Monday, December 31, 2018

LL game - sessions 5 and 6

Glenn and I had the chance to play a couple more sessions of my one-on-one Labyrinth Lord game. The last session we played, the party managed to clear out some crabmen that had taken residency in some sea caves. After a couple of stiff fights, they decided not to continue into the caves under the Fist and opted to return to Castle Caldwell instead.

The first three sessions of the game, they had managed to clear out the surface level of the castle, but they weren't able to get into the dungeons underneath. Clifton Caldwell managed to find a magic-user that could bypass the wizard lock on the sealed door, but the poor magic-user wasn't interested in going through the trap door she found in the room on the other side. So, Clif hired the party for 100 gp each to drop through the trap and clear out the dungeons. [If you plan to play Castle Caldwell as a player, I should warn you that there are lots of spoilers ahead. Since the module has been out for 33 years, though, I'm plowing ahead.]

The party was the same as last session - Bruegor (third level halfling thief), Martin (second level human cleric), Greld (first level dwarf), Jack (first level human fighter), Harald (first level halfling), Neville (first level elf), Pardant (first level human cleric), and Welmond (first level human magic-user). Between the third and fourth sessions, Glenn asked if he could switch some of the race-as-class characters to race and class, and I agreed, so during the second half of the dungeon Greld became a dwarf fighter, Harald became a halfling thief, and Neville stayed a race-as-class elf.

This is one of the things I enjoy about using Labyrinth Lord (and applies to a lot of the retro-clones and old rule sets). The ability to mix and match specifics, in this case combining some race-as-class characters like Basic D&D and race and class characters like AD&D, makes it a lot easier to let  players play the characters they want. Fortunately, Labyrinth Lord has rules for both, which makes it even easier.

Anyway, on with the action.

The party used Bruegor's rope of climbing to enter the dungeon through the trap door. They lit their lanterns and were getting the lay of the land when they realized that the trap door had closed and disappeared. They started to explore the ceiling with lanterns and the rope, but couldn't find a way back through. The party was trapped in the dungeon until they could find another way out.

A man that looked remarkably like Welmond came into the room, greeted the party, and introduced himself as Hallowell. After a bit of questioning, he explained that he was in the dungeons performing a bit of magical research. He offered to let the party see his work and talk for a bit in his rooms. The party agreed, and they all struck out through the dungeon. On the way, he pointed out a couple of the doors, explaining that some of his colleagues, rivals really, were behind one. The other he explained away as an area of the dungeons he hadn't explored.

Most of the party was skeptical, but Welmond pushed ahead, having both an abysmally low wisdom and a desire to see some of the research. When the group got to Hallowell's rooms, Welmond went inside while the rest of the party tried to keep a watch on the hallways outside with one eye and a watch on Welmond and Hallowell with the other. Hallowell took Welmond to his desk and pulled a thick sheaf of papers from a shelf. As Welmond leaned over to look at the notes, Hallowell's hand transformed, turning a sickly gray with long claws. Unfortunately, that was the last thing the poor magic-user saw. The doppelganger attacked with surprise and killed him with a single attack!

With the magic-user down, the doppelganger rushed to block the door to prevent the rest of the party from entering. It managed to back against the door, holding it mostly shut. Bruegor squeezed into the room and attacked it. Over the next couple of rounds, the party outside tried to force the door open while Bruegor kept the doppelganger busy. After a couple rounds, they forced the door and killed the monster. Realizing that it had killed Welmond, the clerics said a quick prayer and covered him with his cloak. Then they moved deeper into the dungeon.

I should note here that the module says to try to have the doppelganger lure a single party member away from the others, attempt to kill them, and then return to the party as that character. Since Glenn is playing the whole party, that wasn't really possible. Still, he played along with splitting Welmond from the rest of the party. I then modified the tactics of the doppelganger based on the situation, with an eye to keeping as close to the module as possible while not making it too deadly. The struggle with the door was simply opposing strength checks. If both made the check or failed it, the door stayed where it was. If one side succeeded and the other failed, the door would move in the direction the winner was pushing. The party got bonuses for a couple of characters pushing at the same time. I decided it would take one successful check by the party to open the door enough to allow a single character to squeeze around it. A second success would open it enough to allow two characters a round to enter. Two wins by the doppelganger would allow it to shut and bar the door.

There were three rounds of struggling for the door. The first round, the party won and Bruegor slipped in. The second round was a bust for both sides. I think Neville jumped in that round. The following round the party won again, and the rest of the party jumped into the room in time to see the monster die.

Heading out from the doppelganger's room, the party struck further into the dungeon. They found one room with an ornate lock on the door, but couldn't pick it or force it.

They investigated an empty room that led to another hallway with three doors leading from it. Bruegor checked the first door for noise and traps, then opened it. He could see a few coins and a dagger on the floor inside. As he was moving to open the door wider, a thick translucent pseudopod grabbed him and started pulling him into a gelatinous cube. He failed his save versus paralysis, so he was helpless to fight against it. The rest of the party tried to free him, but the cube managed to cause enough damage to kill the halfling just before the party killed it.

By this point the party was feeling exceptionally nervous. They had encountered two monsters in the dungeon so far and lost a party member to each. They still pressed on, though, hoping they could find a way out of the dungeon before more party members were killed.

They explored another empty room along the hallway, then found a door that opened into an unfinished cave. Searching around, they encountered some berzerkers, which they quickly dispatched, and a trio of thouls, who managed to inflict a bit of damage before they were also killed. They also managed to pile up quite a bit of coin, a magic sword the leader of the berzerkers was using, and an ornate key. With the caves being a dead end, the party retreated into one of the empty rooms, spiked the door shut, and decided to take a rest.

The next session, we picked up with the party getting up from their rest and resuming their hunt for a way out. We discussed the rules for recovering hit points a bit, and realized that we have been breaking the rules for forty years give or take. I'll talk about that in another post.

The party returned to the room where they entered the dungeon and again checked for the trap door. No luck; it still hadn't reappeared. So they started checking out the doors they had bypassed on the way to the doppelganger's room. They discovered a pair of magic-users in one room and managed to kill both of them before they could even attack the party. Their luck was turning!

The next room, their luck turned again. They were attacked by some giant robber flies that were nesting in the walls. They killed a few of them before the last one retreated into its nest in the wall. Unfortunately, Neville was killed just before the last one fled. With nothing to do but press on, they moved Neville's body into the room with Welmond's, said a quick prayer and made their way to the door with the ornate lock.

As suspected, the key they found with the thouls opened the lock. The room was bare inside except for a corner cabinet heaped with treasure that emitted a green glow. The party was careful exploring around the walls looking for secret doors, but a couple of characters got too close. As soon as they were within ten feet of the cabinet, they disappeared. The rest of the party froze for a second. Wondering if they had teleported somewhere or if they had been killed, they tied a rope on Harald and sent him into the green glow. He also disappeared, along with the rope! (I gave the rope a 50% chance to go with him and a 50% chance to stay with the cleric holding it.)

At this point, Glenn and I had a bit of a discussion. We decided to resolve all of the action in the room with the corner shelf before I revealed what happened to the characters that had disappeared. I counted off the rounds when each character disappeared in the glow. When the party was finished with their action in the room with the shelf, I described what happened round by round to the vanishers. Fortunately, after Harald disappeared along with the rope, the rest of the party stepped into the glow on the following round.

The party found themselves in a large room with ten stone sarcophagi, an inlaid circle in the center of the floor, and no exits. They examined and explored the circle first. It was made from green marble and had a brass circle with intricate details around the edge. Unfortunately, it didn't appear to do anything on first examination, so the group turned to the sarcophagi.

They started by examining all around them. The tops were heavily decorated, and there was a single seam between each lid and the case. The lids were solid stone and only the strongest members of the party could budge them when they worked together. When they opened the lid of the first coffin, the circle in the center of the room glowed green for a few seconds, and then the light winked out. Seeing the light, Harald and Pardant went to investigate. As soon as they touched the edge of the circle, they disappeared again.

The rest of the party wasn't daunted this time, and they continued to investigate. They opened a couple more sarcophagi and found masses of coins entombed with the dead. The fourth coffin they opened contained a wight, who jumped out to attack the party. Greld and Jack attacked it, while Martin stood back ready to turn. Throughout the dungeon, Jack had a hard time hitting anything in combat, but the sword he took from the berzerker leader came through. He scored hit after hit on the wight. Unfortunately, the wight managed to score one hit on Martin, draining him of a level, but the next second Greld and Jack destroyed the undead thing. In the sarcophagus they found a scroll tube that contained a map to a treasure hidden in the entry room, a scroll, and a scrap of paper with a poem telling how to get out of the dungeon.

Now they had their way out, but they wanted to explore more before they tried to follow the others. They were wary when they were opening the rest of the coffins. They moved across the room and found another sarcophagus that contained only grave goods. The they opened another with a second wight! This time the fighters waded in right away and put the thing down in just a couple rounds. The next three coffins produced more coin. Finally, they approached the last sarcophagus.

As they pulled the lid back, they triggered a trap. A liquid sprayed on Jack, eating into the steel of his armor and equipment. Anything metal that was not magical aside from gold and silver was eaten away by rust in moments. He was able to save the magic sword, but his armor and other weapons were eaten away. With the last coffin opened, they puzzled how to get back to the others. Eventually they loaded a few sacks and tossed them into the circle. When they disappeared, the group loaded up the rest of the treasure and jumped on the circle themselves.

The circle turned out to be a teleporter back to the room with the corner shelf. By the time Greld, Jack, and Martin jumped back, Harald and Pardant had explored the room for secret doors again and found out that the corner shelf and its treasure were illusory. They also found out that they couldn't teleport back to the other three.

Once the party was all back together, they followed the instructions in the poem and found a secret door that led out of the dungeon. They gathered their treasure and the bodies of their dead party members and headed back to the Mug and Barrel.

The party lost three members this time around, but they managed to collect quite a bit of treasure. They were able to collect enough to have a patriarch in the city cast a raise dead on Bruegor, but not enough to raise the other two. With Bruegor recuperating for at least a couple of weeks, the rest of the party has time to recruit some new members and hunt up some rumors that will hopefully lead to their next adventure.

Despite the criticism of this module (along with a lot of other later TSR-era D&D modules), it had some good challenges and we had a lot of fun with it. There was a real risk with the teleporters at the end that the party would trap themselves in the dungeon and have to dig their way out of the crypt. This was the second of five parts in the module, and some of the rumors will eventually lead to the other three parts.

These were our last two sessions of 2018. We've started playing regularly, and I'm looking forward to keeping the momentum going.

Happy New Year! Here's hoping we all get to roll dice more in 2019.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Judges Guild's Bob & Bill

This year I was ready when Lulu put up their promotion for 30% off right after Thanksgiving. I ordered several books, including Judges Guild's Bob & Bill: A Cautionary Tale by Bill Owen. Bill was one of the founding members of Judges Guild, and the book is his recollections about his time with the company.

It is a slim book, only 35 pages, and is currently listed at Lulu for $26.96. Without the 30% off, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Lately I've been on a bit of a Judges Guild kick, though, so I finally pulled the trigger on it.

The book is a nice memoir of Bill's start in gaming, the evolution of his gaming group in high school and after, and his experience founding and working through the first couple years with Judges Guild. There are quite a few anecdotal accounts of specific events in Judges Guild history along the way, and the book has plenty of photos of people, places, and things involved in that history. It was interesting to see some of the bits and pieces in these photos.

Overall, however, the book felt a little flat. There were a few details, but not much that really struck me as new or deep. Everything seemed to focus on the highest points, without getting into much detail. Being a long-time Judges Guild fan, I expected more.

The biggest takeaway I had from it is the reason for the subtitle. Bill spends a good amount of time talking about how creating and working at Judges Guild put him off of fantasy gaming. Turning his hobby into his career killed the fun. Fortunately, he was able to keep his friendship with Bob Bledsaw and his love of other games, especially wargaming, but his involvement with fantasy gaming is very much a fond hindsight.

In all, there is not a lot here that most fans of Judges Guild won't already know. Still, it is nice to see his account of things and his obvious love for his Judges Guild experience.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

LL game - session 4

Glenn and I got a few hours to play yesterday . He decided to have the party follow up on rumors about a beachcomber being abducted by some strange creatures near a few sea caves called the Fingers.

The party included Bruegor (3rd level halfling thief), Martin (2nd level human cleric), Greld (1st level dwarf), Jack (1st level human fighter), Harald (1st level halfling), Neville (1st level elf), Pardant (1st level human cleric), and Welmond (1st level human magic user). We're using Labyrinth Lord, so we can freely mix characters using separate race and class and characters using race as class.

The party had cleared out the surface level of Castle Caldwell and returned to the Fist to recuperate and resupply. A few of the characters picked up bows and arrows, which they hadn't been able to afford before the last adventure. They set up rooms and storage for their valuables at the Mug and Barrel, one of the finer inns on the trade road.

They overheard a pair of combers in the common room talking about a comrade that had been abducted. The combers had found a ship's strongbox in the Fingers. One of them was carrying the chest and lagging a little behind the other two. They heard a shout and turned in time to see him abducted by a pair of creatures half again as tall as any man. By the time they ran back to the caves, both their comrade and the chest were gone.

The party took Comber's Path down to the beach and made their way to the Fingers. Checking the depth of the water in the caves, they realized that most of the party could handle the depth, but the halflings would have to swim or be carried. The halflings ended up piggybacking on Martin and Jack. That settled, they entered the first cave.

For this area, I wanted to simulate the effect of the waves moving in and out of the caves. I settled on a check each round to see if there was a surge. If a surge happened, each character would have to roll a save versus paralysis to keep their feet. If one of the characters carrying a halfling lost their feet, the halfling would have to make a save versus paralysis to hold on and stay above water. Once a character was off their feet, they needed to roll under the better of their Strength or Dexterity on a d20 to regain their feet.

The party made it about twenty feet into the cave before a surge happened. Jack failed his save, dumping he and Harald both into the water. The rest of the party kept their footing. As Jack and Harald struggled to regain their footing, a crabman surfaced and started attacking them. The rest of the party managed to damage the crabman enough to draw its attention away from the swimmers, but several party members took damage from the monster's pincers. The creature took a good amount of damage in the combat. Just as it was about to break away, the party scored a series of successful hits and killed it.

Not knowing what the monster was, the party dragged it out onto the beach to examine it. They used a couple spells to heal some of the wounded party members and decided to press on. As they were preparing to go back into the caves, another crabman attacked from the water. This time the party was more successful, and they managed to kill it fairly quickly without taking too much more damage. They stowed the crabmen on the beach to take up to the Fist later.

This time they managed to search through the first cave, finding a chimney at the back that exited somewhere on the hill above. Pressing on to the second cave, they found a shelf about fifteen feet above the level of the water. Rather than risk a fall and noise, Bruegor used his rope of climbing to get to the edge and peek over.

Two more crabmen were making a quick dinner of the beachcomber, and the strongbox was on the floor behind them. Bruegor climbed back down, and Welmond went up the rope. With a quick sleep spell, he knocked out the two that were feasting and one more crabman that was lurking farther down the corridor. With the three incapacitated from the sleep spell, the party finished them off and searched the area.

Deeper into the cave, they found a place where the passage narrowed. Beyond was a room filled with all manner of garbage with a small pond in the center. Bruegor started to scout the room, and two giant crabs crawled out of the pond to attack. Bruegor took a couple hits from their pincers that very nearly killed him. He fled the room to drink a potion of healing and let the rest of the party wade in. After a few more tense rounds, the party killed both crabs.

The party looked at the size of the crabs and the narrowness of the opening where they had entered. There was no way that the crabs could fit through the passage, so they wondered if there was a tunnel in the pond. Weighting Harald down, they dropped him into the pond to explore. Unfortunately, there was nothing there for him to discover.

Next they searched the room for secret or concealed doors. Neville, the elf, found one in the back of the cave. Greld searched it and found the mechanism to open it, a cunningly hidden switch. They opened the door and found a narrow worked passage with a flight of stairs leading up. Bruegor and Greld started to search the area at the base of the stairs. The search turned up nothing, but they heard a few faint scuffling sounds from the top of the stairs. Next they knew, heavy rocks were rolling down the stairs, barely missing the dwarf and clipping Bruegor in the shins. They beat a hasty retreat and closed the secret door behind them.

Figuring that discretion was the better part of valor at this point, the party retreated back to the inn, taking the strongbox, one giant crab, and the body of one of the crabmen with them.


This session was a quick little side jaunt for the party. I prepped it in about an hour, drawing a little map and noting the monster placement and statistics right on the map. That allowed me to run everything with just one sheet, the rulebook, and my dice in front of me. I marked the attack tables, saving throws, and experience tables so I didn't have to spend much time looking things up. This was probably one of my most efficient sessions as a DM ever.

Here is the map, with the unexplored sections blocked out.

If something else moves into the Fingers, I can erase the old and write in the new stuff or just tape a scrap of paper with the new information next to each area. I'm thinking I may go with taping new notes over the old so I can go back later and see what was there before.

In the little cut in area on the right side of the page you can see where I kept tabs of some basic info about the party. The numbers next to their names are their respective armor classes. With that I was able to tell if something was able to hit without necessarily announcing the numbers rolled. That let me keep a little mystery about how many hit dice each monster had.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Gaming Session Prep

I'm finally getting another session with Glenn in our one-player game. I've been designing things as we need them, and my schedule hasn't left a lot of room for playing. So, it's been a while since I put anything to paper. For this session, I wanted to open the possibilities a bit, so I gave him a few rumors.

1. Caldwell has found a magic user that can open the room you couldn't get into in his castle. He will pay you to check it out.

2. Beachcombers on the beaches at the bottom of the Fist report strange creatures seen in the sea caves. One of the combers says a friend of his was taken by them.

3. You've heard rumors of barbarian and humanoid raids to the north. The latest news is that one of the border forts has been cut off. There is a reward for anyone who can reestablish contact with the fort.

4. Everyone talks about riches hidden in the tunnels of the old fort on the Fist. It's easy enough to find your way in, but is it worth it?

The game started with exploring Castle Caldwell from B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond. The map for this adventure is terrible, and the encounters are simple. We had a lot of fun with it anyway. I guess a lot of play is how much you're willing to muzzle the inner critic and just have fun with things.

I put Castle Caldwell as an abandoned way castle along the road to the north. As you can tell from the rumors, there are barbarians and wilderness not too far north of where we're basing his characters.

Home base is a city called Threshold. It used to be an independent city-state called Moradin's Rest. The city was taken over by a southern empire (for now just known as the Empire) a little over ten years ago. It sits between a sheltered, natural, deep water harbor and a steep cliff. The cliff has an enormous mine and tunnel complex behind it.

The Fist was both a fortress that guarded the harbor and the hill it sat on. It also served as a prison. Before the conquest, it had its own small  town. The fortress was partially destroyed in the conquest, and the town was burned and sacked. The Imperial Governor has not reconstructed the fortress or resettled the hill.

A small, independent community has grown up around the ruins. The community is home to adventurers, mercenaries, escaped and freed slaves, and pretty much anyone else that is willing to live there. Its also a convenient, if somewhat shady, place for merchants and travelers from the north to stop over if they can't get into the city right away.

The ruins obviously have a dungeon, since it was previously used as a prison. The dungeons have been expanded since the conquest, and plenty of treasure seekers have started investigating them. There are rumors that a passage or passages connect all the way from the Fist to the city mines, and around to the southern tip of the harbor. There is a working castle there as well. Previously it was known as Moradin's Shield, now most people just call it the Shield.

There it is. A lot of sketchy detail to start things off. I've got a town and a city, several dungeons, a wilderness, and even some political structure.

Now any time I run a session, I can prep only what I need to run that session. In between, if I get an urge to work on some material, I can go in several directions.

For today's session, I had Glenn pick which of the rumors he wanted to follow, and I detailed things based on that. He decided to follow up on the strange creatures on the beach, so I've got a bit of seashore, a few caves, and a lair or two ready to go. Basically, a one page dungeon with a map and lots of scribbled detail around it. Depending on what happens in the session, I can change things as needed right on the map. If we come back to the same area in a later session, I have less prep then. I can just pull out the map, change whatever I need and keep rolling.

This has been a big shift for me. I used to do a lot of top-down design when I was working on a game. Now I have a lot less time for gaming, so I've switched to more bottom-up design. I keep a notebook with larger campaign details, locations get annotated maps, and NPCs are on file cards. I can carry everything easily if I need to go anywhere, nothing gets lost in the shuffle, and I can prep and run a session in an hour or less.

I'll post some of the maps and things once Glenn has found everything on them. Till then, onward and upward...

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Checking Out Chainmail, Part 11

A good long time ago, I started writing a series of posts about my thoughts on Chainmail. At the time, I managed to get about a third of the way through the third edition rules. If you want to check out the previous posts, you can find links to them in the left sidebar. Starting with this post, I'm going to pick up where I left off and hopefully get through the rest of it.

Cannon in Chainmail strike me the same as arquebusiers. Historically, they have a place on the latest medieval battlefields, but they seem odd to someone coming at the rules backwards from years of reading Gygax's warnings about including firearms in D&D. Reading through the rules about arquebusiers and cannon in Chainmail, it is easy to see why some of those later warnings came about, though.

First, some basic rules. Cannon are treated the same as catapults in terms of rate of fire and fire arc. Field guns can only fire directly, but bombards have indirect fire as a catapult as well. Each type of gun uses a dowel rod of varying diameter - 5/8" for a light field gun, 3/4" for a heavy field gun, and 1" for a bombard. The dowel is marked in alternating white and black segments. There is also a variation measure marked off in 1½" segments. A die is rolled and the dowel is moved according to the variation measure. The firer names whether they are firing short or long. Any model (friend or foe!) touched by the white is hit and eliminated if firing short. If firing long, any model touched by a black segment is eliminated. Terrain will stop the cannonball.

Cannons are deadly in Chainmail! There are no adjustments for armor, troop type, or any other factors. This is probably the reason Gygax warns against including them in D&D. Despite their usefulness in sieges, which I'll get into in due time, they are simply too vicious for most D&D battlefields. This is especially true if cannon can eliminate some of the bigger threats or more powerful characters with a single hit. Smaug is not nearly the threat to Laketown we expect if a rank of cannon take shots as he passes!

The mitigating factors for the deadliness of cannon are mostly similar to catapults. The engines require a full crew to function quickly. They tend to have a fairly static position once deployed. Finally, terrain can interfere with their effectiveness. Best bet if encountering an army with cannon in open terrain with well-trained and defended crew is to avoid the field and try a different strategy.