Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rpol H&H Campaign - pt. 28

Captain Liberty used the door to knock on the drunken hoodlum and the guy crumpled to the floor under the impact.

Silver Scorpion, in the adjoining secret room, opened the black case and found, lying in some padding inside, were three tiny metal capsules, each sealed but hinged to open if pried...or on impact.

Another room away, after taking some time to get used to freedom again, Tommy took stock of the situation. He could hear the sound of battle outside, and hesitated. The room was nice and dark. He felt safe. Did he really want to get into the middle of a gunfight? He was just a kid, barely 19!

But something was different. There was someone else with him. Alpha-Woman. As Tommy admired her long hair and soft features, he felt a twinge. Love? Maybe more like admiration. Or perhaps some sympathy for a fellow captive. He alternated between trying to revive her and untie her.

While, out in the chapel, the gunman on the opposite balcony saw what the Mountain Man did to one balcony and decided not to remain standing on his balcony. He disappeared from view on the upper level. The two brawny guards remaining started crying like sissies with "Don't hurt me!" and "Rooster, save us!"

Then the tapestries on the west wall parted and two people stepped out. One was the old man from the dais last night and, beside him, a beautiful, long-haired woman. They were both dressed all in white. The old man appeared to be unarmed, but the long-haired woman was holding a sub-machine gun.

"I think it is time we all talked," the old man said.

The Mountain Man restrained himself from charging headlong at this man. He would hear what he had to say.

Rudy Malefor said, "Sure, let’s talk; where have you taken my comrades and what do you plan on doing with the prisoners?"

The man and the woman, both dressed identically in white turtlenecks and slacks, stepped further into the middle of the chapel. The woman held her M1 Thompson leveled in the general direction of the heroes, but mainly at the Mountain Man.

The running soundtrack playing through the temple erupted into a series of rooster crows. No one could hear what the old man said to the woman over the noise, but she walked sideways to the concealed door, parted the tapestry, and waved -- with the barrel of the gun -- for Silver Scorpion to step out and join the others. Silver was able to conceal the black case before she complied. The woman stepped into the control room, flipped some switches, and the lights went back to normal and the loud noises stop. Then she stepped back out.

Silver Scorpion joined the Mountain Man, Captain Liberty, and Agent Malefor as they all waited to parlay.

"That's better," the man said. "As I am sure you are by now aware, your presence here is disrupting some very important plans of ours. Make no mistake, I do not doubt in the least that we can defeat you. In fact, I'd daresay that Lt. Raupp here could take you all single-handedly," he said, and the woman nodded. "But, suffice to say, we are on a tight schedule and really can't afford to waste more time cleaning up this fiasco."

Agent Malefor again pressed him with his questions.

"We have two of your more -- shall we say colorful? -- comrades safely in our custody,” the old man said. “Any of your comrades we had before them have, I regret to inform you, been sacrificed. None of you need share their fate. In fact, I am prepared to buy your cooperation. I shall hand the lot of you $500 in cash. You will walk out of here with our remaining prisoners and never come back. Would that be adequate...compensation for the loss of your comrades?"

Meanwhile, Tommy resisted his teenage urges and untied Alpha-Woman. But, sadly, she could be so easily awoken. Her injuries seemed to be more serious than they appeared. Tommy sighed at his brief but futile effort. With a look at the door, he seemed to make up his mind. Mask or no mask, he needed to escape. Whether to help the other heroes or just to get out of this whole township, even he was not sure yet. He tried the door, hoping to find it unlocked.

Back in the chapel, Agent Malefor replied first. "Five hundred dollars is a pittance; that woman saved me and took my place in the cell." He paused to take a breath. "I am not leaving the prisoners here for you to sacrifice. I am going to get them back. As for my comrades, they died for the team and I am proud of them. But you aren't taking out these…” Malefor looked around at his new comrades-in-arms, unsure of what to call them, “…people either."

"Hmmm...” the Mountain Man mused noisily. “Five hundred dollars might be a start....Although, how will you keep secret the ‘magic’ you use in your ceremonies from all those yokels outside?"

Silver Scorpion, for her part, struggled to stifle a laugh at the offer presented. Did this clown really think he could just buy them off? The only real question was whether she should play along with their little game in order to free her two comrades, then return back later to continue kicking some butts. She kept a careful eye on 'Lt. Raupp', who would be her first target if events took a turn.

The old man smiled and said, "My offer at $500 stands. If you're interested, follow me. If you're not, then you may feel free to take your chances with the Lieutenant here." The man then turned towards Willy’s office.

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Golden Age

They say the Golden Age is whenever you were 10 years old. In my case they were wrong -- I was 10 years and 4 months old. My mom had bought me Marvel Comics since I was 4, but this is the month that turned me into a Marvel zombie (screen capture from Mike's Amazing World of Marvel Comics).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

D&D Uber Playtest - pt. 4

This one's a long one. It follows from here.

Today, Megan and I – at Megan’s insistence -- moved ahead our playtest of D&D to 2012 and the next edition, or D&D Next. We picked up on day 17 of the campaign, with Megan’s 5 PCs having spent a week back in civilization so Mary the dwarf fighter could rest and be fully healed after her second near-death experience. During this time, their goblin and hobgoblin followers had wandered off.

The PCs returned to the ogre cave and used it to enter the goblin caves and continue exploring there. The first new room they hit was the communal chamber where most of the rest of the tribe had gathered. It was 5 vs. 22 and Megan was going in.
Ernil the elf magic-user had much (MUCH!) more spells now than in the previous edition and led off with Sleep, a very successful tactic in the packed room. Beau the halfling thief still wasn’t using any special abilities, but then, he was so good with his sling still that he didn’t seem to be needed for anything else.

As per the AD&D session, Mary and the two clerics continued to be the front line fighters. They mowed through the goblins like crazy, with even their minimum damage high enough to take the goblins down in one hit. One of the clerics had a feat/superpower that allowed them to put attackers attacking one of his adjacent allies at a disadvantage. Advantages and disadvantages are one of the new mechanics and I did not care for them at all, being way too powerful and unbalanced. Whereas, in AD&D, had this 4-to-1 odds fight been done to the death it would have surely been a TPK against the PCs, in this edition the super-PCs killed all 22 goblins with not one PC under half his or her starting hp.

Now, one reason for that was that I was initially wary about using goblin archers at the back of the room to fire into melee. I could not find any rules in the playtest material about dealing with this obvious situation. Instead, I waited for Megan to set a precedent by firing into melee, and then I did the same. Likewise, I could not find any rules about how long switching weapons takes. I at first assumed this would take a full round, until Megan set a precedent for requesting weapon changing and an attack in the same round.

One of the biggest weakness of the rules is the lack of morale rules. An Old School DM understands the importance of morale rules, though I think the AD&D “playtest” session aptly proved it as well. If all monsters are expected to fight to the death, then you have to upgrade PCs until they are powerful enough to fight all monsters to the death. Not to suggest that morale is the only factor that has lead to power inflation in the history of D&D, but its absence definitely makes power inflation more mandatory.

Related to that complaint, an Old School DM also understands that one of the important facets of what makes D&D the game of D&D is resource management. The PCs, no matter what level they are, are supposed to have limited resources in all things – spells, gold, hp, etc. Magic-Users in particular are supposed to enjoy resource management with their spells. This is not a punishment or even necessarily a weakness; this is part of the fun of playing D&D. But everything about these new editions spoils resource management.

At-will spells turn Clerics and Magic-Users into Fighters with different fluff (one of Megan’s clerics was soon casting Radiant Lance every round to fight with a better weapon).

Though Megan had not picked up during the AD&D session on the value of taking enemy armor back to the keep for resale, she could not ignore the increase in its value (half-price on chainmail went up from 37.5 to 50 gp) and was soon hauling armor back to the keep after every battle, whether she needed to go back and heal or not. And it was her PCs doing the hauling because the equipment purchase lists in the playtest packet somehow did not include any pack animals.

The big jump in starting hp for PCs meant that PCs were seldom in danger. Although I had initially balked at the idea of healing your HD back after 10 minutes of rest, this did not feel as unnatural as the healing surges in 4E. Because Megan started using short forays on the caves spaced one or two days apart between combats, the rest of the healing rules became superfluous. I do not entirely blame the new edition for this change in her play style, but if the playtest rules had included pack animals or rules for recruiting henchmen/hirelings, she could have set up camp closer to the caves like she did in the AD&D version.

The first battle I ran with the playtest PCs as-is. In subsequent battles, I allowed Megan to use the better armor her PCs had upgraded to in the AD&D session. The improvement in AC made some difference though, like in every edition of D&D, when fighting larger numbers, natural 20s on my side of the screen are always the biggest threat. If I had not rolled a few, her PCs would likely have left their battles with only scratches. Until the last one, but that description is coming.
Each battle confirmed my observations. On day 19, they made short work of the goblins in the storeroom, as well as the hobgoblins that came through the secret door afterward. On day 21, they took out the goblin chief and his six goblins before the PCs could take 1 point of damage. Clearly, only large-scale combats posed any kind of threat for these PCs, despite being 1st level.

Day 22 confirmed this as well when Megan decided to ignore the hobgoblin lair and try a new cave. Moving to Orc Lair C, her PCs quickly followed the sound of voices to the big community chamber there and faced most of the tribe at once. Megan hesitated at the site of 17 orcs (it could have been more, according to the room description, but that was all the miniatures I had sitting out), but decided to chance it. But the orcs were considerably tougher than goblins and it took most of her PCs two or even three hits to take them down. When reinforcement orcs showed up and cut off her escape, just as Mary the dwarf fighter went down from a combination of melee and missile attacks (poor Mary! It was always Mary), Megan’s mood soured and she called off the playtest.

But I’d seen enough anyways. Her PCs ended (not counting the orc battle) with rich rewards. Everyone was over halfway to second level after the goblin caves (plus ogre cave and some of the hobgoblin caves) were cleared. They had a party treasure pool of 950 gp, which they barely touched, as Megan planned to save up for more platemail armor, to upgrade the clerics. Platemail is incredibly expensive these days in the game. Heaven help the DM who's players choose to sell all the platemail they find and become obscenely rich!

The change in editions made no difference in regards to proficiences/skills – Megan was not interested in using them either way. Non-combat feats/themes did not interest her either. She used 4 out of 10 Magic-User spells (M-Us get 10 starting spells now instead of 1!!) and 4 out of 9 Cleric spells (9 between the two different clerics). She described the rules she ignored as “too complicated.” I can’t blame her. This is way too much for a starting player to be expected to understand. Earlier editions understood this and gave low-level PCs fewer starting abilities.
As mentioned before, she loved the guardian theme. She also loved the fighter’s slayer theme. That one – doing damage even if you missed – made no sense to me at all. She liked the lucky racial feature added to halflings. I liked it too because, instead of moving the halfling away from being Tolkeinesque, as has so often been done in succeeding editions of D&D, this ability is very much Tolkeinesque. She loved increased weapon damage – some weapons do twice as much damage now as they did in AD&D. All of these things she “loved to death”. I can understand the difficulty anyone writing a new edition of D&D faces, balancing the better understanding of game balance that older players have versus the infatuation with power inflation that new players are more likely to have.

Yes, I don't envy that at all...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rpol H&H Campaign - pt. 27

[Continued from here].

Captain Liberty was having trouble with the door, only pulling it off of one hinge before his injury flared up and mades him pause.

One of the three guards at the south end of the room fled back towards the front door when faced with a charging bear and a man who could rip doors half off their hinges. But the two bigger guards were tough-looking bruisers with crewcuts, scars, and big truncheons in their hands and they stood and waited to receive the charge. The Daoist was forced to pull back from his charge as they swung their clubs and concentrated on him. While the Daoist dodged one, he took a blow from the other and felt weak and dizzy from the hit.

From above, a shooter on the balcony takes a potshot at the Mountain Man and only puts a hole in a nearby pew.

Meanwhile, in the concealed room, Dr. McDermott continued to swing his cane around impotently. When the metal tip at the end hit metal, Silver Scorpion saw sparks fly. Then she saw an opening, turned her knife around, and used the pommel to pop the Doctor in the face. He went down and his sparking cane clattered to the floor beside him.

Also meanwhile, Agent Malefor pushed past the guard in the stairwell and descended to the basement level, with the sound of "Watch where you're going!" and a few words that would make a gentleman blush directed at his backside. Knowing the route to the prison cells awfully well, he made good time and had almost reached the cells already.

Also also meanwhile, Tommy finally managed to untangle his legs from the last of his bonds and was free to act.

Back in the secret room, Silver Scorpion snatched up Dr. McDermott's cane to keep as a trophy. Then she moved to the surrounding machinery and began flipping switches, turning dials, and throwing toggles randomly for a few seconds, hoping to create a bit of chaos. Finally, she pulled off the Doctor's lab coat and cut strips from it with her knife for binding and gagging.

Back in the nave of the temple, the Mountain Man hefted his hatchet, took aim, and threw it at the mobster above him on the balcony. The Daoist continued his assault on the mobsters, hoping that help would arrive for him soon, or that the bad guys would decide to flee rather than fight a wild beast.

Because of Silver Scorpion’s fiddling, the lights clicked on and off and spotlights from above turned on and started swiveling around the room. Out of nowhere, everyone heard the sounds of baritone men chanting, followed by a heavenly choir of sopranos, and then roosters clucking over them.

In this chaos, the Mountain Man almost gots the drop on the gunman at the balcony, but the mobster had jumped back just in time and the hatchet buried into the wooden balcony rail instead.

Two more men appeared at the balcony above.

Captain Liberty was about to pull the door off its last hinge when he noticed the light display about the room. Something about the flashing lights reminded him of the Man in the Black Cloak and made him hesitate.

In bear form still, the Daoist swiped at the two mobsters, hitting one of them but not hurting him too badly.

The mobster who dodged the Mountain Man's hatchet returned fire, this time spraying bullets down into the chapel despite the presence of his fallen comrade on the floor. The Mountain Man managed to dodge them at first, but one bullet winged him and left him with a pretty bad wound.

The Daoist found, to his dismay, that the bruisers in front of him had no qualms with taking on a bear with just clubs in their hands. Also unfortunately, they seemed to be winning, as one of them landed another solid blow. The Daoist saw the room spinning before he went down.

Worse, another mobster stepped out of the room they came from, where they had left Willy tied up.

Meanwhile, Agent Malefor has reached the guardroom down below. The guardroom was lit by a table lamp. No one was home, but on a table were some weapons, a rat mask, and a smelly, fur-lined wetsuit. Looking further, he found his bulletproof vest and automatic pistol in one of two footlockers. Agent Malefor picked up the bulletproof vest and put it on, before he grabbed the gun. He was still dressed in the guard’s clothes over his vest. Now it was time to go look around the cells for his comrades…

Also meanwhile, Tommy stood up and tried to decide what to do next.

Back in the chapel, the Mountain Man charged for the beams supporting the balcony on which the mobsters with guns were standing. He slammed his fists into it, hoping to bring it down.

In the secret room, Silver Scorpion was making mincemeat out of Dr. McDermott's lab coat when a black case fell out of one of his pockets. After Dr. McDermott was well trussed, she examined the black case, placing it on a flat surface and opening to determine its contents.

Capt. Liberty gave the door one last heave and tore it free. He rushed the three mobsters standing over the Daoist, who had resumed his true form, holding the door like a battering ram. "Foul traitors! What foul hearts you must have to betray law and order!" Captain Liberty shouted.

The Mountain Man started punching the wooden beam closest to him. Though it didn’t break through, it began to splinter with a loud crack.

"They've all got magic!" one of the guards who took down the Daoist cried as he looked around. Apparently, these observations were having a cumulative effect on the mobsters who had beaten down a man changed into a bear. When the twirling spotlights left in motion by Silver Scorpion momentarily blinded the two burliest guards at the south end of the chapel and they lost it. "Nooo! The rooster god must be angry!" the other one cried out.

"You've all lost your balls, ya bunch o' girls!" the mobster by them said with a drunken slur. "I'll show you how to deal with magic!" he exclaimed as he pulled out a pistol and took a shot at the charging Capt. Liberty, but did not come close to hitting.

The mobster on the west balcony kept his cool too and tried to spray bullets the Mountain Man's way, grazing him with one slug.

Meanwhile, Agent Rudy Malefor was distressed to learn that the four jail cells on the lower level were all empty. There was no sign of his two fellow G-Men. Resolved to do what he still could to help, he ran back down the hallways to the stairs and climbed them two at a time to return to the gallery. At the gallery, he ran into the mobster he had passed in the stairwell earlier, now just standing there. No, hiding there from the sounds of battle raging on the other side of the far door. Rudy could not stand the sight of such a cowardly, superstitious criminal and pistol whipped the man hard enough to take him down.

Also meanwhile, Tommy still had not decided what to do next.

Above, the Mountain Man wrecked on that support beam like a mountain landslide, plowed through it, and charged half-through the next beam over. The balcony above buckled, tipped, and sent the two mobsters atop it plunging over the railing onto the pews below. The pews broke under the impact and, apparently, so did the mobsters.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Comic Books from When We Were Born

I own the following comic books that were available for sale during the month I was born (obviously bought later, though):

Amazing Spider-Man #99 (reprint)
Invincible Iron Man #40 (reprint)
Mister Miracle #3 (reprint)

Owned, from the month Megan was born:

Amazing Spider-Man #312
Excaliber #5
Fantastic Four #323
Marvel Comics Presents #13
Marvel Masterworks Vol. 6
Mighty Thor #400
Power of the Atom #7
Punisher #16
Silver Surfer #20
Solo Avengers #15
Speedball #6
Starman #6
West Coast Avengers #41
X-Factor #37

And owned, from the month that Tyler was born:

Kurt Busiek's Astro City #21
Marvel: the Lost Generation #10
Millenium Edition: Young Romance 1
Superman & Batman: Generations TPB