Archive for November, 2012

evil dm

the friday after thanksgiving became our “extra special 5 hour marathon event including a feast of leftovers” game night. we started early, and people began gathering even before the sun had set. The day was cold, a sharp turn from the balmy 70’s of thanksgiving day. We had a roaring fire going. our x-mas tree and decorations were already hung, giving our house its most inviting, wholesome warmth of the year. perfect time to chop some heads.

The heroes of this tale began the session in a prison cave inside a densely populated pirate stronghold. The dwarf noticed a section pof wall in the back was meant to look natural but concealed a door. This in turn led to a long sloping tunnel and the roaring sound of water. The wizard was able to guide his snake to the bottom of the tunnel where it opened out into a natural cavern with a swift underground river running through it. the party decided they could exit this way since the river must empty into the nearby sea.

The wizard, aided by the gnomling, used illusion to convince the pirate guards that everything was cool, then the party and thier four rescued savages, the oogachaka, made their way down the tunnel. In the cavern they found a ledge on the far side of the river, and a tunnel beyond. The cursed sword and staff each began to glow with a dim but unholy light, and the party assumed orcs must be near.

They also thought they might be near the tomb whence these items were plundered. To undo the curse that haunted the items, they were told they must undesecrate the tomb of the ghost who haunts them, and so they crossed the river using a little bit of rope and mage hand, and noticed strange markings. At the water’s edge, the stone was gouged with giant claw marks, hundreds of them. Also the keen dwarven eyes of corporal agnes detected the five-edged imprint of a dwarven spike. (though they did not know it, the spike ws driven into the rock when the dwarf Bim and his sons raided this tomb. They were about to find out what made the scratches.)

Following the passage,they came to a pair of huge stone doors, open a crack. When the strongest among them tried to budge, a small pebble under the door caused a great squealing sound to reverberate through the caverns. Removing this pebble allowed the door to open. the party peered into a large chamber decorated with flaking frescoes along the walls. the images depicted that of a human princess and an elven knight in love. Two stone sarcophagi stood at either end of the room, their lids thrown rudely aside. Between them was a treasure pile of gold and silver coins, with a few other sparkling items of interest, like a shield with a mirrored finish and a jacket of woven chainmail of beauteous and delicate art.

above each grave a ghostly figure appeared. They screamed and moaned and held out forlorn arms of forboding, but to the ears of those who held their artifacts, the two wood elves, the moaning took on the sound of words. “give back that which was taken from us…” The rogue answered that she would consider the idea, but first she needed more information while moving into the room and hiding behind the very casket of the ghost to whom her stolen sword once belonged. se found a pile of old rags and bones in a tumbled maess, and realized they were the bones of the ghosts, thrown to the side and intermixed. she began sorting them and had the four tanaroa help. fortunately there were enough differences in man and elf anatomy to make this possible, and in two turns,thy had the male elf skeleton complete and back in its sarcophagus.

just then a roar came from the tunnel behind them, followed by the splashing of water and the clawing of great claws upon stone, as something big emerged from the river. most of the adventurers moved into the room except for the nobleman and the dwarf corporal. they watched as a wall of darkness came towards them, quenching the light source 9which happened to be a gold coin tied to the head of the wizard’s snake staff like a little glowing helmet.)

They wisely backed into the room and closed the stone doors, then barred them (with the little pebble) just before a blast of acid struck and slowly ripped a hole through the door. Both warriors were splashed but escaped great harm. as the darkness enveloped, acid spewing foe slithered and clawed forward into the room, it struck out with claws and a ferocious bite. the nobleman was knocked out, healed by a cleric, and knocked out again.

black dragon

Meanwhile the two ghosts beckoned again for the items and the eyes of the female ghost sparked dimly through the magical darkness. rogue let loose her long sword, and cleric let loose her staff. they head the sound of the items fling through the air then grabbed. suddenly the staff’s gem appeared as a spark of light in the maical darkness which grew to become a shard of the sun. it cast the chamber in cleansing daylight, and revealed a coiling black dragon in the doorway. the sword, in the hands of male elf, became animated and danced through the air to engage the dragon. it never landed any blows but did manage to engage the dragon.

The next round the one ghost used the staff to flame strike the drgaon, while the other continued to duel the dragon. when his bones were at rest, he whispered thaqnk you and disappeared – but the sword continued to dance before the drago, now controlled by the rogue. the staff continued to cast its aura of daylight and dropped to lie athwart the sarcophagus of the female human when she was put to rest.

the wily wizard with his infinite bag of tricks managed to scare the dragon at its weakest, having taken massive damage and being dazed by the light. it chose to retreat,but warned before it retreated into a new darkness,that it would seek out and reclaim every piece of gold, silver and treasure of its hoard that was even touched by them.

which obviously means that before fleeing through the river, the party collected 1500 gold, 3000 silver, a magic shield, and a magic suit of elven chain. and no savages were slain in the rescue attempt.

they made it back to tanaroa to find out that a messenger had bent sent from the colony – an infestation of mites had spoiled their food stores, and there would soon be starvation. The oogachaka, in thanks for rescuing the four captured by pirates, agreed to suppply the colony with food, annd everyone immediately set off in a great dancing, singing procession towards the new colony. There was a feast of thanks giving when they arrived, obviously.

A carnival ship had recently docked, being damaged in a storm and blown off course, but that is a tale for next week.

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On the friday prior to X-giving, the menu was a puritan feast, centering around mounds of white and fluffy turkey breast, surrounded by stuffing, potatoes, peas and gravy. The grocer was running a special on turkey breast that week, just the breast ma’am, and a package of stove top, powdered potatoes, a jar of gravy added to the natural juices, a can or two of peas, and voila – faux thanksgiving feast for cheap and easy to prepare. Besides the 3 hr cook time for the bird, the side dishes were nearly instantaneous..

Enough about the food. Ah, the beverages… j/k we were down a few players, but forged on despite, since our sessions have been somewhat spotty the past couple of months. It was a smaller group, made up of five doughty adventurers who struck out for adventure across the strange lands of Numenoria.

The evening began with loot. a cursed sword and staff lay in a haunted chamber, surrounded by five hundred quite normal gold pieces. The sword had a long slender blade and its hilt was shaped like a pair of grinning lips. The staff was of gnarled oak with a single crystal embedded at one end. Each magic item was haunted by a ghost, and would remain so until the ghost’s tomb was cleansed of its desecration (whatever that means.)

The wizard was disappointed to discover the taint of divine magic upon the staff, and was forced tohand it over to one of the clerics – the taller one Litha the wood elf. The other wood elf, the rogue Zubi-zu took the sword, though neither dared to use them while they were haunted. After scooping up and dividing the coins with the gnomling cleric, the dwarven corporal Agnes hefted her pick-axe of booty-looting and the five of them set off through a revealed secret exit out of the petty dwarve’s cave, and on across the countryside, ever westward as the axe led them. They had no idea how to cleanse the desecrated tombs and thus attune themselves to their new loot, but that was their goal.

On the third day of travelling ever upwards through a land of forests, mountains, crags, and fjords, the party crossed the “continental divide” and gazed for hundreds of miles westward. A great and long snaking inlet made its way into the lands of Numenoria, and along its shoreline were three signs of habitation, villages or settlements, though it was impossible to tell if they were active or ruins. At the limits of vision the great western ocean melded with the horizon and the island off the coast rumored to be the “ruins of a great and ancient civilization” appeared as a dark smudge against the setting sun. The pick axe of booty looting pointed uneringly towards the island ruins.

As the explorers made their way towards the inlet, the altitude rapidly dropped and by early evening they had descended into a semi-tropical rainforest. Before long they heard a rhythmic drumming sound, and it was soon followed by chanting and clapping. The party had just entered a small clearing when a tribe of dark skinned savages danced into view. The men wore animal skins and carried wooden spears, and with each step they either tapped a tree trunk with the butt of their spear or clapped their hands together. They marched in unison led by the leader who sang “Ooga chaka ooga chaka” as they danced along a well concealed path. The savages stopped suddenly in mid stride when they caught sight of strangers in their midst. After a long pause, the leader of the savages questioned “Oogachaka?”

This led to a long conversation between the explorers and the band of savage hunters, neither side knowing what the other was saying. The savages language consisted of two words, ooga-chaka and tanaroa, and all else depended on inflection and facial expression while saying those two words. Even so, they managed to agree to travel to the savages place for a bite to eat. It was not a long walk, and before long, a great wall made up of crudely piled stones rose up out of the jungle before them. The path led to an archway composed of three stone slabs, and two lazy guard-savages leapt up and rubbed their eyes in surprise when they saw the hunters approaching with a new kind of quarry. Beyond the wall were two villages, Oogachaka and Tanaroa, and a large mound of dirt rose between them. on this mound sat the head chieftain, whom they were invited to visit. In the center of each of the two villages were smaller mounds, which acted as the village graveyard, and a forlorn figure stood atop one of the mounds.

The gnomling detected the presence of undead, and went to inspect the mound in the village of Oogachaka, and the suspcious figure, while the rest of the party went to the head chieftain. The gnomling discovered it was a zombie atop the mound, but it was not aggressive and looked like it was teken care of. The zombies hair was brushed and its skin was burnished like a nice tanned hide.
The zombie followed the gnomling as she backed away.

Meanwhile chief OogachaKA tried to enlist the parties aid in a quest. Using a skill challenge of intelligence checks, the party tried to decipher the meaning of each oogachaka in the chiefs speech. They deciphered it as “Blue giants have stolen our hearts and minds and want to rule over us as tyrants! Will you help?”

What they actually needed help with was that a number of their people, including the chieftain’s son were held captive in a nearby pirate stronghold. They wanted the party to rescue them, and the chief also knew that the cave in which the captives were held was also an old tomb – and might be the one the party is looking for. They agreed at once. After a bit of discussion it was decided to use the “Trojan horse” strategy, and they had the savages build them a great wheeled monument to give in tribute to the pirates. They also had to explain what a wheel was. Round, like the moon.

Soon a somewhat rustic statue of a T-Rex, the tribe’s totem, was built. It rolled along on a platform with a wheel at each corner, but the wheels were shaped like crescent moons, so it was a bumpy ride. The wizard was dissatisfied with the quality of work on display, and before climbing into the tail section of the beast, he used his magic to make the statue *shiny*

Soon the party was hidden inside, and with the trapdoor in its bottom closed, they trounced and jounced all day long as the savages struggled to push the thing through and the jungle and as close to the pirate encampment as they could get. Soon they could see through the nose holes the wooden barricade rising up ahead, and above it a wooden guard tower, with a pair of pirates on guard, who started yelling at the savages. The poor souls soon bowed down to the ground in the direction of the pirates, begged for oogachaka, then scurried back into the woods, leaving the huge and hideous T-rex looming alone in the sun.

A group of pirates approached, and tapped and prodded the Wooden monstrosity. The wizard was prepared for this, and had cast *silence* in the interior of their hiding place. The pirates tried to push it, but it was heavy. When tapping produced no echo, they determined it must be solid. “Foolish savages,” one remarked to the other, who replied ” but ooh it is shiny, we should take it to the captain.” And thus the statue was dragged into the vipers pit, surrounded by over a hundred pirates, with a guard tower, a stout wall, twenty huts, and four long ships of the viking variety. The statue was placed in front of the nicest grass and waddle hut, and the captain approved of the new town mascot at once. The pirates commenced to feast and carouse, while in their midst an enemy patiently waited.

By midnight all the fires had burned low and the pirates were passed out in the sand all along the strand. The wizard wriggled free and dropped out of the T-Rex’ bottom to land with a plop in the soft sand. The rest of the party soon followed, and they tried to make a plan. The rogue scouted around, and saw that the wooden guard tower, still manned by a pair of sleepy guards, was built upon a rocky outcropping and that there was a cave opening below it.

They decided disguise was the best course and began gathering up nearby pirate garb. A dirty laundry basket full was found, and the wizard took a moment to cast a *clean* spell on the clothes. It quickly became apparent the clothes were now too clean and fashionable looking, making them appear to be tourist pirates, and so the wizard went back to work and cast *soil* and *clean* until each article of clothing was the perfect amount of “used, but not too used.”

So attired the party made their way to the cave entrance and saw it was barred with bamboo buried in the sand. Four savages sat in the dark recesses of the cave, watching. Above,the guards noticed the newcomers, but in a pirate metropolis, 5 new faces was not a surprise. They engaged in small talk about having to take care of the slaves, who should be taking care of them. They found out the slaves would be taken to the boats as rowers the next day.

The party then got in a discussion about how to save the four prisoners. They were expecting more slaves than four in order to incite a slave revolt. Thy considered stealing a ship, but the pirates could probably out-sail them. They considered puncturing the other ships. It was risky. Then it was remembered that all coastal waters around Numenoria are shark infested, and the idea of a sea-based escape lost its appeal. The wizard suggested a few variations of turning people into giant rocks or hermit crabs. The elf rogue looked up to notice the pirates in the guard tower were watching and listening with interest. The party then removed the bamboo and moved into the cave, trying to act natural. The dwarf noticed the outline of a secret door in the back wall of the natural cavern, and the four captive savages questioned “ooga-chaka?” and we ended it there.

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This week’s game fell the Friday after a mid-week Halloween, and since we were forced to cancel the previous week’s game (due to SCIENCE!) this became the hallow’s eve game night. I like to add current holiday events flair into my weekly game. Lord Strahd made an appearance last year around this time, and the year before that kicked off a Tomb of Horrors adventure, and the year before THAT we playtested 4th edition using Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. This year was no exception. Ghosts of seasons past possessed us.

Pizza was the fuel that powered us, lubricated by fanta both orange and red. Let me digress by saying that I have changed after a lifetime of never being that fond of Strawberry soda, nor most artificially flavored strawberry sweets (except for starburst, yet even then cherry wins out) mostly because I am very fond of real strawberries, in shakes and on shortcake, for instance, and I never really accepted that artificial strawberry even remotely resembled the real flavor. A few months ago, I was drinking a glass of Strawberry Crush when I suddenly tasted the strawberry, rather than the non-descript sweetness of before. Can’t explain why, but it happened, and it goes without saying that as a diabetic, I really shouldn’t be having any of it, real or artificial. So… there you have it. Two last things, first Fanta is not as good as Crush (too bad, the commercials are better) but it was on sale; finally, adding a shot of watermelon schnapps to the rocky red soda is delicious, and allows one to categorize it as wrong for different reasons than diet. so there, diabetes, your move.

um,back to the regularly scheduled program.

The evening began with a time consuming character re-creation process. (There is always some reason or extenuating circumstance why we never get as far along per session as I hope, and this was tonight’s.) The player of the warlock converted her charater to a rogue, and everyone advanced to 3rd level, using the newest playtest packet released that week. Thankfully the party wizard knew the updated rules and had recreated his character as a series of business cards. The clerics needed to pick a new deity “domain” or whateve they were called. I liked that the deities were broken out into vague categories (warbringer, lightbringer, etc) which allowed both clerics to worship the same deity (Melora) yet have different aspects of her. Protecter for the elf, and Trickster for the gnomeling.

I felt the specialties section of the packet was a step backward from the previous themes, at least in terms of presentation and style. Skill Specialist, Divine or Arcane Specialist are incredibly mundane and lack any interesting elemnts so far as I can tell, other than baldly and gracelessly assigning feat packages. Each class has one or at most two preferable choices, and some of the specialist choices veer into “class ability” territory that should just be given to the class, such as wizard’s familiars. There are few meaningful options for fighter or rogue, and Skill Specialist is so incredibly lame, its feats merely grant more skills. The specialties of the previous packet, or even themes before, are much more evocative and useful.

After character recreation, the story resumed. Having seen the colony founded, and the giant owlbearzilla slain, the characters decided to explore the island, using the pick-axe of booty looting to guide them. It as soon discovered that the axe pointed continuously westward, towards the ruins of a “city of the ancients” to be on the western coast of Numenoria. Ater travelling for many days between the fjords, cliffs, and peaks of the new world, one afternoon, just as the sun was setting, th pick axe of booty looting suddenly shifted its focus from the west to the north, and grew more insistant than ever before. they were climbing a forested rise next to a brackish inlet, when they saw three small figures climbing the same game trail ahead.

It was soon discovered that this was Bim the petty dwarf, and his two son’s Nim and Mim. The petty dwarves were supposed to be an extint offshoot of the dwarven line of hill and mountain dwarves. They were said to be a craven, useless lot, ill-suiited to the heavy labor of mining or the industrious nature of the metal workers, nor the fine motor skills of the jewelers and artisans. Taking one look at the stoop-shouldered, long torsoed, tufted-beard dwarf cringing before her, corporal Agnes knew the tales to be true. Her own beard was more masucline than these wisened old turtles.

Nonetheless, the petty dwarves offered hospitality and the party accepted. upon entering their home, a cave mouth just above the crashing waves of the inlet, which was so ancient and weathered that its original purpose was unkown, Bim led the party to a stone chamber with rounded stone benches lining the walls. In one corner an iron cauldrom steamed and gurgled over a small fire, Which Bim moved towards while explaining that they could take of the pot if they were hungry, and would be obliged to add to the pot if they had surplus. he then dropped a fresh killed rabbit, bones, ears and all, into the pot before stirring the turgid porridge in wide slow circles. “Oh and scoop from the top, not the bottom” he warned, pulling up a fresh deep-dredged ladle-full of unspeakable dreck and sniffing it appreciatively.

“One last thing,” he warned, “do not open that door at the bottom of the stairs there, on threat of your life.” So sayung he exited the room through a side door, and the charatecrs could hear it being locked from the other side. The main door leading to the exit still remained unbarred.

Agnes kept guard that night and her pick axe would not let her forget that a rich treasure lay beyond those doors. A soft moaning of wind could be heard beyond them, and finally, Agnes could resist no longer and woke the others, but not the petty dwarves. She explained the wind sounded odd, and the human rogue went to investigate. She heard the moaning of ghosts intermixed with the sound of wind. Soon they agreed they needed to go in that room, despite Bim’s warning, and lining up in fighting order, the elf rogue opened the door.

It was a long wide chamber, finely carved though covered in dust. At the far end of the chamber, a pile of gold and silver coins glinted in the light of the wizard’s staff, and a jeweled sword, and a few other things lay propped upon a dais. Standing between the treasure and the open door were three ghostly figures. They each gave off a freakish glow, and their long bony claws trailed tendrils of cold blue smoke. Their eyes glowed red and all three wraiths rushed forward in unison to strike the leading party members while emitting a high piched wailing scream. (I rolled poorly all night, and only one or two attacks by any monsters actually hit. it was pathetic.)

The next round, bim opened the door, with his two sons behind him, ready to defend his property, bbut the wizard was ready for him. being an illusionist, he had every rick in the book prepared to send the dwarves reeling. He created a huffing puffing dragon, then moved into the illusion to cast spells from within. the sons were sent screaming, but Bim was somehow able to overcome the illusion (he had experience with dragons, having served one in an earlier time) and he threw a dagger at the illusionist, trikig him in the chest before slamming and bqarricading the door.

meanwhile, a horrific face appeared and started wailing a fear-inducing attack in the basement, while two more invisible ghosts mov3ed into the party ranks to attampt to possess the gnome cleric and the elf rogue with limited success. The elf archer (sharpshoot specialist or whatever dumb name) shot arrow after arrow into the spectral creatures, wraiths and ghosts both, sending ectoplasmic goo splashing with every shot, while the elf cleric was able to destroy one wraith completely and send one ghost fleeing.

Finally the three wriaths were destroyed and the elf rogue shook off the possession, and the remaining two ghosts fled, the battle won. The tresure gleamed, the pick axe of booty looting thrummed,and we ended there.

This game session was also the last game session of long-time party member Beth, also known as bethlehem and betty, depending on whether she was good or bad. She started playing d&d with us on Friday nights over two years ago, after befriending my son when they were both in the eighth grade. Now as a sophomore her school duties (and pep club and marching band, and other things) call her away from us. Beth brought a level of vitality and excitement to the game that will be missed.

She began her gaming career by taking over the 6th level NPC eladrin paladin known as sharia the Flame Princess. Her initiation into the game was in the deserts and ruined boulevards of Dark Sun, where she adventured until 9th level, then took part in the Tomb of Horrors and the Isle of Dread. By 12th level, she had found her favorite character archetype; the elven archer, and for the next year she played a series of archers in the various short-lived campaigns following our long game. Last night was no exception, and her earthly arrows tore gaping holes through the ghosts all night.

Some memorable exploits of Beth’s character: once in the begining, she was knocked down and forced to crawl over damaging terrain, while taking opportunity attacks from a frenzied witch, to reach her hand up to lay on hands and save an ally. This, just after she hid behind the wizard in order to avoid being targeted. Later on, as a grizzled vet, her character found herself on watch one night at the Welcome Wench Inn in Homlett. She witnessed with her elven eyes a farmhouse on the edge of town being attacked by a band of wild rapacious gnolls. Remembering the villagers in question as being rude to her when they entered town days previously (they were) she just sat at the window and watched, not bothering to wake the rest of the party. Classic beth.

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D&D Next Playtest Character Sheet

For some reason I became obsessed about hand written character sheets. My players were not as excited about the prospect of re-doing their character sheets by hand, regardless of how much loving hand-crafted enjoyment they were sure to get out of the project, not to mention the feeling of oneness they were sure to have every time the held their characters, so I decided to create a single page, one sided D&D next hand crafted character sheet. The style is early basic/advanced first edition dungeons and dragons. All analog. This sheet is compatible with the October 2012 playtest packet. Use it.

Besides a general backlash from the days of computer generated reams of pages during the fourth edition era, I began fondly remembering the scores of characters we used to make up in a notebook, page after page, to be torn out and discarded (or burned) when killed. It got to the point were each of my friends had his own “style” or look of their character sheets. Not only does this give the player a sense of attachment to something they created, and are still creating, but by making the sheet themselves, they know just where to put the most pertinent data.

This character sheet is an attempt to recreate the “look” of character sheets from the earlier editions, before pre-printed character sheets became all the rage. Sadly the lines on the paper do not show up that well (it was done on inverse graph paper, my new fave) but the lines are a medium gray “graphite” shade to give it the extra authenticity. It also helps the player-written information stand out, which is sadly missing from most of the dark, garish, contrast-intense character sheets out there, the official one included. I like my character sheets to be light and airy, with the information standing out.

And to close out the quick blog post, I would be remiss if I did not post the other most popular style of character sheet out there in the early first edition days, DF Cole’s classic, which is a complete antithesis of every virtue of my hand drawn sheet above, yet is perfect in its own way. both are two OLD opposing schools of thought on the character sheet.

THE character record Sheet Page the First

and the reverse

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