Saturday, October 30, 2010

What if your really tough encounter monster gets killed in round two?

What if you had planned a really cool encounter in an old destroyed temple, that included random nasty steam vents and an eight headed pyro-hydra and.... your players ran right over it?

The characters in our main game are 7th level.  The have access to all kinds of buffs when time allows.  As soon as they saw the inside of this nasty temple, but before they knew about the hydra, they went about buffing themselves up.  Enlarge person, bull's strength, mage armor, shield, etc.  After a few rounds of buffing they wandered in.  A few more rounds later the beasty shows its faces.  Smugly they finish the buffing with prayer and haste, come get us beasty!  Well the hydra gets just outside melee range and unloads eight heads of fire breath.  Large chucks of character hit points and the smug looks evaporate.  A little panic starts to set in (DM refrains from gloating) and the two heavy melee fights decide it is do or die so they make their move.  Lots of attacks due to level, full attack option and haste.  But the dice, rather than turn treacherous on them, does just the opposite.  Not only is every attack a hit, three are critical hits, and the damage dice are smiling on them just as broadly as the d20s.  The results are impressive and statistically improbable.  My nasty eight headed pyro-hydra lies on the floor of the temple in pieces, rather than hovering over the panic stricken party. 

Where was the terror?  Where was the anguished cries of help to their deities?  Oh, the inhumanity!

They did plan.  They did work together.  They did make good choices.  They did roll very, very well.

What if you had planned a really cool encounter and your players ran right over it?  After I got over being stunned, I congratulated them.  They earned it.  It was time to allow them to bask in their glory.  Not to worry, there are more encounters waiting and you just never know what the dice will say next time.  You see, the dice never lie.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Weapons of legend

Although it works in the game, there is no literary tradition for acquiring magical weapons and trading them in for better magical weapons as time goes by and character levels go up.  There is no attachment to these D&D magical weapons, and much like any other tool they are discarded as better tools come along.  I find this to be unsatisfying.  When as a player I tried to have my character do more with a weapon: name my magical +1 weapon and become attached to it, and known as the wielder of said weapon of great renown.... it all goes out the window when the +2 weapon comes along. 

I suppose not everyone can have Excalibur, Chrysaor, Nothung, Glamdring, Stormbringer or a the vorpal sword that slew the Jabberwock snicker-snack.  But there must be something between Orcrist and the disposable +x weapon in the treasure pile that fits into our adventure.  Sure there are tables in the back of the book (regardless what book/edition you have) which speak of powerful weapons and artifacts that only a fool would relinquish.  In practice it may be true but for most of our campaigns characters would only acquire such a device near the end of their career.  This does not allow them to build a story and reputation expect maybe as the guy powerful enough to slay the terrible beast that had the legendary weapon in its hoard and thus became the next hero to retire (because the campaign was over) with that legendary weapon.  Not satisfying at all in my book.

It always seemed to me the solution was to have the character acquire a weapon which, much like the character herself, needed to grow to their full potential.  Sure the weapon may start out as just a pretty looking master work tool, but over time it would gain pluses to hit, unique capabilities, elemental properties (spouting flame, dripping caustic acid, etc), gaining fame as the character did.  It may even have a temperament and its own agenda that is in some conflict with the bearer.  Sounds like fun!

I know there are a number of systems out their that support such a progression.  I did not find one I liked, so I made my own.  The challenges have been many.  I do not want the weapons to outshine the characters.  Characters owning such a weapon often unbalance the game.  Creating weapons and a history so that all the characters can participate in this high fantasy romp without it seeming too contrived.  (who would want to be left out of the fun!). I decided that the characters had to actively pursue goals and rituals that would unlock the weapons potentials as they grew in power.  This also had the beneficial side effect of creating adventure motivation and consuming resources.

It has been an interesting experiment, and I trust my players are enjoying it.  One of the interesting things I did was give the characters an opportunity to rename their weapon - they could keep its legendary name, or they could rename it formally.  Weapons with such prestigious names as Silver Flame, Ice Wand, Ivory Stary & Argentum Valor have come into the hands of the characters.   It has not all been perfect, but I think the challenges have been worth the outcome: an interesting campaign where characters have weapons of legend, and are creating more legend of the weapon and more importantly, the wielder.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thirty years later - a random dungeon creation romp

It has been a very long time since I did any random dungeon creation.  Back in the day it was supposedly an easy way out to run an adventure.  Not much planning, a few rolls and presto you have an evening of entertainment. 

I should have know better.  I was doomed from the start. 

To start with, I couldn't really use completely random tables.  This was to be insert in an already designed area so the start and ends had to come together, and the inhabitants had to fit in a subset of what was likely to be found in these underground caverns.  So I had to build my own random tables.  I supposed whether you use somebody else's tables or your own, somebody has to build them.

To make a long story short, I could have drawn and populated a set of natural caverns far more quickly that generating random caverns, making them connect and populating them with tables.  Perhaps there was a change up from the players view; if I had populated them not so randomly my stamp may have been on that and the characters might have been less surprised.  However, I don't think so.  Personally I think I stay ahead of the characters and am still able to surprise them no matter what patterns of my behavior they believe they have deciphered.

I found that I was not crisp with the information on this random map creation.  I made mistakes, had a little trouble orienting the group in my descriptions and lost my place here and there.  Making it in advance, whole cloth from my own imagination, somehow makes it stick better in my mind.  Plus I have a little time to review before the adventure so I am much sharper with details.

Now, it really didn't turn out all that bad.  I was disappointed in my running of the last outing; it felt a little bit awkward and slow but we got through.  I just have to face facts, after thirty years of game mastering I am just more comfortable assembling my own adventures manually, with some die rolls of support, than to just trust it all to chance.  I am not afraid to try new ways of running games, or game content and will continue to do so.  This does just reinforce that you should play to your strengths.

I have said it before and I'll say it again: the dice never lie.  I suppose the real wisdom is knowing when to ask them to speak.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Local Austin musician Brian Pounds

I was out after work looking for some place to eat while onn my recent trip to Austin.  I saw the sign for the Iron Cactus restaurant, and I knew I did not need to drive any more.  This post is not about the Iron Cactus, though it was a cool place.

In the bar area was a young man singing and playing on an acoustic guitar, accompanied by an older gentleman on a pedal steel guitar.  The younger man, Brian Pounds by name, was singing his heart out and the older gentleman on the steel was quite good as well.  The Tex-Mex food was good enough, the cerveza was cold, and although the music was not exactly my favorite style it was both entertaining and of fine quality.  Not even a cover charge.

Unfortunately I must have missed the first half of their set, because after about 6 songs they were packing up.  I was sufficiently impressed to call Brian over and offer to buy one of his CDs.  I figured I got $10 worth of entertainment anyway.  My younger days as a musician are not completely forgotten; I try to support up and coming artists where I can.

Brian plays a sort of blend of folk/rock/country and has a quality to his voice that reminds me of James Taylor.  You can check him out here:

There, I have done my good deed.  From here it is up to him and the quality of his music.  Just in case he does make it big, I had him autograph the CD.  You never can tell.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Shiner Bock, an Austin favorite

I had a business trip to Austin a little over a week ago.  While there I tried a local favorite, Shiner Bock from the Shiner brewery down there.

Apparently this is a very popular local brew.  I had it on tap and in a bottle.  Either way I found it drinkable but not notable.  It had a somewhat transparent dark amber color, a creamy nougat colored head that dissipated too quickly, and a mild nose.  It is quite plain for a bock.  Perhaps it is designed to be a bock that goes with southwest & cajun spicy food? 

Sorry to my friends in Austin but this is just ordinary.  I would not throw it away if I was given some, but next time in Austin I will seek out some other local brew.
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