Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Some Big Anniversaries as a Game Master

2017 brings three significant anniversaries for me as a Game Master.

First, I have been running RPGs for my kids (now 13 and 11) since sometime in 2012--five years! It's been very on and off again over that time, but now that I'm running some D&D 5E modules for them, it should be a much more regular part of our lives.

Second, the end of July will mark 10 years since I started "The Kynthiad," the solo Greek myth BESM game that I run for my wife Erika. I wrote about this game at some length around its anniversary two years ago, and a few times since.

Image result for gurps cthulhupunkThird, 20 years ago this May, I GMed my first game for Erika and her best friend, Seanna Lea--both of whom still plays in most of my games to this day. That "Cthulhu 2000 AD" campaign was a modern-day Lovecraftian game using GURPS CthulhuPunk, and was my second attempt at running GURPS. I had first tried the system--briefly--in college, and it was the system of choice for the first regular gaming group that I joined after moving to Boston. I decided to use GURPS rather than Call of Cthulhu because I was more familiar with that system, and because I preferred to have more fully developed characters then was possible with CoC's very simple character generation. I made a number of mistakes, mostly in ensuring party cohesion, and in balancing "waking world" vs. Dreamlands adventures, but we all had fun over those 15 months. A couple of years later, I ran a one-shot for Erika and Seanna Lea's characters in order to provide them better closure than I had able to do before the campaign's end. (By then, I had also been running a GURPS fantasy campaign--"Adventures in Arcadayn"--for Erika, Seanna Lea, and another friend for a couple years, but that is, as they say, another story.)

Shortly after that final one-shot, I posted some of my notes on this campaign (and the previous one, which was also a Cthulhu game) to my gaming website. That was on Yahoo! Geocities at the time, and I migrated those notes to Wikispaces when I had to switch hosts some years later. By the time I migrated Thastygliax's Vault to Google Sites in 2014, I had so many different campaign archives to move that the GURPS Cthulhu games were among the lowest in priority, so they did not get moved at that time. While working on that migration, I discovered that many (but not all) of those pages could be found on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine*. That meant that I could still post a link to that content until I got around to posting it on my new site. I did so, but included a caveat about the Wayback Machine's archive not being 100% complete.

Then I didn't think about those pages again for a couple years, expect for the briefest of moments every time I opened the Vault's homepage. Those Cthulhu games are the oldest campaigns that I have listed there, so are at the top of the list of links. This past week, I finally took the time to add My GURPS Cthulhu Campaigns to the Vault, so that I could delete that annoying little caveat. It was while I was preparing those pages for their new home that I realized that I had started my "Cthulhu 2000 AD" campaign 20 years (and a few weeks) ago.

Erika and Seanna Lea are certainly open to me running more Lovecraftian games, evidenced by the fact that they've played in all three of my campaigns set in Green Ronin Publishing's Mythos-tainted Freeport: The City of Adventure. There is a chance, albeit a very slim one, that we may revisit their "Cthulhu 2000 AD" characters someday, for nostalgia's sake. But it would almost certainly be in a different game system, and might not have much continuity with the original campaign. The most obvious choice of system is GURPS Fourth Edition (which I own but have never had a chance to try out) but their characters would work just as well (if not better?) in the Buffy/Angel version of Unisystem.

Happy anniversaries, Erika and Seanna Lea!

* Another old project of mine that I found on the Wayback Machine was GURPS Sluggy Freelance, which I briefly posted about this past weekend after copying it to the Vault.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GURPS Sluggy Freelance

Back in 2000, I wrote a GURPS adaptation for the webcomic Sluggy Freelance. It was well received by both Pete Abrams and Steve Jackson, even earning a mention in the Daily Illuminator. However, I eventually drifted away from reading Sluggy and playing GURPS, and I never got around to doing more with it.

I've changed website hosts a couple of times since then, and lost the original files somewhere along the way. But thanks to the magic of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I was able to recover that content and have now uploaded GURPS Sluggy Freelance to my current gaming site, Thastygliax's Vault.

Due to the time that's passed since I was up-to-date on either the comic or the system, I have no plans to update this project, but I wanted to be able to share this labor of love again.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Sunless Citadel #3: Through the Dragon Door

Our heroes for The Sunless Citadel include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 2 (urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 2 (hermit)
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 2 (wild magic; sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC), male hill dwarf paladin 2 (knight)
  • Erky Timbers (NPC), gnome acolyte rescued by the party

(Warning: Spoilers for The Sunless Citadel follow.) 

Last time, the party recovered the white dragon wyrmling that had been stolen from the kobolds by their goblin neighbors. As a reward, they received a key that they hoped would open a dragon-carved door they had found elsewhere in the dungeon. They also reached 2nd level.

After a long rest to recover from that most recent quest, the party returned to the dragon door. The key fit perfectly, and the door opened easily. From the thick dust everywhere and the stale air, they could tell that the room beyond had not been entered in ages. The chamber contained four alcoves in which stood pedestals topped with small crystal globes.  Three were cracked and dark, but the fourth glowed with a blue light and emitted soft tinkling noises. The heroes were very paranoid after their experiences the day before, so moved slowly into the room, carefully checking for traps. They found none by the time they crossed half the chamber, so Kalitni went closer to the glowing orb to examine it. As she approached, it began to playing brooding music, and Erky was frightened enough to flee towards the exit from the citadel. Xuri followed him to make sure he came to no harm, while Sir Dain decided to try smashing the magic globe. His attacks made the music louder and more discordant, which caused Xuri and Kalitni to panic and run. The paladin struck again, cracking the globe and stopping its noise. Meanwhile, his three frightened friends had reached the front door of the dungeon, and the compulsion ended when they could no longer hear the music. They hurried back to the others, to find Raven Flare pocketing the damaged crystals in case they were worth something.

The door at the far end of the room led to a short hallway, in which the rogue easily detected a pressure plate trap and used her tools to disarm it.

Beyond the hall was a chamber with a 10-foot-tall marble sculpture of a dragon. The party approached it cautiously, but once Raven Flare came close to the statue, it spoke a riddle. The heroes pondered it for a moment, then the answer came to the rogue, who spoke it aloud--and a secret door opened on the far wall!

The next hallway had more alcoves, which this time held marble statues of elves in plate armor. Xuri concluded that these figures represented the original guardians of the dragon cult that once operated here. At the end of the hall was a 10-foot-deep spiked pit, with an archway opening into a room lit by flickering green light. Xuri, ever curious, quickly moved to the ege of the pit to better see the room beyond. That chamber was tiled in purple marble, and a large marble sarcophagus stood at its center. This coffin was carved to resemble a dragon, with a head at one end and wings folded over the lid. The lid was fastened down with several rusty iron latches.

One of the alcoves nearest to the pit was empty of any statue, and proved to have small tracks in it, which led to the edge of the pit. Further examination of the alcove revealed a secret door to a small room. After clearing away some dust, Xuri found a message in Draconic runes about a "dragonpriest" who had been entombed alive for his crimes. Kalitni discovered a secret trapdoor in the floor below the inscription. Beneath this was a narrow crawlspace that led under the room beyond the pit.

Sir Dain led the way through the cramped tunnel, and was attacked by something when he opened the trapdoor at the other end. This turned out to be a quasit who had been invisibly waiting for them to enter the room. Xuri cast a spell at it, and Kalitni used her keen sharpshooting skills to hit the tiny demon despite the awkwardness of the crowded tunnel. That knocked the monster away from the trapdoor, allowing the party to enter the room. As they looked around, the quasit's body slowly dissolved into smoke. [The party got in a couple lucky hits that took it out before it could attack again or flee. Its at-will invisibility power could have made it a real nuisance otherwise!] 

The room beyond was lit by a torch enchanted with a green continual flame, which fascinated Xuri, so she promptly claimed the torch. The party gathered around the sarcophagus to examine it (except for Erky, who decided to keep under cover by the trapdoor). Xuri and Raven Flare were eager to open the coffin to see what was inside, and Kalitni helped them open the rusty latches while Sir Dain stood ready for trouble. Xuri struggled with her latch, opening it only after her two companions had each opened two or more. Raven Flare pushed aside the marble lid--and inside the coffin was the body of a troll, dressed in rotted finery and a few silver baubles. The monster's eyes opened, and it snarled and started to rise out of its tomb.  Raven Flare impaled the troll with her rapier, and Kalitni used hunter's mark to make her bowshots count. The giant mauled Xuri, knocking her unconscious, but Erky promptly came to her side to heal her. The heroes managed to bring down the troll pretty quickly due to its weakened state, but its regenerative powers meant that it didn't stay unconscious for long. The party soon learned to ready attacks against the troll reviving while Xuri tried to hit it with chill touch; her second attempt succeeded and finished off the troll by preventing it from healing on its turn.

Cutting the troll down to size.
[Raven Flare's player was especially lucky in this fight, landing two critical hit sneak attacks thanks to gaining advantage from flanking. Being 2nd level now, she also survived a hard hit from the troll, which took her down to 1 hp. This was a very welcome change from the three or four times she was knocked unconscious while 1st level!] 

The party stripped the body and sarcophagus of valuables, which consisted of some jewelry and coins, a ceremonial dagger, and four spell scrolls. Sir Dain and Erky split the scrolls between them, as they were the only ones who could read them. [As an acolyte, Erky's spells are drawn from the cleric list, so I ruled that he could use these, too.]

This room had no exit, so the party needed to backtrack. They had expended most of their spells in the fight with the troll, but were at full health again after a quick goodberry spell from Kalitni, so decided to push on to explore elsewhere.

The Sunless Citadel: Past Columns

#1: Down into the Ground
#2: Lost Dragon

Errata for D&D 5E and AGE

Tim's Errata Archive now has its first D&D Fifth Edition pages!
The Yawning Portal page is not as thorough a vetting as most of my adventure errata pages are, but as I continue to run the adventures within it, I expect that page to expand with new commentary.

Edited to add: I have also recently finished reading and compiling errata for the new edition of Blue Rose:

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Building the Bestiary: Index

A twelve-headed hydra
My "Building the Bestiary" series now totals 14 installments, so I've decided that it's time to create an index of the monsters that I've covered to date. I intend to keep this page up to date as I continue the series, and will include an "Index" link in the list of previous columns that I've been appending to each installment. (That linked list is also reproduced at the bottom of this page.)

This series focuses primarily on Pathfinder creatures, but does touch on D&D-only monsters from time to time. Members of this latter group are marked with an asterisk (*).

Allip: #4: Undead
Amoeba: #7: Oozes
Ankheg: #12: Vermin
Ant: #5: Tiny Creatures#12: Vermin
Aranea: #12: Vermin
Assassin Vine: #14: Plants

Basidirond: #14: Plants
Bat: #5: Tiny Creatures
Bear: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Bebelith: #12: Vermin
Bee: #12: Vermin
Beetle: #5: Tiny Creatures#12: Vermin
Beholder*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Black Pudding: #7: Oozes
Bugbear: #1: Humanoids

Camel: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Carrion Crawler*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Cecaelia: #2: Underwater Races
Centaur: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Centipede: #12: Vermin
Clam: #11: Aquatic Animals
Crab: #11: Aquatic Animals
Cyclops: [#3: Giants]

Devil: #10: Devils
Devourer: #4: Undead
Displacer Beast*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Dog, Riding: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Dolphin: #11: Aquatic Animals
Dragon: How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon
Drider: #12: Vermin
Drow: #1: Humanoids
Dwarf: #1: Humanoids

Eel: #11: Aquatic Animals
Elemental: #9: Elementals
Elf: #1: Humanoids,
Elf, Aquatic: #2: Underwater Races
Ettercap: #12: Vermin

Familiar: #5: Tiny Creatures
Flytrap, Giant: #14: Plants

Gelatinous Cube: #7: Oozes
Genasi, Water*: #2: Underwater Races
Ghost: #4: Undead
Ghoul: #4: Undead
Giant: #3: Giants
Giraffe: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Girallon: #3: Giants
Githyanki*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Githzerai*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Gnoll: #1: Humanoids
Gnome: #1: Humanoids
Goblin: #1: Humanoids
Golem, Flesh: [#3: Giants]
Gray Ooze: #7: Oozes
Green Hag: #2: Underwater Races

Half-Elf: #1: Humanoids
Half-Orc: #1: Humanoids
Halfling: #1: Humanoids
Hobgoblin: #1: Humanoids
Horse: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Human: #1: Humanoids

Jellyfish: #11: Aquatic Animals

Kobold: #1: Humanoids
Kuo-Toa*: #2: Underwater Races#13: Non-OGL Monsters

Leech: #5: Tiny Creatures
Lich: #4: Undead
Lizardfolk: #1: Humanoids
Locathah: #2: Underwater Races

Merfolk: #2: Underwater Races
Merrow: #2: Underwater Races
Mind Flayer*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Minotaur: [#3: Giants]
Mite: #5: Tiny Creatures
Mohrg: #4: Undead
Mold, Russet: #14: Plants
Mummy: #4: Undead

Ochre Jelly: #7: Oozes
Octopus: #11: Aquatic Animals
Ogre: #3: Giants
Orc: #1: Humanoids

Pegasus: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Phase Spider: #12: Vermin
Pixie: #5: Tiny Creatures
Pseudodragon: [#5: Tiny Creatures]

Rabbit: #5: Tiny Creatures
Rat: #5: Tiny Creatures
Ray: #11: Aquatic Animals
Retriever: #12: Vermin
Rhinoceros: #6: Four-Legged Friends

Sahuagin: #2: Underwater Races
Scorpion: #5: Tiny Creatures#12: Vermin
Sea Hag: #2: Underwater Races
Shadow: #4: Undead
Shambling Mound: #14: Plants
Shark: #11: Aquatic Animals
Shoggoth: #7: Oozes
Shrieker: #14: Plants
Skeleton: #4: Undead
Slaad*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Slithering Tracker: #7: Oozes
Spectre: #4: Undead
Sphinx: #6: Four-Legged Friends
Spider: #5: Tiny Creatures#12: Vermin
Squid: #11: Aquatic Animals
Squirrel: #5: Tiny Creatures
Svirfneblin: #1: Humanoids

Thorny*: #14: Plants
Treant: #14: Plants
Troglodyte: #1: Humanoids
Troll: #3: Giants
Troll, Scrag: #2: Underwater Races
Turtle: #5: Tiny Creatures
Twig Blight*: #14: Plants

Umber Hulk*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters
Undine: #2: Underwater Races
Unicorn: #6: Four-Legged Friends

Vampire: #4: Undead
Vegepygmy: #14: Plants
Violet Fungus: #14: Plants

Wasp, Giant: #12: Vermin
Wight: #4: Undead
Wraith: #4: Undead

Yellow Musk Creeper: #14: Plants
Yuan-ti*: #13: Non-OGL Monsters

Zombie: #4: Undead

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils
#11: Aquatic Animals
#12: Vermin
#13: Non-OGL Monsters
#14: Plants

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Sunless Citadel #2: Lost Dragon

Our heroes for The Sunless Citadel include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue (urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger (hermit)
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer (wild magic; sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC), male hill dwarf paladin (knight)
Last time, the party entered the Sunless Citadel, fought a number of monsters, then took refuge in a secret room while they rested and healed.

(Warning: Spoilers for The Sunless Citadel follow.) 

After a long rest, the party set out again. At the end of the last hallway they had explored, they listened at the door and heard whimpering. The door led to a room that contained a wrecked cage, a small makeshift altar with trinkets upon it, a firepit, and Draconic script painted on the walls. The miserable noises came from a kobold named Meepo, who was devastated at the loss of his clan's dragon, Calcryx. Goblins had attacked, killed many kobolds, and kidnapped the wyrmling. Once the dragonborn sorcerer calmed him enough to get this much information, Meepo offered to take them to see his leader, Yusdrayl. When they encountered other kobolds, Meepo gave the password to get safe passage, and they were escorted to the leader. Yusdrayl asked the PCs to retrieve Calcryx, and offered a reward of two items from the clan's hoard. One of these objects was a key held in a sculpted dragon's mouth, which the PCs very much wanted in order to pass the dragon door they had found in another part of the dungeon. They therefore agreed to the quest, and Meepo was sent with them as guide to the "back way" to the goblins' territory.

This route led back through the dragon's former room to some abandoned hallways. In one room, the party found a door with the inscription, "Rebuke the dead, open the way." Sir Dain attempted to open the door and was hit by a scythe trap. (This made the party much more wary, and the rogue was much more rigorous about searching for traps going forward!) Raven Flare tried to pick the lock but was unable to do so, and guessed that this was another magical lock. Unfortunately, nobody in the party had the ability to turn undead, so they had to return to the "back way" route.

Soon after, the party found a door that was trapped to ring an alarm bell, but the rogue was able to open the door carefully enough to not ring it. Beyond was a hallway strewn with caltrops, with a low, rough way built across the far end. Raven Flare quietly made her way to the wall, and saw two goblins lurking beyond it. She took out out with a single surprise thrust, then the rest of her party moved forward to help fight the other one. The goblin moved to the exit from its watch station and hollered a warning before they could kill it.

The next room had a similar set-up, with three goblins behind a low wall. These were alert now, but Sir Dain led a rush of their position, and the goblins failed to hit him with their arrows. Even the sorcerer Xuri landed a close-up hit, taking down one of the goblins with her dagger, and Meepo got in a lucky hit with his cling to kill the last one. Xuri praised his shot, and asked if he wanted to take an ear as a trophy--an idea that thrilled their easily-frightened guide.

One of the doors from this room was locked, but one of the dead sentries had the key. Inside were four prisoners: three kobolds tied to a stake, and a gnome in a small cage. Meepo freed the kobolds, who promptly fled back towards their clan's halls. Raven Flare picked the lock to the cage, and the gnome introduced himself as Erky Timbers. This acolyte had been captured by goblin bandits some months ago, and held here since. If not for the blessings of his god, Garl Glittergold, he would have died of wounds or starvation long before now.

Erky was able to answer some of the party's questions about the dungeon: The goblins captured three human adventurers some weeks back. Their names were Talgen, Sharwyn, and Sir Braford--three of the four missing adventurers the party had been told about. They were held here for a time before the goblins took them elsewhere--to their leader Belak. Erky had heard the goblins talk about Belak's Twilight Grove down below, and the Gulthias Tree that bore the fruit that they sold, but beyond that, he only knew that the goblins feared the place.

The party invited Erky to come with them, and he readily agreed. His equipment had been taken, so they armed him with a dagger and javelin, and Xuri cast mage armor upon him. The gnome could cast a few spells, including cure wounds, so provided some healing on the spot. The heroes asked if he could turn undead, and he confirmed that he could. Between his lack of gear and lack of athletic skills, Erky followed at the back of the party as they continued on.

The updated party, with their NPC allies (front row, L-R): Erky Timbers, gnome acolyte, and Meepo, kobold dragon keeper.

Save vs. dragon breath!
The party found another locked door a couple rooms later. The rogue picked the lock, and they opened the door to a room filled with trophy heads, smashed furniture, a broken chain, and patches of frost. This got Meepo excited, because he could tell Calcryx had been here. In fact, as soon as Sir Dain entered the room, the white dragon wyrmling showed itself, demanding that they leave, but leave the kobold with her. When asked if she planned to eat him, she gleefully admitted it. She did not want to go back to the kobolds, who were far more pathetic than the goblins. The party tried to talk further, but the dragon grew bored and attacked. She tried to bite Sir Dain, but missed. Raven Flare and Kalitni entered the room to maneuver around and flank the dragon. Calcryx drew an attack from the rogue as she moved to the side, but survived the blow and let loose a blast of freezing breath. Raven, Dain, and Xuri were caught in the cone, but all saved against the attack; this meant that although the tiefling and dragonborn fell unconscious, they weren't killed outright. Sir Dain knocked out the dragon with his hammer, but refrained from a killing blow so that they could keep their bargain with the kobolds. Erky and Dain revived the fallen heroes, who then helped the party bind the dragon and search the room.

Among the dragon's few treasures was a scroll case labelled "Khundrukar" in Dwarvish. The scroll inside was mostly destroyed by age and water, but a few enticing fragments could be read. Dain recognized the name on the case as that of a secret dwarven stronghold, and hearing the name reminded Xuri of a tale of a failed expedition that had sought wondrous arms and armor there. [This item is a hook for the next adventure in the Tales from the Yawning Portal anthology.]

The party now had to weigh their options: return the dragon to the kobolds now, or try to push on exploring a bit more first? They knew they were well into goblin territory now, and might encounter many more of them at any moment. But if they left now, they would have to fight their way back through goblins who would be waiting for them next time.

The party decided to check the other exit from the dragon's lair first. This led to a hall where Dain spotted a trapdoor just outside the room. He explained how to get past it safely, and the party moved on to a door further down the hallway. This room held 3 goblins, which the party managed to catch by surprise. Raven Flare was knocked out (again!) before the goblins were finished off.

Recovering from this fight used the last of the party's healing resources, so they decided to retreat with the unconscious dragon in tow. Along the way, Sir Dain used a crowbar to pull down the crude walls at the two watch posts, while his companions collected the caltrops from the first of those hallways for their own use. They also took the alarm bell--which Xuri tied around the comatose dragon's neck.

Meepo proudly led the way back to Yusdrayl's throne room, and reported on the heroes' impressive prowess. The kobold clan's leader thanked them for their deeds, and gave them their choice of two treasures. The party chose the key from the dragon sculpture's mouth, and a flask with multiple doses of elixir of health. Meepo remained with his people to tend to the dragon, and the party took their leave and retreated with Erky to "their" secret room to rest and heal.

Calcryx, white dragon wyrmling

The party has reached 2nd level! Raven Flare can now use Cunning Action, but doesn't gain any additional abilities until 3rd. Xuri now has sorcery points, and added a new spell to her repertoire. Kalitni and Dain acquired fighting styles (archery and protection, respectively); they also now have access to spells, which will give them more options with both attacks and healing. (As an NPC, Erky will not advance unless he decides to accompany them after this adventure. He is only a 1st-level spellcaster, but has more Hit Dice than the PCs do.)