Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Scribing Scrolls, Holmes-style

In session 9, Tyrriel and Wilhelm both used Sleep scrolls that they had made several sessions earlier. I use the rules regarding scrolls from the Basic D&D rulebook edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes (the edition that preceded Tom Moldvay's edition that we are using in this campaign).

In most editions of D&D and AD&D, you have to wait until you are 9th level to create any kind of magical item. Dr. Holmes allowed magic-users to create scrolls of spells that they know any at level, at a cost of 100 gp and one week of game time per spell level. This is unique among D&D editions, and is definitely not by-the-book for the edition we are using, but has become a fairly common house rule among modern "old school" campaigns. I generalize the rule to allow any spellcaster, including elves and clerics, to create scrolls.

The one important proviso that I add is that scrolls created this way are "personal scrolls" and cannot be used by anyone else. They are a sort of shorthand mnemonic for a spellcaster's own innate magical powers, and will not function for another caster, nor can they be used to assist in spell research. This prevents PC or NPC casters from selling cheap scrolls on the open market and making it too easy to get access to new spells.

I really like this rule, as it gives 1st level magic-users and elves a little bit more to do, and a way to spend some of the money they have been accumulating as they climb towards 2nd level. So far it hasn't unbalanced the game (anymore than the "insta-win" Sleep spell already does, at least).

Player Journals from Session 9

Gulleck's fourth journal
These old Idalian folks got up to some weird stuff. Foaming mouth babbling curses weird. And now my dang hair's all purple. Gonna have a hard time explaining that one.

The other fellas found some big rats before I met em, guess they figured maybe the vermin stashed something worth finding, so we hunted em out. Turns out they were right. Found a decanter with fancy jewels on it, pretty rich for rats!

The rest tunnel led to some temples. Weird stuff. One with statues looking all ominous-like, and paintings on the wall with people way too happy or scared for me to mess with. Another with an organ that did some crazy stuff when we tossed some water in. Folks talking crazy, going blind, hair turning colors, flowers outta nowhere. Made some sketches, could be worth something maybe. To some crazy person. Organ doesn't work so great on Knockers, turns out.

Oh yeah, killed some Knockers too.

Ran into some orcs. Ol' pointy-ears did some mumbo jumbo and got one of em all friendly. Guy still woke up the rest of em, and the leader tried to make is give im all our stuff. The wizardy guy put em all to sleep, so we took their stuff instead.

Don't suppose they're too happy bout that. Don't suppose I much care, neither.

Journal of Tod P. Quasit, Jr. Journal Entry for Saturday January 12, 208
It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you all that Jibber has gone blind with the brain fever and dragged me down with him. At first I thought it was the imported "fortified" grog from the Excellent Drain, but in fact it had something to do with a magical water organ and the terrible playing of one Brother Jibber. Luckily it was all temporary. I can't say that I will look back and laugh about it.

Before the blindness, we delved deep into the Undercity and chased down those giant pony sized rats we saw on our very first day of adventuring. How we have changed. Instead of soiling their armor, the party resolved to kill the rats and take the valuables that would have been collecting in their foul next. So we did. And how we killed them.

Later, after much rejoicing at the finding of wonderful loot, I went blind. And then we came upon a group of horrible people. Just awful awful people who were sleeping. I think they are called orcs? Much to my amusement, young Twiffle magically charmed the one who was on watch. This didn't work all that well and soon all the sleeping orcs were awake and didn't like what they saw. We gave them wine and that sort of smoothed things over for a bit, but not for long. So, as we often do when things go bad, Wilhelm put them to sleep. Just in the nick of time. We thought about turning them over to the proper authorities, but ended up just taking off their filthy awful armor and tying them up in a neat little bundle of awfulness. For our troubles we took a whole lot of gold from them. I'm sure they will remember us fondly as the ones that could have sliced their heads off in their sleep but only decided to take a small toll.

I forgot to mention, when I finally got my sight back, I noticed Gulleck's hair had turned the most lovely shade of purple. Unlike my blindness, it does not seem to be getting better. Oh we will have much to laugh about at the Rancid Pickle later on. First round is on Gulleck! Hah.

Journal of Tod P. Quasit, Jr. Journal Supplementary
After three mugs of grape wine at the Frisky Wench, Jibber reminded me that when he played the cursed organ, only Ylil and Twiffle started talking backwards. Then after we attacked the knockers, it was the Dwarf who played the organ again, smashing down the keys and making us blind. Jibber has a point. I lectured him on the dangers of confusing cause and effect with correlation, and he just stared at me and muttered something foreign under his breath. He does probably have a point. Heh. The dwarf keeps coming out of the toilet room complaining about "purple everywhere". Poor purple bastard.

Caryatid's Diary
Dear Diary,

It seems every dang time we come across any kind of potentially cool magical item, things go horribly wrong. Except for that dumb mirror who’s only useful feature that I can think of is one of distraction or diversion to the slightly less intelligent creatures we meet. So that cursed water organ we discovered in the temple had some of us talking backwards, that was only funny for little bit, then got quite annoying. Especially when that little troll Twiffle [ed: Gulleck] cursed me too. Some people!! And just when you think nothing is fair, HE gets to have his hair turn the most awesome shade of purple! Why couldn’t I get colored hair?!? Lavender, chartreuse, cerulean? Nothin. At least I didn’t go blind, or worse. I wonder what would happen if I cast a spell while talking backwards…

O I HOPE that dumb thing wasn’t the basis for the rumor of a healing fountain in a temple! I’ll be so pissed if there is no more temples.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Idalium Game 9: Houses of the Holy

Session date: Monday, January 12, 2015
Game date: Saturday, January 12, 208

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 2, hp 14, xp 2162/4000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 2001/4000
Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 1, hp 3, xp 896/2200
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 1947/2500

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 732/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 970/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 970/4000
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 582/1200

As expected, a more focused and goal-oriented session this time. Vito's player couldn't attend, so we were down to a party of 8 characters. The players spent a little time discussing places on their map that they hadn't yet been, and leads they've yet to follow up on. Not a bad time to recap some of those right here:
  • the courtyard behind Cretch's mansion, rumored to be full of very lively and aggressive plants
  • the bathhouse across from Cretch's mansion, rumored to contain stairs down to the second level
  • rumors of a magical bank vault to the southwest (and they mused that they might be able to find records and historical documents there for the reward that was offered last session)
  • rumors of temples to the south, including a temple of health with a basin that seeps a liquid that heals wounds
  • the cavern shaft (full of stirges) that seemed to lead deeper down into the dungeon
I chipped in to remind them of the rumor about giant rats collecting trinkets and bric-a-brac. "Oh, we'd better finally go check that out, since the DM keeps hinting about it!" (Heh, fair cop, guv'nor!)

So back into the buried city of Idalium they went, heading back to the manor house where they had encountered and scared away the giant rats several months ago. There they were again, a handful of dog-sized rats scampering around a filthy dining room. Wilhelm spoke the words of Sleep and the rats were overcome without a fight. The party stood looking down the dark, cramped rathole in the wall of the room, wondering if they really wanted to explore the rats' nest badly enough. Gulleck squeezed his way into the tunnel long enough to see that it twisted around a corner, and then backed out. Tyrriel and Wilhelm were bold enough to crawl through the small tunnel, emerging in another apartment's bedroom, where several more rats quickly darted away out of the room at the approach of the adventurers. They returned to the main group to report, and then everyone crawled painfully through the filthy tunnel and followed the rats into a living room half buried in rubble and debris. Mixed in with the rubble were torn strips of cloth and upholstery stuffing, forming a giant nest for the rats, a bunch of whom now hissed and charged at the party. Tyrriel's Sleep spell dealt with these rats in a hurry, but as Gulleck begin killing the vermin, four more rats came squeaking from another rat tunnel in the south wall.

Tod, Jibber, and Gulleck formed a line and met the rats' charge. Tod was bit in the shin by one, but the dice were hot for the players in this battle. Tod rolled a natural 20. I don't do "critical hits" that do extra damage, as this quickly becomes way too lethal for the PCs, but I treat a natural 20 as doing something extra good in addition to damage (whereas a natural 1 is a fumble of some sort). So Tod killed a rat by slicing it in two, and then with a flick of his two-handed sword, sent the front half of the corpse flying into one of the other rats, momentarily pinning it to the rubble pile. Twiffle then rolled a natural 20 for his bow, so as the poor rat was attempting to squirm out from underneath the bleeding half of its fellow, an arrow impaled it, pinning the carcass to its thigh. The rat attempted to limp back to the tunnel, dragging the hunk of rat along with it, when it was finally put out of its misery with yet another natural 20.

From the stinking rats' nest the group plucked a golden bejewelled decanter. (Yeah, I guess I was hinting a little bit.) Then they crouched down to crawl through the other rat tunnel to the south. This emerged in a storeroom full of everyday goods like oil lamps and candles, but also containing a rack of tattered, ragged robes. Swirls of colored dye and embroidery could barely be made out on the ancient fabric. A door to the east led to an imposing room: four stone statues stood in the center of the room, hands outstretched to their sides and faces raised expectantly to the ceiling. The walls were painted with frescoes showing men and women in robes joining hands and chanting or singing and gazing upwards, where strange swirls and whorls of colors were painted above their heads. Some of the figures showed a look of ecstasy on their faces; others showed fear and horror. As the party looked at this odd scene, they became aware of a faint chanting or singing, right at the back of their hearing, not coming from anywhere in particular, but just pervading the room.

"Nope, nope, nope! Don't want anything to do with this!" They all moved hastily around the statues to the door at the other side of the room, and left this place to its own devices.

They found themselves in a wide north-south avenue lined with buildings with ornate facades. Across the street from them was another door, flanked with marble cherubs playing harp and flute. Carefully they entered, finding themselves in a large semicircular room, ornately decorated with frescoes of people enjoying music of many different types. Benches surrounded a strange apparatus: an organ of some kind, with two ranks of keys, and a curious recess with four pegs or pins and a large number of tiny little pipes or tubes. On the side of the organ there was a tank or reservoir that apparently held water at some time, as they could see a line of scale along the edge. Gulleck was fascinated by the mechanical sophistication of this organ, and began sketching it. Brother Jibber tentatively played a "middle C", but the organ merely creaked and hissed. After studying the reservoir, they used one of their waterskins to fill it with water, and Jibber played a minor scale on the keyboard.

Suddenly, many strange things happened. Several of the party members were unaffected by the music, but Ylil and Twiffle suddenly found themselves talking backwards for the next hour, and from the air above the organ rained a shower of many-colored flower petals!

Choosing to leave this organ alone now, the group explored a room to the north. Ten horrible knockers were smashing drums, breaking harp strings, and denting trumpets! Gulleck, on a mischievous whim, ran back to the organ and pounded on the keys, hoping to mess with the knockers. This time, Caryatid began to talk backwards as well, and Tod and Brother Jibber were struck blind! Gulleck's hair, including his beard, turned a lovely shade of lavender.

Many weeks ago, Tyrriel and Wilhelm had spent some time and money to create a scroll of Sleep (I use the scroll-making rules from the Holmes Basic rules). Tyrriel read the words from this scroll now, putting all of the knockers to sleep. (They were lucky to not be among those who could only speak backwards!)

The party decided to wait and see if the backwards speech and blindness would wear off, and after about an hour it did (fortunately, no monsters wandered by while Tod and Jibber were blind). Once everyone was back to normal, they chose to investigate of the five doors off of this large room. Ylil listened at the door, and heard snoring. They carefully oiled the hinges of the door, hoping to increase their chances of catching the sleepers off-guard (I gave them an extra chance to open the door on the first try). Tod shouldered the door open.

Inside an old rehearsal room full of music stands and broken instruments, a group of four ugly men were sleeping, slumped against the walls. One more sat at a table, awake. They looked human but bestial, with little jutting tusks, heavy brow ridges, bristly hair, and little piggy eyes. Muscles strained beneath filthy leather armor, veins bulging along their arms and necks.

The guard was completely taken by surprise, and Twiffle immediately spoke the words of the Charm Person spell. The look of surprise was replaced by relief as the beastman said, in a gruff, harsh language, "Oh, thought you were someone else! You find any good loot?" Twiffle recognized this language as the crude tongue of the orcs.

"A little," whispered Twiffle. "Come on out here. Let's let them sleep." The orc hesitantly followed Twiffle out into the room with the organ and they shut the door. From the orc, the adventurers learned that his group had come up here from the second level and had established a base camp in this room. They were taking a brief rest and then going plundering.

The players weren't quite sure what to do with their new friend at this point, but Tyrriel offered her last bottle of fine wine. The orc took a sniff and then a drink and smiled broadly. "Wake up boss now, give this to him!" The players dithered and debated what to do while the orc opened the door and yelled, "Boss, wake up!"

All of the orcs woke up, blinking suspiciously at the party. "They friends, boss, they bring this!" The orc leader took a long pull on the wine jug, and the suspicious look on his face eased a bit, though he still looked puzzled. (There were several reaction checks here, modified by the fact that the party seemed to be buddies with one of the orcs, and for the gift of wine, but also by the sheer weirdness of the situation.)

The conversation started to go downhill, as the orc leader seemed happy enough to drink with the party and let them go on their way, as long as they handed over any other valuables they might have found. The PCs started to make up bizarre fibs and pretenses, and the orc leader's patience wore thin. Turning to the charmed orc, he yelled, "Ugrok, why you friends with these stupid people?!"

Then Wilhelm drew out his own Sleep scroll, and read from it. "It trap!" yelled the orc leader, and they began to draw their rusty swords, but the party won initiative and all of the orcs returned to a deep slumber. "Ugrok!!!" wailed the leader, shaking his fist as he slumped to the floor.

The players have shown zero remorse in slaying knockers, but with these orcs they felt a twinge of scruples and chose to strip them of their swords and armor, leaving them tied up in their disgusting skivvies. Apparently, once you've shared wine with someone you just can't slash their throats in their sleep. They liberated the orcs of a burlap sack full of several hundred gold coins, as well a small leather pouch full of a suspicious-looking off-white powder, and retraced their steps back to the exit of the dungeon (ditching the nasty armor and swords in the rats' nest).

We always joke that D&D brings out the 12-year-old boy in all of us, so my punchline for the session was, "Gulleck (with his new lavender hair) stepped out to the back alley of the Rusty Lantern to take a leak, and was dismayed to discover that the effects of the strange magical instrument were quite comprehensive."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Player Journals from Session 8

Gulleck's third journal
I dunno how this city's still around. Right underfoot we got giant bugs and blood sucking bird things and walking skeletons and damned vile nasty Knockers. Think I need to line the floors with steel or something.

Ran into some great big scaly beasts, too. But they were sleeping, and the wizardy guy put em even more to sleep. Dunno how that works, exactly, but the things didn't wake up and eat us, so no complaints.

Not a whole lot of profit today, but we found a magic mirror that showed the back of my head. Sneaky boy got all thoughtful about it. Dunno, maybe we can do more with it than check for helm hair. At this rate GreatPappy's bones'll be stuck up here for another twenty years.

Oh, gotta remember this. No touching ugly little idols. Priest fella near killed himself doing that.

Caryatid's player sent in journals for the last couple of session:
Dear diary,

Ylil-Paul came back, looks exactly like Eddie Izzard. Tyriel seems to have some weird no hair growth side-effect either from being poisoned or from the healing pillow. We Exterminators seem to have added returning lost treasure to our skill set, got a huge reward from old Lady Baroness for returning a goblet & platter we found in the dungeons; enough to buy better armor for both Ylil-Paul & Wilson.

Get this: there's a Cleric group of Adventurers representing St. Dwindom's Church. Seriously?!? Clerics?!? Hope they don't set themselves on fire…

Going back down to the dungeons next time looking for the passage to the lower levels. We hear it's by the Bathhouse I've wanted to go see, maybe I'll get my spa day after all. I just hope it doesn't turn out to be one of those old ruins that's been overrun my hideous monsters…

Dear Diary,

Adventured in the tunnels below the city again. Finally made it to the Bathhouse but no spa day: Giant Bees! Also I finally found a magical item, turns out to be a goofy you-can only-see-the-back-of-your-head kind of magic mirror. Also can be an endless source of entertainment for Vito. And then, to make the adventuring trifecta: I got poisoned. Yep lesson learned: let the thief open the box with thieves' tools. I've got enough gold now to write another scroll or go shopping. Definitely should stock up on flasks of oil, clearly a better weapon than hiding in the middle of the melee waiting for a monster to fall onto my dagger…

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Idalium Game 8: Ramble On

Session date: Monday, January 5, 2015
Game date: Saturday, January 5, 208

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 2, hp 14, xp 2096/4000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 1938/4000
Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 1, hp 3, xp 830/2200
Caryatid, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 1887/2500
Vito Aneti, Thief 2, hp 10, xp 1391/2400

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 699/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 939/2500
Twiffle, Elf 1, hp 1, xp 939/4000
Ylil, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 552/1200
Sprat, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 208/1200

After a hiatus of two missed sessions, first due to holiday travel and then due to multiple players with colds and sore throats, we finally got the group back together in the New Year. As I had kind of expected, the long break led to a less focused session with more chit-chat than usual. That's OK, the game is first and foremost a social event, and though the actual explorations in the dungeon were rather aimless and not terribly monumental, there were plenty of laughs and everyone seemed to have a good time.

When we left off, the players had recovered a number of valuable pieces of jewelry from some bandits in the ruins, and there was some chatter about finding more rich people who might reward them for the return of their jewelry, but nobody seemed to come up with a plan except the obviously terrible one of showing up on people's doorsteps and asking "Are these expensive things yours?" So they opted for the old standby of heading right back down into the dungeon again.

In the Rusty Lantern, they took note of an advertisement that was being passed around: "Attention brave and bold explorers of Ancient Idalium: I will pay handsomely for any and all records and documents of historical interest. Signed, Professor R. Zinn".

"Hey, Tyrriel, you can write in Ancient Idalian, can't you?" Such scoundrels, these players are!

The group decided to continue exploring the rooms that they had been in last week, and head towards the big bathhouse across from Cretch's mansion that they had seen several times now but never entered. Last session, they had met another party of adventurers in the Rusty Lantern, a friendly group called St. Dwindum's Heroes, who had told them that there is a stairway in the bathhouse that leads to the next level of the dungeon.

They descended into the undercity and returned to the house where they had last been. As Tod opened the door, the reek of recent decay washed over them, and there where they had left them were the bodies of the two bandits, now looking quite a bit worse for the wear, chewed up but also strangely dessicated looking. The door off of the hall to the south was ajar, and Gulleck poked a head around it, hoping to use his infravision to his advantage.

Unfortunately, the dice decided that he was surprised by the 10 stirges that live in that room, and furthermore I rolled a perfect 2 (immediate attack) on their reaction check. Here I have to admit that I got a bit overexcited and rolled four attacks which killed poor Gulleck instantly. But then I remembered that he was only poking his head around the narrow gap in the doorway, which ought to provide cover. I hate "retconning" things like this, and I don't want to give my players the impression that I am ever pulling punches or fudging the dice. For me, a significant part of the spirit of this kind of low-level old school play is that the tension and danger feels "real", that there is no safety net. But giving it a second thought, I really did feel he deserved to get the cover from the door and that he wouldn't have been attacked by as many stirges as I first thought. So I rerolled the attacks for just two stirges, applying a cover modifier, and this time they both missed Gulleck, and he quickly pulled the door shut and backed away (this has really become this party's signature move!). The angry stirges beat at the door with their wings and scratched with their claws.

While the party was exploring the apartment to the north, where the bandits had been, a group of knockers appeared in the doorway back to the hall, blinking their dull eyes and scowling. Gulleck screamed a war cry and charged them, and Vito again fired his loaded crossbow directly into the forehead of one of the creatures. The surviving knockers fled without even returning the attack.

In another apartment, Brother Jibber finally had the opportunity to take center stage, as the party was attacked by animated skeletons, and his faith held them at bay while the rest of the party dispatched them from a distance with ease. Later, Jibber's curiosity almost cost him his life. The group had found a small shrine full of grotesquely carved figurines. Even though a skeleton lay on the floor clutching one of the figurines, Brother Jibber boldly picked one of them up. Pain seared through him as though his life was being drawn out through his arm. I think he took 3 points of damage (out of his 5 hit points total). It could easily have been lethal had he rolled worse.

The group found the bathhouse and made a very brief foray inside, only to be scared away by a group of giant bees. (These never fail to produce an amused discussion of where the underground bees are managing to find flowers.) They ran back out of the bathhouse and opted for a large manor house next to Cretch's mansion.

In the manor, they found a trio of enormous lizards, sleeping peacefully in the kitchen. Wilhelm decided to cast Sleep on them to make absolutely sure they didn't wake up. In the rooms of the manor, they found an intriguing hand mirror that shows you the back of your head when you look in it. (Of course, one of my players immediately set to work testing the parameters of this. "What happens if you stand against a wall and look in it?" Every group has a player like this, don't they?)

So, all in all, a rather uneventful but still entertaining evening. I think I may introduce a "questgiver" next session to offer them a bit more direction (should they choose to take the hook) and nudge them towards the more interesting places remaining on the first level.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Player Journals from Session 7

Only one player sent in a journal for this session (it was a busy holiday season and we skipped two weeks due to illness and travel).

Gulleck's second journal
Seems like these fellas have connections with the thieves guild. Means we get to random stolen stuff we find without getting tossed in the clink or in the river. Joined the right group sure enough.

Turns out the snooty upper crust types ain't all bad, too. Baroness Whatshergrace is alright by me, anyway.

Killed some Knockers. Foul little beasts.

Killed some bandits too. One caught his fool self on fire. Looked painful. Ol' pointy-ears put an arrow in another, and they gave up right quick. Fastest profit I ever made. Cept I guess we don't get to just sell the stuff they had, we gotta find the rightful owners. Maybe this plan wasn't so great after all. Getting tired of not having any coin.