Friday, July 16, 2010

Castle of the Mad Archmage Session 2 Part I: Thar be orcs!

Inspired by Carjacked Seraphim's (excellent blog name, by the way) recent foray into  Joseph Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage (CotMA), I've decided to kickstart my own narrative of said dungeon. 
It's hard to believe that I haven't gotten around to writing up the 2nd session but here it is mid-July, summer is almost here (in Seattle anyway), and I'm reporting on events that happened in January. Actually, knowing me, that isn't hard to believe at all.

For those who haven't read the earlier posts on this matter, my friend Bob and I are sort of tag-team DM-ing this thing, so, in many regards, we're playing D&D as a board game, and we often end up both simultaneously DM-ing and running the party.  One of the odd results of this clusterf**k approach to dungeoneering is that, as often as not, we are working together against our own characters trying to figure out how the dungeon would react to this invasion by an adventuring party.  But, since we haven't read ahead in the dungeon, we don't really know what's around the corner which makes such conspiring somewhat ineffectual.

Anyway, our 2nd session occurred about a week after the first session, which is to say, nearly 6 months ago.  This time I came prepared; in addition to the S&W core rules PDF, I’m packin' the S&W Monster Compendium, AD&D Monster Manual (piñata dragon version) and the C&C Monsters & Treasures tome, and I’ve also downloaded the OSRIC and Labyrinth Lords rules.  We’re still out of luck if we run into more olive slime or anything from the F[r]iend Folio, but we’ve definitely got a lot more ground covered this time out.

Unfortunately, you'll have to bear with my memory a bit as, sadly, my notes from this session are less than helpful; they read thusly:
“CotMA Session 2:  ”
One thing that I do recall is that this is the session when the now infamous slope discussion arose, but since that’s been covered at length elsewhere, I’ll move on.  Before embarking on session 2, we added two more humble adventurers to our number: Barkurp the Wise (a fighter with a 17 wisdom, though he’s only got a 6 intelligence),* and a magic user named Cleavebourne, who, thanks to his 13 strength, supplants Borrance, the other magic user, as the strongest member of the party. 

*We used the fatalist approach to character generation: the character's name, race, and class are determined before we roll 3d6, keeping the results in the order rolled, for the 6 abilities.  As a result, in addition to the aforementioned hellaciously wize fighting man, we have a dwarf with an 8 constitution but an 18 charisma, and 3 spell casters (an Elf and 2 MUs) whose intelligence range from as low as 10 all the way up to a high of 11. But, OD&D/S&W being what it is, these stats have almost no significant consequence on game play. 

This time out, the courageous party selected a different entrance from the 3 options available to intrepid CotMA delvers.  They stumbled down the stairs into a room occupied by a giant tick and... I have absolutely no recollection of this encounter.  I do remember that they opened another closet full of (2) skeletons, though these were much less impressed by our cleric’s pious stance than in the previous effort.  In fact, they showed some serious undead combat competence by hacking the crap out of our front line: Sigurd was once again knocked to 0 Hp--man, he's a lightweight--and Polvo the dwarf was gimping around with only 2 HP before the magic users finally stepped in and knocked the grins off those skeletal mugs.  After so many years of AD&D in my system, it’s hard to grasp the combat effectiveness of low level OD&D magic users.  At 1st level they use the same attack charts as fighters and get 1d6 HP—only slightly less well endowed than a fighter’s d6+1.  Add to that the lack of combat bonuses for strength in OD&D and the only real advantage 1st level fighters have in combat is 1 additional hit point and their unrestricted choice of armor.

Anyway, a little while later our brave party was listening at a door when they heard orcs--a bunch of ‘em.  We devised a plan wherein we would bust in and cast a sleep spell on these bozos before they could beat the crap out of us.  With a little luck of the dice, we achieved surprise and put all the snouty suckers to sleep before they could even let out a peep.  We dragged one of 'em out in the hall and cast Charm Person on him while the rest of the orcs were knifed in their sleep.  The Charm seemed to work because he was rather endeared to Cleaveborn, the new magic user, or was it Goldraviel the elf?*  Anyway, he informed us that the other door in the room lead to 2 more rooms inhabited by 6 more of his clan, a clan which also occupied several more rooms on a lower level of the dungeon.   We fed him some BS story about how we had saved him from his colleagues who were traitors and had been about to kill him and steal the clan’s treasure blah blah blah; he agreed to help us deal with the other guys.

*Another consequence of our peculiar gaming method is that the characters are not really achieving a great deal of individuation; they really function as a communal entity most of the time. 

Back in the orc room, we tipped over a large table and some cots near the wall opposite the unopened door to provide shelter for our archers Glebberd the halfthing, Polvo the dwarf, and Goeatyourveal the elf.  Sadly, our best archer, Sigurd the near-dead ranger, was resting in an empty room down the hall. The rest of the party hid in the alcove in which the entry door was set, while the charmed Orc lay down amidst the corpses on the floor and sprung the trap by calling for help.  A moment later the door flew open and 3 orcs burst into the room.  If they were shocked to see the decimated ranks of their colleagues, they had no time to show it; a flurry of arrows pelted into them—the dice were on our side!—and 1 orc lay dead and the other two were injured before they even knew what hit them.  The survivors turned to run and were cut down by another volley just as 3 more orcs entered the room, one of whom was unfortunate enough to catch an errant missile in the chest.   He survived but with the rest of the Adventurers now surging out from the vestibule, capitulation was the only answer.  He threw down his arms and fell to his knees even as his two unscathed colleagues turned and fled back to the room they had just left, slamming the door and locking it.  Thanks for nothin’, chumps!

What followed was a drawn out stalemate between our party and the 2 orcs behind the door; one of whom, it turns out, was the leader of the group.  Eventually, with the help of our charmed orc and some begrudging assistance from the captured dude, we brokered a peace.  We would agree to help them fight some posse of hobgoblins that they are constantly sparring with and they would provide us with some CotMA intell.  As a token of respect, we agreed to pay them a weregild of 12 hobber heads to offset the 8 orcs we killed; we argued them down from 4 for 1 to a mere 1-1/2 : 1.  Silly orcs.  Still, half of our party was opposed to dealing with the orcs at all and is awaiting the first opportunity to commit an act of treachery against them, a feeling that is no doubt shared by the orcs--except the charmed guy, whom we are now calling "Quisling."

As this is already overly long, and this seems as good a stopping place as any, I'll call it quits here for now.  Look for Part 2 of Session 2 which, at this rate, should be out in time for the Christmas shopping season! 

Seasons Greetings, everybody.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Random thoughts: Rollin' up characters

Does anyone else do this: you see three 6-siders sitting somewhere and, in an idle moment, pick them up and roll them.  If the result is high enough (for me, the threshold seems to be 16), you think "Hey, this could be the makings of a good character!" and roll the dice 5 more times, perhaps even writing down the results on the back of an envelope or an old receipt.  I confess that I do this all the time;* after all, a good dice roll should not go to waste.  That said, I can't imagine a circumstance wherein I would actually use these archived dice rolls for a character.  I mean, I'm not about to sit down at a gaming table and reach into a hat stuffed with these odd scraps of paper and use the selected set of dice rolls for my new character; I'm gonna' roll the dice all over again!

* I have a set of 3 dice sitting by my computer with which my wife and I sometimes play an impromptu yahtzee-like game.

One of the outcomes of this habit is that my preferred D&D ability rolling method has changed from the old AD&D standby Best-3-of-4 to this technique: I roll 3 dice, if one (or more) turns up a "1", I re-roll it/them one time. If I get another 1 on the re-roll, I'm stuck with it.  I like it because now 1s become a symbol of new hope, of a second chance.  In fact, I was inspired to write this post when, moments ago, I rolled a 5 and two 1s, re-rolled the ones and--Bingo!--scored a pair of 6s.  From a 7 to a 17 just like that!  Whereas with the best of 4 method, I could have hoped for a 12 at best.  Of course, with this method, you roll three 2s and you're stuck with a 6, whereas in the best of 4 method you have a 4 in 6 chance of upgrading at least a little bit. I don't know if a method like this has ever been endorsed by any version of The Game, but I find the added dice rolling to be very satisfying without introducing a munchkinriffic element.*

* For a really good munchkin system, Unearthed Arcana, I believe, introduced a method where you rolled your six abilities using an ascending number of dice for each roll starting at 3 dice and working up to 8 dice, taking the best 3 of each set. We called it the Steroid method back in the day.

The other thing I've started doing is adding up the total net bonuses of the "characters" I've made in this way.  First you need a universal bonus set up to use.  For a while I was switching between several universal bonus systems: the Old School +1 for abilities 15 or higher, and a standardized system based on AD&D.   But I've settled on what I call the "Post Modern" system; you're probably familiar with it: 9-12 = 0, 13-15 = +1, 16-17 = +2, 18 = +3 with symmetrical penalties at the lower end of the spectrum.  Castles & Crusades and, I think, Labyrinth Lord, use an identical arrangement.  I add up the total bonus/penalty to get a nice, neat assessment of how good the "character" is, attribute-wise.  What's been shocking to me is when I roll up a character that, in my AD&D trained eyes, looks like a total Fudd but ends up being a pretty decent dude in the final analysis.  For instance, I rolled up one character with a 15, four 13s and a 12.  Using the old AD&D bonuses, you'd immediately slap that 15 on your Dex or Con and take the AC bonus or an extra hit point, and then you'd have 5 meaningless scores to spread across the rest of your humdrum character.  Using the Post Modern bonus system, this seeming Fudd scores a +5 total bonus, which I can say with confidence, after assessing at least a hundred "characters" in this fashion, is pretty excellent.

As an aside, the dice in the illustration* above are ephed up: or at least the one in the middle is.  Everyone knows that the numbers on opposing faces of a 6-sider always add up to 7, and yet there you see the 3 and 4 sitting right next to each other.  Amateurs.

*Thanks, by the way, to the Folks at the National Parks Service for providing this image in an item about the historic game "Farkle"  which was apparently a popular dice game in the colonial era.  I'm more familiar with it as a drinking game played by snooty grad students.