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

Sunday, July 27, 2008

D&D Session 5: The Skull Hammer Orcs

When we'd left off last week, the group had just defeated a group of hobgoblins slavers, and saved the villagers from being thrown off of the cliff. However, another threat loomed. Just over the hill came the hobgoblins advanced party, an orc barbarian, two goblin blades and two guard drakes.

Maddie had been called in to work, so was unavailable for the first fight, but she managed to make it for much of the rest of the session.

Combat was joined. The party immediately identified the orc barbarian as the largest threat, and our wizard hit him with an effect that slowed the orc. The goblins and drakes charged in, with the orc moving more slowly behind. The drakes turned out to be a threat as well. They do a whopping 1d10+9 damage on a hit when they're within two squares of an ally. So the goblins egged them on, and when they bit down on the meaty parts of our heroes, they sure felt it. The orc finally managed to get up into the melee, but just barely. It moved into position, but because of the slow effect, and its efforts to charge into the melee, it suffered a huge penalty to its defenses. The party flocked to it like lions to a wounded cow, and started hammering away at it. I think that the menace implied by this orc was a mechanism both of my description of its huge and terrible axe, and the players own understanding of the elite orc barbarian. The orc ended up right next to John's warlord, who is not a "soft target" like our wizard, but is not quite as hard a target as our defenders, either. Over the course of a round, the party pummeled the orc with everything that they had, pretty much. He was bloodied in no time, which arguably made it a bigger threat, since it did even more damage with its huge axe when bloodied. But my players get a round of applause for their efforts, as they were able to drop the orc dead in its tracks before it even got a swing. I was only a tiny bit disappointed ;)

The goblins and drakes were swept up in fairly short order. The drakes bite hard, but go down reasonably quickly. A+ for John's warlord: they were fighting atop a tall cliff, and John used a power to push one of the drakes right over the edge. I briefly considered giving the drake some kind of save or check to at least hang onto the edge, but I went with the "players win with their cool powers" theory, and over the edge he went.

The party rounded up the frightened villagers. It was chaos for a few minutes, as they tried to keep them together, and answer their questions and assure them of their safety. A tall, muscular fellow, perhaps a smith, asked them about his wife and children. He, and the villagers, wanted to know the fates of the family that they'd been separated from, some of them having been left with the goblins back at the village. The party told them, sadly, that no others remained alive. The man buried his head in his hands, and walked back amongst the villagers, and walked a few more steps and threw himself off of the cliff.

The party worked to calm the villagers, and finally formulated a plan by which they would rest amidst the trees nearby, and would protect and escort the remaining villagers to another village some distance to the west.

The hobgoblins that they'd dealt with had a large chest with them, that the party grabbed and were finally able to open. Within was a treasure trove: some +1 plate armor, some magic bracers, an everfull provisions, and a +1 wand, as well as a bunch of cash and a couple of ritual scrolls.

The players also used this opportunity to level up. This took us nearly an hour, I think. I think that the biggest confusion had to do with applying the "one half your level". You apply this modifier to ability score mods, and to your defenses. By accident, some of the players were applying it twice, once to the ability score mod, then again to the defense. In fact, its supposed to be applied separately, but the character sheet was a little confusing about this, and it took awhile to find a clear reference to it in the book. People seemed pleased with getting more hit points, and with their defense and attack generally going up, but were a little disappointed with feats. A number of players said that the feats felt uninspired and limited in selection. John was excited to take a multiclass feat into Paladin.

Maddie was able to join us at this point, and so once everyone was all set, we pressed on.

The players were given two options. Based on their limited understanding of their location, they had two routes to take in order to reach their destination, the village of Krandal Creek. They could go west, a route that would take them through gently rolling hills, and straight through Skull Hammer orc tribal lands, or they could go south and west, a route that would take them through more rough and rocky hill country, but that was likely to have fewer orc problems. The party chose the more southerly route, hoping to have less orc trouble.

They set off, and sure enough, the path grew steeper and more treacherous, with cliff faces plunging away hundreds of feet. After some hours, they saw ahead on the path a makeshift camp, with a figure tending to it. The camp was before a small cave in a vertical cliff face, the path was thirty feet wide or so, with a small cliff face, dropping about ten feet. As they got closer, they could see that the figure was an orcish woman. She put her hands on her hips and watched them for a moment, before going into the cave and returning with a large halberd. As they got closer, she dumped a small bag of powder into the cookpot, which immediately began to billow heavy smoke, completely obscuring the area. The fighting types charged into the smoke, where they could only see for about five feet around them. Jason's fighter charged in first and nearly bumped into the orc. They traded blows, and she vanished into the thick smoke. So began a game of cat and mouse in which the party searched around in the thick smoke for the orc. Once or twice, they bumped into her and the clang of metal on metal rang out, but each time she vanished again into the smoke. At one point, she emerged from the opposite side of the large smoke cloud and charged right at the cleric, dealing a couple of wicked strikes to him. The party all charged back in that direction and began laying down the pain on the orc. She wielded the huge halberd like a tornado, laying all about her with its blade. The warlord even manged to get his hands on her to grapple her, but she escaped and again vanished into the smoke. Finally, the Andrew's rogue bumped into her, and used a power to slide her four squares, and managed to slide her right off the 10' cliff nearby. Maddie's paladin charged over and leapt down to continue the fight. Her scythe was true, and the fight was over.

Fearing that the smoke, which had formed a tall column, and was quite visible, was a signal and that they had angry orcs on the way back, the party took refuge in the small cave, where they found some money and a set of darkleaf hide armor. They and the villagers rested briefly. No enemy showed up, and soon they moved on.

Their next encounter found them a few hours later, trying to navigate a high and narrow trail. On their left the cliff face was vertical and towered high above them, and on their right it plunged away hundreds of feet. The trail was between five and fifteen feet here, and twisted around the rocky outcroppings like a snake. In a few places, loose stone and steep grade to the trail made the going very difficult. As they made their way carefully along this dangerous trail, they heard goblin voices from high above them, and stones started to come sailing over the cliff above, down onto their heads. The party did their best to shield the villagers with them, and began moving along the trail as best they could. Jason's fighter led the way, and came to a wider section of the still precious trail, and noticed a number of deep rifts and holes in the rock cliff face to his left. He also noticed that there were dozens and dozens of small drakes lurking within the fissures, and suddenly they swarmed out upon him. He was caught somewhat isolated, ahead of the party, and so he bore the full brunt of their assault. They pulled him to the ground and ripped and tore at him. In one round, doing more than 40 points of damage, and sending him into negative hit points.

I froze for a moment. I thought that surely I'd just killed the first characters, and I was even more horrified because if Jason's fighter was dead and out of the fight, it was going to spell bad bad news for the rest of the party. He wasn't dead, and because Jerry's cleric is a freaking healing machine, Jason's fighter was back on his feet in no time flat. The needlefang drake swarms continued to attack the fighter, and as the other party members moved in, they felt the sting of these creatures as well. Mechanically, these monsters have a minor-action attack that lets them pull down a victim. Normally, their damage is 1d10+x, but against prone targets, its 2d10+x. Ouch! This was a tough, tough fight, in my opinion. The party was stretched out and not able to focus their effort. The monsters were "swarms", which means that normal melee and ranged damage only inflict half damage on them. Jason's fighter went into negative hit points at least twice during the fight. They pulled together, and started dealing some effective damage to the creatures, but what turned the tide was a power from Jerry's Cleric that let him push a couple of the swarms over the cliff. After that, while they were still tough, simply for their damage output, it was just a mop up operation.

Then the moved on as quickly as they could.

On the way, they did find a scythe that turned out to be a +1 terror weapon. Woo!

No D&D for us this coming weekend, due to three players being out of town, but we'll reconvene in two weeks.

Friday, July 25, 2008


So we went and joined our new gaming buddy, Michael again last night.

His friend, Kelly, was unavailable, and will be out of pocket until early August, but we decided to get together anyway and goof around with some gaming stuff.

I'd planned to try out Inspectres or Jedi in the Vineyard (Dogs in the Vineyard, tweaked for Jedi). Inspectres is something that I got my hands on awhile back from Matthew, but had not actually played, though it seemed very fun. I've done Dogs before, in a previously mentioned abortive effort - Oh look, I apparently never posted a recap of that session - this may be a two-for-one post. I'll get to that later.

Anyway, we headed to Michael's place. I brought with me a TON of gaming material. He's been interested in getting his hands on all variety of games, and I'm happy to help. So I lent him a huge stack of books including gems like Feng Shui (which I pimped hard), Dogs, Donjon, Sorcerer, Burning Wheel, Riddle of Steel, new World of Darkness, d20 Modern, and a few others (but not Shadowrun, as I couldn't find my shadowrun 4 book).

So after a quick game of Jungle Speed, just for kicks, we cranked up some Inspectres. For those of you unfamiliar with Inspectres, in brief, it is a simple little game based on Ghostbusters that borrows thematically from Men In Black and, well, like I said - Ghostbusters. Its pretty highly narrative, having mechanics that let the players take over the direction of the story.

So we blazed through character creation, which took us all like 10 minutes, cause its crazy simple. I setup the deal: they get a phone call from the Director of Public Transportation in their home city of Fairview, a bustling metropolis. They meet with the Director, who tells them that he has a major problem. A little while back, he says, the lights on subway platform B started going out, right at 12:47AM, sharp. They'd stay out for a minute or so, and then come back on. They couldn't figure out what the heck was going on with the lights. Then, last night, when the lights winked out, when they came back on, two people who were there when they went off, but were gone now. The director needed the characters to figure out what was going on and fix it before the media caught wind, and he had a major problem on his hands.

The players headed straight for the station and started digging around. They asked about the station, and I described it to the players, tile walls, trash bins, graffiti, crappy wall murals, your completely average run of the mill inner city subway platform. I described how after a few minutes passed a throng of people assembled on the platform, a train came, they got on while others got off, the train whisked away and the crowd bustled on their way. In passing I mentioned a guitarist playing in the hall that lead into the subway station. Jason's character wanted to go chat him up and see what he knew.

I froze right here for just a moment. The game indicates that the GM comes up with the basic premise for the session- and then says something to the effect of "through role playing, negotiation with the GM, skill rolls, and Confessions, the players can steer the course of the game". So I spent a moment, considering role playing Jason's chatting up the guitar player. I could either role play the encounter, with the musician knowing nothing, or knowing something, and sharing those details with Jason, which I would make up ("Sure, Jason, he tells you that he saw a dark guy in a long cape right before the lights went out, standing right behind the two guys that went missing. Weird, I don't see many people wearing capes...") but part of the point of this game is to let the players steer the game and create the story, instead of me doing it.

So I had him roll his Contacts dice, which he did, and I asked him, "Okay, Jason, what's the guy know?" Jason responded quickly, stating that the fellow told him that the lights had been going out for a much longer period of time than the Director had told them (or that people had been disappearing for awhile now, between Jason and Krissi, both of these details came to light). He did fantastic with it, and then turned to me and said "So is this how this game works? We just say what happens, and do the story?", "Yeah", I told him. "So what's the GM for?" he wanted to know. "I'm playing bass," I said, using Ron Edwards' analogy. I create a foundation, and you guys build on it, and I help to transition from scene to scene." He looked skeptical. But Jason has deep roots in non-narrativist gaming, so anytime he, as a player, gets to dictate more than what his character wants to do, he gets a little squeamish.

We spent a few more minutes there, Krissi wanted to talk to the ticket agents and the cops there in the subway station. No problem, again, I had her roll dice, and narrate what details she got. So by this point, they'd found out, thanks to narration from Krissi and Jason, that people had been going missing for awhile, and the lights had been going out for awhile too, but these details did not seem to be directly linked to each other. Krissi also narrated that the lights did not go out every night at the same time, as they'd been told, but instead went out every night when train number 58 came through the station.

I thought all of this was very cool.

By the way, you "win" the session by collecting "franchise dice", which you get when you roll well on the dice, or by solving the mystery. They were rolling well and were already up to three or four franchise dice, out of the ten that they needed for success.

I asked what other research they wanted to do, and it was suggested that they head to the library and do some digging. They rode the subway to the library, and started looking for old news stories about the subway. Still trying to get a good grasp of how the game and system was supposed to work, I went ahead and narrated what they found - maybe I should have let them narrate this part too - I explained that there had been a terrible subway accident some years ago, involving train number 58, at subway platform B. Also that recently a local asylum had closed, and most of the people that were turned out were sleeping in the subway.

They wanted to head back to the subway platform, and I asked, while thumbing through the book, if they wanted to do any Technology rolls to get some cool equipment. They were all totally unsure on this front - what do they need? And how does this work? I spent a few minutes paging through the little book, looking to get some direction with regards to tech. I was not able to definitively determine if they asked for a piece of equipment and then rolled for it, or if later they said "I pull out my super ecto chaos de-atomizer!" and then do a tech roll. So I let them come up with some stuff they'd want (walkie talkies, night vision gear, a camera that can see ghosts), and make tech rolls. Again, they were rolling well, and were racking up Franchise dice.

Soon they headed back to the station. Earlier, while at the library, Krissi had gotten some blueprints. I let her narrate what they showed, and she said that they showed that the current subway station B was build right on top of the original station B, and that tracks still lead through that old station. When they got back to the subway station, they wanted to find a way to get down to the old platform. Having already found the blueprints, and being close to their goal of 10 franchise dice, I didn't make her roll to find the way down, but on a lark, the door was locked, and Jason rolled his athletics to bust it open. They went down to the abandoned platform and looked around. They asked what all was down here, and I sortof froze. I described the old platform, but for some reason nothing clever came to mind, and so it was a pretty empty and boring place. They asked about what lay down the subway tracks, and I flailed about mentally for a moment, before pulling something totally out of my ass and describing a large metal web in the subway tunnel. They investigated closer and saw that there were cocoon like objects on the metal web. Jason wanted to climb up and check out one of the cocoons. I had him roll his Athletics to bust one open, and let him describe what was in it. It turns out that it was one of the missing people, and that he was alive. By this time, they had already gotten the necessary Franchise dice, so we got into wrap-up mode. The guy in the cocoon indicated that they'd been snatched by -oh no!- the guy coming up the subway tunnel right now! It was a one legged ghost, strangely enough. He was the first person that had disappeared mysteriously. He claimed that the subway took his leg, and that he was kidnapping these people and keeping them alive, then letting them go later, because "it had been they're time, and the subway was going to take them!". Krissi jumped onto the only Confession of the night, and narrated that she was glad that they'd thought to bring the priests kit, in order to give final rites to this specter, and he passed on into the great beyond.

That was that. We only were at it for about and hour and a half - it blazed by. We killed some more time by nerding it up and talking about the games that I'd brought down to lend, and Michael told us about the Toon game that he's working with to game with his daughter.

So we had a great evening, and I'm glad to have had a chance to run Inspectres.

Now some observations about it:

I was a tad disappointed by Inspectres. I think part of that is due to the normal shakiness that occurs when I pick up a game that I've only read through a few times and run it live. That's normal, and there are bound to be hiccups, and misinterpretations, etc. Part of it too is that this is the most Narrative I've participated in. Dogs and TSOY both have some strong narrative elements, but neither gives as much control of the game to the players as Inspectres does. Don't get me wrong, despite being disappointed, I did have a good time, and I think that the players enjoyed it as a short distraction as well. I have to commend Krissi, Michael and Jason, as they all did a fantastic job. In fact I was impressed with their eagerness and creativity in narrating details. That said - I see alot of potential in it. Run well, its a ton of fun to have a truely collaborative story effort, one that is not the typical model - crafted by the DM and interacted with a little bit by the players, but one that is actually crafted pretty equally by everyone. I think I was a little disappointed with how quickly it went through as well. It is self described as a pickup game, and maybe I should have paid more attention to that, but it just felt short. It felt like we only had just enough time to "get it going", and then it was done. So it felt a little flat to me, in a way.

Anyway - looking forward to doing some more gaming with Michael, we'll see what we end up running. Maybe we can do a little d20 Modern or Feng Shui, since those seem like they might be games that would be of keen interest to him.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My MapMyRun

MapMyRun.com is a cool site that lets you track your exercise and such!

Here's my page:


I'm going to keep up with it as a train for the marathon, end of this year. Woo!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The joys of arguing with people on the internet

So, if you've ever read this blog, you may have gotten the impression that I like D&D 4e.

I let myself get drawn into a mostly polite discussion about D&D4 vs 3.x

In conversations like this, no one wins.

Still, I couldn't help myself.

I think I've gotten sick of this: "Your game sucks. its just a video game/board game/whatever. its not even a role playing game, it sucks and its boring and stupid."

It has little enough to do with the game itself. Its the classic internet troll stance.

No statement of informed opinion, no effort to try to actually discuss any differences.

I know that you're not supposed to feed trolls, but I couldn't help in this case.


Two Movies

We saw Hellboy II last weekend, and Batman the Dark Knight this weekend.

I give the following rating to both:

Hell yeah!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

D&D Session 4: Under a Red Moon

The players assembled, and we recalled how the characters had defeated the spiders in the cave, and were very near to the surface, even able to smell the scent of fresh air. They pressed on, and left the cave, finding themselves under a dark night sky, the moon hanging low overhead, as red as blood. They made camp, glad to see the surface again.

They woke in the morning to see a plume of smoke on the horizon. Without delay, they began to make their way in that direction. They crossed miles, heading closer to the smoke, eventually coming to burned farmsteads, and soon, to a village surrounded by a trench and palisade. From outside the village, they could see the tale of destruction. The gate of the palisade was battered down, and bodies, both goblin and human, lay where they’d fallen. As they crossed the threshold into the village, they saw, before the village stronghouse, a child and a woman, hanging by their wrists from a hastily erected beam and supports. Jerry and Andrew, the cleric and thief, respectively, charged through the village toward the woman and child, not knowing if they were alive or dead. As they approached, they noticed the smell of pitch, and the dampness of the earth beneath their feet. Two goblins burst from a small building nearby, each with a ceramic throwing bomb, lit. The goblin ambush was sprung, and they launched their bombs, one striking the thief, and igniting a huge space in the center of the village, engulfing the thief and the cleric, as well as the woman and child. More goblins emerged from hiding, and the rest of the party charged into the fray.

This was a tiny bit of a glitch for me. As soon as the players noticed the woman and child, Jerry and Andrew charged right in, while the rest of the party began to check out the barns and structures close to the entrance of the village. When the trap sprang, most of the party was way back away from the fight, and so it took folks a turn or two to even get up to the action.

When the other goblins emerged, one of them was a Hexer, and put a hex on the cleric, so that he would take a goodly amount of damage if he moved. So it was a rock and a hard place. He was standing in the midst of a conflagration, and needed to exit, but faced damage if he moved. He chose to move, and he and the thief both ran from the flames, using their hands to extinguish their clothing.

Sometimes DMs get to be a little choosy about how nasty to be. This was one of those times. I briefly considered having Jerry and Andrew remain on fire, and make saves at the end of their turns, or take a standard action to eliminate the flames. But it seemed that they had their hands quite full, I think that Jerry’s cleric was already bloodied. So fortune smiled on them, and their clothes didn’t catch fire. This was also the case when I told the players that they could move through the flames, and would not take damage unless they ended their movement within the fire.

John’s warlord ran straight in and bulldozed the support for the beam from which the woman and child were hanging. They’d been engulfed in the flames, and had screamed and twisted. He hit it and we made a strength check to see if he could knock it over. He did, and it toppled over, carrying the warlord, and the woman and child out of the flames. The party all closed in on the action – they were somewhat restricted, due to the layout of the village and where the fire was. There was basically a narrow corridor for them to pass from where they were bunched up to where the action was, on one side was the raging inferno, and on the other, a fenced and muddy pigpen, which would have been difficult terrain. A couple of goblin blades met them in this narrow corridor, and they all tied up, while Krissi’s ranger dashed across the flames to fight against two goblin javelin hurlers. The fight got nastier when the Hexer threw a cloud onto the lot of them that gave the party negatives to attack, and gave concealment to the goblins, plus, a goblin skullcleaver joined the melee, laying out huge amounts of damage with his axe. John’s warlord ran after the goblin hexer, grabbed him, and dragged him into the fire – having promised the hexer that he would burn as well, even as the hexer tried to blind Jason’s fighter.

Soon the party had dropped the two goblin blades, but the skullcleaver still stood, a serious threat. The two javelin-hurlers were keeping Krissi’s ranger, and later Jerry’s cleric, tied up, with their constant moving about. They were doing a pretty good job of sticking javelins in the ranger. Devlin held the hexer in the flames, both of them taking damage, until the hexer broke free from his grasp and ran from the flames. John’s warlord chased him to the steps of the stronghouse and threw him back into the fire. Meanwhile, they’d finally taken down the skullcleaver, and soon the two javelin hurlers went down as well.

The child, who was bound to the wooden beam, was still alive but barely, and the most that they could do was to make him comfortable. He told them, through burned lips, that the goblins had taken the rest of the people of the village north as slaves. And our Raven Queen paladin sent him gently on to the great sleep.

The party rested briefly after finding a magic belt and two healing potions. Andrew, playing a thief, wanted to steal one of the healing potions. I was a little against the idea, but he is playing a thief, and I don’t want to keep telling him “No you can’t do that.” It’s a healing potion, and none of the other players seemed to be upset at him doing so, so I let him roll his thievery check, then a bluff check. He beat the rest of the party on both, so the healing potion was his. It worked out in the end anyway, since he used it on the cleric later.

They headed with all speed north. They soon found a body, that of a villager, probably too old or sick or tired to keep up. So the goblins had killed him, and left him there for the carrion feeders. Knowing that they were on the right track, the party continued. After traveling some hours, they caught up to the slaving goblins, and could see most of them ahead cresting a ridge, as the goblins sent a party of hobgoblins back to deal with their pursuers.

All of the combats ended up spaced out weirdly today. The hobgoblins came at them in a tight line formation. I started the combat spaced widely apart, since no one was surprised by the other, and could see the approach. They started, perhaps 20 or so squares away. The first two rounds was spent just closing, the hobgoblins in their tight formation, and the party charging up. This was a pretty brutal fight. The hobgoblins were all level 2 soldiers and level 1 minions. The minions dropped relatively quickly, as is their duty, while the soldiers had terribly high AC, and high to-hit rolls. This resulted in a lot of swinging wildly at the hobgoblins, while being whacked around by them. I think that it was during this fight that Jerry’s cleric, Father Kreuz, took a wicked hit and then took a bit of a dirt nap. The party responded quickly, and got him back onto his feet. Eventually, they pounded through the defenses of the hobgoblins and were victorious.

I told them that ahead they could see the remaining hobgoblins and their slaves, the slaves chained to each other at the neck. The party, desperately in need of a rest, went ahead and took a short rest to heal up and refresh their encounter powers. They then ran after their quarry. They caught up with them at the top of a hill, beside a tall cliff. Again, this combat started with the parties far away from each other. I did this so that, as the party approached, and the hobgoblins were aware of their approach, the hobgoblins could start doing Bad Things, which would just hurry the party, and reinforce the Wickedness of the hobgoblins, against the innocent and defenseless villagers. What bad guys don’t deserve a chance to kill some innocents? This combat started out a little further even than the last fight, I think. A few of the hobgoblins started pushing the villagers, all chained together, toward the cliffs edge, as another started killing villagers at the head of the chain gang. The party crossed the distance as quickly as they could, trying to get there before the whole group of villagers could be pushed over the cliff. Just as the hobgoblins were shoving them over, and one villager had already fallen, but was suspended by the chain on his neck, the party got in range and started handing out damage, killing two of the minions who were doing the shoving. I let Krissi’s ranger and Jeremy’s wizard, the two who’d gotten up there and started hitting folks, both do intimidation checks, to see if the last remaining minion was scared enough of them to turn his attention away from the pushing of the villagers. He was not, and kept up the pushing. Soon the entire party was there, and squared off against the hobgoblins and their warcaster. The warcaster used his force ability to try to push our ranger off the cliff, while our wizard helped to pull the villagers back up, and away from the cliffs edge. The party tied up with the hobgoblins, and again, it was a tough fight. These guys were soldiers as well, and so again had high AC, and high to-hit. There were fewer of them fortunately, and the party was able to overwhelm them and their warcaster.

By this time, it was 4PM, and everyone looked somewhat tired. I’d planned one additional encounter, that was somewhat optional. I addressed the group, and told them that an advanced party was coming back, having heard the fighting, and they could see a few hobgoblins and a huge orc headed their way. I asked if they wanted to meet them in combat, or try to run. I was willing to allow them to run and get away from the enemy. For the most part, the group wanted to take on the fight, but it was decided that we’d wait until next week to do so. The party is in a pretty bad way, and will not be able to do a short rest before the enemy is on them. So it promises to be a tough fight. Few or no healing surges left, daily and encounter powers expended, and already hurt.

The hobgoblins that they’d just dispatched were carrying a chest with them, which I let Andrew try to do a skill challenge to open, basically a hugely complicated lock, featuring three rotating knobs, like three combination locks. He failed, and so they’ll have to try again later to open it.

So we’ll pick up next week. Unfortunately Maddie is scheduled to work on Saturday, so we may be without our Paladin, but we’ll hope that she can be on-call.

A few times during combat this session, I felt as though it was taking ages to move around the table. Players were pacing and leaning back, and anxiously awaiting their turn. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to this aspect, and get some help from my players as well, to determine if this is something that we can help to correct.

For my part, I need to do more prep for the combats. My spreadsheet is super handy for combat, I love how simple it makes tracking initiative and monster’s hit points. It slows everything down though in the beginning of combat for me to get it set up, I think. I may set them up in advance for each combat, and just open up the combat sheet when we’re ready for it. So I don’t have to plug numbers in at the table while folks wait. The same is true for referring back to monster to-hit, damage, AC, saves, etc. I need to have a better way to work these onto my combat sheet, to minimize flipping pages in the book, etc.

Before we started play this session, I had a question for my players about treasure items. Previously I told them that they would manage handing out magic items to the party, so that it was relatively fair and everyone got stuff. When it comes to magic armor and weapons, it falls onto me to make it for specific players, or groups of players, since not everyone wants magic plate, or magic leather, or a magic scythe. I offered the idea of when they find “magic armor” to decide on the fly what kind it is, so that it can be given to whoever seems most in need of it – basically they get to decide what type of armor it is, whether plate or chain or leather, etc. The consensus though was for me to just keep tabs of what folks had, and ration it out accordingly. I’ve asked the players to give me “wish lists”, of items that they’d like. It won’t be a shopping list, but it gives me a way to have some valuable insight into what they want. I’ll also work on tracking what each player has, so that I can make sure that I’m handing things out evenly.

The party is technically level 2 now, but they’ll have to wait until next week, after they’ve taken care of this upcoming fight, and then had a chance to rest, before the benefits of the level will kick in.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Names removed to protect the innocent

So I love to gripe about email forwards. They seem to both frustrate and entertain me.

I got one about some Chris Angel zodiac thing, basically just a reheated astrology calendar.

This is in the first part of the email that was forwarded to me.

"Read your sign, and then forward it on, with your zodi ac sign and label on the subject line. This is the real Deal, try ignoring or changing it, and the first thing you'll notice is having a horrible day starting tomorrow morning - and it only gets Worse from there."

So... my question is simply this. Assuming that you bought into the truth and power of it in the first place, why would you forward something to a friend or relative that has a chance of giving them bad luck or a terrible day? It sounds like the beginning of a B-grade horror movie.

"My great great aunt sent me this ancient Egyptian puzzle cube! It says here that if I solve it, I'll get riches beyond my wildest dreams, but if I turn it the wrong way, demons from hell will come out and flay my skin off!"

I'm just saying...

Bring on the bad luck, bitches.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

another note about the game

Sorry for the spam, feed reader people.

It also occurred to me that, when running TSOY games, I can liven up stakes by doing things like this:

If you win this conflict, the fellow does what you say, and leaves the room, shamed. If you loose the conflict, you are embarrassed and humiliated, and you leave the room, but you'll get a clue about the location of the lost mcguffin.

Thieves of Highwater Street, II

As an addendum, while its in my head, I think that when we meet up for another session, I'll go ahead and discuss having some stuff happening "off camera". I don't intend for the crewe to have to spend every moment with role playing going shop to shop, strong-arming every store owner for protection money, cause that's only cool about three times in a row, maybe. That stuff can all be happening off screen, and we'll just focus on it when something about it gets interesting (which it will). That leaves them more time to focus on things like the bad guys other interesting NPCs in the game, and looking for lost gem couriers, and stuff.

Shadow of Yesterday: Thieves of Highwater Street

So recently, in a wild coincidence, I was contacted by a fellow who was interested in getting into some role playing gaming, and had run across my info on the internets. It turns out, he's the fellow that I bought my current house from. Small world. *hi Michael*

Sadly, I told him that I was far too busy to crank up another regular game, and that my new D&D game was just plain full. I'm always excited to hear from other gamers though, and so we chatted about gaming and games and such. He went out and tried playing in some local D&D groups. Well his experience, over the course of two games with them, ranged from "meh", to "this is the worst gaming experience of my life, ever". So we chatted some more about Shadow of Yesterday and some other stuff, and then I caved, cause I love gaming, and can't really pass up the chance to run some TSoY for some folks.

So last night we got together down at his place, Jason, Krissi, myself, Michael, and his friend Kelly.

I'd thrown together a thieves guild game, based alot of The Sopranos and The Godfather. I cranked out some set and setting details, some Important NPCs, and some background stuff for the characters, in order to get everyone hooked in right away. Note to self: don't mix wine and typing up setting info. The content is fine, but your spelling is awful, and you end up somehow leaving words out of sentences.

The Horn Lake crowd headed down to Michael's place, who was gracious enough to host. Everyone shook hands and said hi, and we sat down, threw pizzas in the oven, and started talking about the game. Naturally, everyone feeling out the new people, we chatted about xbox games and films and books a little bit. I had everyone read the info I'd brought. Two pages for everyone, one, chock full of setting info and NPC info. More information than I'd intended to dump on folks, but I was trying to paint a clear and fairly complete picture for folks. The other page, with personal info about their background, their relationship with the other characters, and so forth.

We went straight into character creation, and discussed the mechanics of all the character bits, and how they impacted gameplay. I'm always surprised at how long character creation takes in TSoY, when introducing new people to the system. It's not a bad thing, it just always surprises me a little. Despite its ease and simplicity in action, TSoY is a system with some depth to it, and some tricky mechanics.

Also, I'd neglected to bring all of the extra printouts of TSoY rules info, like abilities and secrets and keys and such, so we were all sharing the one book that I had. I'll remember that for next time.

Michael and Kelly followed right along, asking questions and getting clarifications on things related to the game setting and to the system mechanics. Soon enough, we'd gotten everyone's characters settled, and were ready to start playing.

The game opened at a funeral for the recently deceased Underboss of the Harbor. Within a few minutes, they were summoned to an impromptu meet with the new Underboss. He "swore them in" to the Guild, and told them that the Highwater area, their neighborhood, was their territory. Basically, they were in charge of collecting "protection money" and running the criminal enterprises of the neighborhood. He also asked them to keep an eye out for a courier who was supposed to be delivering a shipment of gems. The courier did not show up for a meeting, and was last seen at a gambling hall on Highwater street.

The crewe took to the street, back to their neighborhood. With a few questions unanswered, they waited for the arrival of one of the Underboss's men, who came to help out with details and such. He showed up, filled them in on some basic info, got into a near physical altercation with one of the crewe, and then left, leaving them with a semi threatening "good luck".

The players decided to start at a gambling hall, and hit the owner up to start getting protection money again. He was easy enough to deal with, and they moved right along. They hit the next gambling hall, which was also the last place that the gem courier was seen. The owner of this establishment was a little less excited about the idea of forking over money to the crewe, but mostly just grumbled about it, and they didn't have to convince him hard. They also inquired about the courier, and were told that he'd shown up, sat down at a card table and started drinking. At some point, he got combative, slugged the dealer, and got thrown out of the place. That was the last they'd seen of him. The players/characters did alot of throwing around the Underboss' name, which proved to be quite effective. No one likes sleeping with the rats. The crewe questioned the dealer that he'd played with, as well as a few regulars who had been at the table, as well as the bounces that threw him out. The questioning of the dealer turned interesting. There was a hard bitten sailor playing at his table, and Kelly, playing a smooth and subtle talking type, pulled up a chair, and gently worked to convince the sailor to find another table to play at. This led immediately to our first rolling of dice.

Kelly quickly said that he was interested in going to dice to determine the outcome. We discussed how stakes and conflict worked. We discussed stakes, with Kelly winning we decided that the sailor would take his advice, and head to another table. If Kelly lost, the sailor wasn't interested in heading to another table, and as Jason suggested, the dealer was now upset with Kelly, since he was trying to run off paying customers. We rolled, and Kelly lost. We discussed how he could go to Bring Down the Pain, or he could let it lie ("cause more conflict is fun", I said)). He let it lie, and about that time Michael's character jumped into the mix to shoo away the sailor, who was becoming more angry by the minute. This was the first fellow who didn't waver in fear at the mention of "Underboss Malek". At some point (the order has already begun to escape me) Jason's character got involved, and claimed to be a city watchman. The crewe called over Krissi's character (she's playing the bruiser), as she'd been chatting up the bouncers. She rushed in, and went straight for the "intimidating with a knife" tactic. The sailor responded in kind, and presently we had another conflict on our hands. This one was a little different, since we weren't just using words here. If Krissi won, the sailor was suitably cowed and intimidated, and put his knife away and left. If the sailor won, Krissi's character got a nick, and lost the physical conflict, meaning that it was lost - she could not just say "well I intimidate him again". We rolled, and she almost lost, but thanks to some last minute adjusting of abilities, she prevailed (we changed her "dueling" ability to "knife work" which was more effective). There were some questions thrown in during this, like "So if she gets nicked, what does that mean? does it go on the harm tracker?" and so forth. I decided no, it didn't need to go on the harm tracker. She'd almost gone to Bringing down the pain when we thought she'd lost, but we got it settled.

They gang mollified the dealer, chatted him up about the missing courier, though he didn't have must in the way of helpful information. They tracked down two of the guys who were playing at the table with him that night - regulars in the place. Jason's character set about to questioning them, still using the guise of being a city watchman. I'd given him a penalty dice the first time he used this in the place, seeing that he didn't have anything to back up his story, but they bought it anyway. He continued the charade (and I think, got a little XP for his key, having to do with impersonation), and set about to interrogating the two gents. After going into deep detail, we all decided that they had little information to offer. Meanwhile, Krissi's character had chatted up the bouncers that tossed the courier out of the place when he'd gotten drunk and fighty. They said that they tossed him into the gutter, where he lay for awhile. When they looked out an hour or so later, he wasn't there anymore.

We pretty much trailed off there, for the evening, as it was already 9:30. I think that everyone had a good time, and I'm hoping to continue the story in the near future.

Michael and Kelly seemed to enjoy themselves, and claimed that the TSoY game was far superior to the other gaming stuff that they'd experienced, which I'll gladly accept. They both did a great job of jumping right in. Both are somewhat new to role playing games, Kelly having only played two sessions of gaming before, and Michael having been long separated from the hobby. They both did a fantastic job of hopping into the setting, and playing the characters. There wasn't much in the way of grabbing XP, but I think it was largely because of the short time that we played. We may need to do some key tweaking as well. We'll see.

I enjoyed running the game. I was a tad rusty at TSoY mechanics, but it was a blast. I enjoy the way that setting stakes in conflict allow you to take the game in directions that are seemingly impossible in most any other system.

There are more details that I'm missing, but mostly now because my memory and recall are poor, and I've been crazy busy at work today, and have only barely been able to steal away enough time to write this.

Hopefully there'll be more coming down the line.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

D&D Session 3: Escape from the Goblin Warrens

We had a small snafu with one of our character sheets, but we were all present at 1, and ready to game. Its funny, in previous game groups I've seen anywhere from ten minutes to well more than 30 minutes spent initially, chatting and catching up and so forth. And I haven't seen that as much. I'm not sure if its the game, and everyone is just ready to sit down and roll some dice, or maybe that some of the gamers are still a little new to each other, or what.

We picked up where we'd left off last week, having just dispatched some goblins and a couple of cave chokers. In the junk, the party found two interesting items, an amulet, and some gloves. They were quickly able to tell that the amulet was a +1 amulet of protection, and it took a little longer, but the gloves are gloves of thievery. They seemed a little excited at getting their first magic items of the campaign. I mentioned that I was relying on the players to police themselves with regard to handing out magic items. Tangentially: new D&D takes a very different approach to treasure and magic than 3.5 and older. While the older editions approached it very much in a simulationist stance, (this monster has this kind of treasure, that monster has that kind of treasure, if you were lucky enough to kill a monster with a neat sword, you got a neat sword), while D&D4 takes a very much more gamist and frankly, MMORPG based approach. The difference from my perspective is one of balance. In older D&D your DM might skimp on magic stuff, which was fine, except that it put the characters behind the monster Challenge Rating curve, or they characters might be particularly enterprising, and might end up with a huge collection of +1 swords that they use to build giant animal sculptures from. D&D4 takes the very scheduled approach of saying that a 1st level party gets x magic items of y level. While that sounds dry, and unfun, I think that it just relies on the DM to keep the verisimilitude going, and keep his list handy, and hand out stuff from it that seems appropriate. It works for me. Moving right along. The group kept going on their trek through the seemingly endless caves. They came to a ravine, their path led to a narrow stone bridge that spanned a black void. They began to move across the narrow bridge, when from the darkness across from them, a large rock, fastened on the end of a rope, like a pendulum, swung toward them from out of the darkness, the rock as large as a man. Behind, another rock swung out, this one smaller. Both missed, and the party began to run across the narrow bridge, which was short enough that they were able to cross most of it with a double-run movement. (note to self, next time, make the bridge two or three times that length ;)) Maddie, playing the paladin, wanted to know if lying down and bellying across the bridge would help to eliminate the threat of the rocks. it was a clever idea, but her party members checked and saw that it should be possible to run across the bridge in short order. The party tied up with the goblins that were on the other side of the bridge, who were the ones swinging the stones across the chasm. Krissi's character, hanging back at the other end of the bridge, wanted to wait until the rock swung by again, and leap onto it, and ride it home. She waited and finally the big and small rocks swing back out of the darkness, the small one swing toward our wizard. He sidestepped it, but Krissi's ranger took the full hit of the big rock. Its effect was to cause damage and push the target 1 square and they'd go prone. Her ranger was near the edge, so i was going to push her off the edge, and have her roll checks to try to scramble back up onto the bridge, instead, she wanted to absorb the hit, and grab the rock, as she'd previously stated. So I let her, cause it was cool. In retrospect I should have upped the damage just a little, since she just took it... 4e D&D is sometimes a battle between gamism and verisimilitude, for me... more on that leter.. So Krissi's ranger leaps onto the rock, and swung across to where the gobling were, and just as I prepared to have her make an athletics check to leap off of the rock. she used her Eladrin *bamf* to make it to the ledge. And we were all locked up in combat. The players fought well, and I fought for the goblins, moving them in a way that attempted to match both with their printed tactics, with their abilities, and with the concept that I had for t he encounter. The party was victorious... eventually, when only one or two were left standing, with but a few hit points each, I told them that they wrapped it up. I saw this on another gamers blog, once the party has the fight, it may not be necessary to carry it the extra 2-4 rounds that it would take just to mop up. So the bad guys flee/die. After this, they pressed on into the caves.. soon coming to a section of cave that I began to detail on the grid map. I wonder sometimes if this takes a little of the mystery out of the game, and makes it more of a final fantasy game, in which they "explore" and are sometimes interrupted by me drawing some combat stuff, and putting minis out and then some combat happens. Anyway, it was a young purple worm (customized monster). It burst from the ground beneath them, coming up right beneath Andrew's character (decided by a random dice roll), the rest of the characters, in their close formation, were pushed back a square, and the immediate adjoining squares to the large (2x2 grid) monster became difficult terrain. The monster had its surprise round, and then the rest of the party started in on the beast. I created a custom power for the (solo) worm, a "thrash" power, an immediate reaction, each time it was hit by a successful melee attack, it would attack that person back for +7 vs reflex, and 1d10+3 damage, plus on a hit it would push the target one square and knock them prone. And this power worked great. Without it, the fighters would have just gathered around it and whaled on it. It gave it a complication, which is tons of fun. And at least one player said at the table, that it was his favorite fight so far, and that it was tons of fun. Within the first round, I think, Jason's Fighter used a daily power that let him move an ally two squares. He hit the worm and used the move on Andrew's Rogue. I was hesitant about this - Andrew's character being locked in the beasts maw. But we moved him, and for two reasons, that are sort of the same reason. I'm out to let players use their powers successfully whenever possibly. its a game about them, and the cool stuff that they do. And second was that I was battling with verisimilitude. I was quickly able to figure that Jason's dragonborn fighter hit the worm so hard that it hurled the rogue from its maw. That's one of the main quibbles that i have with 4e, is verisimilitude, and mostly I'm able to reconcile it, but I need to keep an eye on it. Soon, Maddie's Paladin had marked the worm, and so on the next round, it grabbed for her, and hit, getting the paladin in its maw. The next round, it swallowed her. She was still alive, though badly hurt. A couple of minor problems came up. Can the paladin use her two weapon Scythe inside it? No the monster description says only one handed weapons or natural weapons. So that kinda sucked for the Paladin. Can the cleric heal the paladin, while the paladin is in the stomach of the purple worm. The healing effect that Jerry's paladin was using was a ranged effect, so, again for the sake of "the players win", I quickly said "Sure." Soon enough, the worm was down. Also, they picked up a +1 holy symbol of life.

They pressed on and eventually came to a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge cavern, and started exploring around the edge, still very determinedly looking for an exit to the surface. Eventually they encountered a goblin herder, tending a flock of fire beetles. The goblin was opportunistic, and was happy to offer directions to the surface in exchange for some cash. She told them that there were two routes to the surface, either via the "Chimney", or via a goblin fortress that they'd have to pass through. This was where I'd decided to give the group some options about how to get to the surface. The chimney was to be a tough, nearly straight-up way to reach the surface. It would have been a skill challenge, and I'd have dragged it out for a bit, making it more than a series of dice rolls. Could they have done it? Probably. Would it have been tough? Oh for sure. The party barely considered it. I mentioned to some of them, after the fact and for future reference, that it would have given them XP. But they headed for the goblin fortress. They reached it, and found that the entrance was a 50 foot shaft that led up to the fortress. My players can thank games like "Dwarf Fortress" for giving me a wicked understanding of underground fortifications. To make a medium story short, the characters faced a terrifyingly difficult assault on the fortress. D&D forces me sometimes to strike a delicate balance, as I mentioned last session, about the uber umber hulks... While I do want my players to trust me, I need to be able to drop things in front of them that cannot (or at least, there are better ways) to solve than by the sword. That reminds me that an eternal weakness of a D&D group is sneaking around stuff. My party doesn't want to sneak anywhere, because half of them wear big time armor. Note to players: consider removing armor and sneaking. is it scary? sure. is it dangerous and exciting? well, what are you here for? So, tangentially, I am glad that my players trust me, and hope that they continue to do so, but I'm glad that its not a blind faith, in which they just assault everything that they see, trusting me to make it a "balanced encounter".

The party brokered a deal for safe passage from the opportunistic goblins. After much nervous haggling, the party, sans most of their weapons, made it into the fortress. Another few tense minutes were spent by me (and the party), making their way, under guard, through the fortress. The party waiting for a trap from the goblins, and me waiting on one of them to say "oh fuck it, I attack". We made it through,. money changed hands, and they proceeded toward the surface. Now, two quick things, one combat, and some encounter planning, and the other, some underlying economy mechanics. The combat: I'd setup a number of cool encounters for the session, more, I knew, than we'd get through. As the party rolled out of the goblin fort, they'd gotten a warning about being careful for cave spiders. I'd noted t his encounter up in advance, and had planned it either as a "punishment" earlier in the session, or to just be thrown in later, cause I thought it was pretty cool. So they were leaving the goblin fort at 5PM our time, which is quittin' time. I described the passage up out of the underground, and the side passage, and *oh the glint of gold, reflecting the torchlight, from down there somewhere!!!* and of course, there were some webs there. To my surprise, my awesome, but sometimes busy and time-crunched group, without a comment, debated fighting spiders or not, and decided to go in and liberate the cave from those nasty spiders. So charge in, they did. Another fun fight, in my opinion. Like the earlier goblin fight, I thought that something that I'd prepared got nixed a little. In the goblin fight, I only got to swing my rock swingy trap things like twice. It worked out fine, but of course I wanted to use them more. In the spider fight, I'd made up some rules regarding burning webs, deciding that flame applied to a web will burn one square of web plus one randomly decided adjacent square, and cause 2d6+3 damage to anyone in a burning web square. The cave had some web around the edges, and at the back, a ton of webs, and sword (for bait). The party made it deep into the cave, Jeremy Younger's Wizard burning huge swathes of web. Finally, rolling poorly on their stealth rolls, the spiders struck, one big mama spider, and a bunch of Swarms. Swarms are tough to hurt with melee or ranged attacks, or anything that's not "close or area" attack. And the mama spider had an ability that I'd made up, to *cough* shit more 3x3 squares of web. Now, something happened that I should have anticipated, but failed to do so. Web got shit onto the party, and the spiders moved in (getting movement bonuses on web), and started biting, and then the Wizard and the multiclass wizard characters started dropping napalm right onto their colleagues, to burn the web and the spider swarms. The burning was just too much, and dispatched the spiders. The party gathered the gold, and prepared to move on to the surface.

Now, notes:

The party did very well in all three combat encounters. They held their own, they used their abilities, they moved around, and they rocked, which is at least half the point of doing this, so it was awesome. My players rule, and all of them are deserving of honorable mention, though at the moment, Jerry's Cleric is a crazy healing machine, Maddie's Paladin is a crazy aggro-pulling machine who gets eaten by purple worms, and John's Warlord is a tactical machine, giving other characters extra strikes and moves and so forth.

The two non-combat encounters went much as I hoped that they would. The goblin herder dragged on too long, mostly my fault. I took the tactic of playing out their exploring, and his stalking them, and eventually contacting them, instead of saying "You hit a huuuuuuuuuuuuge cavern, which you explore for 3 hours before a goblin beetle herder offers to give you directions." Also, the party haggled fairly with the herder, instead of intimidating, or killing, or otherwise forcing the issue. Same for the goblin fortress. I had it planned as a non combat encounter, with some contingency plans in holding, but I was hoping that the PCs would be able to make their way through it without fighting, and they did!

quick Cut scene vs long and played out cut scene: just for observation and documentation sake: after the game, when directly requesting feedback from my players, one said that they had initially felt that they were trapped in this underground "dungeon crawl", going from one encounter to the next, separated only by a few words to set the stage for the next combat. The player said though that it seemed that wasn't the case, and was looking forward to getting out from underground. Another player said that they did not like the long cut scenes between encounters. During the conversation, I mentioned that I was going for something between the extremes of "quick cut scene between combats", and "Here is your geology lesson". I do not want the game to be just combat followed by combat, with some small filler in between, but I'm also not out to bore my players with long blah blah blah quartz geology blah blah coal vein blah blah, oh look at the time. I'm trying to give due diligence to evoking mental images, and some basic emotional responses, but totally not trying to drag it out. I'll keep working on it. I think it may be a little different once we're out of the underground. I have to compare though, to books, in which authors are sometimes allowed to go on for pages, setting up a scene or situation. I'm just trying not to gloss too lightly over stuff.

Money - so the players spend quite a bit of cash, paying goblins. And, for the record, I'm proud of them for doing so. On the other side of the coin, D&D4 has a somewhat tight economy, and what I mean is that, as I've mentioned, the rules lay out "Give players X amount of gold per level, and give them Y magic items". Which some people have complained long and loud about, but I think its good. Now, I'm not trying to follow it like a road map, but I'm interested in keeping it going. So, when I give the players 200 gold for the whole party, and then turn around and have the goblins charge them 140 gold for the whole party to pass through their fortress, I feel like I'm giving and then taking away.

DMing in general - holy cow, DMing for D&D 4 is such a breeze. I love it. I can create custom monsters in just a few minutes, with cool powers that create awesome combat scenes. I can still do most or all of "all the stuff you do in D&D", people can climb, jump, haggle, intimidate, etc. Its just so smooth. Sure, we're still getting used to it, but I feel like very session works a little smoother from a mechanical approach. Also, thanks to Jerry for having fully digested the material and having a solid answer to 4 out of 5 questions :)

XP: I've put up for discussion in the group the idea of doing 3 sessions per level, and ditching the xp thing. D&D is structured in a way that a "typical" group will level about every 4 sessions. D&D is built around giving XP for killing monsters, and D&D4 has some alternatives, but it seems to solve a couple of problems at once to look at just a flat advancement rate. 1- it provides a flat, standard and easily understandable rate of advancement. 2- it eliminates the argument "well, lets kill them. its XP, right?". 3- if I want to do this for 30 levels, we're talking 90 gaming sessions.. which is a long time investment. Not that I'm trying to cut anything short, but I do want to... um.. get there.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Domain Permissions Freak Out

So we have a new salesperson. He's going to work out of his home-office in Indiana, but he's down here at our corporate office for a couple of weeks.

I got him a laptop, and got it setup, and decided not to put it on the domain, since he'll be using VPN to get back to our Terminal Server, where he'll access all of his stuff. So he's been down here for about two weeks, and I handed him the laptop a week ago, and have been tweaking stuff as we go, making sure that he has access to the stuff that he needs.

So today I'm fooling with some random small problem, when I go to browse to our network file server. I get in, and accidentally click on the wrong folder. Now what should happen is that he should get a little message that says "You don't have access, blah blah blah". But I don't. Instead, I'm right in. It also occured to me, right at that second, that I did not authenticate when I hit the file server. To put that in non tech terms, I accessed our secure file server without it knowing who the hell I was. I clicked through a few more folders, testing folders that were more and more secure, finally checking our super-duper-secure folder. I can get into them all. So, I spent just a couple of seconds completely freaking out.

If this laptop- which is just part of a default workgroup, not on the domain, hence, no permissions on the domain, it doesn't even exist as far as domain security is concerned- can access any folder on our file server.. maybe on our network? I remotely log onto our domain controller and start double checking security and share permissions. I start second guessing myself. "Well, I thought that security overrode share settings..".

I spend about 10 minutes in simmering panic mode, trying to figure out how the hell I can access all of this data - its not supposed to work this way. I'm even trying to figure out the likelihood of having been the victim of a worm or trojan that somehow botches network security.

Finally the brain cells start to really fire, and it occurs to me to check and see what account the domain controller is seeing, that is accessing the data. In other words, what credentials am I using to hit this data?


.......??? I'm not logged into the local machine as administrator.

Then it clicks.

I bet that while setting up this laptop, I hit the network and used the administrator credentials. But why is it caching them? Why am I not having to re authenticate? I even tried mapping a network drive with the salesperson's credentials, then unmapped it, and tried the data again - still administrator.

So now I'm trying to figure out how to uncache network logon info.

I start digging around on google. "clear network logon cache", nothing good. "clear share password network", nothing good. I start mixing and matching words, trying to get something. Anything.

And then:

rundll32.exe keymgr.dll, KRShowKeyMgr

It brings up a handy little screen that shows the stored logon info for network locations. I dig around a little more and find that on Windows Server 2003, its an icon in the control panel! Handy!


What is freedom without civil liberties?

The erosion of our civil liberties and privacy frightens and concerns me.

The other side claims that these measures are necessary to "ensure our safety" and so forth, but I call bullshit. Prove to me that this makes me safer. Prove to me that this does not slide us further down the slippery slope.

Senate approves increased domestic surveillance and retroactively gives immunity to companies that previously, perhaps illegally, turned over our private information to the government.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I owe the lives of my children to Channel 5

Oh no! I better tune in! Otherwise I won't know how this is a threat to my family!

Thank you Channel 5!