GaryCon XIII, Day 4

For my final GaryCon game, I played A Strange Night at the Pint-N-Pony for Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). The game was wild, with a GM that encouraged players to try bold actions, and all six of us embraced that idea and ran with it for an unforgettable time filled with laughter and cheers!

This was an amazing end to GaryCon XIII. The Pint-N-Pony adventure was a “funnel” game, which for DCC means each player begins with four 0-level characters and whoever survives to the end makes it to first level. I love playing multiple characters that are simple to use and the DCC 0-level funnel works very well for that. Your character doesn’t have a class yet and minimal abilities, but if they survive, they will have a great backstory for the event that changed their life and set them on the path for glory and gold.

I’ve had my eye on A Strange Night at the Pin-N-Pony for a long time (I missed supporting the Kickstarter for it), so I was looking forward to playing it to see what it had to offer. It so happens that if offers quite a bit for 0-level adventure. The adventure description is as follows:

“The little folk meet each night at a pub secluded from the troubles of big people. Here, after a long day of work, hobbits, dwarves, gnomes, and the occasional wild elf and short humans share simple tales and sip tasty ales. Tonight is nothing new—or is it? Sinister forces have been awakened and emerge during happy hour (hic) at the Pint n’ Pony. Now, in defense of their precious last keg, new adventurers will be born out of the horror of a very strange night! A tale (hic) only DCC RPG can weave.”

Thus we all began with demi-humans, or short humans, and since there were six of us with four characters, that meant there were 24 characters hanging out in the Pint-N-Pony ordering food and drink, so the place was crowded and cozy with all our characters congregating together relaxing like only demi-humans can! I enjoyed playing in an adventure dominated by dwarves, hobbits, and gnomes, in a tavern sized only for them, it gives the adventure a nice shift in tone and structure from the norm.

The judge we had was dynamic, frequently roleplayed in character, he ran his game standing up and moving around, and he was always hoping for players to come up with creative ideas to meet challenges and would happily reward us with “floating luck” (which encourage us even more to use up luck points to try bold things). All of us knew DCC and the 0-level funnel system and also embraced roleplaying hungry hobbits and drinking dwarves. So when the floor exploded beneath us and rat-folk swarmed, my hobbit jumped on the chandelier and kicked rat-folk into the fireplace, my dwarves smashed chairs over the rat-folk heads, and other characters used the stage for higher ground, and hid under/behind tables for cover. Not only were all aspects of the environment encouraged, there were even some rule guidelines to assist (so when Nosco, my hobbit, kicked rat-men into the fireplace, there were checks both I and they could make to determine success or failure, as well as a range of options for what results might occur that round and in following rounds). I will be sure to make use of these ideas in tavern environments in the Castles & Crusades games I run in the future.

Even with 24 characters in this chaos the combat ran smoothly and swiftly. At one point three barrels of ale fell down the hole into the ground and once we dealt with the rat-folk, the three dwarves I had and several others mourned the loss of the ale and were dedicated to retrieving and saving it if we could. The proprietor supported our bold cause and many were offered pans and other tavern instruments as weapons for our descent (we were 0-level, so didn’t have the resources like full 1st level adventurers have). My dwarven miner and someone else’s dwarven mason led the way into the darkness. Most of us had infravision, so we could see relatively well. But sadly, what we saw were two of the three barrels smashed from the fall. Two of my dwarves were rat-catchers and carried nets with them, so they layered them together and several other dwarves came together and carried the remaining barrel of ale aloft as the unique and nearly holy item that we new it was! Climbing down caused the tunnel above us to collapse, so that meant we had to find another way out, as well as deal with the rat-folk that had ruined our joyous time eating and drinking.

I don’t want to spoil the adventure for those that haven’t played it, so I will just say that over the four hour adventure we faced unique traps, disturbing transformations, and amazing magical effects to dazzle our 0-level senses! The creativeness of the players resulted in throwing blankets and nets over monsters to reduce their movement and attacks, inserting the fingers of dead creatures into holes in doors to try and trigger what seemed to be puzzle traps, two different characters placing their hands on the handle of a clearly magical weapon to try and offset what the magic in it might do to one or both of them, and many more. Our excited judge game us floating luck for these action as we used it to attempt further things. Hobbits, dwarves, and gnomes lived up to their bold characteristics and threw caution to the wind!

As you can see in the character sheet picture above (where I used my DCC “you have survived” and “cause of death” stamps), I lost Nosco, my hobbit (to an amazing monstrous transformation), but my dwarven miner, and my two dwarven rat-catchers survived! I will be looking to play in a game with this GM again in a future convention, as well as with any of these players. The game was a blast!

GaryCon XIII, Day 3

For the third day of GaryCon I participated in a six hour Swords & Wizardry game – Rogues in Remballo.

This morning when I was preparing to get on Discord for my fourth game for this Con and my third in the Swords & Wizardry (S&W) game system I realized that I had unintentionally selected different styles of games for each day.
– Thursday: the two S&W games I played were underground dungeon crawls.
– Friday: the Castles & Crusades game I played was entirely outdoors and involved climbing cliffs and aerial assaults.
– Saturday: today my S&W game took place in a city involving lots of role-playing and puzzle solving.
– Sunday: tomorrow the Dungeon Crawl Classics game I will play in will be of mixed setting, as we begin in a tavern and then head into the sewers and the underworld.

Although I didn’t plan this, this has actually been quite enjoyable and I like the change of environments for each game, for I get to explore a plethora of challenges. Steve Chenault’s game reinforced for me the importance of using environment and I look forward to elevating that element of my game. Since I already use weather conditions in my game, further enhancing the physical environment is the next step I want to take to further enhance my game. But unlike weather, which is more of an outdoor phenomena, terrain is something that you encounter under ground as well (I think most prominently of the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide from AD&D as one of the top resources for this, which, it just so happens, is getting an homage and update in Kickstarter right now as the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking for DnD 5th Edition).

Rogues in Remballo was the S&W city adventure that I played today. I was specifically looking to play this game for one big reason. Playing in this game would serve as a great introduction to the Borderland Provinces within the Lost Lands campaign setting by Frog God Games. I own most of the Lost Lands material and have read through much of it, but you learn best not just by reading, but by doing, so I saw this as a great opportunity to get thrown right into the setting and learn about the city, the organizations, and local political color. I chose right.

When doing a city-based adventure which would have role-playing and puzzle solving, you need to allow extra time, and so the GM was wise to make this a six hour adventure. We spent the first three hours just navigating a small district within the city and through each interaction with an NPC stable-hand, barkeep, shopkeeper, and captain of the guard, we picked up snippets of information which led to the final three hours of taking on the villains and monsters of the adventure.

There was one major problem I experienced during this six hour game. At about the 3 hour mark there was a power went out (it effected more than 5,000 people in the area where I lived), and it took about an hour for the power to get restored. When I was able to return to the game roughly an hour later the role-playing had come to an end (they had gathered all the information they needed to find the people causing the trouble we were tasked with solving), and the combat portion of the game had begun. The final couple of hours were filled with great combat and even further negotiations with rogues from rival guilds pleading for their lives.

This was an all-around great game. I acquired some great insights into the Lost Lands, enjoyed a well laid-out city adventure with a marvelous balance of role-playing, problem-solving, and combat. I can easily see each GM emphasizing different aspects of the game depending on whether the players are interested or good at roleplaying, and the order and approach the players take in interacting with the abundant NPCs within the district and town. As a result, this makes a great convention game, for it can take many different turns and directions each time it is run. I will likely want to play in this again (if for no other reason than to enjoy it in its entirety and not miss out due to a power cut!).

GaryCon XIII, Day 2

Summary:
Played in a Castles & Crusades game streamed on Twitch run by Steve Chenault. An absolutely amazing game with players jumping off a 200-foot high bridge onto the backs of flying beasts and the beasts tossed players into the sky to play with their prey before devouring them! It was aerial madness like you rarely see!

Today at GaryCon XIII I had just one thing planned: play in a Castles & Crusades game with the CEO of Troll Lord Games in one of his infamous “big” GaryCon games. When in person these games can include 20 or more players (I was in the 2019 game and was one of 24 players). When done virtually you have to reduce that number, so this time there were just 8 players (and only a few of us made it out alive!).

For those who have not been in one of Steve’s games, he makes creative use of the outdoor environment. I’ve never been in games where the landscape plays such an important role. At some point you almost always come across a large river that needs to be crossed (usually swift moving!). As Steve has said, crossing a river is a great opportunity to showcase the SIEGE Engine (this is the mechanic which drives C&C and makes it so versatile, and was such a strong drawing point when I was looking for the perfect RPG for me. It is now the game system I use to run all my campaigns).

Unlike most RPG games you experience – especially at a convention – where there is usually some task or goal you are supposed to accomplish during the time limit available, in Steve’s game you mostly enjoy the moment, and since his games take place outdoors, you can roam anywhere you want and there is always something that will spring up and you have to deal with it. You rarely find such an open-world gaming experience.

A Fiedoth “Shovel Mouth” (Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure of Aihrde)

So what happened in this adventure? I think this game should be watched to experience it, but if you want a quick teaser, then I can tell you that most of the game took place on a bridge 200 feet above a fast moving river spanning two cliffs. We fought a large, strange flying creature called a Fiedoth “shovel mouth” with a 40 ft. wingspan. Much like an Orca (which when hunting seals throws them into the air before it kills them) the fiedoth does something similar to those it catches with its tail – throwing them into the air as an aerial plaything! The three hour adventure saw players being tossed into the air, jumping off the bridge onto the back of these beasts, getting partially swallowed and fighting to get out from inside its mouth, and many other attempts at aerial acrobatics. Many things went wrong, since several characters did not survive this adventure. But this was one of those adventures that you want to tell your friends about, and since it was streamed live, others can actually see it for themselves!

Those of us who played in this game learned after it was over that our entire adventure was mostly planned as an encounter, and that the adventure he had planned we never got to! But as I said above, in Steve’s games you end up creating your own path and we all deal with the choices we make. The two C&C campaigns I run possess a lot of occurrences that require improvisation from myself and my players on the spot, so this is a game-style that I really embrace.

If you are interested in seeing this game, then check out the link below.
Troll Lord Games Twitch channel: https://www.twitch.tv/trolllordgames
The streamed GaryCon game was called “When the Iron Gives Way.”

For those that want to see the an adventure where Steve takes the players onto a challenging river crossing, take a look at “TLG 1500 – The Glade” here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/960511627
This game took place the week before GaryCon XIII and I happened to be a player in that game as well.

GaryCon XIII, Day 1

Summary:
Physical vs. Online conventions and how I might deal in the future with conventions when it comes to badge access. The joy of playing in two Swords & Wizardry games. Digital vs. Physical dice rolling in virtual games.

Gaming Conventions
I love GaryCon. It is a real pleasure to meet different game designers and artists, purchase a load of products, game constantly for several days, meet new people, and try out new game systems. I typically attend three cons each year – Con of the North (in my native Minnesota just a few minutes from where I live) in February, GaryCon in March, and GameHole in October/November.

It was at GameHole last autumn where I experienced my first full virtual convention (due to the pandemic). I actually very much enjoyed the experience, but obviously gaming virtually is different than gaming in person and there are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches. The bad part of virtual games includes not being able to hang out and chat with players/GMs before and after the game and not having a physical vendor area where you can page through books and talk with the designers. The socializing at a physical gaming convention is a genuinely wonderful thing that virtual gaming can’t match.

On the other hand, a benefit of virtual gaming is that if you can’t travel to a convention or can’t afford the trip, then nothing can be easier than gaming from your own home with people from around the country and the world. It is so convenient and saves so much money.

Convention Badges
One positive thing that has happened as a result of pandemic life is the acceleration of certain trends in gaming, such as gaming online, which has in turn pushed forth innovations in the technology which makes this possible. When things return to ‘normal’ I suspect that gaming conventions from now on will include a selection of virtual gaming options for those that can’t attend in person.

In the future I do look forward to a return to physically attending Con of the North, GaryCon, and GameHole (and consider virtual options for conventions in other parts of the country). But, with all the time and money I have saved by doing GameHole and GaryCon virtually over the last six months, I may consider whether the immense cost in time and money is worth it if I am not able to get into the games I want. For example, I have an Ethereal Badge for GaryCon and that meant that others with better badges (e.g. Astral and Elemental) were able to choose their games first. The majority of the games I got into at this GaryCon were not my first choices. I have continually had bad luck trying to get the better badges (they’ve always been sold out before I could get them). I am getting more and more energized and excited about gaming conventions with every passing year and so this inability to get better badges and thus get into the games I want is becoming an ever increasing frustration. In the past you’d just have to suck it up and accept it simply as “the way things work”, but the pandemic has made me aware of how important my time and money is and I am seeking an alternative.

Attending a physical game convention is quite an undertaking when it comes to drive time (I have to take an extra day off of work just to travel to the convention), and money when it comes to car wear-and-tear, petrol, hotel, eating out, etc. Those expenses add up if you’re doing them several times each year. So if I have 6-8 games I want to be in, and I only get 1 or 2 of them and the rest are options b, c, or d, then my enthusiasm drops and my desire to engage in all that extra expense in time and money drops as well. Getting stuck with a lesser badge in the future will probably play a role as to whether I will spend the hundreds of extra dollars and take extra time off of work to physically attend the convention, or instead save my vacation days and hundreds of dollars and just stay home and do it virtually. I would love to hang out with old friends and meet new ones, and that is worth a lot in friendship and socializing, but knowing that most of my games are “leftovers” takes some of the enjoyment away and I now realize that I don’t have to accept that – there is now an alternative. Gaming at home virtually without that investment of time and money makes the letdown much easier to take.

Gaming, Day 1

For Day 1 I was signed up to two Swords & Wizardry games. Both GM’s were great and I was excited to get more S&W gaming done. Hall of Bones was my first S&W game of the day. It actually wasn’t my first choice as most of the games I wanted to get into for GaryCon XIII were already taken when I was eligible to get my tickets (as I noted above). However, I had played Hall of Bones virtually last autumn at GameHole with the same GM, so I knew this was going to be a fun game. I was also using a different character and was with an entirely different group of players. I enjoyed the challenge of having a new character with new players and trying not to metagame. This game session did go slower than the first time I went through it and I noticed that to ensure we could all experience the final encounter the GM removed a couple of dungeon chambers. The other players, if they had never done this adventure before, wouldn’t know this, but I did. But as a GM you sometimes have to speed things up and remove certain things to get players to where they need to be. I understand and appreciate that. In the end, I enjoyed this adventure as much the second time as I did the first time. I look forward to gaming with this GM in person some day.

My second S&W game was Orcus on 34th Level. This was once again not my first choice of game to play, but I genuinely enjoyed myself, and the GM was exceptional. It was an Xmas-themed game that was a little tongue-in-cheek. It was a mixture of being both silly and dark. The GM was damn good, perhaps one of the best GMs that I’ve had. Consider: how often has a GM begun to describe a room and as they do so you are formulating clarificatory questions regarding the room features as follow up? This GM somehow managed to describe the rooms and provide the necessary details relevant for a character as to how it impacts their sight, movement, hearing, etc., all in one go. I was really impressed by their skill. I run two campaigns of my own six times a month and when I can find a GM which can help me elevate the quality of my game, I take note! Of course, one of the other benefits of gaming with a wide variety of people is seeing creativity from other players, since that can also help me as a player and GM to broaden my creative gaming toolkit. This is also a GM I will look forward to joining at a physical table in a future convention.

Digital vs. Physical Dice Rolling
One final thing that stands out when it comes to my enjoyment of a virtual game is whether the dice rolling is physical or digital. I hate digital dice rolling. For me one of the most enjoyable experiences of partaking in a table-top role-playing games is holding and feeling the weight and texture of dice in my hands, rolling them on the table, dice tray, or in a dice tower, hearing the sounds they make, and seeing the result. That means a lot to me and really puts me into the moment (I also have a nice dice collection and I want to use them!). Pushing some stupid button on my keyboard and seeing a number appear on my monitor does absolutely nothing for me, indeed, it pulls me away from the moment. I guess we all have things that get on our nerves and under our skin, and digital dice rolling is one that really bothers me. My response to digital dice rolling is probably silly or irrational, and this will make my life more difficult in an ever expanding virtual gaming environment. On the other hand, I don’t think I am alone in my love for holding physical dice, since one of the most popular crowdfunding projects you see are RPG dice Kickstarters, they almost always well exceed their funding goal.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 57.

Summary:
At the Viking Thing (Assembly), Gimli “rot face” (dwarf berserker) enters a duel with a Jotun giant, and on their return journey to the Duchy of Aerik they are attacked by griffons and discover griffon egg in their lair.

Game Diary:
Several cases were brought to the Lawspeaker, one of the rare and ancient Elder Dwarves names Skafti Forgefire. In the previous year some jotun giants moved into the Moon Peaks mountain range in the Duchy of Aerik. They had also attacked the walls of Ironguard Motte. That in itself was of no real concern to those assembled at the Thing, for these Vikings do two things – trade and raid, and as long as they are not raiding each other then there is not much concern. However, when the jotun giants entered the Moon Peaks they were infringing on the territory of the stone giants. Asta, the stone giant godi (chieftain) had brought a case against the jotun giants for that. The situation got more complicated when Kell Ironguard had enlisted the services of The Army of the Light to find and stop the jotun giants that attacked his town walls. The adventurers went out, found, and killed the jotun giants. This resulted in Kalf, the jotun giant godi to bring a case against Gimli and his companions for compensation.

If that weren’t complicated enough, Kalf’s brother, Asbjorn, choose to pursue blood vengeance against Gimli and his Thingmen, and recruited Bogar, the hill giant godi. In the previous two sessions those ambushes occurred and both Bogar, Asbjorn, and giants under their command were killed. This meant that the lawspeaker now had to balance the deaths of a hill giant godi, and the brother of the jotun giant godi, with the fact that they were trying to circumvent the law by engaging in blood vengeance. Skafti calculated everything out and determined that first, the dead jotun giants in the Moon Peaks were worth 5,000 gold pieces. Second, that Bogar and his dead two hill giants was worth 2,800 gold pieces. Third, Asbjorn and his dead five jotun giants were worth 5,500 gold pieces. This leads to a total compensation of 13,300 gold pieces. But, once he took into account that (a) the jotun giants should not have taken up residence in the Moon Peaks, (b) that Asbjorn and Bogar should not have pursued blood vengeance (which if they succeeded in killing Gimli and this Thingmen, would likely have resulted in “Outlawry,” which would’ve led to a 3 year expulsion from the Borderlands), and (c) Gimli returned the personal belongings of Asbjorn and to the other godi in good faith at the Thing, Skafti reduced the compensation to 5,000 gold pieces. At this point Kalf, the jotun giant godi said he would be happy to duel Gimli as an alternative for monetary compensation. This would’ve been a challenging battle.

Yet, the political maneuvering was still not complete, for the frost giant godi, Hokleid, whether because of a painting of himself that Gimli had given to him as a gift, or because he hates the ideas of weakness in giants, proposed that Kalf instead have a crippled jotun giant name Flogwar duel with Gimli instead. Flogwar, due to a previous major battle with some mighty beast, had mostly lost the use of his left arm (the muscle mass and fatty tissue had been torn away and there was much scar tissue), with a similar wound on his left leg. These injuries meant that he couldn’t hit as hard nor move as swiftly. Kalf bowed to the suggestion from the more senior and powerful frost giant godi and Gimli said he would duel Flogwar.

Gimli and flogwar took their places on the dueling island. Flogwar moved in with a mighty first blow – a critical hit – and Gimli’s armor was destroyed from that single blow. But the tides turned quickly, and Flogwar missed his next two attacks, whereas Gimi entered Odin’s Fury, and in his berserk state pummeled the crippled jotun giant with a barrage of attacks and just like that his giant body fell to his knees, and his handicapped left knee buckled underneath and he fell to the ground where Gimli finished him off. Justice had been served.

Griffon (picture D&D 5E Monster Manual)

The next few days at the Thing moved quickly by. Gimli swore his allegiance to Thorgrímr Osricsson on his armring, and when the time comes (i.e. when Gimli reaches 9th level and can get followers), Thorgrímr will hand over his elite group of berserkers and place them under Gimli’s command and give him his own land and longhouse. Asfrídr, Thorgrímr’s prophet of the dead/cleric used her Norse magic and cured Gimli “rot face” of the flesh rotting condition he had acquired when he jumped into the Pit of Chaos in the Barrowmaze. He still had severe scarring from that condition, but at least the constant sight and smell of moist flesh rot was gone.

Eventually it was time to return to the Duchy of Aerik. The journey back would take a week and it was early on that the group was taken by surprise by six griffons that came down from the sky to snatch away and feed on the four horses the group had (two were pulling their wagon, and the other two were roped behind the wagon). Griffons know how to hunt horses and almost immediately two of the horses were killed and a couple of griffons had picked them up to take them back to their lair. There were ten characters, however, and through a concerted effort to (a) protect the remaining horses, and (b) kill the griffons that were taking away the other horses, they concentrated their firepower. Griffons are tough and aggressive creatures, and whenever the group took one of these aerial creatures down, another one or two would swoop in to fight At one point Balthazar (elf-mongrelman wizard) was taken up into the air by a griffon, and when it was killed he came crashing back to the ground. But overall the group faired well, losing two horses, but still retaining the two they needed to pull the wagon back to town.

But the druid and several others knew that if you could find the lair of a griffon and it had an egg, you could possibly raise that creature as a flying mount. They put their heads together, and with the help of the gnome druid, Belden, who had a snowy owl that could scan the skies, they discovered the griffon lair was 3 miles south of them. Keeping a couple of characters back to guard the wagon and two horses, the other 8 set off to the griffon nest. When they arrived they found three more griffons, and after a series of ranged attacks and spells killed the remaining beasts. Searching the lair they found much treasure and a single griffon egg. Their was intense negotiation (i.e. a roll-off with d20s) and Kiaria (human seeker) won possession of the egg. She now looks forward to raising this animal up to be her mount (but she also wants to keep this secret, for many others would want to procure such an import and precious treasure!).

Next session the group returns to the Barrowmaze. What lies in wait for them?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 56.

Summary:
The Army of the Light is ambushed by jotun giants under heavy rain (the weather affected a lot of the combat). They later arrive at the Viking Thing (Assembly) and bestow gifts on the Norse leaders – humans, dwarves, jotun giants, stone giants, and frost giants.

Game Diary:
We left off last time with the group successfully defeating Bogar, the hill giant, and his hill giant and ogre followers. He had been recruited by Asbjorn, a higher ranking jotun giant bent on blood vengeance against the Army of the Light from previous actions they took. The group knew Asbjorn would probably be waiting for them on the four days remaining before they arrived at the Thing, so when they saw six large stone rocks roughly 25 ft. in diameter and 30 feet tall, several members jumped off their two wagons and headed toward them to read the runic writing (it was difficult to see the writing from the road due to heavy rain that was following). Rosaline (half-elf druid) decided to kneel down to the long grass at the side of the road and cast speak with plants. She asked questions about giants and she got feelings and images that the giants were under the ground. It was just as she was acquiring that information that nearly two hundred feet south east of the east-west road they were traveling that Asbjorn climbed to the top of one of the stone rocks and using a power bestowed by his god Karontor, hurled a “rock of earth shattering” onto the front wagon where Gimli “rot face” (dwarven berserker) and two friends were located. The wagon was destroyed by the impact and the three were lying in rubble on the ground. Five other jotun giants rose from covered pits they had been hiding in under the ground and threw boulders (being waist high in a pit meant that they were going to get half cover from ranged attacks and the heavy rain would give them a further bonus). The group of 11 adventurers scattered into groups, spellcasters and ranged attackers stayed far away, and melee combatants (monk, cleric, dragonslayer, oathsworn) made their way toward individual giants, although they had to be careful for the heavy rain made the matted down grass slick, and moving at a full run would’ve required a Dexterity save or they would fall prone on their face (which did happen to one character!).

One of the 12 foot tall jotun giants the group fought.

Spells played a good part in this combat, for the sorceress cast ice storm, which pre-occupied one jotun giant for several rounds, another cast summon swarm which caused massive numbers of spiders to move like sheets over the wet, slick, grass, and pour like a waterfall into the pit where another giant stood, slowly wearing him down. The oathsworn made his mark by making called shots over two rounds and successfully slicing off a jotun giant’s big toes, impairing its movement. And Gimli put everyone everyone on edge when he not only summoned Odin’s Fury (i.e. enter a berserk rage), but also managed to reach deep inside his soul and activate his recently acquired curse of lycanthropy, and transform himself into a werewolf!

Asbjorn was watching what the Army of Light was doing to his jotun giant as they were one-by-one getting immobilized by the adventurers and he was both surprised and annoyed, for all his giants needed to do was get one or two good blows in and an adventurer would go down (indeed, the sorceress did go down to -2 hit points, but healers rallied around her and brought her back, which allowed her to cast the ice storm). But Asbjorn was also the target of attacks. Since ranged weapons and ranged spells were at a disadvantage due to the heavy rain, Balthazar (elf-turned-mongrelman wizard) kept casting magic missiles at him. Asbjorn finally had enough and pulled out his giant greatclub and summoned through his god Karontor its flameshooter ability, lept from the 30 foot high stone rock, and charged toward the wizard.

When Asbjorn made it to Balthazar there also happened to be two other jotun giants in a straight line behind him, and it was at this point that the wizard cast lightning bolt. Although the giants made their saves, they had all been whittled down and they had nothing left – the blast took them down.

With the jotun giants defeated, the adventurers discovered behind one of the rocks and high grass that the giants had a massive wagon pulled by two mammoths. Inside the wagon were over a thousand gold pieces, many gems, an expert battle axe, a painting of the venerable frost giant godi (chieftain) Hokleid, a jade and platinum brazier, and a magical belt of grounding (which would absorb electrical attacks, drawing it to the ground with the two chains that hung from the back and dragged on the ground – too bad Asbjorn wasn’t wearing it when he was fighting Balthazar!).

Over the next few days the group made their way to the Thing and Thorgrímr Osricsson welcomed the group – and Gimli, who he wants to join him as a brother in his clan and set him up to command his berserkers when the time is right (i.e. when Gimli has reached 9th level and can get followers). Gimli clearly wanted to make the best possible impression he could, and gave the flameshooter great club to Kalf, Asbjorn’s older brother and godi of the jotun giants. He gave the frost giant painting to the old and powerful Hokleid himself. He gave gems to Asta, the stone giant chieftain, and a bearded axe to Ofeig Hammerblow, the representative for the dwarves. And for Thorgrímr he handed over troll knuckles worth an astounding 5,000 gold pieces, and three runic tablets collected from the Barrowmaze. The adventure ended well, but next time there will be rulings on matters of justice, for the Army of the Light did kill Bogar (the hill giant chieftain), and Asbjorn (brother to Kalf, the jotun giant chieftain). The giants had already attempted blood vengeance, but they may now seek monetary compensation for the deaths, or even a dual!

Weather Dice and Conditions for RPGs

Do you make use of weather conditions in your game? Weather conditions add an immense amount to a game, bringing the environment to life for the players, altering the pace of travel, and adding dynamic changes to encounters. I make use of weather dice to add randomness to my game which gives my players and myself something new and exciting to respond to for travel and encounters. Below I lay out some of the game-changing options available from using weather dice.

In my early days of GMing during AD&D, I occasionally made use of weather charts in the rule books. Two books that I made use of during those days were the AD&D 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. They were – and still are – great references which I return to whenever I can. The Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide is also a great RPG source (even if you don’t run C&C).

However, although those three books are great to work out the effects of a weather condition, I like to try and run my games as quickly and spontaneously as possible. I want my players to respond to things on-the-fly, and I want to as well, for it keeps the game exciting for me. I love to think on my feet and have to improv an encounter based on the changed circumstances. Using weather conditions means encounters are rarely going to be generic, bland, and all look like each other. That is why I have purchased weather dice from several companies (from my FLGS, game conventions, and Kickstarter). Whenever my players set off on a day of travel, I will roll one of the dice and we all have to deal with the result. I usually roll the weather die 1-3 times per day (morning, afternoon, and evening) to signify weather patterns moving through, as well as at night when players are on watch (weather doesn’t stop at night!). I also use other polyhedral dice to expand upon what was rolled on a weather die. Here are some examples.

Example 1. I roll the weather die and get “foggy.”
I might then roll a d4. On a 1 the fog will be light and only limit sight over long ranges (perhaps at increments of 100-400 yards), but if I rolled a 4 on the d4, then the limit to sight might begin after 10 feet, at which point a creature would get 1/4 cover, at 20 feet 1/2 cover, at 30 feet 3/4 cover, and at 40 feet full cover. This would effect any monsters relying on site to discover the PC’s as well as for the PC’s noticing the monsters. Imagine if the players smell some monster but can’t see it, or they only get glimpses through the rolling fog – that adds a lot of atmosphere to an encounter, and it has suddenly become a lot more interesting and challenging for all involved!

Example 2. I roll “rain” on the weather die.
I might then roll a d6 to discover how heavy the rain is and a d4 to work out how long it will last. A roll of 1 on the d6 might just be a drizzle and not have any immediate effect, yet, if I rolled a 4 on the d4, then that drizzle will last four hours, and even after four hours those who are wearing padded armor or certain types of clothing might be soaked and the players might want to consider taking a break to dry off or begin to feel some level of exhaustion. If I rolled a 4 on the d6 and a 1 on the d4, then at that point I would know that the rain would be heavier and would last one hour. Heavy rain would effect line of sight (think of partial cover effecting the AC for monsters and PCs), it would also be detrimental to ranged attacks and spells. Exact details can always be looked up in one of the books I referred to earlier, but if you don’t want to slow down the game, you can simply add modifiers of of -1 to -4 to relevant attacks or attribute checks to detect things through the heavy rain.

Example 3. I roll “wind” on the weather die.
Wind will effect not only flying creatures, but missile attacks, some spells, and depending on whether you are upwind or downwind, your sense of smell and any sounds that are being made. Rolling a d6 could let you know whether it is 10-60 mph, and of course you can apply the relevant modifiers to attacks or attribute checks. Imagine hearing a howl, or a scream and not be entirely sure where it came from in the 40 mph wind? The same can happen with a smell that a character might pick up. The wind can distort a smell or sound and this can lead to an opportunity for the monsters or PC’s to come up with a strategy to surprise the other, or perhaps for the others to fail their surprise attack!

Example 4. Combine dice rolls.
If I roll “rain” and “wind” on two weather die rolls, then I’ve got a thunderstorm rolling in, and now we’ve got wind and rain effecting everyone in all the areas I described above. And if it has been raining for a long time, then surfaces may be slick and people may have difficulty maintaining footing, and this in turn may require checks to see if they slip and fall.

When outdoors weather is something everyone encounters, all the time, and yet in most games I’ve been in, weather is ignored and the monsters encountered are assumed to be met on some generic moderately lit day, and night encounters on a moderately star-filled night. But with weather dice everything is changed. Even a bright sunny day can effect what you see, since some flying monsters might fly in to attack in the direction of the sun which is a blind spot for the players. Wind, rain, clouds, fog, sun, snow, lightning, etc. These are all weather conditions that you can find on a weather die and each one of them can alter what you see, hear, and smell. Give it a try, I think you’ll find that it adds a lot to a game. If you have tried this, I would love to hear what you’ve experienced!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, session 21.

Summary:
Two worshipers of Crom receive a feat of strength challenge from him for a reward. Beloved gnome druid Magnus critically fails in his attacks twice hitting himself and an ally, and he is asked by another character disappointed and worried by his lack of skill to please leave the combat!

Game Diary:
We left off last time with the adventurers in the middle of the Tomb of Thorin Zuse, a barbarian-prince of Crom who fought in the Orc Wars 500 years before, allegedly killed 2,000 orcs, and summoning an army of 13,000 to drive the rest back. When he finally died on a mound of orcs, he was buried in a hidden tomb with the orcs he had destroyed. Now, half a millennia later, the adventurers have found the tomb and made their way through the first half-dozen rooms learning that goblins had found their way in and made this place their home. Room by room the adventurers took down the goblin warriors.

This session they continued to descend deeper and found themselves entering a room from the north with openings to the west and east where more goblin warriors emerged to attack them. The western goblin group formed a shield wall with a shaman behind them preparing to cast cause fear on the nearest victim he could touch, while another group of goblin warriors formed another shield wall from the east with a shaman behind them prepared to cast spells. Many brave adventurers went to meet this challenge, Sir Sandwyche (human paladin), Gwar (half-orc barbarian of Crom), Rok (half-orc fighter of Crom), Bitters (dwarven cleric/fighter of Thor), and Homonoea (human dragonslayer of Athena) were perhaps the most energetic to come to blows with these goblins (goblins in my world are the corruption of the dwarves). Most of the warriors above took on the challenge of a frontal assault on the goblin shield wall and managed to get some blows in. Juhraveal (half-elf rogue of Bast) went to attack from behind, and a goblin shaman used this opportunity to touch the half-elf and cause fear in her. Even with a bless spell that Bitters had cast, she was at a disadvantage. A standout moment, however, was when Magnus (gnome druid) went to attack and rolled a critical fail. I rolled the critical fail die I use from New Comet Games and it was a ‘crit self.’ Not good. It is never good when you discover that you are capable of delivering damage, but it is on yourself!

Fortunately, the other adventurers were competent and the goblins fell before them. In the next half-dozen rooms they completed exploring the area the goblins came to dwell in and managed to seal off an opening in the ceiling the goblins had used to enter/exit the tomb from nearly 200 feet above them on the surface. With all the goblins dealt with and an entrance point sealed, they found a secret door that led into a part of the Tomb of Thorin Zuse untouched for centuries. Upon making their way through this, Juhraveal sealed the secret door to ensure that no one else would find them as they finished exploring the remainder of the tomb (but of course this would also slow their retreat if this became necessary!).

Crom, Lord of the Great Mountain (art by aquilianranger)

Having now entered the untouched area of the tomb, they came across a room with tapestries displaying Thorin Zuse battling Orcs while standing on the bodies of the previously slain, each of the four tapestries were worth 1,000 gold pieces each, which was the most loot this group had yet found in their adventuring (in my version of the Dragonclaw Barony, dragons and dragon-kin number prominently, and through their acute senses and greed have gathered, taken, or demanded treasure from those that have it displayed prominently, thus the only way to acquire wealth is to either bury it well, or be able to defend it well). The group had used up a lot of resources fighting all these dozens of goblins, and now they were sealed in this area, they rested for the night to replenish health and spells.

During the night, Rok and Gwar, the two warriors that worship Crom, were visited by the Lord of the Great Mountain in their dreams (Thorin Zuse was a worshiper of Crom, so this tomb was filled with the presence of Crom). In their dreams they ascended a great mountain at the level of the clouds, and upon reaching the peak, they saw large, bushy eyebrows and eyes from their god appearing through the clouds and in a booming voice he gave each of them a challenge. The first challenge was to sunder an enemies armor, and if successful, they would be able to ignore the effects of poison and acid at a critical moment. For the other, they were given the challenge of opening or destroying a door or container, and if they succeeded they would automatically pass a constitution or dexterity check when they needed it [I love using decks of cards made for RPG’s to liven up the game – such as the Deck of Dirty Tricks for my Tuesday Barrowmaze game, and these challenges/rewards came from the Heroic Challenges Roleplaying Cards designed by LoreSmyth in a kickstarter I supported last year]. Crom is a patient god, and whenever these warriors complete these feats of strength, he will reward them. I look forward to seeing how the players find a way to work this into the game!

The group awoke the next morning healed up and with spells re-learned. The very next room they entered was a tomb with six open coffins with skeletons inside holding rusty iron maces. Juhraveal walked into the room, looked into a coffin, saw what I just described, and when she turned around to tell the others what she saw the skeleton reached up and grabbed her from behind to pull itself up and then whack her with its mace! The warriors once again flooded into the room, and with barbarians, fighters, paladins, and dragonslayers there was plenty of muscle to deal with this, or so one would think, but the skeletons left their coffins and moved in for their attacks and they hit hard (I rolled near maximum on my maces for damage). It was not long before Homonoea was down to 0 hit points and unable to do anything but move at half speed. Bitters managed to turn undead, but then Magnus decided it was time to help again and he rolled a critical fail which meant he hit an ally, and Bitters was the recipient. Bitters fell unconscious at -2 hit points. This meant his turn undead would fade and the skeletons would return to attack the next round. Sir Sandwyche darted over to Bitters and laid on hand to bring him back to 0 hit points and others placed a cure light wounds to bring him back to positive so that he could fight and cast spells again. It was here that Endur “the Thick”, the human fighter known for his limited cognitive capabilities told Magnus he should leave the combat for the good of the group. Once Magnus stopped “helping” the group they completed in taking down the skeletons! 😉

This was just the first battle in the first room since they woke up rested, but already two of them had been badly beaten up. It will be interesting to see how they proceed when we get together again in a fortnight. This is a great group and I love the interplay on Discord between all the diverse and different players we have spread out over the US, Canada, and northern Europe. We’ve been together now for many months and even when people crit fail on themselves and others there are jokes and humor to be shared by everyone. Personalities are really shining with this group!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 55.

Summary:
On their way to a Viking Thing (i.e. Assembly), the Army of the Light are ambushed by Norse Hill Giants and their Ogre followers under the payment of the more influential Norse Jötun Giants, who are seeking blood vengeance for an attack on clan allies the previous year.

Backstory:
The previous year the Army of the Light was recruited to stop Jötun Giants that had attacked the walls of Ironguard Motte. The group headed into the Moon Peaks to take them on. The challenge was almost beyond them, however, they had a card from the Deck of Dirty Tricks that allowed them to summon a random encounter to come to their aid, and the random roll of the dice brought in Stone Giants to aid them! All seemed well and they were hailed as heroes upon return.

Game Diary:
It is now a year later. Gimli “rot face”, the dwarven berserker afflicted with a rotting body resulting from his encounter entering the Pit of Chaos, and a week before becoming a werewolf under the dual moons of Lunacy, is heading east out of the Duchy of Aerik with his “thingmen” to attend the Þhing (assembly), organized by the goði (chieftain) of this district, Thorgrímr Osricsson [a quick aside: I am currently working my way through the Icelandic Sagas and engaging in academic research into Norse culture, which is making its way into my game world, and thus some of the medieval Icelandic terms and spelling]. Thorgrímr has noticed that Gimli is on his way to becoming a major figure in the area and wants that power on his side (Gimli is currently 5th level, and a situation is being set up so that if Gimli survives to 9th level and has reached the point when he can gather followers and acquire a piece of land, then it will be Thorgrímr who will provide him with a longhouse and an elite group of berserkers under his command).

The journey to the Þhing is one week east of the Duchy of Aerik. The first evening at resting on the side of the road as the forest is giving way to open grass lands with rocky plateaus scattered about, they encountered a 30 foot long gray worm with sharp teeth surrounding its open maw sneaks in during the middle of the night and swallows the gnome bard, Belden whole and moves off. The rest on watch kill the massive beast and little Bedlen crawls out and spends the night washing and cleaning his clothes from all the worms interior goo.

On day two they follow the lonely road with their two wagons of ten adventurers and gifts for the assembly. But then on a plateau north of the west-east road they are traveling on, they make out three hill giants, two are beating drums, and one, clearly the chieftain named Bogar, is chanting. The giant’s morale goes up from the frightening sounds and those of the adventurers slips. Then six ogres emerge from the 6 foot tall grass and begin hurling rocks at the group. The Army of the Light break into roughly two groups, five make their way south of the road to take on three of the ogres, and another five focus on the three ogres north of the road (as well as the three hill giants, who are currently focused on enhancing their ogre minions). Even with the hill giant chants/drum beats and a blessing from their god (Grolantor), I miss more than I hit, and the adventurers send in their owl companion to distract ogres, others summon swarm to wear down other ogres, Balthazar, the elven wizard (who has the head of a lizard and torso of an ape due to the Pit of Chaos) launches magic missiles at the hill giants, and Gimli enters Oðins Fury and makes multiple bow attacks each round on ogres and hill giants.

Bogar, the Hill Giant Chieftain

The hill giants and ogres are a bit taken aback by their lack of success from the war chants and Grolantor’s blessings, the hill giants stop the drumming and chanting and begin hurling boulders from the plateau south toward the adventurers. The rock and boulder throwing is met by magic missiles and arrow fire. Eventually players make it through the high grass and enter melee with the ogres. Some are more enthusiastic than others and a critical fail of 1 ended up being a critical hit on an ally next to them (when I rolled the critical fail die). Bogar, the hill giant chief leaps off the plateau and is met by Roulf, the half-roc Drachentöten (Dragonslayer) of Crom. Bogar falls under many blows and Roulf cuts off his head and enters his dragon dance of intimidation with Bogar’s head held above him. Another hill giant falls from ranged attacks onto the surface of the plateau, and the third leaps off the plateau and heads away from Roulf to attack Gimli. Rolando, a hobbit rogue/pacer stabs him from behind, and other powerful warriors attack him from the front. Just like Bogar before him, he falls into the tall grass with a thud, like a giant tree. The remaining ogres are easily dispatched.

The Army of the Light took a lot of damage and needed rest, and upon looking behind the plateau discover the hill giants and ogres had a giant wagon with over a 1,000 gold pieces and some gifts which they were going to take to the Þhing. The group took the loot as their own and rest up for the next leg of their trip. They might be worried, though, for it was known that Bogar was most likely under the pay of a Jötun Giant named Asbjorn, who is the one seeking blood vengeance for the fallen Jötun Giants from last year. He is most likely waiting for them somewhere during their remaining four day journey. They can only hope they are prepared well enough to take on this challenging obstacle!

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 54.

Summary:
Wereboars, wererats, and werewolves continue to swarm into East Tan in waves during the double full moons of Lunacy. Another character contracts the curse of lycanthropy and turns into a wererat!

(art by Karl Lindbergh)

Game Diary:
Last week was difficult and intense for the players, James (arcane thief) was bitten by a werewolf pack lord, turned into a werewolf, and then burned to a crisp by a player casting fireball to prevent the infection from spreading. Gimli (dwarven berserker) was also turned into a werewolf, but he survived the fireball and the players managed to put him in manacles and place him in a gaol cell in the barracks where he was watched over as the sun was setting at 21:00.

This week we continued right were we left off. It was now approaching 22:00 and the PC’s spread out to key positions around the East Tannery outpost. The tactic the lycanthropes took was to attack in overlapping waves so that the characters would not be able to congregate together and help each other out. This kept them spread out, and although the four players this session had 9 characters amongst them, in most cases only 3 or 4 characters were involved in a combat since the others had to fend off threats from other directions. The way I organized this was to run a combat and as we entered the third or fourth round I let the players know that something was beginning to occur in another part of the outpost and that the characters in that location were going to have to deal with it and would be unable to move to the current location of battle to assist. Then, when that battle came to an end several rounds later we immediately jumped to the other location for the new battle, and then three or four rounds into that I let them know that another location was beginning to see action and the characters there were now busy. Then, when this battle came to an end several rounds later we then jumped straight into the next combat. This went on for three hours – I was exhausted trying to run non-stop battles happening concurrently in real time, and like the characters in the adventure, I didn’t give myself or my players a chance to breath or rest in between!

So much happened in this four hour game, but I will just hit on a couple of the combat highlights.

At one point two werewolves and six wolves attacked the barracks (‘B’ on the map) to free Gimli, their freshly turned werewolf pack member. The battle was intense. The two werewolves worked at the two south doors with one finally tearing it off its hinges and they all swarmed in. There were 6 guards at the barracks helping defend the location, but in the end five of them had their throats torn out by the wolves and the sixth was turned into a werewolf and then killed by the PC’s. Gimli, who had been under a charm person as a way to try and keep him calm under the two full moons, was broken free of it by his werewolf pack members, he then activated his Odin’s Fury berserker ability, and began struggling to break free of his manacles. Fortunately for the group, after the werewolf/wolf group was defeated, Belden (bard), took out his piccolo and used his fascinate ability to calm Gimli’s nerves again.

In the north by the inn (‘I’ on the map) three wererats and three rats moved in to attack. PC’s who had owl and giant bat familiars managed to fly in and pick off the rats. Zen (monk) faced the three wererats, as well as three crossbowmen on large crossbow turrets built into the Army of the Light’s custom made ‘war wagon.’ The three wererats circled and flanked him and he was eventually bitten and failed his saving throw and immediately turned into a wererat under the two full moons. Now located in the center of the wagon, Balthatzar (elf/mongrelman wizard) was not taking any chances and launched a lightning bolt dead center on the wagon. The crossbowmen were fried to a crisp, the crossbow turrets were destroyed, and the war wagon was heavily damaged. Zen was still standing, however, and noticed Gnoosh (gnome rogue/illusionist) approaching up the central road toward him, he lept from higher ground to bite the little man. During these two nights of adventuring there was a Deck of Dirty Tricks card that would let someone to teleport to a previous location, but no one had thus far remembered to use it, until this moment. Gnoosh knew that if bitten he would probably fail his Con save, so he chose to teleport directly onto the wagon as Zen leaped down to attack him. Zen, caught by surprise, turned around to face Gnoosh who was standing were he just lept from, and Gnoosh hit him with a color spray, rendering him unconscious. Zen awoke in a gaol cell next to Gimli in the barracks, where Belden’s soothing piccolo toons calmed and fascinated him as well as the dwarf. Belden’s player said he would play throughout the night until the moons faded and the morning sun rose. It was now roughly 2:00 am, that would require hours of playing, I had the player make a roll to see if the bard could keep playing for several hours – he passed! For the rest of the night the lycanthropes kept their distance.

Over the next couple of days Llewelyn (elven cleric/wizard) attempted to remove curse (which required a spellcaster check vs. a challenge level due to the strength of this curse), he passed for Zen and he was returned to normal. However, Gimli’s bond with lycanthrope remains strong.