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

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.