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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Brief Update from Beyond the Borderlands

Well, the Keep on the Borderlands campaign has been in a holding pattern for a few weeks now, but prior to that there was quite a lot of activity. Some highlights:

The trio of core adventurers, Hildy, Blacktome, and Brother Zogtavius, made one last foray into the Caves of Chaos as conditions worsened at the now Castellan-free Keep. Taxes seem to have been proclaimed on everything, prices had more than doubled on all goods and services, and the merchants' guild appeared to be unstoppable. Plus, adventuring at the Keep and its environs had become a fine institution. All was not well.

At the Caves, the trio freed a captured merchant or some such, and before returning him and his daughters to the Keep, stopped to inventory the treasure they had locked up until such time as they could manage to extract it. This included a tun of wine, which they decided they would crack open and try. Hildy took the first sip of the delightful-tasting concoction, when - suddenly - her orange locks turned to yarn! Turns out, it was a giant barrel of Whimsy Wine. Yikes! The others, having drunk their cups simultaneously, suffered a variety of strange effects. (Probably the strangest being the sudden appearance of an exact double of Brother Zogtavius, whom the good cleric dubbed Zogustus, and bade him do Tarak's will before sending him forth into the world.)

Understanding the value (priceless?!) of their find, the party returned to the Keep - only to discover as they were stopped at the gate that magic items and use of magic had been banned in their absence. Fortunately, it turned out that the merchant they'd freed was none other than Wolgort the Elder, father of the current head of the Keep's merchants' guild. The portly man burst to the front of the party and demanded entry, declaring that his rescuers would be immune to such inanities.

The party didn't take well to this latest "law," and the next morning they opted to buy a wagon, hire some goons, and take their leave of the Keep for good. They stopped at the Caves to get their booty, and headed east - into the unknown.

After several days of (mostly) uneventful travel, the party found themselves outside the gates of an ancient and wicked city. They were dismayed to discover that they had arrived at Ru, City of Cannibals. They were even more dismayed to hear that the city's "Ghoul King" (said by some to be a mighty, sun-fearing dragon) had outlawed all use of magic within city walls. Regardless, they opted to make the best of it, and procured a small estate within the city from which to operate.

Almost immediately, the group found gainful employ. Brother Zogtavius located the Temple of Tarak in the city's Bazaar of the Gods and set about rehabilitating it (with the thanks of its lone ancient cleric). Blacktome found the city's slavers' guild and made good use of his Whimsy Wine-induced ability to know - on sight - the value of any humanoid. Hildy found the group a patron in Gorgomme the Corpulent, owner of "the city's largest emporium of rare and wonderful goods."

Gorgomme offered to purchase some of the group's Whimsy Wine (they're afraid they'll be murdered for it) despite its illegality in Ru. He asked for a show of good faith first: the party needed to kill a hill giant that they had encountered (or evaded, I should say) on the way to the city, as the creature had been robbing his supply caravans. They did so quickly and efficiently, but on the return trip to Ru, poor Blacktome found himself staring at the wrong end of a basilisk.

With their Blacktome-shaped statue left to adorn their estate's front lawn, the party recruited a new fighter to help them as they went to seek the Emerald Enchanter (thank you, Dungeon Crawl Classics) in his citadel northeast of the city, having been informed that he may possess a cure for Blacktome's condition.

The Enchanter's hospitality proved to be lacking ("Get out of my home or die!!!" were, I believe, his exact words) and the party took umbrage. They forced their way into his inner sanctum, murdered him to death, and took his citadel as their own. (The general thought being that he was up to bad things anyway, so he had it coming. Plus, he'd pissed them off. A lot.)

So, with a house in the city and a spiffy new(-ish) citadel to call their own, the party set to curing their resident chaotic mage of his granite-ifcation, and doing more business in Ru. Hildy battled a nasty Whimsy Wine addiction, which led to her being afflicted with a case of bleeding hands, and ultimately having remove curse cast on her (which removed all of the Whimsy Wine effects - including her yarn hair and the ability to levitate at will!). While repairing the roof of Temple Tarak, Brother Zogtavius discovered a ruined temple in a closed-in courtyard behind the rows of massive buildings.

It turned out to be the ruins of the Temple of the Carnifex (thanks again, Dungeon Crawl Classics). A few new scars later, and the party is now in the possession of the Jewels of the Carnifex (although word across the known lands has it that Brother Zogtavius smashed them) and several other nifty bits of the goddess' worship-py stuff. Including a book that makes it easier for spell users to contact magical patrons - and that Hildy could not resist using. She discovered the location of a powerful necromantic spell but at a cost: her hair turned bone white and she took on the appearance of a corpse.

The party next set out for Greyhawk city, far to the southwest, to the cemetery of which Hildy had promised to return a corpse that the Emerald Enchanter had been interrogating to augment his powers. (Also, it just so happened that the spell she was looking for was to be found in a tomb in the Greyhawk cemetery.) The journey and the search for the corpse's original resting place (somewhere amidst the ghoul-controlled necropolis) were fraught with more than danger, as the widening gulf between Hildy's lust for power and Brother Zotavius' growing fundamentalist behavior started to interfere with the adventurers' ability to trust one another.

At the end of it all, they returned the body, Hildy found the tomb that contained the key to unlocking the spell disintegrate (as well as an awful lot of untouched loot) and afterwards Hildy and Brother Zogtavius had a long, hard talk about things.

The adventure continues...?

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Oh R'lyeh?

Rather appropriately, I've just returned from a family vacation in New England, much of it spent in Danvers and Salem*. I couldn't help but smile upon reading some of the street names as we passed by: Orne, Warren, etc.

Happy birthday, Mr. Lovecraft!!!

*Unfortunately, there are no longer so many witch-haunted small towns remaining in that part of the country  as there are Dunkin Donuts-haunted strip malls. More's the pity. :(

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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Latest Despatches from the Keep on the Borderlands

The Castellan is dead!!!

But allow me to back up a bit:

When last we left our intrepid - ahem! - heroes, they were trying to scrounge up enough gold pieces to build their own stronghold outside the reach of the Keep's new merchants guild (and the new 10% tax on treasure being brought through the Keep's gates). So they returned to the Caves of Chaos...

After a slog through a small section of tunnels near the kobold caves (the inhabitants of which they had cowed into submission during an earlier expedition), they were barely any richer. However, the Castellan's standing 10gp bounty for orc heads would make up for it, as they each had a half-dozen such grizzly decorations adorning a spear on their return to the Keep. "Tax these, you bastards!"

After a few days of recovery and recruiting new henchmen - made much easier by the party's growing fame and the recent caravan from the west, which brought with it numerous fortune seekers - they made their way back to the Caves with a small army all their own.

Things were quiet. A little too quiet.

Until the front rank of the party (comprised of Hildy and her quartet of fighters) disappeared into a well-camouflaged pit, followed by the sounds of horns blowing from the caves on either side of them. Everybody survived the fall, but the party was in big trouble. It became instantly apparent by the appearance of a company of goblinoids that a local tribe of hobgoblins had taken advantage of the power vacuum the party had created in the area and consolidated their power, enslaving the local goblins and the remaining orc tribe. (The party would learn the fate of the local bugbears later.)

And the newly formed goblinoid alliance had set a trap for the adventurers.

It looked bad for our - ahem! - heroes, but a well-placed sleep spell and a few charm person spells quickly leveled the playing field: The goblins' pet ogre suddenly turned on the little bastards, mowing down several ranks with a single swing of his massive club; the remaining goblins broke ranks and ran for the woods. The hobgoblin leader similarly turned on his men, creating a brief bout of chaos as he was laid low by his underlings and a successor found to take his place - only to suffer the same fate!

In the opening moments of the battle, the adventurers had managed to scatter the goblins on their left flank and render unconscious all of the orcs on their right. (Damn Hildy and her magnificent luck with the effects of that sleep spell!) That only left the hobgoblin horde - two score-soldiers strong - to deal with, and they were forced - thanks to some well-placed burning flasks of oil - to approach the party in narrow paths around the pit that now lay open between the two forces.

Despite this temporary advantage, a huge number of the goblinoids soon made it into melee and the battle was joined. Blacktome the magic user used his new levitate spell to gain a better vantage point from which to continue targeting the hobgoblin leadership, only to make himself a perfect target for their crossbow-wielding troops. Moments later, he lay in a bolt-laden heap on the ground.

He wasn't destined to do so alone, as his comrades began to fall around him. The battle wore on, at times looking desperate for the party. Ultimately, they managed to win the day, although at a terrible toll: nine of their eleven henchmen lay among the dead, and Blacktome had suffered a serious wound. Were it not for Rube, the charmed ogre, the battle would surely have been lost.

The survivors quickly scouted one of the other caves, which they found had once been home to a clan of bugbears. The creatures had apparently been disinclined to acquiesce to the hobgoblins' demands to join them, and had been murdered for their insolence.

Suffering from fatigue, injury, and lack of spell power, the adventurers decided not to attempt the return trip to the Keep, and instead locked themselves in a room within the orc caves that they had cleared out earlier... only to have the remaining goblins return in the middle of the night and attempt to burn them out. They managed to escape only thanks to a spell of fire resistance - from a scroll that had belonged to one of their deceased henchmen - cast on Rube, who bashed down the burning door and the barricade beyond. Hildy, Blacktome, and one of the henchmen succumbed to the smoke, but were dragged out of the cave by Brother Zogtavius, Rube and the other henchman (er, henchwoman - a lawful fighter named Elaine) - only to emerge into a dozen waiting goblin spears. Poor Rube, who had saved the party by turning on his previous employers, fell at the end of those spears before the two remaining conscious party members managed to drive off the foul creatures.

When all was said and done, another henchman was dead, and Hildy - miraculously unscathed in the earlier battle - and Blacktome were nearly dead from smoke inhalation. The party huddled at the mouth of the cave to await dawn.

Suddenly, from the darkness, a figured approached, calling out meekly. It was Mylor, new apprentice to Blacktome. Mylor, whom Brother Zogtavius swore he had seen split in twain by a hobgoblin's blade. It seemed impossible, but here he was. He claimed to have awoken among the dead at the canyon floor, and heard the party fighting the goblins. He told them he was so thankful they had not left the canyon, leaving him lost, injured, and unarmed in the dark.

The party was suspicious, but welcomed him back just the same.

Unsure of their situation, and wary of this person claiming to be the surely slain Mylor, Zogtavius made an executive decision, and the party quickly limped its way back to the Keep in the pre-dawn hour. Miraculously, they did so without further trouble.

When the group returned to their townhouse, Blacktome laid Mylor's spell book on a table - next to his own, and another he'd previously captured. He said he was unsure which was Mylor's - he could take whichever one was his. At first, the young apprentice looked confused, but then he said: "I've suffered a great blow to the head - I'm a little unsure right now which one -"

That was all Blacktome needed to hear. He threw his Snake Staff at the young magic user, and quickly rushed in and slit the ensnared man's throat. The thing that had been posing as Mylor turned a sickly gray and its facial features disappeared. In mere moments, it had melted into a puddle of smelly, sticky goo on the rug. (DM's note: I hate that damn staff - I've lost so many good monsters to it since Blacktome found it early in the campaign. The fact that it doesn't use any charges makes it a real boon to Blacktome - and a bane to me! I have sworn that I will get it away from that troublesome sorcerer yet!)

Two nights later was midsummer's eve, and the Castellan had declared that there would be a celebration of the Keep's newly found prosperity. The adventurers attended the shindig as the guests of honor. (Minus Elaine, the sole surviving henchman/-woman; she decided she'd seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime, so took her share of the pitiful booty and returned to her family's farm in the west.)

The festivities had barely begun when a shriek went up from the head of the Castellan's table. The adventurers rushed to the scene, where they saw that the ruler's chair lay tipped on its side, next to which the Lady of the Keep, wailing in anguish, knelt and cradled her husband's limp body in her arms.

The Castellan was dead. Poisoned, it would appear. But by whom...?

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

What Have I Been Up To, You Ask?

Allow me to answer that with a pair of images:

Yes, in between all the usual madness that occurs here on a semi-regular basis, and all of the additional summer activities that we in central New York have to cram into a scant three-out-of-twelve-months of decent weather, I've been running the Usual Suspects through B2, in mostly-by-the-book Moldvay/Cook B/X fashion. (The only real change being that 0 HP doesn't mean dead - it means probably falling unconscious and drawing a card from the Critical Hits deck; sometimes death might be a kinder fate. Just ask Brother Zogtavius, whose "paper cut" - resulting in a -4 to all of his actions for four rounds, including turning undead - nearly resulted in a TPK at the hands of a horde of skeletons.)

So far it's been a blast:
  • Brother Pervius (and his shiny black leather armor) and Brad, son of Brad, of house Bradwarden were killed in action
  • Also lost in combat were the (mostly) loyal hirelings Radrick (the "corpulent," filthy, foul-mouthed female dwarf) and Leif, as well as several other "paid staff"
  • Dahlgren Blacktome, magic user, was blinded by a spitting cobra. His compatriots undertook a dangerous mission to locate some shrieker spores, with which a poultice was made and his vision restored; however, the scars remain, and his CHA has severely suffered for it. (How very fitting for a chaotic mage - see "brain waster," courtesy of the SLA Industries RPG.)
  • Orchid the Irish elf - succumbing to her greed, despite multiple warnings from the party good-guy, aforementioned Brother Zog - absconded with several cursed items from a temple of evil deep within the Caves of Chaos, resulting in her subsequent return to the Caves a week later as a servant of evil. This prompted a hasty nighttime excursion by her fellows during which her new horde of undead minions were put down (at the cost of two of Brother Zog's experience levels - at the claws of a pair of wights - and a near-TPK) and she was paralyzed, hog-tied, and dragged back to the Keep. She now resides in a padded cell in the Castellan's dungeon, where she awaits her forthcoming exorcism.
  • Orchid's one-time hireling, Hildgaard the magic user, has taken her old mistress' place in the party, where in spite of her flaky personality her charm person spell has become quite an asset. Except when she charmed Gribble the goblin, from which she learned that just because a creature will protect someone with its life doesn't mean it stops being an evil little psychopath. (The other PCs knew that they wouldn't survive a single night with that little maniac running loose in their townhouse. So, rather than wait to be chivved in their sleep, Brother Zog averted his eyes while Blacktome grabbed the little wretch and put him out of everyone's misery...)
When we last left our heroes, they had met their most dangerous foes yet: Walgort and Bigsby, the new merchant guild boss and banker (someone knifed the old banker the night Orchid went missing, and stole some items he'd bought from her a week earlier to boot). It seems there's been a rather large influx of cash into the Keep's economy over the last few weeks, as well as a boom in adventurers and the services that support them, and it was determined (although the party is uncertain by whom) that a merchant's guild would bring some much-needed stability to the Keep's economy. And that new 10% tax on all treasure passing through the Keep's gates couldn't hurt, either. Right? The PCs were upset enough over this turn of events, but when their former hirelings Snips the thief and Tenbar the dwarf were murdered and disappeared, respectively - their share of the party treasure unaccounted for - they positively knew that they had a pair of arch-enemies in Wolgort and Bigsby.

Further excursions to the Caves have thus taken a back seat to scouting the area for a good place to build their own stronghold. Of course, such an undertaking requires a lot of money, and although they have a good amount now, they still need much, much more.

So, back to the Caves they go...

. . . . .

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

This Makes Me Want to Play Some Gamma World

Found this in an old (circa 1986) Challenge magazine*:

Rest assured: when I once again pick up the mantle of Gamma World GM, this cool dude and his horn-nosed ride will make an appearance...

*Remember when the hobby was graced with such wonderful magazines as Challenge? And Shadis? And White Wolf? Ah, now those were the days of heady adventure!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Yes, I Know: It's Been Ages Since I Posted Anything

Rest assured, I am still alive. With winter coming to a swift end here in the northeast (80+ today - woohoo!) I hope my spirits will lift and I'll be feeling up to posting new game-related stuff soon. In the meantime:

Friday Night on the USS Enterprise. . . . .

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dark World: Introducing The Traveler's Guide to Pretty Much Everything

A publication of Zuorn Press, The Traveler's Guide to Pretty Much Everything, often called the "TGPME," or simply, "The Guide," was first published in Zuorn in 935. Its authors, an enigmatic duo known only as "Egbert & Chick," are said to regularly travel the World (and beyond) in a lifelong effort to keep the guide as up to date as possible. Addenda and errata have been printed every year since The Guide was first published, and have been included in reprints that have been published every 10 years.

Unfortunately, sales of The Guide have been sluggish, as few people have room in their homes for its 900 or so volumes, much less for the additional seven to nine volumes of addenda and errata that are published each year. As a result of its bulk, the guide is also of far less use to the average traveler than Zuorn Press had originally hoped. (One wizard, who wishes to remain unnamed, owns a copy of each of the last five prints and all of their associated addenda, errata, and collateral materials. He says he had to excavate the space beneath his tower just to make room for the nearly 5,000 massive tomes. He has nicknamed his subterranean library "The Dungeon of Pretty Much Everything.")

In recent years, however, progress has allegedly been made on development of a device that would make The Guide more user friendly. This rumored innovation, the "iParchment," is said to be a single magical scroll that can - at the direction of its owner - search The Guide's massive source library in Zuorn and retrieve and display an article almost instantly (with caveats for owners operating outside the iParchment's coverage area, eldritch outages, and the like). If the rumors are to be believed, the iParchment would allow an owner to have instant, up-to-date information as close as his nearest scroll case. Many find the rumors of the iParchment to be nothing more than silly marketing drivel - a mere attempt to generate interest in Zuorn Press and its publications and/or to drive sales of the print version of The Guide amongst those who are wary of it becoming obsolete or who are frightened of this new-fangled sorcery.

A Random Sample Entry from The Guide: The Wizard Brothers

A quartet of evil wizards, each of the “Wizard Brothers” claims that his epithet is his legal name, although no birth certificates have been produced to support this. The only other living family member, their father (known only as “Mr. Wizard,” and currently residing in a retirement community in Dunesrest) was once rumored to have countered the claim, stating that at least one son bore a different name at birth. But after a lengthy (and bloody) domestic dispute, no further counter-claims have been made. To this day, however, many wonder which of “the boys” bears the legal name “Gaylord Myron Wizard.”

The family has a foothold in every corner of the World:

In the north, Blizzard Wizard rules with a frosty fist from his cold, crystalline “Tower of Ice.” He is known by locals as the White Wizard*. They petitioned for the right to call him Winter Wizard, but were refused, as that name was too similar to one already taken by a reformed evil magic user who resides much farther north (and who emphatically claims to be “No relation!” to the brothers). A petition to instead dub Blizzard “Snow Miser” was started, but ultimately dropped due to “lack of significant interest.” (There were, however, rumors that threats from the estate of the Miser family had a chilling effect on the petitioning process.)

In the west, Lizard Wizard stalks the marshy lands of Mistmoor. Most of the local denizens aren’t very social, so not much local data has been divulged, except that they call him the Swamp Sorcerer and that his home is a flagstone manor deep in the center of the moors known as “Bog House.” Some have whispered that he rides on a giant, thunderous lizard and has various similar beasts under his command – but no sworn reports have been made to that effect, so it may just be local gossip.

In the east, Gizard Wizard rules the air above Upper Granwald. His “Evil Aerie” is on a crag, the highest point in the oldest and wickedest part of the wood. (It’s a sprawling section known as “Old Granny,” and it’s shunned by those who know their way around the forest.) Known by the forest folk as the Fowl Fiend, Gizard is said to have wings instead of arms; his feathered minions soar in the skies above and nest in the trees within much of the deep forest.

And in the south, the youngest sibling, Izzard Wizard freaks out the locals with his transvestigial ways from the fashionable-but-forbidding “Terrible Tower” (atop the rocky mass known as Hag’s Tor). Locals call him The Crimson Conjurer, as every item in his admittedly fabulous wardrobe seems to be some shade of red (with nicely contrasting accessories, of course). Some of the braver locals – usually during late-night pub conversations – like to make fun of him, calling him The Crimson Cross-dresser. Several groups of locals have gone missing after making such jests a little too loudly. (Interestingly, there seems to be a proportionate boost in the local toad population after such disappearances.)

*Here's an open letter posted on the Zuorn Press discussion board (a piece of wood nailed to the wall outside their offices in Zuorn, upon which people are allowed to express their opinions by tacking up notes):

"Zuorn Press has received letters and read posts here from several furrners [a colorful local word for out-worlders, extraterrestrials, and any other of the strange folk that frequently pop up on this world. - Ed.] wondering why the name "White Wizard" was allowed while others were not, as it clearly belongs to some allegedly "famous wizards" named "Gandalf" and "Saruman," or some such. It is not Zuorn Press' policy to speculate on the reasoning behind the decisions of the Governing Board of the Invisible School of Eldritch Wizardry. However, we do feel the need to take this opportunity to clarify a few things: all furrners are batshit crazy, and we do not appreciate being ranted at by every crank and loony that can put quill to parchment. We do not know who you are referring to - we know no Gandalfs or Sarumans. The closest would be Grand Dolph, the bartender at the Howling Monkey on Market Street. But he's no wizard. Not even close. And while we are at it, please stop ranting about "balrogs" and "hobbits." Previous entries in the first print of The Guide referring to these were mistakes, and as such were removed or corrected in later editions. They are demons and halflings, respectively - get over it already.

Sincerely, Zuorn Press."

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