Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Olde School Wizardry -- My Brain Child

Lookit!  I just received a printed draft copy of my very own homebrew RPG, "Olde School Wizardry," to use with my summer games classes this July.
It's a game of neophyte wizards struggling to make their way in a big, harsh world where their seniors use a carefully entrenched "goode olde boy system" to keep the little guys marginalized.

Sort of a Harry Potter / Firefly mashup that I've been thinking about since at least 2002 and playing twice a month for around six years now.

It is a six-stat, roll d20 vs target number, no-skills, no-levels, rules-lite with a really flexible magic system in which every casting is completely customized.

This is just a draft -- as I work with my friend Josh Zusmer on layout and editing I'm probably still a year out on anything I'd be willing to call complete.  I still want to add a full chapter (scenarios), several appendixes, an index and some original artwork, but seeing it starting to come together is pretty thrilling. 

Because this copy isn't just a draft to help me revise layout, make choices, and line-edit, but it is also a table copy for actual play, I went with spiral binding.  I learned with my copy of Dwimmermount that this works much better at the game table than something I have to prop open.

Anyway, just wanted to share a bit of my glee.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- finale

It was now two weeks after Vale and company were arrested in Adamas for their assault upon Ysabelon of Asana, but upon returning to Muntburg to face justice a new prosecutor had
appeared and the charges had abruptly been changed to capital crimes!  Broke and with few allies, Vale and the Damaged Souls would be arguing for their lives!


From the high seat, Her Holiness Archbishop Morna, Senator of Adamas gestured for the bailiff of the court to speak.  The butt of his ceremonial halberd rapped the flagstones, commanding silence.  

“Let it be known before all here assembled and all the saints of men that the lady magician Vale, called “The Grey”, is hereby charged with heresy against the Great Church and treason against the Despot Lord Cheron of Adamas.”

Inquisitor Vader Henrich, acting for the prosecution, called Vale’s companion, Sergei Axe-thane first.

[I can do what I like to think of as a passable impression of General Burkhalter from Hogan’s Heroes, and so I pressed it into service as the voice of Henrich--a bit tough on the throat after an hour, but we bleed for our art!]

“What is your relationship with Vale, called ‘The Grey’?”

“I’m an … acquaintance.”

“Describe the magics that you have seen the accused invoke.”

“Slightly hot fire I suppose.”

“So you admit that at times you have seen her give forth gouts of infernal flame from both her hands?”


“Did she accomplish this perhaps through some type of trickery?  Did she wear special gloves perhaps or douse herself in water afterwards?”

“They might have burned for her a little?”

“How do you explain them then?”

“I cannot.”

“How came you by the strange, black rod that you have been seen to carry?”

[Henrich was referring to the magical control rod that Sergei had used to “awaken” whole portions of Dwimmermount’s third level.  Obviously the inquisitor had interviewed Glandal and Thoon, but since they were dwarves rather than men, their testimony could not be heard in a lawful court.  What any of this had to do with the charges against Vale remained to be seen.]

“I found it in a spider cabinet in Dwimmermount.”

“Do you know its powers?”

“I do not.”

[nearly apoplectic] “Do you mean to say that you have taken to meddling with dangerous magic which you admit is beyond your comprehension at the behest of Vale!?”


[groans and “oh no”s from the other players]

[completely calm] “No further questions.”

Ysabelon of Asana [NPC] was called next.  Henrich questioned her about her relationship with Vale, but oddly he passed quickly and lightly over matters that would seem to have the most bearing on the charges.  Instead he focused his questions on Dwimmermount.

“By what cause came you to be in the Dwimmermount?  Did you have some writ or charter?”

“We ventured there to learn more of the forgotten saints and uncover the truth of The Great Ancients who dwelled in the land before the Termaxian Domination.”

“And who gave you leave to do so?”

“We sought no one’s leave -- as your grace knows well, the mountain has been sealed these past two centuries.”

“You thought it wise to go into a fortress last held by the Termaxians?  Is it true that Termaxian cultists plot to overthrow Adamas and the senate and replace the rule of law with the veneration of wicked spirits?”

“So it is said.”

After a few more questions about the nature of some of the evil foes encountered in Dwimmermount, a rather sheepish Vale was permitted to question Ysabelon (who’s attempted murder she had ordered when last they met in the dungeon).  She kept her questions very focused and specific.

“Ysabelon, have you ever heard me discuss or even suggest treason against the Senate of Adamas or the Despot?”

“I have not.”

“Have you ever known me to engage in worship of Turms Termax?”

“I have not.”

Vale was also careful to establish that, prior to the day of the assault, there was no particular animosity between the two.  In doing so, she was laying the groundwork for a defense built on the notion that Vale was not responsible for any crimes she may have committed, as she was under a spell and impelled by some outside force.


Next Henrich called Nyxia, an apprentice magic-user and Vale’s long time friend [played by the former player of Y’draneal].

“Did the accused learn her infernal magics at academy with you?  Do you also know infernal or forbidden spells?”

[forcefully] “No, she did not.  No!”

“How do you suppose that she came to know these infernal magics?”

“I don’t know!”

“Are you aware that she kept company with thieves?  ‘Grim’ a branded thief, Pavel called ‘Pockets’, and Ander Black who we now have in custody.”


“Termaxian cultists have vowed to overthrow the senate.  Do you owe allegiance to their order?  Does Vale?  Did she compel you to join them?”

[cracking a bit] “No, no, no!”

“Do you deny that Vale entered Dwimmermount with the southern wizard called ‘Haka,’ Blaze Foedl, and the man called ‘Dren the Heretic?’ -- Termaxians all!”


[long-time readers will recognize the names of these minor PCs going back to September and October.  The same player ran all three in succession and did establish that at least one of this disreputable bunch was seeking to restore the rule of Termax the “Thrice Great.”]

Vale now questioned Nyxia who, unlike Sergei and the other party members, would gladly go to the stake to see Vale acquitted.

“How many of the men Inquisitor Henrich just named were known by me to be Termaxian cultists?”


“How many Termaxian rituals were performed in their company or in yours?”


“To the best of your knowledge, how many of these men ventured with me for more than a day or two?”

“None of them.”


Next Henrich questioned Vale directly.  This was to be the centerpiece of the trial … Despite the inquisitor’s bombastic, aggressive style, Vale would remain unflapped and unflustered through what amounted to a sophisticated verbal fencing match [and Vale’s player matched me step for step--quite a lot of fun!].

“How did you come to know the infernal flame magics that we have heard described?”

“I deny that the cause of my magical is infernal and object to your characterization of it.”

“Is it true that you are called ‘The Grey’ because you are actually three score and six years old, but you use magics to change your appearance and beguile men?”

“That’s not actually why I’m called that at all--it’s a moral standpoint where I don’t see things in absolutes.”

“Do you acknowledge that you at times change your appearance by sorcery?  I remind you that to give false testimony under oath carries a penalty of death.”

“Only when necessary to save my party members.”

“Isn’t it true that among your associates you have numbered no less than three Termaxian cultists?”

“I’ve never known of the secret deeds of any Termaxian cultist.”

“Do you then deny that you have been associated with Haka the Southron, Blaze Foedl, and the false cleric called Dren?  I remind you, that lying under oath before Saint Typhon carries a penalty of death.  Shall we call for the gate ward’s rolls so that all may hear in whose company you have entered and left Muntburg these past months?”

“I never knew any of them well and did not know that any of them were Termaxians.”

“Is it true that you called your company of four ‘The Fabled Five’?”

“No.  We are called ‘The Fabulous Five’.”

“Is it true that this was in acknowledgement of some wicked spirit that accompanied you as a familiar to teach you forbidden sorcery?” [groans and shouts of outrage from the other players]

“No.  It originally began with five of us.”

“And what is your company now called?  Isn’t it now named ‘The Damaged Souls’?!”

“No.  I don’t know why people call us that.” [this player helped choose the name]

“How do you know Ysabelon of The Seekers?”

“We met in Muntburg and exchanged notes on Dwimmermount.”

“What were your relations with her like?”

“They were good.”

“Why were you in the Dwimmermount the day of the alleged assault?”

“We were looking for treasure.  That’s how we make our livelihood.”

“Who cut the rope, causing Ysabelon to fall?”

“That was the conjoined work of my teammates.  You’ll have to ask my teammates--I have no recollection because I was under a spell.” 

[Actually, Vale not only ordered the assault, but she used Magic Missiles to blast one NPC and cut one of the cables by which Ysabelon and two others were making their descent.]

“So you were compelled by some wicked force within the Dwimmermount, something beyond your understanding, and not simply by your own greed and jealousy?”

[Was Henrich suddenly offering Vale an “out” here, and if so, why?]

“My best guess is that I was under the sway of Arach-naca the spider demon, but I cannot recall.”

“What was the true nature of the creature called ‘Y’draneal’?”

“He was a noble man, and to my knowledge human.”

[Elven Y’draneal was the only demihuman PC in the party over the last 10 real-life months and we made a point of discussing the distrust Tellurian humans held for that race--memories of oppression centuries before.  Y’draneal was careful to disguise his species (and natural cinnamon odor) through the use of perfumes.  Still, a few knew his secret.]

“Is it true that it was actually your familiar spirit and that it taught you wicked magics and how to deceive men?”


“Did some dark power impel you to lure innocent men into the Dwimmermount so that they might be sacrificed?”


[Here Henrich began a rapid-fire pace, designed to trip Vale up, but she refused to be goaded and remained calm and matter-of-fact.  It also took us on a journey down memory lane...]

“Tell us where your associate Grim is.”

“He died in a fire started by rogue dwimmerlings.”

“Tell us where your associate Hethla is.”

“She also died in the same fire.”

“Tell us where your associate Rufus the Forester is.”

“We hired him, but he passed away.  He was killed by beastmen near the great face.”

“Tell us where your associate Ivor is.”

“He caught himself on fire.”

“Tell us where your associate Yang is.”

“He was stolen away by goblins.”

“Tell us where your associate Kenny the Magician is.”

“He was also killed by mutant goblins.”

“Tell us where your associate Hurtis is.”

“He was also killed by mutant goblins.”

At a sharp signal from Inquisitor Henrich, a miserable, hunched shape was carried into the great hall … a ruined and broken Hurtis, now missing both legs, was propped in a chair facing Vale!  The players erupted in exclamations of shock and foreboding as Henrich turned to the pale and trembling former fighting man.

[gently] “How long have you known the accused?  In what capacity?”

“I knew her a few weeks.”

“Please characterize her conduct.  How did she behave toward you and your fellows?  Did this change over time?”

“She started nice until she got brain fever.  Then everything went downhill.”

[gesturing for an attendant to bring forth a box, Henrich donned a glove and snatched a dwimmergoblin head from within to hold before Hurtis, who began to gibber, dribble, and shake]

“Do you recognize this?!”

“Nnunggh …”

“Tell us of your last meeting with Vale -- how did you part ways?”

“She … she left me to die with those monsters!”

“Did she do anything to help you?  Did she try to help you escape?”

“No, she did not--she is guilty!  Guilty without a doubt!”

Vale kept things brief and rather than try to defend her character or actions she addressed the specific charges.

“Did you ever see any signs of Termaxian magic while in my company?”

“No, b-but ...”

“No further questions.”


Marguerin the Magician, [NPC] a member of Ysabelon’s Seekers was called next and she shared the harrowing tale of how her band, in search of their henchman Yang, (who had been traveling with Vale and company when he went missing) had followed Vale’s advice and sought him in the halls of level two within the territory controlled by the savage dwimmergoblins.  These they overcame by force of arms and though no sign of Yang was to be seen, they discovered Hurtis on the verge of death in what appeared to be a goblin larder.

Vale sensed that Marguerin was unlikely to help her cause much and again kept her questions brief and carefully structured so as to be answered with a “yes” or “no.”  It was established that Marguerin, like each witness before, had never specifically seen or heard Vale engaged in treason, the plotting of treason, or in Termaxian rites.


Ander Black, the party’s current thief, was brought forth in shackles next.  In a whispered conference, Vale urged him to say as little as possible before Henrich began his questions.

“What is your relation to the accused?”

“I’ve known her briefly as leader of our group of explorers.”

“Tell us of her demeanor and character.”

“She’s very determined and very … strong-willed.”

“Have you ever witnessed her use infernal magics, change her form, or commune with evil spirits of the Dwimmermount?”

“Yes.” [groans from the other players]

“Did she mislead and beguile you?”


“Why did she order the assault upon The Seekers?”

“I’m not necessarily sure.  But she said to do it and I’m very loyal to my leaders.”

“Because she beguiled you?!”

“No … at least I don’t think ...”

“You are perhaps … lovers?”


“No further questions.”

Vale was drawn out a bit while cross-examining Ander, perhaps because she sensed that she had lost ground with his testimony.

“Heresy … it’s almost … no, it’s exactly laughable.  Ander, to your knowledge have I ever used my fire magic for evil?”

So while her character and motives continued to be shredded by Henrich, Vale yielded that ground and refused the temptation to argue that she was at all righteous … instead drawing the testimony back to the specifics of the charges against her time after time.

Jack Trader was called next.  Though Jack had slipped away during the arrests at The Gilded Coach, he chose to present himself rather than risk becoming a fugitive.

“What is your relation to the accused?”

“We are merely companions in our work.”

“Like this other man, you are perhaps … lovers?”


“Tell us of her demeanor and character.”

“She’s determined … but if you cross her ...” [shouts from the other players drown out the testimony until order is restored]

“Have you ever witnessed her use infernal magics, change her form, or commune with evil spirits of the Dwimmermount?”

“Only for the benefit of the group.” [Henrich paused to let that sink in a bit]

“Why did she order the assault upon The Seekers?”

“Because … yes, because she was under the influence of Arach-naca the spider demon.”

“Did she mislead and beguile you?”


Despite ground lost, Vale kept to the same track as before while questioning Jack as she did with Jeffroy of The Seekers [NPC] after him.  As the two sides made their closing statements Vale reminded the senator, clergy, and others present that not a single witness had testified to seeing her engage in any treasonous act or the worship of strange gods and that the charges against her were therefore baseless.

Her Holiness Archbishop Morna, Senator of Adamas was swift in delivering her dooms.

“The girl called ‘Nyxia’ -- it is decreed that she be sent to convent and take her holy orders.  Her reputation and prospects for marriage may have been ruined, but perhaps she can find peace and some measure of redemption through through humility, austerity, and service.”

“Vale called ‘the Grey’ --it is decreed that she shall be locked in the northwest keep tower of Muntburg, overlooking the Dwimmermount as a perpetual reminder of her folly.  Her modest needs shall be provided for by Castellan Verodart -- he has profited somewhat from her follies in the collection of taxes, now let him likewise bear their cost -- She is hereby forbidden on pain of death from ever practicing magics of any sort again.  Furthermore, she shall be permitted contact with no man or woman save an ordained brother of Saint Typhon who may act as her confessor.  Finally, she shall be forbidden with oaths before Saint Typhon, Saint Tyche and all the forgotten saints of The Great Church from ever again venturing below the earth’s surface upon pain of torture unto death.”

“Vale’s other companions, once having remitted any fines placed upon them, are free to go.”

“The Dwimmermount -- A guard shall be set upon the steps of the Dwimmermount and a notice placed there for all to see.  None shall be suffered to enter that place save they bear a charter of the Senate of Adamas and The Great Church or their lives shall immediately be forfeit.  These are my dooms.  Let the will of all the saints be done.”


So in the end, the plan built by Senator Morna and Archbishop Saidon (played out through Henrich’s prosecution) finally came fully into view.  The trial wasn’t about Vale and her comrades … had never really been about them … rather, the trial was about Dwimmermount itself and access to the riches and secrets hidden therein.  Henrich had established, with Vale’s help, that within the mountain even a skilled wizard could fall under strange influences--that curious and opportunistic treasure hunters could not only bring swift doom upon themselves, but in their ignorance might stir up ancient dangers which could threaten the city-state.  Therefore, Dwimmermount must be left to the Great Church to administer (and profit by) and anyone daring to do otherwise would be aligning themselves with Termaxian heretics and be subject to Saint Typhon’s harsh brand of ecclesiastical justice.

Was this to be the end of dungeon delving in Dwimmermount?

Not exactly … in session 29, Sergei and Ander in the company of dwimmer-dwarves Glandal and Thoon discovered a secret backdoor to level one of Dwimmermount.  That means that these four alone know how to slip past the guards and into the depths of the mountain.

With Ander locked away in a Muntburg cell until he can pay a stiff fine, anyone who wanted to get details about what he has seen of the dungeon would probably need to bribe a guard for some time to whisper back and forth between the bars.

Sergei also knew about the magic rod of control that allowed the group to activate the portals on level three … though it hadn’t yet been returned to him after the trial … could there be a daring theft in the offing?

All of Y’draneal’s beautifully detailed maps were seized with Vale’s arrest and are now being held by church officials (perhaps to be used in sanctioned expeditions of their own).  Detailing several levels and access to the untouched 4th deep, they too could be a prize of great value for a clever thief.

Finally there was Vale.  Locked in her lonely tower and doomed to gaze on the sorcerous mountain from afar, if I anticipated a bit of melancholy from her player then I was in for a surprise!

“What?  No.  Are you serious?  I’ll be out of there in no time.”

With a Change Self spell at the ready, but more importantly a gift for fast talk, bluff, and negotiation, Vale’s player remained just as confident as ever.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers -- XXXI (pt. 1)

Here it is!

Part One of our 31st and very last session of Dwimmermount for the regular 2015-2016 school year:

Last time, Vale the Grey and her adventuring company were arrested and charged
with the “malicious wounding” of Ysabelon Numerary of Saint Asana and one Jeffroy,
her sometime associate and “scout” by profession. If found guilty, because of Ysabelon’s
rank and social status, Vale could face an extremely steep fine (likely several thousand gold)
and the prospect of a lonely prison cell until she could somehow find a way to pay it off.

The entire game session was to take place in the Great Hall of Muntburg.

Vale, now broke, opted to speak in her own defense before Castellan Thevenin Verodart
rather than hiring someone to arrange her defense, contact witnesses, and pay any
necessary bribes for her.

I’ve never actually run a trial in an RPG before, and pondered the roles that charisma, social rank,
and the persuasion skill might play. Should I focus more on free-form speaking in character
or more on dice-rolling and mechanics? I also thought about the format of the trial -- should I try
to emulate a medieval hearing or take my cues from modern law courts?

In the end, I went with something that resembled a 60-minute TV court drama, briefly narrating
a swearing in, invocation of Saint Typhon (patron saint of Justice), and formal reading of
the charges. We then moved to opening statements by the prosecutor, Proctor Louys Herint

However, things took a turn when a messenger arrived to notify Castellan Verodart that a special
delegation from Adamas had just arrived, sent by no less a luminary that Archbishop Saidon
himself. A recess was called as Verodart hurried to receive his unexpected guests.

Soon, Inquisitor Vader Henrich of the Holy See of Saint Typhon appeared in the great hall,
declaring his role as the new prosecutor in this case. Castellan Verodart respectfully objected
since this was a local, civil matter, but Henrich explained that there were new charges being
brought against Vale: heresy and treason -- both capital crimes!

Vale and her companions found themselves taken into custody by Captain Vaast and locked
in various rooms within Muntburg keep’s inner gatehouse (no more cozy house-arrest for them!)
until the trial could be reconvened.

Vale convinced a guardsman to send a message to Asceline, leader of the amateur adventuring
band “The Five Delvers.” Over the months Asceline had made quite a tidy sum selling maps and
supplies to Vale and her companions, and she was willing to appear as a character witness.
In addition, I offered Vale’s player the chance to request a favor of Asceline (a thief by trade) …
would she prefer to have a particular witness named by Vale not appear to testify, or would she
prefer that Asceline snoop around and try to get Vale a list of the witnesses that Inquisitor Henrich
planned to call? Vale chose the later.

A week later, when the trial reconvened, Castellan Verodart had been replaced in the seat of
judgment by Her Holiness Archbishop Morna, Senator of Adamas. This was an extremely
startling development! Why would devotees of Saint Typhon possibly agree to an appointment
of a sister who had taken her holy vows in the order of Saint Tyche? And why would the arm
of the Great Church so closely concerned with justice and administrative matters yield to oversight by a sect that emphasized the shifting of chance (“Our Lady of Fortune”)? 

Something was certainly going on beneath the surface here and perhaps, if they could discover it, Vale and company could turn this situation to their advantage (and avoid being burned at the stake) ...