Thursday, June 28, 2012

D&D Uber Playtest - pts. 2 & 3

My original plan to have four-hour sessions was dashed by our busy lives, so session 1 actually took place over three different days. Day 1 I’ve already reported on.

Part 2 began the following day of game time (day 8 in what a random die roll determined was “June”) with the PCs heading back into the goblin caves. This time there were no goblin sentries at the entrance, allowing the PCs to move at their leisure back to the west room. There, the PCs found a single goblin manning the room they had previously cleared. The goblin prostrated itself, saying that it had heard the PCs were merciful to those who surrendered. The PCs allowed it to flee further west.

But rather than follow, the PCs decided to see what lied to the southeast first instead. What they found was a fully garrisoned guardroom with six goblins inside. The PCs bottlenecked the goblins at the entrance to the room and chopped down four of them one at a time, with two goblins fleeing out the far end of the room.

In hot pursuit, the PCs went up some stairs and reached the first of the hobgoblin caves. In the cavern were five hobgoblins and the two goblins they had chased up here. The hobgoblins wanted sport and pushed the goblins into battling the intruders. One goblin was hacked down while the other hid in the corner of the room. The hobgoblins moved up to attack, but luck was not with them and they were hacked apart fairly quickly. It had been a delaying tactic regardless, with them buying time for shadowy figures at the rear of the cavern to escape out a door.

Chasing after again, the PCs found a really long stretch of empty tunnels, even coming across another hidden entrance from the ravine they could use in the future. But eventually they headed up more stairs and came to a second cavern defended by two male hobgoblins – and nine female hobgoblins.

It was the longest battle yet, lasting a whopping 12 rounds. I looked through the books for fatigue rules but could not find them quickly enough and abandoned thoughts of using any. Though the hobgoblins had not made a very good showing of themselves, they managed to whittle down the front line fighter and clerics enough that the PCs might have lost had they not used all four of their Cure Light Wounds spells during the battle.

When the battle was over, the PCs discovered what the hobgoblins had fought to the death to defend – hobgoblin children. I knew this would be a tricky bit, since I didn’t want Megan to feel bad about killing their mothers. I impressed on her, though, as we role-played her trying to talk to the children, that they were more like semi-intelligent feral cats than human children. She left them alone at the back of the cavern, but didn’t feel bad about it.

Also worth mentioning is that Megan again never asked her goblin followers to do anything. They watched the PCs’ backs and stayed out of combat the whole time. They did suggest that the PCs could strip gear off their fallen foes and keep it to sell, but Megan didn’t choose to do it.

That was all the time we had for playing last night. Tonight when I got home from work we tried another mini-session to wrap up “Session 1”. Unfortunately, it did not go well.

We determined that it was now two days later, as the PCs needed more time to heal up after that big last battle. Megan returned the PCs to the same goblin cave entrance and met a single goblin sentry near the entrance. The goblin begged for its life, knowing of their reputation, and they let it flee to the west.

But, again, Megan decided to ignore the west and see what was going on east. She found the guardroom re-garrisoned with six goblins this time. Worse, they surprised her PCs. Apparently they had heard them coming and rushed down the hallway to meet them before the PCs could react. At least, I thought that sounded reasonable, but Megan balked that she wouldn’t have seen them coming and been able to react faster.

It turned out to be another long battle, with it taking nine rounds to fight their way down the tunnel and into the guardroom. The morale rolls stayed low and the goblins fought it out to the death, even though they could have fled. Probably they were afraid to flee to the hobgoblin caves. This time Megan looted the dead, but was dismayed to find they only had copper and silver on them.

Moving on to the hobgoblin rooms, the PCs found the first cavern was re-garrisoned as well, though this time by four male hobgoblins and two females. The PCs moved into the room slowly, but met stiff resistance. After some lucky dice rolls in the first few rounds, Mary the dwarf fighter was unconscious again. I explained that these must have been more elite hobgoblins, but Megan was very upset to have Mary go down again.

Just like at the ogre battle, Beau the halfling thief came through with some amazing dice rolls, slinging from the back of the cavern. The front ranks of the hobgoblins fell, the back ranks started to miss morale checks and didn’t rush up to fill the gap, and the clerics were able to move deeper into the room. But Mary, lying on the floor, was still the closest to a female hobgoblin that had fanatically not missed a morale check since round 1. Even as Jack the dwarf cleric was healing Mary, the female hobgoblin kept stabbing Mary with a dagger and started to kill her. It took a sling from Beau to take that crazy hob down, but by now Megan was very, very upset. The other female had fled and the last male, impressed by their fighting, offered its sword to them in service.

But, after the battle, when she learned that XP is only divided between those who come out of a battle still conscious, and that Mary was cheated out of her share despite having done her fair share of fighting, Megan announced that the XP rules were broken and was very, very, very upset. 107 sp retrieved from the dead failed to placate her, as an unconscious Mary was hauled back out of the caves for another week of rest and recuperation. Relieved that we were done with 1st ed. AD&D, Megan announced that the next session would not be the 1981 basic rules, as I had rolled, but that we were moving ahead to the 5E playtest and get it over with.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

D&D - the Uber Playtest

Megan and I are both signed up for the D&DNext Playtest…but now that the time had finally come, I didn’t feel like just playtesting the latest flavor of D&D. So I decided on something more ambitious – we were going to try and playtest all of D&D. Megan would control 5 PCs and play them through the same module – Keep on the Borderlands -- but each session would be converted to a different version of the game, determined by random dice roll. I would follow those rules as closely as possible, taking care to look things up fresh instead of running the game from memory. My first roll brought us randomly to 1987, the tail end of the 1st ed. AD&D years.

Megan’s party consisted of Mary, a female dwarf fighter; Jack, a male dwarf cleric; John, a male human cleric; Ernil, a female elf magic-user, and Beau, a male Halfling thief. Themes became non-weapon proficiencies, but we never used them. A lot of bonus modifiers dropped and backgrounds were dropped altogether. The magic-user took a serious power hit, dropping to just one spell. With weapon specialization added to the fighter, she began to look almost as powerful as how she started before conversion. Megan never took advantage of the thief’s special abilities, using him as another fighter. I cheated on hp, allowing everyone to have max hp at 1st level, which was never suggested in AD&D. This gave everyone 5-11 hp, much lower than for the official playtest. Though I rarely did so in the past when running AD&D, we played this game with miniatures and a battle map.

The PCs came to the Caves of Chaos and headed straight for the goblin caves because it was closest. They found the entrance guarded by six goblins, but managed to lure four goblins outside into the ravine with taunts. After taking some hits, three of the goblins surrendered and one fought to the death. Mary was hurt by a military pick, but it was Beau’s sling bullets, fired into melee, that took her down before the battle was over. The remaining two goblins fled back into the caves to alert their kin.

Low to hit rolls marred this first combat and almost soured Megan on the experience. Most of the time her rolls were low enough that the huge modifier boosts of later editions might have still not made a difference. Had the goblins all charged and fought to the death, it likely would have been a TPK. What changed that was AD&D’s morale rules, which when followed closely essentially give each monster only a 50% chance of attacking each round. The morale rules were not only Megan’s best friend, but varied the encounters and ultimately made them more realistic. I might not have thought on my own to have two goblins hang back and watch to see how the battle turned out, but I thought of that after the morale results suggested it to me. When so many goblins surrendered, I decided that they hated their leaders and were eager to change sides, even to dwarves and an elf. Now I wish I’d used morale checks more often when I used to run AD&D (I always waited until the monsters were at half hp before rolling).

What initially seemed to be a problem were the negative hp rules from AD&D. Since Mary had been brought down to -1 hp, she needed a full week to recover even though she had received clerical healing right away. I was concerned that this would kill the momentum of the campaign. Indeed, something similar had literally killed my Blackmoor play-by-post campaign I once ran. But what had taken us a month of downtime in online time in that campaign took only 30 minutes to resolve in person. And forcing Megan to pull back her forces and rest gave us a chance to reflect on what the world was like around the dungeon.

It quickly became apparent that, with three more goblin mouths to feed, Megan’s PCs did not have enough food for everyone to last the week. When some of her PCs went to the Keep on the Borderlands to restock, Megan found PH standard prices for rations seemed ridiculously high (which was always intended, reflecting a “gold rush” economy around a dungeon), especially since Megan had generously paid each of the goblins 2 gp to work for the party. The solution we came up with was for Megan to trek even further back towards civilization. I determined off the top of my head that there were villages just 16 more miles away and her PCs made that journey. For her troubles, she got rations for 1/10th the “standard” price.

In AD&D, you ‘re actually less likely to have an encounter the closer you get to civilization, as the encounter tables are geared towards wilderness monsters instead of farmers and shepherds. I described encounters with animals and villagers without rolling for them, but I did manage two lucky d20 rolls of 1 during that week of camping outside the village. The first wilderness random encounter (rolled out of the DMG encounter tables) was a midnight raid by giant rats. I rolled on the Monster Manual no. appearing range, but then averaged that with the number in Megan’s party and narrowed it down to 13 giant rats. Again, frequent morale checks were Megan’s friend. Half of the rats held back from the initial attack. A few reinforced the first wave, but some from the first wave also fled. Megan’s dice rolls were better, the rats weren’t able to hit anyone, and soon she had killed or routed them all.

The second encounter, rolled the same was, was for a warband of halflings. This turned out to be a roleplaying encounter and gave Megan her first chance to talk as Beau. I determined that the halflings had been conscripted to reinforce the keep and were heading there. They asked about the goblins and wanted them for target practice, but Beau refused.

The goblins I named Mag, Glub, and Yet (an inside joke of D&D trivia). I secretly rolled their loyalty scores, though I only took the time to skim the long list of loyalty modifiers.
When the week was up, Megan’s party returned to the goblin caves. They found three goblin guards waiting for them this time. The same two ran to alert the rest of the complex while one stayed behind to delay the PCs. The PCs made short work of that one and took off in pursuit of the goblin that had fled west.

This led to the very first room in the goblin complex. This would be my second big “cheat” too. The room description had called for 6 goblins, but I recalled this encounter being very difficult in my Blackmoor campaign and I decided to tone it down by rolling 1d6 to determine how many goblins were there. There was only one, plus the one the PCs had chased, and they were negotiating with the ogre behind the open secret door.

Megan’s PCs charged into the room with Mary and Jack in the front row and everyone else lined up behind. Only one of the goblins came with, though. The most disloyal of the three goblins, Yet, had immediately fled the other way to rejoin his old comrades. Glub had stayed by the entrance, his loyalties torn. Only Mag was fairly loyal.

By all rights, the ogre battle should have been a huge threat. But Megan’s dice were on fire. She could not roll below a 17 on d20. Beau scored two natural 20s in a row with his dagger (no criticals in AD&D, to Megan’s chagrin). The ogre was dropped in two rounds without having hit anyone.

One of the two goblins had fled west again, while the other tried to hide in the ogre’s secret cave. The PCs followed it in, killed it, and looted the ogre cave of their first serious haul of loot. They had enough gold to send some PCs to the keep, trade in three suits of chainmail armor, and come back with one suit of platemail for the fighter and two suits of banded mail for the clerics.

And that was where we stopped for the first night, after just under two hours of play. I had planned on each session being 4 hours, but we had taken too long a break in the middle of the first session and ran out of time. In the future, we’ll just play until we’ve hit four hours, then stop and convert to another edition of D&D.

It was difficult, even for me, adjusting back to the slower pace of XP gain in AD&D. I joked that Megan just needed ten more ogre caves before she reached 2nd level! While I had at first thought that the lack of bonus modifiers in AD&D was going to be a discouragement to Megan, I think the more she missed earlier in the game, the more she appreciated the times she hit at the end.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Top 10 Comic Books of 2012 Free Comic Book Day

Mind you, I only managed to snag 10 this year. Some of these wouldn't deserve to be on a top 10 list otherwise.

10. Spider-Man: Season One. Plodding, drawn-out retelling of Spidey's origin story. Should have read the original again and learned about *brevity*.
9. Mega Man: Origin of a Hero. Never escapes from its video game superficiality.
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron #0.1. Butthead Bendis showing off again that there is no character he won't butcher to badly tell a story. Besides that...if you ignore the word balloons, there is a great assortment of classic Marvel characters in here to feel nostalgia over.
7. Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5. If I ever want a comic book that succinctly summarizes all 80 issues of the Marvel Comics run of Transformers, this is it. No mention of the Spider-Man cameo, though.
6. The Smurfs/Disney Fairies. I always wondered if the comic strip was as bad as the '80s cartoon show. Now I know.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog. I'm always impressed by the massively complex story lines whenever I look at a Sonic book. I just can't bring myself to care.
4. Serenity/Star Wars. The artwork is atrociously ugly on the Serenity side of this flipbook, but the dialogue is so spot-on perfect you can hear Nathan Fillon saying it in your head!
3. Donald Duck Family Comics. You can't go wrong with classic Carl Barks.
2. Superman Family Adventures. Not as awesome as Tiny Titans, but Art Baltazar still delivers the goods.
And, top of the list...
1. Bongo Comics Free-for-All. A must-have item for the first chapter of an autobiography of Sergio Aragones, hidden in the middle of the book!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rpol H&H Campaign - pt. 26

[Continued from here]
Tommy was led through a room with three guards in it to another room where he was pushed down on the floor and has his legs bound tight with the same rope around his midsection. Next to him, lying unconscious on the floor, was Alpha-Woman.

"You just stay put until we come back for you," one of the guards said to Tommy. "You two are gonna have a real close view of the ceremony later."

"Hey," said the other guard. "What are we gonna do with that stinking coat of his and that weird rat mask? I don't want to sit with them all day in the guard room."

"We'll come back and leave that stuff with them..." the first guard said, with a nod to their prisoners, before they left.

In the dark of the cell, Tommy started to calm down once they were gone. He missed his rat mask and his fur coat and wanted to feel like Sewer Rat again. No, this was more like the old days, when he was first exploring the sewers. He kept only to the supply tunnels, pumping clean water to help along the process. Just a little waste from the homes; not like further down where everything accumulated. Not everything you found in the sewer was human waste. Everything that ever went down a gutter was in the tunnels. Candy wrappers in the Spring, tennis balls in the Summer, leaves in the Fall, and fresh melted snow in the Winter. He did his first good deed in the sub-unit in front of his apartment building, throwing back some keys a motorist had dropped. Boy was he surprised.

Tommy stopped his drifting thoughts and concentrated on the here and now. He relaxed his chest and felt the rope around him slacken. He knew it would still take some time to get out of those ropes. Whether he had enough time before the guards returned remained to be seen.


G-Man Rudy Malefor stood with his new comrades, taking in the situation in the chapel and hoping the others had a plan. In a low voice, he said, "I think we should get help before we go deal with whatever is going on up here."

"The moment we do that they'll know we're trouble. I can try one thing..." The Mountain Man whispered back to Agent Malefor. Then he raised his voice and answered the booming voice of the Doctor, saying, "Willy said to take 'em to the cells."

Silver Scorpion tensed, waiting for the response.

"Willy? Willy?" the voice said, sounding like the great and terrible Oz. "Am I to take orders from Willy? Get those prisoners up here!"

Agent Malefor, increasingly eager to return to his cell, reached the door to the gallery and held the doorknob, waiting to see if the others would join him. But it looked like they would continue to try and talk their way through this with the unseen voice, for whom Willy seemed to hold no authority. So Rudy came back and whispered the beginnings of a plan to the others. "The two people not dressed as guards should go to the dais as ‘prisoners’. Me and the other two men dressed as guards should go downstairs and look for the other two FBI agents that are probably still in their cells. We need them as reinforcements." He paused for dramatic affect, then added, "I feel something big is going to happen soon and we are going to need help."

The Mountain Man liked at least some of that plan. He roughly (mostly as show) pushed the Daoist forward toward the dais. He also grabbed Silver Scorpion and pulled her along as well. As he walked he whispered to them, "If this goes south we will fight them, so be ready."

The Mountain Man dragged his two ‘prisoners’ to the north end of the chapel. The mobster standing there had a lit cigarette dangling from his lips and nervous fingers on his holstered pistol. Glancing up, the heroes could see a second mobster on the balcony above watching them with a rifle in hand. Suddenly, one of the tapestries on the east wall moved aside and a man stepped through a concealed doorway. The man had thinning salt-and-pepper hair, wore glasses and a lab coat, while holding a cane. He raised a shaky hand and pointed it at the three closest heroes. "Yes, yes! You all are the ones from last night's attack! How unwise to return and face the technological might of -- Dr. McDermott!"

Agent Malefor realized that, without his gear, he was not ready for a battle. He quickly scampered off into the gallery, heading for the stairs down to the basement cells.

Realizing the jig was up, Silver Scorpion decided to assault the 'Doctor'. She ripped her bonds free and threw herself at him.

The mobster closest to the Mountain Man and the Daoist un-holstered his pistol and drew a bead on them with lightning speed. "Take it easy, boys," he said. "Let's see if Doc here is as good in a fight as he claims he is..."

Silver Scorpion launched herself at Dr. McDermott so quickly that the doctor was forced to back up. In an instant she had a silver knife in either hand and began her deadly dance with the doctor. The doctor was a somewhat skilled combatant, parrying several thrusts and recognizing some feints for what they were, but Silver had already fought better. Backed up to the tapestry, Silver pushed him through and they both disappeared into the concealed room he had come out of.

The concealed room was narrow and half-full of machinery. But there was no time to examine the contents, for Dr. McDermott was waiting to fight with that cane. Silver double feinted, got past that cane he'd been blocking her with for the past 30 seconds, and finally cut him. Dr. McDermott was moderately injured, his sleeve turning bloody. He continues to swing with his cane, never landing a blow.

Meanwhile, the Mountain Man, the Daoist, and Captain Liberty paused while they considered whether to wait this out and see what happened or take a more active hand. Looking up, the Mountain Man and the Daoist saw the guard at the balcony above was calling to some friends to come see. Captain Liberty, still at the south end of the chapel, saw a door open and two leather jacket-wearing guards come out and join a third guard who came from the entrance. Everyone was just watching from a distance for now, but with Silver Scorpion's personal duel now in a separate room, there was little to entertain them rather than capturing intruders.

Also meanwhile, Agent Malefor ran through the gallery to the far door, but it opened as he reached it and he and a mobster with no visible weapon on the other side surprised each other.

Also also meanwhile, Tommy nearly dislocated his shoulder, but managed to pull his arms out of the rope. The pain made him nearly pass out, but he managed to hold on and start working the rope off his legs. The narrow room he was in was empty except for him and the amazon-like Alpha-Woman (still unconscious and more expertly tied up than he was). There was a ladder leading to a trap door above him and the door the guards entered and exited through.

Back in the chapel, the Mountain Man seemed to grow another foot tall and another foot wide as he pulled his hatchet from its holster and charged the mobster holding a pistol on the Daoist and him.

Following the others' lead, the Daoist transformed into a brown bear and swiped at the same mobster.

The mobster with the pistol trained on the Mountain Man and the Daoist was taken aback by the startling transformations. His hand holding the revolver shook. The Mountain Man was surer in his grip on his hatchet as it came out of hiding within his jacket and he used its blunt side to clop the man in the head and take him down. The Daoist, losing his nearest opponent, charged the three at the south end of the chapel in bear form, scattering pews in front of him like a plow through snow.