Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Olde School Mischief

With the assistance and prodding of a few friends, I'm continuing to march through writing my first draft of Olde School Wizardry -- an all-wizard RPG with a moderately crunchy magic system.

I'm currently deep in Chapter Six: Campaign & Setting ...

Though I'm leery of coming off as too Harry Potter, the Wizard's College that is developed in the setting does make use of a house system, with trainee-wizards pledging to various houses during the latter half of their first year.

Here's the first draft version of Bentbrock House

"Conscientia Ex Carne"  (Out of the Flesh, Understanding)

Common Schools of Study: Carnomancy, Goblins, Spoons, Butter, Ale

Founded via bequest by the famous former Archchancellor Brober Bentbrock, this house was once considered among the Collegium Mysterium's most prestigious.  Events in more recent decades, however, have seen a precipitous decline in the reputation of Bentbrock House as prominent graduates, among them even some of the former Archchancellor's own relations, have become involved in a series of scandals.  Now a byword for decadence and debauchery, the wizards of Bentbrock House are most interested in bending magic to serve their own pleasures. 

Opium den in the East End of London, 1874

I aim to develop about a dozen student houses.  None convey mechanical benefits in the Olde School Wizardry system, but each offers the player some ideas to riff off of when developing his or her neophyte wizard.

Apart from a motto, common schools of study, a description, and perhaps details of a few notable alumni, I wonder what other details would be helpful to players?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shootout at Cragmaw Cave

In Tuesday's 5th edition D&D Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign, my middle school students' characters were holed up in the former cavern hideout of the Cragmaw goblin tribe.  It was a cozy, secure little spot for a base camp once you got all the goblin stink out of the place, and the adventurers settled in to make it their home in the region ... they were sorely in need of a safe place to rest since the Redbrand Gang had completely taken over the village of Phandalin, making it decidedly inhospitable.

But just as the group was getting serious about renovating the place, the Cragmaw goblins turned up, determined to take the caves back!

The battle lines were drawn ...

Victory Conditions: Whichever side controls the majority of the eight-room complex by 4:30 P.M. wins, gaining possession of the cave (ties going to the party of adventurers).

Since his character wasn't present, the player of Ted the Goblin took charge of the goblin band.  He would play the goblin chief (a bugbear) directly and was told to give no quarter (an instruction to which he gleefully agreed).  He was given a goblin troop roster, a map of the small cave complex, and instructions to develop his attack plan in five steps or less.  He was also given a pencil, paper, and instructions to wait in the hall until called back in.

There was a catch of course: the more orders given and the more complex the orders, the less likely the goblin troops were to follow instructions as planned!

Meanwhile, the party (a dwarven cleric, an elven rogue, a wolf, a human wizard, and a halfling that had slowly been transformed into a copy of the magic staff that he attempted to purloin) was also furnished with a map of the cave.  Each player was permitted to make defensive preparations prior to the onset of the goblin attack.

Here's what they decided to do:
    Image result for backlit
  • The dwarf blocked up the chimney leading from area 3 to 8, wisely preventing flanking attacks.
  • The elven rogue stationed himself just south of the (semi-repaired) bridge at area 5, and hid, ready to fire as soon as enemies appeared.
  • The wolf waited in area 7.
  • The human wizard weakened the dams in area 7, then blocked the weak spots with ice via Ray of Frost.  He stacked crates at the steps between areas 7 and 8 to create a partial barricade.  He then cast Light into area 5, neatly back-lighting the elf as he tried to hide!  Whoops.
  • The magic talking staff screened the entrance to the caves with brambles using his plant-growth powers.  He then decided that he wanted to wait in area 3, changed his mind to area 6, then changed his mind again to area 8.  As he could only move via a slow, tottering walk, I ruled that, having changed his mind so many times, he would be caught near area 4 unless someone went to get him ... which the wolf promptly did, depositing him in area 8. 
I called the goblin commander in and we got down to business!

Led directly by the chief, the first of three goblin squads chopped through the thorny hedge and made a quick advance through area 4 to capture area 6 unopposed.  The elf botched his Wisdom check, and he couldn't draw enough of a bead on the fast moving goblins to get a clear shot off.

The goblin orders read "then the second group goes from room 3 to room 8."

DM: "So how do they know when to advance?" 

Gob-chief: "Um..."

After a delay, in which the party held its ground while the halfling/staff tried unsuccessfully to stand up, cross the crate barricade, and leave area 8, the goblin chief dispatched a sneaky goblin runner to signal the second squad.  The elven archer earned his meal ticket by sniping away at each of a series of runners until the goblin chief wised up and sent a pair of goblin archers to area 5 and led another to area 4, setting up a neat crossfire on the elf.  Soon the elf, low on hit points, was forced to retreat.  

As the second goblin squad reached area 3, only to be stymied by the neatly blocked chimney, the "staff-ling" took the elf's place on the ledge, spitting thorns down at the attackers.  The dwarven cleric took this opportunity to advance and blast away at the archers across the gorge, scattering them, before retreating.

In a clever use of low level magic, the wizard used the warming effect of his Prestidigitation cantrip to melt the ice jam holding back the waters beyond the damaged dam in area 7.  The goblin dashing down the tunnel to order the final attacking squad forward was swept away with a protracted squeal!

While the rest of the party fell back again, the staffling got to watch the bugbear leap the underground stream and go to lead his lagging third squad into the fray.  Two well aimed thorns wounded the brute, but the goblin chief was determined.

The goblins had a nasty surprise waiting with their reserve element: a (semi) trained owlbear!

A pack of armored hobgoblins chopped through the obstacles created by the staffling and charged into area 7, only to be met by the wizard's Thunderwave spell, which drove several of them back into the rushing torrent.  As things degenerated into a nasty melee, the adventurers had scant seconds in which to throw the hobgoblins back before the owlbear could arrive, but their coordination slipped away and the frenzied monster fell upon their ranks.

Ever the team player, the staffling (who, two episodes ago, kept trying to surrender to goblins while his comrades successfully fought off their attack) dove from the bridge and played "stick" to float out of the cave and make his escape unnoticed.

The wolf fell, toppling into the stream, and soon the wizard was knocked unconscious by a swipe of the owlbear's paw (which made its morale check and didn't turn on the goblins).  The dwarf fought stoically, but by then it was over and she was soon surrounded and brought down by superior numbers.

Only the elf remained, pinned in a corner near the southern end of the bridge.  Breaking cover he executed a death-defying flying leap, made his Dexterity check handily, landed on the ledge below, and dashed from the cave with but two hit points to spare!

The fight was over: a decisive victory for the Cragmaw tribe!

The adventuring party seemed to have all the right moves, they just lacked the determination, coordination, and timing to put it all together ... but then again, they are middle schoolers so this is pretty much the age at which you take those lessons on the chin and start to figure things out a little bit (and no, I'm not talking about D&D at this point).  Hopefully our games can make for a fun, memorable place for some of that learning to start to happen.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Extreme Home Makeover: Dungeon Edition?

Tuesday, in our 5th edition middle Lost Mines campaign, my middle schoolers slogged back out to the Craegmaw Goblin hideout for a fifth visit to that modest cave complex.

I'm confident that the writers intended exploration of the goblin hideout to last about one session.

It looks like this:

It's basically just four rooms.  Now, for a second, imagine if we were playing Keep on the Borderlands from my own long ago beginner boxed set, and the "starter dungeon" looked like this:

Holy cow!  They could spend years mucking about in the Caves of Chaos!

The writers expected the players to try and rescue Sildar Hallwinter, their employer, from the clutches of the goblins (rather than flee and leave the poor guy to his fate), and failing that, once Sildar had been killed, I figured that they'd at least try to avenge the guy (especially when the party's cleric was placed under geas by Hallwinter's ghost).  Nope.  Instead the caves have become a regular pit-stop on what seems to have been one long, rambling, and violent road trip ... but then that's exactly the kind of surprise you sign up for when you make player agency and choice a priority over plot design and story arcs.

So, it really should come as no surprise that, having failed to win the hearts and minds of the people of hamlet of Phandalin, rather than fight yet another inconclusive clash with the Redbrand Gang, the players would choose to make the (now empty) Craegmaw Hideout into their own base of operations.

While the wooden halfling continued his transformation into something that looks a lot less like this:

 and a lot more like this: 

... the rest of the party got down to the serious business of renovating and redecorating the place ... because ... you know, if there is one thing that adventurers crave more than gold it is interior design on a reasonable budget!

Well, what's the sense of having your heroes set up a secret base on Hoth if it never gets attacked, right?  So our closing scene was of a lone goblin, a scout for the main strength of the Craegmaw tribe, wandering into the cave to gawk at the characters as they worked on rebuilding the bridge and trying to fashion some basic defenses.

Next week, as the end of the school year creeps up on us, we'll fight the Siege of Craegmaw Cave (Alamo style!) and see if the gang can survive the onslaught.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Player Fan Fic

If fan fiction is a metric of  for any particular source of entertainment, then one of my ten-year-old Homeguard players is hooked on tabletop indeed!

Here is a short piece of writing, completed as part of a homework assignment, in which she narrates a scene from Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I've left spelling and punctuation as is.
Bonus points for whoever identifies the monster first!

"Aareck poked his head into the room.  It had an unusual, natural kind of shape to it.  It had a low ceiling, and he could see a door on the far side.  The stairs were slick under his feet.  But the most noticebal thing about the room was the vegitation.  The room was covered with all shapes and sizes of fungi, mushrooms, and moss.  It came in all shades, from bright blue and red, to a sickly green.  The fungus spread everywhere, even creeping up the walls, ecept for two narrow paths, winding through the odd plantlife and then meeting at the far door. 

Aareck and Max took the front, with Bogger and Grandolf in the middle and Rosie taking the rear.  He had only taken about three steps along the left path when suddenly the ground gave way beneath him!  He went tumbleing down into the fungi, Max sliding after him.  

Suddenly, a huge mushroom popped its root out of the ground, and began to advanse.  Long purple tentecals lashed out from under it.  It sprayed out a purpleish liquid.  Some of it splashed on Aareck, and it burned where it made contact with him.  Max started to slash at it, but it was not much good.  "Pull Max out, I'll distract it," yelled Aareck to the others, but even as he shouted these orders, he wondered if they would be his last."

I wonder if most RPG players who start as kids try their hand at writing their favorite character's tale at least once or twice?