Wednesday, January 28, 2015

U2 Danger at Dunwater: The Alliteration Continues

Perhaps because U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh turned out to be a TPK, my gang never played its sequel Danger at Dunwater.  Which is to say, I have no firsthand knowledge of how this bad boy plays out.  However, that will not keep me from spoiling the crap out of this thing, so move along if you'd rather avoid that sort of confab.

U2 Danger @ Dunwater picks up where U1 left off, riffing on the presence of lizardmen on the smuggler's ship.  It turns out that the lizardmen [Aside: are lizardmen actually amphibians?] were striking a deal with the smugglers to buy bulk armaments at a discount.  The Saltmartians--concerned that the mud-wallowing lizard-freaks are planning an invasion of their despicable burg--hire/coerce the PCs into running off and dealing with the problem for them.  Reviews of U2 (the D&D module, not the high altitude spy plane) praise this module for "not being what it appears," which is too bad, because what it appears to be is a lizard-themed dungeon crawl, and who doesn't like hackin' up lizardmen?  But it turns out that you're supposed to be helping the lizardmen, not flaying them alive.  As written though, the party probably isn't gonna figure that out until it's way too late. 

Essentially, this module is supposed to put the PCs in a moral quandary when they find out that the the heavily armed lizardmen they've been slaughtering all evening are not planning on harvesting the gizzards of the good citizens of Saltmarsh.  Yet the only indication that something unusual is up with these slithery goons is the presence of some Mermaids and other assorted aquatic types sipping tea and snarfing seaweed crumpets in their lizardy den.  Now, if you enter through the front door you'll find this out right away.  But the front door involves swimming, so you're probably not going to opt for that one, preferring one of the land-bound entries.  Which means that by the time you get to Neptune's tea party,  you've already made a stylish belt--with matching boots and luggage--out of the wives, children, and siblings of the lizardude chief and his elite guardsmen.  Fortunately, the Lizardians aren't too sentimental: they'll forgive and forget as long as the party goes off on a wild crocodile hunt on their behalf.*  

But what if a group of PCs actually did take the time to figure out what the Lizardudes were up to instead of collecting their spleens first and asking questions later?  Would this module hold up if it was confronted with such thoughtful PCs?  Consider this scenario: 
Party [approaching the front gate of the Lizardarian Lair]: "All right you slimy, fork-tongued bastards, we know you've been stockpiling weapons for a raid on the village of Saltmarsh.  You'd better cut that crap out right now or you're gonna' be in big trouble."

Lizardudes: "Get lost ya' dandruff-ridden landlubbers, we've got a sahuagin invasion to deal with."

Party: "Say who again?"

Lizardudes: "Sahuagins.  Evil, scaly bastards?  Page 84 of the Monster Manual?  Anyway, they've been harassing us for months, moving in on our turf.  We're here negotiating with the Locathah and merdudes to team up against those creeps."
[As confirmation, Merdude chief and Locathah chief pop their heads out, smile, and wave]
Party [taken aback]: "Oh! So you're not hoarding weapons in order to raid Saltmarsh?"

Lizardudes:  "Raid Saltmarsh? Why would we do that? We're justa' good ol' Lizardfolk, never meanin' no harm."

Party: "You're certain?  No assaulting the village?  No rending townspeople limb from limb?"

Lizardudes [somewhat miffed]: "Absolutely not."

Party [crestfallen]: "Very well. Sorry for bothering you."
[Party dejectedly turns to leave.  The Lizardudes, their annoyance turned to pity, confer with Merdude and Locathah. After some whispered debate, they turn back to the party.]
Lizardudes:  "Say, you guys wouldn't want to help us, would you?"

And so, unless the Master of Dungeons has U3 The Final Countdown on hand and prepped for play, your big Friday night gaming session is over before the pizza's even arrived.



*Since the PCs are working as independent contractors for the Village of NaClmarsh, they would be entirely within their rights to point out to the Lizardmen that this is not within the scope of their agreement with the Saltmartians and will first require negotiating new terms with the town council.
  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Blogification News: 60 Posts, 5th Anniversary Celebration, New Name, and more.

I didn't bother with resolutions for the new year because I was so successful with my 2014 resolutions that I really don't have anything left to achieve for the next 7 years or so.  But there is one matter that I do need to tend to in the new year. In keeping with a pattern of always having a yearly total post-count that is a multiple of 6, for the last two years I've made a very conscious effort to ensure that, come Year's End, my post-count was inline with this trend.  Well, check this out and let me know if you discern another pattern:

Table II.B.3.xi: Post Counts by Year. 
2010: 42
2011: 30 
2012: 60
2013: 42
2014: 30

Yep, it looks like I might have to have to churn out 60 friggin' posts this year!  What that means to you: Expect more content-less filler posts such as this one.


Also: Last summer I streamlined the name of this blog to its current moniker (see above) from the far more cumbersome "Unfrozen Caveman Dice Chucker." Not only was the Unfrozen Caveman bit just too clunky, but it was also decreasingly relevant after having spent the last several years actively engaging the ol' hobby.  Not that it mattered, none of you noticed.  I'm a little hurt.

Also, also: The official 5th anniversary of this blog will be this Saturday, Enero 17.  I trust you all got the invitation to the party and I expect a great showing at the palatial venue we've rented for the to-do.  Did I mention there will be an OPEN BAR?  And ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT PANCAKES? See you there.


 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Elf Loathing: How to put an end to the elf scourge in D&D

Even though most fantasy literature portrays elves as humorless, superior dullards who would never be invited to any party that a reasonable person would want to attend, in D&D elves are so laden with mechanical advantages (Dex bonus, +1 w/ bow & sword, infravision, stealthiness, magic resistance, secret door-finding ability, etc.) and deprived of significant shortcomings (they're neither overly short nor unappealingly hirsute) that every munchkin gamer signs up for them right out of the chute.  Seriously, unless you want to run a cleric--and such an unlikely possibility is hardly worth mentioning--there's virtually no good reason not to have an elf.

So how do you keep the pointy-eared d-bags off your gaming table?  Here's how I do it:  Inform your players that the following characteristics apply to elves in your gaming world.
  1. Elven names must be at least 7 syllables long. It's impossible to have a badass character with a really long, douchey name.  To make this rule mechanically unpleasant as well, apply a -5% XP penalty to any elf PC who:
      • fails to correct anyone and everyone who mispronounces or abbreviates the elf's name in anyway on every such occurrence.
      • refers to his/her own elf character with any moniker other than its full, actual name--even in table chatter.
      • Such penalties are, of course, cumulative and permanent.
  2. Elves have OCD.  Remember that "Step on a crack and break your mother's back" business from when you were a kid?  Elves take that shit to heart.  An elf who steps on a crack or seam in the dungeon floor must save vs. parallelization* or immediately flee to his homeland to check on his mother's health.
  3. Elves are chaste.  If neither of the above has done the job, you're going to need to hit below the belt; inform the player(s) that, despite all their sexiness, Elven reproductive rites involve a fortnight spent composing love poems and weaving garlands, after which an actual stork flies in and drops off the new elfling, who likely bears a strong resemblance to Odysseus.  No clothing is removed, no groping occurs, the whole affair is rated G.  Indeed, your parents are traditionally on hand for the entire event.  And if that still isn't enough, you're going to have to drop this bomb: 
  4.  Well, some elves are chaste... Female elves can--and frequently do--mate with humans in the traditional, human fashion.**  "Male" elves, however, are not equipped with the right utensils to do the job.  That's right, Legolas = dick-o-less.  Do you really want to play a Ken-doll?
* Auto-correct often comes up with some pretty cool ideas; parallelization is one of them.
** Which explains why half elves were so prominent in AD&D. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dungeonify this Haunted House

Coming in January, the bigwigs at Dicechucker Enterprises are throwing a bash in honor of 5 years of my life occasionally spent engaging in bloggomy.  For the event, the Powers-That-Be have rented a real, live haunted house on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.  The island was once a fin de siecle summer resort for the wealthy, and is littered with gilded age mansions, but in the ensuing years it has become a disputed territory in the no-man's land between the US and Canada.  The island is claimed by Quebec, Newfoundland, Vermont, and Rhode Island as well as the Akwesasne Nation: dual US-Canadian citizenship, documented Mohawk heritage, serviceable knowledge of French and/or Kanien'kéha  language, snowmobiling experience, and ice-fishing skills may all be helpful in gaining access to the island.  Wearing the appropriate hockey sweater may go far to sway reaction rolls in your favor; though Maple Leafs or Bruins jerseys are not advised.

Given its status as disputed land, the island is a haven for smugglers and outcasts of all sorts, including the Bladerunners--a gang of kids who skate back and forth across the Fleuve delivering hockey sticks and illegal metric rulers to the south, then heading north with packets of hot cocoa mix and unpasteurized cheese curds for the poutine mills of Labrador.   Other factions in the vicinity include a Marxist snowmobile gang, Francophonic Sumo wrestlers, and a colony of rock candy sculptors

But, to the point:  The island is littered with grand old houses that are obviously too haunted for anyone's good. Attached is the floor plan, I'm looking for proposals to dungeonify this here haunted house. The top 5 entries will be granted directions to the island. 



203rd post and the Robo-Stat Blasters

A few posts back I finally hit 200 actual, posted posts.  I mention this now not because I expect anyone to give a damn, but because, last year, when I ran a series of posts riffing on the my inflated post numbers as illustrated on the blogger.com dashboard, something weird happened: these posts racked up pageviews in record numbers.

These were clearly throw-away posts meant only to occupy my fatuous mind for a few moments while I tried to think of something real to write about, but all three of them* were immediately deluged with pageviews at a rate way out of proportion to anything this blog has seen before or since.  Overnight these banal little posts were racking up over a thousand pageviews.  In the 5 years this blog has been in existence, only two other posts have broken a thousand pageviews and it took many, many months--and a diligent publicity campaign by Grodog--to get there, not a single day.  

Obviously no one wants to read about how many times I've bothered posting to this silly blog, so clearly these hits must have been generated by some robo-hitmonkey in Shangai or Minsk or Cleveland.  But what is it about these silly little posts that made the robo-hitmonkey click itself into a stupor on these content-less posts-in-name-only?  Is there something intrinsically appealing about posts with titles that follow the formula "[# of Posts]th Post!"?  Was it something else about these posts that drew the attention of the voracious, stat-blasting robots?  Has anyone else encountered this bizarre phenomenon?

*One of these posts was renamed to see if changing the name would influence the hit count.  Results were inconclusive.

[EDIT: Two days later, this post has drawn a fairly reasonable 40 hits.  Apparently the formula is no longer appealing to the cyber locusts, or I missed the point entirely. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

DragonQuest

Dude!  It won an award!
As my regular reader might recall (hey Dave, how was your Christmas?), there is a longstanding mandate from Dice Chucker HQ that my output of posts in any calendar year must be a multiple of 6.  As there are only a couple o' days left here in '14 and I'm not quite to 30 posts, I'm pillaging my vast store of unfinished drafts for filler.  Case in point: here is a post I started writing back in October but soon lost interest in.  Now I grant to you the opportunity to lose interest in it as well...


I just got an email from ebay telling me that it has been 10 years to the day since I signed up for ebay, which I did for the express purpose of purchasing old gaming books from my gaming heyday back in the 80s.  Which is to say, it's been 10 years since I took my first steps down the rabbit hole that eventually led to you reading these pixels.

But, despite all the crap I've written about on this blog, that first item I picked up on ebay was not a D&D book at all.  It was the DragonQuest 2nd edition rulebook.  And the first thing I did with it was convert L2 Assassin's Knot to a DQ adventure.  Why would I bother doing that?  Beats me. 

The message from ebay got me thinking about the ol' DQ again, and, in particular, how it differs from D&D.  Not in obvious mechanical or aesthetic matters, but in the feel of the game.   Here's a rundown of the perceived differences in how the game plays out, based on my experience:

Parties were smaller: we never had more than 3 players at a time--partly 'cuz if we could get more together we would just play D&D instead. Also, we only ever ran one character to a player, no henchers or hirelings either.  I've always suspected that this was because running a DQ character seemed to absorb more of a player's attention than a D&D one did.

Adventures were shorter: usually they were commando-style raids or heist jobs or other indirect assault maneuvers intended to minimize combat.  Partly this was because DQ adventures were usually side projects played out during lulls in our D&D-playing schedule but also because...

Combat was lethal-er: Although the two-tiered hit point system of Endurance and Fatigue--you had to get through one before you started inflicting damage to the other--made it difficult for even low level characters to die from a single blow, it was certainly not impossible.  A well-rolled strike could leave you with a messy bleeder, a permanent handicap, or quite dead, while "directly affecting endurance" shots bypassed the 2-tier system--as well as any protective value of your armor--and usually left you stunned or dead as well.  Even a lightweight kobold-like opponent was probably going to survive at least 2 blows, so if you'd already faced a few other opponents that day, you were at a serious disadvantage.  It was pretty unlikely that even powerful characters would remain unscathed if combat lasted more than a few rounds (pulses).  Whereas Friggird the 10th level D&D fighter encounters a gang of 10 orcs: the DM is probably just gonna hand-wave their demise rather than go through the motions of rolling the dice to see how long it takes to kill 'em all.  In DQ, on the other hand, a similarly high level combat-focused character (DQ doesn't have classes in a strict D&D sense) would be a fool to take on that many porkers all by himself: you never know when someone's gonna get lucky and stun you or lay open your aorta.

One of my gaming colleagues never quite got this distinction with DQ and kept sending us through full-on D&D-style dungeons.  He'd get frustrated when, time after time, we'd open a door and see a gang of lizardmen or whoever and either a) slam the door and runaway, or b) start haggling with them, promising to bring them a family of plump halflings for a snack in exchange for, ya' know, not eating us.  Even after several TPKs at his hand, he still didn't understand that the DQ combat rules just didn't support dungeon crawls.

PCs were bigger:  This is a matter of personal perspective, but while I tend to envision my D&D characters as being about the size of the miniatures on the table, DQ characters I think of as being much closer to life-sized.  And covered with scars. I think the fragility of these characters made them loom larger in my imagination than most of my D&D characters did.

No Magic items: Magic items were not standard in DQ--I don't believe they were even mentioned in the rulebook--and, as such, they were pretty much non-existent in the game.  I remember one gang of characters we had spent their entire careers on a quest to find some legendary magic sword.  I think the appeal for us as players was that this was a chance to find out how a magic sword would manifest itself in DQ; as of yet we had never seen one.  For that reason we were exceptionally distraught when we finally found the sword--only to have it stolen from our grasp--a la Belloq in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"--by the little old man that we had foolishly believed to be a benevolent sage.  Seriously, we spent the better part of a year hunting down this sword from person to person, dungeon to dungeon, but never did figure out what was magical about it.  Goddamn Macguffin.