Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Tomb of Horrors

A few weeks ago I had a crazy idea to run my kids through a classic AD&D module known as S1: Tomb of Horrors by Gary Gygax. Written in 1975, this adventure has the reputation of being perhaps the most difficult commercially available dungeon ever created for the game. I advise players against risking their most cherished characters in the Tomb, as death comes swiftly and often. Better to create throwaway characters for use exclusively in the Tomb, and avoid becoming too attached to the doomed delvers.

I chose this dungeon for several reasons. First, I never had a chance to play it when I was younger. I was never really that alert to the RPG scene, especially back then as a kid, and so when I heard about this killer module and went to buy it, I picked up the wrong one (pretty sure I snagged this one). Oh well. I have it now, years later, but I made sure to grab a copy of the original version, rather than one of the adaptations for later editions. I didn't want the imminent threat of death to get watered down. Later editions of the game are soft on characters. Characters nowadays are heroes destined for greatness. Back then, characters were just as likely to end up as monster food. "Destiny" was a term awarded to characters only after they survived long enough to both accomplish heroic feats and retire in one piece, but I digress.

The second reason I chose this dungeon is because the way it is written, it is all about the players vs. the dungeon, not the characters vs. the dungeon. Tomb of Horrors is a series of puzzles, maps, and traps, and it is up to the players to solve these challenges rather than for the dice to do so. No passive perception checks with a d20 to see if the characters notice anything fishy, for example. Nope. The players have to announce where they look, where they step, what they touch, etc. If they want to find traps, they have a percentage chance to succeed, but they have to say exactly where they're checking and what kinds of things they're looking for. You get through the ordeal by using your brain and taking extraordinary precautions, or you get through it by having your characters die, rolling up new ones, entering the tomb again, and remembering what you did wrong last time so you can avoid death the next time around. Obviously this latter approach is very "meta" (because new characters shouldn't really have access to knowledge that the player gained from a totally different character). Normally I do not permit actions based on meta knowledge, but in this adventure I make an exception. The dungeon was created by an adult to challenge expert, adult players. I'm running kids ages 7 to 12 here. They'll need all the meta knowledge they can get.

So we were playing today during Hurricane Irene, via candlelight. Kind of creepy. Also kind of difficult. I couldn't see the map and room descriptions, and the kids couldn't read their character sheets. We used a flashlight to solve this problem.

There were six kids: my three, two from next door, and a new player from two doors down. Five girls and one boy. The new girl is 7 years old, and a real stitch. Great little role player and keeps us all laughing. This was our second session in the Tomb: last time it took us 4 hours just to find a way in and deal with the first encounter. Much of that time was lost shopping for farm animals followed by a tactical discussion around elimination in the wild. The kids' game is definitely a different experience than the sessions I run with my peers.

Today, things started out rough: kids bickering over trivial matters, goofing off, talking out of turn, etc. You know, like kids do. This irritates me to no end. After all, I was taking a peaceful nap, enjoying the hurricane. I had the sounds of wind, rain, and the oscillating fan, all at once. It was the perfect storm (pun unintended but enjoyed nonetheless). And they came and got me, not the other way around, and for what? To listen to them bicker and yell? I almost got up and left the table. Instead, I told them to roll initiative.

Nothing gets their attention like those two words: "roll initiative." Initiative usually means combat, and combat is serious stuff that commands respect. They were instantly rapt. But I wasn't thinking combat. I had something else in mind.

Based on the initiative order, I asked each one in turn what they were doing next. If anyone spoke out of turn, I politely cut them off and returned attention to the person whose turn it was. If the player used her turn to speak to another player, I allowed that conversation to occur in character. I only answered questions asked in turn, though I would have respected any that were asked politely. This approach got things going smoothly for two whole rounds! The game was finally progressing, and before long the halfling fell into a pit of spikes but narrowly avoided death.

Speaking of avoiding things narrowly, it was precisely at that moment when we heard a huge whoosh! outside. Everyone got very excited and anxious and ran to the window to see what had happened. My wife had been watching out the window and saw the whole thing: a tree fell into our neighbor's driveway, just a few feet from my Honda CRV. That was it for the kids: they grabbed the flashlight and headed to the basement. Our descent into the Tomb of Horrors would be postponed.

Click to embiggen

Lights flickering around me again right now, so I'm signing off.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fantasy Inspired Art

I'm not sure what this is supposed to be, but it better not be a bong.

Click on the image to embiggen it.

This is from my 7-year-old. Usually she draws me dragons. Fiendishly good ones, actually. I mean, the artwork isn't technically anything special, but her dragons have an edge to them that I think is lacking in modern depictions of dragons. Hers look...diabolical. I think it's the horns.

But this? I have no idea what it's supposed to be. She went to bed before I could ask her about it, so it will have to remain a mystery for now.

Maybe it's a map?

Suddenly, a Game Breaks Out

For my birthday last week my wife gave me a rolling toolbox to put my RPG supplies in. This was a thoughtful gift. She had seen me make multiple trips to load up my car before heading out to game sessions. Usually it takes three trips. Now, thanks to my rolling toolbox, it will take only one trip, two if I'm bearing snacks. And it gives me a single place to store my stuff in between sessions.

I also picked up a 48" x 34.5" battlemat by Chessex. I love my new battlemat.

So on Thursday while I was at work I got a phone call from my oldest daughter. "Dad, where is Pinky's sheet?"

This could only mean one thing: they were playing Pathfinder. On their own, without me, which is exactly what I always want to happen. The more they figure things out for themselves, the more effective a learning tool it becomes. Anyway, I didn't know where Pinky's sheet was, but I knew how to help. "He's a riding dog. Look up 'dog' in the Bestiary."

"Oh, right. Ok, bye!" Click.

I learned later how it happened. The little girl next door was playing with my kids, and they were showing her my new toys. They were looking at all my minis and the new battlemat, getting more and more excited, and somebody finally said, "Hey, you know what? We should play!"

And so they did.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Mosster Truck

What a fun session we had today! The kids finally got a taste of the action waiting for them in our Savage Worlds Sxibi campaign setting. They started out at Billy Bob Bo's Weaponry Emporium (my 10-year-old named the store) where Ramoka bought a pair of punching daggers, and Lucia bought a used ray gun. Zukey asked for an elven curved blade, and the shopkeeper disappeared behind a curtain. A moment later there was a flash of light, a crackling sound, and the smell of ozone. Then he returned handling an elven curved blade oven mitts, and advised Zukey to be careful because the sword was "hot." Then he effectively robbed her by charging her $200 for the sword (he had asked how much she was willing to pay, and she had replied $200. Sold).

While deciding on the ray gun, my daughter asked me to look up pics of ray guns online so she could decide what she wanted it to look like. She ended up drawing one from her imagination, but we all thought this DIY project looked cool.

After they had paid for their weapons, a delivery man walked in and handed some packages to Billy Bob Bo. Lucia's danger sense warned her that something was wrong, and her hair turned brown. She tried to warn the shopkeeper, but it was too late, the package exploded and purple moss shot in every direction. It stuck to a few of the customers in the store and killed them. That's all the adventurers needed to see, and they left the store lickety-split, passing a befuddled-looking store security robot on the way. Out front, they noticed the delivery man's hover truck had moss growing on its sides. Ramoka's fur stood on end, and they elected to leave the scene...

...and visit a tattoo parlor! We spent about 15 minutes drawing tattoos and searching Google for ideas. Meanwhile, I went to YouTube and found this music (a style called Dubstep), which I told them was playing in the parlor. "Turn it up!" they said, because it really did feel right for the setting, and it was decided that the type of people working and hanging out at the tattoo parlor ("BAE," which stands for "Body Art Explosion") would want it loud. Thus it was that they each spent $50 and about an hour inside getting their ink done, while just outside the doors, the mosspocalypse was getting underway. As they were finishing up, they heard the screams from outside, and sporadic gunfire. Again, hair turned brown and fur stood on end, and they warily approached the door to see what was going on outside.

The first thing they saw was the hover truck, now completely covered in the purple moss, running amok, mowing down pedestrians, and crashing into everything. It was completely dominating the streets, careening around corners and then returning again with a vengeance. They also saw some people covered in moss ambling about. "Zombies! Moss zombies!" exclaimed Lucia. Then she announced her hair was no longer brown: it was now black. "What does black mean?" I asked.

"It means I'm deadly," she replied, drawing her laser pistol and preparing to step outside.

"But you'll hurt the people!" objected Ramoka.

"They're dead! Can't you see? It's too late, the moss got them!"

And so on.

Ramoka and Zukey hatched a plan to obtain weed killer, but they needed to know where to buy it. They consulted Robot (played by my wife), but they accidentally asked her where to find robot killer instead of where to find weed killer. Robot was so frightened by this slip of the tongue that she leaked oil all over the pavement, and refused to use her internet connection to aid them until they apologized and agreed to buy her some Quaker State motor oil. The kids agreed, and Ramoka and Zukey ran off to the pharmacy around the corner to get the weed killer (but not before Ramoka threw a tattoo needle into the face of one of the moss zombies).

Lucia stayed behind to fend off the other zombies. One of them hit her hard, leaving her shaken, but the moss didn't take root on her skin. She recovered quickly and took them out one by one with her pistol. Eventually Ramoka returned alone* with the weed killer, and the two of them went around another corner to follow the sounds of sirens, explosions, and automatic weapons fire they were hearing.

They found four SWAT team commandos with shields taking on the moss-covered hover truck. My youngest played the role of the cops, and since it wasn't her character, she was suddenly all about blowing away baddies. Ramoka charged in with the weed killer, spraying down one corner of the truck and delivering a painful wound that made the truck honk in agony. Lucia toasted it with her ray gun and brought the truck to the brink of destruction, and the commandos finished it off. Their weapons ignited a hydrogen tank which exploded with concussive force, knocking almost everyone over and spraying moss everywhere.

We were getting tired so we wrapped up the session with a conversation with one of the commandos, who said the SWAT team could use some stout folks like the players' characters. Lucia said sure, why not, since they did have a coffee machine at the precinct. Ramoka was open to the idea but not thrilled with the early morning hours. We'll see if Zukey takes the bait. They need jobs, that much is certain.

More to come.

*Note: Ramoka was alone because Zukey decided that discretion was the better part of valor and stayed behind at the pharmacy. Thus continues a trend in our games: the character with the most power - in this case Zukey is a "mentalist" with psionic powers - is always played by my youngest daughter, who feels that most if not all combat should be strictly avoided.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Shortcut for Making a Dungeon

To quote the Star Trek character Spock (who was himself borrowing a term from contract law): "Time is of the essence."

I'm running two adventures right now: one for my kids, and another for my grown-up friends. Both adventures involve cities: the former takes place in the ruins of an ancient city buried underground, while the latter takes place in an arboreal city where a terrible biological catastrophe has occurred. Now I don't know about you, but with the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life, it's just not feasible for me to map out a fictitious city, let alone two. A simple dungeon with a few dozen rooms is time-consuming enough; designing an urban landscape and everything that goes with that - landmarks, neighborhoods, subcultures, economies, religions, guilds, etc. - can be quite daunting.

Today I'm going to write about how I'm approaching this task with the kids' game. This is one of those cases where I want it to look to the kids like I've done a lot more preparation than I really have.

I start with a basic concept. No point in blowing valuable time on that, you can't force it anyway. The ideas will come to you when they come to you. If it happens when you're at the office, send yourself an email as a reminder. That's what I do. So in my case, the main idea is a city built within a turtle-shaped monster's carcass. That gives me the basic shape. The other ideas in play are that the ancient civilization was like the Aztecs, and that they had a queen who had a ton of treasure.

Because it's shaped like a turtle, the city is a dome. All that tells me is that the further down you go, the bigger around it gets. The first thing to decide is how many levels there will be, and draw a simple map showing a side view of the city. In the case of the carcass city, I've decided there are seven levels. That's fairly ambitious, and I have my reasons, but you'll see that doesn't really increase my workload too much.

Next step: generate the top level map. Here's where I cheated in a big way: I went to a web site and had it automatically generate the map for me. Not only that, but it also populated the rooms for me. Here is where I went to do that: Donjon. Go on over there and try it out. Just accept the defaults and click the "Construct" button. Not only does it give you a map, but it also populates the dungeon with critters and things. That's exactly what I did, except I changed the parameters before constructing the floor plan. For example, I went with a circular floor plan for obvious reasons.

Next: customize the dungeon. This involves reading what was generated and making sure it makes sense for your adventurers. My kids will be interacting with a race (RPG for "species," not to be confused with the term "race" as we use it in our society) known as the Dark Folk, who aren't dark at all, they just live in dark places. They are pale, smallish, secretive, and filthy. They never discard old clothing, which explains their awful stench, and they explode when killed. These are the guys I've decided are descendants of the ancient queen's subjects. That gives me a little direction on how to play them. So I put them into the constructed dungeon in place of some of the randomly generated fare. I also change up the traps because mine are better. Inventing devious traps is one of the great joys of being the game master. This is something I didn't understand when I was younger, and I'll go into more about traps in a future blog entry.

The skill check DCs were also a little high. For example, stuck doors with a DC 26 (i.e., difficulty challenge 26) to pry loose. That's means a roll of 1d20 + the strength modifier must meet or exceed 26 to unstick the door. It's not very likely the kids will succeed at that. In the old days you had henchmen walking around with you in the dungeons carrying all manner of useful equipment such as iron spikes, crowbars, and ten-foot poles. These would give you a better chance of breaking down doors. Today's kids, though, don't think like that. They can't be troubled with logistics. They just waltz into a dungeon with no helpers at all, carrying just their own weapons and bare necessities. The door is stuck? I whack at it with my sword! So I have to adjust accordingly or they won't even make it from room to room.

That's it! In truth, I don't even look at everything that was generated in advance. It's often better to wing the details on the fly. Sometimes the characters will choose to explore the dullest region of the map, walking down long corridors with dead ends. You'll know when the pace of the game is lagging and it's time to throw the players a challenge. Spice it up with random encounters, or throw a trap or two in there. I take my lead from what transpires when considering further encounters. In the best games, once you get started, the adventures start to write themselves.

The adventure for grown-ups is far more complicated. I'll go into how I'm approaching that one another time.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Character Sketch Exercise

On a whim this morning I assigned my kids an RPG-based writing exercise. The conversation went like this:

Me (getting ready to leave for work): "Hey kids, I have a writing assignment for you."

Them: [Groans] "Ugh."

Them: "Uh, is it D&D related?"

Me: "Yep!"

Them: "Yay! Alright!" and "What is it?" (now with enthusiasm)

That's good, right? The RPG is working its magic. So here's the assignment I gave them: they have to write a one- or two-page story about what Raze, the man with the eye patch, did after he finished making the deal with Elerisa and left the museum. Since they weren't with him after he left, they get to make it all up. What I've challenged them to do is to show me what kind of person he is through his actions, rather than telling me what kind of person he is. Show, don't tell. This is advice I received from my friend Adam, whose wife Kristi - another player in the older Pathfinder game I run - is an author. I think it is a splendid idea and will help further develop my kids' writing skills. What I'm leading them into is writing character sketches (or portraits), but I don't need them to know that. As far as they're concerned, they're just writing stories.

And writing adventure stories is fun.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When the Party Isn't Much of a Party

My youngest daughter, whom we shall call Fiona (her character's name), is just seven years old. That's pretty young to be playing Pathfinder RPG, a game which is ostensibly for adults, or at least for teens. So the rules and the content are difficult enough, but her biggest challenge may be her fellow players.

On Saturday, Fiona became frustrated because she couldn't get the other kids to listen to her ideas. Her 12-year-old sister Elerisa, trying her best to not be bossy, still managed to dominate the game. To her credit, Elerisa was taking a democratic approach, listing out the options and taking a show of hands. But they were her options, and the options offered up by the other kids, not Fiona's ideas.

It came to a head when the kids traversed a long, narrow corridor with spikes protruding from the ceiling above them. Halfway down the passage the character taking the lead snapped the trip line that triggered the trap. The kids had just a moment to decide: run forward, or run back the way they came. Fiona felt strongly they should run forward and said so, then raised her voice as everyone else started shouting which way they wanted to go. They started arguing amongst themselves, just for a second, but that was too long for young Fiona, in whose powerful imagination that ceiling was coming down and time was of the essence. So she reached out onto the table, scooped up all the miniatures representing the party, made her hilarious, trademark sheep-in-distress sound, and moved the party forward.

The other players cried foul, and rightfully so. Then silence reigned at the table while everyone waited for me to pass judgment. At that moment, I didn't totally understand what was going on. Just like the players, I get caught up in the game. Only later was I able to piece it all together with the help of my wife. Right then, though, all I knew was that I didn't want to embarrass her in front of everyone. Also, although her behavior needed to be corrected, it wasn't fair to the others to take the time to do it in the middle of all their excitement. I also recognized that Fiona was at her breaking point and it wasn't going to get any better. So I quietly told her to leave the table. I figured I'd catch up with her a few minutes later to straighten things out, then let her rejoin the game.

It didn't work out that way, but it did get better. My wife talked to her, and we worked out a plan with Fiona to help her deal with future issues. She will try to remember to be more assertive with me and let me know when she doesn't feel like she's being allowed to fully participate in the game. For my part I'll keep a better eye on her, try to see the game through her eyes and make sure her voice is heard. She has also identified several non-lethal spells she can use against the other players' characters if she needs to get their attention. Nothing harmful, but definitely inconvenient.

We also had a chat at dinner with her sisters about their behavior and ways they can be more inclusive. We'll see whether that sticks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

With a Little Help from My Friends

Sometimes the best game adventure ideas come from your friends.

I pride myself on having lots of good adventure ideas, but sometimes my brain gets stuck in neutral and nothing comes out. Recently I've spent most of my creative energy making a series of adventures for the campaign I run for my friends, with little left over for my kids. I've rationalized this in my head by calling it "advanced planning" and "play testing" for the kids, since they'll eventually go through the same dungeons the adults are going through now. The truth, though, is that the kids' game had been a bit lackluster of late due to my lack of attention to it.

I mentioned this to my buddy Adam who plays a "treasure hunting" rogue in the game I'm running for the grown-ups. I told him they were in a city built over the ruins of an older city, but I hadn't been able to lure the kids into delving into it. He offered up some suggestions which were pure gold, and which I have already pilfered wholesale. He's the one who said maybe once upon a time there was a queen who was rumored to have the most beautiful jewels and gems in the world. He also suggested adding a mob-like boss who would blackmail the characters so they would seek the jewels for him. I added the detail about the demi-god's carcass, and suddenly the kids and I are back in business with an adventure they are quite excited about.

Thanks, Adam!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

When Bad Things Happen to Bad People

Got about four hours of gaming in today with the kids. The boy and girl next door came over and joined us. We had a great time, with the exception of one little episode which I'll blog about later (along with the fallout from that).

Tonight I want to share this little gem (see the picture on the right). The little yellow pieces of clay are gricks: man-sized worm-like creatures with toothy maws and nasty tentacles. They're coming out of that well in the bottom of the picture. The one on the left is swallowing a dark creeper, specifically a dark creeper who had attacked the party earlier in another room of the dungeon and then run away when his allies were killed. Here he is getting his just desserts.

Some background on this adventure, in case it comes in handy in later posts: the kids are exploring the ancient ruins of a city buried beneath the living city of Port Manteau. The ancient city, which was once called Micqui (the Nahuatl word for corpse), was itself built within the carcass of a dead demigod. This monster was shaped like a colossal tortoise, with four heads of different beasts (crow, jackal, tiger, and - get this - mudskipper) pointing out in the four cardinal directions. The ancient city is made of the beast's bones, and the outer shell is still completely intact. The kids are in search of a legendary treasure belonging to Queen Esseniri, the last known sovereign of doomed Micqui.

It's a bit more complicated than that, actually. Some of you may recall a previous session where the characters got into a scuffle with a shopkeeper, and it ended badly for the shopkeeper. After the adventurers made good their escape, the city guards were able to revive the shopkeeper, who was then able to give an accurate description of his attackers. They have been on the lam ever since. Elerisa made her way to the city museum which was housing an exhibit called "The Lost Princess of Nimoriél." Obviously this would draw her attention seeing as how she is the lost princess of antiquity, so they were waiting for her when she arrived. Except it wasn't the authorities who caught up with her: it was a slimy underworld boss, with a patch on one eye, going by the name "Raze." He had men with him, enough to prevent her from giving him trouble. He told her about the legendary city buried beneath their feet, and the queen's treasure. Then he made a deal with her: he would use his contacts to have the charges against them dropped, if they found the treasure and provided him with a map of how to get there. They may keep anything they find along the way, but they are not permitted to keep any of the queen's treasure.

The kids are already plotting ways to double-cross the guy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tip for Making an Ethics Challenge

Homeschools are great for teaching virtues. Parents who spend their days with their children can actively shape their character without worrying about what sorts of conflicting messages they're receiving while away at school all day. Role-playing games are one tool parents can use to challenge their students to think about questions of morality. With games, kids can practice applying their virtues in make-believe situations. But how do you create these ethical challenges?

One easy way I've discovered is to eliminate "black and white" situations. In traditional fantasy RPGs, "monster" races are almost always considered evil, while "hero" races (like elves, halflings, and dwarves) are almost always considered good. The evil goblins have raided the local villages, and the heroes track them to their lair, slay the evil critters, and seize the treasure. So far so good, no shades of gray (unless the party of adventurers tries to keep the loot that rightfully belongs to the villagers). But what if it wasn't so cut and dry?

What if goblins aren't automatically evil as a race? Many would be rotten to the core, sure, but maybe that's partially a product of their environment. What if it turns out that the land where the villages stand once belonged to the goblins, but they were forced off of it by the king's men? What if this is just the tail end of a back-and-forth feud going back so many generations that nobody remembers who started it? Violently invading the goblin lair and walking out with treasure takes on a whole new complexion in that light. This is why the saying goes that the scariest thing in a dungeon is a party of adventurers!

A scenario like the one above might be a little tough for kids to sort out, but you get the idea. When you introduce a little gray area into the world of make-believe, your kids will have to come to grips with questions of right and wrong.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

VaHomeschoolers 2011 Conference

I spoke today at the VaHomeschoolers 2011 Conference, and I think it went rather well. The room was full, and the audience was great. Many of them were familiar with RPGs, and that made for a lively discussion. One guy in particular at the back of the room had some excellent input about the Dungeons & Dragons Red Box, specifically that it provides a quick and fairly easy way for people new to the hobby to get started.

I showed a minute or two of some video I took of one of my first gaming sessions that involved my kids and the next door neighbors. Some folks wanted to see a bit more. If I can figure out how to split the video up into smaller chunks, I'll post a bit of it on YouTube and then provide a link to it here (the problem I'm having is that the programs I'm trying to import it into to do the editing say I don't have enough disk space. The video is 33 hi-def minutes). So we'll see.

Thanks to everyone who attended and made it such a special session. I really enjoyed it, and I hope at least a few people walked away inspired to give role-playing games a go in their own households.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Getting the Most Educational Bang for Your RPG Buck

Yesterday my oldest daughter ran a game with some friends of hers at our homeschool co-op. By all accounts the game itself went well. The session started out bumpy because of the sheer volume of kids, the fact that most of them had never played an RPG before, and it was only her second time GMing (first time without me helping her out). At the beginning some of the kids, discouraged by the complexity of the character sheets, gave up and walked away. That left her with a manageable group of four which later grew to five. Once the game began, it went smoothly.

I am impressed with her planning. She decided in advance that the best way to introduce the game was by jumping straight to the action. She didn’t want the session to get bogged down by character creation or equipment acquisition, both of which are time consuming exercises. Therefore she had to prepare pre-generated characters, or “pre-gens,” complete with everything the characters would need to start adventuring. Doing this requires a fairly deep understanding of the rules, or absent that, knowledge about what to look for and where to find it in the rules. She has an incomplete knowledge of the rules, and until the other night, she hadn't spent any time delving into the books.

As I’ve said before, we play Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG (PFRPG or PF). This is an excellent system that I’m really enjoying, but the rule set is daunting to someone so young who has no experience with previous systems or with role-playing games in general. The Core Rulebook is a dense 576 page hardback, and often the answers you're looking for require you to integrate information gathered from multiple sections throughout the book. For example, you may want to know what weapons a cleric should start with. For that, you'll need to look at the rules about starting wealth by class (so you know what the cleric can afford). Then you go to the information about the cleric class, where you learn that clerics can only use simple weapons. What's a simple weapon? For that information, go to the Equipment: Weapons section, and choose from the list of simple weapons. Later, when you're choosing the cleric's spell domain, you may notice that a cleric of the chosen domain can use a short bow. But wait a second...isn't the bow a martial weapon, not a simple one? So which is it: can he use the bow or can't he? To resolve this you need to remember that specific rules override general rules, except where noted otherwise. This specific-overrides-general rule is somewhere in the Getting Started section, and some judgment on the GM's part is required to recognize which rule is the more specific one and which is the more general. And this example isn't even anywhere close to being one of the more difficult rules.

Navigating this complex rules landscape develops a set of skills that you just can't get from other games, at least not in such concentration. I'm talking about research, information integration, interpretation, and prioritization, to name a few. I can't think of any other activity that a child would willingly and proactively engage in to get this kind of intensive experience.

I read the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide (1st edition) when I was twelve years old. Years later I sat in a statistics course in college and the professor started talking about normal distributions, and all I could do was smile. The bell curve was an old friend of mine by then, because my old DM's Guide had long ago introduced me to normal distributions, means, and probabilities, all in the introduction section on page 10. And the beauty is that nobody told me to read the DM's Guide: it's just something I wanted to do, in my own spare time, so I could play the game I loved most.

So you can imagine how excited and proud I was to come home the other night to find my girl, with all the Pathfinder books spread out on the bed around her, preparing to run her upcoming game. She started talking to me excitedly about weapon proficiencies by cleric domain, and I answered some questions she had about spell acquisition. She had also saved a fair amount of time for herself by utilizing a web site that sped up the process of character generation (see the sample character sheet pictured), but when she noticed some stats were low, she dug deeper into the rules to understand what the program was doing.

All this in addition to the prep work she had already done to create the adventure itself, including multiple maps and encounters. What else can I say? The way I see it, all players reap rich educational rewards, but letting your kid be the GM/referee is where you get the most educational bang for your RPG buck.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Farewell to Fibon, and Delving Again

We finally got another Pathfinder RPG session in! This time we moved the story forward and began actually questing rather than just shopping. I find it much easier to prepare when the characters are actively pursuing their goals, so although I winged it today, I won't have to next time. By the end of today's session they were actually in a dungeon, arguing bitterly over direction, and going their separate ways.

Which works out just fine for me, actually. Part of the problem we've had in recent months is that my two oldest daughters have gymnastics on different and alternating nights, Monday through Thursday. Then they both have gymnastics on Fridays and Saturdays. That leaves Sundays for gaming, but something always seems to come up. By splitting up, they allow me the opportunity to run their separate adventures on the night each individual is home. We'll get in at least one session apiece this week.

We learned a few words tonight: arcane/arcana, keep, motte, and scriptorium, to name a few. We saw some new mechanics we hadn't looked at before, especially how poisons work, and what happens when core abilities like strength are sapped. We finally met an NPC who believed Elerisa's outrageous story about being an elven princess from a civilization that disappeared 500 years in the past. His name was Forg, an elderly sage working in the depths of the archives below the city library. Into his care they entrusted the skull of the ancient scholar Fibon the Wise. He was most pleased to be brought to such a prestigious place of learning and research, but he was unable to thank the adventurers for bringing him there, for no sooner had he been placed down on a table when Norma spied guards in the corridor outside Forg's study coming to apprehend the adventurers.

Why did this happen? Because of a scuffle in a weapons shop the last time we played. Three men they left for dead (they were later revived and healed by priests behind the scenes), and so Elerisa, Fiona, and Bubda the Beatboxing Bard are all wanted for attempted murder. In fact, Elerisa now has a wanted poster she snagged off a wall as a memento. She is being described as a deranged woman who suffers delusions that she is the long lost elven princess of Nimoriél...which of course she really is. She is considered armed and extremely dangerous, as is the small child she travels with (really Fiona, an adult halfling), who is reputed to recklessly summon dangerous elemental beings in public places to do her evil bidding.

Forg showed them a secret passage to a tunnel that runs between the library and the museum. He also gave them a parting nugget of information: somewhere in the labyrinth deep beneath the city is a portal that can take them across the sea to the Sylvesse, the forest that was once the domain of the elven people. Elerisa desires to travel there to find the lost city of Nimoriél, but first she wants to check out the museum, which proudly boasts an exhibit of treasures associated with the lost elven princess.

Norma the dwarf is not quite so motivated. This is a problem for me as the GM. I have devised a grand connection between the disappearance of the elves, the spreading of orcs into the dwarf realms that led to the enslavement of Norma's brother, and a special gathering of the world's druids. In other words, I have something special in mind for all three of my daughters. Unfortunately, only the elf has clear motivation at this time, so it seems like the story is all built around her. I keep promising Norma and Fiona that I'll bring it all together, but talk is cheap.

So we fought some giant spiders tonight, found a healing pool, explored an abandoned scriptorium, and then argued about which direction to go. Since there has consistently been a choice to move "forward" on the map (i.e., the direction they faced when they started, hereafter "north"), Elerisa has been determined to go that way. Norma, by contrast, wants to explore by taking some random turns. She has even started mapping the labyrinth. Normally Fiona sticks with Elerisa, but this time, when Elerisa chose to go straight no matter which way the others went, Fiona stuck with Norma the dwarf.

When next we play, Fiona and Norma will explore a few rooms off to the west of where they left off tonight, while Elerisa strikes out alone on the path heading north.

The pattern has been that predators pick off the stragglers. Elerisa is going to be in for quite the bumpy ride.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scenes from the Panopticon

Since the girls and I have seen very little RPG action of late, I thought I'd share just a little slice of what's going on in my adult Pathfinder game. Just a little sample to show the flavor. For those of you who may be players in this campaign, no worries...this is just the session 6 recap. No spoilers here. Also, nothing really "adult" happens in this sample, so for those of you with kids it should be safe for anyone old enough to read it themselves.

The Characters (in order of appearance, i.e., who joined the group first):
  • DM: Me.
  • Klafrin: Human rogue lvl 5, wizard lvl 1. Thinks of himself as a "treasure hunter." Played by Adam, a coworker.
  • Yorick: Human fighter lvl 6. Enjoys hitting things with his magic sword and hammer. Has a minor in engineering. Played by Chris, a friend through Adam.
  • Hackel: Saurian monk lvl 6. Saurians are lizard-like men. As for monk, think kung fu monk, not monastery monk. He is played by Jeff, a former coworker.
  • Alexandra: Human druid lvl 6. Tuning in to the rhythms of the setting's exotic subterranean life to everyone's advantage. Played by Chris' wife Sara.
  • Sandwina: Elf sorceress lvl 6. She has been trapped for five centuries in this hellish prison they're exploring, and wants only to leave at the earliest possible opportunity. She has been driven slightly mad, and changes her name each session. Played by Adam's wife Kristi.

They're deep in a forbidding forest wilderness where some believe that elves once had a proud civilization. This civilization, and indeed the elves themselves, are now the stuff of legend, like our Atlantis, thought to be nothing more than myth. Klafrin and Yorick discovered a map, though, purporting to show the way to the lost elven city of Nimoriél. Off they went to find it, and learned along the way that all the faerie-type creatures (fey), magical beasts, and even elves have been transformed by a magical, non-fatal disease into twisted, mutated, and sadistic fiends.

They were having trouble making it to the city when a pseudodragon offered them a quest: to seek the Horn of Orox in the ancient elf prison known as The Neen. The pseudodragon said that her master could use the horn to cure the disease. The prison, an underground panopticon, was used by the elves back in the days when they were harshly ruled by a tyrant queen. Its purpose was to house political prisoners, study unusual fiends, or quarantine demonic beings whose deaths would cause more problems than their imprisonment. It was also used to house dangerous magical artifacts and devices which were deemed by the elves in their ancient wisdom to be too dangerous or wild to let fall into the wrong hands. The prison was distasteful to the graceful race of elves, but after the queen's reign ended, they were stuck with it.

The adventurers (now joined by Hackel and Alexandra) accepted the quest without knowing the situation inside the panopticon. With directions to the secret entrance and a grim key, they gained access to the complex and began their quest. Along the way they rescued the elfin sorceress, a former prison guard who had been captured and was about to be punished for crossing the Neen's hateful warden. Over the years she had managed to not catch the disease which had run rampant through the dungeon, evilly twisting most everyone else inside. Now free from captivity, she reluctantly joined them in their cause.

We are six sessions into the panopticon adventure (not counting the sessions that took place in the forest while they searched for the lost city). We are about to begin the seventh session. Each session has run between two and a half and three hours, so between fifteen and eighteen hours total playing time has elapsed, while 72 hours of in-game time has elapsed. They are running out of food, though the sorceress can easily train them how to survive on rats, giant spiders, and other vermin.

The following is a recap of the sixth session that I wrote for the players. It describes exactly what transpired, though it is written in narrative format. It treats the adventure as a story, and excludes out-of-game activities and conversations between the DM and the players. Careful reading, though, may reveal "in" jokes between myself and the players.

Note: I can't possibly go into full detail about where they are and what has transpired before, so a few terms and ideas might not make much sense. I can, however, offer a brief description of the dungeon's structure. The panopticon is divided into three main areas: the guards' area, the artifacts area, and the prisoner detention area. The three sections line a circular perimeter, and are separated by a lake. Rising from the center of the lake is a watchtower. The characters have explored the guards' area and have just entered the artifacts area.

It is always very dark, cool, and humid in the panopticon. Screams, moans, and other unpleasant noises originating from remote areas within the structure are frequently heard.

Session 6 Recap

The party awoke feeling refreshed. After morning victuals they came out of the little golem nook they were sleeping in to examine the remains of the violently exploding bridge golem that they had destroyed the night before. In its cracked cranium casing they found a small black object made of an unknown substance, with a thin metal wire protruding from it, and a blinking red light. Yorick reviewed the blueprints they had found on the first day in the dungeon and, using his engineering training, determined that the object was an element foreign to the design of the golem.
Before continuing on, Sandwina, the elfin sorceress with the identity crisis, cast spells to provide herself with a magical armor-like protection and strengthen her companions for the trials to come. Then they packed up their things, Hackel folded up his invisible tent, and they began their exploration.
They were on the south ledge of the artifacts area. A huge, natural column of stone separated them from the rest of the area, and a tunnel burrowed through the rock. They passed through single-file and came to an 8’ wide stone ledge that curved gently to the left, counter-clockwise. It was a sheer drop-off on either side of the walkway, about 150' above the lake they knew was down there but could not see. On their right they also saw a huge circular tower with no windows, seemingly wedged into the cavern rock. It was connected to their narrow walkway by a thin bridge. Below that bridge they could make out two similar spans below it, connecting walkways beneath them to the same tower. They would eventually go on to find two more identical towers with similar bridges connecting them to the trio of central, arcing walkways.
While walking toward the first bridge, they noticed a loud disturbance above them. Darkmantles were trying to harass them again, but a huge swarm of bats was driving them away. This piqued Alexandra's interest and she used her power to speak with a few of the bats, who gave her a cryptic message: “It’s time for a change.” The druid sensed that something was off, though, and suspected that some external force was driving the bats, and perhaps even speaking to her through them with the intention of misleading her.
The adventurers continued on, approaching and walking across the first bridge until they arrived at the door to the tower. The door had been smashed open, despite being made of iron. They entered the doorway single file, went down a short corridor, and came to a circular room. The room featured an empty stand in its center, with something like real sunlight shining upon it from above, while all else remained in shadow. By applying the light of the lantern, and with aid from magic light from Alexandra, they discerned that the floor was criscrossed with dozens of narrow channels. A few humanoid bodies in deep decay lay about in neatly carved pieces around the floor near the light. Some rats scurried off due to the intrusion, but Yorick lured one back with the magical indigestible cheese. He snagged the rat and tossed it into the light, at which point blades came up through the channels in the floor. Yorick and Hackel, the only two who had entered the room, just barely dodged the blades and scrambled safely back into the corridor.
From across the way Klafrin’s keen eyes detected something not quite right with the far wall. Deeming the edges of the room to be safe (since it was interference with the light that set off the blades), they went around and discovered a secret door to some stairs that led below to a room used to maintain and set the trap above. Klafrin disabled the trap, and they returned upstairs to inspect the room more closely. Morlock parts were what Sandwina determined the mess to be, but nobody seemed eager to chow down, perhaps because the remains were two days old and morning rations were still fresh in their bellies. The pattern of dust on the empty stand suggested that something had once been there, perhaps in the last few days.
They left that grim scene and proceded to the bridge leading to the second tower. Here they found the door whole and secure, with two indentations for Palms of Trust, one on either side of the door, and a pale white gem above the frame. Sandwina also noticed the symbol of the watchtower etched on the wall and cast a message spell to speak with the person in the tower going by the name of Rixin. Rixin informed them that he could see their position from their light, told them to stand by, and the white gem started to shine. Hackel and Yorick applied the elf palms as required, and the door opened. They went inside single file, the fighter and the monk leading the way.
They came to another circular room, and detected the faint odor of pepper, or perhaps pineapple. This room had a high, sharp-domed ceiling. A small but sturdy golden stand was bolted to the floor. This stand sprouted three claws which held in place a marbled green egg the size of a watermelon. In all the stand and egg rose to a height of only two and a half feet. Forming a 10’ perimeter around the egg was a clear glass wall approximately four feet high.
When Yorick moved forward to investigate, he stepped into a reverse gravity field that extended almost to the room’s edge, and he plummeted to the ceiling 40’ above. While trying to rise to take inventory of his injuries, two panels opened mid-way up the walls, and water started gushing in, falling up to the ceiling, and threatening to drown Yorick. Klafrin, secured by rope to the others, attempted a daring jump-slide through the reverse gravity field to catch hold of the glass barrier. He failed in his attempt to grab hold. This led to his Plan B, which was to repel down(up) to rescue his friend, which he did. Down below, the party stared up in wonderment at the pretty water filling the ceiling dome.
Back on the true floor, and despite the ringing in his ears from the nasty spill he had taken, Yorick had a sudden brain storm. He secured one end of the rope to himself and the other to Hackel, and walked around the perimeter, avoiding the anti-gravity zone, until he reached the opposite side, so that the rope was pulled taut across the room over the egg. Klafrin secured himself to the rope via his belt and climbed into the reverse gravity field. Then, dangling up, he tried to secure the egg, but started coughing up mucous and blood from some toxic gas within the glass enclosure. Hackel deduced that the gas must be lighter than air (since it was keeping below the glass in the reverse gravity area), and that by breaking the glass the gas would spread out harmlessly at the level of their feet. Four arrows from Sandwina proved the point, for she managed to break the glass and Klafrin proceeded to snag the egg unharmed, though it had been held quite securely by its stand.
Another secret door led them below the room to a contraption used to convert two different types of liquids (contained in a collection of vials) into the toxic gas above. Klafrin disabled the device and they stowed the 5 vials of each liquid into their bag of holding. Then it was off to the third tower.
Like the first of the three doors, this one had also been destroyed. The room inside turned out to be a trap that had already been sprung, so to speak. A pair of spring-loaded wall sections were pressed together in the center of the room, their huge spring coils still extended from the side walls. A rotting foot was sticking out from between the two wall sections. The party found the secret passage to the trap mechanisms and operated a crank to reload one of the wall panels, then later disabled it so that the pressure plate they found between the walls would not trigger the trap. The wall sections now separated, they determined that the victim had been another morlock. Just beyond the trap they found a statue of a headless bust, the pattern of dust on which suggested that maybe there had recently been a medallion on it, but not anymore.
At this point the party started asking some hard questions about the presence of morlocks in this area of the panopticon. Their understanding, based on Sandwina’s long history in the guards’ area, was that the morlocks were only to be found in the detention area. The elf, still in contact with Rixin, asked him if he knew anything about it, but he professed ignorance on the subject, and in fact seemed quite surprised to hear the news himself.
The party continued to the northern end of the long arc, passing through another natural stone barrier via a tunnel, and reached the ledge marking the end of the artifacts area, and the northernmost point of the prison (the top of the circle, twelve o'clock). Across the divide they could now make out the beginning of the detention area. On their side of the chasm was a stairwell going down. Behind them was a golem’s nook, although this one was empty. They descended to the second level. On their way down they felt as though they were being watched, but no one could pinpoint any cause for this feeling.
On the second level they observed that the stairwell continued to the third level. They also found a golem nook like the one above, with a clockwork bridge golem standing ready for orders from the tower, and a tunnel leading to another long, arced walkway. They went through the tunnel. The walkway was much like the one on the floor above, except this one had periodic columns arching up to support the top level walkway above them. The level two walkway bowed around the support columns, revealing the entire structure to be center supported. This architectural approach was deemed to be questionable by the adventurers, and the merits of side-support versus central support were broached, but this conversational diversion did not change their situation. They proceeded to the bridge connecting to the first tower, which was now on their left.
The door was closed and locked, with the key mechanism following the two-palm-one-gem pattern, this time with a red gem. Rixin in his tower did his part, the party did theirs, and the door opened.
The room inside appeared to be nothing more than a square chamber with an 8” wide, 3’ high stand in the center, atop which sat a beautiful brass bottle. The druid was suspicious and took a close look at the floor, and determined that the floor itself was an illusion. Beneath the illusion the real floor was 10’ down and lined with dozens of huge, deadly spikes. Hoping the bottle weighed less than 5 lbs, the sorceress used her mage hand spell to magically draw the brass bottle to herself. She was successful, but as soon as the bottle left the platform, the spiked floor rushed upward past the level of the party and smashed into the ceiling above, seemingly trapping the bottle between the spikes and the ceiling. The elf had not lost her concentration, however, so she was able to continue moving the bottle with her spell. It took awhile, since she could no longer see it, but eventually she worked it free. They all took their turns examining the bottle. Though they detected potent magic associated with it, they could not determine the bottle’s function.
Like in the other rooms, they found a secret chamber for managing the trap floor mechanics. The crank was way too heavy for them to turn, but since they had already gotten what they came for – whatever it was – they left the trap mechanism alone.
And so on they went to the next tower. Before they entered this one, they noted unusually high bat swarm activity going on, with three bats in close proximity. Alexandra was determined to get the facts from these critters, so she attempted to use her powers to dominate them, or at least overcome the dominion that someone – or some thing – seemed to have over them. The struggle was too much for the little bats, and they died, but not before one of them screeched, “It’s a trap!” And then, “He wants it!”
This door marked the third entrance that had been smashed to bits, so gaining access was a cinch, and once more they filed in. This room had an awful stench. It was another round chamber, and the characters found themselves standing on a ledge above a pit filled with a putrid stew of acid and filth. Unlike the other plundered rooms, this one still had its booty. In the center a circular dais rose from the stew, and a stand on top of the dais featured a most unusual device: a black cylinder made of an unknown substance, with a profusion of eight moderately rigid wires radiating in random directions from it, each ending in tiny cylinders. Meanwhile a glass sphere, filled with liquid in which floated a humanoid-sized brain, hung by a chain from the ceiling above the black gizmo.
The gods watched the scene anxiously, hoping one of the questers would attempt the 12’ leap to the dais, only to slam into an invisible wall set between the ledge and the platform. Alas, such hilarious entertainment would not ensue. Hackel decided he would throw a candle at the gizmo to see what happened. He was delayed slightly in executing this plan when he was unable to locate his candles (his magic tent had struck again!). Lacking candles, he elected instead to toss silver pieces, and in so doing he discovered the presence of the unseen barrier. And became four silver pieces poorer.
After lengthy consideration, Alexandra drew forth a magical mist which revealed the outline of this invisible barrier. The barrier turned out to be semi-circular in shape, neither completely encircling the dais, nor extending all the way to the ceiling. Meanwhile, a secret passageway (surprise!) was found that circled around the outside of the room to a flanking position. In a room at this position they found a contraption featuring a set of 11 poisoned darts aimed through small holes into the trap room and directly at the bizarre gizmo. Anyone who moved the gizmo would be shot. Klafrin took a few of the darts for himself, and activated the trap to fire the remaining ones at the mysterious device. The darts bounced harmlessly off the gizmo. The party became frustrated and wondered aloud what sort of twisted trapmaker would create a trap for which not even he had a solution. They had fallen victim to the age-old fallacy common among such delvers: namely, that they were the center of the universe and the world around them had been made exclusively for their amusement, and with only their own unique set of capabilities in mind. Maybe - just maybe! - the trapmaker had been able to fly? Perhaps they weren’t meant to have this strange, other-worldly device, right? But such a thought would never occur to such as their kind. That is neither here nor there, of course, for they were bound and determined to have their way, as is their wont. Again, it was Alexandra who delivered them from the precipice of madness, this time with an entanglement spell…on the ceiling!
Vines and roots spontaneously sprang forth from the room’s ceiling, and Klafrin climbed up and over the invisible barrier to get at the gizmo. The gods, still bummed about not being able to see someone’s face smeared against the unseen surface while slumping into the goo, totally forgot to make Klafrin suffer nausea from the fumes from the acidic mess borne of five centuries of fiend-spewed waste collected from chamber pots around the panopticon and magically transdumped into this very room. It was just as well, though: Klafrin certainly had his hands full as it was, even without puking all over the place.

Collecting the gizmo* was easy; grabbing the brain was not so simple. Eventually he chipped away at the weak point where the glass connected to the chain, and managed to climb with the entire sphere back over the invisible barrier to the safety of the ledge. The brain-sphere was placed in the bag of holding with Hackel, while Klafrin bagged the gizmo, and they made good their exit.
They were on their way to the third and final tower of the second level when things took an ugly turn. First, an odd, star-shaped device with a sticky bottom landed in their midst. It opened up, and a dark gas started spewing from it. The party ran single file away from the gas in the direction they were already heading. The monk was the fastest and outpaced the others, clearing one of the supporting columns. He alone caught a glimpse of the attacker: a human-sized figure in dark garb, with a fleshy head. He didn’t really get a great look. Meanwhile, the figure had already tossed a second gas device between itself and the party, boxing them in between the expanding gas plumes. Hackel, Yorick, and Klafrin were suddenly assaulted by a hostile, alien presence in their minds, but only Klafrin succumbed to the onslaught. He became confused and lost his sense of perspective, believing himself to have instantly grown to huge proportions, so that he was forced to step gingerly to avoid crushing his companions.
Then, just as Hackel was wondering aloud how their accoster had managed to land a device opposite to them from the creature’s current location (since the center support column would have blocked it), a dire bat, big as an ox and bearing a passing resemblance to someone the elf may have once known, crashed in, knocked Klafrin from the ledge, caught him by his upper arms, and swept him away into the open expanse over the deep emptiness and the chill waters of the unseen lake far, far below.
This aerial attack was followed immediately by three swarms of bloodthirsty bats moving in and smothering the party with their tiny, relentless, blood-sucking little fangs. With thousands of bats swarming madly all around them, with dark gasses blinding and hemming them in, and with little margin for error on the narrow walkway high above the lake, their situation seemed quite precarious.
Will our heroes survive? Will they ever find the elusive Horn of Orox? Stay tuned!
* Picture of gizmo is from here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Grocery Shopping!

Nothing says action-packed sci-fi excitement like shopping for groceries at Food-2-Go, but that's exactly what we did today.

We had my three girls and the boy from next door for a session of Savage Worlds. I was pleased that I didn't have to initiate the session or pull them all together; my girls came home from gymnastics and asked right away if we could invite the neighbors over for some RPG. I have a nasty headache going right now, but I was not going to let this opportunity pass. So the boy came over (the girl couldn't make it) and we started playing.

They decided his half-dragon character could stay with them at their apartment in Nipon Gables. That was fun because they had to figure out how much rent he had to give them. Little did they know they were practicing their math skills. Mwuhahahahaha!

Then they went grocery shopping. They found a Food-2-Go just a few blocks from the Gables. The store lets you select foods to take with you, or foods you can have beamed right to your apartment. That would free them to continue on into the city on their shopping spree without their hands full.

At the store, we learned that you can't just go crazy with the stuff you buy when you're on a limited budget. Lucia the goth human wanted all kinds of crazy coffees and junk food, but when I explained some prices to her and the others weren't willing to share the extra price burden with her, she relented. She did get a good deal on some espresso: 10 servings in a package for $2.11.

Shampoo was also something they wanted. It was especially important for Ramoka, who is 7' tall and all fur. There was some disagreement, however, about what kind of shampoo to buy. Ultimately they agreed on a special hi-tech brand of shampoo that consists of nanobots that analyze your DNA to determine your hair needs. They go on to eat the dirt and bacteria in your hair and excrete whatever chemicals are needed to give your hair (or fur) healthy sheen and full body. These are kids, though, so to amuse them I went on to simplify things by saying the nanobots "eat dirt and poop conditioner." Meanwhile the half-dragon, who doesn't have hair, opted for a $4.35 jar of polish for his scales.

They had considered buying a whole week's supply of food, but the bill for all of them came out to $210. That number shocked them a little, then they figured out that it came out to $30 per day for the four of them. They changed their minds and decided to go with three days of food, but then Lucida, played by my 12-year-old, suggested that they just get four days worth of food instead of three to make it an even $30 for each, so they wouldn't need to "do any math." I enjoyed watching her use math to avoid doing math.

They left the store and decided that they want to buy weapons. "For when we find monsters," they said. This is what we call meta-gaming. In real life, if you moved to this city world, the last thing on your mind would be monsters. When you visit Tokyo, do you buy guns just in case monsters show up? Of course not. The same principal applies here, and yet...this is an action adventure game, and they know it. Of course there will be monsters. So as long as they have the money, I suppose I'll let them buy weapons. They're not going to be happy about the waiting period though, or the requirement that they need steady jobs to qualify.

Once outside the store, they needed a map to find a "weapon store" (their phrase). No problemo, just ask Robot (played by my wife). Robot attempted an online search but determined that she did not have access to the public wi-fi. She was able to connect at the space port because that's just a service the port authority provides. Apparently, outside of that zone, the public wi-fi not entirely paid for with taxes, and $45 per month is required for unlimited access. That's not a bad deal considering it gives you coverage anywhere on the planet. Robot thought it was a good deal, but didn't think it was fair that she should be the only one to pay for it. After all, everyone would be benefitting from internet access. Lucida didn't agree and decided that it would be a simple thing to find a map or ask for directions. With a whirring of gears analogous to a "Hmph!" Robot wheeled away to pursue her own private errands. As did my wife in real life.

The remaining adventure seekers stopped a frog-like person dressed in human garb. I described him as similar to a Narnian marsh-wiggle, except that even though he remains upright on his hind legs, he does squat in between hops, which is his primary mode of transport. Luckily he spoke a common language, though his speech was halted because he had to keep inflating vocal sac to talk. He made fun of them for their alleged need to protect against monsters ("Where are...these monsters?" [pointing to little old lady] "Is that one...a monster? ...Ha ha...ribbit."). Lucida's genetically altered hair, which changes color to reflect her mood, flashed a dangerous shade of red, so frog boy relented and recommended they visit All-Mart. He gave them directions and off they went.

They were just arriving when the boy next door had to go home for dinner. We got maybe 45 minutes of play time in. Ugh.

One other note about this session: Lucida kept saying she didn't need to get a job because she's only a teenager. Fourteen years old, to be exact. We'll see how long that lasts. The others don't seem too keen on supporting her.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nothing to See Here...

This winter gymnastics schedule is killing us. We haven't had a chance to play. I expect that trend to continue this weekend, due to the Superbowl.

Spoilers follow!
On the upside, I've got quite the game going with my grown-up friends. It's a custom adventure I made, but it's too dark for the kids. I'll need to clean it up before running them through it. I will run them through it, though. It's too rich and full of plot twists and turns to set aside.

One of the players found a magic dagger last session. At least, he thinks it's magic. That's because someone cast a spell on it to give it a magic aura that the spellcasters in the group can detect. In truth, though, it is not a dagger at all but a baby Mimic (used here in accordance with the OGL). When the player strikes at opponents with it, it does normal dagger damage, plus the mimic's bite damage. I describe the sensation of it tugging and ripping at the target's flesh. Not the kind of thing I would necessarily do with the kids, but you have to admit it's cool in a creepy kind of way.

The beauty of it is that the player has indicated all he needs now to round out his character is a magical rapier or short sword. Meanwhile, the more it eats, the more the mimic will grow. After a few more uses, it won't fit in its sheath anymore. I will describe it as having grown longer and thinner, not unlike a miniature rapier. If I'm lucky, he'll think that the item is magically growing to fit the needs of its owner. This will work out fine for awhile, at least until the mimic grows more massive than either sword type. It will then be a longsword, and eventually even bigger.

At some point it will show itself to be what it really is: a bloodthirsty fiend. Mwahahahahaaaa!