Archive for October, 2010

This is the story of Sharia, sword mistress of the Eladrin of Mithrendoom, and how she came to be known as the Princess of the Flame.

Part 2 Sharia faces her nemesis, the shadow witch Cryzlyx

Sharia dashed across the square towards her mount, Jubul, seeking the heavy ceramic urns strapped to his back. The camel meandered through the shade of a ruined wall, snuffling amongst the thorny weeds at its base. A dark doorway yawned in the wall, and as Jubul meandered past it, Sharia saw a pale white arm reach out and grasp the trailing reins. With a savage pull, the camel was drawn into the darkness of the building. Glancing back with longing at the billowing mist, now dissipating in the desert breezes, Sharia grit her teeth and leapt through the doorway.

For a moment all was darkness as her wide-set almond eyes adjusted to the dim interior. She used the time to slip her curved blade from its belt loop, and take up a defensive posture. In Nazerak the shadows were the most dangerous of places. This was especially true after the sun set, when the world was cast in shadow; but even at the height of day, the hungry souls who haunted the darkness found shade-havens to wait out the long red days.

Sharia knew of the curse that seethed within all her people. Even as the eladrin of Nazerak were compelled to continue the meaningless clash of arms against their brethren in mockery of an ancient civil war, so were they beholden to the curse even unto death. When a high elf of Nazerak fell in battle, they would rise again that night as a shadow eladrin, or Shadar-kai as they were sometimes called, which roughly translates to gloom-cousin. These gloom cousins were stripped of all that was noble and honorable upon waking, and they lived second lives of cruelty, pain, and pleasure in the deep shadows beneath Nazerak. When a shadar kai was slain – and they were hunted ferociously by the people of Nazerak – a new eladrin babe was born, thus completing the cruel circle of the curse.

(The wise spoke of the ties to the mystical realms, the feywild and the shadowfell, which brushed against Nazerak – one of the few links left in the desolate world – and how the life-blood spilt into the sands of Nazerak strengthened those bonds. In turn, as the eladrin suffered, so they kept their city alive. Without these ties to the still verdant fey realms, no water would flow, by day or by night, and the dry desert would finally have its victory. This they believed was also why each succeeding generation of eladrin born was more unhinged than the last. When a new babe was born, a sliver of his soul went to feed the fey wild, strengthening the bond between realms, but diminishing the soul of the eladrin.)

As Sharia waited for her eyes to adjust, her blade began to glow with an edge of flame. She could see the dim outline of her camel off to one side, snorting and huffing at the indignity of finding itself in a dark interior. She heard the sudden booming crash of breaking ceramic, and recognized the sound as one of her urns. From behind the camel a woman stepped.

She was a mockery of Sharia. Where the eladrins skin was tinted pink from sun exposure, the shadar kai had skin pale to the point of translucence. Her locks were long and stringy, and dyed a garish crimson to cover the lack of natural hue. Where Sharia stood tall and proud, the woman in front of her was hunched, cringing almost, though she held twin daggers with skill and fell intent. Her eyes glowed in the reflected flame of Sharia’s blade, Skarn, and her glare was filled with a hatred of all things warm and bright.

Rage sparkled in Sharia’s eyes. “You!” She took a step forward. A cruel smile parted her lips. “You broke my urn, witch. I will make you pay for that.” To break the urn was to cause thirst and suffering for her people.

The shadar Kai witch Cryzlyx took an unconscious step back, seeking the deepest shadows as was her nature. But even as she retreated, she was sizing up this bright flame before her, watching for weakness, hoping for an error of judgment. Cryzlyx was as warlike as her sun-cousin, but she fought with stealth and sleight of hand. The plunges from her knives came from unexpected directions, and she had no interest in engaging the paladin on even footing. Thus had she planned this ambush for days, waiting for one so foolish as to claim the title Flame Princess that rightfully belonged to Cryzlyx.

Crylzyx once felt the cool burning fur of the flame spirit. She too had held an element of the eternal flame in the palm of her hand and laughed with delight as she controlled the waters of the well, and called herself princess of the flame. But her time as princess was too short for her tastes, and when she inevitably fell in battle, as all eladrin must sooner or later, she woke that night to find herself stripped of fame and flame. Indeed the laughing mockery of her new kin, the shadar kai, confirmed her lost stature. But Cryzlyx was no ordinary soul, she was consumed with a remembrance for things lost, and determined that if she could no longer wield the spirits flame, she would see to it that no one else held that glory. And so for many long days she waited and plotted for someone to claim the title, and now she meant to get it back or slay Sharia for her boldness.

“Your urns will quench no thirst, flame princess,” the witch drawled, pointing at her with a dagger. She reversed her other dagger so the blades back edge followed the slight curve of her fore-arm and raised it high. Her feet shuffled in the sand so her left foot was forward, but her weight was behind.

“It is your blades thirst that will go unquenched,” Sharia laughingly retorts. She unconsciously drops into her own fighting stance, scimitar loose in her hand, knees slightly bent but head held high. Her back is to the door, a rectangle of brilliant bronze light that silhouettes the eladrin as she prepares for battle. Three paces separate the foes but neither makes a move to bridge that gap.

Suddenly Cryzlyx lashes out. In one fluid motion she takes a small step forward while moving her high blade to eye level. This causes Sharia to pull her scimitars blade inward and upward as she instinctively prepares for an assault. But it doesn’t come. Instead, the witches low-held dagger flashes forward and faster than the eye can follow, slashes through the inix-shell skirts that protect Sharia’s thigh, drawing blood.

Sharia gasps but shows no other sign at her first-drawn blood, now draining down her leg, spilling over the lip of her knee-high boot. Amazingly the dagger is back in Cryzlyx’ hand, incarnadine. Sharia wears a smile that holds no mirth. She hates pain, hates taking a hit. It reminds her of her mortality, and this annoys her more than the witch. She heaves her scimitar around and prepares to charge ahead those three paces to engage this shadar kai up close. However, her scimitar Skarn feels lighter than it ever has, and it leaves an arc of flame as she brings it up and forward. On a whim, Sharia turns the swing into a throw and watches as Skarn seems to open up in flight as it crosses the space between the women. Like a winged bird of flame it arcs up and down again, exploding against the crossed daggers Cryzlyx brings up to ward the blow – but they cant stop the explosion of fire that sets the ends of the witches faded hair on fire and bathes her chest in red heat.

The flames turn into burning sparks that cascade down to the sandy floor. Even then a ball of fire appears in Sharias hand and re-forms into Skarn. It is good to be the princess of flame. Sharia nods approvingly at the effect it has had on the witch, who is now quivering in pain and anger as she smothers the lingering flames. With a screech, Cryzlyx launches herself across the space that divides them. Her two daggers above her head, points down, Cryzlyx closes the distance in a single bound.

Sharia has just time enough to bring Skarn up and with CL-CLANG, she stops the crossed daggers above her face. A drop of Sharias own blood lands on her lip from the bloody blade. With a heave, Sharia forces her scimitar forward, and Cryzlyx’ arms are thrown back. Skarn slashes down in a two-handed headsman chop that slices through the tight leather bindings that contain her bodice. The pale flesh beneath is revealed, split by the savage cut that wells slowly with the thick blood of the undead, it is Cryzlyx turn to feel the suffering. She screams. She also recovers her fighting stance even as her breast ignites in pain, and her daggers dance before her in a pattern like two spiraling blood-hawks. A dive, a dodge, the daggers blur between Cryzlyx and Sharia. So confident she split the witch in two, Sharia now takes an unsure step back as she watches the torn flesh of the witches breast twitch and pull apart with sick sucking sounds, oozing a black ihor.

Distracted, Cryzlyx has her opening and a dagger stabs forward towards Sharia’s heart, but finds her shoulder instead. It twists as it goes in and Sharia cannot help the gasp that is pulled out of her when the dagger scrapes and saws against her shoulder blade. She turns and in a fluid motion switches Skarn to her uninjured side. The sword swings around behind her, picking up momentum, and Sharia continues to move with it and for an instant in time witch and paladin stand back to back.

“You will suffer!” Cryzlyx cries to the ceiling above.

“You smell.” Sharia replies.

Then the momentum of Sharias blade brings her back around, and they square off on opposite sides. Now it is Cryzlyx outlined by the bronze light of the open doorway.

They close quickly, like lost lovers embracing, but for the blur of steel, the clash of blades, the grunts of each of them as they push, pull or turn to their advantage. Slowly the fast knives of Cryzlyx begin to make a difference. Sharia is cut, stabbed, and slashed as she tries to hold back the onslaught, but the witch blades are too quick. Each of the wounds is shallow and superficial, but for the blood lost, and Sharia can feel the strength in her fingertips, in her arms and wrists straining, weakening against the inevitable. She cant win this battle. Not like this.

Sharia is a born and bred warrior. She has learned many tricks along the way to mastery, and she uses all of them in this fight. She counts strokes, timing the slashes, waiting for the plunging stabs, finding the rhythm of a foe whose heart is cold. When the next stab comes, Sharia is not there. She stands aside and instead of a breast, Cryzlyx stabs the air, over-extending her arm. Sharia brings her scimitar down in another chop, and this one has the desired effect. The dagger and the hand that holds it tumble to the floor in a pool of congealing blood. Cryzlyx screams again and without pause, leaps shrieking onto Sharia, whose blade is buried deep in the sand next to the severed hand in that critical moment.

It is all Sharia can do to block the lone dagger Cryzlyx now wields, but the witch stabs her over and over with the jagged bone that juts from her bloody wrist. Sharia is driven to her knees, shocked by the witches resilience in the face of such a grievous wound. Her play for victory was made, there is no strategy to escape the mad fury of Cryzlyx, not on her knees with her sword to the side. Sharia breaks one of the first rules she ever learned, and releases the hilt of Skarn to fend off Cryzlyx’ wild attacks as best she can.

Lower and lower Sharia sinks, holding off the bleeding stump with her now free hand, while she bats the blade of the other away with the shells strapped to her wounded arm. Cryzlyx is over her, knees in her stomach, grinding Sharia into the sand. Sharia feels the sand in her hair and knows there is no further retreat. The witch-knife stabs into the ground to the left, then to the right. It slices through a swath of crimson curls, and Cryzlyx pauses to breathe cooingly over Sharia. “I will wear your hair tonight.”

Sharia grits her teeth. She is the flame princess, warrior of Nazerak, hope of her people. She cannot be subdued. “I will wear yours every night, witch!” she screams and gives a mighty heave, her body bucking up off the sand. Sharia is buxom, strong muscle and sinew twine under her fair skin. She wears the heavy inix shell armor of a knight easily, and when she pushes with all her might, with a strength she thought had already fled her muscles, Cryzlyx cannot resist. She goes flying to land crouched on all fours in front of the doorway, hissing. Sharia doesn’t wait but launches her booted foot out and up, connecting to Cryzlyx chin. With a cracking sound the witches teeth slam together and she rocks backward, through the doorway, to land on her back in the hot golden sand of the courtyard.

Cryzlyx manages to find her feet. She stands, staggering under the sun, and lurches forward a step as her skin begins blackening, steaming, and cracking. Her severed arm reaches out to grab the door jamb, to pull herself back into the shadows, but there is no hand left to grab with, and she falls forward and slides to the ground in the doorway as Sharia watches, eyes wide. Cryzlyx glare never leaves Sharia as she sinks into blackened, smoking ruin. Her eyes are the last to go, as her body smolders in the sun that is anathema to the shadow eladrin, Her eyes, finally, lose the flame that ignites them.

“Well, that was unexpected.” Sharia sighed. She grabbed the reins of her camel with one hand and pushed it out into the coppery sunlight of afternoon. The flame spirit was there, across the courtyard perched on the edge of his well. His tail of flickering flames swished back and forth across his paws.

“I never liked that one, much,” he whispered into her mind. Sharia was too exhausted to respond. It may be that the story should end here, but it would do no justice to Sharia to ignore what she did next. With a backward glance into the shadows, she shuddered that she might ever return to that haunt, by day or by night. She knelt and cut Cryzlyx stained and charred hair and tied a loose braid and hung it from her belt, for ever after as a reminder. She took the knives too. In Nazerak a looted corpse is a gift to the living.

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The new oldWe are right in the middle of Chapter 2 of Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents. Last week ended with the party mopping up after a fight with a giant vicejaw crocodile and a kobold ooze whisperer and his 3 pet oozes. The whisperer was allowed to live (temporarily) just long enough to point the party towards some treasure. He moved the rock he was sitting on to reveal a shallow hollow with two healing potions. (This was to make up for the fact that there was no healer in the party for this encounter.) The knight Quinn and rogue Merrick each took one of the potions, while the dwarf Eldeth managed to fish a fancy suit of dwarf-sized Defenders Scale +1 from the stream. So doing, they climbed the inner waterfall and stealthily approached the doorway into another chamber.

Through the doorway, the natural stonework of the cavern gave way to worked chambers. They could see the glow of fire and hear the slithery whispers of more kobolds beyond, so they decided to charge forward, gaining a surprise round. Quinn was first to go and he leap through the doorway to charge the nearest kobold, a shortsword and shield wielding quickblade. Two more quickblades stood beyond the open doors that separated the front half of the chamber from the back. Out in the central chamber were 12 more kobolds, wearing rags and carrying pointy sticks. They did not last long. After Quinn, a new character Thia the elf thief (from Redbox gameday) sighted in a kobold and took him down with an arrow through the heart.

The wizard Berrian went next and calling upon arc lightning, he managed an amazing attack that left 4 kobold minions smoking slag heaps (rolling two natural 20s in a row.) Each branch of lightning forked to strike an extra kobold. Then Faverel used his magic missile to slay a kobold hiding behind the cover of the pillars. Eldeth moved into the room and prepared to charge, while Merrick slipped up next to Quinn and threw a dagger at the quickblade. That was the surprise round.

They could hear a whispering from the back half of the room, beyond the open doors the other 2 quickblades guarded, and in the center of the room a large red rune began to glow, and traceries of fire danced about it. Quinn kept up his assault on the first quickblade, while Merrick assisted. This tried to run across the room but the fire rune lashed out with a fire-lash that luckily missed the elf thief. She crouched in the shadow of another pillar and fired at a door guard quickblade. Eldeth followed up in a great curving charge that took him all the way across the room and ended with his ax embedded deep in a kobold. Faverel and Berrian each took out what few minions remained, and by the end of the first round 11 of 12 minions were dead. They had, however, pushed through to the back half of the room and had to contend with the Kobold Wyrmpriest. He held a spear with an icy blade on its end and he cast a spell where a showball appeared on the end of the spear, then he launched it at Quinn. It grew larger and larger as it flew towards him (the snowball affect) and hit him square on the chest, bursting into hundreds of shards of glass-sharp icicles.

Twice Quinn was struck by snowballs, while he beat his quickblade. The second hit knocked him unconscious, but luckily Merrick was still next to him and fed him one of the healing potions. Not content with 10 hp, Quinn drained the second one as well. By that point, half the party was gathered around the wyrmpriest, who opened his jaws in a keening wail. His jaws expanded larger and larger until they seemed to unhinge and release a blast of icy blizzard in a great burst that took Quinn and Berrian in full force, and even Merrick around the corner suffered from the sudden absolute zero that washed over him.

From behind Eldeth and Thia were working their way around, and they had the surviving kobolds – two quickblades and the wyrmpriest, surrounded. It was soon over. They had time to look around, and while they didn’t see any treasure, they found a set of spiral stairs that led upwards, as well as a large metal box, suspended from chains and with a hand crank inside, it could carry up to 6 people upwards, but was very loud. As they pondered which route to take, they suddenly hear a loud, reptilian roar from above.

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A well thought out adventure with great encounters

The opening season of Dungeons and Dragons Encounters public play program began with an adventure set in the Living Forgotten Realms and started on St Patricks Day March 17th – June 9th, 2010. 12 weeks long, played at the great Game Cafe in Independence, MO. from June 9th – September 15th, 2010 between the hours of 6 – 8 pm every Wednesday.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12, the conclusion

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Season 2 of the Dungeons and Dragons Encounters program featured the newly released world of Dark Sun campaign setting. In a gritty dying world of defilement and deprivation a tough band of survivors struggles to reach the safety of their homes whilst being chased halfway across Athas by a sun crazed susussuran who wields the power of the Obsidian Storm and calls himself the Wastewalker. 15 weeks long, played at the great Game Cafe in Independence, MO. from June 9th – September 15th, 2010 between the hours of 6 – 8 pm every Wednesday.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14
Week 15, the Grand Finale

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A Gamma World home town adventure site

This article is designed to help the new gamma masters out there (and arent we all?) create a bare bones campaign setting and adventure to help kick off a game of Gamma World in your very own home town. The idea of adventuring in your own backyard can be appealing, and it is a great chance to stretch the “improvisational skills” for GM and players alike. Since there are an extra couple layers of knowledge – that of local setting in a post-modern landscape, it should help the improv flow that much smoother. The goal, then is to create a sandbox for a small to medium length campaign with little to no prep required.

The first step is to come up with a list of areas or locales in the chosen region. These should number about half a dozen and can be vague, specific, or a mix. It is a great idea to choose a few places that are popular or well known. One thing to keep in mind when generating this list is that your hometown campaign will be SIMILAR but not IDENTICAL to your actual hometown. Two things are in play that will give you great amounts of leeway in mixing up your hometown campaign to be more suitable for post apocalyptic adventuring. The first thing to remember is that our actual world is only one of an infinitude of multiverses collapsing into the Big Mistake. So for example, in reality the airport 15 miles from the mall in your town might in Gamma World be a starport and only 3 miles from the mall in your campaign. Get it? The other thing to remember is that a long crazy time has passed since your neighborhood was a bustling 21sts century town. Since then wars have devastated the land and all sorts of crazy mutoid madness has come, gone, and come again, leaving its mark on the land. Lets start by jotting down a few landmarks or locations.

The Gamma World Commute

Suburban Neighborhood – this can be the starting location and it could even include the ruins of the house you sit comfortably in right now while reading this! In my “Points of Homeliness” Gamma World campaign, the players, my kids, are starting in our house as their home base. This can lead to whole new definitions of the term “walled community.” One thing to keep in mind is to imagine the “home of the future” and then to jazz up the ruins with some hilarious future tech, like a garbage disposal that has turned into a mutated monster like the sarlacc pit, for example. Or a refrigerator that has spawned its own sub-arctic mini-ecology. A radioactive dressing machine that strips you of clothes and alpha mutations and gives you new ones each time. Maybe left out on the table a half played game of “Grammar World.”

Indoor or strip mall – Every square mile of urban or suburban landscape has at least one shopping center. Malls at one time were the ultimate expression of commercialism, but since the 80s they have diminished in importance to the strip malls, the mega shopping center, and “downtown” districts. Zona Rosa in my town is a downtown style commercial district transported to the suburbs, and it is full of shops, restaurants, theatres, and clubs. It is also the perfect place to base a new age barter town. I will rename it the “Ozone Row.”

Hospital – A hospital is a great place for all sorts of weird research center type mutations, plagues, and other atrocities. This can be a great place for site-based exploration, for a villains lair, or a new breed of genetically mutated gauze bandages, for example.

Major Interstate – A cement river or two is practically a must. These can be the links between your major sites, and it is ok to deviate from reality. It is the radioactive future remember! I like to think of the highways as “free zones” where you never know what you are going to run into, but they offer the fastest travel-time between points, and also vehicular combat a la Road Warrior or Car Wars. So not so different from today, really. Placing your main sites along a great looping highway that rings the city is one good idea. Barry Road in my area will turn into “the Buried Road.” I guess I will have to come up with a reason its buried…

Local high school – Heck yes, in my game the Oak Park Northmen are long gone, but a tribe of porkers known as the “Ork Pork Snortmen” have moved in, and they wield the arms and armor from those latter day ultra-violent high school sports.

Factory – Any place that requires large machinery is a good thing to add, especially if there is a chance that machinery has become sentient, gone haywire, and threatens the surrounding countryside. It might be wise to change the rubber band factory down the block to a robotic missile launcher factory to get the best use out of it. Or better yet, a rubber band powered ballistic delivery systems factory. “Give me a rubber band big enough and I will launch this ICBM across the world.”

Business Park – There is something deeply satisfying about exploring the old burned out shells of office buildings. Perhaps it comes from the hundreds of hours spent in one of these buildings, fantasizing about its fiery destruction, but everyone loves looting the CEOs desk, kicking over the receptionist area and running from over-zealous sentry bots. Elevators, cubicles, stairwells and parking garages, oh my.

Airport – Airport, starport or military airfield, this is where the big heavy flying things go: jets, planes, saucers, rockets. Well, unless you put them other places, which is also fine, in which case they possibly came from here instead. But either way, plop one of these babies in front of your adventurers and watch things “take off!”

Bridge over river – How else to get to grandmothers? I would love to have a big poster map of a twisted old steel girder bridge over a radioactive river. The Big Mutey is a river that will feature in my campaign. Another option is a tunnel under the river, as many communities have.

So, the above example is a quick list of local features, some of which fit easily into the Gamma world theme, others will need to have some work done to them. Once a workable list of sites is prepared, it is time to Gamma them up by adding future, radioactive, post apocalyptic, robotic, alien, and alternate time-line elements to the mix. Everything should be gone over and twisted into varying levels of strangeness. Nothing should be left untouched, except for one strange diner that is exactly the same as it has been since 1958, only the fry cook and waitress are both encased in stainless steel bodies. Hope you have change for a five!

Did that flying saucer just move?

Maximize the Gamma

From this point forward, armed with nothing but the rules, your notes, and maybe whatever is playing on the TV across the room, it is possible to run a completely improvised game. When it is time for a fight, flip through the monsters until something catches your eye. Otherwise, let the players drive the story forward. It is a good idea to have a few villains, a gang or two, and maybe some friendly and neutral groups, and a village or two to protect, and these are some things that you can prepare ahead of time, or just let them pop up as the story progresses.

One hilarious idea that I am using for my gamma game is that the characters have come to this land to civilize it. I call it the Points of Homeliness campaign, where the goal is to carve out a community lifestyle of wealth, ease, and leisure in a world gone mad. And what better place to start that the ruins of your home on the 50,000th day after? There are oluminous writings on the subject of running campaigns, that can describe in far more detail and quality than here, but Gamma Worl follows the same basic princioples as kost role p-laying games, DnD 4E especially. Creating tension caused by potential threats is the key to having a good fast-paced improvisational game. In Gamma World it is easier than ever to come up with some crazy ideas. While all of them may not stick, the paths the players choose should always be crossing the paths of

I mentioned the Ork Pork Snortmen earlier, and this is the type of inspiration that should help to fill out the world. Think of some of the people who are around now, and then twist them into the mutated future versions of themselves, or wipe them out and bring in something completely different. The idea of turning a strip mall into a dangerous and lawless barter town is a way to twist the normal into the gamma extreme. Turning a walled community into a stronghold full of paranoid pure humans might work, or perhaps the humans are all dead and the various small appliances have formed themselves into a highly protective swarm of androids hive mind.

It is always a good idea to have something prepared in advance in case the improvisation is not flowing, or if you have a great idea you want to see come to fruition. I like to prepare a handful of complete encounters, some notes on various NPCs in the area, including a few groups. One area where Gamma World shines is in its fast and furious combat. It uses the same style of epic battle scenes that its parent DnD4 uses. This means that an encounter plays out better if it has all the trappings of a set piece encounter, including unusual terrain features, traps and hazards. It is notoriously difficult to come up with an entire unscripted encounter of this magnitude, so it is a good idea to do some prep work for the key encounters. The maps that come with the game are a great resource and can be used for multiple purposes.

Welcome to the neighborhood

Filling in the details

One of my favorite parts of the game is coming up with the crazy little details. For example, during character creation, everyone so far has spent a lot of time describing just exactly what is their “heavy two handed melee” weapon. A parking meter, fire extinguisher, and tire full of rocks are a few so far. The little details along the way do most of the heavy lifting of creating the ambience of the game. The armor made of road signs, the old truck pulled by a team of pack animals, these little details are very important, and should be the highlights of every description during the game. The game works best as a surreal blend of past, present, and future, and the idea of storming a castle that once once a sports arena with plasma rifles and vibro swords is where the game shines. Visualize a land where nuclear bombs dropped, where aliens invaded, where utopia was achieved, where the zombies invaded, where the robot uprising happened. As the player mutants explore this world, the little details will flavor the most memorable moments of the campaign.

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Welcome to the new mutant future

Played at the Basement Games in Zona Rosa, Kansas City MO on Oct 23rd, 2010, I gamma mastered a group of four mutants as they adventured into Trouble in Freesboro. We started by creating characters and that took the first hour of play since I was the only one with even a passing familiarity with the rules as we all tried to understand the sometimes vague or over-brief explanations. The four players were my 11 year old daughter who played in empath felinoid named Gale (then Gail.) My 13 yr old son played the electrified doppelganger Vivaldi. The other two players, one from the area and another from the nearby college town Topeka played an empath plant named Aloe (who spent much of his time in giant form) and a radioactive mind breaker named Cornibulus.

Character creation is one of the most fun parts, as it is fast and full of rolling. Starting of with a couple d20 rolls we quickly established the character origins, then moved on to the powers and traits, which I had printed out on a cheat sheet and stapled to the character sheets. I think it helped and allowed people to flip to their origin descriptions and abilities without consulting the manual. With only one manual (to start with) I think it proved helpful.

One of the players ended up buying a box set about midway through the 4 hour session, so I feel like I did my job. They also each bought two decks of cards, and I bought four decks – a pair for each of my kids. I am not sure how I feel about the tacked on collectibility and/or buy-in required to play the game, but I planned on hand waving the whole requirement and have everyone draw from my deck throughout the game. As it turned out, it wasnt an issue, and my decks never even got used the whole day! I was bummed,i especially since I fancied them up wth card protectors in my favorite aftermath colors: black and yellow of fallout signs.

The other problems with the cards is that the way the rules read, it could be that a character starts with two alpha cards and an omega, or one of each. It is difficult to figure out which one is right. During character creation it sounds like you draw one of each. But then jit says before a session draw one of each later on in the book. Is this the same set or a second set up alpha mutations? It ended up that I allowed them to start with two of each, but I have a feeling that a first level starting character should start with one of each, or possibly two alpha and one omega. More research needed.

Rolling for ability scores was fun and ended with LOTS of low abilities, but the ones that mattered were high so it had little impact other than flavor and skills. The skill list was small but I wish the character sheet listed all of them, rather than 4 blank lines, and totaling up skill modifiers was the most difficult aspect of the character creation process. The best part came next: gear.

I absolutely love the way they do weapons in Gamma World: broad categories that share stats. Everything is light or heavy, one handed or two handed, melee or ranged, or gun. At some point I would like to see a heavy 2 handed melee gun. Maybe a rifle that shoots out a giant clown fist? Each weapon type keys off STR/CON or DEX/INT which was cool, and even used the same damage dice, so a guy could pick a heavy two handed melee weapon, and call it a dumbbell for instance, and it could just as easily be a ranged heavy two handed weapon with all the same stats. Simple, elegant, awesome. It is great and each character got tl describe their weapon. longbow, electrified mono-filament, tire filled with rocks, land robot arm were the weapons of choice. The armor was a little more simplified, consisting of light, heavy, and shield, and we didnt spend much time on it. Next it was time to roll up the random junk and other gear, and much canoes, riding horses, cell phones and cans of fuel were had. Interestingly no one chose a gun, perhaps scared off by the ammo rules, which are another favorite aspect of the game. A character either has ammo or doesnt. if they use ammo once per encounter they still have ammo at the end, but more than once and might as well let loose, because at the end of the encounter they are out. Also, all ammo is universal.

So we started out with the most minimum of back ground role playing. I described them meeting up on the road while traveling near the atomic ruins of Ashville Innasea. They came to the small quaint village of Freesboro, a point of homeliness in a world of post apocalyptic mayhem. There were apple pies cooling in a window as they passed a town house and came to the town square which was bustling with townsfolk. Mayor Thompsoon greeted them in the town square. he was a happy fat man who seemed to hover and bounce a few inches off the ground as he explained the trouble in nearby MedCen park. He mentioned an antique mall the town owned, and offered them a free shopping trip should they succeed in rooting out whatever was stirring up trouble out there. The mutant allies then each got to question a town villager for more information before setting out.

I am constantly battling time while game mastering, and I am beginning to accept the fact that I am the main reason for my games never progressing quickly enough, and today was no different. Practically half the play session was spent before we even rolled for initiative, and from this point forward, other than some colorful description I kept the role playing to a minimum in order to get through as much of the “adventure pack” as possible. As it went, we made it through about 2 1/2 out of 5 possible encounters, which broke down into the first, final, and in between a shortened skill challenge type encounter in between.

The first encounter was brutal, and part of the reason may have been because it was intended for 5 allies instead of the 4 we had. The party was heading out to MedCen park to find out what was happening, when they came to a group of porkers burrowing into the side of a hill looking for food and treasure. A flock of radioactive red ravens hovered about picking from the remains the pig men scattered. With a grunting challenge, the porkers attack.

The battle lasted five rounds, and in the battle Gale failed three death saves, after falling unconscious from a porkers fetid sneeze. The doppelganger faced off single handedly against the radioactive bloodflock and as their glowing beaks pierced his flesh they stuck in him, following him wherever he moved. He was knocked unconscious by the birds but lived. The radioactive mindbreaker was practically immune to the flock and once he scared off the porkers who dared to attack him, he quickly drove off the radioactive ravens.

Omega Tech Deck Check

After the fight, each mutant ally was able to make an omega tech deck check, or I should say they each drew a card. They also had to turn one of their alpha cards in and pick a new one. This also happened whenever a one was rolled, for any reason, even when a monster rolled one. By the 3rd battle most of the characters had three of each type to choose from and whenever a 1 was rolled, I had them roll a six sided die to randomly choose which mutation the alpha flux changed. Also, I misread the section on taking from the gamma masters deck on a roll of 1-9, so I can see one instance where my deck would come in handy. It would have meant my yellow and black cards would not get lost in the players hands, had the rule been used, so I am doubly glad for the awesome protectors. Also, and I promise this will be my last complaint about the cards, they should had had different backs. They are never used together, there is no earthly reason why they should have identical backs regardless of whether it is alpha or omega. It simply makes them more difficult to sort without adding any benefit.

About this time it was 4 pm. We had started playing around 1 pm, so 3 hours had passed and only had an hour left, so I skipped ahead some – I wanted to have the boss fight with Genghis Tang, so I gave a quick summery of their working the way through the MedCen research building. I skipped the handouts, which seemed pretty useless, although it would have been fun to use the floor plan for some exploration if we had time. It was a lot of fun to improvise the types of things the party came across as they explored, being similar to our world just before the big mistake. I ran a short version of the computer terminal skill challenge type encounter, where everyone had a chance to work on the computer of glean some info from it. They got to see the video feed of giant cockroaches in the basement. Luckily, they were going up.

I also described how they found the alpha and omega cards on their way to the final encounter – I wanted the players to have the full arsenal for the final encounter, including the two bonus cards given away to participants. As it happened, no powdered scientists were used, however everyone loved the power mimic, especially for one of the doppelgangers mutations that allowed him to create a whole pack of himself. As far as omega tech goes, it might have been bad luck, but few omega cards were used during the game, and although overcharging was attempted, it usually resulted in a failure.

So I flipped the poster map to the excellent research center map, placed the enemies, and we went to town with a crazy final encounter. Genghis was a great villain, and the fact that he wore a NASA space suit (complete with a jet pack) and carried a firemans axe made him unforgettably awesome. Another awesome villain was the dabber who did nothing but sit on the elevated cat walk and shoot his ancient WW2 era carbine the entire fight. I pictured him as some weasel faced sniper. The porkers all charged, the bunny bounded, and it was a big melee on one side of the room. The midbreaker had an omega tech that allowed him to take control of one of the laser batteries. And Gail the felinoid was knocked unconscious, but was thankfully soon healed.

We were out of time, so I let each character have one last turn to try and clear the room. Genghis went down, as did the hoop and all the porkers, and when we finished the game, only the dabber and his M1 Garand were left on the board. Over-all it was a great time, and I am in love with the simplicity of design. It was easy to jump into the game, and the combat was quick, over the top, and nail-bitingly exciting. Killing the character of my youngest daughter in the first encounter was not how I hoped to start the game, and for a moment I could see her eyes start to tear up. But just then some one mentioned cats 9 lives, and I rolled with it, and let her to bring in the twin sister of Gale, Gail, and a crisis was diverted.

Incidentally, my 11 year old daughter has gone on to proclaim Gamma World her favorite RPG ever, better than DnD and the recently acquired Ravenloft which we also played the first time this weekend. She went on to roll up another character later that night which was a swarm-of-rats/felinoid, which she describes as a litter of kittens who work together and wear a trenchcoat, hat and sunglasses disguise to appear as a single person. This litter is the children of her gameday character Gale (or was it Gail?)

All 4 players, my kids, and the tguys I met and GMed for pronounced the game a blast, and even though we were slowed by my unfamiliarity with the rules and the adventure, it was wildly fun. As I mentioned earlier, one guy bought the set on the spot, and I have a sneaking suspicion the other fellow will be buying a copy, too. The store was very accommodating. I have never seen it so busy in there, but there was a Warhammer tournament going on. They gave me a 10 per cent discount on the gamma cards, card sleeves, and Ravenloft, which I will describe in another post.

In summary, the gameday was a success, and the Gamma World game is off to success. The adventure Trouble in Freesboro was pretty good, and the poster map included is the best. It will see lots of use in future Gamma World games. One map is a stretch of highway, another is a garage, and both feature plenty of old burned out vehicles. The flip side is a huge research facility complete with strange machinery, laser batteries, an armory and even a restroom (where hilariously one of the porkers began the final encounter, heh.) The second best part are the monsters, new builds of ones featured in the rule book. The two cards, power mimic and powdered scientists seem pretty cool, but there are so many wonky power cards, I am still being surprised by some of them.

This game is a lot of fun, and some people say Gamma World is perfect for beer-n-pretzel style “one off” games, but I can see potential for longer term campaign play and look forward to the chance. Another way I plan on squeezing more Gamma World into my life is by including some “transitional” adventures where I cross-pollinate in and out of my regular DnD games. Oh yes, the mutants are out of the box, and they cant be stuffed back in.

The cat is outta the box

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And so the evening began with the party sitting around in a close knit circle, sharing a meal and stories of recent events. They had come a long way in a short time. The White Rose thanked her champions for all the work they had done. She came into the world with amnesia but quickly learned of her destiny. As a daughter of Gagnasdiak and rightful heir to the throne, she was the only one other than the tyrant himself who had a chance of breaking the curse. With the help of her champions she brought the city together, first by aiding the eladrin from the Clan of Albrion. By rescuing the White Rose from the cursed Ziggurat of the Tyrant and stealing the scepter of the tyrant from his crypt the heroes won the friendship of clan Albrion, and learned of their eternal war with the village of Mithrendoom. To the eladrin, cursed to turn a blind eye on the folly of their eternal civil war, the never ending clash with their cousins from Mithrendoom was only natural.

The elves of clan Albrion were few in number. They prized wisdom and age over the hot bloodymindedness of youth, and over the years their numbers had dwindled to the point where deception and ambush were the only options. The motto of the people of Albrion was “Wisdom will guide us.” Mithrendoom on the other hand, threw themselves into battle with wild abandon. Their village in turn was bustling, numbering over 200, with over a dozen wailing babes and knock-kneed youths. Sharia the Flame Princess was one of those youths, a young princess with a magic scimitar, Skarn, who loved battle (from a distance.) Their motto was “Live, fight, die for no tomorrow.” For many years the divided people of Nazerak fought against one another, ever since Gagnadiak, once tyrant of Nazerak, cursed them all by opening the gates to the realms beyond, where madness reigned and the flow of time were meaningless. With dark pacts, Gagnasdiak took the gifts the Far Realm offered, ad became Lord of Time and Space, but he was driven mad by the bargain, and his city cursed. Now the White Rose has begun to unravel the curse of Nazerak,but the threat of Gagnasdiak still remains, for Gagnasdiak took the remnants of his army and conquered the greatest city state on Athas, the city of Tyr. He left Nazerak to sink into the sands of iniquity.

Now all that remains is to escape back into the world from which most of the heroes came, and after a short discussion, those allies they have met along the way agree to travel together back to D Erte. In a vision The White Rose had shown them an army of giants marching out of the hills, and they saw the quaint town of Winterhaven fall under the merciless barrage of that gaint horde. To get home and try and save the D Erte from the army of giants was paramount, and they also knew that Gagnasdiak, or some version of him, was afoot in D Erte, and was in fact the reason they were thrown into Dark SUn in the first place. Gagnasdiak was punishing the heroes for killing off 2 of his 7 daughters, beginning with Ninaren, and continuing with the White Rose, who we found out wasnt killed after all, but reverted to a child-like state. Such is the wierdness of mucking about with time and space.

And so the story continued as the champions of Nazerak prepared for their next task. A teleportation circle waited for them at the bottom of the now dry pool which led to the gardens ringing the palace of Tyr. They knew not what to expect. Later that evening as they rested, Ocham the one eyed elf peddler showed up. He had two of his elves with him, each of them supporting one side of a great old wooden chest. In it was all manner of goods,especially picked out for what he thouht they might need. He was interested in getting back as much elvish gold as he could and was offering great deals on common and even some uncommon items. (Note: the value of the elvish gold is worth approximately 4 times the regular value for picking out an item from Ocham, let me know through email what you might want and how much gold you have and I will figure out a price. For example, Ocham sold a +2 flame burst dagger to Felipe for 500 elvish gold.)

Without further ado, the characters leapt through the black hole.

The great and glorious city state of Tyr

…And found themselves falling… unable to focus or see… suffocating…. tumbling end over end… a roaring in their ears… and choking and dripping wet. Wet? With a splash each character lands in a pool of water after tumbling down a waterfall. They emerge from the pool and look around. Besides the roar of the waterfall, little more than a pleasant sighing now that they are not a part of it, they hear a deeper roar further off, that of a frenzied mob.

The heroes find themselves in the garden of the palace of Tyr as dawn begins to break. The gardens ring the tower palace in a series of walled gardens, each higher than the last. After finding their bearings, they begin to scout the area. They discover that they are on the back side of the tower, with a view of the wastelands far below and to the south. On the other side would be the grand entrance as well as the elevated bridge that crosses over to the great Gladiatorial Arena of Tyr, Even at this early hour crowds wail and cheer for their favorite fighters as they march out one by one for the introductions to the yearly competition. Even the sorcerer king Gagnasdiak and much of hes retinue would be in attendance for the event, and it offers the heroes a slightly better chance to evade the guards and reach his deepest treasure trove, where awaits the gate that will transport them home.

The first order of business is the checking of gear, since high speed travel is known to have chronic problems with lost luggage from the medieval period, all the way up to even the post apocalyptic after-world of Dark Sun. They are lucky and their bulging pockets and pouches of loot are secure. The next order of business is to check for enemies, an here they are troubled to discover two sets of bunny ears poking over the ringing stone walls about every fifty feet. With a dungeoneering check, the mechanical minded of the characters understand that the hopping mad mutant bunny men are arrangedd so that each pair can see the next, thus ensuring security.

A wise character looks for another way, and soon characters are hopping, teleporting, and flying up the waterfall to check the next level of the gardens. The sun is beginning to push its big bulging red self up and over the edge of the world as they scramble up to the next wall. They attach a rope to the grate that secures the stream and pull. Sharia in her shell plate armor clanks and clangs against every object within ten feet of her while Ria’s chainmail starts jingling like a belgoi percussion instrument in their wild bell and gong parties. Luckily this does not alert the bunnies, which afre not nocturnal by nature, and therefore rather sleepy at this early hour. The party clambers up the waterfall ad through the streams opening in the wall to find themselves in the inner garden. Across the manicured lawns was the ivory and gold marble of the palace of Tyr. There was no door insight, despite the fact that they held the gardeners key.

Poppy spotted a healing fruit tree in the middle of the garden, but dared not risk picking the fruits. Felipe became invisible in her panther lady boar headed butterfly swarm form. She crossed the yard to the palace wall and began searching for a hidden door. She found an area of blank wall between two ornamental bushes and quickly found the outline of a door with a keyhole in its center. Again the party had to stealthily cross open ground as they one by one made their way into the gardeners mud room. Inside they found a room full of gardeners tools: pots, hoes, and wheel barrows mostly. The open doorway led to a wide hallway that ringed this half of the palace. The outer wall of the hall held doorways every few doaen feet, but the inner side of the hallway held arched openings into the central hall of the palace. The first door they tried was a storage room for official services held in the palace. Thisincluded a set of robes that the party slipped into as a disguise.

They continued on to the next door that led to a stairwell platform. Curving stairs led both upwards and downwards. Knowing the treasure was in the “deepest bowels” of the place, they naturally chose downward. This ended a ta stout door, behind which they could hear the raucous crowd of bunny warriors. They estimated at least a dozen voices. Poppy the bold, in her disguise as an official risked it all and strode into the room while the rest of the party hid back in the coat closet. Poppy acted like a tipsy servant who came to inform them of a party out in the gardens. She took a look around and noticed another 40 sleeping guards in the bunny barracks while a dozen off duty rabbits hung out in the center of the chamber. Across the room was another door. At the top of the steps he left Poppy while he wet to investigate.

Deciding the way down was too dangerous, they went up and through the unlocked door at the top of the steps. They found themselves standing in the throne room of the sorceror king. Across the expanse of marble tiles in one direction was the sword throne of Tyr, made from the iron blades of the invading armies Tyr has fought off. In the other direction were open double doors with human (looking) guards stationed, each wielding a bohemiean ear spoon at attention. Fortuanately they stared outward, and THokk and Hex crept forward tro silence them forever.

Hex seemed to glide across the room until just before he got to the guard, he leapt up and stabbed down. His hexblade slid between collarbone and clavicle to dissect the heart, and as the body slumped, Hex was there to gently pad his head from cracking on the stone. Meanwhile Thokk strode forward, more speed and velocity with every step which he transferred ino one mighty swing of his great axe. Th axe separated his guards head from shoulders and bore into the stone door jamb with an explosion of gravel and sparks. He put his fur-booted foot up on the jamb to free his axe, knocking over the cracked stone.

The throne was the key, and pooling their scant knowledge of history, they remembered a riddle (note this is a recreation of a riddle I cant quite remember the specifics):

When the king is on his throne
He can easily visit his hoard
Without danger or falling prone

Whatever the case, in one of the arms of the throne a gold coin was set slightly elevated from the sword blade. By pushing it, they were transported instantly into the treasure room. (I have to admit the main reason for this was time, I wanted to have the final encounter and time was pressing. I had planned for the possibility of meeting the ancient whisp of the ghost of Keegan, who would aid them with bloody “K” marks on the walls of the labyrinth beneath the palace. There was a magic fountain, and finally the chamber above the treasure chamber, where the rusting hanging chains through the floor would lead down into Sapho’s lair.

Sapho guardian of Gagnasdiaks vault

(Finally, we get to the battle)

They found themselves in the center of a vast hall dimly lit by flickering oil lamps. In one end of the chamber was the collosal remains of a statue. A horned head lay etween its cloven legs, and the huge mace in its hand was the skull of a giant or demigod. Across the chamber and embedded in the wall was a great stone circle inscribed with strange runes. Within the circle was darkness. On the floor in front of the star gate was a softly glowing arcane circle. The characters themselves stood in the center of the room ankle deep in rusty brown dust that had the aftertaste of blood. Ancient blood. Thokk and Poppy had a strage moment of vertigo as they realized this chamber was an exact duplicate of the chamber that lies beneath the Keep on the Shadowfell. Their Keep. It only looked to be aged beyond belief. The portal however, looked exactly the same except for the lack of grasping tentacle. The sigil was also the same except in the center of it was a small round depression that would exactly fit the apple sized ruby sphere they took from Nazerak. Felipe was quick to leap forward and place the sphere into the sigil, and it brightened immediately.

The other main feature across room them and on the raised stage at the end was a blue dragon lying curled on a massve pile of gold coins. The dragon had a haze of electricity dancing around him and with each soft snore his mouth and eyes cracked open revealing a bottomless cavern of white hot lightning within. It woke when the sigil brightened and bellowed “Who dares disturb the treasure hoard of Sapho? Prepare to meet your doom would be thieves and murderers!” He lifted hos mouth and let out a roar that started like a low rumble of distant thunder but by the end, Saphos mouth was extended wider than seemed possile and bolts of lightning were shooting out an sparking across the chamber. The palace itself began to ring with the noise as the whole city was shaken awake.

“Hut hut hut” went the rabbit special foces up above.

Sapho the blue dragon shook with the fury of seeing its slumber and hoard threatened, and under its rattling scales they glimpsed its hollow electrified body. Twenty blue shapes rolled around inside. As Saphos roar retreated back to a deep-throated rumble, it ended with a cough, and out tumbled the first of the twenty bundles to land next to Hex. It was an electrified blue gremlin with a blue glowing dagger and a wicked grin. Thus the party met and defeated Sapho the gremlin infused Hollow blue storm dragon.

The battle was intense, and while fighting the dragon, as well as the trickster minions that were coughed up or managed to “ride the lightning” down from the dragons attacks, they also had to use their arcana and thievery checks to activate the star portal. Once they had it opened but a gremlin managed to close it before they went through. The gremlins also turned the dried blood to real blood and it threatened to trip up an choke anyone who they pushed in. The chains rattled as the air assault bunnies prepared to rappel down, but this tale has gone on long enough, so dear reader I will leave this battle to your imagination. Hex, Poppy and Midget sought the secrets of the portal whilst fighting off gremlins. Felipe and Thokk held off the dragon Sapho as best they could while Ria kept them all standing with her healing words, when she herself wasnt getting stabby stabbied by the gremlins. They made it though in the knick of time, each of them managing to scoop up 1d6 x 100 old pieces from the hoard as they leapt through the portal… and into the Tomb of Horrors.

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