Saturday, 3 August 2019

Call of Cthulhu Session 1: Off to Yucatan

Saturday night, we kicked-off our first session of Call of Cthulhu. I've never played call of Cthulhu before, but fortunately one of our players has, so he was able to provide some quick rules Guidance when things got sticky. The adventure I decided to go with is Don Coatar's "The God of Mitnal", but with my own twist to it. It's a short, straightforward romp into Central America which seemed like a good opportunity to start learning the game rules. It also can transition into a full Masks campaign if things go well.

The Roster:
  • Mac Johnson- 29 year old journalist and photographer. He has done quite well for himself already and is looking for adventures to truly make his name great
  • Daniel Stephenson- 49 year old Boston Dilettante from an uber-rich family. They have disowned him and now he is looking to use his education and skills from hunts in Africa to make his way in the world
  • Dr. Milka- 26 year old medical doctor. She has trouble finding steady employment and so is willing to look outside the standard hospital jobs
Jackson on past adventures
The year is 1923. Mac's friend and mentor is famed explorer and writer Jackson Elias. Jackson made arrangements with him that, if he should need assistance on one of his adventures, Mac will gather a team and come as quickly as possible for $100 a week hazard pay. Today, Mac received a telegram calling in that favor:


The party gathered in Mac's NYC flat and made plans. They collected info on wanted gun-runner Walter F. Kimble. They researched the cult of Ah Puch. They negotiated expenses with Elias' editor Jonas Kensington. They bought supplies. Finally they headed-off to Yucatan.

In Yucatan they had a number of close calls, with a strange, murderous Owl and with a thief trying to steal their rifles. They also heard creepy rumors about Ah Puch's reawakening, thanks to Daniel's translating.

Finally they contacted Guillermo and heard that he hasn't seen Elias in almost a month, but he knows he is investigating a pyramid out in the Jungle. He gave them a note from Elias with directions where to get off the train and how to find his encampment.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Buck Goes Adventuring


So recently I created my first Call of Cthulhu character, disgraced baseballer Buck Pickman. Now, in the interest of learning the game system, let's put him through an encounter:

It's late at night and Buck is at the old Crenshaw residence on the outskirts of Salem. More specifically, he is in the process of breaking into the Crenshaw's abandoned farmhouse. He's investigating the reports he has heard of strange lights and drumming coming from the place.

After climbing in a ground-floor window, and setting his lantern on the counter, he has begun rummaging around. Suddenly he hears steps on the front porch. He uses his Listen skill to see what he can find. He rolls a 44, success! He hears three barefooted people at the front door. He gets a check next to the skill for a chance to improve it at the end of the session.

He draws his revolver and steps into the shadows. A key turns and the door opens. A cultist with tribal headdress and a long bush knife steps into the room, followed by similarly outfitted characters. Buck attempts a Hide skill check but rolls 20. One of the cultists rounds a corner and the two make eye contact.

Round 1


Buck has a missile weapon so he goes first. He aims from point blank range(70% becomes 140%) and shoots. He rolls a 25, not only a hit but an impale. He rolls 2d10 for damage and gets a 17. The cultist only had 15 HP so he falls down dead. He gets a check next to the Handgun skill for a chance to improve it at the end of the session.

Seeing their ally fall, the other two cultists rush towards the sound of the shot, spotting Buck in the corner.

Round 2


Buck sees he is outnumbered and decides to flee towards the window, using his remarkable Jump skill to make a quick egress. The cultists have higher DEX scores so they go first.

The second cultist is faster. He takes a swipe at Buck with his weapon. He rolls a 2, scoring an impale. 11 damage. Since Buck has only 2HP left, he falls unconscious. Fade to black.

He wakes up bound and in pain, his wound throbbing to the sound of drumming. Masked bodies undulate around him. Strange lights appear in the sky. He is about to find out what the rumors were all about. In fact, he is about to play a central role in a most inhuman ritual...




Conclusion

The game system is pretty easy to learn. It reminds me of Cyberpunk 2020, which is a system I've used quite a bit. It's percentage-based. Direct combat is quick and deadly and therefore probably best avoided. I like it.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Planescape Session 5: the Maze of the Melancholy Minotaur

I missed session 4, so this summary follows Session 3.

In previous sessions, the party met a group of Thri-Kreen from the planet Athas. They were in search of a particular botanically-skilled Sensate in the hope that she might help them replenish their magic-ravaged desert planet.

The search for the sensate led them to the gallery of wizards, an art gallery specializing in portraits of powerful mages. The party's visit follows a theft of several paintings in which painting-portals malfunctioned, a sensate disappeared, and a painting of an imprisoned god was vandalized.

This led them into a painting containing a magic labyrinth with a magic healing fountain.

In session 5, we continued to search the maze by the guidance of our four-hoofed colleague. The dwarf barbarian took a piss into what turned out to be a Land Shark's lair(IMHO the DM missed a perfect opportunity to roll on the limb-loss table). The party defeated a Land Shark with the help of a firebolt and Cardinal Sardinius' net, and found the art-thief he had devoured, along with the stolen Wizard portraits.

Ultimately we came upon a strange scene: a sensuously dressed woman, rooted to the ground, staring-down an immobilized Minotaur.

After charming the beast and watering the lady(this time with water- what did you think, you perverts?) she awoke and accepted the mission to revitalize Athas. We left the maze escorted by the Minotaur, returned the paintings to the gallery owner(for a humble 1000GP reward) and headed out to meet our Thri-Kreen sponsors.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Lycanthropy for Fun and Profit!

Due to the Passover holiday, we had 13 gamers turn up for game night, including 8 kids(my daughter included). We decided to "split the party" and run an adults game and a kids game. Avi ran the adults game. I got the kids. It was not dull. Rarely has so much ADHD sat around a single table. We continued our long-running Swords and Wizardry Palace of the Silver Princess campaign. Here is the summary:

Characters:


  • Princessa- Human Fighter with a bastard sword, ring mail and a shot bow. Watch out for this one!
  • Minionoid- son Minion. A chaotic Elven thief with a two handed sword who has joined the party for obscure reasons
  • Ragnar- Chaotic Dark-Elf Assasin who backstabs people with his two-handed sword
  • Yoland- Elf Wizard with a staff and a Javelin
  • Blitzen- Tough Dwarven Fighter lady
  • Aragon- Elf Wizard who aspires to fireballing everything
  • Firestorm- Elf Druidess who loves animals

Summary


The party started off in N'Sau, a village full of war-refugees. First everyone got excited about fishing and made skill rolls. Minionoid then decided it was time to avenge his father, so the party started their journey to the Palace. Blitzen decided to stay and fish and was eventually eaten by Bears(I think her player realized she was ~5 years older than any of the other players, so she quickly lost interest)

They encountered a lone Wolf Warrior on horseback. They tried to kill him but he fled. Firestorm befriended his horse, so he was forced to flee on foot and she kept his horse.

At night, they encountered a Bugbear and two Orcs. Yoland charmed the Bugbear, and the Orcs were killed, with much excitement over the division of treasure. Minion was knocked unconscious and bandaged by Firestorm and the party took a few days for him to heal.

Updated map of ground level
(A quick DM note: I quickly realized that with 6 hyperactive kids shouting , having everyone roll for initiative to determine combat order, as I usually do, was simply not going to work. I chose to just go clockwise around the table, with the Monsters going last, which worked much better, especially with kids getting up and changing seats.)

Upon reaching the Palace the next day, the party saw two Wolf Warriors riding in the front gate. They climbed in through the tower window.

They did some exploring, encountered killer bubbles, and purple moss. They found a statue of mother and daughter with a hidden compartment revealing a riddle about My Lady's Heart. At this point, they have explored most of the ground-level of the dungeon, except for the Northwestern and Southeastern quadrants.

Ragnar discovered a treasure, including gold and a silver Wolf Warrior ring, but was discovered by the rest of the party. Princessa and Minionoid beat him up, divvied up the stuff, with Firestorm healing him and taking the ring.

They party then encountered a red-headed amazon. They chased her and when she turned to face them Princessa and Firestorm began to parlay with her. Her name is Aliegha and she is here because of her master. She was happy to hear that the party had killed some Wolf Warriors, since they have been hunting her.

At this point, Minionoid and Ragnar got bored and wanted to just kill Aliegha. This really upset the two girls, who were trying to befriend her. (Was a really funny pre-teen boys/girls dynamic for me to observe.) Finally, Minionoid declared he was shooting an arrow at her, while Ragnar snuck up behind her for the backstab.

Aliegha was injured, but suddenly shape-changed into a bear, knocked Minionoid unconscious and chased away Ragnar. Then she told the girls her story.

She is a Werebear, cursed with lycanthropy and hunted by the Wolf Warriors, notorious lycanthrope hunters. She is here because she works for her master, a powerful Cleric, Catharandamus. He made a deal with the Goblin king: he will help the Goblins take-over Gulluvia, and the Goblins will then help him find My Lady's Heart.

Princessa and Firestorm tried to convince Aliegha to revoke her support for this evil plan, but she sadly told them there was nothing she could do. She urged the party to flee this place and go on with their lives elsewhere.

Princessa convinced Aliegha to bite her, thus giving her lycanthropy too! With that, Aliegha bade them farewell and left.

We ended there, and everyone got 500XP, which just pushed Princessa to 2nd Level!

On Running Games for Kids

This was my first time running a game for kids who were mostly not my own. It was fun but hard! The kids' energy was high, but they also occasionally got distracted and wandered off. My daughter, for example, went and made herself an omelette at one point, but was also very engaged at other points and overall told me she had a great time and couldn't wait to play again. Another kid was very engaged for most of the game, but disappeared about 1/2 an hour before the end.

Character creation was a bit hectic with all the new players. Some ported over an existing character from another game to 1st Level Swords and Wizardry, others created characters from scratch. All but one of the kids had played some form of DnD before, either joining for one of our adult games or going to a paid, after-school DnD activity, run by a guy in the neighborhood.

Two brothers who were there were constantly fighting with each other. I didn't manage to separate them, but if I run another game in this series I definitely would. Their dad told me they had an amazing time though, so apparently the fighting didn't hurt their experience, even if it distracted me.

One thing for sure is that, if I run a game like this again, I will implement a "No Screens" rule during play(to be fair, I've had this with adult players, which is infinitely more annoying). One of the players was on his phone the entire time and we had to keep calling him over to the table and explaining him what was happening now. At some point I just stopped calling him over.

Finally, I think that I would cap the number of players at the end. Seven is just too much, and anyway, three of them dropped-off leaving us with four highly engaged characters at the end.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

The Western Terror

S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk is a film that plays out like a DnD One-Shot. A kidnapped woman, a group volunteers to go after her, a journey into the wilderness to the Troglodytes' base, and the resolution by combat with no quarter asked and none given. Here are a few things from the movie I'd like to bring into my next game session.

The Hook


There's a lot to love about the scene of the Native American guide who helps the party locate the Troglodytes' base. There's a weird power-dynamic between the Indian Expert and the White Settlers. Behind that tension, all his passive-aggressive answers build-up the mystery and danger of the mission:
  • What kind of tribe doesn't have a name? One that doesn't have a language
  • You'll take us to them? I won't. Cause you're an Indian? Cause I don't want to get killed
  • Well what are they? Troglodytes
  • What do they look like? A man like you would not distinguish them from Indians, even though they're something else entirely
  • You'll show us where they're at? You'll be killed if you enter their territory
  • How many do you think there are? It doesn't matter. You don't have a chance against any number of them

The Journey

One of my favorite recurring western themes is the journey through the wilderness. The party must travel over long barren wilderness to reach their destination. As DM I usually drag this out a bit, with random encounter rolls, and lots of questions about the party's camp preparations. I especially enjoy playing out the tension, will they get attacked at night. What I'd like to add is the effect of the journey/weather. Some constitution checks for men and their mounts to leave the party not at their best when they arrive.

The Terror of the Bow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFPZzWrHyvs

The ambush by the Troglodytes is great. The party is sneaking around, trying to scout out the enemy base, when out of nowhere, arrows. The attack is so silent and understated, it takes the audience a couple seconds to process what just happened.


TPK

DM's who provide real dangerous challenges for the PCs must occasionally deal with Total Party Kills, when the entire adventuring party gets wiped out in one combat. One option is to roll up a new party of characters who are friends or relatives of the old one. Bone Tomahawk uses the classic trope of "Knocked Unconscious then Wake Up in a Cage". This works if you are using a system which distinguishes between death and unconscious characters.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

My First Call of Cthulhu Character

For a few years now I've had a dream of running a Call of Cthulhu campaign. In particular, I want to run that legendary campaign Masks of Nyarlathotep. It's a sprawling, globe-trotting mystery, full of weird horror, and it's been heavily hacked and expanded by fans over the years, such that the setting has taken on a life of it's own. The only thing stopping me is that I have to learn the CoC system...

As a first step towards learning the system, I created a character. He's a disgraced baseball player who has moved back to his hometown of Salem. He has too much money, energy, and time on his hands, and people like that have a way of stumbling into cultists and cosmic horrors. He has a mean fastball, is good with a bat, and has taken up shooting cans and bottles with a .38 revolver on his estate, now that he so much time on his hands.

Buck Pickman

The rule set I managed to get my hands on was 1999's Edition 5.6. I'm not sure how this edition compares with earlier ones in terms of complexity, but it took a fair amount of time to make all the rolls, allocations, and background for this character. I want to see if earlier editions are simpler since I generally prefer lighter rule-sets.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Same Old Princess

What do you do when your group plans a gaming night, but you have nothing to play? Pull out an old campaign that doesn't require much DM prep. So here is yet another session in our Palace of the Silver Princess campaign which ended over a year ago on a cliff-hanger.

Kingdom of Gulluvia
Cast of Characters:
  1. Ragnar- a bastard of a Ranger with a bastard sword
  2. Minion- a chaotic Elven thief with a two handed sword who has joined the party for obscure reasons
  3. Bob the Barbarian- a Human fighter who has been around the block
  4. Entrapta-chaotic Fighter/Mage skilled with both sword and spellbook

Bob and Entrapta arrive in village of N'Sau, which has become a refugee camp for those displaced by the Goblinoid invasion of Gulluvia. They met Ragnar and Minion, who told them of their mission to the Palace of the Silver Princess and their hope of bringing peace to the land.

The party bravely embarked on yet another expedition to the palace. They succeeded in hunting meat(Deer and Wild Dog) and preparing dried rations for their journey.
the updated map

Upon reaching the valley, they spotted a group of goblins entering the main gate with a large bear. Ragnar found the tracks of a large Female Bear which strangely were replaced, at some point, with those of a barefoot Human!

The party tried to use their traditional entrance through the tower window, but were met by two dwarves, Boron and Xyzon. The Dwarves tried to convince the party to leave, saying that The Boss would not want them there. They told them there were many Goblins there too who would no doubt kill them. When the party was not discouraged, they turned a blind eye and let them pass.

The party ended up killing a party of Orcs and exploring more of the North East section of the Dungeon. They expertly cleared out a room of Yellow Mold and found a suit of magic chainmail, only for it to turn out to be cursed with making it's wearer(Ragnar) flee combat! They did find a valuable necklace, however.

After a night of resting, the party were discovered by a lone Goblin. It went to fetch it's Hobgoblin buddies and the party was trapped and forced to face a goblin and 5 Bugbears!

Bugbears are SOOO Metal!

Ragnar started shooting arrows into their enemies but was then forced to flee in his cursed armor. Entrapta cast a shield spell which kept the creatures busy trying to hit her but missing. Minion, used the poison he had previously collected to poison his sword and five of Bob's darts. The poison saved the day, with 4 dead bugbears and one fleeing the combat, but poor Minion was killed in the process! Bob picked up his two-handed sword and helped finish-off the Bugbears.

The party left the dungeon with a hard-earned victory and 2000 XP to split between them!