Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wednesday Dwimmermount: A Few Thoughts on Running the Game (Session 1)


A long time ago, I began to cobble together some GM aids that put all of the pertinent rules of ACKS into a 7 or so page document. Don’t get me wrong, ACKS uses OD&D as its base and is hardly a complicated game. The crunchy bits it introduces to that rules set are all things that I enjoy, such as clear mechanics for hiring henchmen and mercenaries. However, the book’s organization is a wee bit scattered, and I found myself flipping around more than I would have liked. Some of that will go away with experience, of course, but I’m now very motivated to finish said GM aid.

As a further thought on organization, Dwimmermount has a few warts. Some of the important general information is set aside in its own chapter (doors, wandering monsters, etc.), which is very good for finding what you need during GM prep, but not so good when you’re trying to find something in the heat of the moment. For example, Zazik’s coughing fit was supposed to call for an encounter throw each round that it lasted to see if it attracted a wandering monster. This occurs on page 119, and I was able easily find the wandering monster chart at the beginning of the chapter describing the current level (a very logical place). I It took me a bit of searching, however, to find the chance that an actual random encounter occurs (6+ on a d6, way back on page 87). To be fair, that probability never changes (unless otherwise noted in the adventure) and is pretty clearly delineated in the Overview chapter, but it did slow me down during gameplay. I think it would be simple to just put something like (1d6, 6+) at the top of every wanderin monsters chart. It wouldn’t take up too much space and it would save a knuckle-headed DM like myself a bit of time.

Those are minor complaints, of course. Lots of things about the organization of Dwimmermount are very good. The authors clearly put a lot of thought into making the book useable to a GM right there at the table, with sidebars about James’ original campaign, page references for new monsters, info about factions in the dungeon, and other good bits. Once I get more familiar with the dungeon, I’ll be able to prep more effectively and then lean on the tools that are there to make things smoother during actual play.

On Grognardia, James mentioned that he was really thrilled that the party was mapping their way. I tried to encourage this myself, but as I’m playing with a teenager and a pre-teen, mapping slowed things down quite a bit. I’d like to find another solution, but I’m not 100% sure how to proceed. I don’t just want to eliminate the map-making, as I think that the process is a pretty important part of the old-school gaming experience, but I don’t want it to create boredom at the table, either. Perhaps things will just get better with practice? I noticed a lot of pictures from James’ original campaign using dungeon tiles, but I’m in no position to drop a bunch of money on dwarven forge.

This week, I’m going to work on creating my play aids, to include the above-mentioned GM documents, plus some NPC tracking sheets so I can pre-generate a few more local hirelings. This campaign, with only two regular players, is obviously going to need plenty of NPC support.

Wednesday Dwimmermount: Session 1



It all began in a tavern, because I love that cliché, I really do.

To be more specific, it all began in the “Flask and Scroll Tavern” inside the walled city of Muntburg. One Zazik [not his real name, but mages who study at the Tower of the Silver Pentacle always take on properly acroamatic names upon graduation] was discussing a business proposition with a slightly-built thief named Killian Goodpipe [who insisted that everyone call him “the cave snake” for reasons known only to himself]. Besides the two PCs, the bar was populated with a small crowd of late-afternoon drinkers; farmers, lumberjacks, and other lower-class types.

A roll of the dice also indicated the presence of a named NPC, an arcanist named Climent, who was sipping wine and eavesdropping on aforementioned PCs. [The boys decided that their characters knew each other from past business dealings. Killian was in the business of acquiring illicit relics, and Zazik is the type of guy who thinks history is far more important that gold]. As they were speaking fairly loudly in character to one another, I decided that Climent wouldn’t have any trouble discerning that they were planning a trip to Dwimmermount. At the first lull in their conversation, he made his way to their table and introduced himself.

“I beg your pardon, my friends, but I couldn’t help but hear you talk of Dwimmermount. That strange place has been a very common topic of conversation of late. If the rumors are true, what once was locked and sealed has now been opened. Just last week, a group of heroes calling themselves Typhon’s Fists made their way through Dwimmermount’s front doors. They returned richer, but fewer in number for their efforts.”

Climent offered his services to the party, as they were obviously planning their own trip to the mountain fortress. They could not afford the 50gp retainer that he insisted he receive up front, however, so they had to decline his offer. Climent seemed amiable to working with the pair in the future and told them to look for him at the Green Dragon Inn.

While they couldn’t afford Climent, the PCs knew that they needed a larger party if they were going to explore Dwimmermount [with a bit of prodding from me, of course, impartial referee that I am]. Killian jumped up on a stool and addressed the entire bar, offering the promise of gold and fame in exchange for a few days of work. Zazik, meanwhile, did his best to qualify some of the thief's bolder promises, downplaying the danger to their prospective hirelings. Three of the patrons showed some interest and, after some haggling [and Hireling Reaction Rolls], the PCs managed to secure the services of two of them. Thus, the party was joined by Bael, a gambler who desperately needed gold to pay off a mounting debt, and Garhet, a farmer looking to feed his family after two seasons of failed crops. Not exactly the trained warriors they were hoping for, but these two 0-level humans had more HP then either PC. Bael was particularly eager to join the group, especially when Zazik offered extra gold up front. [I rolled a 12 on the hiring reaction chart, giving Bael a +1 morale. The guy really needs to pay off those gambling debts, it seems.]

By the time they equipped their two new henchmen with a set of hide armor [the only set available in the Class V Market of Muntburg at the time], a couple of clubs, and a dagger, Zazik’s purse was feeling pretty empty. He squeezed out a couple more coins for a private room at the Green Dragon Inn and prepared for a journey to Dwimmermount in the morning.

* * *

The old trade route that led to Dwimmermount seemed like the perfect place for bandits or other, more dangerous things to prowl, but the party made it to the foot of the mountain without incident. They debated whether or not they should search for the back entrance that Killian’s former mentor had talked about, but ultimately decided that hiking around the perimeter of a mountain would be too much trouble without knowing specifically what they were searching for. Instead, they began the climb up the long stairway that led to what Climent the Arcanist had called “the Red Doors.” Here and there, the group paused to search some of the crumbling fortifications that guarded the various switchbacks along their ascent, but found nothing more interesting than a few curious runes. Zazik took note of a few specific runes, discovered on an archway carved into the mountain’s face, which he recognized as the symbols of the planets Kythirea, Aereon, and Ioun.

The strange, red metal doors at the top of the stairs opened easily enough. The rumors, it seemed, were true; Dwimmermount was no longer barred. Torches in hand, the party descended into the ancient fortress for the first time. In the beginning, they poked around in mostly empty rooms, progressing slowly as Killian carefully mapped their surroundings. They found a room of statues whose heads had been replaced by new heads and spent some time there rotating the marble heads in hopes of discovering a secret door [but found nothing of note].

Next, they wandered into a room where a group of 7, pig-faced humanoids [orcs, they presumed] were making camp. When the humanoids rose in menacing fashion, Zazik attempted to parley with them. Luckily for the heroes, the biggest of the creatures seemed to speak Common [I gave it a 2-in-6 chance] and was willing to accept some of the cured meats he was carrying as a bribe [Zazik had insisted on buying the highest quality iron rations he could find]. The monsters, now assured that the party feared them, waved their axes in great, menacing gestures as the party made their escape.

After avoiding a potentially deadly fight, the party was eager to find some treasure. They discovered a room filled with old crates of food and other perishables that had long since turned to dust. Poking through the old crates and barrels stirred up a big cloud of dust that sent Zazik into a furious coughing fit. All the noise apparently attracted a creature, a green slime [wandering monster roll], that dropped from the ceiling right onto Gahret’s head as the party exited the storeroom. Thinking quickly, Zazik grabbed Bael’s torch and attempted to burn the slime away before it could eat the henchmen [and the hide armor that he had paid for]. The tactic worked, but poor Gahret was burned in the process and passed out from the pain [he was dropped to exactly 0 hit points]. Although Gahret recovered, he had fallen hard onto the stone floor and smashed his knee [a roll on the Mortal Wounds chart in ACKS]. The henchmen decided then and there that he was done with dungeon exploring [hireling moral roll, failed], but he was in no shape to make the journey home alone, so he reluctantly committed to staying with the party until they left Dwimmermount, limping along using Killian’s 10-foot-pole as an improvised walking stick.

Finally, the PCs discovered a room that seemed to hold some kind of potential treasure. There were a number of metal masks, shaped like fearsome demon-faces, mounted on the wall of a large chamber. One of the masks was lying on the floor next to the skeletal remains of a long-dead explorer. For good measure, Zazik smashed the skeleton’s skull with his quarterstaff while Kilian examined the mask next to the remains. Deciding that the items were harmless, Killian volunteered to take one of the additional masks off the wall. [Zazik’s player, to his credit, almost spotted the trap here. He asked a few questions about the condition of the remains, trying to determine how the man had died. Just as Killian was pulling a mask off a wall, I could see the wheels turning as he put two and two together, but he was too slow to act]. Killian pulled the mask from the wall and was blasted full in the face by a cloud of green gas. Gasping, Killian grabbed at his throat and fell to the ground, dead [he received a Saving Throw, but rolled a 2].

With the death of the thief, the party decided that it was time to retreat. They gathered up Killian’s body and headed back to town, hoping to rebuild their number and return to Dwimmermount as soon as possible.

Next: Thoughts on Running the Game

Running Adventurer Conquerer King System (ACKS)


With my oldest two sons getting out of school early every Wednesday, I decided to run a few games that have been sitting on my shelf just collecting dust. One game I’ve always wanted to give a try is Adventurer Conquerer King System, a “neo-clone” that takes an OD&D base and adds some cool house rules, new classes, and a neat system of economics and domain management. It’s cool stuff and I may write at length about why I was drawn to ACKS to begin with.

My first hurdle to running ACKS was finding a suitable adventure. I’m traditionally a build-your-own rules kind of GM, but with adulthood comes way less time to design D&D stuff. Besides, I’m not sure that I fully grok all the trade modifiers, hex management, and other fun bits that ACKS brings to the party, so a pre-made dungeon of some kind would let me more effectively focus my prep time. I had set my sights set on Barrowmaze, another cool product I’ve been meaning to get some use out of, but I realized that I owned a megadungeon that was already written for ACKS, no conversion necessary: Dwimmermount.

If you’re not familiar, Dwimmermount was James Maliszewski’s OD&D megadungeon (of the late http://grognardia.blogspot.com/). A printed version of Dwimmermount was funded on Kickstarter back in 2012, but it languished in apparent limbo after a series of unfortunate personal matters nearly killed it mid-creation. Thanks to the guys from Autarch, publisher of Adventurer Conqueror King, Dwimmermount is finally seeing the light of day, both for Labyrinth Lord and ACKS. While I’m still waiting for the ACKS version in print, what I do have is the final PDF, plus the PDFs of the illustration book, map booklet, and dungeon tracker. In other words, more than enough to run the dungeon.

The boys rolled up a single character each, a mage and a thief. Here are the background handouts that I wrote for their characters, based on conversations we had during character creation. These include information from the Dwimmermount rumor tables.

ZAZIK THE ARCANIST - 1st level mage (played by my 14 year-old son)
Background: You first learned of Dwimmermount during your apprenticeship at the Tower of the Silver Pentacle, where you spent countless hours studying dusty tomes in the order’s extensive library. The mountain fortress is supposedly sealed and locked from within, but if you could gain access, it’s likely one of the greatest unexplored depositories of lost knowledge in the world!

Lore Book: Before you left, you had Norson the bookbinder craft you a journal where you plan to record whatever lore you can learn from exploring Dwimmermount. On the first page, you’ve carefully written a few notes, gleaned from your research at the Tower’s library.
  •  Dwimmermount was the home of a number of portals to other worlds. A place filled with magic portals is unlikely to be totally sealed to the outside world. There must be more than one way in.
  • The Thulians, an ancient human empire tied with the history of Dwimmermount, were capable of hiding powerful curses in written words. Beware anything written on the wall!
  • It is further written that the Thulians somehow removed Dwimmermount from the sight of the gods. Cleric magic is likely weakened within the fortress.
  • Dwimmermount was mentioned in a list of the lineage of various dragons, suggesting that an entire brood of dragons may still nest there.
KILLIAN GOODPIPE* THE FOOTPAD (aka the Cave Snake) – 1st level thief (played by my 11 year-old son)

The Seven Snakes of Misdor
Most every sneak and pickpocket knows of the Misdor Vipers, an infamous gang of tomb-raiders who deal in antiquities taken from some of the world’s most dangerous ruins. The leaders of this shady organization are known as the Seven Snakes of Misdor, skilled thieves whose true identities are known only to one another. Each “Snake” carries a special medallion, a custom-made talisman in the shape of a mithril serpent. Supposedly, anyone who can slay one of the Seven Snakes and steal his medallion can take his place as a member of the Seven Snakes. The catch, of course, is that the Snakes are dangerous and secretive to the extreme. Finding out who they are is difficult; slaying them is even harder.

Background: Fed up with your mistreatment at the hands of your mentor, the Master Thief Crannok Coinspinner, you tailed him to a seedy inn near the outskirts of town to confront him. By the time you built up your resolve, it was well past dark. As you crept into Crannok’s dark room, you found that you were not the only person with a grudge against the Master Thief. Crannok was slumped over his bed, his wineskin on the floor next to him in a pool of purple liquid. He was apparently poisoned by his own personal supply of wine. Whoever did this must be a very skilled assassin indeed!
Clutched in Crannok’s fist was an even more shocking discovery: a mithril talisman in the likeness of a striking cobra. Without hesitating, you snatched up the medallion and fled. If you’re correct, your old master was actually one of the Seven Snakes of Misdor, and that means that you’re now in possession of a very dangerous object. You plan to keep it, and that means you’ll need to gather a strong group of like-minded individuals to protect you.
You have to make a bold move before Crannok’s assassin comes searching for you. Gathering up your gear, you immediately fled Misdor. Crannok often spoke of a place called Dwimmermount, a sealed fortress from ancient times, only a few weeks journey from Misor. If half of what Crannok suspected about the place is true, Dwimmermount could be the answer to your problems. First, of course, you’ll have to find a way inside. Crannok once mentioned a hidden back entrance, supposedly known only to a handful of dwarfs who reside somewhere in shadow of the ancient fortress.

*Killian’s last name, Goodpipe, was the creation of the 4 year-old, who was listening from the backseat as we discussed characters on the way home from school. No idea where that came from.

Next: Wednesday Dwimmermount, Session 1

Friday, October 10, 2014

Puzzle Box

The Puzzle Box

During a recent session of Rise of the Runelords, an attempt to teleport from a remote region back to Sandpoint went awry. According to the rules, the misfired spell was supposed to send the PCs to a similar area, defined as an area that's visually or thematically similar to the target area.” As they were aiming for the Rusty Dragon Inn, it seemed clear that they should be in a tavern somewhere, but where? I pulled out the Inner Sea World Guide and had them generate a random number using some wacky zocchi dice. A few rolls later, we determined that the hapless adventurers had somehow landed in the city of Katheer, the capital of Qadira (gateway to the east). What would a startled, pseudo middle-eastern barkeep do if a few adventurers materialized in his business? Try to sell them something, of course!

 

When I was in Turkey, one of my favorite memories was browsing through the wares of the various shops in the area known as “the alley” just outside the Air Force base there. So, adapting my best Turkish accent, I began to recreate that experience at the game table. Recovering quickly from his initial shock, the friendly merchant launched right into a sales pitch. While his son brought hot tea to these new customers, the man began to demonstrate the quality of his many fine, hand-carved puzzle boxes. I must have done a fairly convincing impression, because one of my players immediately gave up some of his hard-won gold for his own, authentic, Qadira puzzle-box.

 

Presented below are the stats for the item, more a curiosity than a useful hiding place. The flavor text is written for my own home-brewed world of Terren. For a Pathfinder campaign, assume these items come from Qadira rather than Hzar. There are two versions below, with stats for different rule sets.

 

D20 VERSION

 

Puzzle Box: This carved wooden box can only be opened using a specific combination of twisting parts, hidden buttons, and sliding panels. Puzzle boxes are one of the many exotic wares for sale in the Hzari caravans that travel the great trade route merchants call the River of Spices. The overall complexity and number of steps required to open each box varies, from two steps for the simplest puzzle boxes to hundreds for particularly intricate versions. Most puzzle boxes are of the five-step variety, as the Hzari consider five to be the luckiest of all numbers.

Opening a puzzle box requires one or more rounds and a successful Disable Device check, as shown below. A character makes this check with a +10 bonus if he knows the correct pattern for that specific box.

 

Complexity

Disable Device

Time to Open

Cost

Simple

DC 10

1 round

25 gp

Moderate

DC 20

1d6 rounds

50 gp

Complex

DC 30

2d6 rounds

250 gp

 

 

5E VERSION

 

Puzzle Box: This carved wooden box can only be opened using a specific combination of twisting parts, hidden buttons, and sliding panels. Puzzle boxes are one of the many exotic wares for sale in the Hzari caravans that travel the great trade route merchants call the River of Spices. The overall complexity and number of steps required to open each box varies, from two steps for the simplest puzzle boxes to hundreds for particularly intricate versions. Most puzzle boxes are of the five-step variety, as the Hzari consider five to be the luckiest of all numbers.

Opening a puzzle box requires one or more rounds and a successful Dexterity check, as shown below. A character makes this check with advantage if he knows the correct pattern for that specific box.

 

Complexity

Dexterity Check

Time to Open

Cost

Simple

DC 10

1 round

25 gp

Moderate

DC 15

1d6 rounds

50 gp

Complex

DC 20

2d6 rounds

250 gp