Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Battle Most Simian

Being a continuation of the journal recording the travels and adventures of the Green Knight Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, currently seeking a lost city in the strange underworld realm of Pellucidar, far beneath the surface of Eberron. 

Having brought our raft as far up the river as it seemed possible, or way being blocked by rapids and waterfalls, we took to the shore to continue our progress. The ground was rocky, and the black rocks sharp as blades. Having experimented some with the magic items gained from the Serpent Queen's treasure chamber, Yuv the Cleric of Bahamut donned a mask which allowed him to float into the air. Connected to myself by a rope to prevent him from blowing away in the winds, I borrowed the clawed gauntlet of the ghoul-enforcer from Jade and began to work my way up the treacherous cliff. While still climbing, a pair of demon-monkeys, which had been watching our progress, attacked viciously. One would scramble down, claw and bite, and then leap to relative safety, while the other continuously pelted us with sharp stones.

With Yuv and myself suffering these attacks and ineffective in returning paid to the enemy, Flagan the Halfling Monk scaled the cliffs with magical boots and joined the fray. Jade, Makarak, Thorvald, and Rhea offered some support with spells and missiles.

Then a third monkey, red, entered the combat with its evil eye. Whenever its foul gaze landed upon one of us, we could feel our magical prowess diminishing. Before her magic was totally drained, Rhea cast a spell on Makarak the Half-Orc Barbarian, transforming him into a gargantuan ape. In ape form, the barbarian quickly scaled the cliffs and turned the tide of the battle. The two white demon-monkeys were dispatched, although the red one escaped. Makarak, in ape form, assisted the remainder of the party up the cliff, and we crossed some dangerous territory before settling down to camp.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Repurposing Like a Boss

I'm getting my West Marches style hexcrawl prepped. I've got a wilderness map, and thanks to Enworld's Phineas Crow and OSR bloggers Dyson Logos and Matt Jackson (among others), I've got a plethora of lair/ruin/small dungeon maps to sprinkle here and there, along with a few classic TSR modules I plan to plop down in a few select places.

I started stocking the map over the weekend, and decided it would be nice if there was a good randomizer for deciding the contents of a hex if I didn't already have anything special planned for it...and then it hit me. I've had one for years! It's the random dungeon room contents chart in the Basic Set.

For a wilderness setting, it breaks down a little differently, and in addition to potential treasure there's also a potential for discovering an exploitable resource (if the players bother to look for that sort of thing). My revised version looks something like this:

Roll a d6 for Hex Contents:
1-2 Empty
3 Hazard (quicksand, rock fall, lava flow, sentient thorn bushes, whatever)
4-5 Lair (animal den, monster lair, human or demi-human outpost, etc.)
6 Unusual (all the weird unnatural stuff, special ruins relating to the backstory, etc.)

Then roll another d6 for Valuables
Empty: 1 Treasure, 2 nothing, 3-6 resource
Hazard: 1-2 treasure, 3 nothing, 4-6 resource
Lair: 1-3 treasure, 4 nothing, 5-6 resource
Unusual: 1-4 treasure, 5 nothing, 6 resource

Not quite exactly the version passed down from Gygax, Moldvay and Mentzer, but close enough.

I've got some tables from an old hex crawl that I can use for determining chances to locate the above contents/treasures/resources in a hex when passing through, depending on how much time the party spends interacting with each hex. Just passing through, not much chance. Spend most of the day there, you're nearly guaranteed to find something.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sand in the Box

My son just turned 9, and has been wanting to play D&D with people other than just me. There is a local group with three spots open (playing 5E), but when I asked the DM if he would mind playing with a 9-year-old, he reluctantly said he'd ask his players. I told him don't bother. I figure if he's uncomfortable with the idea, it really doesn't matter what the other players say. So, I'm falling back on my plan to start a new face-to-face group where my son can play.

A while back, I made several posts about running Dragonlance as a sandbox campaign in 5E, thinking I'd run that for my son and whoever else. Dragonlance because the world does have a lot of neat elements to it, and I read tons of the novels when I was a kid, so I know it pretty well. 5E because that will make it easier to attract other players. Sandbox, because I'd rather not introduce my son to playing group games by making him ride the DL module railroad.

But then I thought, why not save myself a lot of time, and just run it with 1E AD&D? It may be harder to get players, but easier to run the game. It would be even easier if I ran it using my BECMI houserules but with race and class separate. But again, getting players might be a problem.

Then, last week, I found a game on with an old school DM running a West Marches game using 5E, and I joined it. And I've decided to copy that rather than set my game on Krynn. Part of the decision was a bed-time discussion with my son, before I got the answer from the local DM, about what sort of character he'd like to play. I gave him a run-down of the 5E races and classes, and he thought a Dragonborn Monk would be fun to play. Not very DL, at least not pre-War of the Lance. So something more open, less defined, and with plenty of options might be in order.

So, I'm thinking how I'd run my own West Marches style sandbox game. There's a bit of a desire on my part to try my saltbox Maritime Campaign from a few years ago, but that's more work for me. With a more standard West Marches type set-up, I can plop down TSR modules, old dungeons I've made, free downloads from WotC/Dragonsfoot/the OSR community, and the like throughout the wilderness, and let the players explore to find them.

I say "West Marches style" because I'm planning to only run it with this one group, meeting regularly. It will be pretty open ended, but since there's only the one group, I'll probably need to lay down lots of rumors and the occasional mission/request for the townsfolk to get them motivated to explore, at least in the beginning.

So now we get to the nitty-gritty of this post. What do I need to run a West Marches style hexcrawl sandbox?

1. A Map: Of course, I need a wilderness hex map. The home town is on the far eastern edge, in the middle, and players have free reign to explore to the west, northwest, or southwest of the town. But if you go east, you're entering into retirement in the civilized settled lands of the Empire.

I'll probably start with a small scale map at 6 miles per hex, with various Basic level dungeons scattered here and there, and a few tougher dungeons and monster lairs. Later, if the campaign lasts long enough, I can create a larger scale map (24 miles per hex).

2. Wilderness Encounter Tables: These are most important, since from the beginning the players will be exploring the wilds trying to find dungeons or monster lairs with treasure. I don't have the 5E DMG yet, just the PHB and MM, and I don't remember if there are wilderness encounter tables in the free Basic Rules DM download, so I may have to just use the Expert Set ones, or make my own custom ones. Custom ones would be a better West Marches fit, so that each area of the wilds can have its own flavor, so I'll probably work up some custom jobbo.

3. A Home Base: In the RPOL game, the home base town is really more of a hamlet, with about 30 residents, not including adventurers. That's easy enough - the town just has the basics needed by adventurers and nothing else. But I may use the "home town" I've been developing for years now, Silverwood, just because I know it and the NPCs there well. I'll likely scale it down in size from around 5,000 residents to merely 500 residents for this game, but the various inns and shops, the mayor and town officials, the temples and thieves' guild, will all remain the same. Like I said, I want this game to be easy for me to run.

4. A Few House Rules: Just exploring for the sake of exploring may not really interest the players. Like I said above, unlike the original West Marches campaign, I'll need to bait the hooks with rumors and missions to get the players out of town and where the action is. Old school games do this well by giving XP for gold. 5E, however, has a very very fast progression rate compared to BECMI or AD&D, so I'll need to tinker either with the amount of treasure worth 1 XP or else with the advancement table.

I think 5E works well getting PCs to level 3 quickly, so that everyone can choose their specialization early on. I'd like to keep that. So I'm thinking I'll give out 1 XP for every 1pp (10gp) in treasure, plus use monster XP from BECMI. That might actually give more XP for higher level monsters, I'd better check on that. Also, the old school "no more than one level per adventure" rule must be implemented.

5. A Jeff's Gameblog style Triple Secret Random Wilderness Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom: Even though I'm only going to be running this game with one party, I'd rather not leave them out in the wilderness between sessions. There will be "safe haven" locations on the map, which can be used to rest and recuperate, resupply and maybe get a bit of information, and of course the players may set up more of their own if they attempt such. If they don't get back to town or to one of these safe havens by the end of the game session, I'll roll and see what happens to them.

6. Dungeons (and dragons, too!): I've still got the Caves of Chaos 5E conversion from the Play Test, and the Isle of Dread, and maybe there was another adventure in there? So I have some stuff already with 5E stats and the like to use. I've got plenty of old TSR era and 3E WotC era modules/adventures on the computer that can be easily converted to 5E, I think. And it's not hard to whip up a few 5 to 10 room ruins, caves, and the like. So I can scatter those around the map, plus leave clues/rumors to other locations in each. I'll also need to decide on a few "pockets of danger" like dragons, undead, or other tough beasties who have a known (or easy to recognize as a more dangerous place) lair in some of the easier areas closer to the home base.

Goodman Games is apparently releasing classic modules with 5E conversions soon, but I'll likely just do the work myself instead of waiting for them to get around to it. The good thing is that I can put a few things I already have near the town (like the Caves of fact, maybe I should use Castellan Keep instead of Silverwood as the home base...), and work up or convert other stuff, as the players get closer to them in their explorations. I could even use those Dragonlance dungeons I was planning to convert to 5E anyway!

That should do it!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Movie Review - Kong: Skull Island

I had a choice last Friday to see Logan, Shin Godzilla, or Kong: Skull Island as a cheap morning show. Logan started too early, actually, and I've heard Shin Godzilla is decent but a bit slow, so I opted for Kong.

Obligatory Warning: Is there cursing in the movie? A little, but your kids probably won't notice unless they're already swearing when you're not around to hear it.

On to the movie. It's a giant monster movie, so you shouldn't really expect an amazing, painstakingly crafted plot, or fully three-dimensional characters. You basically go to these things to see the monsters destroying things and fighting other big monsters, and the human cast trying to survive. And that's what you get. It's not the worst giant monster film I've ever seen, but it's not the best, either. There are plot holes large enough for the star attraction to walk through, unnecessary characters, inconsistent characters, and cheesy dialogue. I was entertained well enough by the CGI spectacle, but some of the other choices made with the production of this film left me nonplussed.

The good points revolve around Kong and the various monsters that inhabit Skull Island. The creatures are interestingly designed, and the monster fight scenes are fun. There's a big cast of human characters, many of whom don't make it to the end of the movie (I don't think that counts as a spoiler, because I won't tell you who). Oh, and seeing soldiers thinking they're on their way home from the Vietnam War only to find out they've got one more mission that involves giant monsters? That was well done.

The bad points include the premise for why no one's visited Skull Island before (ridiculous pseudoscience meteorology that might have worked in a 1930's milieu but seems out of place in a movie taking place in 1973). Characters that mysteriously appear with no introduction in Act 2, serve no important plot points, and are pretty much just there taking up space (although one, Jing Tian's character, does provide some nice eye candy and provides a second female character in a very male dominated cast). Oh, and then there are characters who seem to have no idea what sort of work their job descriptions require. There are veteran soldiers who seem to have no sense of strategy or tactics, a photographer who sees a giant creature rise up in front of her party and after a minute remembers to take ONE photo then lowers her camera, scientists who don't really seem to have much background in science...

There were a few interesting things from a world-building perspective that might be inspirational for a game. That's one reason I love B-movies and big budget but stupid films like this. Somewhat tangential to the plot is a Hollow Earth theory to explain where the monsters come from, that could possibly be a set-up for a sequel.*

There's some cool stuff in this film, and while there are lots of weak points I could point out, you do get giant monsters, Samuel L. Jackson/John Goodman/John C. Reilly putting in amusing performances, and people trying to fight kaiju with M16s and M60s. I'm glad I only paid matinee prices to see it so that I don't think it was a waste, but I'm also thinking maybe I should have left home a bit earlier and seen Logan instead.

*Edit - Just found out that I completely missed a post credits scene (I typically stay to the end of the credits regardless, but really had to pee after this one so left early). Also, this movie is in the same fictional universe as the American Godzilla movie produced a couple years ago and IS setting up a sequel.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Pursuit and Loot

Being a continuation of the journal of the stalwart Green Knight Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, exploring the hidden inner world of Pellucidar beneath the outer world of Eberron.

Having rejoined my companions Rhea, Yuv, and Makarak outside of the Snake Queen's lair, Makarak noticed the trail left by the snake-tail of the Queen through the jungle underbrush, and we set out in pursuit. As we went, we could hear her singing her foul magic songs again in the distance when suddenly, to our surprise, the jungle around us seemed to come to life and reach at us from all sides with grasping vines.

Cassius, my trusty mount, was entangled, as was Yuv. To our horror, we then saw that Cassius and Yuv were being drawn into the grasping maw of a feminine plant horror, the Venus Fly Trap. As she sank her fangs into my faithful andrewsarchus, I set to with my axe. Makarak was quickly at my side with his own axe, and Rhea assisted Yuv in escaping the clutches of the botanical beast.

But, the strange adversary had more and more vines, an inexhaustible supply, so it seemed. I was wrapped up repeatedly, but managed to slash through the vines as Cassius disappeared into the plant's jaws. Yuv and Makarak were also entangled, and Yuv drawn into the creature's waiting maw next. It was a mighty struggle, but in the end we slew the creature.

As I pondered our situation -- we were battered and bloodied but as yet undefeated -- unbeknownst to me, Makarak beheaded the Venus Fly Trap and placed the severed head, both claws, and several of the grasping vines in Rhea's Bag of Holding. We decided to return to the Snake Queen's lair to find the Rod of the Giant High Priest, if we could, as that was or true goal.

Returning to the lair, we searched the tunnels until I noticed a crack in a wall where none should rightly be. Using our artifact magic rock drill, Makarak made a tunnel past the secret door, causing a minor cave in, but opening our passage. At then end of the corridor we came to a finely worked door, covered in the demonic symbols of the Demonic Invaders of the Ancient Past, of whom my sect the Greensingers allied with the Gatekeepers to defeat long ago. The door was of stout workmanship, possibly bound with spells in ancient times, but after several hours of axe-work by myself and Makarak, the door was breached.

Inside was indeed the treasure chamber of the Snake Queen, but much of her "riches" was made of worthless (to us) sea shells, polished rocks, and the like. We did locate the Rod, as well as a Giant's Battle Axe (too large even for Makarak to wield), a magic wand of undetermined use, a broken lute also magical in nature, and three carven masks which also detected as magical. We decided to rest then, and examine our newly acquired loot as time allows on our way north to the City of the Giants, where with the aid of the Rod, we hope to wake the slumbering Mountain Spirit.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Snakes and Rods

Being a continuation of the journal of the celebrated Green Knight Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, in the hidden realm of Pellucidar, deep below the Khyber underworld of Eberron.

Having ascertained that the Rod of the Giant High Priest was being held by the Serpent Queen in the eastern mountains beyond the Great River, our band, consisting of Rhea the Human Witch, Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Bahamut, Flagan the Halfing Pugilist, Makarak the Half-Orc Barbarian, Thea the Elven Storm Cleric, Jade the Half-Elf Archer and myself, sought out the serpent lair and managed to locate it, and dispatched the land-based crocodilian guardians outside the entrance. Yet, flying reptile creatures still guarded the entrance, circling above it in the air. After much debate in which I staunchly urged my companions not to desecrate the corpses of the slain guardians, we managed to distract the flying creatures and made our way inside.

The cavern led us to a pit full of snakes. Thousands of serpents writhed around in what I can only describe as a most likely delicious and nutritious mush of confectionery dinosaur cream. Unsure how to best proceed, I called up on the Greensong to let me converse with these snakes, who informed me that their Mother would not want us to cross, and that we should leave. As they would not willingly let us pass to treat with the Serpent Queen, we used flaming brands to create a pathway through their midst, and crossed to the other side.

Shortly thereafter, we came upon the Queen's Chamber. I attempted to negotiate, but the foul beast was already singing her own foul magic songs, which were affecting my companions, forcing them to stand helpless, or even transforming them into serpent creatures. Our band set to, and met her guardians in battle. These guardians consisted of an enormous serpent which swallowed Flagan whole at one point, and several crocodilians armed with poison darts. Our spells and weapons proved superior, and the guardians fell dead while the Queen made her escape out the back.

The escape tunnel was much too narrow for Yuv and myself to follow in our armor,  but the remainder of the party crawled up the tunnel, and were pelted with rocks, acid, and other forms of hindrance before they reached the top. I set to work looking for the treasure trove, as the Giant's Rod was our goal, not slaying its guardian. Yuv doffed his plate-and-mail and followed after the others. As they reported back to me later, they followed her trail to another chamber with an entrance to the surface, where she escaped into the jungle.

I had no luck in discovering her treasury while my companions were so occupied.

This is actually last month's session. I forgot to write it up. The write-up for this past weekend's session will be posted tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Movie Review: The Great Wall

Last Monday I went and saw The Great Wall, but I've been busy so I'm only getting to blog about it now (Wednesday). I was looking forward to watching this film. I've enjoyed Zhang Yimou's work in the past, and this is "Ancient Chinese fantasy" which is pretty much what my little RPG is all about.

I was a bit hesitant, though, because here in S. Korea, they've oversaturated the market with ads for the film. I mean, try to watch anything on YouTube, and you have to sit through a 10-second ad for the film. I've got a bit of a contrarian streak from my dad. He hated Elvis and the Beatles back in the 60's when they were super popular (he prefers Elvis but doesn't mind the Beatles today). Because of the annoyance, I almost just waited to watch it on VOD later. But I thought, hey, I'm kinda the intended audience for this sort of film, so I'll go see it.

The basic story, if you haven't been over-inundated with ads, is that a pair of foreigners arrive at the Great Wall to "trade" just on the eve of a monster attack that happens for a week once every 60 years. And since the main character, William (that would be the Matt Damon character), is an excellent archer, he helps out. Oh, and it helps that he thinks Commander Lin (Tian Jing) is cute.

So yeah, it's not really wuxia, but it does play out a bit more similarly to how my Flying Swordsmen games have actually turned out in practice. Lots of combat, some cool stunts, monsters here and there, but not really a lot of interpersonal relationship development. In that department, it's more like a typical Hollywood film, although as far as the visuals go, it's very Zhang Yimou. This is a hybrid film, designed to try and appeal to both mainstream U.S. and mainstream Chinese audiences, after all.

And finally, my opinion of the film? I liked it well enough, but I can't say it was great. The beginning was pretty solid, but when the Nameless Order (the Chinese army defending the Wall) are first introduced, the very brightly colored armors looked like something out of a Koei strategy game. But again, it's Zhang Yimou. He loves to play around with colors in his films, and in this one the backgrounds were pretty stark, leaving only costuming as an area to use colors symbolically. The first attack of the creatures (tao tei) was fun to watch. Commander Lin's Crane Corps was very wuxia.

The second half of the film, though, was a predictable and not so exciting playing out of a typical Hollywood cliche. I don't want to spoil things, but we've seen this plot a hundred times, and they didn't really bring anything new to it. It's by the numbers.

I did appreciate that at the ending, they used a more traditional Chinese style ending than a traditional American style ending.

So, not the best film I've ever seen, but not too bad, either. A more creative plot would have really helped this film, along with a bit deeper character interaction (William and Lin spar about Western individualism and Eastern communalism, General Shao and Strategist Wang spar a little over how to deal with the tao tei, William, Tovar and Ballard disagree about how to get what they want and escape, but it's all fairly tangential to defeating the tao tei).