort of worship rites and rituals of "the old ways". They said they had been on their way back to the surface to show some holy relics to a sage, in order to learn more about the ancient rituals. When the objects the bandits had mugged them of turned out to be some rather embarrassing fertility totems or perhaps just erotic statuettes, Brother Jibber turned bright red and sputtered, "Do your fathers know where you are!??" The group tried to get more information out of the youths regarding their religion and temple, but they seemed wary about giving away too much. Eventually, the youngsters turned on the puppy dog eyes and appealed to the adventurers' heroic natures, and their totems were returned to them. Before taking their leave, the acolytes gave the group one of the statuettes in thanks for their help against the bandits.

There was some mirthful discussion at this point about the group's nature as "accidental heroes". There seems to be a recurring motif of walking in on a group of thieves who have just stolen something and then relieving them of their stolen property.

The group quickly tied the four sleeping bandits up with their own bootlaces and then hid their boots in the kitchen, and then moved on to the bandits' mansion. There, they discovered that the braziers that had lit the main atrium were all burnt out, and a strong smell of smoke and scorched food filled the air, barely covering the smell of the week-old bandit corpses that had been left behind.

The players systematically searched the mansion. A door was quickly closed on a room full of giant bats and their ammonia-reeking guano that littered the floor; likewise, a hissing cobra was quickly left in peace. In the bandit leader Cretch's bedroom, they found a large wooden chest. Vito carefully examined it and discovered a small hidden latch near the locking clasp. He held the latch in while carefully opening the chest, and was relieved to discover that the latch preventing a metal pin from crushing a glass tube of a green vaporous liquid. Within the chest they found hundreds of gold and copper coins, along with a velvet pouch of several gemstones, and several extraordinary pieces of jewelry: a crystal goblet and platter, inlaid with gold filigree and rubies, and an intricately engraved silver and emerald belt. In another room, they found Cretch's longbow and a quiver full of ten very well-made arrows, with distinctive green and gold fletchings.

The back of the mansion included a colonnaded courtyard, but curiously, the space between the columns was barricaded with planks and sheaths of wood to a height of six feet. Sprat told the group that he had been told that the courtyard contained strange mobile plants that could spray thorns at anyone who entered the courtyard. The group was feeling nervous about pushing their luck when they were already laden with treasure, and didn't even attempt to look into the courtyard, saving it for their next excursion, perhaps.

And so they quickly retraced their steps back to the Rusty Lantern, where they were roundly toasted by the regulars at the bar, as they tallied up their treasure haul and paid the Adventurer’s Guild their 10% cut. Ralph the owner updated their total take on the "scoreboard". The group had now jumped ahead of Rugger's Raiders in the rankings, a fact that they all expected to come back to haunt them. They managed to restrain their desire to immediately liquidate their jewelry for gold, and retained the various items of jewelry in order to see if they could find the original owner that Cretch's gang had burgled them from.

So, as expected, a low-risk and high-reward session for the players. Vito is in spitting distance of 2nd level, and one or two more successful delves like this one would put him over. This amuses me greatly, since Vito's first game was as a retainer and he was absent for the second game. Thieves just level up so much faster than everyone else in this system. It almost makes up for their extreme vulnerability. (Although, Vito's 18 dexterity and constitution help out greatly on that score!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Player Journals from Session 3

Busy week, and only two players sent in journals for the 10% XP bonus.

A third letter home (Quazzle's journal)
Dear Father,

Success again!

That's right, father, we've rooted out the bandits. Their leader fell to our magic and our blades, and most of the rest of the bandits surrendered to us. We hardly even needed to shed any blood.

Sadly, one of my friends was killed in the process. Poor Vinnie. His cousin was very distraught. I can already hear your words of doom and gloom, father. Feel free to keep it to yourself.

We've gained an entire undercity mansion, and whatever valuables and artifacts the bandits stashed away. That's more than I'd have achieved in a lifetime had I stayed home as you wanted.

There are wonders down here you can't even imagine! We even discovered some ancient enchanted statues that hold the voices of anyone who speaks to them. Not useful, perhaps, but fascinating, certainly!


Vito's Journal
An excerpt from the text: Et per rerum cursum sacra, sacramenta
Thus the customary ritual oהזמן השקט, directly translated: "The Silent Time", began. Each Serechta day (When Elicida is in apex with Coeare -Solaria 4.3) the Acretia are forbidden from speech, and indeed avoid any sound. Urns of wool lined clay are lined about the temple, each being made by an individual worshiper in attendance (some with the living, many with the dead). No words may be spoken during the observance, nor may words be spoken of after about events that occurred during the holy time. Communication may only occur during by notes upon silicia leaves which are dropped in utter silence into the padded bowls. It is noted that most likely the freeist forms of communication occured during this time between Acretia, and was a vital part of their sense of community and family. Given that the leaves of the silicia bush are perfect for writing on, but very small, the messages were very short. The final benefit of silicia leaves is of course that though the brusing is distinct at first it quickly causes the leaves to brown and rot. No message lasts longer than a few hours.

Aunt D- 
Could I get some of your amazing bread for some friends? No meat please. Thanks. 
- Vito

I chewed out your husband just to keep him straight. Just bluffing, you know me. I know how he deals with this stuff, and I don't want his kids to never have had a father like he did. 
- Vito

Listen here you little festering pile of horse placenta. If you show up to Vinnie's services with so much of a WHIFF of schocla on you, I swear even though I've never killed a man I will drag you out to Bengla's Point myself. I will happily watch you swing by the ankles as snippers eat your eyes you shit. Don't you DARE let me catch you as ANYTHING but sober. 
- Vito

Aunt M- Say, I haven't and Gred in forever. Why don't you come over to our house for dinner tomorrow? Agatha would love to have some other kids to play with, and I thought we could make some float over pots for Vinnie's wife. And bring your youngest over, she's a doll. Can't believe how old she is now, almost ready to leave the house. I've got a new fella I'd like you to meet. Might be a lost cousin. He's been through a lot, and could use some real family like I got. 
- Vito

Vinnie - 
You rat bastard piece of crap! What the hell am I supposed to do now!? You deserve the extra hundred years in the gulaka for dying with a blade in hand you ass. Don't worry, I'll take care of Estia and Meredith for you. You'da done no less for me. Last haul will help, and don't worry they'll still get your share from me. 

Marco - 
We'll still be continuing the venture. Can you shift the paperwork into my name directly? 

Mother Sophitia- I'm terrified. I don't know what the hell I'm doing without Vinnie. He was an idiot, but he always had the plan. Now I'm the one bringing in new family and taking care of people? Me?! I'm no provider Mother; I'm no veteran like Vinnie,he knew what was going on. Vinnie could vote, he was a full citizen for the High God's sake! I didn't serve no time. Why me? 

Retainers in the Idalium Campaign

A few bloggers have been talking about the use of retainers (aka henchmen) in their games. I think Erik Tenkar kicked off the discussion with this post. I've been revising the rules for retainers in my campaign, so it's an timely discussion.

We are using retainers extensively in this campaign. I see many benefits to them, some of which are somewhat specific to our circumstances and others more universal.

This was my first time running a B/X campaign and I believe the first time my players have played under these rules. One of my goals was to play a more or less by-the-book game, with hit points rolled randomly and PCs dead at 0 points. I want dangerous situations in the game to be a tense, thrilling experience with real consequences on the line. In order to make such a game more palatable to all of us, it had to be essential that a player who loses his or her PC is not thrown out of the game for even a minute. Losing your PC might be all part of the game, but being forced to sit out and watch while the others have fun should not be. Retainers give the players a secondary character that they can immediately switch over to in the event their PC buys the farm. In addition, the larger party size allowed by retainers helps greatly in overall survivability. There is definitely safety in numbers in old school D&D.

The flip side of that is that as a DM I don't feel quite so bad about killing off an NPC retainer as I do a PC. So retainers also allow you to stage dramatic ambushes, use nasty save or die attacks, etc., without being completely obnoxious. It's quite thrilling to start off an encounter with an arrow from the darkness into someone's throat, but if that someone is a PC it usually gets you a lot of dirty looks from around the table.

So at our first session, I had each player roll up two characters, choosing one to be their PC and the other to be their initial retainer. I try to keep a clear distinction between the PCs and their NPC retainers. Players can generally run the retainers as secondary characters, but I maintain a veto power through morale checks, etc.

One other positive effect using retainers has had is that by having more characters in the game, it contributes a lot of interesting role-playing elements. Retainers may leave the party and return later, or show up elsewhere in the campaign, perhaps even as members of a rival NPC party! They are good fuel for the ongoing picaresque story produced by a D&D campaign.

Here's a summary of the rules I use for retainers in my game:
  • Retainers are quickly rolled up (3d6 in order), usually by me though it could be by a player. The player recruiting the retainer may specify what class they are looking for. I roll 3d6 x 10 for starting gold and quickly jot down the starting equipment that the retainer arrives with, but anything after that is at the PC's expense.
  • Per B/X rules, retainers receive a full share of XP, but actually record only half of the total received, to represent the fact that they are merely employees for hire and not making the tough decisions themselves. This keeps them at roughly a level behind the PCs, given the geometric progression of the XP charts.
  • Retainers receive a half share of treasure. This money essentially vanishes from the game (spent by the retainer, sent home to family, etc.). The PC is expected to pay for any expenses or equipment they wish their retainer to use.
  • Retainers have a morale score, determined by their employing PC's charisma score. Morale is checked whenever the retainer is asked to do something "above and beyond the call of duty".
  • Morale is also checked between every game session. If the retainer passes their morale check, they stay with the party. If they fail, they go away for 1d4 weeks of game time to either carouse and spend their new-found wealth or take a break from the hazards of adventuring life. After this period is up, the player may attempt to rehire them if desired. Edit: I've since changed this to have the retainer leave for as many weeks as they failed their morale check by, instead of a 1d4 die roll. This way, a worse (and more rare) failure results in a longer absence.
  • For the above check, the retainer's morale is temporarily modified as follows:
    • +2: The adventure was a very lucrative success, with no party casualties
    • +1: The adventure was not very successful, but there were no casualties
    • +0: The adventure was lucrative, but at a cost of PC or retainer lives
    • -1: The adventure went poorly, with little treasure found and lives lost
    • -2: The adventure was a near TPK disaster
I'm still tweaking the above modifiers to get a satisfying rate of retainer attrition. I want them to stick around long enough so they can become interesting characters in their own right and we're not rolling up new retainers every single session, but I also want them to come and go often enough so that they are clearly viewed as independent characters and the players don't get too attached to them as a "second PC".

If a player loses their PC during a session, they may immediately promote their retainer to be their new PC, and the retainer will receive full shares of XP and treasure at the end of that session.

As I said, I started the campaign with every PC having a retainer because I wanted to make it as painless as possible to get comfortable with a gaming style where there is a very real chance that you will lose characters regularly. Beyond that, though, as a DM I don't particularly encourage the players to use retainers or not. It is a tradeoff they need to decide for themselves: are the extra resources of a retainer worth cutting the XP and treasure another way or not? I like tradeoffs and dilemmas in D&D; to me, that's a large part of what the game is about. So far, the players have chosen to maintain the "one PC and one retainer" arrangement that we started with, and I think using retainers has contributed a lot to the feel of the game.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Idalium Game 3: The "Proper Authorities"

Session date: Monday, November 17, 2014
Game date: Saturday, November 17, 207
Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 357/2000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 342/4000
Quazzle, Magic-user 1, hp 1, xp 327/2500
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 327/2500
Vinnie De Veru, Thief 1, hp 5, xp 22/1200

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 153/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 158/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 158/4000
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 150/1200
Vito Aneti, Thief 1, hp 6, xp 13/1200
Sprat, charmed bandit, hp 3

Despite an ominous weather forecast, we again had the full crew for our third session. The adventurers - who have taken to calling themselves "The Infestation Managers" - reunited at the Rusty Lantern tavern, bringing with them Sprat, the bandit that Twiffle had charmed in the last session. Sprat had provided them with information about the number of bandits in their mansion headquarters, and provided a rough map.

Once again heading into the basement of the tavern and paying the trapdoor toll of one gold daric per person, the group descended once more into the undercity. Their goal was to locate the bandits' hideout and capture or defeat them, although I don't think they were being quite explicit about that to Sprat.

They proceeded along the wide shop-lined avenue and discovered a large city square, larger than their lantern light could encompass. In the center of the square was an ornate (but non-functioning) marble fountain. At each corner of the fountain, a graceful statue of a woman stood, cupping her hand to ear as if listening. Sprat told the group that these magical statues would speak to you if you stood in front of them, and that you could leave messages that they would then repeat, if you spoke into their ears.

They stood in front of a statue, and it briefly came to life to speak words in the Ancient Idalian language that a couple of the characters knew only from their studies of books and scrolls. "Torelia, I injured myself on the bathhouse furnace at work. I have gone to the priests of medicine for treatment." It was sort of an Ancient Idalian bulletin board.

They spent some time standing in front of statues and listening to the messages. Some messages were in Common, including a mention of a looted bank to the southwest, and a person talking about finding the truth in the temple of statues, who sounded completely round the bend. Sprat told them that the southeast statue was often used by the bandit gang to leave messages for each other ("This month, parker the bona parle 'sardine' to get in the latty"), and Tyrriel left a message of her own: "The thieves' guild will pay 20 gold for any information about Cretch and will provide protection." Caryatid decided to brag up the party: "The Infestation Managers are totally awesome and should be trusted completely!" Players just love leaving graffiti in the dungeon.

All this goofing around with the statues attracted the attention of a group of gnomes, who emerged from the avenue to the east. Tyrriel offered the last of her wine, and the gnomes asked if they were the same adventurers that befriended their associate Pluck a couple of weeks earlier. They reiterated the offer of visiting them in the mines and then returned to their work. A rather lucky wandering monster roll for the players.

Onward the group went, following Sprat's directions. In an abandoned tavern, Ylil discovered a wooden coffer hidden in a cupboard under the bar. With his lockpicks, he was able to pick the lock on the coffer, revealing hundreds of silver shekels. They debated whether they should hide the box and return for it later, but eventually decided to bring it with them as part of a vague plan to lure the bandits off guard.

Eventually, they came to the bandits' mansion HQ. Sprat was told to knock on the door, and a guard spoke to them from behind the closed door. The group claimed that they rescued Sprat from being captured by the thieves' guild and that they had a box of silver to bring them. The guard suspiciously opened the door a fraction and looked them over skeptically. After a few tense seconds, he told them to leave their weapons outside and he would let them in. While they dropped most of their weapons (a few daggers were left concealed in boots), the guard closed the door again and went into the mansion, returning a few minutes later to unbar the door and tell them that Cretch was ready to talk to them.

Into the lion's den they went. In a large atrium similar to the one in which they had encountered the first group of bandits, but larger, they met a group of seven bandits and their leader, a rough, grizzled man in plate armor with a huge two-handed sword strapped to his back. Cretch told them to hand the box of silver over. There was a somewhat half-hearted bluff attempt by Vinnie to suggest to Cretch that their group should team up with his. Then Wilhelm intentionally stumbled with the box of silver, spilling coins all over the floor. Quazzle asked if he could use magic to help clean up the mess (wink wink), Cretch said, "No! Any funny business and throats are getting cut!" and then Wilhelm and Tyrriel lost their nerve and both cast Sleep on the bandits. Swords were drawn, but the party won the initiative and Cretch and the seven bandits around him slumped to the ground. Only the bandit who had escorted them in was still awake, and he screamed for help. The sounds of running feet came from several directions, and the battle was on.

Brother Jibber tried to get the front door guard in a chokehold. He squirmed away, but Vinnie landed a solid kick in the crotch with his hobnailed boot, leaving him a sobbing wreck rolling on the floor. Vito quickly grabbed a dagger from the guard's belt, and played dead on the floor as other bandits burst into the room. Quazzle and Tyrriel ran over to Cretch to kill him, only to be confronted with two bandits who ran in from that direction. Quazzle's life flashed before his eyes as the bandits raised their swords to strike him down, but in the chaos they clashed their blades together and got all tangled up.

Meanwhile, Caryatid and Wilhelm ran back into the street to fetch Tod and Ylil (who had waited outside to guard the weapons). They grabbed all of the weapons they could and ran back into the mansion to rearm their comrades. Tod and Twiffle formed a line in the hall as three bandits ran in from a side room and Twiffle fended off several attacks.

Four bandits ran at Vinnie, Vito, and Brother Jibber. Brother Jibber was still trying to get the guard in a chokehold, and used him as a human shield. One of the attacking bandits lunged at Jibber with his sword, but impaled his fellow bandit by mistake. But at the same time, another bandit put his sword through Vinnie, killing him with a single thrust! (Vinnie had very high hit points for a thief, but the bandit rolled maximum damage.) Vito lunged furiously from the floor, seeking to avenge his cousin, but the bandit twisted nimbly away.

Quazzle desperately cast Sleep on the two bandits that were attacking him and Tyrriel, while Ylil put his spear through one of the bandits fighting Brother Jibber. Tyrriel slashed the sleeping Cretch's throat and loudly announced this fact to the bandits. Morale failed them (critically, with a roll of 12!) and the room was suddenly filled with the clatter of swords dropping to the ground as the bandits raised their hands in surrender.

It was time to break for the night, so the group quickly searched the bandits, retrieving almost 2000 gold darics worth of assorted coins and gems. They found a set of keys on Cretch, and used them to lock up the mansion for later looting, and then led all of the bandits back to the surface, turning them into the "proper authorities" (i.e., the thieves' guild) for the reward.

All in all, a fairly successful expedition for the players, though Vinnie did become the first PC to fall in battle. His player quickly promoted Vito to be his PC. I'm not 100% convinced by the players' plan to gain entry without their weapons, but it did lead to a bit of amusing unarmed combat.

Next week should be a low-risk, high-reward session as the party returns to loot the now-empty hideout.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Player Journals from Session 2

And here are the player journals from session 2:

Journal of Tod P. Quasit Jr. Entry 2
It is with a heavy heart that I must report that my dear friend and
spiritual inspiration, Brother Mookie Wilson Blaylock was brutally and
needlessly killed while standing in a doorway. A doorway that I opened
to these miserable lightening fast throat jumping critters no bigger
than a small dog. Mookie's head popped off like a dandelion before I
could reach him to help. And he was wearing plate mail. Eventually we
slew the beasts. There must have been thirty of them. And we brought
dear Mookie's headless corpse back to the church. Luckily there was
another brother eager to replace Mookie. Jibbers is his name. I have
my doubts . He seems a bit dim witted. We will see.

So then we ran into a gang of rouge thieves. They offered us a chance
to walk away, but the magic users decided they were keen to put the
lot of them to sleep and sleep they did. We tied them up and guarded
them while What's her head and Whosit took one of them to the Thieves
Guild to sell them into slavery. Or something. I guarded the thieves,
and eventually we marched them all to the thieves guild. Oh, and lucky
us, they were carrying some very nice things, which we happily stole
from them. We're now all filthy rich. Rich as thieves.

RIP Brother Mookie.

Caryatid's Diary
Dear Diary,
Sad day today as we mourn the loss of Brother Mookie. Death by shrew. Should we plant a commemorative tree or shrubbery?
We ended up defeating those rodents; I still think I could have made one into a purse. Note to self: when I retire, I'm going to make fashion accessories from dead animals.
Thinking we should call ourselves The Extreme Exterminators (but I'm sure there's a better name, gonna come up with some more ideas to toss around), although we also branched out into some mercenary-type stuff tonight: capturing a rouge group of bandits, holding them captive and then selling them to the Thieves' Guild. Feeling uncertain of my alignment tonight…things might seem more normal in the morning.
Also, slightly worried about Ylil - he's started calling himself Paul…I might have to start counting his meds…

A second letter home (Quazzle's journal)
Dear Father,
As I predicted, we've had great success!
We descended under the city again today, and found a group of bandits lurking in the ruins! It was tense for a few minutes, but we agreed to leave. They were quite rough looking and a direct confrontation would have been unnecessarily bloody.
So we walked out of the room. And then, father, I snuck back in and put them all to sleep with my magic! With one spell, I helped reduce the crime in this area, and made a nice profit as well. The bandits had some quite valuable jewelry which we took.
We've now turned all the bandits except one in to the proper authorities. Why not that one, you ask? Simple, father. My friend Twiffle has used his magic to convince that last bandit that he's our friend, and he will be leading us to the rest of the crew. We'll soon have the whole group mopped up!
Who's throwing their life away now, father?
Your son,

Tyrriel's Journal


Player Journals from Session 1

I've previously played in campaigns where the DM encouraged the players to write in-character campaign journals between sessions, and awarded bonus experience points as an incentive. I enjoy reading player journals, as they provide an opportunity to flesh out the characters outside of the actual game and provide an amusing perspective on their lives.

I'm not sold on any particular award scheme. You don't want the bonus XP for the journal to overshadow the actual XP gained in a particular session, but on the other hand if the reward is too minimal then many players won't bother. For now we have settled on a bonus of +10% XP at the end of the next session (in addition to any bonuses due to high prime requisites).

Here are my players' journals from our first session:

A letter home (Quazzle's Journal #1):
Dear Father,

Despite your misgivings, I am in fact still alive after our foray into the Undercity. We even returned with a small token of our first trip. Nothing particularly valuable, I'll admit, but still, better than the "Pain, Death, and Worse" you predicted would be my only reward.

So far, our travels have actually been rather uneventful. A few giant rodents, insects, and bird-things, and some really quite friendly little miners. Nothing like the terrors you seem to think we'll encounter.

Tomorrow I believe we'll find some real valuables. Or at least help to clear out some of the criminal element who have holed up down there.

Your son,

Caryatid diary entry:
Dear Diary,

So today we joined the Adventures' Guild at some Rusty place. Not sure how adventurous I was, kept experiencing week bowel control. :(.

Good news! I found my tome! Can't wait to start to adding to it. Gotta find a control bowels spell…

More adventure tonight…

Tyrriel sent her journal in handwritten form!

The Journal of Tod P. Quasit Jr.
I joined this adventurer's guild. Super secret. Handshakes, winks, special nods, the whole thing. Very cool. There is a guarded trap door down into the old city through a pup known only as the Rusty Lantern. Their house cocktail is something frothy with mint and gin in it. A little froofy for me. I'll stick to the dark whiskey. Good sandwiches.

Anyhow, the group I joined, we need a name for ourselves, went down into the old city. We killed some bugs. We ate some meat pies with some little miners who were hiding from giant mosquitoes. And I have made myself indispensable to the group by walking in the front of the line and opening all the stuck doors. My shoulder is killing me. And when I bought that fancy plate mail with the money Grandmama left me in her will, I wasn't thinking about how damned heavy it is. It's good for me. Build up my strength. I also bought a two handed sword. Also heavy. And a ten foot pole. Which was stupid.
I have to go. I hear someone at the door.
TPQjr signing off.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Restocking the Megadungeon

A D&D megadungeon should be a living, constantly changing place. I want my players to have the impression that the dungeon is full of other creatures with their own active agency. Of course, it is all an illusion, and the referee's job is to stage manage this illusion to give it enough verisimilitude to create the desired effect.

The "Hack and Slash" blog discussed dungeon restocking yesterday. Here's how I do it.

In my notes for my megadungeon, some of the keyed encounters certainly represent permanent monster lairs (until defeated by the players), but many more of them represent snapshots in time. I have room descriptions like, "Bedroom. Seven gnomes are currently taking a break here from their explorations away from the mines." If the players encounter the gnomes and then come back later, the gnomes won't be there anymore - they've gone back to their work in the mines or were eaten by giant shrews or whatever. And likewise, rooms that were empty the first time might now have other creatures wandering through.

I use a method that I first read about on Grognardia that was originated (as far as I know) by Dave "Sham" Bowman in this post. I more recently saw the same table used in Michael Curtis's wonderful Stonehell Dungeon.

Roll 1d6:
1: Monster
2: Monster with treasure
3-6: Empty (no change), 1 in 6 chance of unguarded treasure

After each session, I simply go through every room that the players passed through and roll on this table (except for rooms where they left a lair of creatures alone). If a monster is indicated, I roll on my custom wandering monster table for the level or subregion.

This came directly into play in the last session. After the first session, I restocked the rooms the players had passed through. For one of the empty rooms, I rolled "monster with treasure" and the wandering monster table indicated seven bandits. Rolling randomly for the bandits' treasure, they were found to be carrying two pieces of jewelry worth 1,500 and 500 gold pieces.

The players were lucky enough to choose to retrace their steps (they wanted to go take care of the giant rats they had seen on their first trip), and they defeated these bandits and claimed the treasure. That's 2,000 experience points for the party that did not exist in the dungeon until I restocked it. I really enjoy what restocking does for the feel of the game. The dungeon feels like a changing, fluid place, with other monsters and groups moving through it all the time. As you can read in the game report, the encounter with the bandits took the game session in all sorts of interesting directions, and opened up new avenues for the players in future games. And all because of a few random dice rolls!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Idalium Game 2: Honor Among Thieves

Session date: Monday, November 10, 2014
Game date: Saturday, November 10, 207 to Monday, November 12, 207

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 1, hp 5, xp 24/2000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 23/4000
Quazzle, Magic-user 1, hp 1, xp 22/2500
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 22/2500

Brother Mookie, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 11/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 3, xp 12/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 12/4000
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 11/1200

A week had passed, both in real time and in game time, since the group's first explorations of the buried ruins of ancient Idalium. Vinnie's player couldn't attend, so Vinnie and his retainer/cousin Vito were absent (there was some speculation that it had something to do with a badly-prepared meal of giant centipedes).

As the party arrived at the Rusty Lantern tavern, they saw another NPC party noisily celebrating a successful delve below. This was "Rugger's Raiders", a group of rather scurrilous-looking rogues led by a rowdy dwarf named Rugger. They were in high spirits after their adventures, and Rugger was apparently feeling magnanimous, as he gave the PCs some general advice about the value of a large party. Jerry, one of Rugger's team, passed on a rumor that the local thieves' guild was becoming increasingly irritated by a group of maverick bandits who were apparently using the ruins as a base for their burglary operations in the city, cutting the thieves' guild out of its usual percentage. "Renegade thieves, eh? The very worst kind," quipped Tod.

The group headed down into the cellar, paid the toll at the trapdoor, and descended again into the ruins. The consensus seemed to be to go back to the room with the giant rats and hope that the rumors about rats hoarding shiny valuables would be true in this case. On the way, they checked out a few rooms they had passed by on their first trip. Shooting a crossbow bolt into the rustling pile of papers in the shop across the avenue disturbed another nest of giant centipedes. Tod quickly pulled the window shutter closed as the centipedes crawled up the wall towards him, and they moved on.

Tod forced open the door where they had heard squeaking last week, and was confronted by a pair of giant shrews. Well, I say giant, but that still only means the size of plump rats. But these little runts are quite the business in B/X D&D! Fast and ferocious, they leapt through the air at Tod and Brother Mookie, who stood in the doorway. Tod was overwhelmed with terror at the vicious critter snapping and scratching at his neck, and swatted it away and stumbled backwards through the party to go sob in the hallway. Meanwhile, his retainer Brother Mookie attempted to beat back the shrews, but was leapt upon by both of them and fell to the ground gurgling, his throat torn apart by the vicious critters. Tyrriel managed to kill one of the shrews, and they ended up resorting to a Sleep spell to finish the other one off.

To add insult to injury, the shop they were in had been thoroughly looted and empty of valuables, and with heavy hearts the group carried Brother Mookie's body back to the surface. A day was spent resting and healing. Brother Mookie's body was returned to the clergy at the Great Cathedral of the All-Pervading Light, and another eager young acolyte, Brother Jibber, was recruited to take his place.

So the group returned to the dungeon and this time went straight to the house where they found the rats last week. However, on entering the atrium of the house they saw that the door to one of the side rooms was ajar, with a light flickering beyond it. Low voices drifted from the doorway: "Oh, this'll fetch a pretty penny when we fence it up top. You sure we should tell Cretch about this?" "Are you nuts? Cretch'll have your hide for talking like that."

The party whispered back and forth, trying to come up with a plan to jump the bandits. They dithered a bit too long, because suddenly the voices stopped and then: "Hey, you hear that? Go check it out, Joe." A tough looking thug stepped out of the room, followed by six others, all wearing distinctive black and red checkered armbands.

"OK, you want to keep moving and forget you ever saw us. Looks like a pretty even match, but I figure we'd take at least a few of you with us, so you want to think real hard before you do something stupid."

The players again dithered back and forth, trying to settle on a plan. "Hey! You gonna scram, or are we gonna have a rumble?" "OK, OK, we're just leaving!" They casually walked down the hall to the front door, the adventurer with the lantern left the room, and once left in darkness Quazzle crept back up the hall to cast Sleep on the bandit group. With his single hit point, it basically came down to "Pray that you win initiative because it ain't ending well if you don't!"

So Quazzle's player invoked my "Order of the D30" house rule (originated by Jeff Rients), and rolled my big green d30 instead of the usual d6 for initiative. Lady Luck smiled on him, and now the party had a pile of seven snoozing bandits to deal with.

That was the first half of the game session. The second half was entirely improvised role playing. Typically in these situations, the slashing knives come out and the floor runs red, but my players took a much more interesting approach. They tied up and gagged all of the bandits and relieved them of the treasure they had been discussing. (An exquisite necklace and a pearl ring worth a combined 2,000 gold darics; no wonder the maverick thieves were debating whether to go doubly maverick!) Then they made plans to bring the bandits up to the surface to turn them over to the thieves' guild.

Three of them carefully carried the leader of the thieves back to the Rusty Lantern while the rest of the group sealed themselves into the house by spiking the two doors shut, guarding the sleeping and hogtied thieves. Back at the Rusty Lantern, Ylil made discreet inquiries around the tavern trying to suss out a contact with the thieves' guild. Ralph the tavern owner pointed them to Trixie, a sullen looking woman sitting by herself at a table. Trixie didn't seem much impressed by Ylil's attempts at small talk, but for ten darics told him to ask for Ruffino at a pawn shop in a rough neighborhood down by the harbor.

At the pawn shop, Ylil told the sketchy-looking shopkeeper that Trixie sent him to see Ruffino, and he was let into the back office and told to take the first door on the left. The plan was starting to seem a bit iffy at this point. "We sent a 1st level retainer all by himself to the thieves' guild... I'm so gonna die." But he didn't die, and "Ruffino" turned out to be a password, not a person. In the office Ylil found the Guildmaster himself, fat and well-dressed, smoking a cigar as he pored over accounting ledgers. The Guildmaster was very interested in talking to any of these maverick thieves who had been cutting into their business, and agreed to pay 20 darics for every member of the gang that was brought to him. "I'll sit him down, and we'll have a nice friendly conversation and I'll make him an offer he can't refuse. Either he joins the guild and starts playing by our rules, or... well, there's no need to go into that."

So Ylil went back to the Rusty Lantern and rented a pushcart from Ralph in which to transport the sleeping bandit (who woke up on the trip back to the pawn shop and had to be given a stern glare) and soon the party was down one bandit and up 20 gold coins. Then the return trip into the dungeon to retrieve five of the other six for similar treatment.

The last bandit they decided to keep for their own purposes. Quazzle glanced at his retainer Twiffle and said simply, "Charm him," and suddenly Twiffle had a new best friend, who was mightily confused about the situation he found himself in. The bandit sketched a crude map showing the best way to the bandits' HQ in an old mansion to the north, and they all headed back to the Rusty Lantern to celebrate their newfound positive cash flow.

I was really pleased with how this session turned out. It was roughly split in two parts, the first half being dungeon delving and a bit of combat, and the second half being an extended roleplaying scene where the players discussed their options and worked out a plan, followed by a lot of off-the-cuff city adventuring. Pretty much everything about the thieves' guild was improvised on the spot. I had some general ideas about it, and I had seeded the rumors table with information that the thieves' guild was concerned about the bandits in the dungeon, but the players came up with a plan that went beyond anything I was expecting. I really enjoy this kind of mutual creation of the game world, where the in-the-moment interactions at the table create elements of the setting that then become fixed.

I'm also pleased at how many avenues this opens up for the players. Not only do they now have a connection with the thieves' guild, but they have a charmed bandit as an inside agent or informant. I really do love the traditional megadungeon exploration game, but I think it has to be liberally spiced with opportunities for roleplaying interaction, whether in the dungeon or outside it. I think putting the dungeon directly underneath the city is already paying off in that regard. Also, having the charmed bandit to interrogate opens up all sorts of opportunities for the players to plan a raid or heist of the bandits' HQ. Megadungeon games also need to have a constant flow of information to the players, so they can choose their own goals and make plans.