Monday, June 29, 2015

Celebrity Dungeon Masters?



I find something very unappealing about viewing tabletop gaming (or any hobby in general) as if it’s some kind of important cultural identity. I don’t personally find a lot of value in tying my personal worth to a niche hobby, even one that I greatly enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bothered by taking the game seriously. I’m a pretty obsessive RPG fan myself. I know more about the history of Dungeons & Dragons than any person really needs to know. My hobby is pervasive, going beyond the actual play of the game. I spend a lot of my limited free time tweaking rules, home-brewing game systems, or working on campaign ideas. I’ve got my own campaign world that has existed (mostly in my head) since my buddies and I first explored its lands some 20 years ago.

You know, just like you.

And that’s the thing. There are casual gamers, to be sure, but the most vocal gamers, the ones you’re bound to notice online, share an interest in RPGs like one could call, dare I say, geeky. They are not, however, worthy of celebrity.

These folks I’m talking are almost exclusively professional game designers, but I’m not really writing about people who are well-known just because they write the books that you and I are buying. No, the gamer celebrities have a certain cult of personality about them, an aura of sorts that springs up whenever some blogger is speculating on an upcoming project or recounting some recent con experience.

The inspiration for this post came when I stumbled on an old blog post about the “Greatest Dungeon Masters in the World”. One particularly famous DM was praised for creating his own worlds, his math and cartography skills, and for the fact that he actively plays the game.

So, he’s basically just like every decent DM I’ve ever met?

I’m not trying to disparage anyone here. I’m not knocking on this particular person, as I’m sure he truly is a good DM. However, I find the gushing torrent of flattery to be a real turn-off. Do we need celebrities in our hobby? Is being a good DM even quantifiable to the point that one could be “the best in the world”? I’d take that phrase as hyperbole if it didn’t show up all over my Google search.

This is all fueled by a few pseudo-celebrities that seem to take all this make believe as very serious business. These are the types to get bent out of shape about “gamer issues” and their “contributions to the culture.” Maybe I’m getting too old for this or something, but I’m not part of any cultural movement related to playing games. I use my hobby as an escape and a distraction. I’m not interested in electing a Homecoming King of the Nerds.

I DO have my own favorite designers. I used to really dig Monte Cook and feel that his spearheading of PDF gaming products was a great innovation (his design has gone in a direction that doesn’t interest me). I’m also a fan of Gary Gygax as the “father” of D&D and RPGs. Were Gary alive today, I’d love a chance to play at his table, not because I think he’s some kind of uber-DM or something, but for the sheer novelty and nostalgia of it.

But pretending that all this is more than just a silly game we like to play? Creating a hierarchy of cool kids in the gaming world based on their ability to churn out common-sense DMing advice and run D&D games on Youtube*?

That’s just not for me.

* Who wants to watch other people play RPGs? I AM getting old, but that sounds utterly boring)

Coming Soon...A Return to Dwimmermount



It’s amazing how time consuming college can be. I had more time when I was in the Army than I do now. Granted, I’m not in class the equivalent of a full workday, but the combination of homework, studying, and regular father-of-four family stuff is a flat-out exhausting.

Part of it was getting used to the change. Spring classes turned into Summer classes, which will soon give way to Fall classes. The schedule changes every few months, but I’m getting used to the feel and flow of balancing the workload. Weekends, surprisingly enough, are relatively free (as long as I keep as busy as possible during the week).

In an effort to get back into things, I’m making a concentrated focus on this blog. It’s mostly an echo chamber, I know, but I didn’t start it so I’d get famous or even any followers. The writing is the important thing. Giving myself a goal of at least a weekly post helps keep me organized and productive. Yes, I’m organized and productive with regards to my classes, but this writing is different. This writing is an escape from all that and good for my soul.

To that end, I’m also breathing life into the kids Dwimmermount Campaign. It won’t likely be on Wednesdays anymore, but I’ll probably still keep that name just for convenience. This is more “good for the soul” type stuff, as my Pathfinder campaign with the grownups (which I’ve not talked about here much) has stalled out as well. I’m hoping that running the one will rekindle the other.

Up next, I wrote a bit of a rant, just to get something on the blog again.

Due stay tuned (he said to no one).

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wednesday Dwimmermount: Session 3

It seems that each journey to Dwimmermount is taking a heavier and heavier toll on our heroes. Every member of the party was wounded last session, with Decanus Marcus Petillius Nepos and Bael suffering the most serious injuries. After a week recuperating in a private room at the Green Dragon Inn (paid for with newly won gold from Dwimmermount), the group was more or less back in shape, though Marcus found that his near death experience had left him weaker and more easily winded, and poor Bael was feeling a noticeable stiffness in his back. [After rolls on the Permanent Wounds chart].

On the night before the party set out on their third journey to the dungeon, they stopped in to the Flask and Scroll Tavern for a hearty meal, and found the place crowded with people. Zazik asked another patron, a swarthy farmhand named Colter, just what the commotion was about. Colter explained that Typhon’s Fists, the famous adventuring party who had first gained access to Dwimmermount’s dungeons nearly a month ago, was in the bar tonight making ready for their next excursion into the fabled mountain.

The party located one of the Fists, a dwarf, and introduced themselves. Zazik offered to share maps and resources with the rival party, and the dwarf directed them to speak with their leader, a cleric named Jehan of Typhon. Jehan treated the party with politeness, but not warmth, and he refused any offer to cooperate or join forces.

“You must understand, friends, that I mean you no ill will. I am the instrument of Typhon, chosen by him to cleanse Dwimmermount of the taint of chaos that now plagues its halls. I had hoped to keep our mission secret, but as you can see around you the word has spread quickly. This, too, must be Typhon’s will. Perhaps these masses will be inspired by our actions and turn to worship of the God of Civilization.”

Jehan paused here, cocking his head to one side as if listening for some faint sound. After a moment, his eyes narrowed and he continued.

“In any case, I cannot be responsible for putting innocents in harm’s way. Dwimmermount is a deadly place. Were you to follow me, you’d surely die of some unseen hazard, and I cannot have that upon my conscience. I advise you to forget this dangerous folly and instead travel to Adamas. Seek the High Priest of the Temple of Typhon and tell him you come with my blessing. He’ll set you on a task suited to your skills and, if you’re faithful, Typhon will guide you to success. As for Dwimmermount, alas that burden belongs to me and my companions alone. The true God of Civilization is merciful, but he…”

Suddenly, a voice spoke up from behind the player characters, rising above the din of the bar and cutting Jehan’s speech short. The speaker was human, a foreigner with a short, oiled mustache and pointed black beard. The man walked forward as he talked, moving with a cocky swagger that suggested he’d enjoyed more than a few cups of ale.

“Pah! True god of civilization! Where I am from, in Balasha, there is a civilization to put these barbaric lands to shame. Yet, I have not heard of this Typhon. No one worships him there. Instead, they pray to Nimnos of the Red Mask, or Kassha Da, or the Court of Sapphire. A thousand such speeches have I heard, from a thousand different zealots, and each claims to follow the one, true god of this or that.”

If he was angered by the stranger’s words, Jehan did not show it. Anticipating a fight, Marcus moved to Zazik’s left flank.

“There are so many gods,” the foreigner continued, “that a man would go crazy trying to even remember them all. Gods of the morning, gods of the night, the god of this river, or that stream. You will forgive me, priest, but I don’t believe in any of them. Here is the only god I’ve ever known to be real!”

With that, the man drew a long, thin blade from a scabbard at his belt. He held it out in a fencer’s pose, swaying for a moment before regaining his footing.

“What is a sword but a god? Can it not make men bow? Can it not lay low armies and grant freedom to the oppressed? Has a sword not power over life and death? Behold, then, the one true god!”

By now, Jehan’s companions had drawn weapons and were moving toward the foreign swordsmen. Jehan himself remained seated, staring intently at the dark man who had interrupted his proselytizing. After a moment, Jehan raised his hand and called out for his companions to stop.

“Stay your blades, Typhon’s Fists. We’ll not draw blood here. As for this man, his blasphemy will ultimately lead to his demise.”

The stranger smiled, though he sheathed his sword.

“I tell you true, priest, that I want no quarrel with you. Nor you with me, I am thinking. I am Ialgo, bravo and swordsman of the purple city of Balasha, as I said. Now, if you would be so kind, I have overheard your telling to these adventurers.”

Ialgo turned to the PCs.

“I would offer you my sword and would join your band, if you would have me as an equal. I would like to see this Dwimmermount, I think, and win some of its gold for myself.”

“Then I have an offer of my own for these adventurers, ” Jehan countered, “Turn away this heathen and I’ll know your faith in our cause is true. You will be allowed to accompany us to Dwimmermount and we can combine our efforts in its exploration. Speak your choice. This foreign sellsword or the company of Typhon’s Fists.”

Zazik turned to Markus, a questioning look on his face.

“Might we have a moment to decide, friend cleric?” Zazik asked.

[At this point, the boys began to discuss which offer to accept. They’ve been getting beaten up pretty badly so far and I hoped that a bigger party would help. Even with two hirelings and an NPC, the group is still pretty weak. I thought that an extra fighter would really help them, thus I rolled up Ialgo. However, teaming up with Typhon’s Fists would accomplish the same thing, albeit in a more temporary manner. Both my sons wanted to go with Ialgo, but my oldest son thought that choosing the Fists was a much wiser move, since there were more of them. Ultimately, they decided that Johan would be too pushy for their liking.]

“While we appreciate your offer, cleric Jehan, we must decline. Ialgo, welcome to our party. I hope you’re as good with that sword as you say.”

“Better!” the drunken bravo laughed, “Ialgo will not disappoint you. Soon I will be showing you the strength of my faith in my sword, I am thinking.”

“I’ll offer you my advice once more, friends,” Jehan said, now glaring at Ialgo, “Head to Adamas and seek Typhon’s guidance. Stay away from Dwimmermount. Only death awaits you there.”

ONCE MORE INTO DANGER

The party now consisted of Zazik [mage], Decanus Marcus Petillius Nepos [fighter], Ialgo [npc fighter], Bael [npc 0-level hireling], and Andre [npc 0-level hireling]. Climent [NPC mage] was traveling with the party, but he would not be accompanying them into the dungeon. Instead, Climent planned to study the Alchemist’s Door; a locked, rune-covered archway that the party found midway up the climb to Dwimmermount’s main entrance. 

Once finished, Climent would travel back to Muntburg and wait for the party. He wanted to make contact with a friend of his, he said, a colleague who might be able to discern the nature of the strange mask Zazik had taken from the dungeon.

Leaving Climent to his research, the group entered the dungeon with trepidation, half expecting to find Typhon’s Fists already there. They’d not seen the rival party before they’d left town, and it wasn’t clear what sort of terms the two groups were on, but it seemed wise to remain cautious just in case. Either the party had beaten the Fists here, or their rivals had taken a very different path, as there was no sign of any other explorers in the dungeon.

The first order of business was to see if the marble head, the one that depicted a woman, fit any of the statues in the large statuary. There were two female statues, although only one of them appeared to have had its head replaced. Marcus and Bael lifted the head of the glaring, bearded man from the statue’s body and replaced it with the one they’d found. This head seemed a perfect match, but nothing else really happened.

[This part frustrates me as written. Putting the correct heads on the statues DOES have an effect; it grants the PCs a small bonus on a future roll. However, there is no real way for them to know this. I really like the idea going on here, in that it both ties with the history of the dungeon while harkening to the random pools in B1: In Search of the Unknown and other older, funhouse adventures. However, from a player’s perspective, it seems like they’ve failed to solve the puzzle. In retrospect, I should have had a flash of light wash over the PCs or some other noticeable effect, just so they knew that SOMETHING had happened. In the heat of the moment, it didn’t occur to me. I did make a note to have something occur with any future heads they replace, though.]

Before continuing into unexplored corners of the dungeon, Zazik wanted to get rid of the statue’s previous head. After a short discussion, the group went back outside to the high staircase that leads up the mountain’s side. Once there, Marcus and Zazik hurled the head off the side of the staircase. The eyes of the glaring, bearded man seemed to stare directly at the party as the head fell, bounced twice, and then disappeared somewhere below.

Pleased with their work, the group went back into Dwimmermount. Through a set of double doors, the party found the remains of a barracks room. Searching around, one of the players accidentally disturbed a nest of giant centipedes hiding beneath a pile of decaying furniture. Eager to make an impression on his new allies, Ialgo struck first, easily killing one of the monsters. The rest of the beasts fell almost as quickly, but the party took its share of wounds during the combat as well. After only a few seconds of rapid action, the centipedes were dead and the party was covered with stinging bites. One by one, the party began to succumb to the centipedes' venom. Soon, everyone but Bael was overcome with fatigue and nausea, and could do no more than hobble along in great discomfort [Yep, only one character made his save here.]

The group had no choice but to retreat from the dungeon, already beaten up after only a few minutes exploration. On the way out, however, something miraculous happened. While the party was moving through the statuary room, a strange feeling of peace and healing washed over them. Suddenly, both Zazik and Marcus felt the effects of the centipede toxin leach from their bodies. In moments, they were both good as new. [The actual effect of replacing the statue head is a +2 to all saves for 24 hours. I thought that allowing a second saving throw would be appropriate here, since the adventure had barely gotten started at this point. The players had good luck, with both of my sons’ characters making their new saves. However, poor Ialgo was not so lucky was still poisoned.]

Although Zazik and Marcus had recovered, the question remained of what to do with Ialgo. The bravo’s cocky nature was gone now as he could barely stand up, let alone fight. Bael spoke up, volunteering to escort Ialgo back to Muntburg. The group agreed, telling Bael to find a healer for Ialgo, then locate Climent and wait for the party to return to Muntberg. With that, the group split up, leaving just Zazik, Marcus, and Andre to explore the dungeon.

When the trio reached the area near the giant centipedes, they turned south instead of west. This hallway ended in a large set of dirty, soot-covered doors made of a strange, white metal. The doors were sealed, with no handles or other means of entry. All attempts to pry or otherwise force them open failed. The group made note of the doors on their map, hoping to find a way to open them at a later date, and returned to one of the doors they’d passed earlier. 

In this room sat three large brass boxes covered with numerous knobs and dials. Turning the dials triggered a buildup of heat within each box that erupted in a deadly cloud of steam seconds later. The party spent the next several minutes avoiding the steam while trying to determine the nature of the boxes. Andre, on guard duty outside the room, came running in, interrupting their experiments. All the noise had attracted three giant spiders, which were now creeping down the corridor toward the party. Reasoning that spiders can’t open doors, Marcus flung the door shut and pressed his ear against it, listening. He heard the shuffling of the spiders’ eight hairy feet, heard them stop just outside the door, and heard them as they began to whisper sinister, unintelligible things to each other.

Rather than deal with the spiders, the group headed through an unopened door beyond the steam-spewing boxes. Here they found a mostly empty room, free of dust or debris, with a single exit in the opposite wall. A careful examination revealed that the latter half of the floor was covered with what appeared to be some kind of sticky liquid. Zazik was the first to venture in, treading carefully into the mysterious substance. Before he had taken his third step, the door on the far wall flew open. A skinny, bearded humanoid creature stood in the doorway, its face cast into shadow by the sputtering torch it held above its head. Before Zazik could react, the creature tossed the burning torch to the floor and slammed the door shut. In an instant, the viscous liquid burst into flame. Zazik [reduced to 0 hit points], nearly fell face-first into the fire, but Andre leaped to his rescue, catching the mage and pulling him to safety [some impressive rolls by me, the GM, on behalf of the hireling]. 

Suddenly, the far door opened again and the twisted humanoid reappeared, this time with a bow in its hands. It fired on the group, forcing them to retreat back into the steam-device room. Fortunately for the group, Ialgo had left them with a jug of healing draught. After a few deep drinks of this earthy-tasting brew, the group was up to full strength. Unfortunately, they were now trapped between giant spiders and at least one bow-wielding monster.

NEXT SESSION... The Best Laid Plans Go Awry

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mark of a Beastly Kickstarter

Pardon my pun in the title.

I strolled over to check on the Silent Legions Kickstarter yesterday and noticed something...

Oh good, they're up to 666 backers. Wait, WHAT?





Quick, nobody else back this project.

Ok, so that's not what I actually want. I wish Kevin Crawford (whom I secretly suspect to be a caffeine powered robot) as much success as possible.

Still...if this project had stopped right there it would have been a very poetic coincidence.