Saturday, July 27, 2013

For a while there I honestly thought the kids and I would never play another round of our Pathfinder game again.  Luckily, I was wrong.  It had been almost a year since our last session, but then this weekend out of the blue we played two days in a row.  I hope I'm not dooming our campaign by saying that it would appear we're back on track.  Based on the girls' enthusiasm, I believe we'll be playing some more sessions in the coming weeks.

It took some time to work out exactly where we left off, and to figure out which versions of the kids' character sheets were the correct ones.  For some reason when they level up or switch to a new character sheet format they don't throw out the old ones.  Sophie says it's because the sheets themselves give her fond memories.  That's nice and all, and I find it touching, but I'm not at all certain that it's worth the ensuing chaos when they can't figure out what their stats are.

Once we got all that squared away, I was under the gun to figure out what would happen next.

I have changed a lot as a game master over the last year.  I haven't been running games with my kids during that time, but I have continued gaming with my adult group.  I used to spend hours each week preparing encounters, but I've got so much other stuff going on in my life these days that I just don't have time for that level of prep.  Therefore I have switched to a more improvisational style, but it's not as easy as I was hoping it would be.  I feel constant pressure to stay ahead of the group with fresh ideas, and I actually lose sleep after a session when I realize that I should have run an encounter differently.  This happens almost every session.  The pressure is all internal, of course;  my friends have been nothing but supportive.  I'm just a bit of a perfectionist, and it goes against my every instinct to just wing it.  Yet wing it I must.

That's what I did with the kids these past two sessions, and it seems to be working out okay.  All I have to do is stay one encounter ahead of them, and if I get stuck, I reach into my bag of tricks. For example, one of the characters was exploring a hallway and rolled a natural 20 on her perception roll.  I had no idea what, if anything, there was for her to perceive, but I let her actions and her high roll guide me.  I figured her senses were sharp, so I thought maybe she might hear something.  Something...scurrying behind the walls, maybe?  They made a note of that, and when they found a door leading to that area, they started speculating about what might be making the noise.  Now I'm thinking I'll put vermin in that room. I'll have to come up with something more interesting than that when they actually go in there, but it's a start. Maybe the vermin are eating something in there?  It's all food for thought. 

I also pulled out one of the puzzles for the music dungeon I was preparing for them.  They're actually in the music dungeon now, but I never actually got around to building out the adventure.  By that I mean, I never mapped it, never populated it with creatures, etc.  So I'm just totally winging it.  To this end I place doors everywhere because doors slow them down long enough for me to come up with what might be on the other side of them. They can't rush the doors because they know doors may be trapped.  So while they were trying to decide what to do with one particular door, I scrambled to find my entry on this blog about the Tuning Room, and when they went to open the door, I was ready.  

Finally, I have come to rely on tables like this one:  Monster Statistics by CR.  CR is basically the level of difficulty of a monster.   Although this table is meant to be used for carefully creating a custom monster during prep time, I've been using it completely on the fly.  I can make up whatever magical power or attacks I want these creatures that I spin out of thin air to have, and the table gives me the mechanical crunch for those powers based on how powerful I want the critter to be.  I also have another table I printed out (but can't find online at the moment) that gives me the same kind of info for skills challenges.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Swashling Bucks

A game broke out spontaneously at my house this weekend.  Sophie decided to run a game using the Pathfinder Beginner Box, making up an adventure on the fly.  Nora and one of their friends from down the street played, and I joined in.

The girl, whom we'll call 'L', played one of the pre-generated characters from the box set.  The sheet described the character as a swashbuckler.  L asked what the word meant and I told her.  Her subsequent play would suggest that she interpreted this in the most violent way possible.  Meanwhile, I played a cleric who was determined to convert anyone and everyone to the worship of Serenrae.  This is the same character who insisted on donating loot to "the orphans" a few months back.  Nora played a "fashion fighter," which she described as someone who fights and kills people who aren't fashionable. The pieces were set:  I would play the lone voice of reason between two murderous adventurers.

It didn't take us long to figure out what we were supposed to do.  A terrorist human named Josh was kidnapping children from around town, and we were the only ones equipped to deal with him.  L went around town with her rapier drawn, trying to intimidate people into telling her where Josh was hiding, referring to him as "the human kidnapper."  She wasn't getting anywhere fast with this approach.  For her part, Nora was wheeling and dealing, borrowing gold against future looting profits at exorbitant interest rates just so she could buy fashionable dresses, tiaras, armor, and accessories.  Her matching pink chain mail and shield will surely set her apart from her peers.

It was up to me to figure out where Josh and his gang were hiding.  One guy seemed to be lying to L, so I followed him to a tavern to keep an eye on him.  I'm still not sure if he was really hiding anything, but some bribes to the barkeeper got me all kinds of information.  The human kidnapper was rumored to be hiding out either in the old mines at the edge of town, or under the long-dormant volcano, Mt. Toughmore.  And a guy by the name of Biggle living across the street knew where the hidden door into the volcano could be found.  I met Biggle and convinced him to show us the way for 10 gp.  We agreed to meet at his doorstep at first light the following morning.

When it was Nora's turn, I was treated to this gem of a conversation:

Nora:  "How much is the shield?"
Sophie:  "Twenty dollars."
Nora (not at all joking):  "Oh good!  Now I won't have to spend the rest of my gold!"
Sophie:  "Sorry, I mean gold, not dollars.  Twenty gold pieces."
Nora (crestfallen): "Oh..."

Then I went outside to do some yard work while the kids continued to play out the shopping portion of the game.  At one point I was talking to my new neighbor when Sophie ran out to ask me a question.  "Dad, L wants to pick a person's pocket.  How do we do it?"

"She rolls a d20 and adds her Sleight of Hand bonus against the target's Perception," I replied.

"I don't see Sleight of Hand."

"Just use Stealth then."

"Ok!"  And she ran off.

My neighbor looked at me.  "Dungeons & Dragons?"



"Pathfinder."  He nodded.  Turns out he used to play, but I digress.

Eventually the girls were ready to join Biggle and me and head to Mt. Toughmore to apprehend Josh the human kidnapper.  We arrived at the hidden door and couldn't get it open.  Through a hole in the door we could see there was someone on the other side.  I asked if we could come in, you know, just to talk a little bit about Serenrae.  "It will only take a few minutes of your time," I assured him, "but it could change your whole life for the better."  He didn't let us in, but eventually we figured out the trick with the door and got in anyway.

The first room's lone inhabitant was a goblin.  Instead of killing him, I hired him.  L explained to the goblin that she was a "buckswashler."

"You swashle bucks?" I asked.

"That's right!" she declared.  Who was I to judge?

After that it was stab all the things.  Boggarts, giant spiders, you name it.  Kids were really into it, although Nora tried to get out of having to do the actual fighting at first.  "Here, give me the torch, and I'll give you my sword so you can attack."

"I already have a sword."

"That's ok, I can still hold the torch for you."

"That's fine," I said, "but we won't be sharing the treasure with people who don't share the risks."  That fixed that problem. 

Good times.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Generation via d12

Stumbled on this site via Reddit: The Dungeon Dozen.  All kinds of things you can generate with a d12.

I love these things.

Which reminds me, my 20 Death Scenes generator from my last post came in handy last night.  I walked into the dungeon with five level-0 characters, and only one survived.  Well, so far...we still have at least three rooms left to clear.  Anyway, it was fun to role-play my elf ("Berelon Glathoniel the Enlightened, on Whom Shines the Light of Everlasting Utar") describing in gruesome detail how badly the spear in his spleen hurt.  Berelon went on to be revived by one Farmer Brown, who was himself killed just moments later.  Farmer Brown is survived by his duck.

Dungeon Crawl Classics:  very high mortality rate.  And a ton of fun.  I love the idea of Darwinian pressure determining who will be remembered as heroes, and who will forever be relegated to the status of monster fodder.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

20 Death Scenes

My kids and I haven't had a chance to play RPGs in quite some time.  I do, however, play weekly with my friends.  One game we plan to try out in the not so distant future is an old-school style game called Dungeon Crawl Classics ("DCC") by Goodman Games.

DCC has a high mortality rate, and since I'll be a player rather than DM, my characters will be dying a lot.  So I decided that it might be useful to have some final moments ready for when my characters kick the bucket.  You know, just a few last words and actions before giving up the ghost.

Roll 1d20:

  1. Try to say something, but keep spitting up blood.
  2. Be the guy who cries for his momma.
  3. Pull another PC close to your face and whisper a single, final word, as if it is a vital clue upon which the other character's survival depends.  Something vague like, "the sanctuary."
  4. Chuckle to yourself as you finally comprehend the universe's big joke.
  5. Be lost in confusion and utter disbelief.  You have no idea you're dying.
  6. Smile and say something like, "That's not so bad.  I've had worse."  Then keel over without another sound.
  7. Die slowly, thinking each sentence is your last.  Make the scene get progressively more awkward as you run out of things to say.
  8. Swear like a sailor.  Nothing but a long, unbroken stream of what Spongebob would call "sentence enhancers."
  9. "Well, this is it!  So long!"
  10. Blame one of the other PCs for your death and place a curse on them.
  11. Shower everyone around you with praise ("You were all so wonderful, thank you, thank you!"), then politely bid adieu.
  12. Act like you're faking your death.  "Just kidding, folks, I'm fine!  See?"  Then die.
  13. Explain to everyone around you in exquisite detail how badly it hurts, how it's more excruciating than they can possibly imagine.  Leave out no details.  Then:  "Just wait, you'll see!"
  14. Give bogus surgical instructions on how the other PCs must save you.
  15. Obsess over what a big mess you're making.  Blood and guts all over your new armor, your new boots, the carpet, etc.  
  16. Make a bizarre final request about an heirloom or a body part, or both.  Think in terms of the watch in Pulp Fiction.
  17. Offer to sing to those around you the "song of my people."  Begin by singing a poignant note, then die, followed by scatological sounds as your body voids its bowels.
  18. Tell one of the other PCs (roll a die to determine which one) that you always secretly loved them.
  19. Demand that certain rites be performed before you die to avoid your soul suffering eternal torment.  Tenaciously cling to life until those rites are performed.
  20. Act mortified (see what I did there?) and embarrassed, apologizing profusely to everyone for dying in so inconvenient a matter. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Natural Consequences Should Have More Bite

We played this weekend after another long break.  It was a tough session for me.  The first hour was lost to unfinished business associated with leveling up, during which those kids who were already finished whined incessantly that we weren't doing anything.  When we did finally get started, we stalled right out of the gate.  The kids were in rare form, fighting with each other for 45 minutes about whether to go left or right at the very first intersection.  Voices were raised, feelings were hurt, and one player in particular - one of my own kids - just didn't want to drop it.  I should have sent her away, but it kept feeling like we were right on the cusp of having the whole thing resolved.  Alas, we were not.

I tried resolving it in-game a couple of different ways.  First, I offered to let the main dissenter go her own way.  After all, that's what she kept saying:  "I go to the right." But when only one person offered to accompany her, she wouldn't actually go.  I kept asking, "So you went to the right...tell me about how you're proceeding."  And she kept responding, "We all need to go to the right!"  Loudly.  But the other kids wanted to go to the left, and she never committed to the action of striking out on her own.  Mainly because she didn't want her character to get eaten.  Safety in numbers has been firmly established as a wise aphorism in our campaign.

Then I tried letting the bickering itself yield natural consequences.  The characters were walking on a narrow path that was zig-zagging down the face of a cliff in a vast, dark, subterranean space.  One of the characters had morphed into a bird and cast a Light spell on herself so that she could be a glowing bird.  So there they were, out in the open, accompanied by a bobbing, living beacon, standing out like sore thumbs, and yelling at each other.  Easy pickings, right?  I reasoned that one of the dungeon's big baddies, a hungry and foul-tempered wyvern, would hear this commotion and zero in on it for lunch.  So that's what happened.

The kids promptly kicked its butt.

The wyvern flew in and attacked the elf, missing her with his tail stinger.  The rest of the crew rallied and struck back, bringing it down to just 3 hit points remaining by the time its turn rolled back around.  It had been hovering there so that when its turn came around again it would be able to use its full attack (sting and bite and wings, all at once).  Rookie mistake, and one I've made and learned from in the past.  Not sure what I was thinking.  I should have taken advantage of its Flyby Attack.  Talk about underestimating the kids, right?

So the wyvern flew off with Elerisa's arrow lodged in its eyeball, but at least it lives to fight another day.  And the kids didn't learn a damn thing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kids Role Play the Darnedest Things

My buddy Adam recommended this topic.  These are the top 10 things I've seen my kids do in RPGs that I've never seen my adult friends do:

10.  Purchase spare trousers, with an eye toward having a variety of colors in one's wardrobe.
9.  Jump into water.  My friends know that it is always bad in my games to wind up "in the drink," as we call it, whereas my kids are still learning this the hard way.  As of today, they still joyfully leap into turbulent, subterranean rivers.
8.  Float downstream in an umbrella. Heck, even purchasing an umbrella is something you don't usually see.
7.  Loudly proclaim their royal heritage within earshot of armed thugs.
6.  Defecate outdoors.  With adult games, elimination is always assumed and never discussed.  My kids, on the other hand, very deliberately relieved themselves in the bushes before entering the Tomb of Horrors, and discussed the logistics of keeping lookout before doing so.
5.  Quietly remain hidden to allow a band of goblins to pass by unmolested.  No opportunity for a fight is passed up by my friends.
4.  Spend half their wealth having a dress altered from size Elf to size Halfling.
3.  Attempt to converse with a gelatinous cube. 
2.  Google the elven language to learn a variety of phrases for the express purpose of insulting the dwarves in the party.
...and the top thing my kids do that my grown-up friends do not:
1.  LARP.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thinking Outside the Box

A scene from Saturday, before the Oogma encounter:

The river races faster and faster, disappearing over an edge where it plummets to unknown depths.  Four adventurers are in the water, struggling just to stay afloat as the current pulls them inexorably toward the falls.  Just above the falls, though, a rope bridge extends all the way across, just barely reachable from the water.  Ratfolk archers line the banks on either side, preventing the heroes from reaching the banks.  Unknown to the adventurers, the Ratfolk have a huge net extended just beyond the edge of the falls to catch anyone who goes over.  Their intent is to sacrifice captives to appease Oogma.

Elerisa the elven princess lunges for the bridge and catches hold.  Wren the elven druid reaches for it too, and she grabs it.  Then it's Fiona the halfling druid's turn.  Her player announces she is too short to grab the bridge.   I am about to let her lunge for it just like the others, but since she doesn't seem alarmed, I allow her statement to stand.

"I reach for Wren's waist so I can hold on to her," she says.  She rolls well and succeeds.

Then it's Pinky the dog's turn.  Pinky is being played by a girl down the street who doesn't normally join us.  She decides to latch on with her teeth to Fiona's leggings, and she succeeds.  We end up with two elves holding on for dear life to the bottom of a rope bridge as the river tries to pull them over the edge of the waterfall, while a halfling and her dog form a chain clinging to the weaker of the two elves.

Elerisa climbs up onto the rope bridge, then starts firing arrows into the Ratfolk.  They respond with a volley of arrows that knocks her unconscious.  She falls from the bridge and into the water, where she is caught by the net as she goes over the falls.

Wren attempts to pull herself up onto the bridge, but the weight of Fiona and Pinky, plus the powerful pull of the river, is too much.  She can't hold on much longer, and Fiona and Pinky are getting pounded by the current.  The Ratfolk prepare to fire at Wren to force her to let go.

Fiona:  "Can Pinky hold onto Wren's leg instead of mine?"

GM:  "Sure."

Fiona:  "Pinky, hold on to Wren's leg.  I'll help you."

Pinky:  "I switch to Wren's leg."

GM (handwaving the roll):  "Ok, Pinky, you're holding on to Wren's leg now."

Fiona:  "Can I hold on to Wren with my legs instead of my hands?"

GM:  "Sure, but you'll be upside down with your head in the water."

Fiona:  "Ok.  I do that.  What do I roll?"

GM:  "Roll a d20."  (scrambles to decide what the target DC should be, and what kind of skill check it should be)

Fiona (rolls):  "19?"

GM (relieved because it's a very high roll so I don't need to decide after all):  "Yep, you succeed."

Fiona:  "With my free hands I cast Entangle on the Ratfolk."

GM (chuckling at the revelation of where this plan is going):  "The river makes it difficult to concentrate.  Roll a concentration check, and beat a 20."

Fiona beats a 20.


And so it was that the halfling druid, while effectively being waterboarded, successfully cast a spell that entangled several of the Ratfolk.