Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hyrulian Adventures: Alignment in Legend of Zelda

Alignment in the Legend of Zelda games is an interesting beast. There is clearly an old school D&D, Law vs Chaos thing going on, right?



But there’s more to it than that. When we look at the mythology of the world, it centers around the power of the Triforce, of which there are three (four?*) parts: Wisdom, Power, and Courage. Each of these parts is personified in Zelda, Ganon, and Link, respectively.

*That fourth part would be the upside-down triangle there in the middle. The Triforce of Shadow? Not going there in this post, but it’s worth mentioning.

So, we have alignment working along these three axes. We have a Triforce of Courage that needs reassembling, and then someone to wield it. Who should that be?

Obviously, the person who has been the most Courageous! This will mean a great deal more bookkeeping for myself, as I will need to keep track of the PCs actions every game and make judgment calls (quite frankly, more than I’m really comfortable doing, but I think it will be worth it in the end) on whether their actions have been Wise, Courageous, or Power-hungry. In the end, only one of them can raise the Triforce of Courage and fight Ganon. Of course, I’m not going to tell them I’m keeping track of this kind of thing.
Side-note: what happens if someone who is not pure of heart or truly courageous enough to wield it gets his or her hands on the Triforce of Courage? Something exciting I’m sure… Because I'm not going to just come out and tell them who is supposed to wield the Triforce of Courage! 

Right now, I have it set up with a kind-of points system. Basically, each character will get a point in the appropriate column whenever they do something in-game that is especially Wise, Courageous, or Power-Hungry. I wish there was a good way to make Wisdom, Power, and Courage each PC's stats, but I'm not sure how to make it work. They feel more like personality attributes than physical statistics to me, which is why I'm keeping them separate. I do have plans to use these scores in a couple of different ways down the line, which I'll explain when we get there (eventually). 

But also, what happens to the character who has been the most Wise?

Or the most Power-hungry?

Any ideas? Sound off in the comments below! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hyrulian Adventures: Session 1

I was a little stressed out leading up to getting started yesterday; I haven’t run a D&D game in several months, and running a game for the kids can always be a challenge. On top of that, I didn't have as much prepared as I would have liked, and knew I would be winging some of the session. We started with character generation. We had five characters fully done up within an hour and a half. Microlite characters are pretty straightforward, of course, and most of the time was taken up buying supplies.

I explained it in an earlier post, but I’ll recap here. PCs start basically as level-0 townsfolk with three stats: Strength, Dexterity, and Mind. Stats are calculated using 12d6, dropping the three lowest rolls, and assembling three scores with what remains and assigning as the player sees fit. Ability modifiers are calculated by taking the score, minus ten, and divided by 2, rounded down. They all get 12 HP plus a Strength bonus. They all rolled on my Character (Family) Background Generator, which gave us the children of a barber, a forester, a farmer, an arrowsmith, and explorers. There are no levels. Character improvement happens through acquiring items in-game, training with NPCs, and success with certain tasks in the field. I’m still ironing out some of the details, but I have plenty of time and some good ideas, I think.

Regardless, things got off to a start with some combat. I’ve learned that with the kids, they need some action to start things off. So I explained the situation, plopped down a battle map, and we got to rolling dice.
They nearly died.

It was fantastic.

So, having successfully fended off the bokoblin attack and defended their fellow villagers and the refugees, they set off to help the town by acquiring more weapons and armor. They upgraded their “weapons” (really just hunting tools) by having the town blacksmith do a little work on some of the swords that were dropped by the bokoblins from the attack in town.

They have a general map of the area (which belongs to the daughter of the explorers), and they were faced with a few options. First, Lon Lon Ranch is some five or six miles from Kakariko Village, and there was some concern if the ranch would be okay. Also, Ordon Village, some twenty miles to the south, could also be in need of assistance. Finally, there was an area on the map clearly marked “Ruins” to the Northwest (the remains of the original Hyrule Castle, perhaps…?). They eventually settled on heading to the Ranch.

A random encounter happened first. Currently, as it is always dark and Hyrule is crawling with monsters, I’m rolling for every mile travelled. I roll 2d6, and if either face pops up a 1, bam, random encounter. Snake Eyes would be the discovery of something fairly major.

They came across a ruined tower, though it still had a second floor at least. It also had a pair of bokoblins guarding the entrance. An ambush took the guards out and they set up to move in. My father-in-law directed their movements, and they made quick progress with good cover, and the encounter with another four or five bokoblins inside didn’t last very long.

They did, however, fail to investigate upstairs. Not sure why, as bokoblins were coming at them from upstairs, but I wasn’t about to remind them. The tower’s not going anywhere, and whatever was up there will still be there, right? Maybe? Who knows.

They made it the rest of the way to Lon Lon Ranch, where they met Malon and her father Talon. Malon is the twelve year old girl who really runs the Ranch, and Talon does what he can to help out. When they come up, she is armed with a shortbow and certainly not thrilled to have strangers, but is willing to let them stay the night in the barn if they help out repairing the ranch.

Oh, and there’s a cave nearby where all these monsters seem to keep coming from, and little Malon just hasn’t been able to get over there and clear it out. Could you guys investigate?

In they went. Numerous encounters with Deku Baba plants later (the little bastards kept popping back up out of the ground after they killed them, wonder why...) and they were face to face with some robed evil dudes creating bokoblins in some kind of foul ritual involving rupees. The robed guys went down fairly quickly, but not before one of them toasted our heroes pretty good with a fireball attack of some sort.

Of course, the two youngest adventurers took the bait of the evil-looking daggers dropped by the robed fellows. And as they were trying to leave the dungeon, fighting their way through the Deku Baba plants that had grown back, one of the plants grabbed the boy as he tried to stab it with said evil dagger and chewed him up good. The rest of the group took the plants out and hauled the boy out, but he would need a few days to recover, and that only with the aid of some famous Lon-Lon Milk. Needless to say, they’re not really sure what to do with those daggers now…

And that’s where we left things. The plan is for some of the adventurers to borrow horses from Lon-Lon Ranch, leaving the injured boy there for a few days while they head back to Kakariko to deliver some of the weapons they’ve acquired, and then head back to Lon-Lon and then down to Ordon Village. We’ll see how things go, of course.

Overall, a good first session for the campaign, I think. If there’s anything that’s going to kill the kids, though, it’s greed. They all suffer from “Gimme Gimme” syndrome; they all want the shiniest new thing to show up, and it’s always a competition amongst all of them to see who can get it. They were going after fallen rupees in the middle of combat. Seriously. It nearly killed a couple of them on a couple of occasions. Once that nonsense started, any thoughts of taking it easy on them vanished. Not that I was fudging any die rolls (everything gets rolled right out in front of God and everyone), but I certainly wasn’t going to bring my B-game as far as tactics with the monsters was concerned. After all, they had been warned before the game started that their characters were fragile and could easily be killed if they weren't careful...

The kids had a good time, though. There was certainly some frustrations from every seat at the table at some point, be it from a string of poor die rolls or lamenting bad decisions, but all their characters (barely) survived to see another session, so we’ll continue on!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hyrulian Adventures Begin

Hyrule has known peace for a thousand years at least, under the strong but caring leadership of the Royal Family.

All that changed last Thursday morning, when the earthquakes began. While rare, earthquakes are perfectly natural events, and certainly no cause for alarm. Until they continued. For three days. Much of Kakariko lay in ruins, only the sturdiest buildings surviving.

The next day, a boy, carrying a shield and a sword and wearing a green tunic, rode into town, and sought out the elder Sahasrahla. Within a couple hours, he was gone again. Apparently, he was the “Hero of Legend”, but you had never heard of this legend before.

Then the monsters came.

And then the darkness followed. The sun has not been seen in days. You can hear the howling of the monsters in the wilds.

A few hours ago, refugees arrived from Hyrule Castle Town. Hundreds of people, many of them injured, all of them terrified of what they had seen at the castle. Monsters had descended upon the town, undead rising up from the cobblestones, and the castle torn up from the very ground itself, and by some magic remains suspended there, transformed into a twisted, evil, Forbidden Fortress.

The refugees and other survivors have been gathered in the village temple. There are a few soldiers with them, and their primary concern is building up defenses for the village and its people. No one knows what has happened to the Royal Family. None of the survivors knows anything about the “Hero of Legend”. The Elder Sahasrahla pulls the five of you aside. He fears the worst; the Hero has fallen, and the Triforce of Courage is shattered and scattered across Hyrule. This evil, these monsters, can only come from someone wielding the Triforce of Power, and if what the refugees say is true, there is a good chance that someone has taken captive Princess Zelda, the bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom.

The Triforce of Courage must be recovered, reassembled, and wielded by someone pure of heart if there is any hope at all of returning the light to Hyrule! 

But first, Kakariko Village must be defended from attack...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Out of Hibernation and In Search of the Unknown!

Out of Hibernation and Into the Unknown!

It's been a good bit of time since we last checked in! This is due in part to a general lack of D&D-type gaming over the last few months, as our gaming focus has been primarily on Magic: the Gathering of late. 

However, the little gnolls have begun a journey In Search of the Unknown! A family friend, Jans, wanted to run a regular game of D&D for his ten-year-old (I think) daughter, which now includes my four minions and another of her friends. They are using the D&D Next playtest rules (the most recent one) for this adventure, and I'll probably have some thoughts on the playtest rules in a future post. 

My father-in-law and I stayed to watch events unfold and help keep the kids kind of on-track. The characters include a trio of elves (rogue, wizard, cleric), a pair of dwarves (cleric and fighter), and a human sorcerer. 

They made it to the Keep, and the silliness ensued in short order. The boys decided their dwarves would go over to the tavern, and the girls (the elves), whose characters were apparently abolitionists, promptly followed them, smacked them, and tried to take their ale away. 

Calmer heads prevailed, as Jans made it clear the local townsfolk were aghast at their behavior. I think sometimes my kids just have to cause drama with each other, as they all like to boss each other around. They also all like being the center of attention, and the younger ones especially will say and do silly things for that express purpose. 

Regardless, they did eventually make it to the dungeon. They didn't have too many problems with the monsters they encountered, and were doing fairly well at examining their surroundings and treading carefully...

Until they got to the room with all the various pools of liquid. By the time we called it a day, the dwarf fighter was fast asleep and unable to be awaken, the dwarf cleric was covered in neon green goo and completely intoxicated with the elf wizard and human sorcerer, the elf rogue was glowing blue and had a hand badly burned by acid, and the elf cleric was glowing orange, I believe. 

It may be a bit late to tell them how to use a ten-foot-pole...

Regardless, they all had a lot of fun, so I think this may be a once-a-month type of thing. It did light a bit of a fire under my butt to run some D&D again, though! If I work at it, we should be able to start Hyrulian Adventures in the next couple of weeks (possibly this weekend if I really bust my ass!). Hopefully I'll have some more material ready for that shortly. 

It's good to be back :)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Of Miracles and Soulbonds

So we had our little miracle of life occur on Tuesday, May 1st, at 6:46 pm Central time. Avery Timothy Linn Sullivan entered the world via c-section delivery, due to suspected (though non-existent) placental abruption. At 33 weeks gestation, he weighed five pounds, six ounces and was eighteen inches long. As I type this, he is still in the NICU, but doing better every day.

Being that early, his lungs weren't quite as developed as they ought to be, so his oxygen and CO2 levels were a bit off, and he still needs to get the hang of sucking milk, but he's making progress.

This is my second child, my wife's fifth, and the sixth child in our household. Hers, mine, and now ours. Three boys and three girls, so we're a regular geeky Brady Bunch. Both of my offspring have had to spend some time after birth in the NICU; this trip is significantly less stressful than the first. When my daughter was born two and a half years ago, her biological mother (not my beautiful amazing wife) was, unbeknownst to me, a junkie, and she was born addicted to heroin (the junkie tested positive for heroin, amphetamines, and PCP, the baby tested positive for heroin). Needless to say, I have full custody of the child. But that time in the NICU was awful, because we didn't know what was going on (the addict wasn't exactly forthcoming about her drug use), and as it was slowly figured out... well, it's a pretty awful feeling, seeing your baby go through that. All in all, it was a sixth-month process to ween her off of a regular oral liquid morphine dosage.

So, I guess if my first kid pulled through after dealing with that big mess of terrible, this kid has it easy! By the way, my daughter is doing great now. There are some concerns that she may fall somewhere on the mild end of the autistic spectrum, but she's incredibly bright and clever and I'm sure she's going to do just fine.

We haven't played D&D in months at this point. Once things normalize, and Mama and Avery come home from the hospital, we'll be in a better spot to continue the campaign. The kids and I have continued to play plenty of Magic: the Gathering, and if any of you keep current on Magic trends, you'll have noticed the title of this article is a bit trendy.

"Miracle" and "Soulbond" are the names of two new mechanics introduced in the most recent Magic expansion set, Avacyn Restored. I just thought it was quite appropriate that this new set would be released this week, just a few days after I've experienced a miracle and soulbonding of my own!

Avacyn Restored also marks the first time I attended an in-store pre-release event, on Saturday, April 28th. It was $25, and you got six packs from the new set to open up and use to build a "sealed deck" for the little tournament they had going on there. There were maybe twenty people playing at the shop I went to (the Fantasy Shop in Florissant, MO), and I brought my oldest daughter, Alex. She's 11, and was by far the youngest person there, but she had a blast and was making everyone laugh because she's damn witty. She likes Magic but hasn't gotten terribly into it (although she is more excited about it now, after having such a good time at the pre-release).

Personal side-note about Alex: She's the oldest, and she's been through a lot. She was old enough to really remember (and still has a lot of pain from) her mom and dad getting divorced, and the roller-coaster of moves and everything else that happened before I came along. While my wife's three younger kids took to me pretty quickly, she has been reluctant to really be able to trust that I'm actually going to stick around and be a real dad. Taking her (and only her) to this Magic event (that all the other kids would have loved to go to) really meant a lot to her and was an awesome little bonding experience, even though we didn't spend a lot of time together while there. Just the fact that I took her, and she was able to have fun and be herself and talk to all kinds of different people, meant the world to her.

Anyways, I really like "Limited" Magic. There's a lot to be said about a player's skill when they have to make the best of what they wind up with in the packs they open. Randomization is the great equalizer.

It's kinda like rolling your stats 3d6 in order, when you think about it. You gotta take what you get, and make the best character (deck) you can with what you've been given. Sometimes it makes a lot more sense to run a fighter (aggro deck) instead of a wizard (control deck) purely because of the roll of the dice (draw of the cards), even if you prefer one over the other.

In fact, I liked the idea of the "sealed deck" format so much I decided we'd explore it even further in-house here. Alex and I both kept our cards from the pre-release separate, and today, upon full release, I purchased 18 fresh booster packs, six each for Kanaan, Chloe, and Aiden to crack open and start building their deck for a little league play. Each of us will play each other twice (to start, we may keep it going for a while after we finish the first set of matches) (and I have a full schedule written up, due to OCD). Every time a player earns two match wins, they get a fresh booster pack to open and add to their collection to draw on for their sealed deck. I'm also going to make it interesting, by allowing the kids to "trade out" cards from their sealed pools to the general collection at a rate of two-to-one; for example, they can trade in two of their uncommons for a single uncommon from the household's general collection (Whenever we decide to end the league, all the cards they've opened up will wind up in the "general collection" anyway... Magic cards are pretty strictly supervised in this house, purely because of the terrifying amount of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards I find laying around the house all the time; I would have a come-apart if I found Magic cards under the sofa). Also, whenever they've earned a fresh booster pack, they can instead choose five commons and two uncommon cards from the general collection (so they have control, but get half the amount of cards and no rares, like they would from a booster pack). And finally, they can select a booster pack from any set currently on sale at the Florissant Fantasy Shop (which is pretty much limited to Innistrad, Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, and the 2012 Core Set).

So, all in all, it should be interesting. I'm really hoping I can help them build up some deck-building skills with this little league exercise, and also introduce them to the concept of the "metagame". I know "metagaming" is a bad word in D&D-speak, but in competitive Magic, it refers to the local "scene", i.e., what types of decks are likely to show up at any given constructed tournament, which ones are strongest, and, most importantly, how to build your deck to compete against those other ones. Often, it's as simple as knowing to sideboard certain cards against certain styles of deck. In this case, they'll get a taste of it because they'll be able to see every match (if they want to), so they'll be able to see each other's strategies as the season progresses and potentially make changes as they see fit (and have access to the cards they need!).

This has been a fairly lengthy post. If you made it this far, thanks! I'm not sure how much time I'll have moving forward to post D&D material, but as soon as we get a session in, you'll get a play-report. If anyone is interested in how our little in-house Limited Magic league progresses, leave a comment and I'll start posting about it as it happens!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Still Alive!

Whew, it's been a minute since last I had anything of value to say here, and that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon. My wife is quite pregnant and high-risk and has been in the hospital for the past two weeks. The baby's not due until early June, and we don't anticipate her being able to come home until little Avery arrives. This means I've jumped headfirst into the role of SuperDad for the five kids at home, getting them ready for school in the morning, getting the two-year-old to her babysitter each day; off to work and then back home, pick up the two-year-old, make sure kids are getting their homework done, cook dinner, shuttle one or several of them to whatever activity might be scheduled for that night, do laundry, clean the house, take care of yard work, pay bills, get the kids ready for the next day... and try to find some time in there to actually go visit my lovely wife in the hospital.

Needless to say, there hasn't been much time for gaming lately. I've been scratching my fantasy-gaming itch with some Magic: the Gathering (I try to sneak at least one game in per night with one of the kids before bedtime).

Hopefully, we'll get to play some D&D with the kids on Easter. That's gonna require me to get ready, but I bet I can wing it. We'll see. We've got a ton of board games and card games and such to fall back on if I'm not prepared by Sunday. I've got a lot of work to do around here and my brain is not currently functioning well on D&D levels due to everything else that has to run through it, so it's kind of a crap-shoot.

And that's all the news that's fit for digital ink!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I'm Tumbling Now

In an effort to keep A Pack of Gnolls focused on D&D and other RPGs, and not sully its good reputation with all that CCG silliness, I've started a little blog over on Tumblr that will be specifically about Magic: the Gathering.

You can follow me there at Mana Burns.

I'm regularly getting distracted by deck-building, but I am also still working on Hyrulian Adventures, more Microlite material, and more stuff from my kids' game to post as well.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sentimental Sunday

I was in a fairly nostalgic mood this morning, and started flipping through my recently acquired Palladium Games Heroes Unlimited 2nd Edition. I picked it up for super cheap, along with Ninjas and Superspies, at the Fantasy Shop's Used Gaming Auction in January. 

Looking through it, I am confronted with the same thoughts I have every time I look through a Megaversal book: how the crap did we ever figure this out, or run it, or have any fun with it? Maybe these books only make sense when you're in middle school and high school. I have so many issues with lots of the system, from skills to combat, SDC vs Hit Points, that I don't even know where to begin. 

I do remember having some completely ridiculous fun with the system though. Perhaps it had more to do with the company I was keeping than the game, though. We always went completely over the top with our Supers games. 

I used to have a nice little collection of Palladium stuff: Palladium Fantasy, Systems Failure, Nightbane, and a couple other Heroes/Rifts items. I put them in the Fantasy Shop's Used Gaming Auction a couple years ago and only got ten lousy bucks for all of it; I didn't think I'd ever use any of it. I'm still pretty sure I won't ever use it, but a Microlite-type Heroes game could be pretty fun, especially with my goofball kids. 

So I'll have to ponder some kind of conversion. Yeah, I think I've got a bad case of gamer ADD at the moment, but that's par for the course. Hey, at least I'm never bored! 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Gateway to D&D: Magic the Gathering

I've been working overtime through most of this week, including today, and along with a hectic schedule for the gnollpack, I haven't been able to make much progress on much of anything gaming related, but I have had some thoughts brewing. And hey, look at that, I didn't post for a week and just jumped up to over 100 followers here! Thanks people! 

To make up for lack of posting this week, here's a fairly rambling and long-winded one about Magic: the Gathering and D&D, with a little personal introspection to boot. 

I have been playing a little Magic: the Gathering every night lately, a couple games before bedtime with one of the minions. I find myself going further down the Magic rabbit hole these days. Don't worry, A Pack of Gnolls isn't going to morph into a Magic blog; I won't bore you with decklists or strategies or synergies here. 

However, Magic served as my gateway to fantasy gaming. Sure, I'd been playing Star Wars D6 and Palladium's Heroes Unlimited and Robotech with my buddies, but when Padre showed us Magic, my imagination really came alive. The old Dragonquest RPG was introduced to our little group soon after, and we were all hooked. 

I find Magic to be a loving homage to D&D. It is clearly drawing a lot of inspiration from its D&D roots, even to this day. There are dwarves and orcs, goblins and paladins, rogues and knights, devils, demons, skeletons, zombies, necromancers, fireballs, druids... The list goes on. If it appeared in D&D, more than likely it shows up in Magic, too. I've written about this before, but the current expansion, Innistrad, is quite clearly an homage to Ravenloft; its full of vampires and werewolves and zombies and ghosts, and is all about humanity on the brink of destruction at the hands of merciless undead and demonic overlords. And it's a lot of fun to play. A lot of the cards are awesome plays on horror tropes; one of my favorites, purely for its creepiness factor, is Village Cannibals. 

Magic was my gateway to fantasy gaming, so it will always have a place in my heart. I didn't play it for a long time; my original collection contains cards from 1994-1998. I only recently started picking up Magic cards again, when my in-laws gave the minions each a starter deck from the recent New Phyrexia and Innistrad sets. That's a good twelve years! The more I've played with the kids, the more I've gotten into it, and I started picking up boosters, deck-builder kits (220 or so cards for $20!), and Fat Packs. Now we've got a halfway decent collection going. Each of the kids has their own deck, and there are a few others I've put together that they all play with. What's really important is that we're all spending good quality time together. The kids are all pretty sharp and have challenged me on several occasions with their decks. 

I'm not a great Magic player; I'm about as good at Magic as I am at video games. I can do pretty well, but not great. I'm never going to be a pro Magic player; I'm not going to shell out ten or twenty bucks for a single card to perfect a deck. I love opening booster packs, and I'm really liking booster draft-type games. 

What's really ironic is that the things that I love about Magic are basically the same things that drove me away from 4E D&D. Character Generation for 4E is incredibly similar to building a Magic deck. You choose your role and power source, you find synergies within the various available options, and you put it all together in one package. I got sick of all that with 4E, but I'll happily spend hours doing the exact same thing for Magic, looking over the cards in our collection, finding synergies and combos and marveling at the art. 

It's weird, I know. There's just something viscerally satisfying about handling the cards. The same activity in 4E is a major chore on the computer screen with the Character Builder, and even more so with a hand-written sheet with the books open! 

Anyways, I know a lot of grognards out there can't stand Wizards of the Coast for what they've done with the modern incarnations of the D&D brand, and with the way they've treated their D&D customers through the years. I find myself in a funny position here. I thoroughly enjoy Magic, and I thoroughly enjoy old-school D&D. So I'm a bit of a contradiction in terms here, as far as my gaming is concerned. 

Actually, now that I think about it, that's how I've been my whole life. I was a gifted athlete who played at the top local levels in my chosen sports, but eschewed jock culture for sci-fi and fantasy geekiness. I was a liberal working-class kid who went to high school with a bunch of upper-class conservatives. Now I'm a union construction worker, and the people I work with all have hobbies that primarily include either firearms or automobiles, while I'm playing D&D and Magic with my kids. 

Yeah, I never made much sense to me either. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kids' Campaign: Good ole-fashioned Dungeon Crawl

Today in my kids' campaign, they explored the caverns below the goblin caves. At the direction of Larry the Dwarf Cleric, they stayed to the right as they explored, coming across numerous forking passages. 

First up, a bunch of piercers fell off the ceiling, attacking them. Most of my attack rolls missed; I was rolling d20s out on the table for each player. The wizard, my 10-year-old son, insisted on rolling a d20 for himself, without realizing I was rolling attacks for the monsters. 

He rolled a natural 20. We spent the next five minutes as we both rolled low, him trying to knock the piercer off, and the piercer failing utterly to chew through the wizard's robes. He finally knocked it off with his staff and they avoided the rest of the piercers on the ceiling, and went into the next room, where they barely managed to avoid being caught in the filament-traps of a group of three cave fishers! This combat went quickly, although it seems the only time I roll criticals for monsters is when the wizard gets too close to combat and a monster snaps at him! 

They defeated the cave fishers and continued on, keeping ever to the right. The next foe they encountered was a big nasty roper. The roper snagged three of the heroes off the start with its tentacles, and started pulling them in, but they managed to make excellent attack rolls to slice through the tentacles and break free. They had to gang up on it, and nearly lost Snagger the Dwarf, but defeated the monstrosity and found the gems and platinum pieces in the roper's belly. 

They continued on around the map, and came to a maze-like series of passages. It wasn't long before they were attacked from two sides by some big subterranean lizards! And then a few rounds into the fight, two more joined the fray, led by their minotaur master! The fight was looking kind of grim when the minotaur showed up; the wizard dropped (lizard got a crit for 12), and Farmer George wasn't far behind. The minotaur circled around and charged the halfling thief, but rolled a two; I ruled the thief tumbled between the minotaur's legs and popped up behind it, granting her a backstab attack for extra damage. The two elves hit, with the first hit being a "ghetto crit" for maximum damage and the second elf scoring a natural 20! The 6+3 HD minotaur went down quick, and its pet lizards weren't far behind. 

After taking a few minutes to heal up, they continued on their path, ever to the right passageway, circling around the map. In the next chamber they encountered an Auromvorax! Since the book states that dwarves despise them, I gave each dwarf a roll to recognize the beast. Snagger made his roll, and knew that the monster literally eats gold for dinner. They started throwing gold pieces at it, enough to distract it for long enough to get by. 

This is when they started discovering the remains of a group of adventurers who hadn't survived the dungeon. They recovered a spellbook with high-level spells and a tube of scrolls containing several sheets worth of bad poetry. 

Having gone most of the way around the dungeon, they headed back up to the goblin lair and made camp for the night to rest up. Nothing attacked them in the night (the goblins had left, most being cowardly and having no desire to be around when the group opened the passageway down into the deadly caves). 

Further exploration the next morning revealed a hidden, ancient dwarven crypt. The dwarf cleric opened the passageway and down they went, finding a 1000-year-old internment containing several generations worth of urns and an altar, with a blessed dwarven warhammer floating above it. After saying a prayer to Moradin, the dwarf cleric took the warhammer. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Night Magic in Florissant, MO

I've never really been one to do a lot of gaming at gaming stores. I played the Neverwinter season of D&D encounters at the St. Charles Fantasy Shop, but that's the extent of it. Since I've gotten back into Magic: The Gathering, I started looking at going to a Friday Night Magic event at the same shop, but it's a bit of a drive and the atmosphere at those events can be pretty hyper-competitive. 

However, about a week ago, I was getting some Magic cards at my much more local Florissant Fantasy Shop, and the clerk asked if I'd be interested in playing Magic there on Saturday nights. I was a little apprehensive, but the Florissant shop is a lot more laid-back, so I decided tonight to give it a shot. It was the first night they've organized it, and the turn-out was slim, about seven people altogether, but it was definitely pretty chill. More of a meet-n-greet, let's hang out and play a few games of Magic type of night. 

I brought my ten-year old son along. He did pretty darn well, and the other guys there were awesome about playing with him. He pulled off a very surprise victory in a rather ridiculous, drag-out game at the end of the night. 

So, if you're in the Florissant, Missouri area and like Magic, and are interested in a laid-back environment to meet some gamers and throw some cards around, I highly recommend Saturday night Magic at the Florissant Fantasy Shop. It's on North Lindergh, about a mile north of I-270, next to the Schnucks. We're in the back from six til ten! 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hyrulian Adventures: Some Monsters

Hyrulian Monsters and other DM notes

Hyrule is not normally filled with monsters. The demons currently plaguing the countryside are not of this world. They are sorcerous creations sent to wreak havok and plunge Hyrule into chaos. The foul ritual that creates them uses some of Hyrule's essence, be it gems from the earth, other pieces of nature (Deku sticks and nuts, for example), or the strength of its peoples. Because they are not natural, when monsters are destroyed, they disappear, sometimes leaving behind rupees, a heart, or some other item. Rupees can be collected and spent later by PCs. Hearts, when found, must be used then to recover 1d4 hit points. If a PC grabs a heart while they have maximum hit points, they gain nothing. 

And some monsters: 

Bokoblins are vile little humanoid creatures, about four feet tall, with a toothy maw and green or blue skin. They typically carry crude spears or swords (1d8 damage) and are rarely encountered alone, typically marauding in a band of 3d4 of the creatures, with one Leader. They have a love of bloodshed and causing mayhem. Their weapons are shoddily made, and automatically break on a natural attack roll of 5 or less. Unarmed bokoblins attack with their clawed hands for 1d6 damage. 

Bokoblin: HD 1d8, AC 12, +1 attack, 1d8 (armed) or 1d6 (claws) damage, save 18 
2 in 6 chance of dropping either heart (1-3) or single rupee (4-6)

Bokoblin Leader: HD 1d8+2, AC 13, +1 attack, 1d8+1 damage (armed) or 1d6+1 (claws), save 17. Leaders carry better weapons (usually longsword, which only break on an attack roll of 1) and a wooden shield. Always drop either heart or a 5-rupee piece. 

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Moblins are big and mean. Eight feet tall with a pig-like face and furry red skin, these are elite soldiers. They are usually armed with a large morningstar (1d10 damage, STR 15 to wield) and armored (Banded mail, though it is too large for a PC to wear). 

Moblin: HD 3d8, AC 16, +3 attack, 1d10 damage, save 15. They always drop 2d6 5-rupee pieces and a single heart. 

Keese are dark winged rodents that are often found in dungeons. They have a wingspan of 1 foot and are more nuisance than threat. There is a fiery version as well. 

Keese: HD 1d4, AC 18, +4 attack, 1 damage, Save 20. 1 in 6 chance of dropping either single rupee or heart. 

Flaming Keese: HD 1d4, AC 18, +4 attack, 1 fire damage and victim must make Reflex save or take 1 additional fire damage next round; Save 20. 1 in 6 chance of dropping a single rupee or heart. 

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Deku Baba is a monstrous plant. It has a large, bulbous head that opens to reveal rows of sharp teeth. It is rooted in place by a five foot long stalk, but can attack anything that gets close enough. 

Deku Baba HD 2d8, AC 15, +3 attack, 1d6 damage, victim must make reflex save or be grabbed in Deku Baba's mouth. Deku Baba does 1d6 more damage each round until victim makes fortitude save to break out. Save 17. The Deku Baba's weak spot is its stalk, which has an AC of 18, but a blow with a bladed weapon automatically severs it from the ground, destroying it. Deku Baba grow back in 10 minutes unless root is dug out and burned. Always drops either Deku Stick or Deku Nuts. The root, when burned, leaves behind a single 10 rupee piece. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hyrulian Adventures: Character Generation

Character Generation

These rules are based on Microlite and as such are Open Game Content.

PCs are human and hail from either Kakariko Village or Hyrule Castle Town. 

Roll 3d6 in order to determine your PC's Strength, Dexterity, and Mind ability scores. You may switch one score with another. Ability modifiers are as follows: Score minus 10, divided by 2, round down. 

There are no classes, nor do PCs gain levels. PCs can use any weapon and wear any armor, as long as they meet the minimum Strength requirement. 

A PC's starting Hit Points equal their Strength score plus 1d8. 

Armor Class equals 10 + Dexterity modifier + Armor Bonus. 

There are three different attacks a PC can make: Melee, Ranged, and Magical. Add Strength modifier to Melee Attacks, Dexterity modifier to Ranged Attacks, and Mind modifier to Magical Attacks. PCs do not start with any Magical Attack they can perform, but there are items they can find in-game which will allow them to. 

There are three saving throws: Fortitude, Reflex, and Willpower. PCs begin with a +4 modifier to each saving throw, plus ability score modifiers: Strength modifier to Fortitude, Dexterity modifier to Reflex, and Mind modifier to Willpower. When a saving throw is called for, a PC must roll a d20 and add their appropriate saving throw bonus. A total of 20 or more means they saved. 

Players start with 3d6 times 3 rupees, and a backpack and small money bag. 

PCs can carry a number of items up to their Strength score, including weapons and armor. 

Now, obviously, because they have no levels or bonuses from their classes, these starting characters are not quite as strong as standard Microlite characters. That is the idea; they are basically 0-level mooks to start. If they survive their first foray into the monster-infested wilderness, it won't be long before they find items to grow stronger and more powerful. Dungeons are filled with these types of treasures; they also abound in secret, hidden places in the wilderness, and can be bestowed on a PC by an NPC. 

The PCs begin knowing very little about the world. They know the area they are from, and the locations of other human settlements and the major landmarks of Hyrule (Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, etc). They know that beastly monsters have been seen in the wilderness, that Hyrule Castle Town is overrun with monsters, and that Hyrule Castle itself has been transformed into an evil fortress. They know the world has gone dark. Visibility outside is approximately 50 feet. 

The few soldiers that escaped with the refugees from Hyrule Castle Town are tasked with the defense of Kakariko. They have begun the process of forging weapons and armor and training able-bodied men and women to defend the town. 

At the beginning of the game, heavy weapons and armor are not yet available for sale in Kakariko Village, and won't be until the town is armed for defense to the liking of the soldiers. This process will take one month, unless the PCs help by taking weapons from monsters and donating them to the town. For every five weapons the PCs donate, the town becomes one day closer to being properly armed. 

The following items for adventuring can be found at the General Store:

Lantern (holds 1 pint of oil, visibility 20 ft): 10 rupees
Oil: 5 rupees per pint (pint lasts 4 hours)
Torch (burns 1 hour, visibility 20 ft): 1 rupee
Waterskin: 3 rupees
Rope 50 ft: 5 rupees
Grappling Hook: 10 rupees
Ten-foot pole: 1 rupee
Backpack: 5 rupees
Small Money bag (holds 50 individual rupees): 5 rupees
Flint and Steel: 5 rupees
Tent: 5 rupees
(Bug-Catching) Net: 5 rupees (use DEX bonus to catch something in the Net)
Bottle: 10 rupees

Leather AC +2  10 rupees
Studded Leather AC +3  30 rupees
Wooden Shield  AC +1 (Min STR 13) 10 rupees

Hand axe 1d6  10 rupees
Hunting knife 1d4  5 rupees
Staff 1d4  5 rupees
Bow and arrows 1d6 (Min STR 13) 20 rupees
Sling 1d4 (Monster must make a saving throw or be dazed for a round if attack scores a Critical hit)

Hyrule Historia

It is apparently Zelda week here at the Pack of Gnolls. This post outlines a bit more of my design philosophy for Hyrulian Adventures. Later today I will post the promised Character Generation guidelines.

The Legend of Zelda video game series has continued on for more than 25 years. Personally, I've played most of the games, but have only actually conquered two: Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. When you get down to it, I'm just not all that great at video games. 

One thing about the Legend of Zelda series that I personally find simultaneously interesting and inane, is the long-term debate over the Zelda Timeline(s). If you thought D&D edition wars were bad, check out the debates that rage every time a new Zelda game is released and throws the various timeline theories into chaos with new information. 

In December 2011, Nintendo released a book called the Hyrule Historia, which purports to be an "official" timeline of the video game series. It was only published in Japanese, so I'm relying on this Zelda wiki article


to get the gist of it all. While there are a couple of inconsistencies, overall it makes sense, I suppose. As the publisher's "official" word on the subject, I guess we have to accept it, but I personally think it's a load of bull. Nintendo has consistently pursued gameplay first in game development, and handled storyline after the fact. Certainly, some titles reference events in other games, and some are obviously direct sequels to what came before. There was never a grand design for a timeline for the games. I wouldn't be surprised when the debate is renewed again after the next game is published, and numerous details throw the entire thing once again into question (unless of course they include, in the instruction manual, exactly when amongst all titles and branching timelines this next game falls). 

Personally, I prefer to think of the games as "but one of the legends of which people speak", as stated at the beginning of The Wind Waker. This is my design philosophy as I develop my Microlite-based Legend of Zelda RPG. 

Each individual Zelda game is but a different version of the Triforce story: evil Ganon seeks the power of the Triforce, and the Hero, Link, must undertake an adventure to defeat Ganon and save Hyrule. In this table-top game, the Hero of Legend is defeated and it is up to the people of Hyrule (the PCs) to stop Ganon. 

I will be drawing inspiration from many of the different video game titles as I develop my Hyrule for my players to explore. This rendition does not fall into any place within the canonical timelines. It is Hyrule, it is plagued by evil, and it must be saved. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hyrulian Adventures: Basic Premise

Hyrule has known an age of peace and prosperity. All this changes quickly, however. First came three days of earthquakes, which have altered the landscape dramatically. Next came sightings of monsters in the wilderness. People began talking of ancient legends, and then a young man in green appeared, the Hero of Legend. He spent a few hours in Kakariko Village and then disappeared into the wilderness. 

Three days later, the land of Hyrule was plunged into an unnatural darkness. The sun is yet to rise. Refugees from Hyrule Castle Town have arrived in Kakariko Village, telling stories of demons stalking the streets and the overnight change of the Castle itself into a terrifying fortress, and no one knows what is become of the Royal Family. 

The village sage fears the worst: Ganondorf has returned, seeking the ancient power of the Triforce, and the Hero of Legend has fallen. Legend says that if the Hero falls, the Triforce of Courage will be broken into nine pieces and scattered across the land. These pieces must be recovered before Ganon finds them! 

Hyrulian Adventures: Initial Thoughts

Translating the Legend of Zelda video games to a tabletop D&D RPG has, thus far, been an interesting thought experiment. There are numerous conventions within the video game series that strain credulity within a D&D context. Here are a couple examples I am contending with as I build "my" Hyrule. 

Artificial barriers in the maps. In the NES Legend of Zelda, bushes and rocks were often used to block Link's progress or separate parts of the map. Obviously, these types of barriers make little sense in D&D, as clever players can easily get around them. These include the common convention, ever since Link to the Past, of requiring certain items to open up new parts of the map, such as the mallet or the power bracelet. 

Bottles. Why are there only three or four bottles Link can use to carry things in, but endless supplies of ceramic jars to break? Why can't Link just buy a simple glass bottle in a store? 

Obviously, these things serve a certain purpose within the video games that are probably unnecessary in a table-top game. The trick is identifying which tropes exist purely as a limiting factor in-game, and twist them in such a way that they still serve a purpose in the table-top world and are fun and rewarding for the players to find. 

One of the coolest things about the original NES Legend of Zelda was that a clever player could get all the way to the final battle with Ganon without ever getting a sword. You weren't funnelled along from Dungeon A to B to C. You could go take on several different dungeons, right from the beginning, if you could find them. Very little was blocked off, in the sense that it required an item key of some sort to access. That alone speaks volumes about how much the original game relied on player exploration, skill and ingenuity. I don't want to force my players along a certain, predetermined path to get to the end. I want to give them a world to explore, secrets to uncover, problems to solve, and great rewards for doing so. 

Tomorrow: Character Generation

Friday: Monster theory and samples

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Zeldaspiration: Hyrulian Adventures

The Legend of Zelda video games have always served as great inspiration for me, and my wheels have really been turning lately. I've always wanted to be able to run adventures in Hyrule as a table-top RPG, but I always run into the same problem when I start working on it: the story is always focused on a single character. While this would be okay for one-on-one gaming, it's not really what I'm after. 

Instead, I want to capture the essence of what makes the gameplay fun and interesting and apply it to Microlite-type D&D. 

Puzzles, riddles, secrets: this is a huge part of what makes Zelda games fun, but obviously this aspect will be confined to adventure/dungeon/world design. I want to make this as old-school as possible. Characters won't be making any "search checks".

No levels. All growth in character power is by way of earned items. This is something I love about the games. It doesn't matter how many monsters you kill or rupees you collect, you've still got to earn the Master Sword by solving the riddles to find it. 

Sandbox. The first two Zelda titles on the NES featured big, wide-open sandboxes to explore. There were hidden secrets everywhere, it seemed. Some places were much more dangerous than others, and it was easy to get in over your head. 

I will basically be developing a sandbox setting and a set of Microlite-based rules to go hand-in-hand, specifically for running Hyrule-esque adventures with my kids. They are all in love with the Legend of Zelda video games, and table-top adventuring in this style with all of them should be tons of fun. 

This won't mean the end of our Night Below Underdark adventures on Sunday, however! That game will continue on Sundays. 

Zeldaspiration: Old School Zelda

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Very interesting article here about the Legend of Zelda series' evolution through the years.

What is really fascinating is how closely the Legend of Zelda's evolution as a video game mirrors the evolution of D&D, from the little brown books to 4E and Essentials. 
I actually had a whole post written up analyzing this, but I realized it was probably going to wind up baiting edition warriors and Zelda fanatics, and the last thing I want to deal with here is any kind of flame war. I had a lot of thoughts on it all, but I don't want to come off as demeaning any of the many editions of D&D; I own books from every edition and I find them all useful in running my Microlite games. 

Anyway, if you're interested, it's a fascinating read and I think offers some good advice for D&D game masters, especially those familiar with The Legend of Zelda. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday Game Day

We were short a player, so instead of playing D&D yesterday, we played a bunch of different games with my father-in-law. 

We played:

Magic: the Gathering. My nine-year-old son is getting better and better at this one. He's getting pretty good at finding synergies between cards and using them in-game, though I'd like to see him be more aggressive. He tends to build up a lot of creatures before launching any attacks. So far it's worked, but I'll have an answer for it soon. 

Munchkin. My gnome bard won it what turned out to be a nailbiter. I only won by calling in my doppleganger reinforcement. 

Poo, which is a very silly game about monkeys flinging their poo at each other. I got covered in poo very quickly and was out first. 

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is a deck-building game. The primary goal of the game is to collect the most "Honor", which is earned by defeating monsters and collecting certain cards. 

Quarriors is similar to deck-building games, but your "deck" is comprised of different dice that you then have to roll. 

Thunderstone is yet another deck-building game, with a very D&D type of theme to it. You can either buy stuff in town, weapons, characters, items, spells, or you can go fight one of three monsters waiting in the local dungeon. 

These deck-building games are pretty interesting. I wasn't too keen on them at first, but they've definitely grown on me the more I've played them. My oldest son has grokked them pretty well and tends to win. They don't require the massive time investment of Magic: the Gathering and deliver a fun competitive experience. I probably won't pick any up, as my father-in-law has an extensive library and we typically only play them when we go over there. We have been playing a lot of Magic at home, though, and I'm very much enjoying getting back into that whole thing. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Actual Play: Kids' Campaign: Cleaning Up Haranshire

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, they had just cleared the Bloodskull Orcs out of the caves and discovered a tunnel going down, where they met the Svirfneblin, the deep gnomes. 

They have also gained a couple of NPC party members: Snagged, a fourth level dwarf fighter, and Farmer George, a zero-level human who will eventually level up to a first level fighter. 

The Svirfneblin met them and gave them some more, though limited, information about what is happening in the Underdark. They know the dark dwarves have been taking magic-capable humanoids below, and they know that illithids are involved. 

The gnomes are not eager to trust surface dwelling adventurers. They are fearful that foolish adventurers might lead the dark dwarves or the mind flayers back to the gnomes, and wipe them out. To earn their trust, the party must help the gnomes out. Two tribes of trolls dwell nearby, who are constantly warring with each other; wiping out the trolls would greatly improve the gnomes' local security situation. 

The party recognized that large numbers of trolls may be a bit beyond their capabilities, despite their growing arsenal of magical items. The gnomes offered to lead them back to the surface to make preparations, with the caveat that they have about ten days before the dark dwarves will return and discover the slaughter of the orcs. 

The party returned topside. Snagger the Dwarf was eager to hunt down the bandits who kidnapped him. With the help of the ranger Kuiper, they tracked the bandits to the old abandoned Garlstone Mines. They made short work of the bandits there, including the evil priest leaders; they also finally got to take out Ranchefus, the escaped leader of the kidnappers from Broken Spire Keep.

This earned them a decent cache of magical weapons, items, and potions, as well as enough experience for the cleric, the magic-user, and one of the elf fighters to level up. 

With about a week left before their scheduled rendezvous with the Svirfneblin, they decided to go investigate the mystery of the New Mire. The New Mire, up until a couple years ago, wasn't called that. It was fertile, abundant farmland and forest. Something caused the area to become waterlogged, and no one knows what. "Blue Demons" have been spotted in the Mire, and the party quickly recognizes goblin tracks. 

They track the goblins to their lair, and discover they are, indeed, blue. Instead of slaying them outright (the goblins are quite cowardly, and have never harmed any local humans, though they have swiped some chickens and sheep), the cleric led negotiations, and they soon discovered the magic ring worn by the goblin shaman: a Ring of Water Elemental Control. They convinced him to give it up in a trade that was much to their advantage (the goblin was unaware of the ring's true power). 

Further interrogation of the shaman revealed that the goblin found the ring in the now sealed off caverns below their lair. The way can be opened, and the party is eager to see what else is below... 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Have a Dungeon

Whew, it's been a minute! Been busy getting life around the house straightened out. We're expecting a baby boy in June, which requires a good deal of moving the other children around in the house, painting rooms, and all sorts of other work. Work work work. Which has left me completely unable to keep up with blogging here at the ole Pack of Gnolls.

However, it seems most of the work is complete, and I have some more time now to produce some more material for this here blog. 

In the next couple of days, I'll post an update on how the Kids' Campaign is going. We've had two sessions since my last report, and they are about ready to start delving into the Underdark. However, next session will be an exploration of this cavern complex: 

If you're at all familiar with the AD&D 2E "Night Below" box set module, this cavern complex exists below the caves in which the "Goblins of the Ring" from Book 1, The Evils of Haranshire, reside. The PCs are about to explore these caverns, as this is where the goblin shaman found his malfunctioning Ring of Water Elemental Control, and they've been blocked off ever since, due to some big nasty monsters that lair down there. 

Now all I need is to figure out what goes where... 

In the upper middle part is an arrow, which is the passageway that leads up to the goblin lair. In the bottom right is a passageway that leads to further caverns below. I'm sure this cave system eventually winds up in the Underdark. The pit in area F probably goes down to a lower level as well. I probably could have ordered the letters for keying the damn thing a little better, but it's late, I've had a few beers, and I gave blood today, so I don't care. 

Feel free to use this map in your own game, or write up your own key for it. I don't care. I just put it on the internet, which means it's free for everyone. I would appreciate a comment below if you do use it, or post it somewhere else. 

PS: the baby's name will be Avery Linn Sullivan

Friday, January 20, 2012

AD&D Reprints

I have to say I am thrilled that WotC is offering a limited-run reprint of the AD&D core rulebooks. I've got my set already reserved at the Fantasy Shop. Those guys are great. 

While I did manage to snag the AD&D Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, and Fiend Folio at their Used Gaming Auction last weekend, I was outbid for the Players Handbook and DM Guide. I'm definitely looking forward to getting brand spanking new copies of these core books. 

What does this mean for the OSR? I'm not sure. I think a lot of these copies will be snatched up quickly by folks already involved in old-school gaming. The price point is too high to lure in new players, and I don't think they'll be sitting on the shelves for very long at all. Perhaps all the talk of a new edition will sell some of these to folks who haven't played since the 80s, but who knows? 

I hope they sell out quick. I hope WotC makes a bunch of money to share with the Gygax Memorial Fund. If WotC comes out ahead on this one, I bet we'll see more of the old material re-released pretty quickly. Hey, if there's a market for it (and the fact that the OSR exists is proof of that), some penny-pincher at Hasbro will figure out a way to make some money off all those old files taking up space on their hard drives. The market for these books is certainly driven by more than nostalgia. These are products that will see use at a lot of game tables. 

My money's on a big fat Ravenloft book next. A hardbound reprint of several of those modules would move quickly. I'd plop down $50 or $60 in a heartbeat. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

D&D Wizard Spell-Learning Times Through the Editions

As a follow-up to Tuesday's post on Magic-Users learning higher-level spells, it occurred to me that there are no guidelines in M74 Extended for how long it takes a Magic-User to learn new spells. So far in our game, it's been handwaved that a few 1st level spells can be learned in about a day of study. Now that we're getting a little higher in level, it bears researching the precedent in the game. 

And it gives me an excuse to flip through my newly-acquired B/X booklets! (Like I really needed an excuse...)

My 1980 Moldvay Basic book had very little to say concerning the learning of new spells, other than the fact that on gaining a level, a magic-user or elf gains an extra spell in their spellbook. 

Cook's 1981 Expert Book goes a little deeper, saying that "when player characters gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters and be out of play for one 'game-week' while they are learning their new spells." Interesting. At low levels this is one spell, and after sixth level elves and magic-users get two spells per level.

The Mentzer Companions didn't give me a whole lot to work with in addition to what was already offered, though I did find it quite entertaining that a wizard, after attaining name-level and either building or seizing a tower, is generally expected to build a dungeon nearby, and that monsters would move into the dungeon, and furthermore, adventurers would show up to take the monsters' treasure! 

Anyway, I'm going to jump ahead to AD&D 2E (Revised), because that's the next edition of Players' Handbook I have available. There is no mention here of a length of time to learn a new spell. What is interesting, however, is the Intelligence table. It offers several important bits of information for spellcasters, primarily the maximum level of spell they can learn and cast, their chance to learn any given spell they come across, the maximum number of spells they can know per level, and, with superhuman intelligence, what level of Illusion spell they are immune to. 

Now, this next observation may sound a bit rules-lawyerly, but nowhere in the Players Handbook does it say that a magic-user must be able to cast a spell to be able to learn it. Maybe it's supposed to be obvious, I don't know. But it seems to me, with the rules as written, that a 2E magic-user could find some high level spells and learn them (if she made her "chance to learn spell" roll) well before she was actually able to cast them. Which is just a bit odd to me. I definitely don't like the static "chance to learn spell" percentage roll, which is supposed to be for any spell of any level. Wouldn't a high level wizard have a pretty easy time learning a low-level spell? 

Now, in the 2E Revised DM Guide, it gives a guideline of 2 weeks per spell level for researching new spells, which is quite different from learning an existing spell, which is given on p. 62. "The standard amount of time required to prepare a spell book is one to two days of work per spell level of the spell being entered."

Excellent. That's actually useful. That information probably should have been in the Player's Handbook, but at least I found it! 

On to 3E. "The process (of copying a spell into a spellbook) requires 1 day plus 1 additional day per spell level". This information was in the Player's Handbook, and remarkably easy to find. 

Easy enough. Similar to the 2E. 

And 4th Edition, just for grins. Spells are split between "powers" and "rituals". Wizards automatically gain both powers and rituals as they level up, without needing to find the spells or be taught them. If a 4E wizard wants another ritual beyond what is already handed to him, he can buy it or find it and copy it into his spellbook. This process takes 8 hours for rituals level 1-10, 16 hours for rituals level 11-20, and 24 hours for rituals level 21-30. 

Now that's a radical departure if I ever I saw one. 

So, what does this mean for our fledgling Microlite74 wizard who just found a mysterious spellbook in a treasure trove? I think we'll ignore Type IV's severely shortened timeframes and go with what was established before. So, here's my houserule for Microlite74 wizards learning new spells. 

If the spell is of a level the magic-user would normally be able to cast, she can learn it without a problem. This takes one day per spell level. This time is halved if the magic-user has a higher-level instructor. 

If the spell is of a higher level than the magic-user would normally be able to cast, she can attempt to learn it at the risk of misfiring it (see previous post). This takes two days per spell level. This time is halved if the magic-user has a higher-level instructor. 

Higher-level magic users will typically request payment of about 100 gold pieces per level of the spell being taught. This is completely up to the DM. Some magic-users have been known to ask for favors, for certain tasks to be completed, of for rare alchemical reagents, either in lieu of or in addition to the gold payment. Most magic-users will be reluctant to teach spells that are a higher level than they believe the student can handle, as the risk of misfire or backfire is often not worth it. The price, in this case, should rise significantly. In this case, some clever teachers will ask for a favor first, often in the form of some dangerous task that could give the student enough experience to rise to the proper level to cast the spell. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Can a Magic-User Learn Higher-Level Spells? Sure!

I hate to tell players "no" when they want to try something, and here's a common example. The heroes uncover a treasure trove and inside is a book of magic spells. Upon studying it, the wizard discovers it contains a few spells he already knows, a few he can understand and learn, and a few that are technically a higher level than he can cast. 

Can't he try to learn them anyway, and have a chance at figuring them out? Why, sure he can! Here's a simple system to let your Microlite74 magic-user learn and cast spells of a higher level. 

Learning a higher level spell: DC=10+level of spell times 2 
Magic user rolls d20+level+Mind Bonus

Results greater than or equal to the DC means he has learned the spell and can now cast it. However, until he gains a high enough level to normally be able to cast the spell, it costs twice as many hit points to cast.

Results less than the DC means he cannot learn this spell until he has gained the proper level. 

Results of five less than the DC means the spell backfires while he is attempting to learn it (use your favorite backfire/misfire table).

Results of ten less than the DC means the spell backfires catastrophically while he is attempting to learn it (use your favorite backfire/misfire table and the magic-user is unable to cast any spells for a number of days equal to the DC). 

Rolling a 1 is an automatic catastrophic failure. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Kids' Campaign: Assault on the Bloodskull Orcs

My Microlite kids' campaign continued apace on Sunday. They have been exploring some underground tunnels in Haranshire, searching for the dark dwarves who are part of the kidnappings that have been occuring. The dwarves are taking people kidnapped by bandits and orcs down, presumably into the Underdark, for purposes unknown but probably nefarious. 

They started by recanvassing Broken Spire Keep, and this time managed to break into the old treasury, claiming a significant haul of gold and a new spellbook for the wizard. Then they went back down into the caves. 

It took them a day and a half of exploration, including a run-in with a pair of cave bears (they ran away) and some giant rats led by a pair of wererats (they stayed and fought) before they turned down the passage that led to the lair of the Bloodskull Orcs. They encountered a Bloodskull patrol, which they dispatched with ease and took one hostage via Charm Person, who led them to the huge, thick gates barring entrance to the clan's lair. The heroes had a key for one door, but not the other. Fortunately, they had the orc, who knew the secret knock to gain entrance. They sent him in with orders to get the boss to come out. The boss came out a while later, with his bodyguards of course: the orc shaman of Gruumsh, a seven-foot tall orog, a pair of cave lizards, the charmed orc, and an extra archer. 

This fight definitely went the orcs' way first. The shaman Cursed the heroes first, and the heroes couldn't seem to penetrate the orog's armor or land any blows on the big lizards. Then, with dwindling hit points, in one round the tide turned; first a lizard was dropped and then the fighter landed a decent blow on the orog, which was followed by a critical hit by the halfling rogue using her Vicious shortsword, which dropped the orog, and the other lizard fell right after that. 

The boss ran back into the lair, but the shaman wasn't fast enough. He was cut down quickly, and the heroes made it inside before the gates could be shut, killed the orcs trying to shut the gate, and set up around a corner from the main force of orcs. 

The next half-hour was pretty tense, as both sides waited to ambush the other should they be foolish enough to come around the corner in a bottleneck hallway. This is when the party remembered they had some unidentified potions tucked away in their bag of holding. 

One of the magic items I gave the party a while back was a pocketwatch. Once per day, one person can use it to gain an extra hour of time to do something; it's cursed though, and takes that hour off the end of your natural life. So the wizard used an hour to Identify the potions, which turned out to be a Potion of Extra Healing and, rolled randomly, a Potion of Superheroism! He also learned a bit about the fishy-smelling potions they'd been finding; they make the imbiber much more susceptible to charm and control magic. Weird, huh? 

The new potions gave them the edge they needed. They wizard and the rogue drank the Extra-Healing Potion, and the elf fighter drank the Superhero Potion, which knocked her up to seventh level and granted an extra 25 temporary hit points! Both elf fighters then drank what remained of their Invisibility Potion and snuck through the waiting orcs to take up positions behind them. The rogue and the wizard drank what remained of the Potion of Flight, and flew in and started shooting from above while the cleric stepped out and cast Darkness on the rear formation of orc archers. 

It was a slaughter. The battle lasted four short rounds. 

They let the women and children orcs leave-quickly-and freede a couple of prisoners, including Snagger, a first level dwarf fighter who desires to join the party to rescue the kidnapped people taken into the Underdark. He also gave the party an important bit of information: only magic-users and clerics have been taken below by the dark dwarves. Furthermore, he had talked to the apprentice wizard Jenna, whom the party is searching for, and knows she is still alive and was taken below by the dwarves just a few days ago. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A little ridiculous

For a grand total of $109, I made the following steal at the Fantasy Shop's Used Gaming Auction. 

1981 Basic and Expert D&D Books
B2 Keep on the Borderlands
X1 Isle of Dread
1984 Mentzer Player and DM Companions
AD&D: Fiend Folio, Monster Manual, Monster Manual 2, Oriental Adventures, Dragonlance Adventures
AD&D 2E: Players Option Skills and Powers, Players Handbook, Complete Thief's Handbook, Complete Book of Humanoids, Arms and Equipment Guide, Players Guide to Dragonlance, Dragonlance Adventure: Dragon Keep, Dragonlance Adventure: Wild Elves, Dragonlance Accessory: Time of the Dragon, Castles Box Set (with fold out castle, wtf?), Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar box
3.x D&D: Players Handbook, DM Guide, Monster Manual (all three for $4!), DM Screen, Pool of Radiance: Attack on Myth Drannor (came with B/X/B2, weird I know),AEG's "Magic", Bastion Press' "Friends and Familiars", Encyclopedia Arcane Crossbreeding and Familiars
Dragon Magazines: 169, 200(!), 233, 302-4, 306-8, 311-15, 351
AD&D 2E Monstrous Compendium Volumes 1 & 2, the binders, including appendices from Kara-Tur, Spelljammer, Outer Planes, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Greyhawk Adventures
Role Aids Adventures: Wizard's Betrayal and Clockwork Mage
Oh, and Heroes Unlimited and Ninjas & Superspies, because why not?

Used Gaming Auction!

So, I'm sitting at my FLGS, the Fantasy Shop in St. Charles, MO, waiting for their twice-annual Used Gaming Auction to begin. I've taken a stroll through the boxes of what's being offered, and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to bid on. 

For Christmas this year, my in-laws gave me a gift certificate worth $100 to the Fantasy Shop, and it can be used at the auction. Last year, I put in a stack of Palladium RPG books and only got about $10 for them all. It'll be interesting to see how much things are going for today. I've seen a few lots of AD&D material, from "Complete Book of..." splatbooks to older Dragon magazines, some modules mixed in, a Fiend Folio, Monstrous Compendiums... Definitely several tasty books to be had. 

I'll have a post up this evening to detail my winnings! 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Microlite Doesn't Suck

Seems like everyone in the OSR is debating whether or not 1st level characters in D&D "suck", and I have a few things to say about that. 

Heroes ought to be just a cut above the average joe to start out. The necessary resolve it requires in a person to have the guts or be crazy enough to risk their life on a daily basis fighting monsters and braving trap-filled dungeons simply necessitates it. The ability to swing a sword well, pick a trapped lock, or even cast simple magic spells automatically places the people who can do these things a cut above the rest of the general population of smithies, farmers, and merchants. 

First-level characters do not suck. They aren't awesome enough to face down the Balrog yet, or cleave an orc cleanly in two, but they'll get there if they're lucky and smart. 

This is one of the reasons I'm enjoying Microlite so much. PC's aren't easy to kill unless they do something really stupid. At first level they can stand up to several encounters before resting, but the threat of death is still there if they're not careful or smart. They can handle a mess of goblins and with good teamwork overcome tougher monsters as well. Saving throws are still hard to make, but not overwhelmingly so. My kids have never felt like they "sucked", even when they have to run away. Maybe that has more to do with their complete lack of experience playing at higher levels, but I think it's also built into the system at-large. In a word, it works. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

D&D hits the New York Times

It's not everyday you see an article about Dungeons and Dragons in the New York Times. I can't be sure, but the game probably hasn't been mentioned in the papers since E. Gary Gygax passed away. Still, such an article bears mentioning.

Wizards of the Coast is expected to make a big announcement about plans for the next edition of our favorite past-time today. Player input into rules and an open playtest seem to be a big part of what's expected from the announcement. So basically they'll be doing what Paizo's been doing for years.

And really, it's what the folks in the OSR have been doing forever. Constantly play-testing their own rules, mixing and matching ideas from each other on how to best run the game for their own individual table. That is a huge part of what makes the game unique, and that's something WotC is going to have to understand to succeed with a new edition.

It was very nice to see a small nod to the OSR in the article, in the form of a quote from the writer of Adventurer Conquerer King, even if there was no mention of the huge community of bloggers out here who have been doing exactly what WotC is purportedly going to attempt with the new edition.

I have always felt that the splat-book drive that started with Type-II was not just TSR trying to make money off a slew of newer and newer option books. They wouldn't have pushed all that if there wasn't a large chunk of the player base consistently clamoring for more and more options for their games.

So if options are what we want, and often those options seem contradictory in nature, how will WotC square it all with the next edition? It's hard to tell. I will definitely be signing up for the playtest though, just to see the initial direction they take with it. I expect a significant departure from the Type-IV ruleset, particularly hit-point bloat and hour-long set piece combats. But they can't just publish what would amount to an "official" retroclone of the original rules. I would like to see a D&D game that takes what works well from each system and blends them into something easy to learn and easy to run, with lots of great ideas for adventure and world-building, and plenty of crunchy options that are really "optional" and fit into the game system without breaking it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kids' Campaign: Broken Spire Keep

Today, we gathered once again for my Kids' Campaign using the Microlite74 Extended ruleset, working our way into the Night Below boxed set module. 

This session found the heroes preparing to assault Broken Spire Keep. As they were scouting out the Keep, a small group of orcs was spotted returning to the Keep, carrying two kidnapped prisoners. (We're doing a trimmed-down version of the first book of the adventure, which basically places the Bloodskull orcs at Broken Spire)

They quickly took out the orcs and saved the hostages, both of whom smelled, literally, quite "fishy", and seemed pretty dazed. They were left with Oleanne the Druid while the party made its way across a trap-filled clearing to the front door of the Keep, wearing some of the armor and cloaks taken off the orcs.

The wizard charmed the orc at the gate, who let them in. They asked the orc to take them to where the prisoners go, which he did. That path went through the dining hall, where a number of orcs and human bandits were gathered, and a fight quickly ensued, and it didn't last long, in spite of some of the bad guys having levels in fighter or thief. 

They continued on down to the dungeon level. It took them a while to find the secret door that led to the Big Boss' chambers, and they did only after investigating the rest of the dungeon. 

The fight with the Big Boss and his zombie minions went well. The zombies all got raised once but were quickly dropped again. The Boss was down to 1 hit point when he flew away. I gave two pursuing PCs three chances to hit him with ranged weapons before he escaped. They didn't hit him. There were also a couple of dark dwarves that popped in from the connecting room, but a quick Web spell blocked their path into the room and they retreated. 

With an unconscious cleric, they barricaded themselves in the Big Boss' chambers for the night and rested. They uncovered some more of the "fishy" smelling potions, and a whole lot of gold (although they didn't get into the secret treasure room down the hall!) from the Big Boss' bedroom, and then discovered the secret door leading down into a cave system, presumably where the dark dwarves had gone. They decided to go down into the caves. 

The caves went on for miles! They encountered a group of fire beetles, which they distracted with some food and bypassed, and then a goblin tribe, which quickly surrendered after four of its number was slain in the first round. They tied the goblins up and left them there and discovered an exit to the surface, which led them back to the Thornwood. They made their way back to the Keep, wondering about Oleanne the Druid and the two rescued kidnapping victims, and set up camp. They did not find Oleanne or the rescued victims. The next day they went back into the Keep and found that the orcs had abandoned it. Very little of the treasure they had missed on their first trip through remained. 

Next time, they head back into the cave system below Haranshire. 

All in all, they got a lot accomplished for five hours of play. They are all getting better at working their way quickly through combat encounters and are seeming to enjoy more of the exploration aspect of the game. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Boon Cards

Here is a PDF of 9 Boon cards you can hand out to your players during your D&D game. What the hell am I talking about?

Boons won't break the game. They are just little extra bonuses you can hand out to your players when they do something awesome. Say they make a hard choice based on their alignment, for example. Or get a critical hit at a critical time.Or any other awesome thing players do. Players like little rewards like these.

The boons I came up with are as follows:

Action Point: Take an extra action
Bring the Pain: +1 to damage on your next attack
Close Call: Gain 1 Experience Point (note: this is peculiar to Microlite, which uses a 1HD=1XP system; use an XP bonus appropriate to your particular system)
Dodge: +1 to AC for 1 round
Guided Strike: +1 to hit on your next attack
Second Wind: regain 1d6 Hit Points
Stroke of Luck: +1 to any roll
That Was Close: +1 to any saving throw
Try Again: reroll any die roll. You must take the second roll

I haven't tried these out yet, but I'll be testing them in my Kids' Game. I have not yet decided how often to hand them out. My original thought was that it would be something cool to hand out in lieu of treasure, when they defeated a monster that didn't have anything precious to leave behind. Especially with kids, these kinds of rewards can be a bit tricky to balance, so we will have to see.

The PDF has pretty pictures. This file is usable in MagicSetEditor but doesn't have the pictures. If you are an artist and I've used your art and you would like me to remove it, I will. Just leave me a comment or email me at sully33 at gmail dot com.

Do you have ideas for more boons? I'd prefer to have boons that are usable by any character, and not specifically tied to spellcasters or fighters or elves, etc. Leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Microlite74 Druid Modification

My wife really liked her Type IV druid character. In particular, she liked that she could change shape into a wild beast of some sort. She preferred tiger. Needless to say, she was disappointed that this feature of the druid class wasn't available in Microlte74 until the druid reached 7th level.

So I changed it around a bit for her. I knocked the Experience Base up to 30, and changed the shapechange ability to be "once per day per level" instead of "three times per day at level 7".

We haven't playtested it much, but I don't think it'll break the game. She hasn't played with the kids at all, because she's usually trying to keep the 2-year-old from attacking all the minis on the table (poor toddler wants to play D&D SO BAD!).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More Fun with Magic Set Editor

I love using Magic Set Editor to create Magic: the Gathering type cards for use in my D&D games. My players get custom-made cards for their magical items, quests, clues, NPCs, and all kinds of other goodies.

Here is a PDF file that features the standard races and classes for Microlite74, in full-text card form, for easy reference for players at the table.

Here is a Magic Set Editor file that contains the cards in the PDF above, as well as cards for PCs (basically four cards to make up a character sheet) and three additional races that I have featured here on the blog: Tieflings, Dragonborn, and Eladrin. This file is useless without the Magic Set Editor program, which is available free at the above link.

Note: the text on these cards are pulled straight from the M74 Extended rules document. The gnome card includes my houseruled MIND attribute bonus instead of the original STR bonus. I'm making no claim to copyright or any bullshit like that. This is just an aid for your M74 Extended game.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Over at Your Dungeon Is Rock! I am compiling a couple of resources for old-school D&D gamers. One is a set of links to free, downloadable PDFs that bloggers have put together. The other is a listing of links to random charts. Obviously, this will be a constantly updating thing, as random charts are constantly being created by the blogosphere, and it seems there are more and more free PDF resources available every month.

I know I'm going to miss a lot of stuff. I know there's a lot out there that I'm not even really aware of at all. I need your help. If there is a free PDF resource out there you use that you think I ought to link to, send me an email at sully33 at gmail dot com or leave a comment here or here. Ditto for random charts.

Also, I'm not looking to compile a list of the free D&D retroclones. Tenkar has already done a great job of that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year!

Everyone else is doing it, and while I find these posts to be boring as hell, it's probably good for me to look back on the year, take stock of my progress, and figure out just where the blog is headed in the next twelve months. I already did this once when I hit 100 posts, and then after that, my posting frequency started slacking off pretty badly. We're going to avoid that this time around.

In a couple of weeks, it'll be the one-year birthday of this blog! Hard to believe how quickly the time flies, but it does. So, what can you all expect from A Pack of Gnolls (and sister blogs, ImperialRuin and YourDungeonisRock) in the coming year? More reports and tips on gaming with kids, for one. Plenty more cards from MagicSetEditor for use at your gaming tables. Lots of Microlite74 material. I may even try my hand at some adventure/setting material. Imperial Ruin will continue to explore the Nentir Vale, Microlite74-style, and YourDungeonisRock is getting rolling again, highlighting the other blogs I come across who are putting out some really good stuff.

So, here's to 2012! Here's hoping the world doesn't end.