Sunday, October 30, 2011

Session 45: Underground Elevator Hijinks

"I bet you fish-people taste good!"
--Uncle Junkal

This session, played Thursday 10/13/2011, included PCs Innominus (Clr 6), Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 4), Yor (Dwf 6), Dak (Dwf 6), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 4), and Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 4) -- the whole merry gang!

[EDIT: NPCs Gorgo (Dwarf-4) and Fuzz (Ftr-2) were present as well.]

Scale = 20' per square. The "elevator room"  is the circular room in the center near the top.

The party started off in the circular "elevator room" in which they concluded last session.  However, at Dak's suggestion, they swiftly decided to go back above ground for a day or so in order to heal, rest, and recuperate and to gain back spells and the like.  Once upstairs in the Country Manor House now occupied by the recovering Prince Arkus, Dak and Innominus asked Father Azamondius and Grand Vizier Krock whether or not the Brothers of Carcoon would be willing to provide them with some dispel magic scrolls for their return to the depths.  Father Azamondius promised to supply them with three such divine scrolls.

The party then headed back into Fortinbras, where they rent a home on the walled town's southwest side.  One of their first orders of business was to visit a local alchemist's shop, Crazy Larry's Potion Vendor, and see how many water breathing potions they could get their hands on.  Crazy Larry told them he could sell them seven such potions immediately, for 300gp  each; if they wanted more, it would take a week for them to arrive over the mountains from Blintsport.    

The party ultimately ordered thirty (!) potions of water breathing (five for each PC) from Crazy Larry's Potion Vendor, and waited around in Fortinbras for the week it took them to arrive.  Some highlights from that week include:

+ Hazel did her usual of looking around town for unusual arcane items. She asked around for spell scrolls for wall of ice and wall of fire, to little avail. The main Council Spell Library is north in Farn Junction -- a metropolis currently Dark Plague-ridden.

+ Vivuli spent most of his week at the house, tending his snake pits and attempting to harvest venom from some of the asps in his home collection. He was successful, but it is slow going, and he got only one dose of poison for his week's labor.

+ Returning to the caverns far beneath the Country Manor, Dak assisted his dwarven excavation team in building load-bearing supports in the Thoopshib Temple, preparatory to knocking down the partially desecrated Temple's remaining pillars. 

+ Innominus also returned underground and spent the week doing some detection work in the circular elevator room. He cast detect magic on all four doors in the chamber, finding that the little Thoosphib runes on the doors did indeed radiate magic.  Vivuli assisted the cleric, using his x-ray vision  ring to peek at what lay beyond the north and south doors: a storage room at the end of a hallway to the north, and a spiral stars down to the south.  He also noticed that the doors were attached to the shaft walls and opened away from the elevator; the circular elevator room had openings at all four cardinal compass points, but no actual doors attached.

+ Meta-game-wise, this is about when Uncle Junkal's player showed up for the session [see DM's Notes]. In-game, Uncle Junkal visited the elevator room with Innominus and Viv and helped identify the fish-head runes on the doors, as well as some markings near the control panel levers, as belonging to the language of the Ponaturi, a dreaded mythical race of sea-dwelling fish-men.

At the end of the week, the party gathered their potions and headed back down to the elevator room.  Their attention immediately went to the eastern control room, and, as Dak immortally put it:

"I guess I'm not opposed to messing with the levers."

It was decided that Viv would man the levers, Uncle Junkal would remain with him in the control room, and Innominus, Dak, Yor, and Hazel would ride the elevator.

Viv tried several different combinations, too numerous to document here, of the four levers in their up, down, and middle (neutral) positions. The first result he produced, after a few tries, was to cause a loud rumbling noise, then the whole circular chamber went up. It ascended approximately 200' and stopped. The only entrance out of the elevator on this level was to the east: the elevator opened into a vast, dark chamber, not unlike the one the party visited in Session 42. There wasn't much to see there besides a four-levered control panel just inside the vast chamber, so Viv cranked some more levers and eventually brought the elevator room down. However, at the same time as he struck upon the right lever pull, he saw a potent vision in his mind, of the Fish-Thing Thoopshib hissing in hatred at him. Viv was mind-blasted by the vision, and took physical damage from its "psychic hiss attack." The elevator arrived back on his level.

A few more lever pullings sent the elevator plunging downward, down 600' to a briny-smelling natural tunnel headed north. It was pitch dark. As Vivuli tampered with more lever positions in an attempt to return the party to his level, the PCs on the briny level below faintly heard sounds of movement or activity echoing down the northbound passage toward them.

At Dak's behest, Innominus placed his amulet of continual light into his sling and sent it flying down the large (30' diameter) passage. It flew 80' north and struck a side wall, glancing off to the left (west) at a slight westward bend of the tunnel. Dak and Innominus then headed northward toward the light, weapons brandished . . .

. . . Hazel readied her wand of paralyzation and prepared a spell . . .

. . . . upstairs, Viv tried another combination of levers, and the elevator started rumbling . . .

. . . and Dak and Innominus saw grotesque shadows cast upon the tunnel wall, of huge, 15' tall bipedal fish-creatures, armed with tridents, coming down the passage toward them. Backlit as they were by Innominus' thrown amulet, the two monstrosities' exact facial features were indistinct, but they gurgled and growled menacingly as they advanced, and the party struck immediately.

Dak threw an oil flask at the fish-things, striking one and setting it on fire, while Innominus prayed to Endra and cast Hold Person, which seemed not to affect them.

Fierce battle ensued, coupled with a plan: the melee fighters, along with some phantasmal forces of Hazel's, would slowly lure the fish-creatures down toward the south end of the passage nearest the elevator, where Hazel waited with the paralyzation wand. Then the dwarves and Innominus would leap aside and Hazel would zap the fish-things!

Hazel cast phantasmal force, and had some henchman-looking types march in toward the Ponaturi. The Ponaturi seemed to believe in these phantasms at first, and attacked them with their stupendous tridents, while the PCs, retreating southward down the passage, peppered the fish-things with missile fire. Soon, however, the Ponaturi lost interest in their ghostly attackers, and advanced on the flesh-and-blood PCs. Vicious melee ensued, and eventually one fish-man was cut down to chum, and the other one was successfully paralyzed by Hazel's wand. He too was cut down to chum, and both Ponaturi's satchels were ransacked for their pearls. Dak cut off all their hands, and this is where the session ended.

"We didn't even get any loot off of that bitch!"
--Innominus, referring to the Thoopshib slaying in Session 43

DM's Notes
Scheduling-wise, we have switched from our previous Monday evening gaming night to regular Thursdays -- but aligning everybody's schedules is no easy feat. For the next few sessions, Uncle Junkal's player will likely show up a bit late (maybe 30-40 minutes) due to a work conflict. Yet this was literally the only weeknight we could find that worked for everyone. Thankfully, after the present academic term, his schedule will likely change -- of course, so will many of our other players, since many of us are in the college teaching profession and our schedules shift each term.

Other than that, I am thrilled that the party has found potent nemeses in the Ponaturi, and seem to be preparing for some kind of all-out raid or assault on their territory. There have also been some recent out-of-game discussions about possible other plans -- at least some tentative ideas I've heard mentioned by a couple of players -- so, as always, I will look forward to seeing what surprises the party brings on next.

Here are some screenshots from Skype:

Uncle Junkal's player at Carl's house.

Spawn of Endra, now on the East Coast.

Hazel's player, clearly enjoying herself as Hazel slays Ponaturi.

A new mascot for our enterprise, provided by Yor's player.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Clerics and Detection, PART 1, or "If You've Stuck Yourself in Heal-Bot Mode You've Got Your Own Damn Self to Blame"

Thus does pronounce The Spawn of Endra!

[Okay, here's my Cleric cred, right off the bat. I've been playing the Cleric Innominus the Follower of Endra in Carter's game since January of 2010. I've read all the LabLord and AEC rules about Clerics closely, I compile all of Bat's Ancient Vaults and Eldritich Secrets Divine Spells, and I think about how to use my PC to do more interesting stuff all the time. Because of this, I am biased toward the view that Clerics are Bad-Ass.]

There's been a bit of a "Clerics ARE Bad-Ass" vibe going on in the blogospheroid, between Carter's last post on the subject and this one at Grognardia that really didn't have much to do with Clerics initially (it was about a Rients post on class generation). But a segment of the comments on Grognardia boiled down to the relative merits of Clerics, and how they are perceived by some as just heal-bots that no one wants to play. I made a comment there that was perhaps more abrasive than is appropriate for a Canada-based blog (just kidding, Canucks! I know you're not as civil as everyone thinks!):
Quoth I: As a person playing a LL cleric for the last year and a half, I have to say if your cleric is turned into a heal-bot, or never gets to fight, or never uses all the really useful detection spells to make yourself like f'ing Van Helsing then a) you suck as a player, b) you play in a pretty sorry game, with c) other pretty sorry players. If you can't make a B/X cleric awesome and fun, you've got serious problems.
Maybe that's harsh. A commenter suggested that they have a hard time elbowing in to get their way in a game ... and so I guess they get pressured into not fighting and just healing folks. Some folks suggested it's the MMOs that are the problem. Others said it goes further back. Well, I'm sorry but ... well, what I said. Something SUCKS: you, the GM, the other players, the gestalt of all that. B/X/LL Clerics are bad-ass and a lot of fun to play. They don't suck. Some human element of your game sucks.

Clerics apparently are terribly boring in later editions of D&D. I haven't played those editions, but I get that impression from such posts as this one at Rule of the Dice. There I read this rant, and I commented thusly:
Ahoy. I play a cleric in what are essentially B/X rules.... I'm not savvy with later editions, and have no opinions about their mechanics. But for the earlier editions, the magic isn't super spectacular, but the cleric whips ass in combat compared to many other classes (outside of fighters, of course). Yes they can cast Cure Light Wounds, but this idea that they hang back and offer first aid like M*A*S*H doesn't happen in play.
Is this a common thing in 3.x or later that the Cleric ... just ends up being a first aid kit? That's not my experience ... yes, there are times where my character heals a bunch of folks, but it's after my character crushed several skulls in a series of withering flail attacks.
And CDGallant_Knight (the author) responded:
Back in the "old days," clerics were the second-best option for combat, after fighters. (They had to do something once they ran out of spells, after all). The recent addition of so many other classes with specialized attacks and damage-dealing options, however, makes what little combat potential clerics had obsolete. The clerics are there to keep the strikers/DPS characters alive, so they can keep pouring on the damage.
And I said "Well, yeah then that DOES suck." (NB: I'm so old-school I have no idea what 'strikers/DPS characters' are, though I get the drift.)

But I'm not playing that edition. When we first started the Lands of Ara campaign back in January of 2010, I recall Carter mentioning that our party might want to have a Cleric, or even his setting-specific Sword Cleric of Frey, on board, and I took this off-handed remark to heart. I assumed he had some undead-heavy stuff planned. And I also was being that sort of "responsible player" that is alluded to in the Grognardia post comments: somebody has to be the stupid cleric or else we can't play, I'll take one for the team. But my motivation as one of two experienced gamers in the group with a bunch of almost total RPG newbies (two of whom choose to be house-ruled Bards off the bat ... humanities grad students!) was to make sure we were a well-balanced party, because I wanted the campaign to succeed at gaining and keeping new players and giving them enough time to figure out the game through play.

I NEVER played Clerics back in the day and I assume that it was because of all the god-damned (as it were) tonsured monk-looking fools with crosses and rosary beads that were depicted. And not having a spell at first level in B/X also seemed sucky (a topic well-treated in Rients' post and on Grognardia, and in Carter's last post). And no edged weapons. They seemed sucky, but now I know they weren't. The Lab Lord Cleric borrows the AD&D spell progression for the class, and so another layer of potential suck has been stripped away.

Before I get into the detection stuff, which is the point of PART 2 of this post, I'll touch on a few things that make Clerics play really cool. Many of these are not new ideas but there are enough *^$*)$#@ers out there crying about Clerics sucking that they need repeating yet again:
  •  The blunt weapon restriction isn't that severe. In most B/X-style play you've lost only lost rare d10 weapons, d8 one-handed weapons, and d6 missile weapons. If you're JB and consider variable weapon damage optional (as written), it's almost completely an aesthetic choice.
  • They aren't ^&@#@ing priests telling everyone to be nice and turn the other cheek, and they aren't paladins with a boring moral absolutism that has almost no place in a party of killers and looters. They are trying to destroy evil or chaos or whatever in the world. By smashing its fucking skull in with a blunt object. And with righteous fury, I would expect.
  • They have access to all spells of the level they are able to cast each day. This is really important. As Carter has noted, this was one of the first insights I had about the cleric when I got back into the rules. Clerics don't have to find scrolls or buy spells to gain magic. They don't HAVE to slect CLW as their first spell (as opposed to MUs that logically really HAVE to choose Sleep as their first spell after Read Magic, since they are so weak in combat). They just have to pray and do what their deity wants (i.e., destroy enemies of the faith with righteous lust ... duh, what else were you planning to do?). 
  • This means that Clerics are in a better position day-to-day to assess what sorts of spells will be useful in the adventure scenario, and are able to move the game forward in the non-combat sessions when detection is going to be more productive than healing or offensive spells. It's powerful because the Cleric never incurs long-term opportunity costs for selecting a 'lame' spell over and 'awesome' spell, like Magic Users might. You select spells for the day, if they aren't useful, so what? In fact, the ability to choose each day promotes experimentation and creative application of the spells because there is no long-term commitment to keeping those spells.
  • The ability to customize the day's spells to suit the gaming situation (especially if you're using the AEC Wisdom bonuses too) means that around 3rd level and higher, the Cleric's player has a lot of strategic options to consider, whether they are going to be Abu Nidal jihadist or Christopher Lee Van Helsing that day. Nobody else gets that flexibility. And in my experience that is really FUN. At times this can put you in the party's driver's seat, but just as often you get to do your bad-ass thing while the other party members do THEIR bad-ass things and it's like the A-Team just showed up to save Prince Arkus from demons from Hell!
Next time I'll talk about my favorite daily spell lists for Cleric Detective, as well as for Cleric Holy Warrior. For now, let me re-emphasize that I play my Cleric for me,and though I have a sense of trying to support the whole party, I don't put it up to a vote what spells I'll choose for the day to help everyone else out. Van Helsing wouldn't. He's trying to save reality, not save Dungo the Fighter with a +2HP CLW so he can swing his sword one more time. Seriously, folks. Clerics have have bigger fish to fry.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

LL Cleric = Powerful (and well it should be)

I ran my first ConstantCon game on Monday (play report forthcoming), and since we use Swords and Wizardry White Box rules for that, I got to talking with Spawn of Endra during the session about the relative power of the Cleric class across several D&D rules iterations and their retro-clones. It turns out that 1e AD&D and Labyrinth Lord favor giving clerics spells at first level, a privilege denied them by other systems like White Box, Swords and Wizardry in general, the LBBs, Holmes, and even Moldvay/Cook, upon which LL is primarily based!

Even James Raggi's LotFP Grindhouse, which has sparked much of my recent thinking on this matter, slightly de-powers the cleric from its LL / AD&D heights, NOT by denying clerics a spell at first level, but by making their Undead Turning ability into a spell. I think that is a very clever approach, and yet as I step back and reflect upon this whole cleric scenario, I find that in the end, I may actually prefer the "high-powered" cleric of LL and AD&D.


Well, this current campaign of mine is really the first time I have ever gamed with a cleric for any sustained period of time. I never realized how cool and versatile a class the Cleric was until this campaign. I will leave the particulars of my positive cleric experiences to our group's play reports and possibly Spawn (I am hoping he may eventually post on "The Cleric as Detective"), but I do want to note here why I think that clerics SHOULD be powerful, SHOULD get spells at first level as well as their Turn Undead ability.

It really boils down to their alignment, to whose team they're batting for. As I have recently outlined,

"All clerics, unless they serve demons or chaotic demigods, are aligned with Law. [. . .] Law is what 'naturally' occurs in one's home dimension, including its 'indigenous' gods, and Chaos always comes from without, crossing into a foreign dimension via the energies of Chaos."

So Lawful clerics worship the gods local to this dimension, the so-called "True Gods" or even "Lawful Gods" -- though recall that, at least for me, deities are NOT bound by strict alignment guidelines -- so it follows that their magic should flow more easily and "naturally" here than do the arcane forces of inter-dimensional Chaos. Clerics play by local rules and accrue benefits therefrom. Magic-users tamper with inter-dimensional forces and so should have a harder (and more dangerous) time of it.

May the Arandish gods bless Dan Proctor for going with the slightly more potent AD&D-style cleric for Labyrinth Lord. I can see why some folks prefer the lower-powered OD&D cleric -- for tradition's sake, or because of the "prove their faith before being granted the ability to work miracles" angle -- but I think that, now that clerics and the Lands of Ara have finally met, the spell-at-first-level-having, undead-turning cleric of Labyrinth Lord suits my campaign's (developing and evolving) assumptions quite well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Funk Bard David Snell: Giving the Party Bonuses to Certain Activities

Thinest Spawn McSays:

I was minding my business about Bards recently, since I got sort of burned out on the 2d6 Bard, and I think Beedo and Carter are onto a good thing with the LotFP Specialist Bard. And I'm not against bards fundamentally. I started up a new character in the ConstantCon session the other night, Chundarr the BardBarian. He's an S&W fighter, and since he had no cash he doesn't even have an instrument. But that's the fun. How do you have a Bard when there's just no such thing as a Bard in the system and you're not going to make one up? What a quandary!

No quandary at all, says I! I'm just going to play him as a Bard and be as bardly as possible in every fight and the bonus is not in PC morale or to-hit bonuses,  but in human-being player morale, a.k.a.: fun, laughter, camaraderie, nonsense, a good time. I spent a great deal of time in the last session thrusting a giant bat carcass on a stick in the faces of our foes, which is in-game barbaric and meta-game hilarious nonsense. I daresay it was BardBaric. Chundarr is learning to be a taunting monster puppeteer. We don't need rules for that. I don't anyway.

At any rate, there's this outstanding question in the blogosphericon about how a Bard playing a harp (or lute or whatever) can inspire anybody in a fight. Well, this may not be fight music, but this guy David Snell has the range that your classic Bard Harpist would need to be a real bad-ass. Check it out:

Maybe this works better at the tavern than in the dungeon, but even so he's not messing around with that harp.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Evil Gods and Summoners

I like evil gods. I like them a lot.

This is, in part, why I am immensely appreciative of James Raggi's discussion of alignment in his LotFP Grindhouse rules, about which I have mused at length before. The main idea is that Law and Chaos are palpable cosmic forces affecting the game-world, not just moral abstractions. So almost everybody in the human and demi-human species are neutral. Demons and the undead are aligned with Chaos, as are those who meddle in the arcane arts (which could simply be called "chaotic arts"). All clerics, unless they serve demons or chaotic demigods, are aligned with Law.

In some ways, this Law/Chaos business all ties back to the presumption of a multi-dimensional universe and the possibility for inter-dimensional travel: Law is what "naturally" occurs in one's home dimension, including its "indigenous" gods, and Chaos always comes from without, crossing into a foreign dimension via the energies of Chaos.

Again, I did not really make this up on my own, although it makes a lot of sense to me. I am once again indebted to Mr. Raggi, who succinctly describes arcane power thus:

"Magic fundamentally works by ripping a hole in the fabric of space and time and pulling out energy that interacts with and warps our reality. Various mages have managed to consistently capture specific energy in exact amounts to produce replicable results. Spells.

"The Summon spell opens the rift between the worlds a little bit more and forces an inhabitant into our world to do the Magic-User's bidding. What exactly comes through the tear, and whether or not it will do what the summoner wishes, are unpredictable."

[from the Summon spell description on Grindhouse Rules and Magic pg. 142]

This description fits perfectly with the core assumptions about how magic works in Ara. We have always included summoners as part of the Lands of Ara setting, and acknowledged in our own original writeup how dangerous Summoning could and should be. Summoning is a major part of what attracts demons -- i.e., Evil Gods -- to Ara in the first place. That is why it is technically an outlawed Art in the Lands of Ara now.

Yet Summoning surely still persists. Hell, the PCs in my current campaign are hot on the trail of some demonic entities that seem to have access to Summoner-created dimensional gates of some kind!

On a practical note, I wonder if I should technically make Raggi's Summon spell available in the Lands of Ara setting? Seems logical. . .

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beedo Gives Sage Advice

I think Beedo over at Dreams in the Lich House has been on quite a roll lately -- his posts have been getting me all jazzed up and inspired. His latest one, which constitutes the debut of a new regular feature called "Saturday Sage Advice," considers the use of encounter tables as the very definition of a campaign setting.

This is a subject I remember Zak blogging about, talking about how we should describe our settings "in the form of rules (and monsters and items and all that) and nothing else." In other words, as Zak so eloquently puts it,  we should "build the fiction out of the tools you give us to run it." I like that idea a lot.

Beedo does too, celebrating collaborative setting generation wherein "details emerge organically through play at the table and no mind-numbing info dumps are necessary. Players learn details only as they become relevant." Indeed!

James Maliszewski has commented on this idea before, including back when he discussed his original intentions for Dwimmermount, stating that "Dwimmermount is explicitly an experiment in seeing how both rules and campaigns develop organically through play. [. . . ] The setting[s], like the rules, are living things and they grow best in response to stimulus, not by being force fed."

This sort of stuff has been on my mind lately due to my decision to abandon the megadungeon project on the grounds that it was being "force fed" rather than organically grown through play. In the same post in which I announced the megadungeon's temporary cancellation, I mentioned my interest in other projects such as the Lands of Ara Compendium 2011 (due early 2012) and The Tower of Death (due 2012) -- both of which HAVE grown through play. That is why they remain viable.

Even more recently, I have begun to talk with Spawn of Endra about a future project called The Lands of Ara Gazetteer, and this is where the "build the fiction out of the tools you give us to run it" ruminations really come into play for me. I have already written text blurbs about many of the key regions of the Lands of Ara for this blog (see Gazetteer hyperlinks on this page), and see no reason to repeat them in a more formal Gazetteer. No, our Gazetteer may have some very short text blurbs for each region, but it will mainly consist of encounter tables, maps, NPCs and monsters, and all that usable, gamable stuff that would allow people to play adventures in the Lands of Ara. That is a superb game product design principle, and I thank Zak and Beedo and James M. for reminding me of its importance. 

In fact, thanks are due to all the various OSR Sages who have helped me improve my game, as well as the ways in which I share it with the public. The RPG projects that are flourishing over here at Lands of Ara Enterprises are the ones that have grown out of the insights I have gained interfacing with the OSR blogging community and playing Labyrinth Lord these past couple years. I literally could not have done any of this without you!

And best of luck on the new regular column, Beedo. I know I'll be tuning in.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Session 44: Temple Desecrators-R-Us (Part 2 of 2)

This part of the session, a continuation of this one, included PCs Innominus (Clr 6), Yor (Dwf 5), Dak (Dwf 6), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 4), and Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 4).

Underneath Kaminster's Country Manor. 
Map scale = 20' per square.

This concluding part of Session 44 started right near the end of recently killed and subsequently raised Dak's two-week recovery period, roughly Days 161 and 162 of the party's Arandish adventures.

The still-mobile members of the party ventured back down the 500' shaft a few times during Dak's recovery time, to have Viv do x-ray searches of the various rubble piles and to collectively perform such excavation operations as could be safely conducted. Thereby were recovered a few more items of interest, including a note reading: "Dearest Bobby -- Keep the faith. --Sir Reginald"

In related news, Innominus cast Tale of Death on the skeleton he and Dak had earlier excavated from a rubble pile in the caverns far beneath Kaminster's Country Manor. He learned that the fellow had died by being ripped to shreds by three saurian Balrogs named Gor, Threk, and Zorchl*.

Meanwhile, Yor sent a letter north to his relatives in the mountains west of Farn Junction, hoping to obtain news about the fate of the supposedly plague-ridden city. After a few days wait, Yor's relations reported the worst: yes, there seemed to be a deadly plague sweeping the walled town. The malady was known locally as "the Dark Plague" but Yor's dwarven cousins hadn't seen any actual cases in person; they were staying the hell away from the town and the roads.

The day of Dak's restoration to full health, Day 163 of the party's Arandish adventures, the whole group returned to what was left of the Temple of Thoopshib. Innominus inserted a gold coin (1 gp) into the slot at the base of the (now demolished) altar. The coin instantly vanished. The cleric then cast Locate Object and sensed that the coin was now far away beneath them, more or less directly downward from their present position.

So Innominus next cast dispel magic on the Thoopshib Temple's eastern exit door, green sparks shot everywhere, and the door opened. The party proceeded along a 40' eastbound passage to another door marked with the Thoopshib fish-head glyph. Dak hand-axed this glyph, only to be zapped by green sparks and knocked a pace back by the potent electrical charge. So Innominus deployed his second dispel magic spell against this magically warded door, which opened, leading into a circular chamber almost 60' in diameter.

Viv inspected the whole place with his x-ray vision, and discovered that the circular room was in fact a cylindrical elevator car seated within a slightly larger (60' diameter) shaft. Through the three other Thoopshib-glyph doors, he saw a passageway (north), a small control room with knobs and four levers (east), and another passageway (south).

The session ended with the group standing in the elevator room.

* The "chl" at the end of Zorchl's name is an approximation of a letter (and pronunciation) with no direct equivalent in human language.

Friday, October 14, 2011

LotFP Specialist = The Future?

Inspired by Beedo's excellent take on the Bard, I have lately been oohing and ahhing over the LotFP Specialist class (described on pp. 10-11 and pp. 30-42 of Grindhouse Rules and Magic).  As Spawn of Endra comments on Beedo's blog, the latter's graft of Bardic skills onto the LotFP thief-substitute "points the way towards using the LotFP Specialist in new ways."

Indeed, to me the implications are quite clear: we should use LotFP's Specialist as a "conversion kit" for any custom class (or so-called "Advanced" class such as those in the Advanced Edition Companion) that we want to bring into our Basic D&D-ish games.  As Raggi himself puts it on p. 71 of Referee,

"Assassins and Bards are Specialists.  If the adventure or supplement text mentions specific power that these classes might have in other games, just grant it to the particular NPCs."

What Raggi suggests we grant to particular NPCs could be used, as Beedo has ably demonstrated, to streamline the process of bringing oddball PC classes like Rangers, Bards, and Jongleurs into the mix of our campaigns.  Need a sea pirate with sailing skill?  Make Sailing a Specialist skill and make Sailors Specialists.

Using this logic, I could port the Delving Deeper Bard over to the LotFP Specialist paradigm -- or, I suppose, simply steal Beedo's Bard.  I would also like to graft Ranger skills* like Tracking onto the Specialist chassis:

Tracking - "Familiar with the signs left by humans, humanoids, and various other creatures as they make their way through the wilderness, rangers can discover and follow the trail of those they are pursuing -- sometimes even in the worst of conditions."

So the standard Ranger (according to Brave Halfling) would have points in Tracking, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Bushcraft, and Hear Noise. Any Ranger wanting to take the "Damage Bonus" option instead of the "Additional Skills" option (see Delving Deeper: Ranger) -- I've been using the former to represent northern Achelonian monster fighters -- could simply spend one of their initial allotted skill points to gain that ability, maybe swapping out Hide in Shadows and/or Hear Noise and instead spending a point to get that damage bonus vs. evil humanoids and giants.

Under this system, the standard LL thief would simply be a Specialist who spends points on Pick Locks, Find and Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Move Silently, Climb Walls, Hide in Shadows, and Hear Noise.

After chucking in the Bard and Ranger skills, and changing some of LotFP's thief skill names back to their Labyrinth Lord equivalents,** my custom Specialist Skill List would look like:

Climb Walls
Find and Remove Traps [EDIT: Tinkering in LotFP]
Hear Noise
Hide in Shadows [Stealth in LotFP]
Lore [described here]
Move Silently [Stealth in LotFP]
Open Doors
Performance [described here]
Pick Locks [Tinkering in LotFP]
Pick Pockets [Sleight of Hand in LotFP]
Sneak Attack
Tracking [see Delving Deeper: Ranger or description above]

It is too late for me to make the LotFP Specialist conversion in my current Labyrinth Lord campaign, because it would seriously change the nature (and , I think, potency) of our home-brewed 2d6 Bard class, currently active in play.  But one day, after the current party retires or dies (TPK!), maybe I will run my NEXT Lands of Ara campaign using a more lean and mean ruleset, mostly using Labyrinth Lord but with the LotFP Specialist thrown in to replace all non-core custom classes including the standard LL thief. I would also be ditching all the AEC crap as well, except, perhaps, the expanded spell lists. But that is for . . . the future?

Labyrinth Lord is my lover. . . from Hell!

* I am stealing these Ranger abilities straight out of Delving Deeper: Ranger. Raggi's Bushcraft skill already covers foraging/wilderness survival (p. 33) as well as direction sense (p. 34).
** Thanks to Mr. Raggi for providing skill name conversion guidelines on p. 70 of Referee.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Moment of Appreciation for Our Readers

The Spawn of Endra says:

It seems that some of the bloggers I follow -- and they wouldn't necessarily call themselves "Old School", mind you -- are plagued with readers that are total dumbshits. Some of these IDIOTS even attempt leave really inane comments that totally miss the point, or proffer up little bits of shit about gaming like they just discovered gold. These bloggers read books, people! Get with it! You know how frustrating that can be. You ask, will anyone ever understand me? CAN anyone ever understand me? You write follow-up posts about how stupid everybody is.

Well, actually, I don't know how frustrating that can be. For some weird reason our readers don't act like idiots, and their comments are usually cordial and insightful. And I'm happy whenever anyone leaves a comment at all, to be honest. But maybe that's just my perception of things and I'm not skilled at identifying idiots. Maybe I'm an idiot! Hmm. Better reflect on that.

At any rate, if you're reading this, pat your self on the back for not being a stupid numbskull wasting my genius time with foolish comments. Good job! Please treat yourself to a cookie or beer or something. You've earned it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Session 44: Temple Desecrators-R-Us (Part 1 of 2)

"Well if that's the case, I go to town on desecrating this altar with my handaxe!"
--Dak the Younger

This session, played Monday 9/27/2011, included PCs Innominus (Clr 6), Yor (Dwf 5), Dak (Dwf 6), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 4), and Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 4). While we missed Hazel, who checked in via Skype long enough to tell us she was too swamped with real-world work to join us, we were thrilled to hail the triumphant return of Uncle Junkal, finally back from hiatus after completing his doctoral dissertation. [Though he did arrive a bit late to the session so doesn't feature in the account of the first few turns.]

Underneath Kaminster's Country Manor.  The Fish-Man Temple is the square room near top center. Map scale = 20' per square.

We started off just outside the weird Fish-Man Temple that the PCs visited (and partially desecrated, at least via pissing) last time. The group decided they hadn't had quite enough of desecrating the Temple, and ventured right back in. Dak approached the huge Fish-Thing statue/altar on the west side of the room and swung his New Steel handaxe at its base. A chunk of the thing, solid stone with shell inlay, came off at Dak's blow. The dwarf then delivered the immortal line that has provided this post with its epigraph, and started hacking away with great gusto at the Fish-idol, sending stone chips flying into the 2' of water that covered the entire Temple floor.

Meanwhile, Innominus searched around the Temple, while Vivuli kept his x-ray vision trained upon the underwater entrance to the place, right underneath the altar Dak was gradually demolishing. Yor kept his handaxe drawn and his eye on the door through which they had entered.

Dak kept hacking away, and as he reduced the fish-headed statue to rubble, Innominus noticed (via his still-active ability to detect evil) that the evil energy around the altar / statue actually increased as the vengeful dwarf bashed it to bits. Yor, inspired by Dak's exuberant example, started hacking away at the base of the southwest pillar, nearest the altar. 

About this time Uncle Junkal the bard showed up, and, observing the mayhem ensuing in the Temple, readied a potion of gaseous form. He also attempted to read and decipher the etchings encircling the top of the pillar Yor was hacking down. Uncle Junkal was not able to read most of the strange runes, but one looked sickeningly familiar: it was the rune for Blibdoolpoolp, Sea Mother, a chaotic goddess whose name could not be uttered aloud without incurring dire retribution. Being a land of fisherfolk, most southern Arandish humans and all rodians were well aware of the taboo against uttering the Sea Mother's name. As a rodian bard, Uncle Junkal had been hearing terrifying tales about the lobster-headed sea goddess ever since he was a youngster. Without saying her name aloud, the bard conveyed to his fellows that the Temple must be sacred to (or at least partially dedicated to) the Sea Mother.

Innominus also made an interesting discovery during his searching of various areas of the Temple: the base of the altar had a small hole or niche in the front of it, about the diameter of a smallish gem or coin. With his x-ray vision Vivuli determined that this small niche went back 2" deep into the stone altar and stopped; it apparently led nowhere.

Dak had hacked the statue mostly to bits when he opted to take a break and plan his next move with partner-in-Temple-desecration Yor. The two of them began hooking up ropes and a block-and-tackle rig so as to be able to pull the pillar down upon the mostly smashed altar. During this brief break from wanton destruction, Dak also took a moment to poke a couple things into that small niche on the front of the altar: the end of a quarterstaff fit in the hole but provoked no effect; a gold piece slipped into it vanished completely! Even with x-ray vision, Vivuli could not see where the coin went; it seemed to instantly (magically?) wink out of existence.

Uncle Junkal did some more reading, visiting the door through which he and the party came in and attempting to make something of the fish-head rune etched there. Indeed, after racking his brain a moment, he came up with a name: Thoopshib. This was the name of a lesser water deity, a minion of Blibdoolpoolp's. The bard deduced that the Temple must be dedicated to Thoopshib worship, and realized that the statue Dak had just pulverized likely depicted the chaotic demigod.

The dwarves were on a desecratory roll: they pulled the southwest pillar down, toward the west, and it crashed into the altar, demolishing what was left of the statue, which wasn't much. The fallen pillar cracked upon impact but did not shatter or break; it now partially blocked the underwater passage leading west.

Once the pillar crashed down upon the altar with a bone-shaking crunch, a blackish energy began swirling around the area, swiftly materializing into a serpentine shape. The party leaped into action, Innominus casting Demon Bane right away as Vivuli and Uncle Junkal readied projectiles. Dak and Yor raised their handaxes and prepared to charge.

Over the next three rounds, the serpentine energy gradually solidified, coalescing into a gruesome creature with a long, slithery, eel-like lower body, four arms ending in slimy, tentacle-fingered hands, and a massive head like a horrible fish. It was twelve feet tall (would have been larger at full tail extension) and moved fairly swiftly around the watery chamber once it became solid in round two. It was greenish-black in color.

The first round of the fish-monster's solidity, it attacked: greenish slime shot forth from its snaky fingers, coating Dak and Yor from head to foot. The slime instantly hardened into a shell around each dwarf, rendering both of them immobile -- for now.

Vivuli applied black widow poison to an arrowhead, biding his time . . .

With Dak and Yor neutralized, Innominus and Gorgo rushed the grotesque fish-creature, swinging mace and dwarven axe.  Their valiant offensive distracted the thing from its dwarven quarry, giving Uncle Junkal and Dak's follower Rodney a chance to reel Dak in with a rope and to begin chipping away at his slime-shell with a dagger.  That technique seemed to work, though some of the slime chips that hit Rodney in the face burned him a little, as if the hardened slime-substance were acidic.

Vicious combat continued between the party and the fishy demigod, with Gorgo getting slime-shelled just about the time Dak got freed. Vivuli made masterful longbow shot with his poison-tipped arrow, rolling a "27" on his nightly d30 roll "to hit." However, I used my DM's nightly d30 roll for the creature's save vs. poison, and it survived!

Mobile again, Dak the Younger rushed into melee combat with the thing, going toe-to-toe with it for two or three rounds until it finally felled the dwarf with a vicious double-claw attack, for which I rolled the maximum damage (two 20's on 2d20!). As Dak died, he let off a long and extremely vile-smelling burst of flatulence, which, as his final gesture, he aimed in the direction of his fish-like killer.

Its vengeance partially sated, the eelish monstrosity went looking for Yor, himself finally freed from the slime-shell by virtue of his own brute strength -- after several tries, the powerful dwarf burst it apart from within.

Innominus and Yor pressed the attack, while Uncle Junkal made a remarkable handaxe throw, rolling his nightly d30 for damage and getting a "29." Nevertheless, the deity was still going strong, attacking Innominus.

Meanwhile, Vivuli had been hiding in the shadows behind the northwest pillar, and when the creature slithered close enough, baited by the embattled yet stalwart cleric, Vivuli sneak attacked the thing, making an assassination attempt! For that attempt he rolled "00" on his d%, and the gruesome fish-deity instantly vaporized in a burst of greenish-black energy!

The party's next immediate step was to head back up the 500' shaft to the Manor house, to see if anything could be done for Dak.

However, before leaving the Temple completely behind, Innominus cast Dispel Magic onto the altar area, including the top of the pillar. Green sparks shot out of the runes atop the pillar, and the cleric felt a wave of sickening nausea wash over him, and he saw -- or at least imagined he saw -- a vision of a terrible, humanoid female figure with a lobster's head and claws:

The Priest of Endra sensed hatred from the figure in the vision, and it "zapped" his mind, causing momentary, excruciating pain (and damage) to the cleric. Then it winked out. The somewhat dazed cleric joined his companions upstairs.

While the party had been underground, Father Azamondius of Kaladar had arrived at the Manor. Now, upon hearing of the party's brave deeds in eradicating chaotic forces below, Prince Arkus (still bedridden but improving) implored Azamondius to raise the fallen dwarf, offering a generous donation to the Kaladarian Temple of Carcoon in exchange for the service. It was done; after thanking the Prince, Dak was transported via wagon back into town, to recover at the party's rented home there.

The party puttered around Fortinbras for two weeks, waiting for Dak to fully recover. The snow continued to fall during most of that time, though not nearly as thickly as on the first day of the party's visit to the Country Manor. Uncle Junkal busked in the streets, Innominus healed the sick and diseased, and Vivuli used his street contacts to acquire a black-market version of the spell Conjure Vermin. The party also eagerly awaited the return of some scouts that Grand Vizier Krock had sent to investigate rumors of a plague in Farn Junction; they waited in vain.

More to come in Part 2 . . .

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Tales" Episode 1 on 10/17/2011

"Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian" Episode 1

Date: Monday Oct. 17
Time: 6pm Eastern / 3pm Pacific / Midnight Berlin

No more than four (4) 1st Level PCs are sought for a dangerous and potentially lucrative mission. Roll a new 1st Level PC -- see this post for the standard Arandish options -- or consult the FLAILSNAILS Conventions for PC conversion guidelines.

Please email Sir Hobart of Delzar (aka Carter Soles) at csoles666 at gmail dot com to assure yourself a place at the virtual table -- first come, first served! The Hotel Kaladarian only hires teams of up to four adventurers, so don't delay!

As it says in the Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian Houserules Post, we are using the S&W White Box rules (Third Print Edition -- 25 November 2010) as writ with NO "Alternate Rules."  The only two houserules being added (besides typical Lands of Ara class and race restrictions) are Shields Shall Be Splintered! and Critical Hits and Fumbles.

Online Venue Note: Despite my recent deliberations on the topic, I have decided to use Google+ for this session -- if you sign up to play and aren't yet a member, say so in your email to me and I'll send you an invite. See also these instructions.

My contact information on G+ is: Carter Soles, csoles666 at gmail dot com, avatar is me wearing glasses and holding up a white d30:

See also this announcement and this resource page for more information about Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian.

See you in cyberspace for some Arandish adventures on October 17!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Joined Trollhalla!

As regular readers know, Ken St. Andre's Tunnels and Trolls is a key part of my "gamer DNA" -- I was introduced to the game (by Michael Oshiro) fairly quickly on the heels of my earliest introduction to Holmes Basic D&D. I have spoken before of the game's many virtues and pleasures, and was reminded of them recently by ze bulette, who posted some great pics and a mini-review of T&T 7.5, an edition of the game I have never owned or played but about which I am very curious.

[Also, revisiting that aforementioned "virtues and pleasures" post of mine, I just noticed that Liz Danforth herself commented on it! And she's FAMOUS!]

All of this T&T-related excitement has led me to seek out Trollgod's Trollhalla, the online home base for T&T fandom. All it took was answering a few questions, and now I am on the path toward enhanced Tunnels and Trolls adventures and experiences! The coolest part of joining the Trollgod's Elite Champions is that the Trollgod himself -- legendary T&T creator Ken St. Andre -- is the site administrator! Yup, I got an email from Ken St. Andre! If you had told me when I was a fifth grader playing T&T that I would one day have direct (virtual) contact with the game's author, I would never have believed you.

Of course, as James Maliszewski has discussed before, the T&T game has stayed remarkably consistent over all these years, and it seems like part of this consistency stems from St. Andre's direct involvement: he has always kept himself accessible to the fans of his game, in ways that go above and beyond the average. This direct connection to the guru of the game system I'm playing is one of the great perks and joys of being part of our old-school hobby; this kind of personal touch doesn't seem a prevalent part of corporate RPG culture (e.g., WotC), though perhaps I misjudge.

At any rate, I have to go get to work on some material required for my deeper initiation into Trollgod's Trollhalla, and I don't really have much else to say here anyway except: T&T rules! And so do Ken St. Andre and Liz Danforth!

"Hey you! Git yer ugly mug out there and play some Tunnels and Trolls!"
(Stone troll illustration copyright 1991 by Liz Danforth.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Answering Jeff Rients' Twenty Questions (Part 2 of 2)

This post is part two of a two-part series in which I attempt to answer Jeff Rients' list of "Twenty Quick Questions for your Campaign Setting." My first ten answers are here, and Jeff's answers about Wessex are available here and here.

So here is Part 2 of "Twenty Quick Questions for The Lands of Ara":

11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
Almost anywhere in the areas right around the Bay of Noffel -- i.e., the Free City of Kaladar, the Noffellian port towns of River's End, Silverhilt, and Jakama, and/or the Blintian bayside metropolis of Blintsport. In the north, your best bet is Tradefair or Ironcrown, though a certain number of B-grade mercs and swamp-lurking types are probably available in Swampsedge.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Arcane magic is outlawed in Noffel, upon punishment of exile (for the most minor infractions) or death (for everything else). And in general, as far as law enforcement goes, the Noffellian High Guard, the Kaladarian Royal Guard, and the Telengardian Roughriders are the most feared, manichean organizations in the Lands.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
I have blogged about this before, but now, thanks to the travels of my current PC party, I can happily add a few more entries to the list of Noteworthy Inns and Taverns of Ara. Here are some key establishments the PCs in my current campaign have visited during their adventures so far:

in Fortinbras
- The Drunken Yeti, the local adventurer's bar
- The King Hargon Inn, a reputable dwarven inn

in Farn Junction
- The Lazy Basilisk, an adventurer's bar
- The Stone Mountain Inn, a dwarven establishment

in the Free City of Kaladar
- The Orc's Balls Inn, a somewhat seedy establishment near the South Gate
- The Greedy Lion, in the North Wall District

In general, it is not difficult to find a drinking establishment anywhere in Ara, though many Noffellians tend to be restrained drinkers or even teetotalers, as are some fairly extreme Telengardians.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
There is always Krakko the Iron Drake, who is so notoriously hated and feared that his death and killer would be celebrated forever throughout the Lands of Ara and beyond.  More realistically, there is a greatly feared red dragon named Razgar who terrorizes northern Ara, a rumored Troll-King in the wildlands down south of Mizar, and many notorious hobgoblin tribes in the northeastern dwarven lands and in the central Minochian mountains.  Lately, there seem to be a great many black dragons terrorizing central and southern Ara as well. And lastly, in the region of the Great Western Swamp, anyone who could exterminate a sufficient number of swamp trolls so as to reduce their deleterious impact on towns like Swampsedge and Sluggerton would be thanked, rewarded, and revered in that region for years to come.

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Yes, the so-called New War between Delzar and Mizar, which is really just a long, drawn out border dispute, but no less violent or bloody for it: a great many Mizarian, Delzarian, and mercenary lives are lost to this longstanding conflict every day.  At the opposite corner of the map, there are (rumored) skirmishes between elven and rodian forces taking place in the far northwest, near the western Arandish sea coast on the city of New Port. And of course, there is constant territorial infighting in many places throughout the Western Lands.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
Arenas and gladiatorial battles (to the death anyway) are considered somewhat uncivilized in southern Ara, though there is a famous old arena in Highgate, nowadays only used for ceremonial purposes. However, there is a thriving gladiatorial circuit in the Western Lands and parts of Telengard: Ironcrown, Tradefair, and even Swampsedge all contain active gladiatorial competitions.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
The most noteworthy (or notorious) of these would include: (1) the Red Hand, a super-secret assassins' guild supposedly based in Kaladar, (2) the Invisible Hand, a secret society of powerful wizards who resist Arandish law, refusing to join the Council of Arlon, and (3) various dragon cultists, the most terrifying and evil of these latter groups being the one that worships the aforementioned Krakko

18. What is there to eat around here?
This is the hardest one to answer, and it varies regionally.  The lands immediately surrounding the Bay of Noffel, i.e., Noffel and Blint, serve a lot of fish and seafood; Blintian mussels are treasured throughout southern Ara.  Minochians herd a lot of goats, but also grow various vegetable and grain crops in the areas east of the high mountains.  The most lush farm- and grazing lands in Ara are in central Achelon and throughout Delzar, so practically any edible crop or form of livestock may be consumed in those Lands or in the Free City of Kaladar.  Despite monster incursions, sheep are raised in many areas of northern Ara and the Western Lands.  Telengard, consisting largely of blighted lands, depends upon local goat-herding as well as imported grain, fungi, and meat from the northeastern dwarves for its sustenance.  Mizarians occasionally herd cattle, and when they do the meat produced is the finest in the Lands, but they mostly prefer to hunt large land mammals (tigers, oliphants, etc.) that roam the southern plains.  And lastly, there have occasionally been unusual fruits and meats brought back by explorers of the southwestern Komar Peninsula, but none of these exotic offerings has yet taken a firm or consistent place in the culinary traditions of the Lands of Ara.

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
Yes, The Crimson Blades.

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
Well, converting that "Type H" B/X / AD&D designation into a Labyrinth Lord Hoard Class using my handy-dandy Treasure Type Converter, I see that this query refers to creatures of Hoard Class XV, i.e., dragons and dragon turtles but not much else.  So I would refer you to item 14 above, which is mostly a list of dragons anyway.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Western Lands - Small Baronies Amidst Vast Wildlands

I was looking over my Lands of Ara Gazetteer (available on this page) and came to a startling realization: I have never blogged about The Western Lands! I mean, I have mentioned them here and there, and my current campaign even started out on their southern frontier, but I have not yet composed a full-blown Gazetteer entry for the region.

So here goes:

The Western Lands refers to the large, western Arandish land area bordered by Noffel to the south, Aldoria to the north, the Great Western Swamp and Gray Mountains to the west, and the Achelonian border (i.e., the north-south Endyn Trade Route and Endyn River) to the east. It is an extremely loosely governed coalition (or maybe just collection) of small baronies and fiefdoms, some legally recognized by established Arandish powers (e.g., the many Achelonian petty nobles in the region), and many others whose sovereignty is hard to determine and exist mainly through force of will and/or arms.

[To continue, quoted from here:]

"The Western Lands are a loose confederation of independently held baronies and smaller land holdings that blur into the wilds of northern Achelon to the east and stretch toward the coastal Grey Mountains to the west. These are frontier states, untamed and raggedly governed. There is no central reigning power, only individual territories overseen by barons and baronesses ruling more or less as they please. Most of the barons wish to keep it this way, though there are a few individuals who believe it would benefit the region to unify into one realm. [. . .] I encourage players and referees to flesh out these lands to fit into your own adventure campaigns. Feel free to make up your own baronies and territories as you see fit, for this is a wild area ripe with possibilities."

The Western Lands - North
This is the slightly more densely populated half of the Western Lands, largely since the Great Western Swamp covers so much of the other, more southerly portion.  Here in the north, despite the ubiquity of a good assortment of large, fearsome monsters including northern bears (stat as cave bears) and wild ogres (see stats here), there is plenty of verdant, wooded land, much of it suitable for ranging livestock.  This is also where Tradefair, the single largest town in the Western Lands, sits [not indicated on hexmap, but it occupies hex 1107].

The City of Tradefair
Tradefair is a fairly large (pop. 9,600) free city that some call the "Kaladar of the Wildlands.” Though its permanent population is largely made up of Arandish humans, many dwarves, rodians, and even ogres live there as well, and its transient population includes persons of all races. It is the principle center for legitimate trade and commerce in the Western Lands. As in Kaladar, nearly anything may be bought or sold here. Tradefair supports a small spellcaster’s guild, and it is widely believed that the Invisible Hand has a secret meeting place somewhere in or near the city.  The city of Tradefair has its own Lord Mayor and Guard Corps.

The Northwestern Baronies
Barony of Farrep
Rodgar, Lord Farrep, wants to keep the Baronies free. His is a reputable, hard-working mining colony on the western frontier of the wild lands. Along with Ngthar, Farrep is one of the two oldest Baronies granted by the Queen of Achelon, and Rodgar even rivals the Dukes of Orr and Anorak for being one of the richest and most powerful landholders in this region.

Barony of Ngthar
Murdock, Lord Ngthar, is owner of numerous highly productive mines, excavating ores used in the forging of dwarven steel. His exports travel east overland to the dwarven smithies in the mountains beyond Telengard.  He is known to be extremely rich, though not seemingly interested in regional politics or power.

Duchy of Nostromo
Duncan, the Duke of Nostromo, lives at Castle Finnegar. The current duke’s father was an illegitimate though favored son of an Achelonian prince, so Duncan’s blood ties to Achelonian royalty are considered to be weaker. Therefore, the current Duke of Nostromo is not a particularly influential Duke, and he has been known to rabble-rouse and complain about this fact at gatherings of the local Western nobles. 

Duchy of Anorak
This large expanse of rich farmland is held by Anorak, the eldest of two sons of the late Duke Orum, a favorite of the Queen of Achelon. When Orum fell into ill health nine years ago, he split his realm, giving land to each of the brothers. Anorak is also in the Queen’s favor, and is an Achelonian loyalist. He is fair and reasonable, though he distrusts Telengardians somewhat. Anorak has a son, Warro, who is a hothead and resents “queer Uncle Davidar,” whom he views as an obstacle to his own father’s rightful claim to all of Orum’s lands.

Duchy of Davidar
Davidar is a nature-loving man who, it is whispered, has connections with the Land of Aldoria. It is in fact widely reported that the Duchess of Davidar, Alnara, is an elf. Davidar’s interests keep him at a distance from the Achelonian courts, so though he is charismatic and powerful, and respected by his brother, Anorak, there are many Westerners who frown upon Davidar’s rumored association with faerie, and he is little known in Achelon.

Barony of Urn
A ruthless, mercenary landholder and miner, Lord Urn is vehemently anti-faerie, and is rumored to use Aldorian slave labor in his mines. It is also said that he sells his ore to Suhlian pirates on the western coast. Lord Urn is not fond of visitors and employs a violent, mercenary guard corps to defend his property.

Duchy of Orr
The Duchy of Orr is ruled by Herbald, a famous Achelonian general granted lands and title by the present Queen. Herbald is quite large and muscular and is known to be a deadly two-handed swordsman, even despite his advancing age. He is an authority on the lore of Noffellian Sword-Cleric Silverblade the Stout-Hearted. Some of his minions include Sir Ronald Glastonburg, his personal vassal and commander of his troops, and Ooochh, a domesticated rock troll who is utterly loyal to the duke.

Barony of Needbo
The current Lord Needbo is a reclusive and scholarly man. Castle Needbo is an ancient structure, and the Needbo family is said to have been here since long before the Achelonian land grants. Some locals believe the Needbos are connected in some way with faerie.

Faldor’s Keep
Lord Faldor is a non-noble landowner thought to be friendly to the Arandish White Council. His keep lies on the eastern bank of the River Ngthar between the Barony of Ngthar and Castle Morko. His small landholdings and introverted personality keep him from much unwanted notoriety, and his location—just across the river from the dreaded Wosc Marshes (also called the Haunted Marshes)—does not encourage guests.

Wilkiss is the name of a small shepherds' village as well as the name for the wooded area that surrounds it.  Deep in the woods outside the village is rumored to dwell Crooql [pronounced CROO-koo], the mad hermit of Wilkiss. Crooql is extremely reclusive but supposedly knows a great deal about local legend and lore.

The Western Lands - South
Much of this region is described in my post about the Great Western Swamp, yet there is one other key feature to be described: Castle Morko.

Castle Morko
Mad Lord Morko is a strange and unpredictable man who prefers to keep outsiders away from his land, most of which consists of swamp. In fact, the vast bulk of the Marshes of Margoon, a known breeding ground for swamp trolls, fall inside Mad Lord Morko’s territory.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ConstantCon - Sticking with Skype?

I have been gaming with my "home" Labyrinth Lord group via Skype for over a year now, and have grown quite comfortable with it.  Skype seems to handle larger (4-5 participant) video chats relatively well so long as some of the participants use headphones for audio. [Actually, lately we have gotten away without even using headphones at all.]

My home Labyrinth Lord group: clockwise from top left, that's Spawn in Pennsylvania, Vivuli's and Yor's players in Oregon, Hazel's player in Wisconsin, and me [at bottom center] in upstate New York.

So as the mid-October start date for my ConstantCon Game approaches, I find myself wondering: to Google+ or to Skype? I know practically everybody else in the OSR blogosphere has been going gaga over G+ of late, and part of me feels I ought to use that for Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian since many of my players will be from that blogosphere and may feel more comfortable on G+. However, I did run a two-person test of G+ Video Chat with Uncle Junkal's player about a month ago, and both of us felt that G+'s video dimension in particular was far inferior to that provided by Skype. I already pay for Skype Premium ($8.99 [US] per month) in order to get access to Skype's Group Video Chat feature, so I could easily hold my ConstantCon games over Skype, so long as my players all have (or are willing to download) it.

Or maybe I should start with G+ Video Chat on a trial basis and then if I don't like it, I can always revert to Skype?

Any thoughts or suggestions on this matter from the blogosphere?

Monday, October 3, 2011

ConstantCon Has A Homepage

Hear Ye!  Hear Ye!  ConstantCon now has its own homepage!  You can find it here.  I also have added a link to it on my own ConstantCon page, and have added it to my blogroll.

As Zak also just announced, he will continue to host his usual Wednesday ConstantCon posts for a few more weeks, in order to smooth the transition from his blog to the new one.

Rock on ConstantCon!

Abandoning the Megadungeon Project (For Now)

Much earlier this year, I boldly announced that I was commencing a Megadungeon Project. While the plan I had for the dungeon's layout is a very good one, and the specific place in which I planned to develop it is a key location in the mythology of the Lands of Ara, I have found that I am indeed a true old-schooler at heart, and need to develop my megadungeon through play (like Dwimmermount), NOT via detailed pre-design.

In the early months of 2011, I did a decent amount of mapping, maybe two to three partial levels' worth, but then lost steam and kind of drifted away from the whole thing for several months.  So here I am now, in early October, realizing that until a group of PC's gets anywhere near the place, I might as well "close up shop" on the project for the time being.*  

This clears space in my schedule for a few other projects that I am excited to tell you about, including:

- Co-writing and -editing The Lands of Ara Compendium 2011, collected highlights of the gaming content from the Lands of Ara blog from its inception in 2009 until the end of 2011.  The Compendium will be written and edited by Spawn of Endra and myself and will feature illustrations by some old-school favorites including Kelvin GreenThe Lands of Ara Compendium 2011 will be released as a free, downloadable pdf in the first weeks of 2012.

- Running episodic sessions of Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian, my new ConstantCon campaign.

- Possibly getting a local old-school D&D [probably Labyrinth Lord] group going.  As regular readers know, my attempt to get a Basic Dungeons and Dragons Group going at the local bookstore last month did not immediately pan out.  I think my new tactic locally will be to simply get a small group gaming, whether it be at my own house or at that bookshop or at some FLGS, I don't care.

- Writing and revising The Tower of Death, a spruced-up version of the module I ran at OSRCon in August, to be made available in early 2012 as a free, downloadable pdf.

Stay tuned for more Lands of Ara updates!
* Reminder to self: when I pick up steam on the project again, remember to create a cool Megadungeon Project Binder.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Answering Jeff Rients' Twenty Questions (Part 1 of 2)

Awhile back, Jeff Rients posted a list of "Twenty Quick Questions for your Campaign Setting," which he then proceeded to answer (here and here) for his own Wessex campaign. Inspired by his example, I will now answer those same twenty questions as they relate to the Lands of Ara, to the best of my ability, also in two parts. Here goes part 1:

1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
We are discovering that as we play. Some well-known and widely worshipped Arandish deities include Awra, the creator-sorceress; Frey, God of the Noffellians; and Aldor, goddess of the Elves. Innominus, my current PC group's cleric, has suggested that his own order, the Followers of Endra, are a smaller sect, possibly based in the Western Lands, but who (like all other religious groups in Ara) also have a Temple in the Free City of Kaladar. In general, as I have previously posted, "Adventurers in Ara can surely find temples to almost any god or worshippable thing within the walls of the Free City of Kaladar; but outside that city, full-blown temples to anything besides local deities or those entities specifically designated below are probably rare."

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
Any small- to mid-sized town* in civilized areas of Ara would do.

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
The Free City of Kaladar. Maybe a few skilled armorers exist in towns with significant dwarven populations like Farn Junction or Ironcrown who could pull off such a task as well.  Of course, no civilized Arandish town or village would allow you to bring your new monster acquaintance inside its walls!

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
The greatest living thaumaturgist in the Lands of Ara is Arlanni, current head of the White Council of Arlon. However, many Arandish folk believe that Awra herself still roams the Lands, sometimes in Gold Dragon form, sometimes as a human, even occasionally as a rodian. If these legends are in any way true, then the creator-sorceress would rank highest -- for she could surely blow Arlanni out of his booties any day of the week.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
Officially, whoever is the King of Noffel's current Champion and Captain of the Noffellian High Guard. But that would be a highly contested title, especially outside southern Ara. Usually the head of the Kaladarian Royal Guard is a major badass as well, and there may be other less well-known warriors toiling away in the monster-infested regions of northern Ara who have not been given their due in more civilized circles.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?
I am not completely sure, but I know that he or she surely lives in the Free City of Kaladar. Or possibly is a member of one of the older Noffellian families, or is an Achelonian noble in the Queen's favor who possesses vast tracts of central Arandish land.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Temples of the Healers of Carcoon abound in most central and southern Arandish towns and cities. Other local and regional sects may offer this service as well.

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
The Brothers of Carcoon could do most of these things, but only in their Temples in towns at least the size of Farn Junction, i.e., Medium Towns or bigger (pop. 4,500+).*

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
Yes, it's called the White Council of Arlon, and you MUST join it upon reaching name level, or else be hunted down by its (powerful) representatives.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
Many good-sized towns in Ara may have such experts, but the larger the metropolis, the better. The Free City of Kaladar is a sure bet, as would be Highgate, the Noffellian capitol. The Delzarian capitol of Bilnhof is also well-known for its high concentration of sages and folklorists.

More Arandish secrets will be revealed in Part 2!
* See Labyrinth Lord p. 125 for settlement size categories.