Monday, September 23, 2019

Tales from the Borderlands – Episode 3 – Triumph & Tragedy

               This week’s adventure was full of ups and downs with the characters being overly happy with themselves, and also getting a bit overconfident as well. They had some great rewards, and some low points as well. To keep everyone up to speed I have an open table game that I run at my school for my students, each week the party’s members can fluctuate and this does cause a bit of hand waving on my part mostly at the end of the session stating, “and you get back to the keep safely” so that each week they can start at the keep. This week there was no new players, only people playing for at least their second go around. I had a dwarf, elf, fighter, and two thieves. Still no dedicated magic user or cleric, but they seem to know that and do not care.

                I am trying to get the party use to the idea of hirelings, without outright coming out and saying, “You guys NEED to hire some help.” Whenever they are in town, I mention that they can do the following things, 1) buy equipment 2) gather information 3) visit the church 4) talk with the local authorities 5) possibly hire someone. They seem good with 1 and 2, and even tried 3 this week, but I had to ram number 5 down their throats to at least hope they would get the idea. I had them meet Kip. Kip was a local street urchin that heard the group came back with lots of money, and no deaths. Kip wanted to go on the adventure. Kip asked to be their porter and torch bearer, for 30 silver a day and no share of the loot. What better deal can I throw at them? They legit hemmed and hawed over it, because “We can carry our own gear and torches?” I explained encumbrance, and not being able to use one arm with a torch, still they were unsure. Kip laid a sob story on them about trying to feed his family, and the thieves of the party took pity, and hired him. Off they went to the caves.

                Again they rolled no random encounters on the way there, and arrived promptly on the morning of the second day. They wasted no time and headed straight for cave G, and I was horribly nervous. As veterans of B2 know, cave G can easily turn into a TPK. They enter the cave system and instantly start heading down into the darkness. I continue to roll listen checks for the various beasts in this cave system, but they continue to luck out. They make it to outside the opening of a wider opening and they stop to listen for noises. One of the thieves hears the sound of cracking bones coming from down the tunnel. They decide to send the dwarf and the elf, due to their infrafvision, into the entrance to see what is happening. Again I roll a listen check for the creature with bonuses because of their armor, nothing. They end up seeing a massive creature eating the carcass of a humanoid. I play infravision exactly like “Predator” vision from the movie. They see heat, but making out details is not possible. The dwarf decides he wants to get a better look, and goes back to the party retrieves a bow, rags, and oil. He goes back into the cave lights the arrow and fires it over the creatures head. Needless to say the Owlbear was surprised, and screams and begins to charge. Upon hearing the scream the rest of the party runs, the dwarf is running too. The party with their head start clears the cave, but the Owlbear catches up to the dwarf at the cave entrance, stabbing him with his beak and bringing him to 1 hit point.

They loved this picture when I showed it to them.

                I inform them that the Owlbear is faster than most of the party, and they can run, but odds are it will chase down one of them. They decide to fight it in the open, and used decent tactics. They spread out initially and the Owlbear charged the Elf who was guarding Kip, the rest began using ranged combat to try and bring it down. The fighter took a round to get into flanking position, and they had a decent system going. The thieves with their bows were on fire, hitting about 80% of the time, and getting at least one critical. (Note: I read somewhere that Gary did not like critical hits and the double damage, he claims it throws the math off of the monsters a bit. I can see that especially with creatures having much lower HP. So instead of double damage, I went with a Gary suggestion and just max the damage on a 20. Keeps the rolls within the bounds of possibility.) Besides the thieves, everyone was down to 1 or 2 hit points by the end. Except poor Kip. Kip bravely stood his ground with the elf in the initial charge of the Owlbear, and took a natural 20 to the face. This made the thieves state, “We are not running from this fight, this thing MUST die,” and it did. They ended up taking the Owlbear’s claws, head, and getting several Owlbear steaks. As they continued messing with the body, I kept asking one at a time randomly to roll a d6. They’d ask, “What for?” I would reply, “Nothing, it’s fine.” Eventually they were like, “Is this for the Ogre trying to hear us?” I just sat back and smiled, they then packed their belongings and left. They never did go back and search its lair, maybe they will in the future.

                They returned to town, conquering heroes with their Owlbear head. It was taken and put up on the ramparts to signify civilization’s triumph over chaos. They brought Kip’s body back and took it to the chapel, they also asked the Priest to make them a Healing Potion, which he started upon. They searched out for Kip’s sister, Alania, only to discover they were twins and she wanted to get revenge. She was going to go with the party on their next trip and raise hell at the caves. The elf decided to go full Legend of Zelda and buy flute. He asked, “Do I know how to play it?” I responded, “Yes, you’re an elf. I am sure you spent 1 full year of your life devoted to music theory.” The fighter then asked, “Can I play it?” I looked coldly, “No, you are not a beautiful creature, like the elves.” They rested, made merry, and decided to head back to the caves.

You beautiful elven bastard.

                They finally got not one, but two random encounters. I was excited, I wanted them to have to deal with something that was completely not on their terms. Then I rolled the random generation, day 1 herd animals (deer), day 2 Halflings. Neither was a threat, they did get to talk with a “rival” adventuring group as the Halflings were headed to the caves too. They believe they had just gotten eight new NPCs to boss around, but since they didn’t try and negotiate with the Halflings they ventured into the goblin caves. The party decided to go into the caves they had not tried yet, cave A. I rolled and the usual surprise at the entrance of cave A was not there, and they entered in full formation.

                They wanted several yards into the cave and sprung the pit trap almost immediately, the elf managed to fall in and was reduced to 2 hit points, and more importantly they had to get him out. They were in no rush, and the guards from section 2 come pouring into the section and begin stabbing into the pit at the elf. They respond by firing some arrows back and the elf makes it back to the surface. I was hoping they would try and negotiate, because the Dwarf knows Kobold, and has a decent CHA. He tells them, “Get your gold and bring it to us, then leave the cave with your lives,” and proceeds to flub the CHA roll too. This just angers them, and they send a runner off into the deeper part of the caves, and continue to verbally spar with the party, with the occasional “F--- You Smoothskins”. With one round of completely good aim, the party kills all the Kobold with missile fire. They traverse the pit, and begin to raid the bodies. All the while I am telling them about the time passing. They find a lever on the other side of the pit to reset the trap, and head into room 2. Room 2 without guards is just generally empty, but the ransack it. When they come back to the T-section they notice 3 Kobold commanders,1 Kobold “King”, and 3 more Kobolds across from them, and 8 Kobolds blocking the way out of the cave.

Silly little monster, but they can be deadly.

                One of the brand new player of a thief immediately states, “Pull the lever, it will block the group of 8 from getting to us.” This decision most likely saved the party from a TPK. This battle went on for some time but here are the highlights. The king was slain by the dwarf hitting him with an oil flask and he burned to death over two rounds. The 8 Kobolds decided to enter the pit and try and climb up each other to scale the walls. The fighter decided to throw some of his Owlbear steaks into the pit to see what happened. I try to give everything a chance, so I decided to give the Kobolds a save versus magic with a +5 bonus to not care about the meat. They rolled a 1. Their make-shift ladders collapsed and they began fighting among themselves over who got the meat. The thief then pulled the lever again, sealing the squabbling runts to kill each other. The kobold commander were not slouches though, and managed to kill two party members, the Elf and the Fighter. This brings the death count to 4 this campaign, 2 elves, and 1 fighter, and 1 NPC. I now keep a dead pile on the whiteboard at school of the character sheets of the deceased, see the picture below.

The gone, but not forgotten. Students added the writing for flair.

                The 3 remaining party members looted the Kolbolds and found the King’s golden necklace worth 1,200 GP. You would have thought they won the Mega Millions Jackpot. They were dancing around the table, handing out high fives, and general cavorting. Now I need to consider the fate of the dead in the party. The first elf that died, never came back so I did not have to deal with it. These players do want to continue. I don’t want people to completely fall behind. I think my policy will be you can keep half of the XP of a previous character. Thus, there is a penalty for dying, but it is not a complete loss. I think this is reasonable, but tell me what you think in the comments. Do you have a better strategy for dealing with stuff like this?

                That was all for this week, the player continue to surprise me in multiple ways. They are absolutely brilliant in some situations, and completely clueless in others. Seems like just another day playing D&D.

Missed the other Episodes? Look here to catch up.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Storm King’s Thunder #3 – Captives, Caverns, & Cloud Giants

               It has been some time since I have been able to write about my Storm King’s Thunder campaign. My group is all about 40 years old with careers, families, and responsibilities, it has just been crazy for all of us for different reasons. We finally got to meet up this past Friday and continue our game into the murky world of SKT. When we last left our group had just fended off the Orc attack on Nightstone and was considering options in attempting a rescue on the civilians in the caverns to the North. They had Felgolos go to the caves to scout, he returned and told them that the villagers must have been captured, and they decided to have him go to Waterdeep to send help. The village seemed to be on everyone’s radar as open for the taking, and they needed help in keeping it free. Like the good “Bro” that Felgolos is, he decided to help again.

Hekaton looking great

                The first order of business was the party wanted to deal with Kella. She was chained to Shandy, but helping against the Orcs with solid advice, if anything to keep herself alive. Towards the end of the Orc fight, things looked like they were not going the party’s way, Shandy decided to cut her free and told her to run. Taking full advantage of this, she did and took off into Nightstone. Now that the incident was over there was a big debate as to what to do with her. They noticed that the drawbridge was not down, so she could not have left yet. She must be in the town. The party, being three people, split into three different chains of thought on what to do with her. Shandy wanted to let her go, and even wanted to try and see if she would help them with the rescue of the villagers. Izumi took the exact opposite track and wanted to bring her to justice for her crimes, possibly killing her. Ionas took a middle path, he wanted to lock her up until they got back from the rescue, then release her. He did not want her loose while they were away. They never fully came to an accord once they found her and it got rather heated.

                Kella had made it back to the Inn and she was gathering her belongings. This is how in the standard adventure path you find her and I felt this was an appropriate time to reveal that she had been in the town before these events. They approached and asked her to come down peaceably, but Izumi had a much harsher tone stating, “If you do not come down now, I will kill you.” This did not go over well with Kella. Izumi kept calling her out for stabbing them in the back and how she has no honor. Shandy was trying to smooth over the wrinkles, but to no avail. Eventually after being berated for a while Kella shot back at Izumi, “I have no honor? You attacked my friends unprovoked and killed them. You are the honor-less killer.” Then she challenged Izumi to single combat to resolve the situation. I really wanted this to happen, because I honestly did not know how it would shake out. She is the spy template from the Monster Manual, at this point Izumi is a 4th level Bard from the College of Swords. It would have been close I believe. Shandy and Ionas stepped in, and Ionas reminded everyone that he was the one that actually was stabbed in the back and tells her that she was going to go into a cell for a time, until the group came back. Then she was going to leave and that was that. Ionas is usually pretty soft spoken, so this was unusual, and everyone agreed. They locked her up, and ordered the stooge guards not to let her out until they got back.

Kella still causing problems

                The group set off for the caves hoping to be able to rescue the townsfolk from the clutches of an enemy they believed correctly was goblins. They still have not done a long rest since the Orc fight, but got a short rest while on the way to the cave. While headed there they decided to look for any signs of activity and see if the tracks looked like anything they recognized. They did well on the roll and I described obvious goblin prints, but some other humanoid prints were there as well, something big. At this point they have giants on the brain and thought that this was part of the giant narrative. I did mention if it was giants, it would be giants on the smaller end of the spectrum, possibly giant-kin. They approached the cave and Izumi went to scout and discovered the main room. It had some goblin guards on ledges, and an Ogre bathing in a mud bath. They decide to try and lure the guards out by making an illusion in front of the cave, and hiding above the entrance. When setting up for this, Ionas noticed a bit of smoke coming out of the top of the hill. When they investigated the smoke, they realized there was a chimney up top and decided to descend into the caves that way.

                Immediately they run into Snigbat and attack him, luckily for him he lives long enough to be pathetic. They take pity on him and he agrees to betray Hark and show him where he is located. He encourages them to kill him, and then Snigbat will take over as boss, and free the prisoners. The party seemed to agree, and Snigbat upheld his part. He led them over to Hark’s area and they see Hark and 2 other goblins betting on giant rat fights, while other giant rats are feasting on the corpse of a villager. Now is a good time to discuss how module think things will play out, and how they actually play out. The module spends a good two paragraphs discussing “if the party tries to negotiate with Hark”. This, I believe, is wasted ink. Most gamers I know will show little mercy to a goblin that is eating people and feeding them to giant rats. There might be some out there, but I don’t know many. Hark sees the party enter with Snigbat, and begins to speak, before that can happen Shady sees the bodies and says, “I rage and throw my spear at him.”

Both my games this week featured Ogres

                The Goblin Boss in the Monster Manual is downright amazing, l love the little guy. He is mean, and has a handful of great abilities. He gets two attacks, can disengage as a bonus action, and can use his reaction to shift an attack onto a nearby goblin. He was very fun to play. The spear came at him in a surprise action (I know they are not in 5e officially, but I still use them), he pulled his mate in front of him and that goblin nearly died. Then the combat ensued. Hark managed to move around, and get all the other goblins in the room killed by dragging them in front of him, including Snigbat (it does not say the goblin has to be willing). He had his rats attack the party and in the end, everything was dead, except him, he had 1 HP and the party was severely hurt. Giant rats tore the party up, and I forgot their pack tactic rule.  At this point Hark tried to negotiate, and was going to let the people go, the party was having none of it. He did warn them, “I can make sure the Ogres don’t…..” he never finished the sentence as Shandy cut him in half. Speaking of the Ogres, I had them making listen checks every round and they were on their way.

                The party disagreed as to what to do, Shandy wanted to stay and fight, Ionas and Izumi wanted to flee and come back. Shandy decided to move to a choke point where he could only face one Ogre at a time, Izumi fled up the chimney, and Ionas said he was leaving, but ended up backing Shandy with the few spells he had left. Remember the party still hasn’t had a long rest since before the Orc fight, supplies were at their breaking point. Shandy and Ionas managed to kill Throg the Ogre, but their mate was a different story. Ionas decided to pull the Iron Bands of Billaro and wrap up the second Ogre. At that point Shandy and Ionas made short work of the Ogre who failed to break out of the Bands. Izumi came back down, with a combined effort of illusion, thaumaturgy, and a screaming warforge carrying an Ogre head, they scared the rest of the goblins from the cave.

                They rescued the villagers, but I did give them the body count of those that were eaten. The group was a little hard on themselves for not acting sooner, but all things considered they did well. I tried to ingratiate them to Morak Ur’Gray the dwarven proprietor of the Nightstone Inn, because of the upcoming events and sending them on a quest to Bryn Shander. Morak did not want the mantle of leadership that the party was thrusting upon him, making him make decisions for the group. He did step up though because he cared about the townsfolk and respected the party. I decided to play Morak, like many of my dwarves, as Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec. I plan to write a larger article on how Ron Swanson is the perfect dwarf stereotype, but that is for another day.

                The party brought the villagers home, and spent the next few days helping to fix the town as they received word from Waterdeep that supplies were on their way, and a small contingent of Griffin Riders would be patrolling the area to keep the riff raff away. They also received orders from the Harpers to continue deeper into the North and try to recover any information about the situation with the giants. Kella did stick around a few days, helping with the clean-up, she knew many of the villagers from her spying days, and is not completely heart-less. That is, until Izumi and Ionas pushed the issue. Izumi wanting her locked up, and Ionas wanting her gone. They left it to Morak, who was told about her friends trying to take over the city, and he decided it “might be for the best if you leave”. So she packed her things and moved on.


                Morak then asked the party for a favor, his friend Semile was killed in the attack and wanted to know if the party would pass the news and some of the personal items onto her brother. Her brother, Markham, is in Bryn Shander and this would allow them to go deeper into the North and see what they can find out. This is a contrivance of the story, because if the party says “no” it is hard to get this puppy back on track. Especially because Bryn Shander is extremely far away. My group are old veterans of D&D and smell a plot hook and bite full force. They set off for Bryn Shander. They don’t get but a day away from Nightstone when they hear a horrible and loud crash off in the distance. When they move to see what has happened they see a floating tower, surrounded by clouds, that has crashed into the ground. There is energy surging all over the tower and it looks dangerous in general. The party knows that something similar to this attacked Nightstone and move to investigate. They manage to scale the side as the tower begins to slowly rise. They then meet the owner of the tower Zephyros the Cloud Giant.  

                Zephyros lets the party in on the main plot of the entire SKT module and he has been looking for the party to help them fix what is broken. Here are his main points:
  • The All Father of the giants was mad at the giants for the events in Rise of Tiamat. He decides to abandon his children, and shattered The Ordning.
  • The Ordning is the giant’s hierarchy, and determines their place in society.
  • King Hekaton, Lord of the Storm Giants, was keeping the giants in place through force.
  • Queen Neri was killed by “small folk” and this sent Hekaton into a rage.
  • Princess Serissa, next in line for the throne, convinced her father to investigate the problem.
  • Before that was resolved, Hekaton disappeared, leaving the three Princesses vying for power.
  • All the other giants are trying to please the All-Father in their own respective ways, so that when the Ordning is restored, they will ascend. This is what is causing the madness in the North with all the giants.
               Zephyros has been contacting other planes of existence in order to try and find a way to fix the problem, this surge of energy is interfering with the control orb in the tower causing it to crash on occasion, and destroying his own mind. He did receive information that he was to help the party on their quest, because it leads towards the restoration of peace in the giant kingdoms. He agrees to escort them to Bryn Shander, but it will be almost a month of travel.

Next stop!

               This is where we ended the session, the party has met with their traveling companion and is on their way to Bryn Shander. I just had one of my party members message our group chat saying that he is really enjoying the game. I am happy about that, I am having a good time too. What adventures aboard the tower await? Who knows? Tune in next time.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Tales from the Borderlands – Episode 2 – Ogre Aggressive

               I apologize for the delay on this series, but the hurricane cause school to cancel last week and the group was unable to get together. We had a session on Tuesday and it was quite special. I am running an open table so players are going to fly in and out of the sessions. I had three characters return from the previous adventure, the Dwarf, the Elf, and the Fighter that was knock out at the end of last session. Joining this merry band was four new players. Two of the new players have played before, and two were completely new to D&D. The party added another Fighter, another Elf, and two Thieves (both of them completely new players). The party still had no Magic Users or Clerics, but such is life.

                When we last left off, the group had slayed a small contingent of goblins, and earned a hearty 60 silver pieces, and one of their front line fighters was down. Since over 50% of the game was new, I decided to hand wave that the party retreated and was attempting to get back to town with their guide, Mac the Woodsman. Luckily I rolled no random encounters and they arrived back at The Keep. I told them how the Keep’s population was snickering under their breath because they came back tail between their legs and with nothing to show for it. Mac was disappointed that he basically did not get paid for four days of work and the group was close to out of money at this point. I ruled that they rested for a week in order to let the fighter get back health, and the new players arrived in the meantime.
                The new players came to the keep and as they entered noticed the guards exchanging some coin and overheard, “I bet this lot comes back with nothing too, most likely one will die too. I’ll give you 5 to 1 odds.” This was a tad disconcerting to them and they headed straight for the tavern to get the local rumors. I did not consult the rumor table, because the scuttlebutt about the cave was nothing but about how the last group failed miserably. Mac introduced himself, and offered his services to the new group. I also had Mac suggest that the newbies might want to combine forces with the group that went in last time. The more manpower, the more likely they can survive. The groups decided to combine and were going to set off the next morning.
                The notion of supplies came up as almost no one had money, or rations. The two new players, both thieves, decided to live up to their reputations. They wanted to go and steal rations for the group. No one seemed to have a problem with this, and they both set out to see what they could obtain. I asked them their plan and explained that there was a “provisioner” and described a simple general store. At first, since they were new, they said “We steal from him.” I asked, “How are you going about this?” I gave them a few examples of how they could possibly go about this, then they understood and came up with a good plan. One of the thieves had a 16 CHA and they were going to distract the merchant, and the other was going to rob from him. I decided to mess with them ever so slightly because they kept saying this is like Skyrim. I wanted to do something that Skyrim does not do. I made the merchant exceptionally nice, and wholesome. He was talking with the character saying how tough times were since the trade routes are threatened by monsters from the caves. How he can barely afford to feed his poor wife, who is ill. How the character reminded him of his nephew, who is a good boy, honest as the day is long. The player actually doing the theft was like, “I can’t do this. He is so nice.” To which the other player said, “We’re in this too far don’t back down now.” So they stole from him, to rub it in slightly I had him give the player a free ration because he knew, “Times were tough.” Both of the players felt a little bad and agreed to give the man money if they get any from the Caves.

Poor Old Merchant

                The group set off with no trouble getting into the Caves, with no random encounters (they’ve been lucky on this both games). After the last time I expected a bit more teamwork, so they immediately split up! Half the party decided to go towards G cave and the other half towards E cave. The group that went towards G decided to attempt to “smoke out” whatever is inside it and build a fire at the entrance. While the group that went towards heard distinct snoring coming from the cave. With the fire lit, I described how only part of the smoke was going in the cave, and part was going out do to being right on the entrance and that the caves must be pretty big, because the smoke isn’t pooling up all that quickly. The other group continues fret about the snoring, but they are hoping it is the Ogre. Last session they heard a rumor in town that the Ogre “sometimes helps the cave dwellers” somehow they took this as the Ogre was friendly, and might help them. I guess they watch too much Shrek growing up.
                The group at G enters the cave and finds the trash pile and two players begin to rummage, finding a gold they rummage more. I rolled noise checks for three rounds of searching for two different players, and nothing. I really wanted to have the Owlbear and Ogre show up at the same time. The group at E decides to enter the cave to see what is snoring, and see the large fur mound, slowly rising and falling. I also made hear noise checks for the Ogre to wake up with bonuses because they were not being that quite, NOTHING. This Ogre was in deep REM cycles. At this point, one of the people at cave E runs to G and says they found something and the whole group enters E and stares at the mound of fur. The newest Fighter gets brave and goes right next to the mound and realizes it is an Ogre with a blanket. They decide to try and make friends. At this point, one of the new players of a thief had to depart, so I ruled that she went out of the cave and hid.
                Half the party stands back, and half the party is right next to the Ogre. The remaining thief successfully hides, and one of the elves shakes the Ogre awake….like you do. It is at this point that someone chimes in, “Does anyone speak Ogre? What do Ogres speak?” I answered with, “I don’t know, what do Ogres speak?” Everything started to spiral very quickly at this point, as the Ogre wakes up with everyone trying different languages out. The dwarf speaks goblin, and the Ogre works for goblins, so I ruled that it was reasonable he knew that language. I had the dwarf roll a reaction check and he scored quite well, but before negotiations could begin, one of the new players, the new elf, says “I throw my weapon at the Ogre.” He rolled a 1.

Not Shrek

                The new Fighter in the party turns on the elf and stabs him as the Ogre tries to grab him. Due to Elven grace he manages to slip out of the cave and runs away. Now the Ogre, pissed off, looks to the Dwarf and asks them why they are in his home. They mention they want to hire him to help with the Caves. He asks how much? They then realize they have almost no money to bribe him, they pool their money and have 25 GP. The Ogre says he’ll help them and hand over the money. Once the Ogre has the money, he chucks it into a pile of stuff, and tells them “Now F--- Off.” They are shocked, but we paid you. He told them that was an a-hole tax and he is letting them live ‘this time” for entering his cave because of the money. The party blusters with bravado, but the Ogre takes a swing and they all go running out. Everyone except the thief who had remained hidden the entire time. The only issue is that they are now in a cave alone with an Ogre, in pitch black. Remember this is the players first time ever playing D&D. They decide to go for glory, wait until they hear snoring again, and sneak over to the pile of Ogre goods. They feel their way around by using the edges of the cave, and sweep their hand in front of them slowly making sure they don’t hit anything.
                The thief makes it to the pile, and I ruled for fun’s sake that the goblins had already paid the Ogre, so there was a fat sack of coins. The thief picks it up and starts to make their way out of the cave. It is at this point, after several before, that the thief blows the Move Silent roll. I decided that a few coins spill out and one rolled over and hit the Ogre. It roars awake, and the Thief says the run as fast as they can, but hold onto the money. The rest of the party seeing the thief running, hearing the Ogre roaring, decide to run too. In a last ditch effort to hurt the party, the Ogre tosses his club at them and barely misses. The party makes off with the Ogre loot. They were ecstatic, they felt they had a real victory. It was a good feeling as a DM. That is where we left it, tune in next week to see what happens.

Missed the other Episodes? Look here to catch up.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Letters from the Edge - X-Cursions

I've been reading a lot of Over the Edge recently and I wanted to put a little something out for it. I am not completely satisfied with it, and I might come back to it and do a revision. I like the concept, I think I need to flesh it out a bit more. What do you think?

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The 10th Voyage of Sinbad Experience – Arabia, Pirates, and more

The Doom Experience – Battle demons in a hellscape

Disclaimer: X-Cursions is not liable for any and all injury, death, hex, disease, body dislocation, butterfly effects, or soul transfer while our custom gaming rooms. Customer assumes all liability for actions in, out, after, and before entering the gaming area hitherto and hence forth, vis-à-vis, post hoc ergo proctor hoc. Amen.

Warning: The following personal items are prohibited from the gaming area: lighters, cameras, computers, Giger counters, anything resembling bees, actual bees, shoes that are too comfortable, gum, and keys. A locker will be provided to store any personal belongings before entering the arena. You will be provided with a virtual reality suit and visor, at no time are you to remove the suit or visor as this could result in spontaneous combustion.

Proviso: X-Cursions reserves the right to search any and all lockers at any time, for any reason.

Behind the Curtain

This location is run by a group of 4th dimensional beings that “simulate” different times and eras for customers to interact with and play. (The 4th dimensional beings have don’t have a name so much as an emotion.)  Many customers want to go on exotic adventures and hunt dinosaurs, travel to ancient cultures, or battle with beings beyond their comprehension. All of these experiences can be fulfilled, the only catch is that they are not actually simulations, they are all in alternative timelines. The 4th dimensional beings have decided in their infinite wisdom which timelines are valid, and which are invalid. Those that are invalid need to be “defragged” from the main system due to redundancy and before they are erased, they can be exploited. There can be no butterfly effect, due to it being a totally different timeline, in theory of course.
                Before entering the gaming area, the customers are required to put on a “VR suit and helmet” that allows the person to experience the custom world. In reality these devices are a form of protection to keep the clientele from being killed in the field, though accidents will happened. The helmets also provide “costumes” for the clients as when they look at one another, they appear in period/adventure appropriate clothing. When looking in a mirror why in the experience, the person might look like a 18th century explorer, or a cyberwarrior from the future. In reality, they are tourist dressed spandex with lights all over them.
It is not unusual for an organization to have a “company retreat” and play one of the experiences, and if one of the company’s bad apples is left behind…who would really notice? X-Cursions offers to their high end clients the ability to lose anyone or anything, one just needs to get the subject into the gaming area. This has been useful for more than one organization or cloak needing to dispose of a pesky body or ghost.

The founders of X-Cursions

                From the other side, all that the natives of the alternative timeline see is a group of spandex wearing, visor having, (often) drunks from another dimension, show up and start attacking their town or camps. Due to technological superiority, the customers are always at a decided advantage with the suits and visor helping them to aim, and providing near total protection. The horrors of the actual acts are countered with the ding of points that are being accrued with customers competing for first place. Remember it is all just a game.
                The 4th dimensional beings are aware of Chikutorpl presence on the Island and are on a cordial basis with the dimension hopper. They have had to discuss on occasion the “defragging” that is happening in the multiverse so that Chick’s investments are not wasted. Chick repays this information by promoting the service to their clients, and they even get a 10% discount if the customer they drops Chick’s name.
                What do the 4th dimensional beings get from this practice? Nothing. They just want an excuse to be on the Island in this particular timeline. There is something off about this timeline, and it has something to do with the Island, they want to be here when it happens. Though the 4th dimensional beings are not aware exactly what “it” is at this time.

Did you like it? Hate it? I hope to do some more with Over the Edge in the future, time will tell.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Saturday Morning D&D – Episode 2 – The Eye of the Beholder

Today we take another trip down memory lane as we review episode 2 of Dungeons & Dragons and see if we can mine it for anything we can use in our own games. Before we jump headlong into this, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who gave me positive feedback last episode. I really did not know what to expect with this series, and I did not think anyone would gravitate towards it. I was happily surprised, and have been looking forward to writing this one all week. So strap on your armor, pack your ten foot pole, and let’s head into the dungeon!

The Episode
                We open with the party traveling across a barren dessert with everyone complaining about the heat. Diana mentions, “What do you expect with 4 suns?” which is a cool little detail about the world. Apparently Dungeon Master told them two days before to follow the setting sun, and they have not found anything yet. Uni is lagging slightly behind and is getting hit in the face with clumps of sand, so she decides to go check it out. While the team bickers at each other Uni comes barreling into Eric as she is being chased by an extremely giant scorpion. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, the party boldly flees.
At this point we are introduced to this week’s main NPC, Sir John. Sir John is a portly looking knight that has a slight British accent. He immediately hears the party mention the scorpion, and flees into a cave, this will become a theme with the knight. Sir John accidently stumbled into a blue dragon cave, and he is lucky the dragon did not go Zeus on his ass. John bravely runs away also, and by happenstance lures the dragon and scorpion together. Now we have a Ray Harryhausen film in the making. The party, being gullible and obviously blind, decides that Sir John is a great hero who saved them. John never corrects them in this assumption and begins to brag about himself. John says he is a real knight of the city of Pendrake and he is a slayer of monsters and demons. Then he throws up a peace sign and runs back to Pendrake.

Ray would be proud.

We know we cannot go more than five minutes into the show without a plot hook, so, like clockwork, cue Dungeon Master. He appears again from nowhere and tells the party that he has found a way home for them. Hopefully this time it is real, and not one of his schemes to burn Helix to the ground. They hear Dungeon Master out, but the whole time I am like, “OK, what’s the “but” though?” Oh nothing much, it is just in the Valley of the Beholder. No biggie. We’ve had two episodes thus far and all they’ve run into is Tiamat, a dragon army, a giant scorpion, a blue dragon, and Venger a sorcerer-demon thing. Now freaking Beholder?!? Has this DM ever seen an Orc? Or Goblin. Maybe even an Ogre? I know I praised the show for throwing harder enemies at the party, but cut them a break every now and again.
DM informs the party that they must defeat the Beholder, not just get past him, to find the passage home. He then lays a double dose of DM goodness, not one, but two riddles. First, “Sometimes by looking back, you can see a clearer path that lies ahead,” and “Beware only beauty can defeat the eye of the beholder.” Hank instantly figures out the first riddle. This has to irk DM, because as a DM myself, I like players solving my mysteries, but at least pretend to ponder it for five minutes. Hank figures Sir John is someone in their past, and he can help their future. Sir John is a brave knight and slew many monsters, a Beholder will be nothing for this guy. The party then heads off to Pendrake off in the distance.

Our hero?

We now center on a village square and it looks like Sir John is on trial with his son beside him. The town mayor states that the town is going to look for a new knight, because of Sir John’s exceptional cowardice. To lay it on even more thick, his son mentions that this “can’t happen again” and “we have no more towns to go”, showing that this is not John’s first time being ousted. Sir John is kind of a piece of shit. Pleading with the mayor, John asked what he can do to stay and the mayor says he has to do something extremely brave. The citizens laugh at him and he goes off to ponder his fate with the mayor yelling at him that this is “the last time”.
Back to our party, they are travelling through an incredibly awesome location, a giant mushroom forest. The mushroom are all the size of large trees, and I can see this being the setting for many adventures with interesting encounters all over the place. They must have rolled a one on the random encounter die, because they get a good one. Red eyes peer from the darkness as the party conjures light in several methods only to reveal giant snailmen. The snailmen are sensitive to light, but eventually launch strands of goo from their heads and wrap up the various party members. A great exchange of lines by Eric and Sheila. Eric says, “I can’t believe we are fighting snails.” Sheila then adds, “And losing.” There is something very D&D about that exchange. With the party captured, Uni is the only one to escape, and the party tells her to go find Sir John.

Watch were you are aiming that Carl, I know where you were last night.

John is stumbling through the forest looking to be brave when he comes across Uni. Uni pleads with John for help in Uni-speak, but John makes excuses on why he cannot. He is only forced to come along when Uni steals his torch and he will be left in the dark. Uni leads John into the snailmen encampment and drops the torch. As John picks up the torch he flails it wildly most likely driving the snailmen away in fits of laughter, not fear, “No guys seriously, look at him”. The party again thinks John the hero, John takes credit again, and Diana rewards him with a purple flower and a kiss. They shower John with praise and he soaks that shit up, then they ask him to come fight the Beholder. At this point John pulls his stammering routine and says he has to leave to get his shield, not a sword though. Between him and Eric you have two knights, both with shields and no swords. Damn you 80s censors! Presto conjures him a “shield” (garbage can lid) and he agrees to join them, though with some reluctance.
On the way Hank confronts John and asks, “Shouldn’t we have a plan?” Hank being completely reasonable causes John to freaks out and tells them he will scout ahead while the party comes up with a plan. The party seems flustered, and Eric actually discusses how John is a bad knight, and most likely crazy. Once again, pragmatic Eric reads the room pretty well. As much hate as I see that Eric gets, in and out of the show, he has his moments.
Now who is missing from this episode? With seven minutes left, cue Venger. Venger talks with John and tells him to lead the party to the Beholder, and then abandon them. John, to his credit, does not want to do this, but Venger reveals to him an image of his son, Timothy, in a cage surrounded by wolves. Venger promises to release the boy once John has committed his heinous act of betrayal. Venger then twirls his villain moustache, rides his nightmare away to his lair, most likely to put James Bond in an overcomplicated trap.
Eric continues his anti- Sir John campaign, and the party gives Eric more grief, even though he is completely right at this point. John comes back and basically says, let’s just go over there and fight the Beholder sans plan. John gets them to right before the Beholder, and books it, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. They approach and I now see why this is THE Beholder, and not A Beholder. It has one too many eyestalks. I counted several times, 11 eyestalks and the central eye. Just how? How could they mess up something so simple and “eye”conic. I’m a horrible person, I know. Anyway, the Beholder comes out like a hard-on after prom and lasers the shit out of the team. The Beholder does not play, and seems overwhelmingly dangerous. While this is going on Venger shows up to gloat as only a great villain can. He gives John back Timothy and comments on how his son is brave “unlike his father”.

THE Beholder....with 11 stalks.

From over the horizon John and his son hear the cries of Bobby as the party has all been completely immobilized by the Beholder. The party sees John, but at this point doubts he will help. With the encouragement of his son, John leaps into battle…..only to immediately lose his shield…..and get knocked over…..and get captured, but he tried damn it! John is being pulled in to be eaten by the Beholder when Diana figures out DM second riddle, and the beautiful flower is the Beholder’s weakness. He merely shows the Beholder the flower, and it deflates like a whoopee cushion.

"My heart be still, I've never..." ::Faints:::

With the Beholder defeated a portal does actually open up back to Earth and the party starts to rush through. Bobby delays because he does not want to leave Uni, as the portal closes. Bobby just wants to bring him back to earth so scientist can vivisect Uni, I guess. Venger then shows back up to kill Sir John for his betrayal of the betrayal. The party decides to not go home and help save Sir John. Eric actually does a selfless act, against character, and rushes to put his shield between Venger and Sir John, the whole time stating, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” It is a good character moment for Eric. Venger is driven off, the greenery of the land is restored and the valley is saved.

My thoughts
                This was not my favorite episode by far, even though it has an awesome Beholder in it. Compared to last episode it had a weaker plot, and the twist was not as clever. I really did not like Sir John as a character, because he only really acted when he had some personal stakes. He never fully committed to a selfless act, and had be goaded into by his son. I did like a few things though. As always the set pieces were great, the idea of a four suns on the world, and a giant mushroom forest was great. I looked through my old D&D materials and could not find any snailmen, so they were a creation for the show. It appears that someone homebrewed them for 5e though, you can see that here. The Beholder was great, and did feel like a real menace. I wish they would have made Sir John shove the flower in the Boholder’s mouth, maybe it was a poison? Instead, the Beholder faints like a southern belle at the sight of flowers.
                What can we take away from this for our current D&D campaigns? As much as I did not like Sir John, a cowardly knight can be an interesting twist in a game, if done correctly. I would not have had Sir John appear on the surface as cowardly as he was, but have him break at just the right moment. This would add a bit of tension to a fight. We also, as mentioned above, have loads of setting, setting, and more setting. Paint a vibrant world, and one with a little bit of mystery and magic. Maybe you do not want you Forgotten Realms game to have a giant mushroom forest, because it is not in the books. No problem, the planes offer an abundance of opportunities for weird worlds like this. Have your party reach Sigil and go off on a mushroom laced adventure. Another option is to have a field of mushrooms, and have the party shrunk down so it now looms as a forest for the players to explore. Lastly, make players make hard, but interesting decisions. The decision at the end of the episode that Eric has to deal with, go back to his life of luxury or do what is right. Those decision make characters that people remember. There is a risk though, what if Eric picks to go home? He can and the game will have to then go on without them and pick up a new character somewhere down the line. Either way, that decision defines the character.
                I hope you liked this episode, thanks for reading it. If you can, please share this on your local social media, because I cannot be everywhere! Have a great rest of the week and talk to you all soon.

Miss an episode? Look here for the archive.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Something Smells Foul in Facebook

               Odds are this post is going to come off as “Old Man Yells at Cloud”, but I am frustrated. I tried to vent my frustration on some places on the internet to no avail. Then I remembered, this is my corner of the internet and I can say and do whatever I want here. This is going to be a rant, and I am just doing it to get it off my chest, and release it into the ether so I can move on. Generally, I try to be the mediating voice in conversations, especially when it has to do with D&D. I am try to spread a pro-D&D message regardless of edition. I don’t condone people insulting older editions, and I do not condone people insulting 5e, mostly because I play them both. The issue I tend to have is with the gatekeepers of the 5e world, especially on the 5e FB main group.

Maybe I am just getting old.

                I try to reach out to the 5e community, but one of two things are abundantly clear; 1) 5e players just do not like reading blogs, or 2) they do not like my personal style. I make allowances for both. The truth is that when I write articles for 5e, the juice is often not worth the squeeze as far as traffic is concerned. I try though to reach out, I really value the opinions of the newer generation of gamers and would love to engage with them more. I was surprised when I posted my article on the D&D Cartoon Review and it picked up traction. It had 100+ reactions and around 60 comments and I was having a great time conversing with the people in the group about the topic. It was up for about 24 hours before it was pulled down for “Not being specifically about 5e”. This is not the first time I have had an article pulled, but this is the first time it was pulled when it had some good momentum around it. Normally I just accept it and move on, but this time I was angered because it was a good post.
                Now was my article FULLY about 5e, no. Though I did include at the end some best practices for D&D and mention 5e at least once specifically. I talk about the lessons in the episode that a DM can learn from and possibly emulate in their home game. I discuss the cool settings and the colorful villain that might make for interesting encounters for your players. I talk about the idea of facing overwhelming opponents, but using non-combat tactics to subdue them, like they do in the show. All things that could directly help a person running 5e. This time I wanted an explanation, especially because it wasn’t deemed bad for 24 hours.
                I respectfully requested that one of the admins contact me, mostly not to get this post put back up, but to ensure future posts will not be taken down. I have talked with some of the admins before, each time we came to a reasonable solution to the issue, and all parties were completely civil. This time was a much different experience. This time I managed to get a certain admin that has a bit of a reputation in this particular of wielding a mighty ban hammer and using it indiscriminately. I am not going to do a word for word of our conversation, but I will give the general overview.

Should be a ban scalpel.

                I began by stating that I just wanted to know why post had been taken down and that people seemed to be enjoying it. I was told that it should not have gone up, and that it had nothing to do with 5e. I did not come to this conversation unarmed though, because I took several screen shots of things that were approved and seemingly had less, or at least equal to do with D&D as my post. I want it said that I have no problem with any of the posts that I am mentioning, just that I do not understand how they have a direct tie to 5e and my post does not have one. To say it a second time, I did not want these other posts pulled, just and explanation.
                The first post was an advertisement for a semi-famous play, She Kills Monsters. This is a play about D&D, and I saw it about a year ago. The person was not talking about 5e, just advertising the play that he is involved with in his local area. I was told that the reason it can stay was, “They play 5e”. Ok, I mention that I play 5e as well, and was told “Great, it’s a fun game.” Seeing this one was not going anywhere, I moved on. The next was a post of a tin with dice in it. I was told that “Dice are used in this edition”. Ok, how about this one? It was a picture of someone painting a five headed dragon medallion. “Yep. That is Tiamat.” I then go on to explain that my article several times talks about Tiamat and I use the 5e picture of her for her representation. If having Tiamat in general in your post is enough to get in, my post should have been fine.

If you get a chance, go see this.

I was asked “Is your article a review about a cartoon?” I answered in the affirmative, but also mentioned it was more than that as well. I talked about themes and troupes in D&D. Gave advice to DMs and in general had more to do with D&D than a play that was written before 5e existed. It was also a collective piece of our D&D history. “I failing to see a sufficient link with 5e”. I then try a different approach, which was to say that people were enjoying it, and were actively participating in the post. “People liking it doesn't make it right for this group. People LOVE DnD Memes. People LOVE pictures of naked people. Those don't work for our group either.” At this point it was going nowhere and we parted the conversation. I was upset, but I was going to let it go.

A few days later………
                The same admin post an article, from her own blog, about how using the terms guys, dudes, and fellows can be offensive to women and non-binary people. The sad thing is, I don’t disagree with her, but what does this have to do with 5e SPECIFICALLY?  There was a torrent of hate that flew her way and the post was locked down either by her or another admin. I do not think it was a bad article, but at a minimum it has to be equal with mine in the amount of 5e content.
                This is the crux of the issue though. The application of the policy is incredibly willy-nilly and in my opinion people should err on the side of the creators, then hit something with a ban stick without reading it. I just want to produce content and have it read by people free of charge, I don’t even have ads on my page. I write mostly to connect with people, and that group’s 144k worth of D&D fans is a good place to meet people.
I just had to get that off my chest, I am going to move on with my life and try and get part 2 of the Saturday Moring D&D out tonight or tomorrow.