21 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 30- Best Playing / DMing Experience

They saved the most difficult question for last.  Best experience.  Wow- that's hard.  I mean, my early experiences were AMAZING, new ground broken and all that.  I fondly remember those days and love to help other gamers live through that period in their own hobby.  But I became a DM pretty quickly, and got slotted into that role since the Reagan Administration.  So...  when I try to think of really amazing play experiences, I tend to think of my earliest days playing with Daniel and his brother, or in Boy Scouts. 

Now, as a DM some of the campaigns I've already mentioned come to mind.  The casual game with Bill, Dave and Chris back in high school just "feels" like what 80s D&D was supposed to be.  The amazing Mystara/Ravenloft campaign that began with Robby, Cami and Mary and boiled down to just Mary and Randi - the one I talked about with the marriages and deep in-character threads.  That game was amazing.  Lots of really, really good roleplaying from the PCs and some not-too-shabby DMing by yours truly.

I dunno.  There's a lot of good games I can point to, more as a DM than as a player.  If I had to pick right now, and had to limit the field specifically to D&D games, I guess I'd go with the Ravenloft campaign.  There was so much depth to the PCs thanks to Mary and Randi really having buy-in and having only two PCs meaning both got more than ample screen time and attention from the DM.

If I had to guess, though, I'd say my best experiences are yet to come.  I'm becoming a better Dungeon Master by learning from the best.  NTRPGCON started me down that road.  I'm trying new techniques, and exploring how I want the back half of my life to be where games are concerned.  It's time to game for quality over quantity, and include the ones who are most dear to me.  Zane and Kaylee will be old enough to play before I blink twice.  The best is yet to come.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 29 - Most Frequently Rolled Number on a D20

I have no idea what the most frequently rolled number on a d20 actually is over my three decades of gaming - but it sure as heck isn't 20.  It feels like I could say 1 with some confidence.

My primary gaming dice are Chessex translucent red with white ink, bought to resemble my Koplow dice from 1986.  I bought four sets and keep them in a box that held Cuban cigars my friend Raul gave me on a cruise several years ago when he wanted to ditch the box and smuggle the cigars home.  I take those dice with me to my twice monthly D&D game over at Scott's place.

Damned if they don't consistently roll under 5 so much that I've taken to using my six-year-old son's dice instead.  Habitually.   Zane isn't quite old enough for full-on D&D yet, so his dice are living in my dice box lest his sister find them and lose them as she did when he had a dice bag.  So Dad kinda borrows them - and THAT d20 rolls pretty well.  All my signature red-and-white d20s?  Not so much.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 28- PCs You Have Sworn Off Playing

I don't know that I have ever sworn off playing any particular PC.  I've actually liked all the characters I can recall playing.  No single D&D character sticks out to me as unworthy of a return play.

That said, I do have a personal rule about never, ever, playing Kender.  I think Kender work best on the pages of Dragonlance novels under the close supervision of the authors.  Putting Kender in PC hands is asking for trouble unless you are confident the player can play the Kender as intended, and not just use the Kender-related tropes as a bludgeon with which to beat the other PCs, the Dungeon Master, and the campaign in general about the head and shoulders.

So, if I ever played a Kender PC, I'd have sworn off playing him.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 27- Favorite Curse of Cursed Item

This is an interesting question, and I'm going to have to go with Armor of Missile Attraction.

I love this particular cursed item because it is legitimately useful against melee attacks, acting as various forms of magic armor.  The hitch is that it gives enemies significant bonuses to hit the PC wearing it with missile weapons.  It becomes a piece of cursed equipment you want to get rid of immediately... or not?  Is the melee bonus worth living with the missile attraction?  Is it a worthwhile gamble?  Each character must make their own decision on that before seeking out a spellcaster who can drop a Remove Curse

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 26- Favorite Mundane Item

My favorite mundane item off the lists and lists of equipment that have found their way into D&D rulebooks over the years is a pretty simple one: the tinderbox.

Why is the lowly tinderbox a favorite of mine?  Well, because it caused me as a young gamer to think for the first time about the mundanities my character faced in the D&D universe.  In basic D&D when we started, we told our DM we were lighting torches, and he never asked "how", we just did it.  Upon discovering the need for a tinderbox with which to light torches and set campfires, my mind started drifting to all the other things my character needed to survive.  Bedroll, hammer, spikes... Hey, a bullseye lantern could be REALLY useful for signaling as well as lighting our path.  I could use a mirror, too.  Hey, rope.  And spikes while we're at it.  Do I need a dagger for eating and utility use even though as a Cleric I can't fight with edged weapons? 

The tinderbox got me thinking, and thinking got me immersing.  And immersion made me a better player and Dungeon Master.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 25- Favorite Magic Item

I love magic items, but they're a double-edged +1 sword (+3 vs. Lycantrhopes.)

I feel magic items can be overdone.  One of the things I disliked about 4th Edition (and I did like it overall) was that the math expected PCs to have a certain quality of magic arms and armor at a given level - this is far too much magic for me.

Magic should be rare and, well, magical.  The very concept of a magic shop is a bit antithetical to the way I tend to run D&D.  If PCs end up with multiple magic items, it's because they've been delving into ancient ruins or abandoned fortresses where such items of power have been lost since antiquity.  Like the gifts of Galadriel, or Orcrist, Glamdring and Sting, magic items need to be uncommon and mysterious.

The runner-up for my favorite magic item is runner-up because it comes from The Palladium Fantasy RPG.  It's called Otoni's Dagger of Assassination.  This dagger, when thrown, will keep re-inserting itself into a target until the target is dead, or until it is seized by a STR 15 or better.  That's pretty sweet. 

So, in the D&D realm, there's the old favorites.  Elven boots, bags of holding, etc.  Lots of utility in items like those.  I'm going to go to 4e for this, though.  My favorite magic item is something that just drips with atmosphere.  4e gave us The Raven Queen, goddess of death.  Now, she's not evil, she's just doing a job that needs doing since death is the inevitable end of life.  There is a magic item that is a raven's feather blessed by the Raven Queen.  This feather is attuned to a person.  The feather will then change color if that person dies.  Not a magic weapon, or an amazing item, but think of the story possibilities a DM can evoke when there is tangible proof of when a far away loved one dies... or is still alive after a very long time.  This is the sort of magic item you can hang an adventure on without giving the PCs incredible amounts of power.  I dig it.

16 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 24- Favorite Spell

I think most adventurers would immediately jump to some of the obvious answers, like Cure Light Wounds or Magic Missile or Fireball.  Now, these are all spells of some utility to be sure.

Cure spells will always be a favorite of players, since they are necessary to keeping the PCs alive and well.

Magic Missile is a great spell in BECMI, since it does 1d6+1 as opposed to 1d4+1 in AD&D, and it never misses.  Sometimes it might be the only effective attack your party has against a creature with spells or immunity to normal weapons.

Fireball is the old standby for massive damage to lots of enemies.  Everyone wants to pick up Fireball at 5th level and use it to make Orc Chops on their very next dungeon delve.  Great spell, Fireball, but be careful using it indoors with a DM who has a grasp of physics.

My choice probably belongs on the list of obvious choices above.  I'm going to go with Sleep.  The Sleep spell can be terrifyingly useful in combat if employed properly, and in non-combat situations it can be quite useful as well for knocking out guards or sneaking past cultists or just robbing the local general store blind and then leaving a promissory note to pay for the gear and rations once you recover the treasure from the goblin caves outside of town.  So for me, Sleep is my favorite spell.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 23- Least Favorite Monster Overall

This one is short and sweet.  The frigging Tarrasque.  I can't stand this monster.  The mere existence of the Tarrasque makes players assume they will one day be powerful enough to face one down.

The Tarrasque is like Galactus, you don't try to defeat it head-on.  It's more a plot device than a monster.  Sure, if it has HP it can be killed, but let's be reasonable here.

OK, soap box time for a sec.  For me, the sweet spot in D&D is the climb from 1st Level to Name Level.  Becoming a true hero is where a lot of the fun of the game is.  Now, the teen levels see characters become more competent, maybe even becoming rulers of their own lands or heads of Magic-User schools or Thieves Guilds.  At this point you're regionally powerful but not so much so as to be challenging the Immortals.  The 20s, for me, are kind of out of where I like to run.  Doubly so the 30s.  Now we're dealing with a completely different kind of game than standard D&D.  Post-36 PCs can try to ascend to immortality themselves which is again a completely different game.  Something like the Tarrasque is only a possible fight to these high-level situations, and those are not situations I really enjoy DMing.  The Tarrasque represents that power level and all it implies, and for that reason it's my least favorite monster.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 22- Favorite Monster Overall

My favorite monster overall?  Well, I've never seen a monster WEAR overalls.

I kid, I kid.

Boy, this is a tough one.  Coming up on 30 years of D&D and I've fought or used as a DM metric craptons of monsters from across many books and even game systems.  There are monsters I use a LOT- but that doesn't necessarily follow that they're my favorite, just that they are common in the climate or game world I tend to run.  So what's my favorite?

Orcs.  Gotta be orcs. 

Why?  Because they are basically unattractive humans.  This means that Orcs can be used in any way you can imagine humans being used.  If you need barbaric warriors Orcs will do.  If you need a highly technological society of methodical conquerors, Orcs.  Evil wizard need an army?  Orcs.  Restless native tribe aggressively resisting civilized incursion into their territory?  Orcs.

Orcs are versatile, they're a good match for most low-level PCs in moderate numbers and they can and do exist in not-moderate numbers for when the PCs are a bit higher in level.  They can make use of most equipment made for PC races, and therefore sometimes carry good equipment to salvage.  They can be tribal, they can have cities.  They're a great monster to use for all sorts of things, including being a mirror for human behaviors.

I like Orcs.  Especially these kind:

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 21- Favorite Dragon

Favorite Dragon, eh?  How to answer.  My gut instinct is to say Tiamat from the D&D Cartoon.  How can you not love a giant multichromatic she-beast with the voice of Frank Welker?  The only thing in the Realm that can scare Venger?  But the question does specify color, type etc. 

If I have to pick, I'm going to go with the good old Red Dragon.  This is partially due to the classic pieces of Elmore artwork that sold me on D&D in the first place, and partially because the Red Dragon is something of the default "fire-breathing dragon" of legend.  When people think "dragon" they think one that breathes plumes of fire, like Smaug, thus my choice.  I will say it was a difficult one to come to, since the other dragons of the BECMI game can be just as interesting if not moreso.  The Green Dragon and its poison gas cloud comes as a surprise to players who haven't memorized their monster listings.  Likewise the lightning bolt of the Blue Dragon.  Don't get me started on Black Dragons.  *shudder*  I lost my first PC that made it to high level to a Black Dragon- our DM at the time, Daniel Varner, ruled that acid damage could not be healed by magic or potions, it had to be healed naturally over time.  That made Black Dragons extremely dangerous.  They'd be my pick if I weren't still pissed off about losing that Magic-User to a tragic feedbag accident.  (We were tweens, OK?)

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 20- Favorite Humanoid/Giant/Fey

  Today I'm going to talk about my favorite Fey.  That would, of course, be Tina Fey.  Oh, how she's kind of a geeky, funny, sexy... what?  Not THAT kind of Fey?  OK.  No problem.

  I have a lot of creatures I like to use in D&D and a whole bunch of them fit into the categories Humanoid, Giant and Fey.  I've used the ubiquitous Orcs, Goblinoids, Gnolls, Kobolds etc. many, many times as they are the creatures that in my D&D game worlds tend to rival the more standard PC races in population and expansion.  Giants I tend to use quite a bit more sparingly, because of the Voyager Law of Borg Conservation.  See, in ST:TNG The Borg were the most frightening, implacable foe the main characters had ever seen.  By the time of Voyager, a smallish cruiser could poke about in the Borg home system and come home safe.  Voyager took the Borg and made them mundane, workaday, less scary.  I want to avoid doing that to giants as much as possible.  When there's a giant involved, it's got to be a BIG DEAL.  Not ho-hum, another giant.

For my favorite, though, I'm going to have to break character for a moment.  I am a hardcore fan of BECMI D&D.  My answers thus far on this 30-Day Challenge  have been filtered through that base assumption.  When I started thinking about this one, though, I kept drifting back to something that was popularly introduced in 4th Edition that I really thought was groovy - Eladrin.

Eladrin could be summed up as "high elves," but that doesn't quite do them justice.  Eladrin are an elven race who are still connected to the Fey plane, or "Feywild" in 4e parlance.  They have the ability to Fey Step, a short range teleport, by phasing into the Feywild in one place and back out in another.  This description intrigued me, and I created my own twists on the background of the Eladrin.

For my first 4e character, I played an Eladrin Wizard who had a sister, an Eladrin Rogue.  I created the lore of my character to interpret the Eladrin affinity for and ability to step into the Feywild as an artifact of their being native to the Feywild- but for some reason banished from it.  This banishment means that each time an Eladrin uses Fey Step, they can momentarily see the beloved home plane on which they can no longer dwell.  That moment of being "home" is immediately yanked away as they are forced to re-enter the Prime Material Plane.  This makes the Eladrin an excessively aloof and melancholy race.  Their haughty attitudes serve to hide their profound sense of being forever denied existence in the world that actually makes sense to them.  They are in general a humorless and homesick race, mysterious and even a bit forbidding to the other races given their spooky eyes.

OK, so most of what I like about Eladrin are things I added to the racial description for my own games.  But there it is.  My favorite Fey that isn't Tina.

12 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 19- Favorite Elemental/Plant/Construct

This one's easy for me.  My favorite construct, bar none, is the Iron Golem. 

The Iron Golem is wicked tough - immune to non-magic weapons, electrical attacks only slow it down and fire attacks outright heal it.

That's right, fireball, the go-do damage-dealing spell of D&D characters level 5 or higher, heals the Iron Golem.  That is a nasty surprise for any PC party that encounters and has to defeat one.  This is the Golem turned up to 11.  It's not only implacable, incredibly strong and ridiculously tough, it's nearly invulnerable.  I love using Iron Golems, but due to their high level of defensive properties they fall into the same category for me as the lich, a great enemy that is hard to employ at the levels our games usually run.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 18- Favorite Planar Being / Creature

OK, I'll make an admission.  I'm not a fan of planar travel in D&D.  I have no idea why, I just never got into it.

If I had to pick a planar creature to be a "favorite" I suppose it would be the Night Hag.  Those are planar, right?  I mean, I found them listed in the Planescape Monstrous Compendium Annex.

Night Hags are everything that scares people about the traditional "witch" type monster- not a female human that practices witchcraft, but the kind of gnarled, crone-looking witch of dark fairy tales.  Night Hags hunt humans for their spirits/souls and are wicked powerful at 8 HD.  They are not unreasonable killers, though - they can be treated with, bargained with, and even be useful if you can trade them something the value more than your life force.  Something like information.  This makes them a great addition to a campaign when you want to throw overly swordplay-happy PCs a curve, and show them a truly frightening monster that just might be more useful to them alive than vanquished.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 17- Favorite Animal/Insect/Arachnid

This is kind of a tough one.  For some reason my brain is having an issue picking something in this category.  I think this is partially because the organization of monsters by specific categories is a relatively new thing for me, and since I'm looking at this through a BECMI lens, I keep questioning each monster that pops into my head - is that an animal, or something else?

I suppose I will choose the good old trusty wolf.  Wolves are a mundane animal, but can be used in many ways.  Wolves are pack hunters that can certainly threaten a party of PCs traveling in the wilderness.  Wolves can be harbingers of something else entirely - they are associated with vampirism and lycanthropy.  Wolves can make great companion animals for woodsy-type characters.  So I think I'll go with the wolf. 

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 16- Favorite Ooze/Aberrant Creature

Ah, Oozes.  Man, did I hate oozes, jellies, all that crap when I was a new D&D player.

I mean really, who wants to strap on a sword or a spellbook and head off valiantly in search of adventure to get kakked by a friggin blob of pudding?  Not entirely heroic.

Ya can't hack them to death, and torches might cause damage, but you'd better have a few extra lit and ready if you don't want to risk putting your only light source out trying to kill the ooze.  Just the thought of these creatures makes me shudder.

I do have a favorite, though.  The Gelatinous Cube.  I love these things as a DM.  I love how nervous PCs get when the dungeon floors and walls are just a little too clean.  When there's a lack of organic debris or rat droppings.  Characters start checking behind them, and down every corridor looking for any sign that a nearly transparent wall of digestive Jell-O.  Sometimes, as in this illustration, the cube can be given away by the spooky suspension of the metal equipment of some poor adventurer in the middle of the monster.  I totally dig this monster, and I use it to mess with new players who aren't so steeped in D&D lore that they expect it.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 15- Favorite Undead

This one's easy.  Vampires can be cool, but can be overdone.  The lich is awesome, but so powerful many parties may never come close to being able to face one.  My favorite undead?


Before I ever played D&D, I saw movies with awesome Ray Harryhausen skeletons.  In fact, to this day, most of the skeletons in my games are basically those same Harryhausen skeletons, similarly armed and equipped.  I think the folks who write those neat Lost Worlds combat books felt the same way.  The Skeleton is visually cool, it's got (in most editions) a resistance to cutting and slashing weapons, can be employed in mass groups, and is the first undead a Cleric can become powerful enough to just dust outright.  I love 'em.

The skeleton is visually unnerving, it's most definitely an unnatural representative of death slogging toward you with a rusty scimitar.  They have no fear, no morale checks, they just won't stop.  The will keep coming until you smash them to dust or they kill you.  Period.  Relentless, tireless, remorseless.  Skeletons.

If you ever get the chance, REF5 Lords of Darkness has really good treatments of many common undead, and the fiction on Skeletons by Deborah Christian is pretty darn cool.  I highly recommend it.

11 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 14- Favorite NPC.

I have a LOT of favorite NPCs.  My group tells me that I tend to create some NPCs that are more colorful than some of the party members.  I dunno if that's a compliment to my GM style or an insult to some of my players...

In MechWarrior, Captain Ivan Sergeevich Tukachevski was an armor commander attached to the Royal Dragoon Guards.  He had a habit of drinking constantly and never appearing drunk- he also used every available space aboard his command track to store alcohol, which he euphemistically referred to as "Breakfast."  Ivan Sergeevich was a favorite of mine to play, and a definite favorite of my players, but he wasn't in D&D.

In Shadowrun, Dr. Ho was another player favorite, and favorite of mine to play.  He was named for the scientist in the American sentai parody Dynaman.  I played him as a mashup of Egg Shen and Lo Pan.  He owned an underground clinic frequented by shadowrunners and other SINless folk where he used a combination of Eastern and Western medicine and magic.  He was terribly fond of Twinkies, and had trouble with the bioware-heavy PC who would eat far more than her share of his munchies when under his care.  He also had a habit of practially spitting the name of one of the other PCs - "Ess-po-SEET-oh!" as if it were the harshest curse or rebuke in one of the many languages he spoke.  But Dr. Ho was also not in D&D.

My favorite D&D NPC would have to be Aleena Halloran, yes, THAT Aleena.  I don't always care for 2nd editions or re-writes, but when the AD&D Mystara material said Aleena was alive and working with the Order of the Gryphon, I took it and ran with it.  I used Aleena as a middleweight go-between to give the Order of the Gryphon PCs their marching orders and sometimes join the party for a little extra clerical oomph.  I'm glad the 2nd Edition AD&D rewrite made this change, since like many other players who grew up with Menzer Basic I can never forgive Bargle for slaying the beautiful young Cleric who healed my first battle wound.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 13 - Favorite Trap / Puzzle

Before I tell you about my favorite trap or puzzle, let me tell you that I, as a DM,have totally screwed up traps and puzzles and for a few years didn't use them out of embarrassment.

See, I had this group of friends, Dave, Bill and Chris, and we played BECMI D&D.  It was a great high school group, everyone was there to have fun, nobody took the game too seriously or not seriously enough.  I remember we watched the 20/20 episode in which they performed an exorcism before gaming one night.  The early 90s were an interesting time.  

We were all High School Sophomores at this point in time, we met at Dave's house.  Sometimes his dad would show us the .454 Casull he owned.  Sometimes we'd play the crappy PC port of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on their family PC. There was food, comradeship, and just enough D&D to keep us thinking.  It was thinking that led me to building what I thought would be an excellent puzzle.  I had decided to have a series of doors in a teleport trap, but they teleported in and out of the same hallway until you entered them in the right order.  Sort of like the up, left, down, left of the Lost Woods in Zelda.  The trick was the doors were numbered in roman numerals and the correct sequence was the first four Fibonacci numbers.  

Except... I screwed up my notes and got the sequence wrong.  The guys beat their heads into the table trying - CORRECTLY - the sequence the clues led them to.  I got increasingly frustrated that they couldn't figure it out.  When I finally gave up and said "Look, guys, this isn't THAT hard..." they pointed out to me in a rather annoyed fashion that they HAD indeed been entering the doors in the Fibonacci sequence.  My notes, however, had "4" where "5" should have gone and I didn't catch it.  I felt so incredibly stupid I didn't try traps or puzzles for years afterward for fear of making another mistake.

OK, so my favorite trap or puzzle has to be the damn Sphere of Annihilation in Tomb of Horrors.  It's my favorite because it's just to easy to lose and entire damn party to it if they think it's some sort of teleporter.  The trap is just so... well... trappy.  It's an immediate, no save, no resurrection, no reprieve end to your PC, full stop, do not pass go.  It's unfair, it's arbitrary, and it's right frigging there not even that far into the module.  It is the essence of Old School traps.  I love it.  I hate it.

07 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 12 - Favorite Dungeon Type / Location

Dungeons.  You know 'em, you love 'em.  Or at least, if you grew up gaming when I did you probably do.  I mean, it's a significant percentage of the actual name of the game.

I would say my favorite dungeon type was influenced by one of my favorite toys of the 80s.  I grew up with this creative side that was just looking for a reason to express itself.  As a kid, I not only played with my toys, but I constructed elaborate backgrounds and details for them based on the smallest details- like what was on the computer screens of my classic Lego Space sets, or small details about GI Joe or Transformers characters- Skywarp was a cruel practical joker.  Flash had an education in electronics.  As an 8-9 year old, I wanted to know what the hell NATO and the Warsaw Pact were.  Details.  Details.

When I got Castle Grayskull as a birthday present in 1982, the details in the playset got my brain rolling at warp speed.  Compared to more modern, newer playsets the detail is actually a bit sparse.  Inside the castle one finds two floors, an elevator, a throne, some accessory weapons, and a laser cannon along with two battlement floors to let figures stand atop the towers.

The interior of the castle itself is simply the interior mold of the exterior- save some cardstock decorations.  It was these decorations that did the trick.  The image below of the interior of Castle Grayskull can be clicked to expand it to its full size.  Like many other things in the Masters of the Universe toy line, the interior of the castle mixed fantasy and science fiction elements.  The laser cannon is the big give-away, of course, but take a look at those other decorations. 

The view screen hanging from the ceiling- what is it showing us, and why?  Is that Eternia's orbit, or some other far off world from whence technology came to Eternia?  Look at the space suit and life support equipment.  Is it what it appears to be, a space suit?  If so, is it here due to some astronaut arriving and leaving it here, or is it awaiting an occupant to allow them to travel to the planet on the monitor?  Is Castle Grayskull somehow a portal or destination for this other world to travel to Eternia?  It appears to have a wrist-mounted missile, and a laser rifle is standing next to it.  Is it powered armor?  Is there a star soldier inside in suspended animation, ready to come back to life to defend Castle Grayskull from intruders?

The decal inside the jawbridge tells an even more interesting tale.  If Castle Grayskull has been abandoned these many years, why are there live creatures in the dungeon whose tentacles still seek escape?  Are they magical monsters?  Alien creatures?  Who imprisoned them, and why?

Thanks to my fascination with these details, my favorite kind of dungeon in D&D has always been abandoned fortresses like Castle Grayskull.  Xak Tsaroth in Dragonlance would certainly qualify, as would Quasqueton in B1.  I love a good ancient fortress- even better if it is in inexplicably good shape externally despite having been long abandoned.  What secrets hide inside these decrepit walls- and were they built to keep something out, or, like the book/film The Keep, are they there to keep something IN?

I really cherished the opportunity to run a Robotech game set in 1999, when the PCs accompanied CAPT Gloval and Dr. Lang into the wreckage of SDF-1 soon after it crashed on Earth.  I treated the game like a good abandoned fortress dungeon crawl, and it was GREAT.

Someday, I might get REALLY meta, and create a Dungeons & Dragons adventure based on the old Fortress of Fangs playset from LJN.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 11 - Favorite Adventure You Ran

I have run many, many adventures since I began DMing in the 80s.  So many that I'm sure there are more than a few that I no longer recall, either through time or the sad truth that no DM can run wickedly memorable adventures every single time for thirty years.  I've read the entire series run of GI Joe from Marvel, and I assure you for every super-memorable issue, there's another issue I can't recall off the top of my head.  So it is with DMing.

If I have to pick one D&D adventure that was extremely epic, I'd have to pick one that was epic on a couple of levels.  I ran a 3.5 campaign that was incredible.  I had just two players, my wife Mary and my best friend Randi.  Mary played a continuation of the first D&D character she ever created, Cyndi of Kelvin, a fighter and non-canonical daughter of Baron Desmond Kelvin, head of the Order of the Gryphon in Karameikos.  Randi played Illyana, a Traladaran girl of a rogue-type background who leaned more toward the gypsy archetype than the general slavic archetype suggested by the Mystara books.

This was the campaign where I merged Ravenloft into Mystara by connecting the points in the Altan Tepes mountains that form the northern border of Karameikos where it meets Darokin.  I reasoned that the Barovian people in Tracy and Laura Hickman's original I6 - Ravenloft were of a very similar background to the Traladaran people of Mystara.  So, in my version of Mystara, Barovia and Castle Ravenloft were located in those mountains before Strahd's deed caused himself and  his surrounds to form the first realm in the Ravenloft demiplane.  So the Vistani and the Barovians of Ravenloft both descend from the Traladaran people.  Strahd, as a warrior-conqueror-dude seems of a very similar tradition to King Halav, but where Halav became a Traladaran Immortal through his bravery, Strahd achieved an immortality of his own through evil.

So, Cyndi and Illyana had met by chance on the Duke's Road running east from Specularum toward Luln.  A group of black wolves with glowing red eyes chased them into the same area, but before the women could fight their way out- the mists happened.  The mists transported them to Barovia and into Ravenloft.  The REAL campaign started then.  Cyndi and Illyana made friends- some of the best NPC personalities I'd ever created.  They traveled around the Dread Realms, encountering all sorts of ancient evils, including the Death Knight Lord Soth himself and a spirit that occasionally possessed Illyana.  Soth, seeking release from his prison-realm of Sithicus, tried to use Illyana and Cyndi in a bid to destroy Strahd, reasoning that as the first Dread Realm if Barovia somehow fell, the rest of the demiplane might come apart at the seams, dumping its denizens back to their original planes.  Cyndi and Illyana thought they had outsmarted Soth by accepting his offer and his information on how to get into Castle Ravenloft- their intention was simply to escape.

Now, the particular adventure of this campaign that I consider the very best I have ever run occurred during this foray into Ravenloft, and before the PCs and their new allies - including a two NPCs who would become romantically involved with the Illyana and Cyndi - returned to Mystara to thwart Strahd's attempt to invade his old home reality with a mysically summoned conjunction of the realms.

What made this particular adventure so amazing?  Well... it was a perfect storm of awesome.  First, I had a two player group, both of which had a deep investment in their characters and their campaign.  Mary had played Cyndi on and off for eight years, and Randi tends to crawl inside her characters as a matter of course if a campaign lasts long enough.  This allowed a kind of depth I don't often see in our groups.  Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of great players- but running as many games as I do for a game club means entertaining the masses becomes the primary goal.  Shifting groups, larger than optimal groups, factors that sometimes stunt RP opportunities.  In this case, I had two committed players who allowed for a much more detailed world to be drawn around them.  Mary and Randi didn't mind RPing a scene where they were just sitting around a campfire with their NPC allies and talking.  They spoke in character a LOT - which can be an uphill battle with some of our club members.  The stories of Cyndi and Illyana got to be center-stage, rather than any conflict or combat.

Second - the burgeoning relationships in the adventure led to in-game marriage and the first in-game child I've seen born outside a Pendragon campaign.  The NPCs were superb, the players cared deeply for them, and that deepened the story further.

Finally - this particular game session took place in a very special way.  Mary had bought me tickets to the Huey Lewis & The News concert in San Antonio.  They were playing, along with Chicago, at the Verizon Ampitheater.  We got space on the berm.  We arrived early, and played some D&D at the Chili's near the venue, then went on to the concert as early as they would let us in.  We spread out our blanket and pulled the D&D books back out and played until the concert started.  It was incredible.  My wife, my best friend, a great D&D campaign, and my favorite band for my birthday.  Life, that day, couldn't have been any more awesome.  And that's the favorite adventure I ran.

Come to think of it, I tend to remember the campaign as a whole, so it's hard for me to come up with which actual details happened at the concert.  I know it was after the Soth encounter and before the run on Castle Ravenloft to escape back to Mystara...  but the whole day was just such an incredible blur.  Great game.  One of the best.

06 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 10 - Craziest In-Game Experience

This one has to go to Brother Maynard during our mini-campaign at Lost Pines Scout Camp during the summer of 1989-90.  Our DM was our scoutmaster's son, Tim Goorley.  Our scoutmasters were often frustrated with us for spending so much time playing D&D while scouting, so they forced all of us who had not yet made the rank of First Class to go into this program which would gain us everything but the time in grade requirement for First Class over the course of the Lost Pines trip.  I don't particularly recall anything about the trip being that much fun save the D&D, the sailing merit badge classes, and a counselor named John who was awesome, into Lita Ford and G&R, and got bit by a spider.

Every night we played D&D.  Every night.  Until the scoutmasters forced us to turn in.  We had this epic campaign going where we were defending a town from undead, the Golden Grimoire was somehow involved, and the Big Bad we had to fight the night before we went home was some sort of demon.  Well, Br. Maynard was nowhere near powerful enough to do much to a full-on demon straight from AD&D (we were playing BECMI.)  None of us had magic weapons that would do much to it.  We were in trouble.

Br. Maynard quaffed a Haste potion and beat feet back to town to score as much holy water as he could carry from the church, since the only thing we'd thrown at this thing that even tickled it a bit was holy water, and we didn't have much of that.  So off Br. Maynard went at double speed, running for his life and the rest of the party's...

...and then a lucky crit with a +1 blade apparently saved the day before Br. Maynard could make it back to town.  So... battle over.  Day saved.  Game broke up, we packed up the next morning and went home.

On the next regularly scheduled scout campout, we of course played D&D.  Someone jokingly asked "Hey, did Maynard ever stop running?"  

And that's where this story REALLY starts.

For the next twenty damn years, in any D&D game involving anyone who was there, and some folks who just heard the story later, at random moments a Cleric would run through a scene at roughly double speed.  No explanation, just a REALLY fast guy with a warhammer wearing plate.

Then somehow it became a streaking Cleric.  NO IDEA how the armor came off.  Or the arming coat.  Or the underclothes.  And anyway, if he's naked, how the hell does anyone know he's a Cleric?

Time and again, through different groups and different DMs as the Legend of the Streaking Cleric proliferated, poor, cold and exposed Brother Maynard continues to beat feet through Mystara still trying to get that holy water back to his comrades to defeat the demon that was defeated sometime in June of 1989...

<Jack Palance>BELIEVE IT... OR NOT </Jack Palance>

03 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 9 - Favorite PC You'd Like to Play

This is a strange question.  Does this mean a pre-gen, or someone else's PC, or a concept for a character I'd like to play?

If we're talking pre-gen, then my answer is clear.  Let's go back to DL1 Dragons of Despair, the first module in the Dragonlance campaign, published by TSR way back in 1984.

Dragonlance was something new- an epic series of modules and source material that told a deep story and fleshed out a new campaign world, Krynn.  The PCs had the opportunity to quite literally save the world from evil.  The original presentation of the modules included all sorts of immersive information including sheet music for Goldmoon's song and an eventual book that included Krynnish recipes and poetry.  The Companions that would become so familiar from the novels were included here as pre-generated characters for players to use.

I.  Call.  Sturm. 

Sturm Brightblade, the son of a disgraced knight in a waning order of knighthood.  The young man who so stridently upholds the ideals that knighthood once held dear that he surpasses in the eyes of many knights with a more noble pedigree.  He has nothing but the gear he carries and the ancient armor and sword he wears, but he fights to uphold the Code and the Measure.  To dream the impossible dream, right?

That's my choice for a D&D character I'd love to play that I have never had the opportunity to play.  I think he would be a lot of fun and provide some great roleplaying opportunities for a party.

02 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 8 - Favorite PC Of Your Own

Having been tossing dice for 29 years, thinking back over all the characters I've played is an interesting endeavor.  The funny part is that one would think I'd played a lot more PCs than I actually have.  The curse of the Dungeon Master, I suppose, since I started DMing almost immediately after learning what roleplaying games were.

My first memorable character was Brother Maynard of the Holy Outhouse, a BD&D Cleric I played in Daniel Varner's and Tim Goorley's games when I was in Boy Scouts.  I recall his holy symbol being a miniature toilet seat.  We had made some teenage boy jokes about the holiest, most precious thing in a medieval D&D world being decent restroom facilities, and the very loose focus of the BD&D rules on what Clerics actually believed lent to Br. Maynard being quite effective while at the same time being comic relief. 

I'm going to have to answer this one in a two-parter (again) as my absolute favorite PC to play does not qualify, since he is not from a Dungeons & Dragons game.  The PC I have had the most fun with overall is Captain Deak Windsailor, a Corellian smuggler who flew during the Clone Wars for the Corellian Militia.  Deak is a character I played in Bobby Dean's two excellent Star Wars campaigns, and I loved every minute of him.  He was a crusty old veteran who was many times annoyed by the younger rebels with which he associated.  He was prone to showing them how it was done during the Clone Wars.  Deak was captain of a converted Mon Calamari yard tug affectionately known as the Squid Trawler.  He constantly complained that he wanted a proper Corellian ship like any self-respecting Corellian operator, but he had several opportunities to trade up and made many excuses for not leaving the Trawler behind. Many, MANY great adventures were had with Deak, and I hope to play him again some day.

Now, for a proper D&D answer. 

I am currently playing a character named Mikhail Ivanov, Misha to his friends, who is the younger son of the Baron of Luln.  He comes from a Traladaran family of deep roots who have learned to respect Duke Stefan Karameikos and are his stauch allies.  Of course, this puts them at odds with other old Traladaran families who seek to oust the Thyatian upstart and his people, but hey, it's good for the story.   Misha is the first Bard I've ever played in any edition.  As I constructed him on paper, his personality started to form in my mind.  Misha was bookish and affable, always ready with a tall tale or historical epic.  He spend his time in a series of libraries and public houses, and ended up the black sheep of his family.  What his family, who valued martial prowess and brute strength, did not know- was that Misha was at need the Red Dragon, a Zorro-like folk hero of the Traladaran people.

I modeled the Red Dragon on Bruce Campbell's Daring Dragoon from the sadly short-lived television series Jack of All Trades.  Using  his bardic abilities and spellcasting talents, Misha as the Red Dragon was able to pull off all sorts of swashbuckling daring-do while cracking wise and using his taunt cantrip to cutting effect... that is, until the Marilenev family organized an assassination attempt on Duke Stefan, and Misha was killed defending the Duke.

Misha's allies quested for a gem of adequate value to have him brought back, but in the interim, Misha had an encounter with Halav, the patron immortal of the Traladaran people.  King Halav told Misha that he would return to the world to spread the word that Duke Stefan Karameikos was the will of Halav returned to the world, and that Stefan would unite Karameikos and the Traladaran people as Halav had done in his lifetime.  This gave me some ideas on what to do with Misha...

I talked it over with the DM.  We made a couple of changes.  Misha had died having picked up the knowledge bard specialization, we brought him back switching to valor bard.  So Misha returned to the living using the Red Dragon identity less and less - and doing his own fighting more and more.  He now wears a breastplate and carries a longsword, and tells tales of the valor of King Halav and the honorable deeds of Duke Stefan Karameikos.  I can't wait to see where else his story will take him now that they've discovered vampires preying on Luln, and a mysterious mist...