Saturday, March 26, 2016

White Star: Rocket Wookie Strikes Back

I've been continuing to run White Star one-on-one for my oldest kid in a series of single-encounter "micro-sessions" that last between 10 and 25 minutes.

My approach has been to do as little advance planning as possible and to commit as little to paper as possible -- just a minimum to give us continuity on things like names.  So far everything (including character sheets) fits on 3 index cards.
The effect is that the episodes feel like the old Prince Valiant comic strip from the Sunday newspaper: tight little scenes with four-color action, clear conflicts, clear antagonists, and setting that is implied rather than fully described.

Episode II: Rocket Wookie sits across the table from Gargo Frikks [no physical description given] in the back of a dim gambling hall.

"So I hear your tryin' to get off world."


"Well, I might be able to arrange somethin', but it ain't gonna be cheap."


"Hey, why would I sell you out?  You know I got no love for the Imperials either.  Look, maybe you can help me out wit something in the meantime.  Meez-weez owes me big.  How bout you go see him about paying his debt, and I'll see what I can do."

Episode III: Rocket Wookie has descended from the [yet unnamed] megacity to the subterranean Filter Level [neither of us knew that there was a Filter Level until this scene].  Just around the corner is Meez-weez's mobile takka fricassee stand, catering to the scores of maintenance workers who labor down here [at this point, neither of us know what a "takka" is, but apparently you can eat them].

Crashing and banging come from inside the takka kitchen ... sounds like Meez-weez has customers ...

"You better pay up, Meez-weez!"

"RRRawr!" (Rocket Wookie jets to the corrugated roof of the takka stand, where a pair of tattooed thugs are roughing up Meez-weez)

"What's that?  Hey there's a wookie on the ro--" (thug #1, sticks his head out of the back hatch)

"Whur-uurr-ur!" (Rocket Wookie drops to the street, lifts the thug with a hairy paw, bangs his head on the door frame, and dumps him in the street)

"Gaaa!" (thug #2 leaps off Meez-weez, snatches huge cleaver out of butcher's block, faces off against Rocket Wookie)

"Grr-rarru." (Rocket Wookie deposits the second thug atop his unconscious friend)

"You don't-a hurt a Meez-weez, yeah?  I will a-pay you very soon!" (Meez-weez flips a lever and the magnetically-sealed takka cages pop open!  The interior of the stand is filled with angry, flapping takkas!)

Image result for wookie"Muhhr-ruuu" (Rocket Wookie saves vs takka swarm, diving through the hatch in the nick of time)

"Ha!" (Meez-weez fires up the grav-repulsors and the stand lifts off, zooming down the street at break-neck speed)


White Star's light-weight rules, which are so intuitive for anybody who has either played any version of D&D released prior to 2000 or who has dabbled with D&D retroclones, supports this fast and light style really well!  I think we'll see more of Rocket Wookie in the future.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XX

Tuesday was our twentieth session exploring the Dwimmermount megadungeon and we had a full table of six players.  Here are our explorers:
  • Vale the Magician (level 3 wizard) made her return, still severely weakened from the lingering effects of brain fever caught in the stews of Adamas.  If she doesn't fulfill her oath to Saint Tyche soon, she's liable to succomb completely
  • Ivor the Opener of Doors (level 4 fighter) the one-time henchman has come into his own, even leading short expeditions in Vale's absence.  Though he is lethal with his greatsword, Ivor isn't the man he once was thanks to the terrible, strength-draining touch of Dwimmermount's shadows.
  • Y'draneal the dungeon Queen (level 3 elven thief & cartographer) was back in full force, confident that his superior speed and mobility would allow him to escape most dangers.
  • Hurtis the Spearman (level 2 fighter) another henchman who has joined the "Fabulous Five" as a full member
  • Sergei the Axe Thane (level 1 fighter) a brave, loyal, and steady novice to the dungeon and veteran of battles
  • Kenny the Magician (level 1 wizard) an unsteady novice
  • The two dwimmerlings (dwarves) recently rescued from beastmen joined the group, pledging a fortnight's service in repayment for their release (unimpressed by Kenny's inclination toward panicked homicide, the pair had discussed taking their leave, but Vale used magic to listen in and cleverly remind them of the obligations at just the right moment ... again demonstrating that a 17 Charisma can trump an 18 Strength)
After a bit of shopping in the humble market square of Muntburg, the group headed straight for The Reliquary level in hopes of finding the lost luck shrine of Saint Tyche.
"Dis is a shakedown, see?"

They paid the now-standard toll to a band of sentient rats (Vale did the negotiating) and, noting traces of luminous slime on the walls and floor, they began to poke around some unexplored corners of the dungeon's second level.

Eventually, entering a chamber heaped with moldering sacks, the group was cheered by the prospect of some easy loot.  The adventurers spread out in a scramble to tug open the sacks and lay hands on the goodies ... and were shocked when withered, grayish hands reached out of the sacks!

Image result for zombieSuddenly the party found itself surrounded by shambling deadites*!  A fierce battle ensued as Vale back-peddled to the doorway and started a count down to unleashing her Burning Hands Spell.  Kenny wasn't inclined to wait, however, and threw his Sleep Spell.  His jaw dropped when two of the fighters slumped to the floor, but the merciless dead remained completely unaffected!

"Argh!  They're immune!"

As Sergei was dragged to the floor with decayed teeth locked in his calf, Vale unleashed her inferno, destroying the battered dead in a single strike.

"Bernie Sanders Hands!"

Beyond all hope, despite being reduced to zero hit points, Sergei managed to pass his fifth and final death check, meaning that he was maimed, but would live.

Bearing their wounded and pausing only to rout a roving pack of beastmen with Vale's Turms Termax impression, all eight members of the Fabulous Five trooped back out of the dungeon and to the sanity and safety of Muntburg. 


* I'm adamant in each of my campaigns about NOT using the Creole word for animated corpses, feeling that it both misses the pseudo-European feel of the setting and leaves the players with a bunch of OOC expectations.  Instead, all corporeal undead get described as "deadites."  Not knowing a mummy from a ghoul without careful observation maintains the tension nicely.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

White Star: Kicking the Tires

On a whim, I recently picked up the White Star RPG by James Spahn and decided to give it a whirl one afternoon.  It's basically OD&D repackaged to run rules-lite Star Wars, Star Trek, Battle Star Galactica, Firefly, or something similar.  I'd already introduced the troops at home to Star Frontiers, and it didn't really grab their attention, but I figured that the familiar mechanics of White Star might make sci-fi roleplaying more accessible for them.

My older kid, who gravitates towards all things brave and noble, thought she'd like to try and play a Jedi (called a "Star Knight" in White Star).  Their prime requisite is wisdom, which fits pretty well as these guys essentially work like clerics, so as she starts her 3d6 stat rolls she's hoping for a decent score there ... and her first toss (strength) is a natural 18, something I've only ever seen happen once or twice before.

"Um, I think you're going to end up with a mercenary or an alien brute, honey."

"What's that?"

"An alien brute?  Oh, you know, any big, tough alien-type ... like a wookie.  They sort of do the same job as dwarves in this."

Well that pretty well sealed it.  Dex and Wisdom both came in pretty modest while Con was up in the bonus range.  Definitely alien brute material.

Her next really defining characteristic came when she was rolling for starting money (credits) ... again, the old 3d6 x 10 that I've been using since the 1980s and which comes without pause for thought.  A 16! That's one well-heeled wookie!

Looking over the rules, we realized that a high-strength wookie in hand-to-hand combat could be more lethal than blaster fire!  The problem would be, how to get him/her into the fight quickly?

"I want the jet pack!"

That didn't leave enough money for a blaster, but she could afford a single concussion grenade and a pouch to keep it in.

"Okay, so you are approaching the space port, looking for a way to get off world because wookies are outlawed here.  You round the corner and there are two storm troopers!  [rolling] You are very close.  Roll for surprise! [rolling]  Okay, looks like you have surprise.  Do you want to fight or run?"


The wookie's attacks buffeted the storm troopers without cracking open their armor, and stuck in melee they couldn't make proper use of their blasters without risking hitting each other.

White Star doesn't have morale ratings for NPCs (a really important rule in old school D&D-style games), but Spahn made the very clever suggestion of using a single, unified saving throw to do double-duty.

I figured that, surprised by an angry wookie, a morale check was in order.  The troopers bolted, one of them failing them badly enough that I ruled he had dropped his weapon in his panicked flight.

A successful first outing for White Star and Rocket-Wookie!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XIX

With Vale in a swoon from brain-fever and Y'draneal nowhere to be found, it fell to Ivor the Opener of Doors (level 4 fighter) to lead this week's expedition into Dwimmermount.  Joining him were Hurtis and Sergei (fighting men), and Kenny the Magician.

Image result for studying mapWithout Y'draneal and his maps, Ivor broke down and purchased a copy of the route through the Path of Mavors from rival explorers The Five Delvers.  This stung of course, because The Five Delvers had purchased their map from our own explorers, but none of the players were willing to risk getting lost inside the labyrinthine, mountain fortress.

So equipped, the group looked over the map and Hurtis pointed out a set of descending steps that had been discovered long before, but which the group had never ventured to explore.

Image result for yellow moldThe halls of the Path of Saint Mavors were eerily quiet and clear as the adventurers made their way to the neglected stair.  A broad swath of yellow mold blocked the way, and Hurtis recalled hearing Y'draneal's earlier account of being blinded and nearly choked to death by the mold's many spores.

As one of the newer members, Sergei was tasked with putting the fungus to the torch ... a process that went very slowly but which proved effective in the end, though they never discovered whether the mold actually posed any sort of danger.

Descending to a circular atrium below, the group was confronted by a small pack of beastmen.
While the creatures gabbled and snorted at them in some ancient tongue (a greeting? a warning? a threat? who knows!), Ivor made his way to the front to open negotiations:

"I swing my greatsword -- a 19.  Hey, with my Champion thing that's a critical hit!"

Taking 4d6 damage, the pig-faced creature not only had its head swept off, but was cloven in two before it could fall.  After such a display of martial prowess the rest fled squealing and shrieking into the dark.

From there Ivor led the party through a storeroom (where Hurtis acquired a jar of some odd, greenish goop which he hoped was poison) and right into another, larger pack of beastmen.

Kenny unleashed his Sleep spell, and to his delight found that somehow the azoth-tainted air of the chamber boosted the incantation's efficacy.  He alone was left awake in the chamber and he hastened to snatch up Sergei's axe and hew the head off the largest beastman.

As friends were awaken and creatures dispatched, Kenny discovered a sack of ancient, copper pennies along with a few gems stashed under a bench.

Kenny: "Ooh!  I'm going to keep it all!"

Sergei: "Um, can I get my axe back please?"

Following a low, groaning sound, the group next discovered a pair of "dwimmerlings" (dwarves) chained to a wall -- apparently prisoners of the beastmen.  Kenny immediately voted to dispatch them (before they could get free), then to leave them, but Ivor eventually dared to release them after one of the dwimmerlings turned out to have some command of the common tongue ("Eh ... jou know zhat vee can hear all zhis, ya?").

No sooner had Ivor used Sergei's crowbar to pry free the pin holding the chained dwarves then a whole horde of beastmen ... as many as a score ... came rushing to the attack from the southern hall.

Ivor: "Ooh, ooh, I know what we should do!  Can we make a phalanx?"

I'm a history teacher and one of my students remembered a vocab word from class ... how could I possibly say no?

Ivor sheathed his greatsword and switched to a shield and spear and a shield wall was formed a half-stride into the chamber, picking a place where the enemies could only come at them a few at a time.

Two of the three fighters had chosen the Protection fighting style, allowing them to convey Disadvantage upon an attack aimed at a neighboring ally once per round.  This, combined with plate and shield, meant that the many 19s and 20s that I proceeded to roll were insufficient to break through the defense and the shield wall proved impenetrable.  Soon enemy bodies began to pile up before the fighters in reeking heaps (we used toppled chess pawns for dead foes, heaped between two pencils that marked the walls of the corridor -- you could actually see the moment when the mound reached waist height).

During the battle, Kenny the Magician made a clever use of Prestidigitation to close a door behind the beastmen, temporarily dividing their forces, and later manipulating the latch of the same door to delay their retreat.

As our session ended the group trooped back to the surface in high spirits with the bag of loot (at which point Kenny received a quick lesson about sharing).  The gems they recovered proved to be worth far more than the twenty-odd pounds of pennies, and if they can find a way to spend it next session then a couple of the characters will level up.

Curiously, amid all the action, Hurtis and Ivor seemed to have completely forgotten that, just two sessions prior, they had learned that The Seekers had been successful in negotiating with the beastmen and using them as guides and guards while in Dwimmermount.  Perhaps next time they'll find out if the wholesale slaughter of these pig-people has put them at odds with the senior adventuring band ...

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Y'draneal's Maps

The fact that Y'draneal's player takes his role as the adventuring party's mapper seriously has actually driven some in-game plot developments in our Dwimmermount campaign.

In the rare session when he can't attend, the party is so dependent on his navigation that they are actually hesitant to explore too far without him.

Here's an only slightly blurry pic of some of his map work -- not too bad for a tabletop RPG novice!

Part of the Reliquary above with the Paths of Mavors below

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XVIII

Only one of our Dwimmermount regulars (Y'draneal's player) could stay for Tuesday's game, but it didn't take long to grab a couple new players and soon the cagey elven thief was joined by Serguy the fighter and a high strung rogue called "Master Pockets."

Y'draneal's pitch to the new recruits was both short and frank:

"Look, I've got the best map of Dwimmermount so far.  I drew it myself, I know my way around even without it, and I'll be your guide, but I need some mooks to get between me and the enemies in a fight.  There's a really good chance you'll get killed, but if you survive you might get rich."
Image result for greed
Good to his word, Y'draneal, steered the small group through the Paths of Mavors and straight for the steps down to The Reliquary, intent on completing his map of that level.  Though they saw no enemies, something noticed them and began to follow, but they gave their pursuers the slip and made their way below.

Passing through the Temple of Truth, the party stuck to a broad, vaulted perimeter hallway.  At one point Master Pockets heard distant voices and Y'draneal risked tiptoeing down a side tunnel to confirm that it was another squad of the upraised goblins that they had met before, busy investigating an altar in search of loot.

Y'draneal stuck to his role as mapper and box man rather than negotiator, opting to bypass the goblins with stealth rather than risk a confrontation:

"Vale's friends.  We'll leave those guys for her to deal with."

Poking about in a disused storeroom, the explorers discovered a collection of wooden statues.  As Master Pockets finished probing behind one of them and tried to step away, he was shocked to realize that one of the statues had closed its fist around the seam of trousers ... at which point he proceeded to freak out:

"Ahh!  They're ... they're like weeping angels!  Set them on fire!  Don't look at them.  I won't look at it while you guys set it on fire!  Can I splash it with acid?"

Y'draneal kept his head, taking a long stride back and nocking an arrow while Serguy brought his axe down on the wooden hand.  The statue's other hand clutched at the fighter's throat and only his stiff, leather gorget kept his windpipe from being crushed.

"Yeah, they'll probably all going to come to life and kill you guys.  I did warn you that you were probably going to die."

A second statue did animate, even as Serguy's second stroke split the first neatly from top to bottom with a resounding crack, but the group was able to dart around it and make their escape.

A bit farther along the broad, eastern hallway and they tried another unexplored hallway.  Beyond a door they came upon a half dozen more "super goblins," all watchful and ready.

Serguy back-peddled and, without Vale's charisma, linguistic training, or magic spells to aid communication, Master Pockets was thrust forward to do the negotiating:

"Um.  We are just passing through.  Please don't hurt us!"

Mercy toward the weak, unfortunately, does not appear to be a goblin virtue and Pockets found himself grabbed and roughed up while Y'draneal and Serguy both bolted back the way they had come.  Already low on hit points, Master Pockets was able to break free and stagger after his companions, but the goblins gave chase.

Confident of his ability to outrace these opponents, Y'draneal turned and began to ply his bow while Serguy felt a sudden twinge of conscience (which can be quite fatal in a dungeon) and turned back to battle the foes in an effort to rescue Pockets.

Serguy's axework was masterful and he dealt terrible wounds to one side, then the other while deflecting many blows.  Even as he fought his way to Master Pocket's side, however, the thief took a spear to the belly and fell stricken.

Once their numbers began to thin, the big goblins retreated into their hallway and sounded a horn to call in their patrols as reinforcements.

Pausing only to snatch up Pocket's crossbow and his vial of antivenom, the two survivors dashed back for level one.

Escape from Dwimmermount would not be quite so easy, however, as a pack of sapient rats (the creatures who had trailed them earlier on level one) sprang an ambush at the top of the stairs, nearly snaring the two adventurers before they could break free.

We closed the session with Master Pocket's player eagerly rolling up a new character for the others to meet next week in Muntburg ...

"I want to play again next week.  Risk was starting to get kind of old."

It seems Dwimmermount has won a couple new converts.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

DCC #29 The Adventure Begins

Super Tuesday saw schools in our district closed, so that meant no afternoon plunge into the depths of Dwimmermount this week.  At home, however, when not playing Eye of the Serpent (UK5), The Lost City (B4), or a heavily modified version of The Veiled Society (B6), my kids are each running D&D games of their own.

My oldest has currently locked onto Master of the Desert Nomads (X4), where we just blazed through a troop of about 100 bandits who picked the wrong caravan to mess with (Annelise the elf flew above them dropping flaming oil, while Clydell the dwarf used a newly acquired Girdle of Giant strength to hurl boulders from a nearby hilltop), but my younger kid has latched onto a product from a more recent decade: Dungeon Crawl Classics #29 The Adventure Begins.

Wow, this is a really nice collection of short, level 1-2 adventures ... all dungeon crawls and each with something unique and memorable.

My 9 year old is happily guiding us through "When Kobolds Fly."  We are using B/X rules, grabbing Moldvay, Mentzer, or Labyrinth Lord, whichever happens to nearest to hand, in the rare situation that we have to refer to a rule (and none of you geezers get to whine about version compatiblility ... she's 9 and handles it with ease).

I'd easily rank it among my favorite collection of adventures, and I strongly recommend picking it up if you are looking for something with just a little more meat than the One Page Dungeon format and more in line with the best issues of Dungeon Magazine.

Below is a pic of our character sheets -- don't get me wrong, I love a fancy retro character sheet as much as the next guy, but here's how we did it in 1984 -- and yep, all four PCs are elves!

We even rolled randomly for our starting spells ... Floating Disk, Light (remember, elves can see in the dark), Read Magic, and Hold Portal (no more useful than an iron spike) ... that's right, the crappiest possible set of level one utility spells ... not a Sleep, Charm, or Magic Missile anywhere it in batch ... and it's been an absolute riot to play!  Once we routed some kobolds by propping a dead carrion crawler atop the Floating Disk and dashing past screaming, "Don't let it look at you!  There's death in its eyes!"  Good times.