Monday, 15 June 2020

DCC Days Tales of Adventure


As I imagine anyone reading this blog knows, DCC Days Online Convention ran from Thursday, 11 June 2020 to Sunday, 14 June 2020. Having to work full time last week, and being ever-hopeful of being able to run games in meatspace, I signed up to run two games. Also, I'm running online games from my kitchen table, and there is a limit to how much forbearance I can ask my family for!

As might be obvious, there are going to be a few spoilers below.

On Friday I ran Goblins of the Faerie Wood for William Keller, Ken Kindler, Marlene Whitmer, and Kathy Heatherly. This is a funnel in which the PCs are playing goblins. It went pretty well, although after the goblin PCs beat up the hook-nosed gobbler and dealt with the greywhethers with minima losses, I was beginning to wonder if my jokes about "what could go wrong?" would turn out to be prophetic! Not to worry - when the goblins decided to gather reeds from the stream, things got deadly quickly. The giant spiders also took out their share of 0-levels.

The greywhethers are sheep which turn to stone by day (or if brought to 0 hp). They know the answers to many questions, but asking them a question makes you their lawful prey. Most of the time I run this adventure, this is the first "thinning the ranks" encounter. In this case, not so much. A couple of goblins did get eaten by the carnivorous immortal sheep, but the players actually came up with a clever solution to the problem the greywhethers pose. It is one I had not seen tried before, and had not considered when writing the adventure....so, kudos!

(Solving the adventure requires gaining information that the greywhethers can provide.)

Also unusually, after the PCs acquired a powerful magical item, they decided to keep their earlier bargain and trade it for a charm to cure a toothache their tribal king was suffering from. It is not unusual for goblins to decide to flee their king's territory at this point, and make a new life for themselves as adventurers!

Altogether, a very fun evening.

I had no games to run, and The Sword & Board is postponing DCC Day events until things become a tad bit safer here in Toronto, so I didn't get to run anything Saturday. This is completely cool, and I am thankful that the store wants to keep us safe, even though I am jonesing to run something in person. I did get a chance to drop into the Social Hour (with help getting the link from some very astute members of the DCC RPG Rocks! Facebook group).

On Sunday I ran The Falcate Idol for Paul Pipeline, Sam Nicholson, Em Hogard, Iain T, and Jeff Kuzniewski. Most of the characters were pregens creating using Purple Sorcerer...and quite coincidentally more than one had an extremely low stat or two.

We almost didn't have a cleric, and I was ready to supply each PC with a potion of greater healing that heals 4d4 damage. This is physical prop made by one of my regular players. There are 4d4 on a resin base inside the bottle; I got to "roll" it several times during the adventure....because the first real encounter made me retcon to allow the potions. There was, very nearly, a TPK in the second room (first real encounter). For those who know the adventure, the PCs went down through the trapdoor.

Despite having a chance to heal and get powered up, and despite an awesome animal summoning spell effect (the PCs booked past the 100 HD of eagles fighting a truly horrific spider-monster, and so missed when it was reduced to 0 hp and exploded into a cloud of spores). If this was being played in a regular campaign, the eagles who failed their saves would certainly come up again.

Several characters dropped several times. The battle to escape the temple's guardians was brutal, and without divine intervention a PC or two would have ended their days as temple guardians themselves. The cleric of Bobugbubilz wound up with the emerald from the idol's forehead, and all that entails.

It was a fun adventure, but it created enough dangling threads that I would really have loved to pull them and see where they went. The CE Series is really designed for campaign play. The Falcate Idol would be especially fun, I think, in the DCC Lankhmar setting....something I may have to run at some point.

Altogether, DCC Days was definitely fun, but it made me want to run games in realspace even more! I wonder....If I got four card tables and spaced them 6 feet apart in some outdoor location......?

EDIT: Forgot to mention the Virtual Swag!

Monday, 1 June 2020

Big Damn Heroes...

...Or, playing with 1-2 players

It happens sometimes that you only have one or two players available, and you want to run a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign. This isn't as crazy as it sounds. Plenty of Appendix N fiction follows the exploits of a single adventurer, or a duo.

The judge who wishes to run games for only one or two players can use this simple hack. Others have suggested means to deal with the funnel - see various articles in The Gong Farmer's Almanac for ideas. Herein I am only looking at what happens when a character gains 10 XP and gets to choose a class.

Allow the character to select two classes, and get all the benefits of both (hit points, hit dice, save modifiers, etc.). The character is still considered to be level 1, although they might be a warrior/thief (Conan, Fafhrd), a warrior/cleric (effectively a paladin), a warrior/wizard, etc. The cleric/wizard combo in particular offers something much closer to many of the sorcerous beings found in early fantasy fiction.

Demi-humans must choose their race-class as one of the two classes. Humans cannot choose to become elves, dwarves, or halflings. In the case of Deed Dice, just bump the character's Deed Die +1d up the dice chain. Halfing thieves gain a +1 bonus per Luck Die, but only grant +2 when they spend Luck for others.

When the characters hit level 2 (at 50 XP), they can add one level of either of their existing classes. And so it goes, up to level 10.

What if a player wants to take the same class twice? I.e., start as a warrior/warrior? Treat as a level 2 warrior with 10 XP, who is considered level 1, and who gains level 3 at 50 XP. By the time you reach level 10, the character might have to add another class, but the odds of reaching such heights in the short term are extremely slim.

There you have it. Nothing else is required, save the native wits of the players themselves.

And, these characters can join larger groups by considering their actual hit dice rather than their levels - at least for a short time. If the group gets larger, just start using normal XP progression from their hit dice. Suddenly, that 2nd level wizard/thief/thief is considered a 3rd level character!

The funny thing is, this might allow PCs to represent Appendix N protagonists more closely than the core rules do. It makes the PCs stronger and more versatile as well, allowing them to insinuate themselves into places where angels fear to tread.


Wednesday, 20 May 2020

DCC Days Online


I have signed up to run two games online.

Hopefully, I will be able to run a new tournament funnel in person at the Sword & Board in Toronto on Saturday. With real prizes. I will keep you posted.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

DCC Days

I am hoping to spend this time running games at The Sword & Board in Toronto. But, man, doubts assail me. What if the Covid-19 ban (or a spike in cases) prevents the store from participating? What if economics prevent the store from participating, after being forcibly closed for some time?

What if?

What if?

I have been in some talks, but I don't see the event on their calendar, and the Goodman Games site only lists American participating retailers so far.

So I am now officially looking for someone to partner with, who is willing to pick up items for me at a different store, and ship them to Canada. I do not mind paying for this service!

EDIT: COVERED!

Meanwhile, if you are in or near Toronto, and want to participate in DCC Days, why not make sure that The Sword & Board knows about it?  There is contact info on their webpage (linked above), and every person who inquires makes it more likely that the owners are willing to take what is, following an enforced closure, what amounts to an expensive risk.

Help me, Hugh-Shanna-Kenobi. You're my only hope.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Tales From Cyclops Con

Last weekend was Cyclops Con, a virtual convention run by Goodman Games. I ran three events for the convention, using Roll20 and theater of the mind. Mostly things went well,  but I am definitely still learning how to shift from in-person gaming to online.

There are a lot of other things I am trying to juggle, which are taking up valuable mental real estate. This had an effect on my convention, as we shall see.

The Fence's Fortuitous Folly

I ran this game on Friday at 7:00 PM for Gary M. Soldati, Jack Derricourt, Stefan Surratt, Kleighton Smoniewski, Jordan McIntosh, and Stephen Barnett. The pregenerated characters I used were pointed out to me by Jen Brinkman, who may or may not also have been their creator. Among the characters was a Mingol wizard who was blind as the result of a curse, and who had to be naked in order to cast his charm person spell. This offered a particularly good example of how spell stipulations and dooms could affect the game in a greatly amusing way. Another character had a benison allowing him to attack with two weapons in the manner of a core-DCC halfling. Yet another character had a 1st level sidekick.

We started this game by reducing the Luck of PCs who wanted to risk a bit of carousing for the "full Lankhmar" effect, and then jumped into the game.

There is a big chase at the start of FFF, and it was well received. One of the players told me after the game that he had been involved in numerous chases using various systems, but the combination of rolls and encounters in the adventure allowed him to feel the tension of the chase all the way through. This pleased me enormously, because the adventure was written before DCC Lankhmar had any official chase rules. It also uses the d7, which is still my favorite die.

As a result of the choices made by the players, and the time constraints of a three-hour time slot, some possible encounters were missed. Everyone seemed to have a good time, though, and everyone survived.

After the adventure, I did a brief Q & A session, and then went into the virtual tavern to socialize a bit. The adventure was originally slated to run on the Goodman Games Twitch channel, but video resolution issues kept that from being viable.

Through the Dragonwall

Saturday morning at 11:00 AM I ran Through the Dragonwall for James Pozenel, Ophelia Pozenel, Tristan Pozenel, David Oswald, and David Rudisill.

This was a necessarily condensed version of the adventure, just to get the major story elements into play. TTD includes an opening mini-dungeon, a maze that PCs will probably have to thread at least three times, political intrigue, and enough optional encounters to easily provide 3-4 sessions of material. We managed to not only play through the salient points in three hours, but I discovered at the end that I had not gone wildly over (which I had thought) but slightly under.

As the cover indicates, this adventure includes a dragon. In most instances, PCs are going to end up fighting that dragon. In a 3rd level adventure, unless the PCs are both cunning and lucky, this could result in a TPK. In our Saturday session, it resulted instead in half the party lying dead beneath the now-visible sky while the remainder fled to escape the Valley of Two Lands.

Again, I had time for a brief Q & A after the game. Yes, this adventure uses elements from the two Harley Stroh adventures I had converted from 4e, to make a sort of unofficial "Caldwell Cover" trilogoy of level 1, 2, and 3 adventures. These are Dragora's Dungeon and The Curse of the Kingspire. Links to Abraham Merritt stories were also discussed.

The Dread God Al-Khazadar

And then, as it so often does, disaster struck. I was scheduled to run The Dread God Al-Khazadar on Saturday at 3:00 PM, but for some reason I had it stuck in my head that I was running it on Sunday. As a result, I was half an hour late to the game. I apologized profusely, and ran the game over time to make up for it, wrapping things up only when folks had to leave to play other games.

Compounding this error, two players had been given the same pregen character, and one had been given a 3rd level elf I had generated for Through the Dragonwall!

My sincerest thanks to Tim White, Joe Cirillo, Stefan Surratt, Laura Pirkola Williams, Clayton Williams, and Matt Carr for sticking around and making the game enjoyable nevertheless!

When I ran this adventure last year at Gary Con, I had selected a 5-hour slot, and went for nearly 6 hours. Part of the set-up is that the judge is trying to slow the players down, while the players experience an ever-increasing time pressure to resolve the adventure before they all die. There was a lot of material that had to be condensed to make the adventure fit into a roughly 3-hour frame.

Despite the aging-brain generated problems I accidentally created, the group seemed to have fun.

Virtual Swag

Not being at the convention in person to hand out swag, I created some with the help of artist Elias Scorsone, the author and illustrator of Wrath of the Frost Queen.

You deserve a piece of virtual swag for reading this far. You can find it here!

Sunday, 12 April 2020

What To Do With The Cowards?

This came about as a response to this post on Facebook. What do you do if you have some PCs who keep hiding whenever there is a fight, and don't do their fair share?

Nothing.

Your job is to present the world, and the consequences in the world that arise naturally from the choices that the players make. Dealing with PCs that cause problems is something that the players should deal with. Let THEM hold back a share of the treasure. Let THEM replace the problem PCs with new party members (which can even be run by the same players).

Be blunt if you have to, or if the players complain:

"They are your characters. This is your problem. Deal with it."

That said, there may be occasions that the consequences for these kinds of choices are brutal.

Intelligent enemies don't necessarily want to face the strongest members of a group. If you watch nature documentaries, you can see how wolves will try to cut off a weaker member of a group. Foes can do the same. It is easy to imagine slavers intentionally drawing the braver PCs out while sending others to collect those cowering in the back. Doppelgangers might employ similar tactics.

The point is, you are not trying to punish players for how they approach the game, but rather consider how the game world would react to the approaches they are using.

At the same time, you want to ensure that situations and opponents vary enough that no one tactic is always the right one. Sometimes, the brave PCs who leap into the fray discover that their opponents are illusory, but the covered pit is not.

In short, it is always useful to consider how your players might respond to the encounters you devise, but it isn't useful - at all - to make encounters that are dependent upon the PCs responding on one particular way. That will be the one encounter where the players confound your expectations. Not always, but often enough that you are doing yourself no favors by planning encounters that way in the first place.

My advice is to let the dice fall where they may, and discover if cowardice is a good tactic or a poor one together at the gaming table. The dynamics of the players within the party isn't your concern. Don't let them make it your problem.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Cyclops Con


Here are the events I am running at Cyclops Con.

Hope to see you there! Tickets go on sale April 10th.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Virtual Gary Con Virtual Recap

Well, I did it, and I survived. I have leapt into the world of online gaming. I had intended to do two more playtests at Gary Con, Beneath the Temple of Doubt and Journey to the Crypts of Orderly Death, but I didn't want to be trying to teach myself a new way to run games while dealing with all the complexities that higher-level characters bring. Indeed, I chickened out and just ran the same funnel adventure three times: Once Friday, once Saturday, and once Sunday.

HEREAFTER THERE BE SPOILERS.

The funnel I chose was 12,000 to 0, a funnel in which the PCs awake as convicts given a new life (and no memories of their old) on Sky Ark 079. Unfortunately, the Corrections Personnel abandoned the Sky Ark centuries ago. Equally unfortunately, the PCs are brought out of storage because aliens have come into contact with the hull.

The adventure runs like this:

(1) Wake up and have an hour to get your bearings. Random clues that something is happening occur every 10 minutes. You have no equipment or animals, just vouchers to obtain them.

(2) The aliens breach the hull and start ripping the Sky Ark apart...and killing people. Where is the breach? Determined randomly.

(3) Systems begin to fail. Which systems? Determined randomly.

(4) The Sky Ark begins to fall out of orbit. The aliens flee. Escape pods are unlocked. Rooms start breaking free from the space station. Good luck! 12,000 feet is how high you need to be to have a stable orbit. The adventure title refers to what is happening now. 0 feet is the ground.

For more details on this adventure, you can download the free pdf of the Gong Farmer's Almanac, Volume 2.

This is my story of the Virtual Con.

Friday Night

I ran the game for Tim White, Moogatronic D, Kleighton Smoniewski, Jason Smoniewski, and Christian Cotten-Dixon, all of whom were gracious with my fumbling around Roll20. Connections were actually pretty good. The game play highlight was probably when the pony and cow were created on the same teleportation-type pad, creating a dead Cronenburg-type monster. As the PCs were still unarmed, it was a good thing that the creature wasn't still alive.

That bit is always a hit. Thus far, whenever I've run the adventure, something like that always happens. For some reason, the idea that one animal should be removed from the pad before another forms is never considered before the unfortunate events occur (or fail to occur, see Sunday, below).

This group figured out that the Medical Bay could be used to potentially revive the dead, but didn't realize that the Correctional Refusal System could be used in conjunction with it, possibly creating a character with their original memories.

There was an after-game discussion, in which my love of Doctor Who came up. The "Space Beacon Nerva" feel of the adventure was commented on. The animals stored on micro-cellular slides, to be reconstituted as needed, is also a nod to Doctor Who. (That the link to The Ark in Space was from Ark 76 is coincidental.)

Saturday

I ran the game for Mark Palmer, Dominic Cattarina, Sam Palmer, Kai Mote, and Rudy Randolph. One cool thing about having a virtual convention is that Mark and Sam Palmer would not have been able to make Gary Con XII, as they live in Scotland. Indeed, Sam Palmer played in the first playtest of Beneath the Temple of Doubt when I was running at Tabletop Scotland in Perth.

Connection was mostly good, but there was one part where my local DNS lost connection for about 3-5 minutes until I reset the modem. I felt very grateful that everyone was still there when I got back online! I was a bit better at using Roll20, and, with the good connection, we were able to play almost as though we would have in meatspace.

It was suggested that Roll20 could be used in conjunction with Discord for audio/video. I had chosen Roll20 because I thought it was the most widely used platform....and also Discord just gives me a black window. I will have to do some more research and planning, really, to determine which online platform is best. Someone anonymously donated a $30 credit to Roll20, though. I'm not sure who, but Thank You to whoever it was!

In this case, the Cronenberg monster was a goose and a hen, also dead. I believe it was this group which, thanks to a random malfunction, our cast was also able to get the transporter to invert a character before teleporting them to the cold of outer space. Good times, good times.

Saturday Night

Jen Brinkman kindly hosted the Saturday Night Social, which is, let's be honest, one of the most fun parts of meatspace Gary Con. You get to hang out with your peers, share the beverages of your people, and soak in the ambiance.

I wasn't able to stay online that long. Being at a Con and being at home are not quite the same thing. Home entails some level of real responsibilities.

Still, it was great to have a chance to chat with people, and just soak in the warmth. I missed those I was unable to see, and hope to see everyone at Gary Con next year!

Because Covid-19 interfered with my vacation, and I still intend on visiting family in Wisconsin this year if I can, I am considering Gamehole 2020 as an alternative. I will keep people posted.

Sunday

I played my final game with Michael Jones, Jason Menard, Jonathan Perkel, Joan Troyer, and Michael Williams. For some reason, the Roll20 connections were terrible. This made it really hard to track who was speaking and where characters were, but it did force me to learn a little bit more about how Roll20 works.

In this game, we had a PC stuck on the Sky Ark as it crashed into the planet, instantly vaporizing the PC. We managed to get a couple of escape pods carrying two PCs, which resulted in further death. And we also got a few escape pods landing perilously close to where the Sky Ark 079 crashed into the planetary surface. One of these PCs survived....if this was on ongoing campaign, this is where I would have pulled out the Mutant Crawl Classics book!

In Summary

The whole world is going through a rough patch right now, but I feel blessed that we were at least able to get together in this way. "Social distancing" may mean physical isolation, but it doesn't have to mean social isolation. I mean, I was lucky enough to have players as far away as Scotland join in one of my games! If nothing else, that proves that this InterWebs thing offers gamers a niche that is worth exploring further.....

I cannot thank those of you who came stayed home and gamed with me enough. I hope to see you all again, either in real life or across a virtual tabletop of some kind. To the anonymous donor of Roll20 credit, again, Thank You!

See you at Cyclops Con!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

For the Love of Gnomes!

If you go way back to 2017, Yves Larochelle introduced a Gnome class in Crawl! Fanzine #6. Now, years later, there is an adventure which brings this class to your gaming table!

In addition, there are rules for Faerie Animals (first introduced in Creeping Beauties of the Wood) from the backwater bayou! Occupations for swampfolk? We've got that too!

The gnomes of Blackwater Bayou have lived in peace with the natural denizens of the surrounding swamps and marshy woodlands for many generations.  Now, something threatens that.  Weeks ago, a strange meteor fell into the bogs, its fall a streak of light across the night sky in a color not one of the gnomes could name. For days thereafter, parts of the swamp glowed with a weird phosphorescence in the same unknown hue, and some have seen the tree branches whispering in the dark sky when there is no breeze.  Somewhere in the heart of Blackwater Bayou, a malignancy grows.  If the balance is to be restored, the meteor at the center of the strangeness must be found and contained.

Humans live in Blackwater Bayou as well, but the gnomes have little to do with them, and try to avoid the backwards and clannish swampfolk whenever they can.