Archive for February, 2010

Session 4 – Looking For Trouble and the First PC Deaths

February 13, 2010

This session the party decided that they needed to gain some EXP and level up. But they were tired of the dungeon they were in, and wanted to explore some of the forest and hills they were in. They also mentioned they wanted to “look for trouble” as they went.

There wasn’t a rule for it, but I decided to just raise the random encounter chance from 2 in 12 to 4 in 12, without rolling more often (twice per day and once at night).

They encountered a shy black bear, which they slaughtered. Then a swarm of giant hornets, which they fled from. And finally a scourge of giant ticks (I couldn’t find the animal group name for ticks, but that sounds about right). Those giant ticks really ruined their day, latching on and draining blood. A full tick lets go and wanders off. They didn’t actually win that fight, since they killed only 2 or 3 of the dozen ticks that attacked. And they lost two party members.

Luckily someone had bought a horse, and the horse was used to help carry the casualties back to town. It was a five-day trek back, during which time they stopped “looking for trouble” and discovered a ruined moathouse in the hills on the way back.

There were no priests in town powerful enough to raise the dead. There were rumors of a “Fountain of Life” somewhere but it was unclear even if it was nearby. The two players with dead characters rolled up new ones. We stopped there.

I asked the players who rolled up new characters to just roll the stats and buy gear, and get the game moving again. They would spend skill points as they went, and then over the week can re-create the character as they like. But they have enough of a grasp of the system that next session the new characters will be set in stone just like everyone else.

We’re skipping the game this weekend because of Valentine’s Day. It’s probably best that we all spend the evening with our partners 😉

But for next weekend they have lots of options: explore overland, explore the Sunken Grove ruins further, or investigate the new Ruined Moathouse. Or they could cobble together some canoes and see what’s on the island they noticed as they arrived.

Hirst Arts

February 3, 2010

I’m considering getting some plaster molds from Hirst Arts to build dungeons, houses for town, castles, that sort of thing.

You want these things primarily to show what goes on during a fight. In other situations a visual display just isn’t necessary. Other than that, you probably only need a map of the area as a visual aid for your game. This is just one of a few possible ways to display what’s going on in a fight. Alternatives include a paper battle mat, a wet or dry erase grid mat, fold-up paper models, and just using whatever is around.

Solid Models
You can make a heck of a lot of models with bits and pieces glued together, cardboard, white glue, house paint, scrap styrofoam, and modest tools (sturdy scissors, a ruler, pencil, and a hot wire cutter for the styrofoam if you want to look professional). I’d add a clear spray sealer to that, but you can seal the model at any time so you don’t need it right away.

Or you can make something really professional looking using Hirst Arts molds. You pour plaster in and 30 minutes later little LEGO-like blocks come out. But they’re intricately detailed and quite durable if you use the right plaster. Or you can use cheap plaster and just hope you never drop the model.

The molds are expensive ($24 – 34 each), but the main cost is your time. It takes a lot of time to fill and empty those molds, and to build the models. And you’ll want to use an MDF (dense particle board) base for your models so they don’t break apart from their own weight when you pick them up. And good dental plaster can be spendy, depending. In the end, making your own models from scraps may be a cheaper choice.

You can also make segments of a dungeon and put them together as you go.

The main downside to models is that they take up space. They need to be stored, they’re difficult to transport, and they block line of sight at the table. As such they’re excellent for wargaming where everyone is standing up anyway. But for D&D, not so much.

Paper Battle Mat
These are pre-printed sheets of grid paper with backgrounds. You can use special rules for the printed scenery – such as certain squares being impassible or require extra movement to pass through.

If they’re laminated they’re a lot more durable and you can draw on them with wet-erase markers. But if they’re unlaminated you can fold or roll them up.

An alternative here is cardstock or laminated pieces that are assembled to make a battlefield. For example, you could have the first floor of a house printed up, and then when you place the paper down on the table everyone can see where the house is and what its interior looks like. Or you could use sections of dungeon hallway and rooms to construct a dungeon as the players move through it.

You can’t really use plain paper for this because the paper blows around too much. And it’s difficult to stack an upper floor on a house – you would just put the second floor behind it and everyone would need to remember that it represents the next floor up.

Dry or Wet Erase Grid Mat
This is a rolled-up vinyl mat with a grid of squares or hexagons drawn on it permanently. You use dry-erase markers (never Sharpies, and wet-erase marks are tough to get off) to draw walls or whatever on the mat. When you’re done with that area you wipe it clean and draw a new one.

It’s nice because you don’t need to carry much. The mat and a marker give you all the tools needed to present any play area. But it takes some minor artistic skill, and it does take time to draw and erase everything. And if the players split up into two very different places you have to just wing it. I tend to draw the “other scene” in another part of the mat. And everyone knows they can’t just move their figures between the two because the areas are farther apart in the game.

Paper Models
These are patterns you find online or make yourself, print out, cut, fold, and glue to make 3D models. They’re very cheap, but not durable at all, and have all the downsides of solid models. It’s possible to make paper models that you can stand figures on – so a building with a flat roof or a bridge can be a usable terrain piece.

Random Objects
A mug can become a wizard’s tower, or a few books stacked up can become a canyon wall. A few pencils lined up become a fence. You can use dice or coins for monsters. It’s easy to go crazy with this, but it’s best to limit it to important objects such as walls and barriers and pits. Trying to construct a dungeon like this is difficult but possible.

It’s effectively free. You can buy props that you like, but at that point you’d be better off just making your own solid models.

Other Notes
One downside of any model or prepared mat is that the model will limit your creativity. You will always be able to describe something that you don’t have a model for. So you either use a stand-in, which defeats the purpose of using models, or you compromise your creativity and include only things that you have a model for.

The wet-erase mat and the random object method don’t have this problem. Because you can draw or arrange anything, there’s no limitation.

That’s actually what I do. I have a wet-erase mat for drawing, and for monsters I use dice instead of figures. The players all have miniatures but I can’t possibly have enough of every monster (carried with me!) so I just don’t bother. I try to make my descriptions vivid enough to put the image in their heads.

Session 3: Archaeology and much pulling of ropes

February 2, 2010

This session saw the group return to the Underworld and read more of the intact writing on the walls. I used a little mini-game that I learned from the game session notes of another blog [CITATION NEEDED] which was to have the player record numbers 1-20 and every two hours of research gave a d20 roll. If she rolled a number for the first time, she circled it. If she got a second hit on the same number, I’d give information on a topic.

Because I was winging it, I didn’t have anything prepared except my own general ideas about the civilization. After getting ten circles and hitting five of those I said she had exhausted the research she could do in this dungeon. She did get some good information though. I’ll actually prepare something for the next game. Since she was the only one with Read Languages, the others had to sit around on watch.

Over the course of two days in the dungeon they were attacked by Skeleton Spearmen coming out of the water, Giant Fire Beetles (no they don’t spit fire, that’s just what they’re called), and a Gray Ooze. The ooze in particular was rough, as it deals 2d6 damage when most monsters do 1d6 – and they are all still first level with just 1d6 HP. The first attack by the ooze hit and dealt 9 damage. Luckily his Constitution was decent so he survived unconscious, and they killed it quickly before it could continue eating him. Also lucky was that nobody lost their weapons attacking it, as it dissolves metal.

I described the Gray Ooze as a huge pile of stone-colored mashed potatoes and gravel, leaving a clean trail on the floor and not making any sound. That and the acidic touch for 9 damage was pretty scary for them. Especially the archaeologist character who had rolled just 1 HP for level 1.

They wandered into an unexplored cave that had a ledge path along one wall and a chasm dropping off sharply to the left. As they crept along the wall one of them blundered into an invisible filament dangling down and was hauled up into the darkness. They threw a lit torch upward and it landed on a second ledge well above them, where some kind of giant cave insect was pulling the hapless PC to his doom. The victim let down a rope which they all climbed, and the combined weight was enough to drag the insect off its perch. They fell some distance, hitting the pathway ledge. The insect bounced past them and fell down the chasm, dragging the stuck PC along with it! They cut the invisible filament with a flaming sword one PC had inherited (as a part of character generation) and the insect fell chittering and wailing into the abyss.

Then they decided to go back to the water monster’s pool and try to kill it. One PC climbed upstairs to the cellars of the ruins and found a bucket, came down, and got within 10′ of the pool to try to chuck the bucket in. He did get a bucket of water and emptied it on the floor, the water monster came out angry, and he foolishly tried it again. The monster managed to hit him and drag him in.

A second tug-of-war party broke out. This time they managed to get someone to dive down to loot while everyone else distracted the monster at the surface. Everyone was missing their attacks though. One PC grabbed the water monster and managed to headbutt it twice. Then a lucky Magic Missile dissolved it. They descended immediately to loot, using the bucket and rope to load treasure to be hauled up when full. When the water monster re-formed two rounds later it grabbed the rope and tried to haul everyone in!

With four people pulling on the creaking, straining rope they had a chance. Their combined weight allowed them to do opposed rolls against the monster and they began to drag it out of its lair. One final “natural 20” and they heaved it far enough to dissolve it, making the water crash all over the floor and into the pool. They escaped with all of the big pieces of treasure, and half the scattered coins!

When they caught their breath and tried to go back for the rest they found that the water monster had reformed again. They want the rest of those coins but they aren’t willing to brave it again so soon.

Then they ascended and finally cleared out the rest of the cellar. The spiders they thought were in the other room were dead and dried up. They searched and discovered a rusted chest sticking out of a previously hidden compartment of a buckled wall.

And that’s where we ended it.

I’m still rolling all my dice out in the open. I told them in the beginning that I wouldn’t fudge things to let them live if the dice weren’t going their way or they made some bad decisions. I roll monster HP to the side (the table we used had a box on each end built in, so I used that). And that’s only because I don’t want them to know how many levels or HP the monster has. They’re smart cookies, they’d figure it out quickly.

And I do roll monster HP. They get the same XP for a monster whether it’s a weak and sickly 1 HP or a burly 6 HP. So far I’ve been rolling the first time the monster is hit, but I should really roll at the start of the fight so I can describe the monsters as bigger or smaller.

I never used to roll monster HP. I just used the maximum possible roll. My thinking went that an encounter with a 12 HP Vampire was just silly and wouldn’t be worth the time spent on Initiative. And that the PCs always seem to have great HP because of Constitution bonuses and such. But in the spirit of the referee portraying a plausible world rather than a manipulated one, I roll monster HP just like players roll character HP.

The BF/GF duo arrived this session. He introduced her, we gave our names around the table. I don’t expect anyone to actually remember all that, I certainly wouldn’t. Name cards might be nice, but everyone else needed to remember only one or two new names because they mostly knew each other already.

She brought a book and read, didn’t seem much interested in the game, got up and wandered around the Game Matrix looking at things. She didn’t want to play because she already DMs a 4th edition game and said it would get confusing switching between playing and DMing. I can understand that. I didn’t go out of my way to integrate her into the game, since she obviously didn’t want to actually play. Or observe, even. Sort of strange. I wonder if she’ll be back.

EDIT: The blog I got the mini-game from was Shamus Young’s. Check the righthand column for “D&D Campaign”. He used the mini-game for a character magically researching a strange orb he found. Each “hit” the DM gave the player a card with some power or information about the orb. I wouldn’t recommend the mini-game for simple things like identifying a simple magic item, but for identifying an artifact or for something ongoing like my archaeology it feels pretty cool.