Monthly Archives: March 2012

Session #19 – The soft amber light rose about them…

There are number of lessons to be learned from last Sunday’s adventure:

  1. Don’t mess with drunken dwarves, they are belligerent and will take you out…
  2. Be careful what you eat.
  3. Cats think they are better than you, even when tied up.
  4. Modules are crazy-stupid at times, but fun.

So, as the party made their way back to civilization in the aftermath of the Slaughter of Seraph Keep,  they went to sleep and woke up – to find themselves in a world gone mad…

Yeah, I’m running them through Castle Amber (X2). Since my spouse was out of town on business this meant that Frater Nikolai and Brother Illya were gone – while my son had decided to bring Taloth back in to play. I also took the opportunity to bring both Gryphon and Kyril back – so the mix of the party was not what they thought it would be and they had no clue where the “missing people” had gone (which will be funny, because my son spends the next session with his mother which means Frater Nikolai and Brother Illya will be back but Tier and Taloth will be gone!)

They made it though the boxing match, the Tabaxi (*cough* rakasta), and into the banquet room before we had to call it. The party was already freaked out because of the magical transport, the grey mist, and the changed people – but the series of events that unfolded was hilarious and I think everyone had a great deal of fun.

Tier stood up for the boxing match (while Gryphon, Vesna, and Mika made some side bets) and the fight was over not-so-amazingly quickly, he far, far, far outclassed the demos magen boxer. But the Amber in question settled his debts, and then started fussing with his broken magen (which worked more like a Victorian-era Rock-Em, Sock-Em Robot). The party then moved into the next room to find the cat-people and slew eight of the twelve and captured the rest – but not until after they had damn near killed the Valdamir Gwion (the Bard) and the Frater Gregor (the not-Paladin) – Frater Gregor had gone charging into combat and ended up nailed by Ketzl’s second Color Spray – and then had his throat ripped out by one of the Tabaxi.

Which then resulted in a hilarious one sided game of charades after Vesna cast Comprehend Languages on one of them and attempted to communicate with them. The Tabaxi (who had all been knocked unconscious by a Color Spray), were none to impressed by this (the usual feline disdain) but in a rather surprise development “swore fealty” to Vesna in exchange for their freedom and a promise not to attack the rest of the party (they were then taken back to horses, where they got eat the dead one that had wandered into the mist). This whole process was the majority of the middle part of the session.

Then they went to the next room, which was the banquet room and everybody but Sorer Isabella and Frater Gregor sat down to eat…

Modules can be amazingly unbalanced and crazy.

Things went “fine” (that is, a mixture of positive, negative, and neutral effects spread scross the feasters) until the mushroom’s and people started dropping (and everyone was drunk from the red wine), at which point Frater Gregor tried to rush in and drag people away from the table while loudly insisting that everyone leave, etc. Gryphon, the very drunk dwarf, then punched him in the face for interrupting while trying to feed the Apple Strudel to Ketzl (or Mika, I can’t remember which now)…

Frater Gregor only had 2HP (the major healer of the party is gone…) and he dropped like a sack of potatoes. Then the brandy was served, and Mika and Vesna both blew their saves…

Now, the “amber light” descended because it was exactly the point at which I was going to have to call it anyways – and I get to decide if that was enough to save the two of them from joining the ghostly feast. I pretty much have decided that it was, though there is no promise that they will ever get the timing that right ever again. But it is a great way to warn them that the rules here in “Castle Amber” are very, very different then the way the rest of the world works…

But I am so looking forward to the rest of this module…



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Modules I’d like to run…

So, at this point I have run the party through two “introductory modules” – Scourge of the Howling Horde and then Keep on the Borderlands and I pretty much set up a clear lead in to Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde. But I’ve been looking at the rest of the stuff sitting on my shelf and deciding what I’d like to run as well – understanding that there is usually some extra adventure in and around linking the modules up in a reasonable manner.

No brainers:

  • The Slaver Modules (A1-A4, though A4 is never a certainty)
  • Ravenloft (I6, and possibly the sequel, House of Gryphon Hill, I10)
  • Castle Amber (X2)
  • In Search of the Unknown (B1)
  • Castle of the Silver Princess (B3)
  • The Giant Modules – though tweaked for my world (G1-G3)
  • The Secret of Bone Hill (L1) and Assassins Knot (L2)
  • Tomb of Horrors (S1) and Return to the Tomb of Horrors (the Boxed set)
  • White Plume Mountain (S2)
  • Lost Caverns of Tsojancth (S4)
  • Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (WG4)
  • The Ruins of Undermountain(Both I & II)
  • The Ruins of Myth Drannor
  • The Ghost Tower of Inverness (C2)

If I can figure out how to:

  • The Desert of Desolation series (I3-15)
  • Isle of Dread (X1)
  • Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan (C1)
  • The Witchblade Trilogy (by Privateer Press)
  • Death’s Reach (E1 for 4E)
  • Keep on the Shadowfell (H1 for 4E)
  • Hellgate Keep
  • The Wyrmskull Throne

I also have a pile of Kenzer and Company modules that look like they’d be fun, and I keep eyeballing the Pathfinder modules as well because they look like they could be mined for a great fun also. I kind of make a habit of picking modules for the cheap if I find them at used bookstores or the like – rarely do I not findsomethinguseful in them… Similarly I have a handful of the “official” 3E and 3.5E monules that clearly look like they’d be a gas to play – even if they are balanced a bit funky at times.

Now, I might be able to pull a couple of these off via members of the group having to split off and “solo adventure” (which may in fact mean that the group actually gets to create new characters to go and help the “solo” adventurer in their quest) – Frater Gregor is a rather excellent example of this given that he’s a disgraced paladin at the moment. He’s certainly going to need to go and do something to regain his status – and something like B3 would be perfect. Similarly, the rogues and the mages might decide that plundering the Tomb of Horrors would be worth the effort while the Society of Light folks decide that this is not even worth discussing.

That is actually the major problem that is developing for the party, the group has two real power groups that have significantly different goals in life – the very good Society of Light folks and the rather mercenary Rogues. Everybody still gets along, but there has been the odd bit of tension here and there – and Frater Nikolai is certainly very, very focused on “doing good”. He’s also a noble, so the whole idea of “making money” is a bit beneath him in many ways, he doesn’t begrudge the others that desire (it’s only natural of course) but his concerns aren’t quite so tawdry…



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Adventure Ideas

My son is playing trumpet in the band for his school play, Beauty and the Beast, which is based on the Disney movie. I went to go watch it Wednesday night and was struck that it wouldn’t make for that bad of a backdrop for an adventure. It would be in the same tradition as some of the old fun house modules like Dungeonland or Beyond the Crystal Cave – but even like modules like Castle Amber and Ravenloft.

That is one of the things that I don’t get – there are folks in the OSR that will decry Ravenloft in one breath as the beginning of the end of TSR module design because there is a plot that isn’t player-centric and “railroady” and then hold upCastle Amber up as this paragon of classic fun house module design.

It sort of has me wondering if they’ve read either of them recently.

In Ravenloft there is the quaint conceit of the “Gypsy Fortune Reading” that determines a selection of things within the module, it is based on the story Dracula, an incredibly basic victory condition (kill the Strahd), a series of serious and humorous encounters in the town and castle, a clear back story to the events of the module, and the inability to leave the environs because of magical choking fog.

While in Castle Amber the module is based on the works of Clark Ashton Smith, the party has a very specific and convoluted victory condition, the same sort of mixture when it comes to serious and comical encounters, a very clear back story to the module, …and the inability to leave the environs at all because of magical choking fog.

In Ravenloft there are a mixture of deadly and not-so-deadly encounters, and the main villain is anything but a pushover. There are very few, if any, “snap, you’re dead” traps or encounters and the rewards in treasure and magic are basically reasonable when it comes to the risks involved. There are, however, no freebies – characters that are dead, are dead and they are pretty much stuck in Barovia until they succeed or die.

In Castle Amber there are plenty of deadly encounters, especially of the simple “you are just screwed variety”. The rewards in magic and treasure are relatively high as compared to Ravenloft, and the characters get magical healing, spell recovery, and level advancement in between sessions – plus there are opportunities for significant permanent character bonuses/gains and up to four characters will be resurrected at the end of the module if the characters succeed.

This is what I find so annoying by some of the talk that comes out of the OSR – many of the complaints don’t really seem to be reasonable when examined with even a bit of critical analysis. It’s more like they are simply looking for easy reasons to justify a dislike of TSR at a certain point in its history. Now, the OSR complaints about things like Dragonlance and how it sidelines the players is pretty reasonable (though you might be able to make similar, though not nearly so strong, arguments about the Desert of Desolation trilogy)  – but again, this seems like a generalized hate “Hickman-hate” rather than a reasonable critique of his pre-Dragonlance modules while the status given to Castle Amber seems comparatively like a Moldvay-bromance based on his role with the revision of D&D.

To be clear, I really like both modules and plan on running them both if I can manage it.
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The role of the nemesis…

My son, MR, has mentioned a couple of times now that the confrontation between Tier and Roland in the last game session was “a defining moment” for Tier – and I have to agree. It is interesting because the Tier started life as a mercenary spellsword and Roland was a 0-Level moving towards Paladinhood, and they are pretty much in the opposite camps at this point.

Tier has become a member of the Sabean Order, essentially NG order of champions in service to the more pragmatic branch of the Celestial Host, and he’s light-years away from the person he started as. Add in all of the rest of the mystical changes wrought upon him and he’s a one-elf power house and force for good. MR is really having fun playing that up as well.

Roland on the other hand was a dead character, but given the way he died (accidentally transported to the Realm of the Dead by Tier) he was pretty much a shoe-in for a “bad guy” at some point. I didn’t quite hope that he’d show up again so soon, but the opportunity last game was pretty much too good to pass up. Now, the question somewhat remains – is a wight? A vampire? Some version of a Death Knight? Something else entirely? He was physically transported to the Realm of the Dead – something which is certainly not good and he was 0-Level to boot! So whatever happened to him was pretty much instantaneous. And what is up with the three remaining spirits that escaped with him?

But Tier now has a nemesis, or rather, Tier has something that he is inclined to be the nemesis for himself. He realizes that he screwed up, and feels responsible for what happened to Roland. MR is already talking about hunting down Roland (which won’t be easy) – and the group isn’t sure if he had anything to do with the slaughter that occurred at Seraph Keep or not. But as Frater Nikolai pieces together what happened while he was passed out, he is growing increasingly uneasy with what seems to have happened – his charge, Roland, has reappeared in the company of unquiet spirits via some sort of magical gate in a demonic temple.

That is so not good…


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Session #18 – Roland’s Return…

The session started off on a odd foot because about half the group wasn’t there – KT was up in Milwaukee for a VNV Nation concert, TW hasn’t made the last couple of sessions for various reasons (drill, a nephew’s Confirmation, etc), SS forgot, CW has a new job and works on Sunday afternoons, and KR showed up for her semi-regular late session because of a Sunday morning commitment. So all we had for the entire session was MR, KB & CB, and MS – but everyone seemed to have a fair amount of fun in spite of the odd dynamic.

The first thing is that I simply ruled that the characters whose players weren’t there had all passed out in the aftermath of the Vesna, Gregor, Jezabel, and Gwion raised their voice in a hymn to evil and chaos and the subsequent Doombell ringing. The second thing that I ruled was that while I realized that I had totally reversed the descriptions of two different rooms (the “chapel” and the “temple”) on map, I was just going to run with what I had read. Then I had to decide, essentially off the cuff, as to what I wanted to do because I was two players down.

So out of the “mirror-polished wall with disquieting images moving about within the stone” popped out a random number of spirits (conicidently one for each PC) – which then proceeded to paralyze Ketzl, Gryphon (who promptly Teleported out psychically and hasn’t returned yet), and Gregor (who had discovered that he had evidently just lost his Paladin-status and his Protection from Evil 10’r ability…), they also discovered how Energy Drain works (-1 penalty to Hit,Damage, Saves, and Initiative). Sorer Isabella managed to get off her own prayer of Protection vs Evil and was untouched but watching helplessly, while Tier manged to slay two of the spirits – and get hit for a total of 3 points of Energy Drain before deciding to raise his own Protection vs Evil as well.

Then the big surprise occured as MS’s old character, Roland (the 0-Level Cavalier-Paladin) walked out of the wall. He was looking a bit worse for wear – gaunt, unwholesomely pale, dressed in new armour and with a new weapons. He merely looked at Tier, the erson who had accidently sent him off to the Realm of the Dead, and said “Stop me or step aside.” Tier stepped forward and was struck down – and Roland waled out of the room without a second glance at the party, spirits in tow. Isabella then manageed to heal Tier up from unconsciousness and the two of them started dragging unconscious and paralyzed people from the temple before something new stepped out of the wall.

At this point KR returned so Frater Nikolai and Brother Illya woke up – and since there was no more combat, I had both Gwion and Jezabel wake up as well. The party quickly decided to heal as much as they could and head back to Seraph Keep to get help with what was obviously a very evil place. Amun the Sunhawk had returned, relaying that the Keep still stood and that the people there welcomed the warning (from the vision during the last game session) so the party decided that they would start with the Keep given that this was the closest to civilization despite it being a solid three days away given the shape the party was in.

So after three days of nervous travel, hoping that they don’t run into anything major (and they ran into nothing more than normal forest critters – an almost ominious state of affairs given what they normally have happen in their trips back and forth from the Caves) they come upon a dark and silent Seraph Keep as the shadows of the day grow lang and evening draws nigh…

Yeah, I set the mood well enough that I triggered my spouse PTSD by the way.

The party discovered an abandoned keep where a great slaughter had eveidently taken place and no bodies were to be found – not even of pets or animals. The only living creatures were scavangers.The only two bodies were those of two horses that barely propped open the portcullis, but the gate was wide open and the fires were gutted in their pits. Food and wares were laid out as if a great terror had descended upon the people there almost instantly, and while there was some suggestion that some individuals had fled with their valuables – there was no evidence or looting nor was the church defiled.

But there was evidence that some creatures had been bled out – the ropes and hooks were there in spots and there was much blood.

But no bodies…

And that is where we called it!


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And then just a note about Giants (1e)

Strictly speaking, there are only two types of true giants in the Mortal Realms , the hideous and loathsome Formorians and the beautiful and noble Titans. The Formorians hide themselves in wild and isolated spaces, save when they are motivated to either take service with some evil power out of mercenary greed or merely decide to strike out for civilized lands in a murdurous quest for food and treasure. Formorians are all Neutral Evil or Chaotic Evil in alignment. They use primitive weapons and wear primitive clothing of hides and leathers.

Formorians – Formorians stand 16½’ tall, and have a Strength of 24 (+6/+12). They have 16 HD and an AC of 1, and are Immune to Normal Missiles. They are most commonly armed with a Club (3-18 Damage), a Warclub (6-36 Damage), and usually have some sort of crude knife (3-9 Damage). They can also throw boulders up to 24″ for 2-24 Damage, and will commonly keep a supply of such boulders nearby.

The magical Titans are equally as isolated, but they live on isolated isles and mountaintops far from human lands. The greatest and noblest among them dwell in free-floating cloud castles that travel where the owners will them to. A proud people, the Titans value beauty in all forms and are friendly with the Fae and those humans that can impress them – a “tall order” indeed! Titans are almost all Chaotic Good in alignment, but there are some that are Neutral Good as well. Titans bear well-crafted weapons and armour, and wear simple though exquisite clothing and jewelry.

Titans – Titans stand 20′ tall, and have a Strength of 25 (+7/+14). They have 17-22 HD, and and AC of 2/3/7 (armour is a Skin, Dexterity, Studded Leather and Shield), are able to turn Invisible at will, radiate a double-strength Protection from Evil, and can enter or leave the Maelstrom twice per day. They all have the abilities of Clerics, Mages, and Psionicists of a level equal to half their Hit Dice (some rare individuals are equal to their HD). They commonly bear a Shortsword (5-20 Damage) or Broadsword (5-30 Damage), a Fighting Knife 5-20 Damage), a Heavy Spear (3-30 Damage, ROF 1, Range: 6″/7″/8″), and a selection of Javelins (5-20 Damage, ROF2, Range: Range: 7″/8″/9″). They are also known to bear Shortbows as well (5-20 Damage, ROF2, Range: 11″/16″/21″). The weapons and armour of Titans is often Masterwork quality or magical (+1 or +2) in nature and can get additional bonuses (special Javelins of Lightning are a favorite, as are other elementally-imbued weapons). They are all considered to have a Dexterity of 18 – and get a bonus of +3 to Missile Weapons attacks and Initiative rolls.

There are also four varieties of “Elemental Giant” – powerful elemental spirits that inhabit isolated regions of the Mortal Realms. These spirits are all very rare, and while they have outposts and strongholds it is probably more common to encounter them in service to some powerful wizard or aiding the dorje of the En Khoda Theos Kirk. The Elemental Giants all require a +1 or better weapon to be hit, have 21HD, and they are all True Neutral in alignment like many elemental spirits. The Giants can actually reduce themselves in size by compressing and intensifying their elemental natures to as small as 6′ in size, though this is somewhat tiresome and generally considered “uncomfortable” by these elemental spirits.

Stone Giants – Standing 11′ tall, these squat and broad humanoids of animate earth andf stone only take 1/2 damage from any melee weapon and are immune to missile weapons. All weapons striking them must save vs. Crushing Blow or be broken (note: non-magical weapons automatically fail) They strike twice in combat for 3-30 points of damage each time or they may throw a boulder once per round for 4-40 points of damage at up to 40″ away. The most powerful of these giants can stomp a create an Earthquake effect in the immediate area.

Frost Giants – The blue-skinned humanoids made of animate ice stand 13′ tall. They are immune to Frost and Cold and take double damage from fire or heat-based attacks. They bear huge weapons formed of ice that strike once per round for 3-24 points of damage (with Cleaving), they also radiate such freezing cold during combat that creatures within a 10′ radius take 3-24 points of damage (save vs. Breath Weapon for half). Frost Giants may also breath out a Cone of Cold every rounds for 6d4 damage (save vs. Breath Weapon for half) or hurl a Ball of Frost that does 4d6 damage (save vs. Breath Weapon for half). The most powerful of these giants are known to radiate such freezing cold that they have the same effect as a cold Fire Shield.

Fire Giants – Comprised of 16′ tall bodies of animate flame, these giants are immune to Fire and Heat effects and take double damage from water-based attacks. They can create weapons of flame at will that do 3-24 points of damage (with Cleaving), and they radiate such heat during combat that creatures within a 10′ radius take 2-24 points of damage (save vs. Breath Weapon for half). Fire Giants may also breath out a Cone of Fire every rounds for 6d4 damage (save vs. Breath Weapon for half) or hurl a Fireball that does 4d6 damage (save vs. Breath Weapon for half). The most powerful of these giants are known to radiate such heat that they have the same effect as a Fire Shield.

Storm Giants – These Elemental Giants stand 19′ Tall, with bodies comprised of animate wind and lightning that are immune to Electricity. They may strike twice per round for 3-36 points of damage, and creatures striking them will suffer 3-36 points of electrical damage with each successful strike (unsuccessful strikes take half damage). Storm Giants may also throw radiate a Chain Lightning that does 6d6

It should go without saying that demon-corrupted Elemental Giants are among the most feared of all the servants of the Dearth.

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Session #17 – Bad Dreams and Demons

So we picked up the game and pretty much ignored the entire last game session. I cleaned up and cleared up the understanding of banking and taxes in email, and we started up the game on a good note.

The group is sitting at the small valley that houses Caves of Chaos, preparing to explore and re-enter the Caves and do what they can to make sure that they are actually cleared out. As the Society of Light members go about their morning prayers they are all struck by the same vision, an angel weeping blood over a broken sword and battered shield marked with the sigil of the Order Luminous (the obscure sect that mans Seraph Keep – the “Keep on the Borderlands”). As they all come out of the trance-vision, they quickly compare notes (though the fact that the elf Tier is involved in the discussion has Frater Nikolai raising an eyebrow) and after some further discussion with the whole group Sorer Isabella works with her sunhawk, Amon, to ask the Lords of Light for more clarification.

The party quickly decides based on the answers that while there is something kinky going on at the Seraph Keep, there is no chance for them to do anything from a couple of days away (and decide not to ask Gryphon to Teleport there). They send Amun with a message describing the vision and the results of the Contact Other Plane and proceed to investigate the caves. They unfortunately reveal that in the last couple of months that the places has been tossed pretty throughly – and probably not be returning bandits. So, after some more discussion that decide to not bother with the other caves, avoid the magical cave of confusion like the plague, and head right for the larger cave entrance that seems to have had the greatest amount of traffic in and out of it.

This cave is much larger and more finished than the other caves, and also considerably more eerie – there are echoing steps and strange sounds echoing from deeper within the caves. girding themselves they gird their loins and press further into the caves – with the rogues eventually scouting forward and finding a strange temple area with a huge, lurking figure that has evidently been waiting there for them. After a short but terrifying fight (the creatures attacks acted like a poison or disease that would petrify those who succumbed – almost creating the loss of Brother Illya, the Warrior-Monk). But after a short heroic fight, Vesna the mage managed to obliterate it with her very first Lightning Bolt.  The party then almost manged to kill themselves trying to dispose of its heart – the Bless spell caused it to explode in a similar manner as a Fireball.

The session might have ended there, but instead the group decided to investigate the evil chapel temple a bit further – and entranced by the barely understood forms dancing within the stone of the back wall, enough characters raised their voices in a hymn to evil that the great bell that stood near the entrance clanged deeply…

And that’s where I called it.


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Al on Moldvay

So Al over at Beyond the Black Gate has been doing a series on Moldvay’s instructions on how to play D&D. It’s interesting because I never played the Moldvay rules, I was a “Holmes gamer” who pretty much immediately moved to AD&D. So while I had friends who had the Moldvay D&D rules and who really got into the whole alphabet soup of BXLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ (I never have understood these same people’s complaint about level inflation in AD&D).

But in any case, many of the OSR have a deep love for the Moldvay rules and Al has been taking some sections of the instructional part of how to be a GM. My son is getting ready to run Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, or Deathwatch, and I’ve been enjoying the series and figured he would as well. So here is the collection of links to the series:

Moldvay – Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art

Moldvay – “That’s not in the rules!”

Moldvay – There’s always a chance.

Moldvay – The DM is the Boss

Moldvay – Everyone is here to have fun.

Moldvay – Everything is balanced.

Moldvay – Your character doesn’t know that

Some interesting reading in there, and the blog is just pretty darn good in general.


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