Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving Gaming: Zombie Clue

A few years ago my delightful progeny's elementary school gave him the whole week of Thanksgiving off rather than just the 4-day weekend that the holiday is typically honored with so we ditched Mama--she had a "Big Project" at work--and flew across the country to spend the week with a pile of family members.

Of course, none of them had the whole week off so, for three days while my brother and sister and their families were off to work/school, me and the little dude had several hours to kill. We hopped in leaf-piles of every species and played pumpkin soccer until the neighborhood was a gorey orange mess. Then we headed inside to slurp hot cocoa laced with molten marshmallows while plundering my sister's stash of board games.  

Clue quickly became the consensus favorite, even though it's kinda' hard to play one on one: If I don't have Miss Scarlet and you don't have Miss Scarlet, well, I guess we know who did it. So we massaged the rules a bit to make it more interesting for mano a mano play.

I'm using this illegally so check out Andy Hunter's art here.
First thing we did was:
  • Place a clue card on each room on the board before dispersing the rest of the cards between the players.
Now if neither of us had Miss Scarlet she might still be lounging in any one of the rooms. Possibly even the lounge.

While adding the necessary uncertainty that the two-player game lacked, this step also made exploration of the entire board a very significant part of the game; now you have to visit each of the rooms in order to eliminate all possible solutions. It might be more fun to play this way regardless of how many players are at the table.

Just for the heck of it we also made this new rule:
  • All the unused tokens are now "zombies" who follow the "live" player tokens around the board.
At first, if they caught you you had to go back to your starting position, but then we decided on another convention:
  • Place the weapons tokens in each of the rooms on the game board. 
'Cuz if you're having to dodge zombies while looking for clues, it helps if you're armed.

Quick combat dice mechanisms were devised:
  • zombie and player each roll the die, who ever rolls higher wins. 
  • If the player has a murder weapon in hand such as the lead pipe, wrench, or dagger, player rolls 2 dice to the zombie's 1.
Weapons are a huge benefit.

But ranged weapons are an even huger benefit:
  • the knife can be thrown up to 6 spaces to kill a zombie--roll d6, if the number is greater than or equal to the distance from you to the zombie, then zombie is done. 
  • Revolver works the same except roll 2d6. The revolver only has 5 bullets. 

Why five? Becuz someone already put one into John Boddy earlier in the evening. Did you forget that you're still playing Clue?

What to do with the rope:
  • set up a trip wire, use it as a lasso, or tie up a zombie. 
  • Use it to rappel out a window.

And the candlestick is essential to quick navigation of the secret passages because:
  • When you enter a secret passage roll 2 dice; if you roll doubles you successfully get to the other end. If you fail, you're lost in the dark, roll again next turn. Maximum 3 turns like Jail in Monopoly.
  • If you have the candlestick you don't need to roll dice to get through the passage. And you can opt to go to any one of the other three corner rooms. Without candlestick, you can only go the room opposite, i.e. Lounge-conservatory or kitchen-study. 
Since fighting and evading zombies was turning out to be more fun than solving the murder, we pillaged other sources for game pieces to be used as zombies and other monsters that could breathe fire or teleport or fly... Good old fashioned Clue had serendipitously morphed into D&D: The Board Game. Not to be confused with the  D&D version of Clue.

Things I learned whilst writing this post:
  • Mr. Green is called Reverend Green in non-North American versions of the game. I'm guessing that the Parker Bros. didn't think an American audience would appreciate a game that insinuated that a man of the cloth could be a murderous creep.
  • Likewise Clue is called Cluedo in Not-North-America-land. 
  • The victim--John Boddy--is called Dr. Black in the rest of the world.
  • Some versions of the game--probably those non-North-American ones again--include a bottle of poison and a horse shoe as potential murder weapons.
  • The original game designers suggested that a bomb, axe, or hypodermic needle might also be used to kill off John Boddy/Dr. Black. I could certainly think of a few ways to use them to fight off the zombies.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Rogues Gallery: I is for Indel the Elf

If you don't know Indel--or have forgotten the little schmuck--he was the bumbling elf in the party of adventurers from the famous D&D comic ads, a series of 1 page cartoons that appeared in comic books in 1981 and '82.  Rust Monster did a pretty good riff on the dude a thousand years ago, perhaps if everyone pesters him enough he'll finally complete the series.

Berkeley Breathed - Bloom County
Don't drag me into this.
And that's pretty much as far as I'm interested in discussing Indel; he's just an excuse to talk about the old D&D comic/ad. What I really want to talk about are elements of this cartoon that appear elsewhere in D&Darium, namely Zenopus Castle.

Everyone familiar with old time D&D now knows that the sample dungeon in the back of the first basic rules by Eric Holmes is called The Tower of Zenopus. Except it wasn't really called that at all. It was just the sample dungeon, it had no name. Zenopus is of course mentioned in the background as the crazed wizard who once occupied a tower in the Graveyard District of Portown, but both he and the tower have been gone for 50 years by the time you and your party catch wind of the scenario whilst quaffing ales at the Green Dragon Inn.

The edifice you will be exploring, dear friends, is comprised of the tunnels and corridors found underneath the ruin of the tower, so the adventure would more accurately be termed The Dungeon of Zenopus.  But since there is actually a magic user-occuppied tower attached to the dungeon (room S), you could call it the Tower of the Thaumaturge, which is, after all, everyone's favorite word for a caster of spells. And although the evil MU of said rank (aficionados will acknowledge that a Thaumaturgist is a 5th level MU) is unnamed, it is probably safe to assume that its name, as with all Thaumaturges, is Brad.
Also, until listening to a podcast recently, I don't believe I'd ever heard the word "Zenopus" spoken out loud. I can't remember which podcast it was, sorry, but the dude pronounced it with the accent on ZEN, so it sounded sort of like octopus. I've always put the accent on the second syllable, like you're combining zen with a musical number. Or that penguin from Bloom County.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Rogues Gallery: Gutboy Barrelhouse, Captain of the B-Team

For the A to Zeppelin challenge, I've often delved into some pretty esoteric sources to find the backstory of the characters from the old TSR rulebooks. Today, however, I found all the information I needed at the bottom of a stack of old magazines at my sister-in-law's house when I was over for Easter dinner last weekend. Before you think she's in touch with some strange, arcane journals, I should warn you that the periodical in question was none other than good ol' Entertainment Weekly. The following interview with Gutboy Barrelhouse appeared in the July 1986 issue of said magazine. Strangely, when I contacted EW to get permission to reprint the piece, they insisted that they didn't begin publication until 1990 and therefore could not grant permission for an article that came out before that time.
For the reader's convenience, here are the Dramatis Personae:
Party A
  • Abner, MU5, Scroll: Web
  • Arkayn, C4, Mace, AC 5
  • Aggro the Axe, F4, +1 hand axe, Platemail, shield
  • Arlanni, T2, Sling, crossbow, sword
Party B
  • Gutboy Barrelhouse, F6, Dwarf, Splint Mail, Shield +2
  • Balto, Monk 1, Staff, AC 10
  • Blastum, MU 4
  • Barjin, F4/MU5, ½ Elf, sword
    Gutboy Barrelhouse
Entertainment Weekly (EW): Back in '79 you were part of the infamous Party B, a gang of "evil marauders" who encountered Party A in the "Example of Melee" on page 71 of the Dungeon Masters Guide. What can you tell us about that scenario?

Gutboy Barrelhouse (GB): "Evil Marauders" my ass. We weren't no saints but we were no worse than them Party A morons. More like "Chaotic Neutral marauders" maybe. But that's neither here nor there cuz the whole event was staged.

EW: Staged? How do you mean?

GB: We were hired by some schmucks from TSR to sit there and wait for the A-holes and pretend that they'd caught us with our pants down. It was all supposed to make them look good. 

EW: Oh! This is a surprise.

GB: Really? Did you read the set-up? We're supposed to be sitting there arguing about treasure at a bend in a friggin' corridor. Who stops to argue about treasure at a bend in a corridor in a freakin' dungeon? Idiots do, that's who. We weren't idiots. We were all seasoned adventurers. Well except the Monk, Balto. He was a greenhorn.

EW: So you weren't surprised?

GB: Well, we knew they were coming, we just didn't know when. We stood there for about 4 or 5 hours before they finally showed up, so we were getting pretty hungry. Balto and Blastum had started arguing about which was better, the Whopper or the Big Mac.

EW: Which side were you on?

GB: I'm a White Castle guy. I could eat a dozen sliders at a time back then. That's why they called me Gutboy. Barjin preferred Wendy's; elves are like that though.

EW: So you guys were actually arguing about where to go for lunch?

GB: Pretty much. We were only gonna' be in one scene, so we didn't bring any provisions or nothin'. So we're all gettin' kinda' crabby when those pricks pop around the corner and get the drop on us. That chicken sh*t Aggro goes after our weakest party member...

EW: That would be Balto the Monk?

GB: Yeah, Balto, that dipsh*t.

EW: Why was he a "dipsh*t"?

GB: You'd have to ask his parents [chuckles]. Seriously though, he had no business tangling with Aggro, and as our most mobile character, he had the best chance at getting in and disrupting any spells Abner might throw at us. Instead he stays and fights Aggro, even though they told us up front that they were going to be using those "to hit vs. armor type" adjustments that no one ever uses.

EW: Those are listed in the Players Handbook, correct? Adjustments made to your chance "to hit" for each weapon based on the type of armor the defender is wearing?

GB: Right. 'Cept this is the one and only time I ever seen 'em in action. Poor Balto musta' forgot about 'em cuz' he's swingin' his friggin' staff at Aggro the Arse's platemail even though a staff is -7 to hit against plate and shield. Minus freakin' seven! Can you believe that crap? If he'd gone for Abner instead of tussling with Aggro, he coulda' broke up that stupid web spell that nearly did us in.

EW: Right, in the scene from the DMG, Aggro has killed Balto and then Blastum killed Arlanni the thief with a shocking grasp. Abner casts the web spell that catches your whole party plus Arkayn the cleric. But you're still here, how did you survive?

GB: Well, the scene in the book ends that way, with us lookin' like so much burnt toast. But fortunately Blastum's player was a rules lawyer extraordinaire, and he argued that Aggro would have to be within the area of effect of the web spell too. After a half hour of arguing, the DM concedes and Aggro has to roll a save--and he friggin' blows it! So now it's just Abner free and, since I made my saving throw, I'm only half-caught in the web, but we don't stop there. We argue that based on positioning, only the left side of my body was caught, therefore my right hand, the one I'm holdin' my warhammer in, is free. Again the DM concedes our point, I think suspecting that it wouldn't matter much; that Abner would release Aggro from the web before I could free myself. But while he's trying to free Aggs, I heave my hammer at Abner and clean his friggin' clock! Now the tables are completely turned; their spellcaster is done, Aggro is caught in the web with the rest and, since I made my save, I'll be the first one out.

EW: Wow, that's quite a turnaround.

GB: Except it didn't last cuz Arkayn the cleric started arguing that his deity would come to his aid in one o' them deuce ex mackinaws or whatever you call 'em. The DM, who we're all starting to realize is a right wuss, rolls some bullshit dice behind his screen and announces that a friggin' Valkyrie suddenly appears on Arkayn's behalf.

EW: Wow. That's... that's pretty ridiculous. 

GB: Yeah, that kinda' crap goes on all the time in this game.

EW: So did you have to fight off the valkyrie?

GB: No, at this point the DM was pretty tired of us yelling at him so he decided to call it a draw. The Valkyrie vanquished the web spell and, without us even asking for it, raised the dead characters on the condition that we all went our separate ways. So we split the joint and headed over to Taco Bell for lunch.

EW: Was that the last you heard of Party A?

GB: Heck no! They showed up at Taco Bell too. There was a bit of an argument; they were pissed at Blastum for killing Arlanni, we were pissed at Aggro for killing Balto, but we realized that it would be mutually beneficial if we would team up and clear out the dungeon together. So we did. Slaughtered them fuggin' goblins right dead.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Rogues Gallery: Fighter and the case of the Incompetent Caller

Could this be the Caller?

What follows is a transcript from the court case of The Party vs. The Caller, recorded at the  Adventurers Guild Chancery in the Spring of 1977. J. Eric Holmes used the typewritten transcript referenced by the Prosecuting Attorney for the Example of Play on page 40 of the blue Dungeons and Dragons Rulebook. 

In this court case, the Caller faces 4 counts of man/demi-humanslaughter along with charges of gross negligence in the line of duty and incompetent leadership.

If you're not familiar with the events, a party consisting of five characters known as Fighter, Thief, Halfling, Elf, and Dwarf walks down a corridor and finds an L-shaped room where they encounter 4 orcs. Below is the court transcript of the trial.

Optional Visualization Aid: I picture the prosecuting attorney as Markie Post from "Night Court"--never mind that she was the public defendant in that show and John Larroquette was the prosecutor.  Also, the Judge is Minerva McGonagle/Maggie Smith. And as the defense attorney: Jon Lovitz.

Prosecuting Attorney (PA): Did you send the halfling ahead of the party to listen at the door to the L-shaped room, as recorded on page 40 of the Basic D&D rulebook, published 1977?

Caller: Yes

PA: Was there a thief in your party at that time?

Caller: Yes, there was.

PA: And yet you chose to break with Standard Dungeoneering Protocol and violate Adventuring Class Labor Union guidance on division of labor by sending a halfling to do a thief's job, even though a halfling has no special capacity for moving silently in a dungeon environment and are not better than 1st level thieves at hearing noises?

Caller: [Looks at his hands.] Those are guidelines, not rules.

PA: And again, when they'd discovered a chest inside the room, rather than having the thief, who entered the room along with the fighter, search the chest for traps, the fighter kicks the chest over.

Defense Attorney: Objection! "Find traps" was not among the thief's abilities in Holmes rules. Thieves had no better chance of finding a trap than any other class.

Judge: Sustained. The prosecution is advised to constrain your arguments to the appropriate version of the rules.

PA: Noted. [looking at a typewritten transcript] According to the transcript, Fighter kicked over the chest, then four orcs rounded the corner and engaged the party in combat. After the fight with the orcs, you once again assigned to the halfling the task of listening at the door? Why didn't you assign that task to the thief?

The thief got killed in the fight with the orcs.

[gasp from the courtroom, this information was redacted from the Holmes transcript]

PA: Let me ask you, Caller, was the thief a good fighter?

Caller: In Holmes D&D to hit and damage were the same for all the classes, so yeah, the thief was as good a fighter as anyone else in the party.

PA: True, but defensively, did the thief not have the worst armor class and, as a result of an undignified d4 hit dice, the lowest hit points in the party?

Caller: I don't recall, ma'am.

PA: I submit to the court the character sheets for the party, which clearly demonstrate that the thief had a 7 AC and only 2 hit points, while Dwarf and Elf, who were held back from combat by the Caller, had 7 and 5 hp respectively and armor classes of 5 or better.

Defense attorney: Objection your honor. How is this relevant to the case?

PA: I contend that it establishes a pattern of incompetent deployment of resources your honor.

Judge: I'll allow it. Continue.

PA: [to the defendant] According to the transcript, you assigned the dwarf the task of holding open the door and the elf the task of looking down the hall. Why did you assign two of your best fighters to this task?

Caller: They were the only people with infravision.

PA: Could one of them have watched the hallway while simultaneously holding the door open?

Caller: ... I ... the DM... ummm... Probably.

PA: So you left two of your best fighters to do a task that one could have handled while the Fighter along with Hafling and Thief--the two worst fighters in your party--took on the 4 orcs?

Caller: The halfling and thief were both +1 with missiles!

PA: Did missile fire come into play in this combat?

Caller: [shoulders sagging] No.

PA: Moving on. After the fight with the orcs. The Elf and Dwarf search for secret doors while the halfling is once again tasked with listening at the door. Elf finds a secret door just as Halfling reports that he hears "slithering noises." Is that correct?

Caller: Yes. I ordered everyone through the secret door to escape the slithering.

PA: But first you ordered the halfling to spike his door.

Caller: [brightening] Yes, standard procedure to obstruct pursuit.

PA: What kind of creatures slither?

Caller: ... Snakes?

PA: and snakes, are they known for their facility with door knobs?

Caller: No but it coulda' been a Medusa!

PA: Their hair slithers, do you think that's what the halfling heard?

Caller: The one in "Clash of the Titans" slithered!

PA: Yes, but that the original version of that movie won't come out until 1981, may I remind you that it's still 1977? So while the halfling is spiking the door to keep the approaching snake from opening it, everyone else goes through the secret door and the Caller orders the dwarf--the last one through--to close the door behind him.

Caller: It's standard emergency procedure!

PA: Even when one of your party is on the wrong side of the door?

Caller: How was I to know that Halfling hadn't made it through yet?

PA: Because you announced the marching order: [reading from transcript]

"Elf in front. Fighter behind him. Dwarf will close the door and bring up the rear." 
No mention was made of the halfling, who was still spiking shut the door in the L shaped room and, being preoccupied with the busywork you insisted he perform, had not seen where the secret door was. I direct the courts attention to the sworn statement of the Dungeon Master:
"Once the secret door closed, the halfling was left in total darkness. As he would be unable to find the secret door under such conditions, he waited at the spiked door until the slithering went away, pried out the spikes he'd shoved into the door frame, and departed the L-shaped room."
Caller: I ... I ... plead the fifth?

PA: What happened to the rest of the party?

Caller: We went down the hall on the other side of the secret door, until we saw the gelatinous cube. I sent the dwarf back to listen at the secret door to the room we'd just left thinking we might need to retreat there. On the way, he reported back that he thought there was a hollow spot in the floor, so I sent Elf back to help him search for trap doors.

PA: And you just didn't notice that in your party of 4 people, there were only three of you?

Caller: I thought that the halfling handed me the torch!

PA: Yes, according to the transcript,

"Caller: ... Where is that torch?
Somebody: Here it is." 
Who, as it turned out, was that "Somebody"?

Caller: My older sister.

PA: And which character was your sister's?

Caller: None of them. She was watching tv in the next room at the time I shouted for the torch. She was just being a jerk.

PA: So who did have the torch?

Caller: Fighter.

PA: And whose character was Fighter?

Caller: Mine.

[Snickering from the crowd]

PA: And what befell the elf and dwarf in their search for a trap door? They found one, correct?

[Caller shrinks in his seat]

PA: They both fell into it, did they not? I'd like to present to the court page 10 of the Holmes D&D Rulebook:
"Many dungeons contain traps, such as trap doors in the floor. If a character passes over one a six-sided die is rolled; a 1 or 2 indicates the the trap was sprung and he has fallen in." 
So you all passed over it safely the first time, but Elf and Dwarf ran out of luck the second time.

Caller: Yes, but they survived the fall!

PA: And what happened next?

Caller: The gelatinous cube was approaching so I ran and jumped across the pit trap so that I could lower a rope down and pull them out leaving the cube on the other side of the pit.

PA: A surprisingly reasonable plan, to be sure. But how did it turn out?

Caller: Well, I forgot that the thief had the rope, so after spending two rounds first removing and then  searching my pack, I ran down the hall to the L-shaped room to get it from his pack.

PA: And...

Caller: While I was searching Thief's body, the secret door closed behind me. I had to spend a turn trying to figure out how to open it.

PA: But you did finally open it. Then what?

Caller: By the time I got back to the pit, the gelatinous cube had ... fallen into it.

PA: Completely engulfing Elf and Dwarf in its acidic embrace!

[The crowd gasps in shock, followed by angry shouting]

Judge: [Pounding gavel] Quiet or I'll clear the court. [The crowd settles]. Proceed prosecutor.

PA: So what happened next?

Caller: I was all alone, so I went back to the L-shaped room and down the corridor--

PA: Did you find it odd that the door in the L-shaped room was no longer spiked?

Caller: Well, I didn't think of it until I saw the giant snake in the hall.

PA: Did it attack you?

Caller: No. It was asleep. It had... recently eaten.

PA: And you knew this how?

Caller: It had a big bulge in its middle.

PA: A bulge approximately the size of a halfling?

Caller: Yes ma'am. [Hangs head in shame, as his defense attorney surreptitiously gathers his papers and slinks from the room]

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Rogues Gallery: The Other Black Dougal, R.I.P. (also)

I caught flack from a buncha' B/X-bags for ignoring the existence of a Black Dougal in Moldvay's Basic Rulebook. But rather than ignore the trolls I've decided to acknowledge the existence of that other incarnation, mostly because I'm up to 'D' in the A to Zeppo challenge and, well, his last name starts with a D.

[Most likely not] Black Dougal
It should be noted that while Black Dougal of Adventure Log fame is--was--a Lawful Neutral Ranger, the Moldvanian Black DeGaulle was a thief. Regardless of class, neither survived his respective adventure, as Basic Black D successfully located a trap on a chest by jabbing his finger against the sharp needle built into the latch. This strategy might well have worked had he not failed his save and quickly succumbed to the poison the needle was impregnated with.

Black Dougal was not the only character to appear in both the Dungeon Master Adventure Log and the Moldvay Basic Rulebook. According to the Adventure Log, Black Dougal was part of a party of 10 people who included a few familiar faces such as the cleric Sister Rebecca, Morgan Ironwolf the fighter, and a dwarf named Fred 9802, who may be analagous to Frederick the dwarf from Moldvay's example of play. Black Dougal was listed as the character of Kevin Hendryx, an employee of TSR from back in the day, while Morgan Ironwolf was Tom Moldvay's character, Sister Rebecca was the character of Rebecca Moldvay, presumably related to Tom somehow, and Fred 9802 was the character of Dave Cook, author of the Expert D&D rulebook. I can't say with any certainlty that the Adventure Log character list is based on an actual gang of characters run by the players listed but if it is it makes one wonder why Mr. Hendryx's PC was singled out for death in both situations?

Monday, April 8, 2019

Rogues gallery: Clarissa the Cleric, Spider Crusher

Back in the Holmes Basic Set, Clarissa the Cleric famously avenged the death of Bruno the Battler by staving in with one mighty swing of her mace the nasty giant spider that poisoned poor Bruno. This was a life-changing moment for Clarissa; her first time swinging her mace in combat met with such satisfying success.

While she got into the cleric gig out of a desire to heal, she couldn't deny the blood lust she felt on successfully crushing the horrid arachnid, and thereafter spent a great deal more of her adventuring efforts inflicting wounds rather than healing them.

When she reached 3rd level and her party was forced to decamp from their Basic D&D surroundings, she got her first look at the Players Handbook; her eyes lit up when they landed on the paladin write-up. The potential of healing powers combined with capacity for bloodshed were just what she craved. However, she lacked the charisma and strength requirements. In order to prove her worthiness, she underwent a rigorous training program meeting with motivational speakers, physical trainers, faith healers and witch doctors to achieve the necessary requirements for the paladin class. Finally, her DM relented, allowing her to switch her Cha with her Wis and, in a holdover from Basic D&D, lowering her Int to raise her Str, she finally reached the minimum ability scores required, and off she went smashing heads and healing wounds.

Occasionally Clarissa let her zeal for bloodshed get the best of her and was reprimanded by the alignment police. She was issued a citation after one particularly ruthless assault on a gang of three poorly armed bandits who made the mistake of attempting to rob her. Her claim of self defense was ignored when the Video Assisted Referee showed that the last of the outlaws had dropped his weapon and was clearly in the act of surrender when her mace crushed his face.

Chagrined by her actions--or more specifically, at being held accountable for them--she quit the paladinhood and considered changing class again. She was no longer interested in healing people at all so she revisited the PHB and petitioned her Dungeon Master for another change; she wanted to be a chaotic neutral elf fighter/magic user. The DM as initially shocked at the race-change, but on reflection, was relieved that their would no longer be a need to police Clarissa's actions so strictly, and so approved the unorthodox alteration. She moved her 17 Cha to Int and adventured on until she reached her racially determined level limits, bought a townhouse in Gryrax, and retired. Though her alignment, class, and even her race changed periodically throughout her career, one  thing was always constant: her precious, spider-crushing mace.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Rogues Gallery: The Tragedy of Black Dougal

Two posts in two days: what kind of odds were the blogger bookies offering on this outcome? Maybe there's something to this whole A-to-Zed* challenge after all.

Anyway, for letter B of the Rogues Gallery Challenge I initially had my heart set on Bruno the Battler of Holmes's Basic Rules fame. But then I was reminded of the ol' Dungeon Masters Adventure Log with the sample characters in the back. There he is: Black Dougal, 7th level lawful neutral human ranger "slain by fire giant." We can surmise that the rest of the party exacted revenge since not only is there a fire giant listed under encounter #6 of the monster log but also in the treasure section we see that #6 yielded a rather massive haul. Well done party!

But why did I shunt aside poor Bruno the Battler--who, it should be noted, met a similar fate when he failed a save and died of spider venom--in favor of Black D.? Well what's interesting about Mr. Dougal is not his demise but rather its aftermath. Once the fire giant had fallen, most of the party followed Standard Adventurer's Protocol when confronted with the death of a compatriot: once a cost/benefit analysis of "raising" the lost ranger returned a negative result they began rifling through his belongings for magic items and other useful and/or valuable possessions. No sooner had the ritual scavenging begun than Sister Rebecca the party's cleric spoke up in her resolute, Lawful Neutral tones, insisting that Black D. be given a proper funeral in accordance with the warrior tradition to which he held. As this would entail burying him with his sword and armor, the others objected vociferously, noting that the armor was +2 scale mail and the sword was a +2 sword of dragon slaying. But she held firm and when the stalwart dwarven fighter Fred 9802 stood in support of her, the rest of the party acquiesced.

As Adventure Log enthusiasts will recall, Sister Rebecca became the second member of the party to fall in the course of the adventure; her end came at the hands (claws? fangs? acidic breath?) of a black dragon. The tragic irony of the situation is this: had the +2 dragon slaying sword been in the hands of one of the surviving party members when they met the dragon instead of gripped in the cold fingers of the deceased Dougal, Sister Rebecca might well have survived the encounter. 

Side note: the biggest shortfall of the Adventure Logs was that they provided just 12 lines per page for monsters and most of that space was taken up with useless "statblock" info like hit dice and special attacks that was presumably in the dungeon write-up and the DM need not waste time and space transcribing this info into the log. All that was needed in the log was the information necessary for tabulating XPs: monster type, quantity, and hit points. Likewise, there were only 10 slots for treasure. Those ratios are way off from the way we played back in the day.

Front note: The cover illustration clearly shows Fred 9802, Yolanda Mirabilis the MU, and maybe that's Morgan Ironwolf with the spear? confronting a gnoll in a very low-ceilinged dungeon. It should be noted that in encounter #5 the party offed 17 gnolls. 

* Foot Note: This is a nod to all the British TV I've been watching of late; primarily the cumbersomely named yet despicably funny 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Rogues Gallery: Player A, Time Traveller

I'm not usually one to go for these blogger challenges unless I can somehow find a way to make a mockery of the whole affair. But lets face it, for the past 2-1/2 months I've had that lame-ass post about Castles & Crusades character classes headlining my stupid blog. I am deeply ashamed.

So I'm desperate to post something--anything!--and there's this A to Z challenge thing that goes on every April. Let's see what comes of this. I don't know if there are any actual rules for this challenge, but I gather from what I've seen on other folks's blogs over the years that each day during April you pick an alphabetically appropriate topic and write about it. Presumably, this forces you to write 26 posts over the course of the month. At the rate I work, I should be done by the end of April 2023. [Edit: April 2023 has come and gone, where's the rest of your work, you schmuck.]

Looking for a theme to guide my alphabetically inspired month of posting, I struck upon something I toyed with back in '12 but which has since lain fallow. That's right, I'm revisiting my "Rogues Gallery" idea where I was running through the AD&D rulebooks and shedding some light on the various named characters that appear in examples throughout the text. Notably I did a piece on Thigru Thorkisen, the misguided magician who tried to extort spells and magic items from a necromancer colleague, and Gonzo the ranger, possessor of +2 armor.

As anyone familiar with the DMG knows, there is a host of A-based material, as in the "Example of Melee" section there is a whole party--we'll call them the A-team--of players whose names begin with the letter A. There's also someone (or somewhere) called Alamanzaliz, famous for being the namesake of an unspecified artifact that may be in the possession of some island-bound fire giants. And, if we want to get real technical about his letter 'A' business, you could even designate Llewellyn ap-Owen -- his last name sort of begins with 'a', right? -- the Welsh Wizard who employs the treacherous Tregulish Mul as his manservant.

But I prefer the more intriguing--if less originally named--player A from the TIME IN THE CAMPAIGN section of the ol' Guidebook for Mastering Dungeons and those Encounters which happen Within written by E. Gary Gygax (page 37).

What is known of player A? Not much. His race class and, likely even his name are a mystery to us. But we do know that he started adventuring on New Years Day of the year 1000. He and his cronies B, C, and D spent 50 days adventuring before they returned to town and, while his chums chose to rest for a bit, he felt compelled to go seek wisdom from an oracle. Perhaps not coincidentally, on that same day that he left (February 19) new players E and F arrived in search of adventure. Shunned by the remaining party members, E and F set off to the dungeon on their own.

On his trip to the oracle, we learn that player A is accompanied by an elven "companion" of whom no mention was made previously. Did A meet elf en route to the oracle? Were they friends from "B.A." (Before Adventuring)? Is the relationship, dare I say it, romantic? For that matter, is A also an elf?

Regardless of the nature of their relationship, the pair spend 11 days traveling to the oracle, 3 days visiting said font of wisdom, and then trek back to town in a delightfully symmetrical 11 days, arriving back home on Day 75 (March 15th, year 1000 being a leap year) where they encounter the inert B, C, and D who have yet to do anything since they returned from adventuring on day 50. That is to say, it is still February 19th to B,C, ad D. This leaves A in the peculiar position of having to wait for 25 days to pass before his compatriots are released from their temporal stasis.

Here the text of the DMG leaves us hanging: what happens from there? Will A and elf rent a room and further develop their relationship while waiting for the rest of the gang to come out of their amber cocoon? What will the rest of the gang think of A's burgeoning relationship with elf? Will they be resentful? Envious? Confused? And what knowledge did A gain from the visit with the Oracle? A prophecy of the future? Greater self awareness? Inside information on some stock market tips? This temporal quandary may be greatly to A's advantage, as even if the Oracle was just a copy of the Daily Bugle, it was the March 3rd Bugle and A will have had access to information and events up to a fortnight in the future.

Furthermore, back on Day 51, E and F wandered off to the dungeon where they spent a few days successfully clearing out the Big Bad. But when A arrives back in the past, E and F won't be back in town for a few days. Knowing that they will be laden with treasure on their return, A and Elf decide to set up an ambush. With the assistance of a gang of wood elves, they successfully surprise E and F, murder them and toss their bodies in a marsh outside of town. A then uses some of this ill-gotten treasure to place several substantial bets on racehorses that his "Oracle" has advised him will pay off handsomely. To further cement his reputation he successfully predicts a winter thaw that he already experienced during his travels, as well as the precise day on which the thaw ends in a blustering snowstorm, establishing himself as a bit of an oracle in his own right.

When B,C, and D finally do revive from their 25 days of stasis, they find a very wealthy A and his elven lover living in a fine house where he has gained the status of a village elder and nemesis to bookies. Also, and strangely, nothing is ever heard again of players E and F, which is fine because no one really liked them anyway.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Back to the Backpack: New C&C character classes

If you've read the character class descriptions in the C&C PHB, or the new Unearthed Backpack tome, you're already familiar with the tried and true Troll Lords format: 3-5 introductory paragraphs comprised of 0-4% informative background and 98-100%
stock words and phrases selected at random from a large purple bin marked "Descriptive Text" and tossed together into a jumble of pseudo sentences. Words like "windswept" and "maelstrom" and "primal" seem to come up regularly. I wonder if the Chenault brothers have a side gig as script writers for movie trailers.

So in light of the paucity of information in these descriptions, and in order to spare my readers the suffering of reading many paragraphs of disjointed blathering--irony alert--I've distilled the 14 or so new classes presented in the Adventurer's Arcana down into one sentence (or less) descriptos for your ease of consumption. Read on:
Arcane Thief: MU who can't cast their own spells.
Archer: 'nuff said.
Divine Knight: Paladin on steroids
Foresworn: Fallen paladin.
Ethereal knight: Planes-walking, game-busting fighter
Magic User: Just like a regular MU except they get d8 HD, can wear armor and use swords but can't cast spells.
Oathsworn: Paladins who don't have to be lawful good.
Pacer: Master of Parkour
Primal Druid: Like regular druids but harder to track.
Rune Mark: More of a campaign setting than a character class.
Seeker: As a jack of no trades, the Seeker seeks a purpose.
Skald: Barbarians with wicked awesome tattoos.
Thief: see Archer, above.
Warrior Priest: Cleric.

Now for the quiz. Below you will see the first sentence of the character class descriptions from the book. Based on the information above, can you guess which class Monsieur Chenault was trying to describe? 
  1. "The world is a harsh mistress governed not by the machinations of nations and tribes but, rather, the laws of nature."
  2. "Amidst the wreck and ruin of sword and axe, of battlefields carpeted with iron helms shields and mail, there are those who set themselves apart."
  3. "The gods oft have their own designs upon the world."
  4. "Service to the gods and their priests yields many fruits from the comfort of security to the suffering of labor unrewarded."
  5. "Beyond the physical world lie a host of other worlds; dimensions that defy the imagination, realms where gods dwell, planes of chaos and law, of evil and good, where the intangible holds dominion."
  6. "Where magic lingers in the fabric of a world, where it is woven into the curtain of life, where the language of it creates all things, in such worlds magic is governed by laws known only by a few."
  7. "There are moments in every one's lives that shape them into what and who they are but for some those moments are such that they define them."
  8. "The [bleep] may be a wonderful asset or a terrible adversary."
  9. "Beyond the hearth, beyond the home, beyond the wall, lies a wilderness both brutal and unforgiving."
  10. "In the crumbled ruins of ancient cities, tombs and crypts where dead kings lie, in halls of libraries upon tablets of stone and vellum scrolls, echo the secrets of a language spoken only by gods."
  11. "In the maelstrom of the world's chaos, events often take on a life of their own, pulling all with them, devouring the weak and leaving the strong bereft of direction."
  12. "Adjacent to the world of men lies and enchanted realm of wild abandon."
  13. "In the sprawling towns and cities, vast urban complexes rife with villainous malcontents, there are those who refuse to follow the law."
  14. "The [bleep] does not choose any one deity to serve, but rather serves a pantheon and the culture it espouses." 

Answers: In case you haven't figured out the pattern here, I didn't bother randomizing the descriptions; they're written out in the same order as the the list above. Which is to say warrior priest is 14, arcane thief is 1, runemark is 10, and so forth.