A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Roundup

My, my, its been a busy holiday for us so far.

Much to do, and only so much time to do it all.

Let me think back and recall what we've been up to.

The weather was crazy here. Tuesday of last week I had lunch with my dad and it was bitterly cold and wet. Rain with a hint of sleet mixed in, strong winds, and hovering around 31 degrees. By that evening though it was approaching 50 or 60 degrees.

My work let out early on Christmas Eve. Krissi and I sat around relaxing until it was time to go to my mom's place for festivities. We headed up to Cordova and hung out with James and Keshia and Mom, had good food and sat around and chatted, then back to Horn Lake we went.

We slept in a bit on Christmas morning, springing from the bed around 9:30. I called Maddie to wish her a secular Merry Christmas when she informed me that she was on call today, instead of having to work all day, and so I had her go grab John so that they could join us for Christmas breakfast, which I think we did last year as well. Krissi and I opened presents from her family, and a few small things from each other. For those of you that see me, I'll be carrying a camera around constantly, since I intend to take pictures with it on a daily basis for the next year. Travis and his roommate, Jessie, came over, followed shortly by Maddie and John and their dogs, and we all had delicious breakfast together and sat around and chatted.

Around noon, we talked Travis into going to grab his copy of Tropic Thunder to lend to us. So Travis and Jessie headed off for more Christmas festivities elsewhere, while the Williams' settled in on the couches. Later, after movie watching and maybe just a tiny bit of couch-napping, we headed off in search of food. We ended up at Fox and Hound for supper, and then back to our place for some more relaxing on the couch. Eventually, we called it a night and the other Williams' headed off for distant Southaven.

Friday and Saturday have thoroughly bunched up together, and I'm at a loss to share with you the details. I fiddled with the new camera (a fujifilm S700), we played some Agricola, which John picked up over the holiday, I ran a D&D game for my little crowd plus our friend Todd. We even got to see the Youngers for awhile.

On Sunday I got up and cooked Rouladen to take to my dad's house for festivities in the afternoon. Krissi and I ran by Kohls to spend some gift card money, and we both came away with new shoes. Woo! We made it to my dad's place for a chaotic christmas, complete with at least 6 children under the age of 4 years. We had a good time though, and ate well.

We were so busy over the holiday, that I was not ready to get back to work today. I could so have used another two days just to relax. But the holiday was fantastic. We had a great time, and spent it with awesome friends, and terrific family.

Things that I did not get time to do at all, that need to be done:

Fix fallen board and busted gate on our back fence.

Continue painting the nursery. There is a deadline of sorts.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Things that I am up to:

As I've mentioned a few times now, I feel like my blogging here is really falling off. My D&D game is still going, but I have been a huge slacker about typing up session recaps or anything. On the running front, I need to change my blog name to "not running with dice", because I'm not running. Its, well, just too damn cold. Like I do every year, I stop running when it gets cold, even though every year, I swear I'll do better.

But here's what I'm really up to: Obsessing about a computer game. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Its called "Chaos Gate", its a turn based tactical combat game set in the Warhammer 40k universe. It was released in 1998 (!!!!), and I played the hell out of it and loved it. It was a little crashy even back then, and once I moved from Windows 98 to Windows XP, I never was able to get it really running. All crash and no play. Every year or two I would pull it out and install it, and try for an hour or three to get it to run, and then put it back in its place amongst the other computer games. Well, I decided to pull it out again, and even found some info on some people who had gotten it to work under XP. Woo! Only now I can't find it. Apparently its gone to the same place as my copy of Fallout Tactics- Brotherhood of Steel went. Which is to say that I have no idea where the hell it is. I'm naturally a little bit obsessive, and something like this kicks my obsessive gene right in the balls. I went home for lunch today and tore apart the "computer closet" looking for it. I checked all of the cd cases and everything. Nothing. We purged some of the crap games that I had, and a bunch of empty jewel cases, and I hope that it did not accidentally get thrown out with those. It also could simply be stuck in a drawer somewhere. I mean, my house is not *that* big, but there's tons of out-of-the-way places that it could be. So, meanwhile, I'm downloading the torrent of it. But still, I'm mighty melancholy about not being able to find it. Remember that I'm a huge game nerd. I still have the blue 3.5 inch floppy disk for Civilization on the Amiga (!!!).

Speaking of collecting things, let's talk about my relationship with DVDs for just a moment. Krissi and I have a large-ish collection of DVDs. I have no doubt that there are collections that dwarf ours, but we have a goodly many of them. See, we (I, really, I think that Krissi is probably just my accomplice) like to buy DVDs. Because we like to collect them really. Its not that we don't watch them, because we do, we just don't watch them alot. Like - to be brutally honest, we probably only pop a DVD into the player and watch it like... maybe twice a month, and that's being kindof generous. And yet, I can sit here and think of half a dozen DVDs right off the top of my head that I'd buy if I could. And if you let me think about it longer, I'm sure I could come up with a few dozen. Because they're movies I like, and they're movies that I think that I'd like to own. Because I want to put them on my DVD rack and go, "See? Look at this movie I've got here!" And I'll do the same thing I do at least once every other weekend, and I'll say, "Hey you guys, let's watch one of these great movies that we've got!", and I'll always return to the same set, I'll say, "Let's watch Fight Club, or Seven, or Usual Suspects, or Memento, or Fargo!", or I'll get desperate, and suggest that we pop in Anchorman or SuperTroopers. And in the end, we'll watch The Soup, and flip through some channels, and the weekend will pass, and 99.99% of the DVDs on my shelf will continue to sit, untouched and unloved. Because the more movies I end up buying, the less likely I am to watch any one of them again. I'm not certain of my math, but it feels right. I think we may have a movie or two on the shelves that still are in plastic, because we bought them, eagerly brought them to their new home, pulled them out of the bag, held them aloft in glee, and stuck them in the DVD rack to gather dust with their peers.

What does any of this mean? I don't know either. But I think that I'm going to make an effort to not buy DVDs just because I liked them, anymore. Finances and economy aside, I just don't need to own them as much as I think that I do. Weird, huh?

Monday, December 8, 2008

More Left 4 Dead

Just in case you don't know, Left 4 Dead is a game on the xbox360 and PC by Valve, the guys who brought us Half Life.. and Counter Strike. Its a zombie survival game, where you play one of four survivors, trying to shoot your way through the zombie hoards. Its fast and frentic, and I love love love love it. It plays great on single player, where you and three AI controlled survivors try to make it. But when you get three of your buddies together, you get a magical experience. For two weekends running now, we've assembled three of four of us over at John's place, and turned his fine dining room table into a computer bench. Networked, we try to survive the undead onslaught, yelling at each other for help, or conspiring tactically amongst ourselves.

So, I'll leave you with a request. Rush out and buy Left 4 Dead (or download it on Steam), and hit me up. My steam username is xxxjermxxx Together, maybe we can make it to the chopper.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quick Thoughts: Consumerism/Obituaries, and L4D

So I like to gripe about consumerism. Here you go. 2,000 WalMart shoppers, 1 dead WalMart employee. The article does not mention how much merchandise the shoppers purchased, which is oddly important to this story. That's how we can determine WalMart's value of a human life. Boy, I bet its a few hundred bucks.


On a COMPLETELY unrelated note, I did not trample anyone on black friday, but still managed to pick up Left 4 Dead, along with three other friends, and since then, we've been doing LAN parties to fight off the zombie hoard. Oh fuck it rocks.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Rum Haiku

Rum is so clear, iced.
And oh, how I love to drink,
but boy I feel dumb.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Small update

So I've been pretty quiet on here. Its not because there's nothing going on, but simply because I've been feeling lazy and haven't had the urge to come type on here. It comes and goes, y'know?

In brief:

My D&D game continues to go very well. I'm having a blast with it, even though I've gotten lax again about posting summaries. I'm still very much enjoying 4e. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have any quibbles with it, but we're all having a great time.

I'll hopefully be making somewhat frequent entries on my new other blog here. That blog will be dedicated to all things related to the upcoming addition to our little family. For a variety of reasons, I'm going to have two blogs now, this one, and the one related to baby things. If I was even more scattered, I'd have one for gaming, one for general stuff, and one for baby stuff, but I'm not THAT crazy!

Running: In the tank. I was just hopping onto my training schedule, late, when we got the bad news that Krissi's job was cutting her hours back to 60%, which is a pretty hefty pay cut for us. So we've tightened the belt, and will not be buying a new pair of running shoes this year, or registering for the marathon. Disappointing, for sure, but I'll look forward to next year. Meanwhile, I've been totally off the wagon, and its taking its toll.

I'm sure there is other stuff going on, but nothing comes to mind.

I'll be back when I have more exciting stuff to share!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

You Betcha?

I've tried to resist gloating, or joyous celebration because the other guys didn't win, but I have to come clean.

I am just as glad about Obama/Biden getting elected as I am that Palin did not get elected. (and I specifically mean Palin. I'm not talking about McCain here)

She scares the crap out of me.

If you believe the news that is trickling out now, apparently she spent way more than $150,000 of donated RNC money on expensive clothes for her and her family, and this was hidden from McCain for fear that he would flip the fuck out. Which seems like a completely reasonable assumption to me. Apparently she did not know that Africa was a continent. Apparently she did not know which countries made up NAFTA. Apparently she threw temper tantrums over news articles that were unkind to her. Apparently she refused to allow people to prep her for interviews (hence we have the gem of her Couric interview). We have questions about her ethics in Troopergate. Her husband was part of a political party that wanted to secede from the US. She claims that abortion clinic bombers are not terrorists. She is a young earth creationist. Oh I could keep going...

I challenge you to find me a more terrible choice for VP on a big party ticket. Cheney is rotten to the core, but I can't really accuse him of being an idiot. Evil is different than stupid.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

These Times


I'm very pleased with the results of the election. I'm also still anxious about the future.

I think that McCain gave a powerful and courageous concession speech. I cannot help but feel like *that* was the real McCain - not the fake, mud-slinging, religious-right-embracing guy that we've seen on the campaign trail. I applaud him.

I'm anxious about the future because I think that Obama has his work cut out for him. I believe in his message of hope and change, but I have no doubts about the next four years being easy for him, or any of the rest of us. You don't need me to tell you that we are in a tough place economically, and in a tough place with regards to Iraq and Afghanistan. I am hopeful that Obama will be able to surround himself with smart people who will be able to create a plan to lead us out of this financial mess, and out of the mess overseas. These problems do not have quick fixes, even for Obama. With that said though, I am hopeful that we will be able to see progress being made.

I'm anxious about the political division in this country. I'm sick of non-facts, and blind hate. I understand if Obama was not your candidate of choice, but please don't gripe to me about how you think that a Muslim Homosexual who aborts babies in his spare time has no right to be president. If you want to have a conversation grounded in reality, that's cool.

On another note, we found out that Krissi's work is cutting her hours back by 40%. This is rather terrible news, made more frightening by having a baby on the way. We're okay though. We live mostly within our means. It delays our timeline for paying off all of our bills, and it means that we're looking for ways to save money. It is a setback for us, but not a disaster, and I'm thankful for that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Shining

I caught Kubric's The Shining on TV over the weekend.

Man I love that movie.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Food Post

Made this last night.

~1 pound of cubed medium quality steak

half of a medium sized purple onion, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, pressed

a little olive oil

4 smallish red potatoes

Salt & pepper.

Cover the beef in a little olive oil and threw in into a pan on the stove over low heat to cook slowly.

Cut the potatoes into large bite sized pieces, covered in olive oil, sprinkled generously with salt and pepper. Into the oven at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Let the meat cook for like 30 minutes, until it was pretty done, then threw in the onion so that the onion would cook, but not loose all of its flavor or crispness. Let the onion and beef cook for 5 or 10 minutes.

Add pressed garlic to the beef. Cook for another minute, then remove from heat.

Throw some green beans into the mix, and DONE!

Monday, October 27, 2008

D&D with your kids

Had this thought the other day after our gaming session.

Role playing games are great fun with children. Some folks shy away from elements like death and heavy violence. D&D is a game about fighting orcs, but it occurred to me that you could tweak it just a little, leave the dashing sword fights and magic battles in, and just cut away the death and maiming aspects.

Simple really: Rename Hit Points to "Bravery Points". This is how brave and courageous you and the bad guys are. When reduced to half, or Bloodied, call it "Shaken" or "Scared". And then when the points are all gone, they drop their sword and flee the battle.

Same is true for the players. If they're reduced to 0, they're going to try to run away. If you wanted to stick close to the mechanics, change the death and dying mechanics to a terrified and fleeing mechanic. Between 0 and negative "Scared" points, they are petrified with fear, and cannot move or attack or act at all, other than making a save. In regular D&D its the stabilizing save, to keep from dying. In Kids D&D, its to keep from running as fast as you can away from the fight. Your other party members can still "heal" you as normal, though everything becomes inspiring or making people brave, or what have you.

The descriptors for everything change. It becomes PG or G rated sword fights, with clashing blades and diving out of the way, and narrow misses.

D&D Session 14: Smoke Signal

This week we had our full set of players, plus one-half. Jeremy's nine year old daughter, Riley, was with us, and will be for the next few weeks. Jeremy and I talked about having her play a full on character in the session, but settled on having her play a critter that was aligned with the party. This let her roll dice in fights, and run up and bite bad guys, and such fun stuff. It was good.

The party is now 5th level. After last week's tough session, I went ahead and bumped them to level 5. They were a little shy of the xp for it, but they more than deserved a reward, and so the xp fairy sprinkled them with enough dust to put them right at 5.

We picked up where we'd left off. They'd killed the bad guys in the bone room, and now they made their plans about which direction to go next. They were all pretty low on resources, having few healing surges left. To my surprise, their dungeon delving instincts were strong, and they decided to go into the chanting room first, as opposed to skipping it and going for the room deeper in the temple.

The threw the doors open and kicked it off. Inside was a lecture room, with a podium and benches, as well as a priest and a dozen and a half acolytes. The acolyte minions were all bunched up, and so they were able to very quickly thin that number down to manageable proportions, while throwing damage at the priest. They made fairly short work of the fight, and then turned their attention back toward the doorway leading deeper into the temple.

They navigated a hallway, bypassed a trap, and then entered into what apparently was the Altar room for the temple. It was a large room with heavy metal grates on the floors near the walls, some large orcish statues bearing heavy bladed axes, an altar, a black robed human, an orcish high priest, and two orc guardsmen. Needless to say, combat was joined. As the party rushed in, being VERY concerned about the 4 large metal orc statues in the room, it quickly became apparent that they were not damaged by the party's attacks. Futhermore, they turned out to be mechanical, when our dragonborn fighter ran past one, it creaked and swiveled and the axe whirled through the air, leaving its mark on the fighter. They hit hard, and the characters adapted to avoid moving into range of the statue's axes. They rushed the dais where the orcs and black robed human awaited. The two orc guardsmen tied up the first few characters, trying to keep them from getting to their bosses. Illgiliant chucked some mighty spells into the room at the bad guys. The orc high priest responded in kind, using a crushing spell against Illgiliant. I rolled a 20, and suddenly our wizard was just a few hit points away from a nap. It was a great fight. The black-robed human used lightning, and pushed people away from him, sometimes into the range of the axe wielding statues, sometimes over that metal grate, through which skeletal hands would reach up and try to hold them and tear at them. The high priest used a skeleton-topped staff to rain damage down on those near him, as well as those closing in. The party fought well, using tactics and calling on all of their powers to bring down their foes, and in the end they were successful.

They looted the dead bad guys, and set about trying to blow up the temple, using the barrels of powder that they'd found before, combined with an accelerant that they found here in the altar room. They also found a letter which stated that they had infiltrated assassins into the Fort on the Red Water to kill its lord commander, hoping to clear the way for a large force of orcs that hoped to raid their communities. Apparently this was an advance strike, as they were assembling a larger army to bring war to the human lands. The party resolved to make their way to the Fort with all haste.

They traveled for a day, until they reached the Fort. They could see, looking down upon the fort and the village near it, that a finger of blue smoke rose from the fort, and that a long line of commoners snaked from the village to the fort. The blue smoke, they knew, was a warning signal. They rode to the fort and gained entry, seeking to speak with its commander, a man named Brightblade. They found him on the walls, overseeing preparations being made for the orcs that they knew were coming. As the party approached and introduced themselves, and began to explain that they believed that Lord Brightblade was in danger, they noticed that many of the nearby soldiers had scarred faces.... [this was the big 'tell', the black cloaked, evil humans back at the temple in the woods all had scarred faces.]

We left off here, and will resume next week, to see how this goes.

I found it very interesting to play with a nine year old at the table. I try to be descriptive, but we've all been playing D&D/rpgs for years, and so its easy to fall into the trap of "Ok, you hit it. 12 damage. Next." With a kid at the table though, I made sure to describe the action, describing how bad guys ducked and dived out of the way, how armor deflected swords, or how she - playing a wolf - was able to run up and grab the bad guys leg in her mouth, and shake her head around. It was fun, and I wish that I had the determination to be a very descriptive DM all of the time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Difficult Decisions

Fable 2, or Fallout 3?

Oh man.

D&D Session 13: The Bone Room

We skipped a week of D&D, but got together this past weekend to continue.

The party was exploring and fighting their way through this Temple of Orcus that they'd come across in the woods. They made their way down the hallway, checking the doors that they came across. I was doing "find traps?" checks for Andrew, and kept rolling a 2, so he disarmed a couple of traps with his face.

While doing this exploration, the paladin spied some shadows moving, further down the hall, and went to investigate, an orc in dark, silent armor charged her, and combat was joined.

I'll not be too granular, but this was a terrifically fun fight against some orcish semininjas. These guys were 'lurkers', and so they moved a lot, and had special attacks that let them slide the players around. Plus, the three ninja types came at them from two different directions, so in no time at all, the party and the orcs were all mixed up, with the orcs apparently bypassing the armored melee defender types and going for the softer wizard and cleric. The party performed admirably though. One of the orcs would stick a character with his sword, and then begin to drag that character off into the darkness of the hall. This was super fun from a GM perspective. Players are accustomed to bad guys trying to whack them repeatedly with swords, but are less accustomed to bad guys trying to drag them away into the darkness in order to eat them. As I said, it was a good fight, and the players had fun with it, as did the GM.

They did some more exploring, finding some barrels containing a sulfurous powder which they knew could be explosive when combined with another particular chemical, so they resolved to keep an eye out for said chemical. They found a torture chamber and a secret passage, and continued their exploring. Then they entered the Bone Room.

We had a bit of disagreement at the table. The paladin opened a door, and inside was a large room with piles of bone, and a robed orc. She charged into the room. At that point, I asked everyone to roll initiative, and gave the paladin a surprise round to act, but had her beginning from the door that she had opened. She did not like that at all, and did not want to "back up". Instead she wanted to start in the room where she'd run before I called for initiative. So we went with that.

The group charged in, within a round or two, most of the party was in the room, or halfway across it, heading toward this robed orc. But because they were coming from a cramped passage, at least the wizard had not even emerged into the room when the piles of bone shifted, and animated skeletons emerged from them.

They managed to drop the robed orc pretty quickly, and some of the dark light radiating from the skeletons faded, but they advanced. The party was completely scattered, and there were about five skeletons, one of which was a large minotaur skeleton.

Put simply, this was a tough fight, and I think we were all a little concerned about some deaths, or even a Total Party Kill.

Further complicating things, when they entered the room, one of the exits which was closed double doors, had the sound of chanting coming from it. The chanting stopped.. and Andrew's thief went and dropped a bar across the door, right before someone on the other side started trying to open it. This was a good move on their part, since the addition of the chanting whatever on the other side of the door would have made this very difficult combat into something else entirely.

As I said, the party was scattered and disorganized. The skeletons were single minded in their assault, and to make matters worse, they exploded in waves of jagged bones when bloodied and killed.

This became a halting exercise in strategy, trying to defend the softer members of the party, while destroying the skeletons, while trying not to get everyone killed when they exploded. It was pretty brutal. The paladin lost consciousness at least once, and the cleric dropped twice. It was bloody and furious combat. In the end though, the party succeeded.

It is tough to really beat up on the characters. What I mean is that when I know a character is in a bad way, I feel reluctant to continue to beat on him or her. I find myself asking how bad off a character is. I set the expectation in the game that I would not fudge rolls or nerf things. Still, I do want the players and their character to succeed. I don't want to kill off a character. Fortunately, no characters were killed in the running of this session.

Monday, October 6, 2008

D&D Session 12: The Temple Entrance Hall

Previously, the players had followed a secretive wagon train outside of town. The wagons vanished into a forest, which proved to be harboring some orcs. Within the forest was a large building, a Temple to Orcus. They players fought some guards outside, expending a great deal of energy on stealth and silencing the guards before the alarm could be raised.

This week, we entered the temple.

I won't break it down blow-by-blow, but the party moved carefully and quietly through the first chamber, and as they came into the second, they encountered some humans. This was a little bit funny to me, because they players pretty much attacked them right away. I'm not saying that they made the wrong decision here, because they didn't, it was just amusing to see that they didn't really even pause before charging in for blood. The party was already low on resources, so this was probably the last fight that they'd try before trying to find a place to hole up and rest. The noise of the fight however attracted some bad guys from an adjacent area, who came to see what the fuss was, and jumped into the fight. Some of my players grumbled, fearing that I'd set them up for a TPK, but I know the capabilities of the party pretty well. They fought a rather tough fight, and near the end, they saw that there was a lever in the hallway just off of the room that they were in. It seemed as though one of the bad guys might go for the lever right before they killed him. As I said, they were very low on resources, and were now in need of rest ASAP. They were concerned about maintaining the element of surprise, and so they quickly discussed hiding the dead bad guys in a nearby pit trap, resting, and charging back in. As they planned to do this, one of the players said, "I pull the lever."

It was a poor decision, and I told the player that it was. The rest of the players were also upset, as this seemed like a rather shitty thing to do. Some other time I'll do a post about in-game consequences, and the problems that arise when players have different degrees of concern about those consequences.

It turned out not to be a lever that dropped cute puppies into the hall, and instead slammed down iron portcullises, blocking all exits from the room that most of the players were in, and leaving the one lever-tugging player trapped in a hallway by himself, while a gong sounded from deeper inside the temple. Tugging the lever again was completely ineffective, and the thief immediately set out trying to unblock the doors. The portcullises were not only heavy, but also locked in place. The thief disabled the the one that blocked their avenue of escape. The player trapped in the hall (not a thief) wanted to try to get free. With the portcullis locked, he had to try his hand a thievery against the locking mechanism. His prospects began to look dim. Then one of the doorways into the room began to rattle, and the thief rushed to block it. He wanted to use Thievery for this, but I made him use Dungeoneering - this was not a lockpicking scenario, it was a "block the door and portcullis so that the orcs can't get into here" scenario. He was successful. Meanwhile, the character trapped in the hall was still having no luck in getting out of the hall. It was only a matter of time before the hall started filling up with armed guardsmen. The mechanism was tough for the thief to reach, but I was generous, and he rolled well, and they finally managed to free the trapped character. The party split, and hid out in the woods. After resting, they headed back toward the temple where they observed a bunch of guards on the front entrance, and a not-quite-finished wall on the side, that was blocked with boards and had a couple of sentries at it. As they considered how to get back into the temple, there was a stir at the front. A human and an orc addressed forty odd soldiers, and told them that the infiltration of the temple meant that they'd have to speed up their plans, and that they were to go off and leave a skeleton crew at the temple, joining up with the others for the second phase of their operation. The forty marched off, and the players broke into the temple again.

They searched through a few rooms, finding the mutilated bodies of the men who'd driven the wagons here a day or two previous, a letter apparently from the Lathiens addressed to someone at this temple, and bloodstains leading from the dead men into another room. They followed the blood trail and soon found themselves in a kitchen. On a huge cutting table lay some pieces of one of the men, and nearby was a huge orc in a bloody leather apron, stirring a huge stew. He lifted a massive cleaver and the fight was joined. The orc threw one of the players into the fireplace, unfortunately for the orc, it was one of our tieflings, who was not as bothered by the fire as others might have been. They made a huge mess of a kitchen, but killed the orc.

And deeper they go into the temple.

Monday, September 29, 2008

D&D: playing catchup

I've been lax in my posting about my ongoing D&D campaign. I'm lazy.

Sessions 9, 10, and 11 have passed. I'll at least summarize.

In session 9, the party had just left Moore's Creek with a small group of slaves. They were playing impostor as Athurn, a henchman of the Lathien family. They were to get another "package" on their way back to Drugen, which turned out to be a pair of cowled people, one of whom did not speak, the other spoke in a harsh accent. They traveled through the cold night and arrived at Drugen before dawn. Shortly after getting through the gate, Jerry's character, Father Kreuz, who has a particular passion for Orcs, noticed an orc-like smell from these two cowled individuals. With his mace in one hand, he reached over and tugged the hood off of one, and oh hey! an orc! Battle was suddenly joined in the dark and quiet streets of Drugen, and the snow was turned red with blood. The two orcs, one a cleric sort, the other his guard, proved to be tough, but the party dispatched them and took off toward the Lathien estate, with their semi-freed slaves tow, avoiding the town watch. They made it to the Lathien's walled compound, and sought to gain entrance. Employing the Athurn impersonation again, the tried to bluff their way into the compound but were had. In the ensuing fight and flight, some of the slaves that they were escorting were killed, while the two shifty ones escaped into the night.

Afterward, the party decided to try to track down the Orcs, wondering how and why orcs were being arranged to be smuggled into Drugen. They went back to Moore's Creek, fighting a bugbear ambush along the way. They made contact with Velder and started asking their questions. Velder wanted them to help him, in exchange for their information. One of his rivals, Palmer, was bringing gemstones into the town from elsewhere, and Velder wanted to know where they were coming from. The party saw that Palmer had some dealings with mercenary guards of some food warehouses, and so they got jobs with the mercenary company guarding these food warehouses. After a time, they were told that a wagon caravan was leaving in the night, and they were to make sure that it was not followed. They were given very specific instructions to stop along the trail one mile outside of Moore's Creek, and to wait there for two hours to make sure that no one followed, and then to go back to Moore's Creek, and absolutely not to follow the wagons further from there.

Naturally, the party decided to follow the wagons to see where they were headed. They soon saw that the wagons were headed into territory of the Red Hand orcs, some miles away from Moore's Creek. As they followed the wagontrail, they saw the site of an old battlefield. They noticed that there had been recent excavation, and it looked like someone was digging up mass graves, and extracting the bones. While some of the party picked over the excavation sites, the thief scouted ahead along the wagon trail, and where it entered thick woods, he spied some orcish sentries mounted on wargs. Under the cover of darkness, the party decided to stake out the excavation and the road, hiding within the treeline to watch both. Soon a group came out of the woods and onto the battlefield, and began to continue digging and putting bones into hand carts. The thief snuck closer, trying to see whether these were men or orcs, but he was seen by a guard, and he had his answer, half a dozen orcs mounted on wargs charged after him, while some of the diggers dropped their shovels and ran after as well. The party lured them into an impromptu ambush and soon overcame them. After, as night turned to day, they set off into the forest to see where the wagons had gone, and where these orcs had come from. After some distance, they saw ahead a clearing in the forest, and within the clearing, a large structure, still being constructed, but mostly finished. At its front, up some stairs was a large doorway, and before it, some empty wagons and some orc guards, as well as a large bell mounted from a frame with a mallet beside it.

They decided to attack, but wanted to keep the guards from sounding the bell in alarm. They had in their possession a scroll of silence and a scroll of arcane lock. There was a long distance from the cover of the trees up to the orcs and the bell. They formulated a plan to have some of the party, with the livery of the mercenary guards, approach the from the trees while two of the party snuck up from the opposite direction. Once their sneaks were in position to silence the bell and lock the main door, they attacked. Their plan went off well, and the alarm was not raised, as far as they could tell, with the bell silenced. They fought the orcs and overcame them, though one of the orcs proved especially tough. They looted the dead, and prepared to move into this structure, apparently a temple or fortress of Orcus.


The players officially named one of their strategies "The Striker Sandwich". They've had a goodly amount of success putting their two strikers onto a single opponent in order to quickly drop that opponent. It is not without its drawbacks though. The strikers are not built to absorb a lot of punishment, and the thief took a short dirt nap while they worked on dropping the toughest of the orcs.

I've noticed a difference between the stats for monsters in the Monster Manual, and monster stats generated via the formula from the DMG, with this monster math cruncher. I've found that I like the stats from the DMG formula better sometimes than the stats in the MM, because sometimes the MM stats seem bizarrely under powered.

The hardest thing about monsters on the fly, instead of straight out of the MM is their powerz. Players and monsters both get to do cool stuff, like big heavy-hitting attacks, or pushing opponents around, or buffing people, etc. And while I say that this is the hardest thing about original monsters, I have been having a great deal of success with simply plagiarizing from the Player Handbook. If I have a level 5 "soldier" monster, I just flip through the fighter powerz in the PHB and start stealing! Sometimes I come up with stuff just on the fly too, which is pretty easy. All I need to know is how many dice of damage its going to do, or how far it can push someone, or what have you. The rest is largely cool effect/flavor text.

Next week, Session 12. We'll see how things going inside the Temple of Orcus.

RPG Nostalgia

I don't know why I ended up on this kick, but I am.

Over the weekend I pulled out my old Lone Wolf books. They are "Choose your own adventure" style books written by Joe Dever. These were among my first forays into Role Playing and the Fantasy Genre. I remember getting my hands on them sometime around 1990. They're being republished currently by Mongoose Publishing, and Project Aon is publishing all of the books free online. Go check it out.

Also over the weekend, I dug up some Ultima IV on the intarwebs. Specifically, here, where is it freely available, and updated for modern systems, and with a graphics overhaul. I played this first on my Commodore 64, with a monochrome amber monitor, back in 1987 or 1988 probably. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I never finished the game, instead spending all of my time wandering the world, killing monsters and cheating blind herb salespeople. I barely scratched the surface of the game, really. I'm going to finish it this time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I have a better plan

I'm no economist, but here's my plan for this economic crisis.

Lets let those big investment banks burn.
Edit - I had to fix my terribly flawed math.

Let's take that $700,000,000,000 in American Taxpayer dollars, and turn around and give each american $2,000. We'll still have some money left over!

I'm paying off some bills. How about you?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


It is entertaining, but also annoying that I am so easily distracted by fun games.

Case in point - during a slow spot at work I ended up surfing stuff related to Paranoia, and Lone Wolf. Sadly, I would have to quit my day job if I were to run any more games than I am running now.

I'll just have to let these queue up!

Now that is a tough question





Monday, September 22, 2008


So I still feel sortof off of the blogging tip.

In part, I've somehow reached a point where I'm not sure what things are blog-worthy and what are not. In the past, my blog has been somewhat wide open. You've gotten everything from "I saw blah movie! it rocked!" to looooooong posts about gaming, to random updates about what's going on in my life. I've been writing as much for me as for you. I admit it: I enjoy going back a few months and reading about what I was up to. I'm a little narcissistic.

Big news is that Krissi is pregnant. We found out a bit ago, and she's just now entering the second trimester. Its exciting and scary stuff. We've been living it up as DINKs, with little responsibility outside of our bills and jobs and such. Having a kid will certainly mean that we cannot, for instance, spend the entire weekend ignoring all of our household chores and just be plugged in or reading a book or what have you. But I don't mean to sound negative. Its exciting, just different and new.

We went on a cruise for Krissi's 30th birthday. It was a 3 day cruise, and we had a great time. We saw Nassau, which we'd not been to before. The aquariums at the Atlantis resort were fantastic. We spent a great deal of time relaxing, reading, and taking it easy, which was excellent. We were SO tired though afterward. Even though I think we got a descent amount of sleep, and were not super busy on the cruise, the travel wore us out.

Rock Band 2 is out, and we picked it up and have been playing it. When we got back into town, the Williamsii and the Youngers came over and we played a ton of songs and had a great time. Love that game.

I've been playing Spore, and enjoying it. I got a little frustrated with the space stage, but I did a little research and am going to take another stab at it.

Been reading the George R. R. Martin books, and am almost finished with #3. I like them.

A lot of my attention has been going to into my RPG stuff as well. Working on a cure for the blues in my D&D game. Also doing some tweaking and stuff with my TSOY Thieves game.

Running: I'll get back to you on that.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Overly Complicated

So our most recent game of D&D had some difficulties, which I'll try to deconstruct here.

Since I know that at least two of my players read this, let me first make very clear that I'm not shifting blame to my players, or trying to be especially defensive. I'm just attempting to deconstruct things in the hope that I can work out what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid it or do it right in the future.

The problem, I believe, was that they players got frustrated with the lack of success or progress in their attempts to follow the plot. In a very broad sense, I think that I lost sight of what they were after, and I got way too tangential.

The players are following a thread in the game in which a family called the Lathiens seem to be somehow connected to a wicked cult of Orcus. The players have been trying to follow this down.

So far, they've sortof saved the neck of a fellow who was being hunted by the Lathiens, and they send that guy to Illyes. They discovered that a guy named Athurn was acting on the Lathiens behalf when he kidnapped a farm family. They ended up fighting and ultimately killing Athurn, and then did some sneaky stuff and intercepted a shipment of slaves destined for the Lathiens. They also ended up intercepting two orcs who were apparently being smuggled in to Drugen on the behalf of the Lathiens. However, this was where things got a little difficult. The players tried to sneak/beguile their way into the Lathien compound. As a DM, I had two choices, I could either start saying "yes", or roll dice. I went with rolling dice. Sometimes I like to keep things random, instead of just being the Ultimate Decider in stuff. In this case, the dice were not kind, and their ruse was foiled. The guards were onto them, the players fled, and the guards chased them. They fled from Drugen, and that was where we left off from the previous session.

In the future, I'm going to make a point to have some discussion at the end of a session if I don't have any idea what the players are going to get up to on the next session, so that I can prepare more. Last session, when they'd fled Drugen, we did not do any real discussion after, and so I didn't know what direction they were going to go. I don't feel that this has anything really to do with the problems of this past session, as I don't mind winging it, but I prefer to have some inkling as to which direction the players are headed.

After the session in which they'd fled Drugen, some of the players expressed some concern about having "broken" the adventure. I tried to explain that this is not the case, that they can't break it, cause its not written yet. I get the feeling sometimes that there is some conscious or unconscious reservations on the part of the players about not being on a tightly written adventure. And perhaps that ties in to some of the problems that we run into, or maybe I'm misreading my players. Put more plainly, when I tell my players "You are not on rails. THe story is not written yet. I'm responding to what you're doing.", they tell me something to the effect of "But its a giant sandbox and nothing is happening and we're bored!"

So, in my opinion, the problem was that I'd created plot that was too complicated, or too tangential, or my players are too easily frustrated, or all three.

I analogized that I'd blindfolded them, and placed them inside a home, and told them that there are three exits, and to find their way out. They felt along and found a door, went through it and were in a room, felt around and found another door, and when that door was not the exit, they threw up their hands in frustration. So either there were too many rooms in my analogy house, or they just gave up too quickly. Either way, like I said, I'm not trying to pass blame for a mediocre-at-best game session, instead just puzzle out what went wrong.

So lets assume that my players are blameless, and that I am responsible for fixing the problem. Going with that mindset, I need to simplify my plot and conspiracies, or at least make them more direct and less tangential.

In further detail, what happened previously was that after being chased out of Drugen, the players were still interested in the Orcus/Lathien thread, and figured that they had two routes to pursuing it, one being through the Lathiens, which they were at a loss on. They were completely unsure about how to get at the Lathiens. They figured that they could also pursue it via the orcs. The previous session had them picking up two orcs, that they later battled with in the streets of Drugen. They'd picked up the orcs via Velder (via Athurn, via the Lathiens). They decided to go back to Moore's Creek and talk to Velder and see if they could get onto the track of the orcs. I threw in a fight against some bugbears because, well, it IS D&D. They made it to Moore's Creek and tracked down Velder with only a small amount of trouble. As I recall, Velder was happy to give over some information, but not quite all. The party parted with some cash, and wanted to get in touch with the people that set Velder up with the orcs.

At this point, on a lark, I decided that Velder had some stuff that he needed doing, as opposed to simply wanting to get some cash for his info. Why? I like trying to create a world that lives and breathes around the players. I'm not interested in all of my NPCs simply being "quest givers", and entirely one dimensional. I like to try to give my major NPCs at least a couple of motivations and such. Anyway, I think that this was the beginning of our trouble.

Velder tells the group that one of his rivals in town, Palmer, is getting some gems from somewhere that he is using as payment and such. Velder wants to know where Palmer is getting the gems, and figures that the party isnt associated with his people, and could find out more than his own people can.

The party starts to track Palmer, trying to figure out an 'in'. Palmer goes to a number of warehouses and seems to conduct some business there. Also, Andrew's thief goes and breaks into Palmer's place to do some snooping. He finds a list of names with numbers beside them. One of the names is that of a mercenary company captain. This particular mercenary company guards the food stores for Moore's Creek. After a little more snooping, Andrew and Jason's characters ended up deciding to take jobs with the Merc company, guarding one of the warehouses, hoping to get an 'in'. The shift passed uneventfually, and shortly afterward, we wound down.

Now, without trying to show all my cards, my plan involved a link between Palmer, the gems, the food warehouses and its mercenary guards. The party was doing a fine job of trying to slowly pursue this, and all of their actions were moving them closer toward their goal. However, I think that my players felt that they were just floundering, and that I was letting them flounder.

So, I think that I need to have less convoluted plots. My players aren't stupid. They are however expecting more immediate rewards, I believe. I need to keep things to one or two levels of complication. If all of the cats in town are vanishing, it needs to be because a Nasty Monster is eating them, or it needs to be because a wizards apprentice is snatching them to give to his Nasty Monster, but it does not need to be... a wizards apprentice snatching them because his wizard master blackmails him into doing so because an orcish chief holds mystical power over the wizard and feeds the cats to his Nasty Monster. etc.

I also need to be more careful about getting too tangential. I need to remember that side quests are stand-alone, minor quests that are really pretty much optional. I need to keep my players goals in focus. Their goal in Moore's Creek was to find out how to get to the nasty orcses. Instead, I had them guarding food warehouses in the middle of the night to try to figure out where some gems are coming from. Simpler quests. Everything should work toward the goal, instead of going off in all different directions. I'll cite Lord of the Rings: everything in the books was done with focus on the main goal, that of returning the One Ring to Mount Doom.

So I need to find a balance. Crafting stories and adventures and plots that are memorable, and can hold a few surprises, but not ones that make my someone's brain hurt, or that start to read like the entire set of Robert Jordan books.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Approaches to Games

By "Games" I mean tabletop role playing games. But you assumed that, I bet.

It occurred to me that there are at least two ways that people approach a session or sessions of a role playing game.

There's "Beer and Pretzels", which needs very little explanation. Most games of D&D are this, heck - most role playing games are this.

"Serious Drama", Unlike the Beer and Pretzels approach, Serious Drama approaches role playing like people approach art or opera. This is "Serious Stuff". Not for kids or the faint of heart. In fact, one might not even want to refer to this as a "game". I'll pick on my own kind here when I say that folks in a Serious Drama game are likely to be elitist, aloof, a little snotty, and very particular about what goes on in the "game". LARPing and games like Vampire and some Indie RPGs can easily fall into this group.

I'm breaking these down because I noticed something recently on a gaming forum. Folks were discussing games in which "One person does something while everyone else twiddles their thumbs". I could be wrong on this, but I think that you'll find two things, that are sorta one, but I'll call them two.

One: You tend to only get this much in Serious Drama games. The rest of them let the players run around as a team or group, and often their goals are not so wildly divergent that they end up all over the map.

Two: The only games that this would be tolerated in anyway are Serious Drama games. Your average D&D player is going to get bored and start playing Yatzee after about 5 minutes of Watching Someone Else Do Stuff. And I don't blame them. Watching other people play games while you wait around is boring.

Let me pause for a second and note that I'm not trying to say that you have to involve everyone at the table, every second of the game. I feel compelled to throw in the word "FUN", all caps. The whole point of the first form, the Beer and Pretzels gaming, is fun. You guys could theoretically be playing a game of Talisman or watching Lord of the Rings, and having a great time too. While Serious Drama is a little different. Its not that you can't have fun, or that its not supposed to be fun, but its more serious than that. It means to be. It requires more investment, more time and focus, and those that favor that type of game would probably argue that the reward is greater.

I think people will tend to be in one of the two pools, and while you'll find some exceptions, I think that finding people who can hop between those two types of games are somewhat uncommon.

Sarah Palin

Please please please please no.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Few Things That Are Cool

1. Spore

I've had my eye on this for some time now. I think it is pretty cool so far. I know there is some uproar about the draconian DRM licensing stuff, and I hope that EA will fix that. There's also some discussion about it being "boring". I dunno about that. I can only speak for myself, and only time will tell, and other cliche's, but I'm enjoying it so far!

2. Metallica - Death Magnetic

I love this album. I'm a big fan of Metallica. I love the old stuff, and I enjoy alot of the "newer" stuff. This album is hard like the old stuff, and I've totally been rocking out to it.

3. True Blood

That's the show on HBO that premiered this past Sunday. I like it alot! I'll stay tuned!

Friday, September 5, 2008

More on Stakes in TSOY

(As a followup to my previous post on our recent Shadow of Yesterday game)

For simplicity sake, here are some ways that stakes can work in tsoy:

win/lose: "If you win this dice roll, your action is a success. If you lose, its not and you fail." I generally think that these kind of stakes are boring and try to avoid them.

win/complicated win: "If you win the dice roll, your action goes off without a hitch. If you lose, you still did what you wanted to do, but it just got complicated - more guards just came in, or you realized that its a trap and they were waiting on you, or your sword/lockpick/gun/tools break during the process, etc" I love this kind of stakes, and usually try for this kind of thing. I think that it is important to note that these stakes are actually toying with the facts in the game, beyond "Am I successful or not?".

Its worth noting that Role Playing games are all about using dice to determine facts - Dungeons and Dragons does it - you roll your d20 to hit the orc, pick the lock, jump the wall, etc. Did you succeed at your task, or fail, you ask. The dice answer.

TSOY has taken this a step further, and that's one of the reasons that I love the game so much. Dice checks are usually very binary, the answer is either Yes or No. TSOY changes that, and lets you talk about what "yes" or "no" means.

I recently got to play with Inspectres, and read through Houses of the Blooded. Both systems use mechanics that turn over some narrative control of the game to the players. The players get to say "This happens." Which is totally cool.

I have always run TSOY in a somewhat traditional fashion. I, the GM, know what is happening in the story, and through the game I share that with the players. I have a cast of good guys and bad guys, I have a plot, I know where the McGuffin is, and what it does. The players are along for the ride, to interact with the story that I've created. The difference with this game was that I pitched that out the window. Kindof by accident. I mentioned in my previous post that we did some stakes like: "Win - Stephan walks right into you, Lose - he went into hiding somewhere that is going to be damn tough to reach." This makes me froth at the mouth a little because I let the players decide how the game goes. Right now, brewing in my head are stakes like "We arrive at the keep of our dear Uncle Bob, how's he doing these days? We'll roll our Socialize skill. On a win - he's doing just dandy and there's going to be a huge gala held here in just two days, woo! On a loss - he just died from an assassins dagger, like - two minutes ago. The keep is in an uproar!"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thieves of Highwater Street: Sibling Rivalry

I had the pleasure of running one of the coolest sessions of Shadow of Yesterday ever.

After a very long wait, we picked back up with the Thieves Guild themed game of Shadow of Yesterday with Michael and Kelly. This time, we had those two, Jason, Michael's wife Beth, Doug and Sonya.

Beth had not played with us before, and was new or pretty new to role playing games. Doug and Sonya were new introductions to me. Both have played role playing games, and Doug had played or run a FUDGE game once before.

In order to simplify things, speed things up, and give us some good story hooks, I created character backgrounds for everyone, and let everyone get familiarized with them.

Each character had a few secrets from the other characters. We are not doing any sort of PvP, but there's certainly some subterfuge and conspiracy at play. We discussed handling these secrets in a Cards Up or Cards Down fashion. Cards Up indicates that we as players are all In The Know. Like the audience in a book or movie, we already know the juicy secrets. This style is better suited to casual, easygoing and friendly play. Cards Down indicates that we keep all the dirty secrets until they come out in play. As a group, we decided on Cards Up. During our quick Spilling Of Secrets, Michael mentioned that his character Thomas had a crippled father, and because of that, he worked for the Guild, to keep his family fed. Doug spoke up and asked if he could add to the background info, and asked if his character could have, on orders, been the one who broke Thomas' father's back. Oh Hell Yes.

I began by outlining that the players formed part of the Highwater Street Crewe. Not all of it though, as there are "bit players", or cronies who do stuff off screen as well. The crewe had a few things that needed to be accomplished. They still needed to turn up the missing courier and gems that their boss, Malek, wanted. They also needed to make sure that they were collecting "protection money" from the businesses around Highwater. I explained that they had a short list of establishments that had not or would not hand over money. They started at the Golden Drink gambling den, looking to secure some cash from the owner. He told them that he had little cash, and that his business had dried up in recent days. They asked as to why, and he told them that his customers had instead been buying some kind of narcotic off of some hooligans up the street, and he pointed them out. Now, Doug was aware that his character had a brother who had recently arrived in Highwater. This brother had falled in with some street punks who were selling a narcotic. Doug asked if his brother was among them. Yes. He took off up the street to get his confrontation on. He got into a physical altercation with his little brother and the two toughs with him, and we went to dice. Simple stakes, Doug won. He intimidated an agreement out of his brother to leave the dope alone and get lost, and his brother took off.

They headed on down the street, debating whether to look into the missing gem courier, or into the businesses that they needed money from. They passed by a group of city militia harassing two young men. The goody-two-shoes Lieutenant was with the guards, as well as the tough-but-corrupt watch Sergeant. The two young men were familiar to the characters, one of them being an errand boy for the Guild. Kelly's character, who has a bone to pick with the city militia, along with Beth's character, marched up to the guardsmen and started in sarcastically on the Sergeant. Soon, they could see that the watch was going to let the young men go, and Kelly's exchange with the guardsmen began to get dangerous. Beth's character chilled things out by getting them out of the confrontation, once they saw that the young men would be released.

Soon they passed the business of a dock hauler, one of the businesses that had not paid up. They debating how to deal with them, considering some options, before deciding that they needed to make an example of someone, and preferably a somewhat easier target than a bunch of haulers. They settled on a well-to-do seamstress shop just up the street. When they walked up to the shop, they recognized a young man sitting outside the shop os one of the Brickdown Street Crewe, a rival crewe to the north, and headed by the son of the Underboss. He told the characters that this seamstress shop belonged to the Brickdown Crewe now, and that Underboss Malek had given it to them. There was much consternation and discussion about this. Soon, Sonya's character went in to the shop to talk to the owner. The owner became concerned about the prospect of being caught in the middle of a Guild dispute, but Sonya's character assured her that it would be handled without any problem, and said that she would need to be giving her Guild payments to them instead of the Brickdown crewe. Headed by Michael's character, the rest of our crewe soon ran the lone Brickdown fellow off. He threatened a bit, and left.

The crewe decided that they wanted to do some hunting for the gem courier, and sought out the other gambling hall in Highwater, the Lady's Dice, and things began to pick up. Up until this point, we'd only rolled dice once or twice over the entire evening. I was having a blast narrating and playing the NPCs, and the players seemed to be having a fine time doing what it was that they were doing. At the Lady's Dice, Kelly's character did some socializing, and Sonya's character went and talked to one of the bouncers. She had taken Secret of Contacts, and decided that this bouncer was a contact of hers, a good buddy. He came clean that they'd underpaid a little, but he'd not seen this gem courier. Sonya asked if he hung out with the bouncers at the other places, and if he might be able to coax any information out of them. A light came on above my head, and I said sure - that we could go to dice for it. If Sonya won, then the bartender left work after a few hours, went and hung out with his buddies, asked them about the gem courier and got a lead. If she lost, his buddies had no information for him. This was solid gold. Tons of gift dice came out, and she handily won the contest. Her bouncer friend informed her that the gem courier who'd been thrown out into the gutter in front of the Golden Drink gambling hall, had been rolled by some punk kids.

Doug immediately expressed concern over whether his brother had been involved in this, and there was much speculation around the table. The crewe decided to go off in search of the brother, Stephan. They weren't sure where he'd be hiding, so they decided to start checking at the homes of relatives. They went by an Uncle's place, and Doug's character asked his uncle if he'd seen Stephan. The uncle replied "no", and I told Doug that we'd need to go to dice. The uncle was lying, and the dice would tell us whether he was fooled by it or not. The dice came up a tie, and Doug decided to bring down the pain. Thanks to lucky rolling on my part, and unlucky rollng on Doug's part, he finally Gave, and his character left, frustrated.

The crewe regrouped in the street, and debated their next move. They still wanted to find Stephan, and Jason proposed a dice roll to try to get some word as to where Stephan was hiding. Jason went for big stakes, and proposed that if he won, Stephan walked right into them. Wanting to meet his stakes scope, I said fine, and that if he lost, Stephan had gone and sought shelter with their rivals, the Brickdown crewe. Gift dice flew at Jason, and he won handily.

They grabbed Stephan and the guy with him, and began trying to get information out of him. We went to dice, and they learned the names of three street punks who'd done the rolling.

Quick note:

Stakes in TSOY have always been awesome. Letting stakes decide truths in the game, and the direction that the story and narration goes? AWESOME.

This was a fairly quick writeup, and I may post more about it later.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Houses of the Blooded

Houses of the Blooded is a new indie RPG that pimps itself as "anti-D&D". It goes on to say that while D&D is a game about bad asses that roam the land without any real bond or connection or tie, and often with little regard for law, Houses of the Blooded is a game about people who are bound to and connected to the land, and for whom laws are everything.

Oh - you can get the PDF for five bucks here.

Here's my brief rundown on it, with my thoughts.

The players take the role of "Blooded Ven". Blooded = nobles, ven = the race of people that populate this corner of the world. The game is part Role Playing Game, and part Domain and Resource Management game. And while you could almost call them two separate games, they're totally linked together.

On the role playing side of things, its a heavily narrativist system that uses pools of d6's, and wagers in order to get to narrate facts about the events at hand. It uses Aspects, which may be familiar to you if you've read Spirit of the Century or FATE. The characters are all land owning nobles, and there are definite rules to live by, or in some cases, flaunt. Think rules like the rules in Vampire the Masquerade/Requiem. The players can expect to go to social events and practice their charm and subterfuge and intrigue on other NPCs and players. I happen to be currently reading George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series, and I cannot help but make comparisons. Words are dangerous, and Insults can quickly get you involved in Duels.

The domain management side of things plays in a way that reminds me of Birthright - an old school D&D game about nobles. You start with some land, and some details about that land, and you can select some vassals. Each Season, you have a number of Domain Actions that you can perform, depending on your lands and your vassals. Also, vassals can perform some domain actions for you. You can improve your lands and infrastructure, explore new areas, deal with troublesome bandits in your lands, produce goods, trade those goods, create fantastic works of art, hire new vassals, etc. I have a weak spot for domain management games, and so I've already been hungrily eyeing this portion of the game.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A game about superheroes

Got a few things to post about. I'll get to them each in turn.

First, we got to hang out with the Williamsii over the Labor Day weekend, which was great. We played Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the Xbox360 which was a lot of fun.

But I need to direct some feedback to the many console game developers that read this blog.

Why do your "Action RPG" games contain a large element of play that can be defined as: "Smashing boxes"?

I'm not saying that this is the first or only game in which I've had to do silly and contrived things during gameplay, but this one and its predecessor just have a whole lot of crates and lockers and walls and things that need to be smashed. Its great that people keep money in them, and occasionally items, but I hope that you understand that while your game is fun, our banter goes like this:

"These crates will rue the day that they aligned themselves with Doctor Doom!", or

"So our mission is to save the computer that this database is on, right? Do we just have to smash ever piece of furniture in the base except for the main computer, right?"

Here's my point: Next time - be a little more creative, and have us to less crate smashing. Its dumb.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Joys of Other People's Perspectives

So I got to have lunch with someone who will not vote for Obama because his middle name is Hussien, and apparently he's secretly still Muslim.

And you can't trust muslims, just look at the problems going on in the middle east! A muslim in the white house would probably change the constitution and our money and stuff, and take "God" out of it. Read the constitution! God is IN THERE! This nation was founded on God and Christianity. Its surprising muslims even live here, with all the problems that they cause. To elect a person who is secretly muslim would be a slap in the face to our troops who are over there fighting against the muslims!

Narrative Control

One of the coolest things about the game of Shadowrun of Yesterday that we did, was that thanks to using Shadow of Yesterday rules, I had much more control over the narrative of the story.

Case in point: the Cyberzombies busted in. In a normal game of Shadowrun, one of two things would have happened. 1) The players manage to somehow take down the cyberzombies. 2) more likely, the players shoot back in an intense firefight, cause that's what players do, and the cyberzombies would have eaten them for lunch.

Two vastly different systems. In Shadowrun, which is pretty hard core "Sim", the rules are the boss. With TSOY, which gives alot of space to "Narrative", I had the ability to direct the story by deciding the stakes. And I guess that's the difference. With Shadowrun, I have no real control over the stakes/outcome. Its all down to the dice. I can influence it, by rolling more dice, but I can't control it. With TSOY, we talk about what happens, instead of letting the dice decide for us.

/game nerd

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Questioning your players ethical choices

Questioning your players ethical choices is tricky business, and one should be very careful when doing so.

Obviously, its just a game, and everyone except the most pure and expert of theatrical role players will, to some extent, behave and respond accordingly.

D&D functions best with well defined black and white/good and evil. While groups will vary wildly, D&D doesn't feel geared for soul searching morality plays (go play Sorcerer, or Dogs in the Vineyard, or maybe even Vampire). Its all black and white - "That guy is evil. We're gonna kill him." And then, to some extent, the end justifies the means. If he's fleeing, riding away as fast as he can? Shoot him down.

Games like Sorcerer or Dogs in the Vineyard are geared toward being stories about morality, and as they put it "how far will you go?".

So, if I follow my own line of thought, I'd say that D&D should probably be kept simple. Its a game about heroic adventure against dastardly foes. Do D&D players want to have to deal with tough choices, or choices in which there is not a reasonable choice? I'd say no, for the most part. I'm not insulting D&D players by any means, but I think that people sit down to play D&D so that they can take part in what D&D does well. I'm not saying that they want mindless "old school" adventures in which the toughest choice that you'll face is whether to take the left passage or the right passage when trying to get to the minotaur at the bottom of the dungeon.

Note: I probably owe a short apology to anyone that read this. I started this post like 7 times, and erased it and started from scratch 6 times. I don't think I really have a point, or much of a conclusion. This is just me musing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

D&D Session 8: Blood of the Innocent and the Guilty

Used to, when I was running a game and we'd all assembled, I announced in some fashion "Okay, everyone shut up, its time to play." This typically did not work very well. Then it "occurred" to me that the players sitting around the table actually enjoy talking to each other, catching up, and so forth. So I adopted a much more relaxed policy, where I show up, anticipate 30 minutes or so of chit chat, and will run the game when the players look to me expectantly.

Well apparently I was not paying enough attention, because shortly after we were all assembled, someone inquired if I was planning to run a game today. So we did some gaming!

The players had decided that they wanted to have a chat with Athurn, who was running around, apparently doing nefarious things on behalf of the Lathiens. They shadowed him for a few days, looking for an opportunity to strike.

Quick aside: When running a game, this is an excellent spot to get totally stuck in. Secret information: I have no idea what Athurn does every day. He's the henchman of a probably bad guy. I do not have a copy of his schedule. I've never been a henchman, so I'm not sure what kind of things that he'd be up to all day. This is the part where a responsible DM throws the players a bone, and crafts something to meet what they're looking for. "Uhm.. he goes to some places, and talks to some people. He meets with, um, a guy, at a, um, tavern..." blah blah blah. Remember that your players don't actually care what this dude is doing, or where he's going. Its easy to forget that all they want is a handy place to ambush him. So, they soon learned that he was planning a trip in the next day or two out of town to Moore's Creek.

"Aha!" Said my players. We discussed what their characters knew about the road between here and Moore's Creek, and they talked about how to ambush their quarry, and how many men he would have with him. They considered delaying Athurn somehow, hoping he'd get a late start, and be on the road at night, but we talked about how there are a few villages along the road, and that there are places for travelers to bunk up for the night.

Finally they settled on a simple and straight forward "ambush along the road" plan. They left ahead of Athurn, and found a farmstead not far from the road that was abandoned during the winter. They setup and waited, some of them hiding in a copse of trees, a few in a barn, and a couple behind the farmhouse. Traffic was light but steady along the road. Eventually they spied a group of men on horseback coming their way, headed to Moore's Creek. It was not until the horsemen were almost even with the characters that they realized that it was Athurn and his party. Complicating matters slightly, were a pair of young farmers on the road a short distance away, and a covered wagon and escorts, just a short distance the opposite direction. So they'd have an audience.

As the riders were even with the party, Devlin (John's warlord) ran out from behind the farmhouse and got the riders attention. Athurn recognized him, and charged after him. There was some brief shouted dialogue along the lines of,

"You tried poisoned us, you bastard!"

"I won't leave you alive this time around."

Athurn and his riders charged after them, into the clutches of the ambush.

Let me get mechanical, then I'll be narrative. Scroll down a few if you're not interested in the D&D mechanics, or if you're one of my players and don't want to "ruin the magic" or something.

This was a hard encounter. I'd toyed with a couple of ways to run a fight with Athurn. Since I'd come to the session without any clear idea about how the party would go about the confrontation, I'd tried to give myself a few options. I considered having them confront him in a tavern/inn setting, where they'd have to face his men in the main room, or get around them, and then him and one or two guys in a back room somewhere. Setup that way, he'd be a "solo" opponent - basically just meaning that he'd be a reasonable challenge for the group. I'd also given myself an option of a fight with Athurn and his men, with Athurn as an "elite" opponent.. elite just being a tougher sort of mob. I'd noticed recently that the party seemed to be making pretty short work of the encounters that they'd come across. The encounters seemed to be leaning on the easy side of things.

Per D&D math, a party of seven 3rd level characters should get an XP budget of 1050 for an exactly even ("normal") encounter. The budget goes up to about 1200 and is still normal. Between about 1400 and 2100, its "hard". This fight was about 1900 xp. There was Athurn, who was an elite soldier, so he had a lot of hit points, really good AC, good "to hit", and a few nice special attacks. With him were two lurkers- guys who were able to move around the combat and strike for a goodly amount of damage. Two controller type of guys, men with long bull whips, which I totally made up and am a little proud of- they could strike up to three squares away, and move people around a little, and knock them prone. Then there was a brute type, who had high hit points, low ac, low "to hit", but laid out large amounts of damage when he did manage to land a blow. Finally, he had five soldier types, who's job is to be somewhat hard to hit, lay out consistent damage, and tie up the melee guys in the party. This seemed to me to be a very well balanced party of bad guys. They had most all the bases covered.

Mechanically, the fight went pretty well for the players, but it was certainly not easy, and I'd definitely call it a challenge. The fighter and the paladin tied up with the soldiers, the thief and the ranger ended up stuck near the edge of the battle fighting a couple of the soldiers, Athurn charged in and handed a massive hit to John's warlord, and then tied up with the warlord and the cleric, and later the thief. The sneaky blade types rolled terribly, and didn't get to do as much in the fight as I'd hoped, but they harassed the defenders and the wizard. The whip guys kept up the pressure on folks by constantly sending the fighter to the dirt, and hassling the other good guys. The fight was pretty spread out. The good guys very loosely surrounded the bad guys, before everyone tied up. So there was not really a line of scrimmage or anything. The players seemed just a little surprised when the bad guys did not start to drop quickly, perhaps expecting a few minions to be mixed in. John's warlord took a brief dirt nap when he tried to move around some of the bad guys and got totally clobbered, and Jason's fighter took a pretty beating. Nearly everyone, I think, took a number of hits. It was a good, and tough fight. And I'll try to run more like it in the future.

Also, although the bad guys were mounted, I made a decision to have the horses in the fight play no more role than adding two to the riders movement. Mounted combat rules in 4e are really light, but I didn't even want to bother with the few that there were. I'll try to incorporate them next time around that we fight mounted folks, but the horses were mostly just fluff in this fight.

I did run into one small glitch, but it was primarily my fault. At the tail end of the fight, when only two bad guys remained standing - the fight was effectively over. A few times in the past, I've called the fight, and wrapped up. I see it as a waste of time, sometimes, to continue to run turn by turn when its really just mopping up. This time, one of the bad guys tried to get away on horseback. I said something along the lines of,

"Okay guys, this last fellow spurs his horse to a gallop, and is trying to get away. Let's make this a skill challenge, and have you guys try to catch him."

To which, a few of the players inquired as to why they could not just used their ranged weaponry to bring him down. I let one or two take their hits on him, and again said something along the lines of "Alright, so he's riding away, lets talk about what you can do to catch him." Still some folks wanted to shoot him out of the saddle. Admittedly, I got a little exasperated at this point and was a little snappish. I think that I was simply not communicating in an effective enough manner. I should have gone with "Guys, shooting someone out of a saddle as they flee is boring and sucks. I'm trying something a little new and different, to liven things up. How about if we see if you can catch him."

So, we did move on, and managed to do our little impromptu skill challenge to catch the guy. I told them that they needed.. I think 6 successes to win the challenge. Skill challenges are still kinda new territory for me, and I'm playing a little bit loose with their interpretation. Jerry's cleric used Insight to get a lead on which way the fellow was headed and such, yelling for his associates to head the guy off. The other players used athletics or acrobatics to leap onto other riderless horses and charge off after him. They caught him.

After the fight, they went and spoke to the wagon guards who were regarding them warily. Our warlord clarified that they had been dispatched to seek out and destroy blood cultists, and that these men... well, had it coming. The wagon guards assured them that they weren't cultists, and everyone went about their business. The party looted the dead, and had spared Athurn, dropping him but not killing him. They then set about interrogating him. Again, I wanted to use a skill challenge for it, as I've always hated "one-roll intimidate for lots of information" checks. This was a check that required 8 successes before they had 3 failures. The party used good cop/bad cop tactics, some of them rolling intimidate checks, some bluff or diplomacy checks, and at one point, if I recall, the wizard even pitched in with a magical effect, using his arcana skill (or this might have been during the chase, I forget which challenge it was a part of). Again, they beat it, and Athurn started spilling his info.

Athurn had no idea about any blood lord or blood cult. He'd been in charge of kidnapping the farm family on the other side of the Shadow Deep, but he had not seen them since he delivered them to the Lathien compound, to Osric and Wayen, more specifically. He figured that Wayen was dabbling in slavery. Athurn said that he was on his way to Moore's Creek to pick up a package from a criminal fellow named Velder. (Why do I only have five or six character named people and places?) The party wanted to talk Athurn into betraying the Lathiens, letting the good guys pose as his entourage, and going back to the Lathien compound. They even offered Athurn his life for the deal. Athurn told them that his life wasn't worth it - that none of the civilized territory around was far enough away from the Lathiens for them to not have him found. He said that if he helped them, he'd be accepting death, or life in exile into the wilderness, which is a slow death. His argument was convincing enough, and our Raven Queen devotee sent him on to meet her mistress.

The group decided to head on to Moore's Creek and meet with Velder. They'd pose as Athurn, the warlord donned his armor, and they came up with a scheme to pass him off as Athurn, despite that he did not resemble him at all. As they made their way to Moore's Creek, I felt certain that surprises abounded.

They made it into the city and went to the meeting place, the name of which I cannot recall at the moment. The party decided that they'd go inside, find the darkest corner available to put Devlin/Athurn, and the wizards was prestidigitating to help mask his not-likeness-to-Athurn. They sat down and scanned the place, looking for "someone else that's looking for someone". The place was busy, crowded with a fairly nefarious and wicked crowd. No one was carrying a sign that said "Athurn". After a few moments, they stopped a serving person and asked if she knew Velder. She sized up the party, took the offered gold, and pointed out a man in a blue jacket seated at the other end of the hall, near the fireplace. Andrew's thief, Nate, headed that way.

He sat down at the table beside Velder and said "Okay, we're here for the package."

Velder blinked at him, and asked him who he was.

Nate responded that he was here with Athurn.

Velder wanted to know where Athurn was, and when Nate pointed out "Athurn" in the corner, Velder waved him over. Nate responded that Athurn was very ill, and not at all able to carry on even a conversation, and that Nate would be acting in his stead. A few dice rolls for randomness later, Velder agree'd and told Nate that he would have the package available in a few hours, at 3AM at the Eastern Gate.

The party left to lay low and stay out of trouble for a few hours, while Nate stayed behind to keep an eye on Velder. After a bit of time, Velder and a few men left and made their way across town. Nate shadowed them until they turned down an alley beside some militiamen that Velder spoke to. Nate used his knowledge of Moore's Creek to circle around a couple of buildings and enter the alley another way, but by the time he got there, Velder was nowhere in sight. There were a couple of men standing at an open door in the alley, and some sleeping vagrants, but no one else in sight. Nate considered going in, and then they all considered gathering and going in, apparently to shake down Velder or have a conversation or confrontation with him, but it was decided instead to wait for the 3AM meeting.

They headed to the Eastern Gate shortly before 3. As they approached in the dark streets, they could see a group of people gathered at the gate. About ten militia men with long spears, as well as a group of about a dozen people, seemingly with Velder amongst them.

The party hesitated, smelling a trap. Eventually, Nate (Andrew) went forward. They noticed also that some of the dozen people, perhaps five of them, seemed to wear chains. The party realized that they were to be slave couriers. Nate spoke with Velder, but Nate was very aggressive toward him, yelling and pointing in his face. One of the militiamen poked Nate with a spear and told him to back off. Nate brandished his sword, and immediately everyone was moving.. the militia began to circle him, while the half dozen men with Velder moved to shield him. The rest of the party was entering into the courtyard before the gate now as well. Just as Devlin/"Athurn" was reigning in Nate, Velder tried to calm the situation by declaring that it was certainly a misunderstanding. He asked "Athurn" to come have a word with him to the side, and that he was sure that everything could be cleared up. The whole party, and particularly "Athurn" looked anxious. He walked off just a little ways with Velder.

Velder said to him that he was uncertain of what his scam was, or what his interests were, but that he (Velder) didn't really care. He was happy to proceed as normal, but that the price had increased, for his troubles. "Athurn" nodded his head, and paid 100 gold to Velder. Velder turned and told his men and the militia that everyone was fine, there were no problems, and that they would transfer the package and be done. The slaves were handed off to the party, the gate opened, and they began to leave, when Velder called out to them that he'd forgotten something. Everyone looked anxious again for a moment, and Velder said that there was another package that they were supposed to get along their journey back to Drugen. Near Balidonen's Last Stand, they were to make a pick up on a hillock. He bade them safe travels, and the gate rattled shut behind them.


This was a good session, I thought. I very much enjoyed the combat encounter, and I believe t he players did too. It felt very satisfying in the sense that it was challenging and dynamic.

The session itself went very well overall. The party's dealing with Athurn went well by my perspective, as did the meeting with Velder and the package pickup.

Next week: More surprises, I think.

New Home

So, I've waved goodbye to LiveJournal, and I'm sorta finished settling in here at blogspot.

I hope that the folks who had the perseverance to scroll through my posts on LJ will join me over here for more of the same.


Friday, August 22, 2008

While I'm On Hold

I'll entertain you with the following:

Keyboards can be a source of mild entertainment.


There! That is a (not actual) example of my password, typed when my fingers are on the wrong home keys! Yay touch typing! I always catch it almost right away, but there's always half a second of confusion, where I wonder if I've had a stroke, or if someone has randomized my keyboard.

Speaking of home keys, a great prank to play on your friends that rely on hunting and pecking is to move the keys around on the keyboard! You can even do this with just a couple of letters on the keyboard to totally throw them off. Ahhhh good times.

Besides, I'm sure your hunting and pecking friends needs a good excuse for punching you in the face. Everyone wins!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

D&D Session 7: Cat and Mouse

So the gang was gathered for some more D&D.

Krissi and her ranger were suffering from a headcold, and so they were not with us.

This week's adventure was a change of pace for all of us. Our previous sessions have been spent either in the underground or in the wilderness. Aside from a few villagers, most everyone they met was interested only in a good fight. So, our previous sessions could easily be categorized as Dungeon Crawling. This week, they got to test their diplomacy and socializing.

When we'd left off last week, the group had just arrived at the gates to the town of Illyes. Of the three towns that form the majority of this community, Illyes is the religious center. Pretty much all of the good and neutral aligned deities have a temple of some size here. Jerry's cleric went off and spent a little time at the temple of Pelor, Maddie's paladin went and spent some time at the temple of the Raven Queen.

Jerry and Maddie both asked at their temples about jobs - side quest time. Which was totally cool, but left me in the lurch for just a moment. As I mentioned, this week was a pretty serious change of pace for us. I'd been a touch anxious about exactly this, leading up to our game. Maddie wanted to secure a holy symbol of some kind for her Paladin. Jerry wanted to build up some good karma with his people. After a moment of quick thinking, I explained that the head mistress of the Raven Queen's temple wanted Maddie to go to the down of Drugen to pick up the unclaimed corpses of a family that died in a fire. The disciples of the Raven Queen took it upon themselves to handle the unclaimed or unwanted dead. Jerry's cleric meanwhile was asked to take a minor relic to Drugen and bury it, in the hopes that it would help to hasten the coming of spring, since winter was turning out to be particularly harsh this year.

The gang also spent a little time going around town, some to the temples, others to the barracks to inquire if any unusual travelers had come through recently - as they were tracking the missing farm family and their kidnappers. They were told that yes, an agent from one of the well-placed families in Drugen had passed through recently. Obviously, all signs pointed to Drugen.

We also noted that the party was pretty close to third level. In an effort to encourage my players to come up with background stories for their characters, I'd offered a reward of 1/10th of a level worth of XP for a background. Jerry and Jeremy had taken me up on it, contributing toward the entire parties advancement, and with level 3 being just about 30 xp away, John and Andrew both quickly committed their backgrounds to paper, and bumped the party over into level 3. Woo!

The party headed for Drugen, and managed to provide some security for a large train of wagons carrying grain. This netted them some cash. They all looked a little disappointed though when I did not spring an encounter on them. Noted.

The party started digging around in Drugen while the cleric and paladin went about their side quests. Andrew's thief and John's warlord kept their ear to the street, while Jason's fighter passed the time sparring with some of the militia. Nate the thief put out word that he was interested in slaver activity, and they waited to hear from someone. They didn't have to wait very long, as a page boy approached them, and said that someone wanted to meet them at midnight in a disused barn outside of the town.

The party headed there early and staked the place out and waited for Midnight. Andrew's thief and John's warlord headed inside, while the rest of the party stayed outside, hidden in the nearby trees. Soon, a fellow named Nusak showed up, and told Nate and Devlin that he was on the run and hiding from someone people that he was certain wanted to kill him. He'd been invited by someone named Osric to a "secret meeting". He went, along with a couple of other first timers, and found that the meeting had people in long red robes with masks, who brought in a young man, killed him, and drained his blood. He left, and was not interested in going back, neither were the other two first timers there. And he'd learned that they'd both been killed, and that someone was staking out his place. He fled, and contacted the characters, hoping that they could help him. About this time, Maddie's paladin noticed a group of armed people moving in toward the barn, and the fight was on.

The party dispatched most of the bad guys, capturing their leader, a guy named Roric. He was a simple sell-sword from Drugen, who said that he'd been hired by a guy named Athurn to come and kill Nusak. The party learned or was already aware that Athurn was a retainer for house Lathien- the patriarch of which was the head judge in the town, and his son, the subcaptain of the town militia. Devlin (John) convinced Roric to head back to Drugen with them, and to tell Athurn that the job was done - the party would pose as the other sell-swords that were with Roric. He agree'd, and they headed back to Drugen and staked out the Fiery Griffin tavern, a working-class drinking hall frequented by rough necks, sell swords, and town militia. Soon, Athurn and some of his men showed up as expected. He conversed with Roric, who assured him that they'd done the job and killed Nusak (who they'd actually given some money to, and sent away to Illyes to lie low.) Athurn seemed pleased, and bought them a round of drinks. Devlin gave Athurn a false name and asked if he had any work available. Athurn said maybe, and that he'd look him up if he needed people. Athurn and his men left. Roric and Dzur (Jason) drank up, and they went their separate ways, the party sending Roric away to Moore's Creek.

A day or two passed, and Dzur became very ill - apparently from poison. With the help of Father Kreuz (Jerry), he pulled through. Sorrow (Maddie) got a message that she had a package at the north gate. Upon arriving, she was told that some farmers had brought in a body that they'd found along the way, and they wanted to turn it over to one of the Raven Queen's disciples. The body was that of Roric. Dead by poison, presumably.

The party decided that their next course of action would be a meeting with Athurn, who they'd been keeping tabs on.

More notes:

As I said, this was a real change of pace. This session differed greatly from the previous ones in that our previous sessions have largely been combat with cut scenes/travel/dialogue between. Like I said - kinda Dungeon Crawl. This session was mostly talking and intrigue. I think that it took everyone a little bit to shift gears, I know it was a transition for me. It felt a little strange - I've run tons of games, mostly Werewolf and TSOY, and done tons of unplanned dialogue and city stuff, and not had any qualms about it - but this felt a little different somehow, I assume just because its D&D. But it went down really without any problems that I observed. Intrigue games can be tricky, one wants to be careful that they clues aren't too subtle or difficult to find, cause then the players sit around and get bored/frustrated. The clues and/or action should pretty much come to them, which is what I did. But again, it was a transition. Combat heavy games just require a little tactical planning, and so when you switch to requiring deduction, reasoning and a little cleverness, it can throw folks for a loop. But I'm going on about it, only because it made such an impression on me. My players seemed to run with it.

Good side quests are a little tricky though. I was kindof on the spot, and so I just threw out the first things that I came up with. I'll have to writeup some ideas for this kind of thing so it doesn't blindside me next time. I want to try to avoid "Uh, yeah, the baron needs you to deliver a letter to, um, a priest." Cause carrying letters and packages back and forth is boring, and more the territory of CRPGs. I can do better than that. :)