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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Ignoble Death

The buried city of Idalium claimed its first victim tonight: Brother Mookie, acolyte of the Church of the All Pervading Light, had his throat messily eviscerated by an absurdly ferocious giant shrew.

I'll write up a full report soon, but man, giant shrews are something else in Classic D&D. There were parallels drawn to the Rabbit of Caerbannog...

Brother Mookie has the honor of leading the Idalium Memorial Roll. I'll update the list of the dead as the campaign proceeds.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Idalium Game 1: A Fistful of Centipedes

Session date: Monday, November 3, 2014
Game date: Saturday, November 3, 207

Tod, Fighter 1, hp 5
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3
Quazzle, Magic-user 1, hp 1
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4
Vinnie De Veru, Thief 1, hp 5

Brother Mookie, Cleric 1, hp 5
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3
Vito Aneti, Thief 1, hp 6

Last Monday, we got together for the first session of the Idalium campaign. Five players were able to attend, and I had them roll up two sets of ability scores (3d6 in order) and pick one for their PC and one for their (initial) retainer. Character generation took a lot longer than I expected, partly because I had to explain many of the rules as we went along, so the players could make informed decisions, and also because it seems like everyone rolled well for their starting gold, and shopping for equipment took a long time. I ran a convention game a couple of months ago where we had fighters in leather armor and thieves in “civvies” because they couldn’t afford any better. This time, everyone who could wear plate mail did so, and several of the characters are equipped with bows.

It’s an interesting mix of classes, with only one human fighter among the ten characters and just the one cleric retainer. Between the magic-users and elves, the party has three Sleep spells, a Charm Person spell, and a Shield spell at their disposal.

After we had finished rolling up characters, we had about half the session left for the party’s first expedition into the ruins of the old city of Idalium. In a tavern called the Rusty Lantern, a discreet organization calling itself the Adventurer’s Guild has sprung up around the exploration of the ruins. The Rusty Lantern is a "private club" – the only people allowed in are those vouched for by a current member of the Guild, at the risk of their expulsion. The PCs and their retainers were vouched for by a mutual acquaintance named Reggie (a good natured fellow who was adventuring with another NPC party), and entered the tavern.

In the tavern, a Guild spokesman gave them a rundown of the basic rules ("Rule #1 of Adventurer’s Guild is you do not talk about Adventurer’s Guild"). The Guild takes a 10% cut of all treasure retrieved from the ruins, in exchange for access to the various services provided by the Guild. Not least of these services is access to the trapdoor in the cellar of this tavern that leads down to the abandoned streets of old Idalium. In addition, the Guild provides adventurers with a secure place to store their weapons and armor, so they don’t cause disturbances walking through the city streets outfitted for war, and a secure place to deposit their wealth. (These are all contrivances to simplify episodic dungeon delving for us as players.)

The players observed another NPC party celebrating, having just returned from a successful delve, and then proceeded into the cellar to venture into the dungeon. In a side room downstairs, a couple of men sat at a table near the open trapdoor. There was a block and tackle system rigged above the hatch, along with a winch. ("For hauling up a big heavy treasure chest, if you’re lucky. Or a body, if not so lucky!") The guards charged the party a fee of gold daric each and then lowered a rope ladder and the party descended.

Passing through 10 feet or so of scaffolding and bracing, the group climbed down the ladder to find themselves in an old storeroom, full of boxes and crates of rotten grain, etc. A small staircase led down to the back room of a shop. This building contained many indications of frequent travel: footprints in the dust, bits of discarded torch stubs and so on, chalk notes on doors ("This way to the town square"). Eventually, the party passed through the front door of the shop and found themselves on a wide avenue. Looking up, they could just see at the edge of their lantern light the planks and bracing timbers that supported the new city some 30’ above them.

The group explored a few shops along the avenue, choosing not to investigate a large pile of discarded paper that rustled when their light fell upon it, nor a door beyond which they heard agitated squeaking. They turned down a side alley and entered the back door of what appeared to have once been a wealthy house, with a large atrium containing a decorative pool and an open skylight above it, and several rooms off of the central atrium. In the kitchen of this house, the magic-user Wilhelm disturbed a nest of foot long centipedes, but managed to sedate them with a Sleep spell before they could injure him. Vito (who had grown up poor and by necessity creative about his meals) bagged up the giant centipede carcasses for the next few days’ dinners.

Continuing their exploration, the group frightened off a pack of giant rats, and timidly tiptoed past a flock of bizarre creatures that seemed a cross between birds and anteaters. Crossing another wide avenue, they entered a second house with a similar layout. Here they found what they took to be the same flock of stirges returned to roost in one of the bedrooms, and carefully closed the door on them.

As they were discussing their options, one of the doors opened, and a tiny little man emerged, looking at them quizzically. He wore a colorful tunic and conical hat, and had a long white beard. Vinnie cheerfully offered him some wine, and the gnome quickly warmed up to these explorers, and invited them in to share some snacks with his companions.

There were about six of them, all dressed in different colored caps and hoods. They had a picnic blanket spread out on the floor of the bedroom and were eating tiny little meat pies and crumb cakes. ("Oh, they’re adorable!" said one of the players. "We can’t possibly kill them and take their stuff now!") The leader of the group of gnomes, who said his name was Pluck Fimple, told the adventurers that the gnomes were taking a break from their work in the mines to do some exploring of the city, but they had taken shelter in this room from the stirges. He indicated that the mines were beyond the back door of this house, and suggested that if the party did go there, to stop by and meet his boss, a gnome named Tom Pipkin. Perhaps the party could be of assistance to the gnomes with some trouble they were having with the "knockers", vaguely described by Pluck as evil spirits of the underground who frequently caused trouble for the gnomes and stole their gold.

After their cordial picnic with the gnomes, the adventurers decided it was time to return to the surface, so they retraced their steps back to the trapdoor back to the Rusty Lantern. The guys on duty at the top of the hatch counted the number of surviving party members as they climbed out, and with a disappointed shake of the head, one handed over a couple of silver shekels to the other.

As the group entered the tavern upstairs, a cheer went up from the other regulars, and Ralph the tavernkeeper called for them to tally up their haul, so the Guild could take its 10%. Vito hesitated with the sack he was carrying, but Ralph urged him on. "Come on, rules are rules, let’s see what you’ve got!" Vito handed over the sack of beheaded centipede corpses, and Ralph peered inside, then cleared his throat and said, "Well, since you guys are new here, we’ll waive the Guild’s cut for your first time out!"

The City of Idalium

For two hundred years, the city-state of Idalium has occupied the shores of the Great Sea, growing into a bustling, thriving seaport. But Idalium was built directly on the ruins of another, far more ancient, Idalium. When the former civilization collapsed in the wake of a volcanic eruption, power was seized by a wave of invaders organized by a recently developed monotheistic religion. These invaders were so repelled by the inscrutable pagan ways of the Idalian culture and such was their zealotry to replace it that they literally planked over the old city and built a new Idalium on top of the old.

Now, over two hundred years later, the citizens of Idalium go about their daily business sparing little thought to the ruins below their feet. They know it exists, of course, but they view it as a dark, dangerous hole underneath the ground. They would no sooner go down there than most of us would enter a manhole into a sewer tunnel or underground crypt. Only the most foolhardy or desperate would intentionally mount an exploration of the forgotten ruins...

My D&D campaign revolves around the busy city-state of Idalium and the sprawling dungeon located immediately (and improbably) below its streets. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, one of the chief goals of this campaign is to support casual episodic play, where occasional players can drop in or out with no disruption to an ongoing plot (I'll write much more about this goal later). So every game session has to start and end in town, and the dungeon must therefore be very close at hand. And also, I like the "magical realism" aspect of having a surreal underworld within arm's reach of the mundane, quotidian world. It doesn't have to hold up to extended intellectual scrutiny. "Fridge logic" is good enough.

Idalium is inspired by sword-and-sorcery cities like Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, a mythic version of the classical Mediterranean city-states like Byzantium, Athens, Alexandria, etc. I wanted to get away from the traditional pseudo-Medieval genre trappings of D&D, and into something a bit more "Jason and the Argonauts" (or at least "The Life of Brian"). This is a world of isolated city-states dotted around a fantasy analog of the Mediterranean Sea, separated by dangerous wilderness, not a land of feudal castles and rolling meadows full of jousting knights in shining plate armor. Although, this being D&D, I have no problem with incorporating anachronistic technology and social structures ranging the full course of human history. It may have the feel of an Iron Age city-state, but there are also glass windows, Gothic cathedrals, widespread literacy, etc. That, to me, has always been part of the freewheeling charm of old school D&D - to steal liberally from whatever is exciting and atmospheric from any age of history, literature, or film.

Next I'll post a little about the adventurers home base, the tavern which gives this blog its title, and then write up a report of our inaugural game session.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Commence Subterranean Exploration


This is a blog about old school Dungeons & Dragons. Primarily, this blog exists to provide a place for campaign journals and other setting information for my newly begun D&D campaign (our first game session was yesterday). In addition to the regular players, I have a couple people on my contact list who hope to be able to drop in on an occasional basis, and this blog is meant to be a good way for them to keep tabs on what's been happening in the campaign. Secondarily, it will be a place for me to ramble on about classic D&D, campaign and dungeon design, referee techniques, etc. In preparing to run this campaign, I was inspired by many other bloggers and forum posters (some are linked in the blogroll to the right), and it seems only fair that I should try to return the favor by sharing my experiences or hopefully entertaining the reader with our session reports.

We are using the 1981 Basic/Expert D&D rules, edited by Tom Moldvay, David Cook, and Steve Marsh. The campaign setting is a very traditional megadungeon, explicitly designed to support episodic play and be flexible to a changing roster of players with busy adult schedules. We roll our abilities with 3d6 in order, roll for hit points at first level, and die at 0 hit points. The dice fall where they will, and there will be no fudging of results. I don't even use a DM's screen.

I'll have a few posts up as soon as time allows with basic campaign setting information, as well as our first session report. Sneak preview: Five PCs and five retainers explored the abandoned ruins below their city and came back with naught but a sackful of giant centipede carcasses. But on the bright side, none of the party died!