Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 2

Back in March, I reviewed the first year or so of "Unearthed Arcana" columns on the D&D website with an eye for how to use them in a Fifth Edition Freeport: The City of Adventure campaign. This week, I'm doing the same for the April through August 2016 installments.

Gothic Heroes (4/4/2016): The material in this column is designed for a gothic horror campaign such as Ravenloft, but it would also be a good match for the cosmic horror elements of the Freeport setting.

The revenant is a new subrace that represents a character whose unfinished business won't let them stay dead for long. At the GM's discretion, a character who dies during play might return as a revenant, replacing their original subrace with the new subrace's abilities. (I wish that I had had a ready-made option like this when I ran the original Freeport Trilogy under the v.3.0 rules. I had to improvise a way for two fallen characters to complete the final act of the adventure, and this solution would have been far more elegant--and better balanced--than the one I devised.)

This column also includes two new archetypes: the monster hunter for fighters, and the inquisitive for rogues. Both options are good choices for heroes attempting to root out the many evil things hiding in Freeport.

May Dungeon Master's Guild Review (5/9/2016): As with the March 7th column, this one reviews some of the best material being produced through Dungeon Master's Guild (the 5E version of the OGL), rather than offering new material itself. I will just mention one of those offerings here: The Circle of the Beast gives a druid the benefit of an animal companion, an option that was sadly missing from the core rules.

Feats (6/6/2016): This column gives some insight into what makes a good feat in Fifth Edition by giving both bad and good examples of new weapon mastery feats. It then offers some tool-related feats to help give those proficiencies some added interest. All are suitable for Freeport (particularly the Burglar feat!).

Quick Characters (7/25/2016): This column provides tables for quickly rolling up a random 1st-level character, in case you're pressed for time. Except for backgrounds, it limits the options to those given in the Basic Rules to keep things simple as possible. That imposes some definite limits on how useful it would be for a setting like Freeport, which has a rich mix of unusual races and classes.

The Faithful (8/1/2016): This column presents two new options for arcane spellcasters whose faith in the divine is as important as their spellcasting abilities. The Seeker is an otherworldly patron for warlocks who seek knowledge or forgotten lore. Theurgy is an arcane tradition that grants access to a clerical domain, making these wizards just as suitable as priests of gods of magic as a cleric would be. In Freeport, you're bound to find Seeker warlocks and theurgist wizards among the clergy of the gods of knowledge and magic (the latter might not even have, or need, clerics), and possibly in the Wizard's Guild as well.

If Wizards' R&D team continues to deliver columns as intriguing as "Gothic Heroes" and "The Faithful" (not to mention "Waterborne Adventures" and "That Old Black Magic" from my previous review), I may seriously consider converting The Freeport Trilogy--or at least Death in Freeport--to Fifth Edition.  (As if I didn't have enough on my GM plate already!)

#RPGaDay2016: Days 27-31

Day 27: Most unusual circumstance or location in which you've gamed?

I can't think of any that were all that unusual. When I started running The Kynthiad for my wife, we played the first session or two at a picnic table in a local park, but that soon became impractical (too much wind, too public, etc.).

Day 28: Thing you'd be most surprised that a friend had not seen or read?

The original Star Wars trilogy. I was 7 when Episode IV came out in 1977, so it's pretty much always been part of my own mental map. I have a lot of friends who were born after that date, but Star Wars is such a pervasive part of modern American mythology, and my friends are so heavily skewed towards SF fans, that I'm surprised whenever I learn one of them hasn't seen it.

When I worked at the LEGO Store a few years ago, my manager stubbornly refused to watch any of the Star Wars movies because the first one had scared her as a kid. Everything she knew about the franchise was second-hand, which meant she often had to direct customers with any substantial questions about that theme to one of the rest of us.

Day 29: You can game anywhere on Earth, where would you choose?

Indianapolis--specifically at Gen Con. This year's Gen Con was just a couple weeks ago, so that has been very much on my mind lately. I've been to one Gen Con, in 2011, and have been wanting to go back ever since, but scheduling and finances have conspired against it.

Day 30: Describe the ideal game room if the budget were unlimited.

A table large enough for each player's books, dice, notes, and snacks but also for a sizable map. Comfortable seating, with a good view of the table and everyone else. Good lighting, good climate control. Easy access to the kitchen/pantry (for drinks and snacks) and to one or more bathrooms. Lots of sturdy shelving to hold gaming books, miniatures, any useful reference books, and other games (of all types). And because I use LEGO for building minis, plenty of space to store bricks and works in progress, and to display finished models.

Day 31: Best advice you were ever given for your game of choice?

This comes from Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering, by Robin Laws: The primary goal of any RPG is to have fun. Your job as GM is to make your game as entertaining as possible for all participants. And don't sweat it too much: If your players are having fun, and you're having fun, then you're doing it right.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It's full of solid advice on how to go about achieving that primary goal. Players should read it, too--it will help you better appreciate the thought and effort that goes into being a good GM, and much of the advice it offers applies to everyone else at the table, too. I try to reread it at least once a year or so, just to keep Robin's advice fresh in my head.

Friday, August 26, 2016

#RPGaDay#2016: Days 24-26

Day 21: Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group?
Day 22: Supposedly random game events that keep recurring?
Day 23: Share one of your best "Worst Luck" stories.

I've fallen behind this week, and will have to go back to these three later, if I find time.

Day 24: What is the game you are most likely to give to others?

If you count any kind of game, then it would probably be Apples to Apples. It has a broad appeal, so most of my non-gamer friends and family like it, too. (Of course, most of the people I'd play it with own their own copy by now...)

If you limit it to RPGs...well, I don't often gift gaming books, so there's no one system I'm most likely to give. Most recently, I've given a couple of OneDice games to my kids: OneDice Raptors to my dinosaur-crazy daughter for her birthday birthday, and OneDice Fantasy to my son for his.

Day 25: What makes for a good character?
  • An engaging character concept--one that you'll have fun playing, and that will be fun for the other players, too. 
  • Enough mastery of the rules to make that idea work within the system. 
  • Skills and abilities that complement the rest of the party, meaning that the character offers something useful that the other PCs don't have (or don't have enough of). 
  • Enough flexibility to change and grow as the story, campaign, or party require. 
Day 26: What hobbies go well with RPGs?
  • Painting and drawing, to help visualize the world and its characters. And to paint minis, if you're so inclined.
  • An interest in fantasy, science fiction, and others genres related to the games you play. 
  • Cooking, to feed the players during session. Most of my regular group meets before game time to have a meal together first.
  • Knitting and cross-stitch. My crafty friends like having something more productive to do with their hands than rattle dice and shuffle character sheets. And these two hobbies are far less distracting and disruptive than, say, web-surfing or playing a game on your phone when your character isn't the focus of attention.
  • LEGO toys, because they're great for making minis. But you knew that already, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

D&D 5E with the Kids, Part 4

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

This was a relatively short session to finish off Tresendar Manor and plan for some upcoming side quests.

(Obligatory spoiler warning for "Lost Mine of Phandelver")

Once the bugbears were defeated, the nothic was distracted by this new supply of fresh meat. The party left it to feed while they explored the rest of the cellar. They found an unconscious goblin in the bugbears' room, so tied it up and left it there for now.

The dwarf cleric, Bahli, heard confused noises coming from the next room, so the party prepared to move in. Starfright (dragonborn barbarian) and Gybrush (human wizard) moved to the door n the opposite side of that room, then the party burst in. The room held four Redbrands who had heard enough noise to prepare for trouble, but who had been drinking too much to provide much resistance. Bahli promptly took down one ruffian, Starfright wounded two with her acid breath, and Gybrush's sleep spell put two to sleep. That left just one thug, who had been trying to pocket the money from their gambling while his fellows fought. He immediately surrendered, begging for mercy. The PCs gave him the same offer as George and John (leave town, find honest work, and never come back), He gladly accepted, and was dubbed "Paul." The party tied up the two sleeping Redbrands and locked them in the bugbears' room while they finished searching the dungeon.

Battle with the last few Redbrands

The wizard's laboratory held many books of interest to Gybrush, including one dwarven tome that mentioned a magic weapon lost when Phandelver was overrun. The wizard pocketed the most valuable magical supplies here, and planned to move the rest of the lab and books later.

While he was perusing this library, Starfright went in search of her "friend," the nothic. It had retreated to the crevasse in the cave to lick its wounds, and was now hostile. It seriously injured her with its rotting gaze attack, so she retreated to find Bahli for some healing. The party went to look for the monster, who also hurt Sothleene (human rogue) with its gaze. (Gybrush, distracted by arcane loot, didn't join them until the ghastly-looking barbarian came to yell at him to help.) The nothic soon found itself at a disadvantage in the crevasse when the part started targeting it with ranged attacks, so it climbed out the far side and fled. The party caught up with it in the storeroom through which they had entered the cellar, and a well-aimed bolt from Caboose (gnome bard) finished it off before it could injure anyone else.

Several party members needed healing, and the casters were pretty much all out of spells, so they moved the nothic's body and camped out in this first room. This also gave Gybrush time to study Glasstaff's staff of defense and attune himself to it.

When the PCs returned to their search in the morning, they found the goblin missing and the two Redbrand prisoners dead, with their throats cut. This disturbed them a great deal, and made them regret not questioning all three captives when they had the chance.

The party then searched Glasstaff's room. They found a small chest of coins and gems, as well as many papers stacked on the dead wizard's desk. These revealed that Glasstaff was actually Iarno Albrek, the missing Lord's Alliance agent who Sildar Hallwinter was seeking. They also found a letter from the Black Spider ordering Iarno to keep a watch out for friends of the dwarves; this made it clear that the Spider was aware of the party.

The heroes returned to town and told Sildar what they had found and accomplished in the manor's ruins. He gave them a reward for dealing with the Redbrand problem, and offered another if they could find Cragmaw Castle and defeat or drive off the goblinoids' chief. This castle is where Sildar believes Gundren Rockbreaker was taken, so the party already had strong motivation to find it. He suggested that if they can track down other goblin patrols or raiding bands, they might learn its location from any prisoners they take.

Marta Dendrar, the townswoman whom the party had freed from the Redbrands, found them soon after their return. She was grateful for their help, but unable to offer any thanks more than her words. She did, however, tell them of the hiding place of a family heirloom (an emerald necklace) that had been left behind when her family fled the village of Thundertree during an attack by undead.

The party now has three side quests to finish while they seek out the location of Cragmaw Castle: dealing with orc raiders near Wyvern Tor; investigating reports of undead near Old Owl Well; and searching Thundertree for the lost necklace. They plan to do them in that order, with a visit to the town of Conyberry on the way to Thundertree.

The party should reach 3rd level after their first side quest, so I expect the next session to consist of that encounter followed by working out advancement.

[Edited 12/8/2016 to add photo.]

Monday, August 22, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Days 18-20

(Time to do a little catch up...)

Day 18: What innovation could RPG groups benefit most from?

I'm not sure how to answer this one, so I'm going to have to pass.

Day 19: Best way to learn a new game?

Find a GM who knows the rules, can explain them clearly before and during play, and who can present an interesting adventure regardless of what the system is.

If you're going to be playing for more than just a few sessions, then you really should acquire your own copy of the rulebook and read it. Your GM, no matter how good they are, can't always cover everything you'll want or need to know, so being able to look up rules yourself will help you master the game faster. This will also free up some of the GM's time and energy for other parts of the game experience besides teaching.

Day 20: Most challenging but rewarding system you have learned?

I've been gaming for long enough, and have good enough reading skills, that I rarely have to struggle to learn a RPG. Those few times that I have, it's hurt my enjoyment of the game. The games with the longest learning curves that I've enjoyed enough to play long term were probably D&D Third Edition and Earthdawn.

(Days 21-22 coming soon!)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

LEGO Minifigures Series 16

LEGO Minifigures Series 16 was released this month, and once again the theme hits the high marks for originality that I've come to expect of these series. The more specialized licensed Minifigures series (The Simpsons, The LEGO Movie, Disney) rarely have many characters that I want to collect, but these regular numbered series pretty consistently include 50%-75% that I would consider must-haves, and rarely have more than a couple that I'm completely indifferent to. 

Babysitter: The baby minifigure was introduced in the recent Fun in the Park set, but here it gets the added detail of a printed bib. It is composed of only two pieces, the head and body. (The yellow hands are produced by two-color molding). The babysitter comes with a cute shirt printed with a bespectacled pug's face--a detail that will make her appealing to many dog fans who might otherwise pass on the baby figure.

Banana Guy: This figure falls into the same general category as Series 13's Hot Dog Man, with a single large piece defining the costume. It's a must-have if you collect the silly costumes featured throughout this theme, but it's not a part that can easily be used anywhere else.

Cute Little Devil: This is one of my two favorites in this series. The wings are the same as the Series 14 Gargoyle's, but in red. The figure also comes with a horned hood and a barbed tail. A D&D imp can be made by substituting in a scarier head, such as the devil heads from the old Monsters 4 LEGO Game. Alternately, build a Medium-sized devil by putting the horns, wings, and tail on one of the red-skinned villains from Nexo Knights, or one of the red-skinned Uruk-Hai from The Lord of the Rings theme.

Cyborg: This character has detailed circuitry on her face, arms, legs, and chest plate, making her very distinctive from all previously produced cyborgs or robots. If you're not running a SF game, then her silver-streaked blue hair might still be a useful piece, particularly for an aquatic elf or Pathfinder gnome or undine.

Desert Warrior: This character is a fairly simple, but very nicely detailed, Arabian warrior, suitable for a palace or harem guard, or a flashy street tough. The mostly bare torso would work well for a musclebound hero from a wide range of eras.

Dog Show Winner: The terrier (whose feet conceal two anti-studs) is a new part, as is the owner's groomed hair. This minifigure was a big hit with my son, who adores any kind of cute LEGO animal.

Hiker: The hiker comes with a new backpack design, messy hair (in a new color from its appearance in Fun in the Park), and a neat little compass printed on a 1x1 clear tile. His map is labelled "Greeble Trail," which refers to extra details built onto the surface of a model to give it a more interesting appearance.

Ice Queen: This is my other favorite from this series. She has a standard slope-brick skirt, aqua head and hands, and a white fabric cloak and collar with silver spots printed on one side. Her trans-blue tiara is a new design, somewhat chunkier than the standard gold tiara normally used with this hair piece (which is in snow-white for the first time). She shoots twin rays of frost from her hands; these are Ninjago energy swords mounted on handles consisting of a small bar joined to a stud. (I'm not sure if these handles are new to this set or not; they also appear in Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, also released this month. The Scarlet Witch, in the previously released Superhero Airport Battle, seems to have the same, or very similar, parts.)

Kickboxer: This character is the female counterpart to the boxer from Series 5, and has the same red boxing gloves and helmet. This figure, however, also comes with hair, plus a 1x1 cylinder brick to mount the helmet on when not being worn.

Mariachi: This figure uses the same handlebar mustache as the Series 13 sheriff, and the sombrero from Taco Tuesday Guy (The LEGO Movie Minifigures), both in black for the first time. However, the real gem here is his guitar: after years with only electric guitars available, we finally get an acoustic one!

Penguin Boy: This minifigure has flippers like those from the Shark Suit Guy from Series 15. To turn him into a giant penguin mini, simply remove the ice skates and substitute a blank white head (or one turned backwards).

Rogue: This figure has a high degree of detail, done in a combination of printing and two-part injection molding. The best example of this is the short red cloak printed on his torso being continued over the arm by molding the shoulder in matching plastic. He also has a very nice hood with attached facemask. After all those nice touches, it's almost disappointing that his quiver and bow are just the standard Castle accessories.

Scallywag Pirate: At first glance, this pirate doesn't seem that different from any other in the Pirates theme. However, his pants are two-colored plastic with painted stripes, he has an anchor tattoo on his arm, the map is a new tile design, and his headband includes a bald pate.

Spooky Boy: This pale-skinned, one-fanged vampire kid has a very emo expression. He comes with a book titled "Spooky Tales," a pet spider, and a shirt with a LEGO skeleton skull. This character was an instant favorite for my preteen proto-goth daughter, who also adored Series 12's Spooky Girl.

Spy: The spy's jumpsuit has some nice printed details, but his most distinctive feature is his hair, which includes small divots for attaching a visor. This is the first such hairpiece the LEGO Group has produced, and it would also work very nicely with parts such as the goggles from an aviator's helmet.

Wildlife Photographer: This minifigure comes with a parka and snow pants that make use of two-color molding. She also has a two-sided head, one face with goggles and the other with one eye shut to look through her camera (which gains a zoom lens by attaching a 1x1 round plate with a hole in the stud). The best part of this character, though, is the penguin. The stud on its back begs to be used for something crazy, like giving it wings or a jetpack!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Days 15-17

Day 15: Your best source of inspiration for RPGs?

I don't have one "best" source of inspiration, but draw from a broad range of sources: RPG sourcebooks, novels, movies, comics, mythology, history, and art. Just to give an example, I run a solo BESM game for my wife that is set in the heroic age of Greece. The primary source for that game is Greek and Roman mythology, so I've drawn from retellings of those myth in prose, fiction, film, and comics, as well as nonfiction histories and RPG sourcebooks about Greece and neighboring cultures of the period. I've also poked around various online sites such as Wikipedia,, and Greek Mythology Link to mine them for ideas to work into the game. I've also taken ideas from artwork related to Greek history and mythology, whether it's an image from one of the sources I've already mentioned, something I find by browsing Pinterest or deviantART, or an intriguing piece I see in person at a museum.

Day 16: Historical person you'd like in your group? What game?

Gary Gygax. I met him once at a book signing back in 1993, and have always been curious what it must have been like to be a apart of one of his games.  He was promoting Dangerous Journeys: Mythus at the time I met him, but the obvious system to play with him would be AD&D (1E or 2E).

Day 17: What fictional character would best fit in your group?

Daphne, from The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. A smart woman gamer who puts effort into mastering the rules, can build interesting and effective characters, enjoys role-playing, gives constructive feedback to her GM, and doesn't suffer fools gladly? What's not to like?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Days 13-14

Day 13: What makes a successful campaign?

I mentioned on Day 12 that I was in the process of wrapping up one campaign and gearing up for another, so this question is on my mind quite a lot right now. In no particular order, here are some factors that help make a campaign successful. You don't meed to meet all of them to have a good game, but they all contribute, and missing too many of them can keep a game from being as satisfying as it could be.

  1. Players who are dedicated to playing long-term. Everyone has scheduling issues now and then, but players who make the time to keep playing the same game as regularly as possible help keep the momentum going.
  2. Players and a GM who know the system well, or who can at least steadily improve their mastery during play. 
  3. A good match between the system and what the characters are expected to do in game. If the system doesn't support the primary activity you have in mind, you should consider other systems that do. 
  4. The players need to feel that their characters' choices matter. Heroes are there to make a difference, after all. And even the less heroic PCs need to have a stake in what they're doing.
  5. Memorable NPCs, including both major allies and villains as well as the occasional recurring minor role. NPCs make the world come alive for the players, and the more of an impression a given NPC makes, the better (and longer) they will recall that part of the story.
  6. A variety of challenges, rather than just more of the same. Changes of pace help maintain interest, and allow different characters or skills their own turns to shine.
  7. A fair and consistent GM. Apply the rules consistently, and if you do decide that you need to change how you usually do or interpret something, make sure the players know why so that they can be on board with it. (Spring surprises on them in game all you want, but not in how you implement the rules.)
  8. Characters with enough background to give the GM some hooks to use in game. You don't necessarily need to know your PCs's entire history, but a few interesting details will give you a starting point for roleplaying, and make it easier for the GM to give you ties to what's going on now.  Also, be open to collaborating with the GM to adding new background details now and then so that future plot hooks can be worked in.
I'm surely forgetting some critical ingredients, so I welcome suggestions in the comments!

Day 14: Your dream team of people you used to game with?

In no particular order:
  • Katie Rahhal, whose praises I sang here.
  • Eric Reuss, who creates very rich settings and detailed NPCs for the games he runs. I never had as many opportunities to play with him when we were still local to each other as I would have liked.
  • Anne Cross, who played in my 3-year-long GURPS fantasy campaign.
  • David Helms, who ran multiple long D&D campaigns that I played in.
That list does not include Erika Emrick, or Seanna and Chris LoBue, because I still game with them regularly, as I have been for most of two decades. But a true dream team of my gaming friends would be incomplete without those three.

Friday, August 12, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Day 12

Day 12: What game is your group most likely to play next? Why?

Next up is my homebrew "Time of the Tarrasque" Pathfinder game.

We're currently wrapping up my current Freeport campaign (my third!), and my wife Erika has started running the next section of her episodic Pathfinder campaign for us. I'm also running some D&D 5E for the kids, and continuing The Kynthiad, the solo BESM game that I run for Erika.

But "Time of the Tarrasque" is the next long-term campaign for the main group. We've all been looking forward to starting this one for over a year now, and we finally will sometime this fall. Huzzah!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Day 11

Day 11: Which gamer most affected the way you play?

I GM more often than I play a PC, so the easy answer here is my wife, Erika, who has played in more of my games over the past 20 years than anyone else has. Our tastes in games are very similar (and similarly eclectic) and she's never afraid to give me feedback about what she liked and didn't like about a given game or session.

But if I limit my answer to how I play when I'm not GMing, then answering the question becomes much more difficult--I've known a great number of players and GMs in the 30+ years I've been playing RPGs.

The character who I've most enjoyed playing, and one who I've played longer than most, is Trick Tillinghast, from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer game run by Katie Hallahan (now Rahhal). "The Shadowgard Files" was a high school spin-off of Autumn Riordan's "Grey Angels" series, in which I had originally introduced Trick as my college-aged PC's younger cousin. I had played Baz as pretty much me (if I had been a half-demon mage, that is) but Trick--a snarky, impetuous, lovesick musician and fencer--was a much bigger stretch to role-play. But she was a great deal of fun, and Katie did an excellent job of providing opportunities for her to shine--and to occasionally (nay, frequently) crash and burn spectacularly.  Katie is also the most patient GM I have ever had, because she put up with Trick's more obnoxious side, too, which at times alienated her from numerous characters (both NPCs and PCs). Katie always did her best to find a way to keep the story moving, and in ways that pointed Trick back to becoming a more responsible, connected member of the local hero community. Sadly, we never got to finish the redemption arc that Trick had started on at the end, because the joint SF/GA campaign was shelved for a number of reasons. But she had finally discovered her life's true calling, and was set upon the path to embracing it: fighting alongside other champions to keep the world safe, and training the new generation of heroes how to do the same. (If only her love-life was so straightforward, she'd be the happiest girl in all of Shadowgard!)

Playing Trick did a lot to define (and refine) how I approach the hero's calling as a player. Much of Trick's "Protector of the Small" mindset (she adored Tamora Pierce's Kel books) informs characters that I've played in other systems and settings since then. The most obvious example of this is my obsidiman warrior, Catcher, in my wife's Earthdawn campaign. His entire purpose in life is defending those who can't defend themselves--without any of the emotional melodrama that colored Trick's career.

D&D 5E with the Kids, Part 3

(Part 1) (Part 2)

My run of "Lost Mine of Phandelver" has resumed after delays due in large part to my kids being away at their grandparents' for half the summer. This week's column is actually a summary of three sessions. My son had a school trip the weekend that the rest of us met to play out the the party reaching and exploring the town of Phandalin, so I ran a short solo session for him to catch up before the party took on their next major conflict.

(Obligatory spoiler warning for "Lost Mine of Phandelver")

The party finally arrived in Phandalin and received their payment for bringing supplies to Barthen Provisions. They also took the stolen goods from the goblin lair to the Lionshield Coster, and were rewarded for returning them to their rightful owner. At the Coster, they were warned about the Redbrands, a gang of ruffians who have been causing trouble in town recently.

The adventurers then took rooms in the Stonewall Inn. The gnome bard, Caboose, parlayed his skills as an entertainer into room and board for himself, and devoted the rest of the day to that activity. 

Bahli (dwarf cleric), Gybrush (human wizard), and Starfright (dragonborn barbarian) went to the town hall to learn more about this Redbrand trouble. The townmaster evaded their questions, trying to downplay the threat the gang posed, but the PCs saw through his cowardice and promised to deal with the ruffians. While at the hall, they also learned of a reward to get rid of some orc raiders near Wyvern Tor.

These three heroes then confronted some Redbrands at the Sleeping Giant tap house. They handily dealt with the four members of the gang there, sparing one (who was dubbed "George") to question about their organization. He told them that there are at least a dozen more members of the gang, and that they were hired by someone known as "The Black Spider." Bahli then offered the prisoner his freedom, on the conditions that he find leave town and find honest employment; otherwise, he would feel the cleric's full wrath. George agreed readily--he couldn't safely stay in town after spilling his guts anyway. Bahli sent him on his way with a handful of coppers to buy food until he reached the next town.

(The players now fully expect to run into George later on, whether he's backslid into crime or run afoul of some monster. There are a number of places in the adventure that I could work this in quite easily.)

Meanwhile, Sothleene (human rogue) assumed her false identity of a minor noblewoman and explored the town on her own. She started by talking to the staff and patrons of the Stonewall Inn, learning the various rumors and leads that the other PCs had not yet taken the time to find. She visited Sister Garaele at the Shrine of Luck, and Halia Thornton at the Miner's Exchange, but was a bit too clumsy in her attempts to extract more information to gain either NPC's confidence. 

She had better luck at Alderleaf Farm, where she talked to the boy Carp about the secret cave entrance he had discovered near Tresendar Manor. Sothleene then visited Daran Edermath, a retired adventurer, who gladly opened up to her once he learned she was interested in doing something about the Redbrands, and had friends in town who could help her. Daran informed her that the gang's safehouse was under Tresendar Manor and their leader is called "Glasstaff." He also told her of some trouble that had been reported around Old Owl Well, located a couple days to the east: something has been digging around the ruins, and prospectors have been chased off by undead. Daran fears that some dangerous magic from the ancient Netheril empire might still remain there, and encouraged her to look into it. 

Finally, the rogue visited the town hall, and learned her companions had been there earlier in the day. She learned about the orc bounty then she returned to the inn to find her party. Once they were also together again, Bahli, Gybrush, and Starfright told the bard and rogue about their fight with the Redbrands, and the rather comic story of setting George free to reform. Sothleene also shared what she had learned. The heroes agreed that they wanted to investigate Old Owl Well and Wyvern Tor, but that dealing with the Redbrands was a more urgent matter. If they dealt with the gang, then the town would be a safer place for them and for everyone else, and it would be a solid start to building their reputations here.

After a good night's rest, the party decided to investigate the ruins of Tresendar Manor before looking for the cave Carp had found. They easily found the stairs to the cellars, and entered, finding a storeroom with a couple exits. They chose a door, and found a hallway with a pit trap that Bahli narrowly avoided falling into. The fallen stones left a narrow ledge on either side of the trap, so with some rope and strong backs, the PCs helped each other safely cross to the other side. 

The hallway led to a crypt where the party fought some skeletons. They found a small jail room adjoining this one, and quickly took out the two Redbrands inside. The ruffians had been guarding three prisoners: the wife and two children of Thel Dendrar, a Phandalin woodcarver murdered by the gang. The party escorted them out of the manor, then returned to the cellar to explore further. 

The dwarf cleric (center, with hammer) turns 2 of the 3 skeletons in the crypt.
They attempted to rest in the first storeroom, but this time they made too much noise and alerted the three Redbrands who were just beyond the other door. They dispatched two of the ruffians quickly, the offered the same deal to the last man as they had to George. The terrified Redbrand surrendered and fled. That left this part of the cellar clear for them to rest in. 

After recovering a bit, they set about searching for secret doors, as they had found and explored all the obvious ones. While doing so, Starfrifght found a hidden satchel with clothes, money, and potions, which she concluded was a getaway stash for someone in the gang--probably someone far more cunning than the common thugs they had encountered so far. Eventually, they found a secret door that led to a sizable natural cavern, split by a crevasse spanned by two small wooden bridges. 

In this cavern, they encountered a bizarre monster, roughly humanoid but covered with spines and having only a single large eye (a nothic). It spoke to them telepathically, and seemed obsessed with its own hunger. They offered to bring it food, and returned with the bodies of the two jail guards. This, and a further bribe of a couple tiny gems, put it in a friendly mood, and they learned that the monster had been tasked with guarding this chamber by the mage who led the Redbrands.

While the creature continued its meal, the party proceeded down one of the passages on the far side of the crevasse. Here they found a wizard's workshop, with a great deal of alchemical equipment and texts. Gybrush determined that the owner had been trying to brew potions of invisibility but had not yet succeeded. While the party searched the room, and listened at the door on the far side, a rat scurried out from under the lab table and out the door they had entered. Gybrush warned the others that the rat was almost certainly a familiar, and that its master now knew they were here. 

They opened the next door quickly, finding the enemy wizard's bed chamber but no wizard. Instead, a secret door on the far wall had been left ajar in his haste to escape, and they heard running footsteps beyond it. The secret door led to a short passage back to the cavern, through which the wizard now fled. The party split up, some to follow the enemy's path and some to retrace their own steps. The PCs reached the cavern as the wizard--obviously the gang leader "Glasstaff," because he carried a glass staff--fled through it. They soon learned that his staff was enchanted with defensive magics, including the shield spell, which foiled their first few attempts to attack him.

Starfright, who had taken a liking to the weird one-eyed monster here, tried to beg its help in catching Glasstaff. However, the wizard ordered the nothic to destroy them, so her request seemed hopeless. However, it did not immediately leave off its feasting, so the party was able to continue their pursuit. They caught up to the wizard in the storeroom at the bottom of the stairs to the surface. Glasstaff used a couple misty step spells to escape their reach, so was first to the stairs. However, he was out of his most powerful spells by now, and the bard hit him with a hideous laughter spell. This magic incapacitated him, and he spent the last few seconds of his life cackling madly about how utterly doomed he was.

The evil mage (incapacitated by the gnome's spell) falls beneath the rogue's rapier and the barbarian's battleaxe.
While most of the party pursued Glasstaff, Gybrush had fallen victim to a hold person spell and had been left behind. He soon broke free of the spell, but rather than chase after his friends, he decided to explore another hallway leading out of the cavern. He found a room with three bugbears, but was able to cast grease outside the door before they could attack him. This slowed them down long enough for Bahli, who had turned back to retrieve the missing mage, to arrive. Gybrush made an impassioned plea to the nothic to help them fight the bugbears. He rolled exceptionally well on a Charisma check, so the creature joined the heroes' side (for the moment, at least). The nothic took several hard blows, but it and Bahli gave back several of their own. After a few rounds, Starfright arrived on the scene and was overjoyed to see the nothic helping her friends. Sothleene also returned, handed the dead mage's glass staff to Gybrush, then added her sword to the fight. Caboose brought up the rear of the reinforcements, just before the last bugbear went down.

The wizard and the nothic face off against three bugbears (two of whom are still trying to get past the grease spell).
Time constraints forced us to stop once that long battle was finally over. The party has a couple last rooms left to clear, then can finish searching the wizard's lair in earnest, which will finish off Part 2 of the adventure. This session puts them about halfway to 3rd level. The side quests and wandering monsters in Part 3 should give them enough XP to get there before they find Cragmaw Castle, where they believe their friend Gundren Rockseeker was taken.

A better look at the minifigures for the nothic and Glasstaff.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Days 9-10

Day 9: Beyond the game, what is involved in an ideal session?

A comfortable gaming space, with enough room for everyone's character sheets, books, and dice, plus any map and minis needed. Snacks and drinks close at hand, and a bathroom nearby. But most of all, players and a GM who know the rules well, and know each other well enough to play off of each other's strengths (and weaknesses, when appropriate).

Day 10: Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

Many years ago, I ran "Winter Holiday," a AD&D 2nd edition adventure from Polyhedron Newszine. The adventure is rather silly to start with--it's built around a parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas"--so I encouraged players to embrace character ideas that would be fun to play over being optimized for combat. One of my players threw himself fully into the role of his fabulously fey elven enchanter, Fabio, who relied far more on his charming personality than his spells.

When the party opened the door to the final encounter, where the trio of NPCs responsible for all the trouble were ready and waiting for them, Fabio immediately broke out into such a florid, campy, improvised speech introducing himself and his friends, that the rest of the table fell silent just to watch how long he could keep going. When he finally wound down, I declared that, "Wow, they are completely taken by surprise by that speech! Roll initiative." I don't think any of us remember a single detail of how the fight went after that, because none of it could compare to that moment.

Monday, August 8, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Days 7-8

Day 7: What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?

I would have to say the friendships that I've made and/or deepened through gaming together. My current gaming group includes my wife and her best friend, both of whom I've known and gamed with regularly for 20 years, and that friend's husband, who we've known for at least half that long. Our two more recent recruits are friends we made through church, but a shared enthusiasm for RPGs was a key factor in getting to know them better.

Day 8: Hardcover, softcover, digital? What is your preference?

Hardcover, with a few caveats. I vastly prefer to read print copies; the physical object is more satisfying to read, and easier on my eyes. That said, I do appreciate having electronic copies for ease of reference when traveling (or any other time that pulling out several bulky books isn't convenient). As far as covers go, I prefer hardcover for long-term use, as they are usually more durable--but for smaller books (like modules or the shorter splatbooks), softcover is usually easier to use in play.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016: Days 1-6

As happened last year, I got wind of this a little late to start from Day 1, so here are the first six questions, with my answers.

Day 1: Real Dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to 'roll'?

Real dice. Tossing a handful of dice onto the table is so much more satisfying than pushing a button. I especially like rolling dice in Earthdawn, because if your character is really good at something, you roll multiple dice and add them. And there's a chance for each die to explode, meaning if you roll the maximum number on a die, you roll that die again and add it to the total.

Day 2: Best game session since August 2015?

February 12, 2016: The girallon boss fight in my Pathfinder Freeport campaign. The party had to find and deal with a new leader among the girallons and kech of Gorilla Island, who posed a serious threat to the peaceful vanara. The party fought their way past bat-riding kech and a vaguely ape-like guardian daemon before facing off with the girallon priestess. Then, after the shaman fell, they had to fight the even tougher baregara (a demonic ape) that had been possessing her. It was a good, satisfying, tough fight all around--with a CR well above their character level--and my description of the fiend manifesting from the dead ape's blood was a nicely gruesome detail that they won't soon forget.

Day 3: Character moment you are proudest of?

Once, in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game, the heroes traveled to Tir na n'Og to rescue the Slayer PC's little sister, who had been kidnapped by fairies as a baby. Each PC could make one request, then face a challenge from Queen Mab in order to win the desired boon. The Slayer faced a challenge for her sister's freedom, but then we learned the sister had one good friend in this world, another stolen human child who had also been raised here as a slave. This other girl had nobody to help her, and my character (Trick, the Slayer's best friend) had nothing she wanted for herself, so she offered to face a challenge to free Sheila. Trick was a fencer, so had to duel the queen's champion to first blood. She was very quick--and very lucky!--and won.

When the gang got back home, Trick begged her parents (who had only recently learned about their daughter's dangerous "extracurriculars") to let Sheila stay with them while they figured out what to do with her. Her parents readily agreed, and when it became clear that Sheila had no family to return to, they acted as her foster parents and eventually adopted her. Trick, an only child, found gaining a sister to be an unexpected responsibility--and a blessing, as Sheila provided her with some much-needed focus and inspiration. Trick had never done anything so completely selfless as saving Sheila--and it was the first time her parents actually approved of her heroics without any reservations--so she always considered that to be her own best moment.

Day 4: Most impressive thing another character did?

I've been running occasional RPGs for my kids for the past few years now. In a 1st-level Pathfinder adventure, my son's sorceress ended up being the last PC standing against a goblin fighter/rogue. These two had a running battle through the goblins' hideout as the sorceress narrowly dodged attack after attack from the leader, while casting acid splash over and over again. Her amazing luck held out long enough to plink the leader to death without getting hit once in return (which could have been instantly fatal). It turned an imminent TPK into a resounding victory.

Day 5: What story does your group tell about your character?

Oh boy, there are so many they could tell about Trick, both good and bad. (She was quite the wild child!) Gods, trickster spirits, and other meddlesome entities put in appearances with an alarming rate in that game, and the PC and NPC cast included a somewhat absurd number of divinely-empowered champions. At one point, Trick became a Maenad, a champion of Dionysus, but later regretted her decision and wanted to get free of the god. She happened to be friends with the trickster god Raven, who tried to intervene on her behalf with a bit of reality-alteration magic. That backfired badly: instead of making her Raven's champion, she ended up as Puck's. Raven couldn't undo the spell without Puck's consent, so Trick had to persuade the other trickster to give her up. While bitching at Raven for his latest screw-up, she had discovered that his interest in her made him very sensitive to her moods: her tantrum gave him a splitting headache. When she threatened Puck with similarly loud and stubborn resistance. he grudgingly released her and reality reset. Ironically, this debacle gave her the courage to stand up to Dionysus directly. When she did so, and her refused to free her, she recklessly attacked him rather than submitting. This display of spirit finally impressed him enough to grant her a way out--at a price.

Day 6: Most amazing thing a game group did for their community?

I have not belonged to any gaming group that has helped the community as a gaming group, but I do know a number of gamers (mostly professional acquaintances) who have played in charity game nights for various causes.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Disney Minifigures

The latest wave of collectible LEGO minifigures is the Disney Minifigures series. (Like The Simpsons and The LEGO Movie licensed minifigures, this series is not numbered.) I was only interested in acquiring a handful of these characters for my collection, so this review will be shorter then my others of this type. The seven characters I have purchased to date include:

Aladdin: Aladdin looks the part, and would make a good generic street urchin character in an Arabian-flavored game. His skin is a light brown, a rare ethnic color for minifigures. His hair and fez are a single piece, which makes using this part for another character problematic. Finally, he comes with the magic lamp, but since the Genie gets this part, too, it would have been nice to include Abu instead.

Alice: The Alice minifigure is very faithful to the Disney animated film, and quite pleasing to a Lewis Carroll fan like myself. She comes with a pleated skirt (a hard plastic piece that fits over the hip pegs), a bottle labeled "Drink Me," and a small cake tile (which, sadly, does not read "Eat Me"). Many years ago, I ran Gary Gygax's D&D adventure Dungeonland, and I hope to run another Wonderland-based game some day. When I do, this Alice minifigure will definitely be making a cameo.

Cheshire Cat: Though the Cheshire Cat isn't exactly a biped, the Disney version blurred that line, and this minifigure allows him to be a posable character who can hold accessories (though he comes with none). His tail is rubber and fits over the hip pegs (as do Donalds and Daisy's stubby duck-tails and Alice and Minnie's skirts). The fact that he can be disassembled begs for someone to build a diorama of him mid-vanishing!

Maleficent: Maleficent comes with a sloped skirt-brick, a two-piece cloak, a magic staff, and a helmet with her trademark horns. This headpiece is perfect for building a tiefling or half-dragon character. This evil fairy is easily my favorite character of the series.

Mr. Incredible: This character is fine, but doesn't seem to properly convey Mr. Incredible's pudginess or strength. The hairpiece, with its widow's peak and curled forelock, is a unique piece.

Syndrome: Syndrome, on the other hand, is a perfect match to his character. I bought him mostly for his delightfully spiky orange hair, which I intend to use for an ifrit or other fiery monster.

Ursula: Ursula's black body is a single piece, with pegs to hold the torso in place. The torso is painted black to match, making it useful as a bodice for a goth minifigure with legs. Her tentacles also fit into a smaller space than those of the Atlantis theme's Squid Warrior or Alien Conquest's Alien Emperor/Empress, making her easier to use for a Medium-sized Pathfinder cecaelia than those earlier characters. (I did not buy Ariel because I already have several mermaids with this tail type, but her red hair is unique and may convince me to change my mind later.)

In addition to these characters, I will probably buy the Genie next, because my next long RPG campaign will start in an Arabian-flavored setting. I already own the two genies that appeared in earlier Minifigures series, but the Disney one has a unique bald headpiece with pointed ears. If only it had appeared earlier, I could have used this part for an undine or marid in my Freeport campaign!

I'm also considering Peter Pan and Captain Hook, even though my pirate-based game is about to wrap up. Peter would make a good elf or oversized pixie in most settings. One of the previous Minifigures series included a Fairy that would make a decent (if huge) Tinkerbell.

For a much more exhaustive review of the entire series, see the Brothers Brick blog here. They have also reviewed the Series 16 Minifigures, due out this month. (The online LEGO Shop lists them as "Sold Out," but I have yet to see Series 16 in local stores.) As usual, my "must-have" list already covers about half that series, and I expect that between myself, my wife, and my two children, we will collect almost all of the others, too.