Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Doing it Wrong

"You can't do it wrong" or "As long as you are having fun, you are playing it the right way"

These statements have been showing up a lot on the blogs I've been reading lately. It is a way of approaching the RPG in a hippy laid back way that I really like, however, I don't totally agree with these statements. I think you can "do it wrong" as a DM and as a player.

Before I get all preachy and contrarian, let me explain where I am coming from. I'm speaking from the experience of having whole games come to a death spiral over one bad ruling from the DM. Even the best DM's make mistakes - maybe it is how you handle a wish, or a fight between two players, maybe you become biased, or maybe you are actually too fair and you let them crash and burn without you intervening in real life and coaching them.

For example, the DM could really screw over the PC's on a single wish spell and end a long running campaign. Did the DM make the right move? Should he have worked with the PC's to aim smaller in their intentions with the wish spell to lessen the chances of backlash? Maybe the DM feels that he "taught the players a lesson" but then maybe he just lost his group and it will now break up because the players feel defeated.

I played in another DM's game where he just constantly gave us too much treasure. Every game we had turned into a Monty Haul style campaign. We never felt challenged and we never really liked playing in that game. He kept telling me he was only giving out the treasure that he had rolled up on the tables in the back of the DMG. So he was technically following the rules. Where he was screwing up was that he wasn't offering up the appropriate challenge to the players. All of his monsters just came out in the open, and attacked the party without any guile or use of tactics. So a party was able to walk all over monsters of much higher level than they should have been able to if he had made his goblins use bows and arrows and fire down at the party from a vantage point. If he used more random encounters in his dungeons the party would have been weaker from facing lots of monsters with very little treasure, before they encountered beasts in their treasure laden lairs.

Anyway, I think you can "do it wrong" and sometimes the ruling that seems like it would make for the most "fun" right now is not what leads to the most fun in the long run. Experienced DM's learn this over years doing it wrong and making mistakes... maybe the OSR should talk a little bit about what they have learned over their combined years of DM'ing about doing it wrong that would help novice DM's not have to make all the same mistakes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Werewolves of Sylaire

I threw down on the tabletop once more - X2 Castle Amber. The PC's have left the Castle, and have collected two of the objects needed to find Steven's extradimensional tomb in the twisted desert of Yondo. This latest adventure jumped off track of finding more objects, since the PC's decided to track down the lair of the magic using Werewolf lord and try to gain access to his spellbook. I dropped a couple of hints that they were going off the reservation, but they really wanted to, somewhat motivated by the fact that we were missing one of our gamers so they didn't want to finish the adventure without him.

Instead they tracked down and fought 13 werewolves! The amazing thing was that they killed almost 6 of the werewolves without taking any damage. They ended up on a rocky cliff and were able to use web spells to take the advantage away from the wolves and hedge them into a certain area. Lightning bolts, hold person, and light spells slammed into the ranks of werewolves. In the end the PC's killed all the werewolves except for the leader who ran off to live to fight another day.

They found a spell book that was 1/2 intact and then they met with the enchantress who helped them get back to Averoigne...

Next up for my PC's... finding the last two artifacts and landing at the shore of the malachite lake. Hopefully I can get the gaming group together one last time before my buddy moves to Georgia. Otherwise this story may never get told (unless we use skype).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Custom B/X DM's Screen

I made this custom DM's screen for B/X DnD for my castle amber game in december, I have used it now for 4 sessions and I really like it, it drastically reduces the amount of looking up I do in the books.

Starting off with a picture from the DM's side, I took 4x 8"x11" pages and taped them to the inside of the Castles and Crusades GM's screen. I never DM castles and crusades in person so I don't ever anticipate using that DM's screen for what it was intended and using it for BX allows me to use a screen with amazing art by Peter Bradley!

Now from left to right, what the heck did I paste on the inside of the board. I started with the saving throw sheets. Monsters typically state that they save as a "fighter 3" or a "magic user 10" so this page worked when I was rolling saves for monsters or when I was rolling a secret save for a PC.

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After that, I added the death and dismemberment table. This was only used about 4 times total - but it was fun showing it to the PC's once in a while to freak them out.

After that page was the variable weapon chart, the armor chart, and the ranged weapon ranges with modifiers table. This was nice to have in front of me. DM's who use the d6 damage for everything rule, would probably be able to replace this with the ranged weapon table and maybe the EXP for monsters table or the random treasure tables? I didn't have either of these at my finger tips but it wasn't necessary since I was running a pre-generated and populated module. I'm thinking about changing this page up and adding those tables since in the future if I do get a campaign up and running I will be running more "on the fly" encounters. I really didn't need the armor table and I could make the other tables smaller to make space.

The final page was the most used, it had the attack tables for PC's and Monsters - nuff said.

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And finally, here is a crappy phone photo of the awesome artwork by Bradley.

I was pretty darn happy with this DM's screen overall. I'd love to see something like this professionally done up, but my scotch taped version will work for me until that day ;)

Monday, July 11, 2011

BX Rules Questions: Spell Durations, Blindness, etc..

In my last game with my players (X2, Castle Amber, read my play reports, I had some good times) I had to make a record number of rulings. As a continuation of my last post of the topic, here are a couple more questions that came up during my game:

Question 4: Spell Durations - wow, I was pretty shocked by how high someone can levitate! This item is more of a statement than a question - I'm pretty sure I'm running this "by the book".

Levitate (check page B17), lasts for 6 turns + 1 turn/level. It states that a player can levitate 20'/round. I'm pretty sure that there are 60 rounds in a turn (1 round = 10 seconds, 6 rounds/minute, 10 minutes/turn, so 1 turn = 60 rounds!) so that means a spell caster can levitate 1200 feet per turn!!! So a 6th level spell caster can levitate a minimum of 7200 feet in the air (allowing enough time to descend slowly).

You could in fact go even higher if you calculated how high you could go, then allow free-fall at terminal velocity followed by using the levitate spell at the last few seconds to slow you down before striking the earth. I didn't do the math, but a 6th level caster could likely levitate 10,000 feet in the air.

In the castle Amber adventure, the PC's used this ability to find the ruins of Sylaire. The mage of the party used this spell to levitate about 1000 feet up, which I thought it was a good idea and allowed it, but in the back of my mind I was remarking that maybe I had something wrong with the rules because WOW! After the game was over, I went back and checked, and I think I was doing everything according to the rules as written.

Question 5: According to the basic rules blind characters cannot attack. If you don't believe me check out the description for the Light Spell on page B16. I overturned that rule as a DM and said I would allow players/monsters who have been blinded to attack at a -6 to -10 penalty depending on the circumstances. I didn't like saying "Blind Creatures cannot attack at all" - I think they should be able to hear their foe and make a horribly awkward attack. What do you think? Maybe we should ask this guy?

Friday, July 8, 2011

BX Rules Questions - Web Spells and Werewolves

I got to say, I've been running a PBEM Greyhawk game but 1 day playing the game on the tabletop really has me charged up! I think I might run my PBEM game to a close or hand DM duties over to one of my players. I want to focus more on getting a regular tabletop group together...

Well, back to the reason for the this post.


The web spell B18: range 10', duration of 48 turns, covers 10'x10'x10', and describes how you can break out of the web using fire, giant strength, etc... However, it doesn't explain what would happen if a spell caster decides to try and cast the spell directly on a group of enemies fighting the party. Do the opponents get a saving throw to get out of the effect of the spell?

House Ruling: I gave anybody in the area of the spell a saving throw vs. spells, modified by DX, to jump/run/slash their way out of the web area before it fully "sets". What would you do as a DM? did I get it wrong?


Werewolves - what are the rules on shapeshifting, how does the moon affect shapeshifting, what does the animal form look like?

House Ruling: I ruled that werewolves can shapeshift whenever they want between man and animal form, the animal form looks like a very large wolf with elongated arms that look more like claws/fingers than forepaws. I ruled that shapeshifting took 1 round to complete going in either direction. Also, during the night of a full moon werewolves shift into animal form for the entire night and will run rampant killing everything in sight and feasting on the flesh of their victims. Did I get this wrong? How would you change this for your campaign?


Can charm person and hold person affect a werewolf? In both of their descriptions they say that they affect bugbears, lizard men, etc.. which are pretty different than humans... Also, a werewolf is pretty much a human inflicted by a disease.

House Ruling: I decided that given the description that I had for werewolves (they can think in beast form, but the curse affects their alignment turning them chaotic and evil - basically into beasts in either form).... I would allow these spells to affect werewolves in either beast or man form. I could see good reasoning to only allow the spells to work against them in man form, but I gave the advantage to my players at least this time... What do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Castle Amber_Alternate Ending_Part 2

So you made it through Castle Amber, found all the artifacts in Averoigne needed to find the Tomb of Stephen, fought your way through the horrid deserts of Yondo. You are at the door of Stephens tomb starting at the black shield of sable, a phenix Or!

You open the door and head inside, only to find 12 sarcophogi which open up releasing 9 Mummies. Roll 9 savings throws vs. paralysis.... *insert the mad evil laughter of a DM as he watches his players one by one failing their saving throws*

Then I will have the mummies stride up and attack the party - gaining automatic initiative!

The party will face down 9 horrific foes, and then I have 4 rooms flanking the central hall that will begin to open up every 3 rounds releasing a small group of Magen guardians for Stephen's tomb! If this doesn't end in a TPK, the PC's will have proven their muster, and can enter Stephen's tomb and release him. He will use wishes to bring back any dead PC's and then whip them all back to Mystara and the adventure ends.... for now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Castle Amber - Alternate Ending - Part 1

I've spent a little time working out that alternate ending to X2. I really didn't like the ending that Moldvay put in there. It felt really rushed. It is a string of 7-8 rooms in a row with powerful creatures to kill, open door see Blue dragon (kill it), open next door find some sharks (kill them), etc... with little excitement, exploration, or thinking for the PC's.

So I'm going to add on a little more CAS flavored action to the adventure. Instead of plopping the PC's directly in front of the tomb of Stephen, I'm plopping them upon the shores of the green malachite salt lake from the "Abominations of Yondo" Story. They will be standing in a desert of ash colored sand with a swollen red sun hanging in the sky. Looking directly ahead across the massive lake they will see a lone building of white stone on the far shore of the lake, with a back drop of hemispherical astroid mountains.

They will have the choice of adventuring to the right side of the map (where they will encounter the inhabitants of the Crumbling Gardens of the Amputee's. I made this up in the spirit of ClarkAshton! Or they can explore to the left side of the map where there is a large forest of Evil Cacti. Either way the PC's choose the trip will be about 20 miles. I would start the PC's at about midday so that they will have to camp near either the Garden or the Forest of Cacti depending on the direction they choose.

The Amputees live in a beautiful garden of flowers and vegetables that stands on the crumbling ruins of a once beautiful palace! They "feed" the plants their own blood, and body parts to enhance their growth. These plants have also adapted to live on the green lake water. Many of the plants should be of the carnivorous variety, the DM should invent all sorts of interesting plants to attack the players with if they explore this area. This ancient palace was once full of treasure so feel free to drop the PC's a couple of interesting items or create a dungeon below the ruin if you think that would be fun.

On the other hand, the Forests of Evil Cacti is full of horrifying Ochre Jelly's, shades, and spectral riders! Come up with any number of horrifying images for the PC's, pop the top off your mind and go for it!!!! If the PC's attempt swimming or flying over the lake there are many evil Cthulthu-like squid creatures there so they better fly high over the lake!!! That would be the most direct method of getting there if they can just fly over the lake but it is several miles across so they better have a long duration spell power...

When the PC's finally reach the Tomb of Stephen, there will be a group of albino mutated beast men [treat as orcs]. I would say there should be 20-50 of them depending on the strength of the party. They are equipped with a combination of crude weapons (but maybe a few have firearms plucked from the dead fingers of victims pulled from more modern worlds) and will attack as a mob. If the PC's kill 50% of them, they will disperse and flee into the desert toward the mountains.

If the PC's defeat the albino beast men, they can move to Part 2 of the Alternate Ending (inside the tomb).

***This is a work of fan fiction for my own Dungeons and Dragons campaign. All use of Clark Ashton Smith's creations are to add flavor to this module which is being posted up here for free with no intent to publish any description or material from any of Smith's work beyond casual references made to "the abominations of Yondo", the "evil cacti", "the green lake", and "the inquisitors of Ong".****

pss... I would strongly suggest reading CAS Abominations of Yondo before running this alternate ending to X2.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Castle Amber... continued.

Around Christmas 2010 and the first of this year I ran a group of friends through the first 1/2 of Castle Amber. We had a great time and it took them two play session and ~12 hours of playing time to get through the keep and into Averoigne. My buddy called me earlier this week, told me he was back from Europe, and would like to throw down more of the adventure. I told him I was free Saturday morning and early afternoon, and would love to continue the adventure.

Well this morning at 6:08am, three drunk friends of mine pounded on my front door. Apparently, they had gone out for a few after dinner drinks last night, which turned into MANY after dinner drinks. They had partied the night away, and decided it would be better to stay up all night, forego sleep, and show up on my door as early as they thought they could get away with it without me just kicking them out.

I grabbed some coffee, the Basic and Expert rulebooks, my dice (enough for 4 players), the Castle Amber adventure module, my improvised BX DM screen, and we started roleplaying at 6:30am this morning.

It is now 5 hours later... and I am remarking about how much Castle Amber is a MEGA MODULE! Don't be fooled, this is not an adventure module, it is a tiny campaign. When we had last left off, the players had just entered Averoigne from Castle Amber. We reviewed the salient points and then we started. First off they found an Inn, met some locales, talked it up and found out that Ximes was ~180 miles south of where they were. They started the ~9 day journey to Ximes, ran into various encounters, and met an adventuring Bard on the road, and finally entered Ximes. The Bard had related to them that he once had learned a Song about a Castle Amber that had disappeared one night long ago after many of the inhabitants had been accused of witchcraft and conversing with the devil! The Bard told them that he thought that maybe Castle Amber had disappeared over 1000 years ago (the bard was exaggerating *insert evil GM chuckle*.)

They decided to start reading a Holy Bible that they had found in Castle Amber, they intially couldn't read it and the mage of the party had collected it thinking that it might be a powerful spellbook. Once transported into Averoigne I ruled that the magic had allowed them to communicate in French as if it were Thayatian common from Mystara. The clerics of the party scoured the book closely and determined important point - there was one supremely powerful god above all others, and he had ruled that magic use was outlawed. They kept all their spellpower undercover from that point on.

They went to the Church in Ximes, and found Azedarc preaching a long sermon in a Catholic church. They put together the pieces and determined that there must be something fishy going on. One of the elves used an invisibility spell to sneak into the back of the church until he ran into Azedarc's assassin. The assassin figured out what was going on and decided to deal with the PC's. The PC's met him at a tavern and there they traded him a scroll with three powerful spells for a potion of time travel. Little did they know that the time travel potion was actually poison mixed with a time travel potion.

They had massive quantities of gold, so they bought a massive wagon and a large wooden boat and traveled north to try and find Sylaire. They found the ruins of Sylaire by levitating amazingly high (I've got to check if I'm playing B/X spell durations correctly) and then finding the ruins from their arial vantage. They passed through the magical gate, and I ruled that they fell asleep.

They awoke to two of their company bound in ropes, and most of their weapons in the hands of a massive group of Neanderthals!!! This was a lot of fun, they had to think quickly on their feet (which isn't easy when you have had zero sleep, but I had never said I wasn't an evil DM!) and figure out how to get their people back. They fought the primitive men for several rounds when the sky began to darken. The Neanderthals saw the sky change and decided to run away.

Sephora of Sylaire stepped forward and apologized for the actions of the primitives. She explained that she was cursed (I was adding things here and there if you haven't guessed, mainly because I hadn't had time to read the module through and was just improvising on my feet). Anyway, I told the group that she was stuck in time at a point where lycanthropic chaos threatened to overwhelm these primitive men inflicting them all with the disease and changing the course of history forever. She needed their help in defeating a time traveling werewolf magic user and then she would give them the sword of Sylaire and return back to the dimension of Averoigne. I had also ruled earlier that in Averoigne clerics turning ability and spells were as a cleric of 3 levels lower due to distance from their deity whereas in Sylaire I allowed the clerics full use of their abilities since the plane was not ruled by our GOD. I explained that Sephora was powerful but she didn't want to risk herself in combat against the wolves since she was the last guardian of these primitive people (blah, blah, blah, lol).

Well, the guys agreed to face down this werewolf magic user. So I look down into the module and find very little description of how to handle the encounter. There is no map, no stats on how many other werewolves he might have created, or any information about his lair. I improvised a map of the area, showed approximately where the werewolf might be. The players ran afoul of several traps in the forest, and a small army of club weilding skeletons (I saw that the were wolf guy had the animate dead spell, and I figured that given enough time he would have raised a small army of undead to guard his lair). Finally, I figured that using wolf spies, he would have gained information about the PC's coming toward him. He took 5 of his most trusted werewolves, 15 normal wolves, and himself as a war party to head out and face the PC's exactly at dusk.

The PC's heard the wolves coming before they saw them - there were 7 PC's in the party total. 5 of the PC's made a circle with the mage in the center and waited. The thief and one of the elves went invisible and ran out into the forest to scout.

The wolves ran through the area occupied by the scouts, and then began running circles around the circle of PC's. The PC's cast everything they could think of for protection and then got ready to fight. The wolves attacked, web spells were cast, hold person, light spells on the eyes of werewolves, the magic using werewolf tried polymorphing the party mage unsuccessfully. Things got dicey for a couple of rounds, but the PC's were eventually able to win, killing off almost all of the wolves, all of the werewolves, and slaying the werewolf magic user with a single lightning bolt (he failed his saving throw)!

The party's fighter lost an arm (I'm using the table of death and dismemberment, which I have on my improvised B/X DM's screen), but everyone lived through the encounter. The PC's gained the sword of Sylaire, but they are planning to go back into the forest to find the lair of the werewolves, rout them all out, and try and find the spellbook of the magic using werewolf! There is absolutely no information about the lair in the Castle Amber module, but I'm thinking since the PC's are planning to wait 3d6 weeks for the fighter (Thorn) to heal up such that he is ready for battle (as well as he can with one arm) - I think one of the werewolves will have become the leader of the group, infected a mass of other primitives, such that now they will have a small contingent of werewolf neanderthals guarding the lair. I think the lair will be a structure made of timber built off the entrance of a natural cave. There will be plenty of traps, and wooden structures built to funnel the PC's down choke points and force them to do battle with the lycanthropes on their terms. A huge encounter from roughly 1 sentence of the module. This adventure can really turn into a campaign. I'm also thinking about what other protections and guards would a 10th level wizard have provided to keep his spellbook from harm (even from the other werewolves) while he headed out to go fight the PC's party.

I've been really generous with EXP for this game, so I gave them all 1500exp each (which brought one of the elves within 1700exp from leveling to LVL5. When this adventure finishes, it will end in a TPK or character retirement anyway, so I'm just playing things fast and loose.

I'm having a lot of fun with B/X D&D - I had to do a lot of house rulings for one adventure, maybe a record. I'll try to write down the things that came up and maybe post them up here for discussion (if anybody is still reading my blog).

My military buddy is going to be around for the next couple of weeks so we decided we will try to get together at least one more time before he heads back to wherever. I'm skeptical that they can finish the adventure in 4-6 hours if they get sidetracked trying to find the lair of the werewolf, so I will probably try to reason with them. However, if they decide to go that route, I already have a mental layout for the werewolf lair and what they might find on the way. Good times.

I came up with a mental plan for an alternate ending to the Castle Amber adventure involving the abominations of Yondo, and mummy guards, and half-men worshipers of the abominations, for the tomb of Stephen, so I'm going to have to spend at least an hour writing down some notes and sketching up some maps to flesh that part out in case the PC's make it to the end of the adventure...

If they do, I'll make sure to blog out a play report from how it went!