Monday, March 12, 2018

Three Cheers for Ted

One of the (many) gratifying parts about running my weekly after school games club for middle schoolers is when kids from former years return to say, "hi" or even to run a game or two for their younger peers.

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Recently, the player of "Ted the Goblin" (that most malodorous trickster and expert tunnel-maker from a fifth edition Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign a few years back) appeared and showed me a new header that he had knocked together for the blog!  

He knew how much I loved the art of Gustav Dore, especially his work on Orlando Furioso ... and he included the piece that actually inspired me to write my own homebrew RPG (also titled "Olde School Wizardry").

So, in the end, though Ted was a scoundrel (who lurked under the outhouses of Phandalin to give the Redbrand briggands a real reason to fear the night), it turns out that he had a heart of gold all along.

Thanks, Ted!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Redeeming Castle Greyhawk

My youngest found herself in need of an army.  

Her party had been driven out of Castle Adlerweg by  hobgoblins, and though they'd pacified the giant who had allied with the bellicose creatures by returning his daughter, there were just too many of the fell folk to best in battle--a hasty retreat was by far the best option.

Now, however, she had to turn her mind to how she could recapture the fortress ... ideally before Baron Kelvin learned of the debacle ... and it wouldn't be easy.  Adlerweg was built high in a pass, straddling the overland route connecting her homeland with the Duchy of Rhoona and the steep valley of Barovia.

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She'd need some stalwart allies; preferably an army of them ... though, she considered, a dragon might do in a pinch. 

Of course she still had that enchanted ring given her by Princess Argenta when the party had traveled by magic to Haven to liberate the silver lady's palace from its curse.  They had parted ways on quite good terms, and Argenta's champion rode a silver dragon; a friendly enough chap too!

The ring had to be "charged" with magic to bear its wearer and her companions back to Haven, and even then nothing was ever guaranteed where such otherworldly magic was concerned ... but how many scrolls should she expend in the effort?

It turns out that "one" was definitely not the right answer.

Now the party is ... elsewhere.  Where exactly?  A city in some strange crossroads world where distances seem to wrap in on themselves and all sorts of strange creatures rub elbows.  This place seems full of magic and routes to other worlds, but which doorway is the right one?  And how can a person get the proper key?  

Now many of the odd and shady denizens of this city-between-worlds have taken an interest in the newcomers.  It seems that there's plenty of help to be had in these parts ... for a price.


Here's where one of TSR's most-maligned products comes in ... 

This city of strange magical gateways is, I decided on a whim, a fine location to plug in chunks of TSR's 1988 Castle Greyhawk!

Yes.  Greyhawk is a series of short "comedy" adventures ... many of them more weird than funny.  Many are parodies of TSR products ... D&D getting roasted via a D&D publication.

Yes.  Despite the name, you don't get to see any of Gary's original mega-dungeon.

Yes.  Some of the writers go out of their way to mock Gygax (and the players).

... but for all of that ... there's something there.  

Setting aside some of the blatant nonsense of "Drider-man," "Captain Kork," and "Elfin John," there are some compelling and strange elements scattered among the eleven adventures and 128 pages.

Consider the through-the-looking-glass tumble of "There's No Place Like Up" by Paul Jaquays, where north is replaced by "up" and the party must struggle to escape a pocket dimension where gravity is their implacable enemy.  

Rick Swan's "It's My Party and I'll Die if I Want to" is a funny, but quite reasonable take on the standard bunch of humanoid badies trying to get noticed and recruited by their dark overlord of choice.  Rather than just attacking the party, the critters assume the explorers are VIPs, giving them a chance to unravel the plot as long as they can keep up the charade.

Even "Against the Little Guys" by Steven Gilbert, featuring a magician-huckster who tries to exploit his discovery of a magic gate in an ill-advised plan to make a quick buck, has a very solid concept and requires only modest polishing to make a workable non-parody adventure.

Finally, I've got to say that, as a DM, running crummy or fixer-upper adventurers can be pretty liberating.  The flaws are obvious and clamor to be fixed, but also there's very little pressure to "do it right" in some quixotic quest to "do justice" to the source material.  

Running Maze of the Blue Medusa could be really intimidating when you want to help the players experience the awesome ... but the bar is considerably lower when DMing Castle Greyhawk's "The Temple of the Really Bad Dead Things."

What fixer-upper adventures have you gotten the most miles out of?