Tomb of Annihilation: Chultan Skies

“Find out why this lich is breaking death on this back-water prime world.”

The group is flying south, following the souls of their first guides, found out to be Zhent spies, being sucked southward by the Soulmonger, Acererak’s creation. A gnome with tech gear allows them to track the spirits.

Activate Indiana Jones travel-red-line!

They are flying on pterodactyls, their guide is a merchant prince’s sister, Tefnek. I rolled a herd of pegasi and so she followed them to a safe valley.

“Pegasi are a safe bet; I like to follow them to find a good place to camp for the night. This valley is solid – a pack of t-rexes cover the southern entrance and some ancient ward I didn’t see on the way in must cover the north.

“In a few days we’ll reach The Heart of Ubtao, a holy site of floating earth where priests once went to have visions. It might be an auspicious place to keep tracking the path the souls are taking.”

Because the FB event needed a cover.

Made a t-shirt for the Thursday night D&D group.

Giant Spiders Settle in to the Sword Coast

From the BW forum post (but since they lost a bunch of threads a few months ago, I’m going to post the AP posts here too):

After the Siege of Waterdeep, we talked it over and decided that the Great Spiders Eat the Forgotten Realms game would be a campaign for just me and Witt. Rob had lost his character and Jason had gotten to the game very late; it felt like it was just me and Witt who were really bought in. So, the rest of the group gets togeter, Witt included, and plays AW, and me and Witt get together as we can to continue as a solo-campaign.

Tonight we just settled in to post-siege life. The spiders have settled down on the Sword Coast and apart from little pin-points of human infestation, there are no big threats this side of tne Aunuroch.

Lloth has joined the Matron’s Handmaidens, named Returning Holy Daughter, taking up some mountains in the High Forest with her retinue.

We played around with the Clashing Storm of the Sword-Kings bloody-versus battle rules. I need damage rules but I like the way it feels so far. More playtesting with that to come. We did a siege of Dragonspear Castle, filled with humanoid refugees…gnolls, goblins, some humans, a few trolls, all led by a Warlord keeping things together with a few giants. The Dragonspear was decimated.

Dragon-Heart Eater laid her eggs inside a dragon-egg, which her hatchlings will eat for sustenance once they hatch. She is going to have some funky, funky children.

The Matron has ordered that each Handmaiden send students to the other Handmaidens so they might teach their skills to others in the army/horde. 

Dragon-Heart Eater has leads on several dragons along the Sword Coast. Next game will likely be a hunt.

I can feel the NPC’s in the east, out near the Dale-lands trying to make some kind of fucking sense to a horde of giant spiders landing on Evermeet from an inter-planar portal, conquering it, then the Moonshaes and then taking down Waterdeep and every settlement of the North.

Welcome to Dis, letters to get started.

A Story Games Thread:

Ill-Met in Waterdeep

Dear Prime Newb Whose Home is still Digesting in Dis’ Guts,

Welcome to Dis.

You have what you could carry from your home and need to find some scratch so that you don’t have to sleep out under the alien stars.

Sure, this isn’t your first rodeo and you had plenty of adventures back at home but now you are in Dis. The trappings are familiar but the context is entirely new. Now you are all small fish in an ever-expanding pond that is constantly devouring other ponds.

Someone among you took the lead in getting you to Dis alive. Have that one roll +Int.

On a 10+, you either got out with a really amazing artifact or know someone in Dis who can help you settle in a bit.

On a 7-9, you have some remnant of your old world that isn’t immediately useful but you could sell it for 3d6 silver if you don’t mind it becoming a curio in a local parish’s shop window.

On a miss, trouble from the old world has followed you here.

There is a place for rent here in the Vecna Parish that has something that reminds you of the City of Splendors. Sure, all of the architecture seems to be littered with eyes and hands but something about this joint feels like home, dammit. Explain to the GM why you want to rent that place so badly. The owner, a one-eyed recovering wizard (recovering?), likes the idea of renting to new refugees, as it reminds him of when he first got here, fresh from Greyhawk City.

Chunks of your world are still floating on the top of the stew that is Dis. When your GM rolls on the job table, he will insert an element of the Forgotten Realms as either the Patron, Target or Job Type. The GM could describe a job and ask you what about that job is actually a piece of the Realms and how your character recognizes it.

The one-eyed former death cult wizard will hold the space for you for a few days while you do some honest or dishonest freebooting.

Hugs & Kisses,

Your GM

Please come to the thread and play along.

The Fall of Waterdeep

From this post on the BW Forum:

Part of the fun of playing spiders is naming things. Waterdeep becomes the Great Stone Web or Great Stone Nest. The Sword Coast becomes the Sharp Mineral Coast. Humans are meat. Hobbits are little meat. Lloth is the Matron’s bastard daughter.

The character names change based on what they have achieved. Wolf Hunter to Wizard Hunter to Conquering Wizard Hunter to Handmaiden Dragon’s Heart-eater, Castle-Breaker became Stone Web Breaker and Male’s Terror became Tunnel Maiden for her role in leading the efforts to destroy Waterdeep from its expansive sewer system.

Next time on Githyanki Diaspora, burning Lloth, Broodling -> Wall-Crawler -> Lurker -> Hunter-Seeker -> Handmaiden -> Renegade Handmaiden -> Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Back at it with a Handmaiden, an arachnid bounty hunter and a drow prince in the Forgotten Realms

Thread at the BW forums:

I stuck to Versus tests, not touching the more complicated Fight!, DoW or R&C. Even though artha was spent pretty often, the fate artha piles up when you avoid the rim of the Wheel and stick to the hub.

I felt rusty as hell and even though the artha did flow, I felt like I could have prodded those beliefs in more creative ways. Even writing this AP thread felt rusty, as if I wrote down too much info.

All in all, it felt great to be back at the gaming table and it was nice to visit the Realms again, especially with characters who see it as a giant buffet table.

Rules, Rules, Rules in Legends & Lore

It could be that this is a terrible example.  So be it.  Inspired by Monte’s latest Legends and Lore column, Rules, Rules, Rules.

We were playing Burning Wheel and the pirate-city of Luskan had a problem.  Winter was coming and their ships had been burned into the bay by a Cormyrian War Wizard.  Their economy had tanked and their food stores were barren.  They needed  enough grain to make it through the winter but had no way to pay for it.

The went before the Captain’s Council and argued with the pirates for a night.  Finally, Aaron looked at his character’s skill list, went before the captains and said, “Show me your books.”  He looked over the accounting ledgers and found the money.  Luskan was saved because of an adventurous accountant.

Aaron looked at me, “What’s the ob?”

“I have no damned idea.  No one actually rolls on their Accounting skill (not true).  Give me the damned book.”

This was back in the olden days of Burning Wheel Revised and every skill didn’t have example obstacles but it so happened that Accounting did.  Balancing the books for a city was Obstacle 8.  Wow, rock.  Perfect.

It an epic Accountant roll, obstacle 8.  The other obstacle 8 roll I can remember was a Command roll that kept an army of Black Legion Orcs,  Dwarven axe-bearers and human mercenaries all working together in a vicious battle.

It wasn’t the high point of our game but it was pretty damned cool to see a mundane problem solved by mundane means at the hand of a nigh-immortal elven community leader.

Burning Wheel Gold has example obstacles for every skill in the book. I don’t look up every single skill for every roll, even for the play-by-post game where time and pacing isn’t the factor that it is at the table.  But it is a great reference for when players do something way outside the bounds of your normal heroic fantasy and coming up with an obstacle for them to roll over is puzzling.

This brings us to this week’s Legend and Lore column.

It feels like a straw man.  Option 1, Option 2, then an overbearing Option 3.  It is like asking if you’d like your cousin to come over for dinner, or your aunt to come over…OR your obnoxious uncle who makes off-color jokes and asks you why you aren’t married yet every time there’s a lull in conversation.

The offers on the table are:

No rules, DM makes it up.

Some rules.

Some more rules.

Some ridiculous amount of rules that offer lots of boring bonuses.

There aren’t elegant rules that inspire the DM.

…any time a designer puts a rule in a rulebook, he is saying “no” to the DM. The rule takes away the DM’s ability to make a judgment call in her game.

Any time a designer puts a rule in a book it isn’t denying the DM some kind of right but offering an interesting path, inspiring the DM to look at the players’ character sheets in a way that builds adventure that the players find intriguing.  Rules don’t deny, they focus and inspire.

Bad rules can cause all kinds of annoying problems, killing the pace of the game, helping friends be annoyed and eroding one’s ability to enjoy a pleasant evening among friends.

My creative contribution to the adventures in Luskan wasn’t setting the obstacle for the accounting roll but the consequences of the roll’s success and the debates with pirates that led to the roll.  That is where I was spending my energy.

The interesting part of a climbing roll isn’t the target number the player needs to roll in order to succeed but what is chasing them up a mountainside causing them to roll and whatever fantastic mysteries await them at the top when the climb is done.

NOTE: “Oh my gawsh, did you see Judd’s post on his blog where he skewers Monte Cook?”  “Holy cow, URL?  I have to see this!”

I like Monte Cook.  I’ve interviewed him for podcasts and he is always a lovely guy, friendly and without ego.  Arcana Unearthed and the Diamond Throne setting were probably my favorite things to come from the d20 boom.  

I like his Legends and Lore articles, not because I agree with them, but because they get people talking.  He’s putting himself out there on the most public stage gaming’s got and I dig his courage for throwing his ideas around to be the target (his ideas are the target…that’s clear, yeah?) for some good ole fashioned public howling.

And by howling, I mean conversation.

Hal heads into his 5th chapter: Lust for Life and the Fantastical

The play-by-post game is cruising right along and tomorrow will head into its fifth chapter.  I’m kind of shocked that it is working out so damned well.  I am really enjoying it.  It has been a great way to get acquainted with Burning Wheel Gold and has reminded me how much I love writing, leading me to attack other writing projects with a 750-1000 words a day discipline that I have not felt in the past decade.

There were a few moments in the middle of a tense battle that might have taken all of ten to twenty minutes at a table but took the better part of a day and a half posting that drove me a little nuts.  That is just part of the game.

There is an Adventure Log and we use it as a place to write about our favorite moments in each chapter and here’s what I wrote:

Its no one thing this time. I enjoyed getting to write about a gathering of Forgotten Realms Deities, that was good fun.

But more than that, I really dig how much Daniel throws himself into it. Not just being excited about the battle with Xerez but that too. When I post about good smells coming up from the inn’s kitchen, he writes about how much he enjoys breakfast. When people start playing music, drinking and dancing, Hal starts singing songs. I like his lust for life and that is what I enjoyed the most this chapter, the way Daniel takes little cues and enjoys experiencing the Forgotten Realms through Hal so damned much.

The system, the mechanics, the situation are all business as usual in importance but there is something about play-by-post that allows for a tangible enjoyment of experiencing something fantastical that feels different than it does at the table.  Maybe I’m a better writer than I am a speaker or maybe there is something about text over the spoken word or maybe I’m trying techniques on a forum that I would not dare to use at the table.

Maybe I should dare.

We need to consider the very real possibility that it isn’t about me at all (“Its not all about you, Judd.”) but Daniel is allowing his junior high-kid wonderment filter through while playing his teenage dream character with the perspective of an adult.

The whole experience is making me see gaming at a new angle and that is interesting to me.

Magic Items as World-Building Tools: Magic as Magical

Inspired by this article, Magic and Mystery by Monte Cook

In these Legends and Lore articles, Monte is wrestling with the conventional wisdom of D&D, particularly 3.x and 4.0.

I don’t particularly like magic that is sold in shops.  It rubs me the wrong way, seems to take the magic out of the magic.

A curio shop that sells junk and other assorted bits brought in by adventures with dirt and moss from the dungeon still on it?  Sure, okay.

Ye Olde Magic Item Shoppe that will sell the the adventures the appropriate items so they can safely venture out and adventure?  Eh, not so much my thing.

I don’t have to wrestle with the conventional wisdom of D&D and here we are, talking about magic items.

They can also be tools for world-building.  In our Houses of the Blooded game, a player acquired a ring from a Puzzle House, I believe and it opened any door for him.  He found out later that when the Sorcerer-Kings ruled, it had been a High Servant’s ring, allowing that servant to go into any castle and serve its master without being barred.  Of course, it has other uses.

When the player put it on in the capital of Shanri, the Hub of all Revenge, his character could catch glimpses of Shanri as it had been under the Sorcerer-King’s reign.

In our Burning Wheel game set in the Forgotten Realms, the players uncovered an artifact and held it against an ambitious Red Wizard and her Gnoll shock troops.  The artifact they got was the Burning Wheel itself, viciously powerful if in the hands of a wizard or priest with Faith but to the Dwarven and Elven player characters, it wasn’t useful.  This made it really interesting because they got to decide where to store it, who got to use it and who to leave it with when they went adventuring.

In the end, Khelben Blackstaff used it to rain hellfire down on Skullport while they were slaying Old Snarl off in the east.  Good stuff.  So, magic items can also be political leverage.

There is a sentence that comes up when RPG discussions of magic occur.  “I like my magic to be magical.”  I totally hear that.  The first system that provided that magic for me was Ars Magica.  As the editions rolled on, the magic became more and more codified and, to me, it lost some of that raw magic that it had even up to the 3rd edition.

Don’t Rest Your Head and Houses of the Blooded have magic that allows the character to break the rules.  Magic doesn’t make you better.  DRYH allows the character to break the rules of reality.  Houses of the Blooded has magic that allows the characters to break the rules of the very codified ven society.

Burning Wheel’s Emotional Attribute magic (Orc blood magic, elvish songs, dwarven crafts) is more of an exploration of that stock.  The human sorcery is very D&Dish, actually with calls for tough choices and sacrifices all the way.  I’ve seen sorcerers in BW successfully cast their spell to break free from prison but pass out due to the strain.

Magic Items in BW are more rare, campaign tilting affairs.

Thanks, Monte, I’m thinking about magic a bit.

Thoughts on magic for the comments?

State of the Table: Autumn 2011 Edition

It has been a late summer of transitions and the gaming reflects that.

My buddy, Pete moved out and that has rearranged the games I was in with him.

The O’Declan Brewing Company (Burning Wheel): If we pick this game up again, it’ll be when Pete is good and situated and me and Aaron find a night when we can head up north to get our games on.  From talking to Aaron, I have a feeling we might pick up something else; we might be able to get Aaron to GM something for me and Pete, which would be a hoot.

But I also really want to play a few more sessions with the O.B.C.  At the end of our last session, they paid a mercenary company to skulk into town and murder their enemies.  I want to play through the consequences of that, dammit.

The Hudson River Valley (Apocalypse World): This summer’s weekend scheduling made gaming with these folks all but impossible, so we haven’t gamed in months.  But we’re picking it up this Saturday.  I’m cooking up letters to the players that lead us into play five years after our last game.

Lights of Hoover:  Dammit, but I think this game is a fatal casualty of Pete moving out.  I’m not sure that any of us have the will to start it up without him here.

Cyberpunk Lunches: The half-hour format was rough but I think we were making it work.  A few weeks of consistent summer traveling put the kibosh on this one.  I’m beginning to think that Autumn and Spring are my gaming seasons.  Summer travels and the winter holidays tend to muss up gaming the other half of the year.

Lady Blackbird and then what?: Continuing with our house game tradition, we’re getting together with my housemates and a few friends to consider a Thursday night game.  Our first night will be Lady Blackbird and then we’ll figure it out from there.  I’m hungering for a campaign of Dogs in the Vineyard until I leave town but we’ll see…might be Dungeon World or somethin’ else.

The Surprising Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm:  I’m shocked at how much I am enjoying playing this play-by-post with Daniel.  During an online conversation about pbp someone had taught em the valuable lesson that the pace is glacial and they were right.  But there are advantages to that.  I can peruse books, character histories,  look over beliefs and take my sweet time.  That has been good fun and it has me writing regularly, which is a nice start for other things.

And medium of the game aside, Daniel has made this romantic, stuck-between-worlds character who has really charmed me.  Yeah, he is a fugitive from junior high daydreaming but there is passion in those daydreams and the burning up process has left its mark, veering it off from perfect reinventions.  I think that the restrictions of the lifepaths has helped and Daniel has embraced that, making the tough choices necessary to make this version of the character, rather than trying to hold on to an ideal version.  Burning Wheel demanded that he let some parts go and allowed him to accentuate other bits and its led to interesting choices.

And how about you?  How were your summer games and what is your autumn looking like?

The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm

A funny thing happened when I played a few games of Burning Wheel in the Forgotten Realms.  Friends would contact me online and tell me about the games they always wanted to play on the Realms.  Jason was one person and getting to boot up a one-on-one game with him a few weeks ago was really rewarding.

These are the folks with the old Forgotten Realms maps push-pinned to their walls and ceilings when they were a kid.

Daniel was another and he blogged about it and blogged about it again:

Hal Whitewyrm is the character that got away, the one character I really wanted to play and never got the chance to.

Hal Whitewyrm is a half-elf bard living in Highmoon[1], in Deepingdale, in the area known as the Dalelands. He has somewhere in his heritage a trace of weredragon[2] blood which gives him orange eyes. He’s a joyful fellow who honestly loves adventuring.

Hal is the character I created back in the early 90s, when I first started to get into AD&D in high school. He’s the character I would constantly recreate during class, the one I would write short stories about, the one who was my avatar in the world of high adventure that are the Realms. He was a shallow character concept[3] with cool orange eyes and a weredragon girlfriend who existed mostly in my 5-subject spiral notebook in story after story. And I loved it.

I just never got to play Hal. My D&D group played Basic D&D/Rules Cyclopedia and we had a fairly regular schedule, so, little time to try out new ideas. Then we played less and less, then I moved, etc. Aside from the fact that I used the name as an email address for some time, I have not gone back to this character in over a decade. Which is why I surprised myself when I answered Judd’s question about what character I would play in a Burning Wheel Realms game as follows:

* I’d play the character I’ve carried with me for years, Hal Whitewyrm, a half-elven bard with weredragon blood in his ancestry (weredragons are a race of female-only shapeshifting wyrms from the Moonshaes – see the thread there?). He’s the guy I wrote stories about in my teens yet never got to play. Hal is all about the romantic journey (as in literary genre, not mass market Harlequin titles), facing adventure in a large world, ideally of the legendary danger kind, with fast friends at his side, a love life to look forward to, and death around him to put it all in perspective. Think Aragorn’s journey, but with a bard who also deals with issues of identity.”

Wow, I’d never really put those ideas into words before but yeah, that’s what Hal is all about for me: exploring the high fantasy romantic character arc; less about killing monsters and taking their stuff, more about zero-to-hero who saves the princess and loses friends along the way.

I’m kind of fascinated.  I’m not sure a successful game of BW is possible from this spot.  The expectations of setting and character are pretty intense and that interests me.  Playing Hal as a Burning Wheel character is going to mean that what it means to be Hal is going to be challenged.  Hal is going to go through the fire and in doing so will be changed.  Even the character creation (or as we say in BW jargon – character burning) is going to leave Hal different than the guy Daniel dreamed up.

The back and forth with Daniel during the process of burning up Hal was fun and kinda interesting.  BW’s lifepaths have a way of taking what you thought the character might be and adding wrinkles that you hadn’t expected.  The tough choices of the Wheel start immediately.

I’m intrigued to give the Obsidian Portal a shot and play around with different online methods of play.  We’ll stick to play-by-post but maybe we’ll want to give some skype or G+ stuff a shot.  We’ll see how it goes.

For now it is an excuse to write a little every day, hit the heavy-bag, so to speak.  My hope is to wake up and make a short post here and then hit on a few stories that are in danger of getting angry with me.  Don’t want stories angry with me, when that happens they stop talking to me all together.  I can’t have that.

Here’s the first post if yer interested in such things.