Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Where Credit Is Due

The Demon Verge campaign remains on hold for now, as I'm traveling this coming week. A couple of my players took the time to tell me they miss the game, which was touching, honestly. It's easy to forget how people get attached to a game they've been playing consistently for more than a few sessions. I guess I must be doing a decent job of DMing, which was sort of the point of the entire exercise: I want to learn to be a better game master.

I realized the other day that Scott Driver is the guy that got me to view the idea of playing old-style D&D as a legitimate possibility. Years ago, I read a post on raving about a campaign of his. I was able to talk my way into joining a short-lived play-by-post game he was running. I played a dumb, pimple-faced teenaged fighter who was always trying too hard to convince everybody around him that he was a badass. It was a blast, for lack of a better word, and taught me the reliability of a trick I'm still using: come up with one hook for your character and play the hell out of it. You can round them out later, if they survive that long.

In many ways, I'm just now beginning to understand how to balance having a rich, detailed setting and just having a good time with D&D, but Scott had it down. His work, even eternally unfinished as it seems to be, remains an inspiration, and I hope we see more of it. I miss the guy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My RPG Person Profile

Technical difficulties prevented us from playing a session of the Demon Verge campaign this week, so instead, you get the latest fill-in-the-blank thingy. This one was started by Zak S.

I'm currently running (online): The Demon Verge, a B/X D&D campaign inspired by an old wargame called Demonlord. I run it on Google+, mostly on Monday nights.

I would especially like to play/run: Rifts, though maybe with a different system. Something post-apocalyptic, anyway. Spacefaring science fiction would be neat, as it's a genre I've never really played in. A mecha thing would be fun, as would a martial arts thing. I still want to run a trashy fantasy game inspired by bad movies, action figures, and Japanese video games from the 80s and early 90s. I also want to give Dragon Warriors and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay another go eventually.

...but would also try: There are piles of games I want to try, sometimes just to see how they're supposed to work. Torchbearer, Pendragon, Savage Worlds, FATE Core, Swordbearer, Tenra Bansho Zero, DragonQuest, Traveller, RuneQuest, ICONS, The One Ring, the list goes on.

I live in: Florida. The Tampa Bay area.

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: Renegade Crowns for WFRP2. Malleus Monstrorum for Call of Cthulhu. An Echo, Resounding for Labyrinth Lord (or B/X D&D). All of these are useful for games beyond the ones for which they were designed.

2 or 3 novels I like: Neuromancer. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. The Hawkline Monster.

2 or 3 movies I like: Jackie Brown. Ghostbusters. Blade Runner. 

Best place to find me on-line: Google+.

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Something that shows me how to add onto or change a game to make it more useful to me, or if it's got cool random tables.

I really do not want to hear about: Your campaign world's backstory. But you should totally want to hear about mine. (Yes, this is hypocritical.)

I think dead orc babies are (circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....): Not much fun. Same goes for roleplaying out interrogations. I'd love to avoid both subjects entirely.

Games I'm in are like: This. But I wish they were more like this.

Free RPG Content I made for various games, but mostly old-style D&D is available by clicking on the labeled links on the right of the blog.

If you know anything about an alternate system that would work well for a post-apocalyptic game that has monsters, magic, and mecha it'd help me with a project I'm working on.

I talk about RPGs on Google+ under the name Paul Vermeren.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Demon Verge: Session 8

The roster for this session was:

Aelaran the Resilient (male cleric), played by Bret
Cadie Stone-Spar (female dwarf), played by Jaime
Fingers (male thief), played by Thomas
Garen-Gen (male halfling), played by Dan
Magda the Witch (female magic-user), played by Chris H.
The Purloiner (male thief), played by Chris V.
plus their retainer, Ralan the elf

This week's session of The Demon Verge picked up where we left off, inside of a dungeon. I initially planned on enforcing a "you must leave the dungeon at the end of each session" rule. That rule minimizes confusion when the players that show up change from session to session, but it so happens that I've been able to pull together an extremely reliable group.

In contrast to the previous one, this session was heavily oriented towards exploration, with a bit of interaction with the dungeon's denizens. The Company of the Closed Fist had been considering resting in a galley kitchen they found, but after some careful experimentation with the yellow mold growing in its basin, they elected to camp elsewhere. They ended up having something of an extended stay in a ransacked storeroom, as Aelaran set about healing his compatriots, and Magda concentrated her efforts on attempting to ascertain the nature of various minor items the party had found earlier. At several points, entities unknown scratched and scrabbled against the spiked door, but were unable to gain entry.

A group of orcs, however, was rather more insistent. The orcs were apparently expecting the arrival of "witches" -- possibly the enigmatic Brotherhood of the Broken Crescent --and were at first convinced by Magda's assertion that the Company was the group in question. However, after getting a look at the party, the orcs immediately launched an attack with flaming oil. Things looked grim for a moment, as the Company had no means of escape, but the orcs' inexpert use of the incendiaries was their downfall, as several mishaps befell them in quick succession, leading to the immolation of two of their number. The orcs soon fled into the upper reaches of the dungeon.

The Company then examined a strange room containing a metal desk covered in raised circular buttons, as well as nine magical "windows", five of which appeared to show in real time different sections of the dungeon they were exploring. Magda secured here possession of a hefty tome called The Lineage of Eastern Dukes, a genealogy from the Demonlord provinces. Around this time, the captive mage's apprentice, Galtin Vauk, professed his confusion over the contents of the ruins, and the sole surviving retainer, the elf Ralan, began to display distinctively insubordinate behavior, insisting that the Company pay him before he would take further risky action.

Finally, the group happened upon a chamber overgrown with gnarled tree roots, from which descended a bevy of green-haired, mahogany-skinned women of vaguely elfin aspect, who informed the Company that their tree had been "befouled" by something called "the Poisoner", and repeatedly begged that the Company aid them. When Garen-Gen agreed, he was presented with a hefty sack of gold coin, after which point the strange women retreated into the oaken roots. A bit of experimentation with a ten-foot pole raided from the storeroom activated a secret door that led further into the dungeon...

Between the magical "windows" and the sudden appearance of the dryads, there was a good deal of weirdness in this session. I've shied away from "funhouse" dungeons in the past, but I'm starting to learn that in terms of raw enjoyment, there's a lot to recommend them, especially in the somewhat awkward medium of Google+ Hangouts. I'm learning a lot with this campaign, that's for sure.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Demon Verge: Session 7

First, I got all bummed out about running D&D. Then I got excited again, after a session that was completely devoid of combat and dungeoneering. This week I had a session that was nothing but running around in dungeons and killing stuff, and it was a blast.

The cast was slightly different this time:

Aelaran the Resilient (male cleric), played by Bret
Cadie Stone-Spar (female dwarf), played by Jaime
Fingers (male thief), played by Anthony F.
Garen-Gen (male halfling), played by Dan
Magda the Witch (female magic-user), played by Chris H.
The Purloiner (male thief), played by Chris V.
plus their retainers: Kharain, Worford, Ralan the elf, and Mordal the dwarf

We were joined by a new player, Anthony F., who introduced his character: a thief dubbed Fingers. My brother, Chris V., elected to set aside his usual character, the fighter Ondola the Blunt, for a while and try his hand at a thief as well. His was a masked man known only as "The Purloiner". I decided to handwave the thieves' introduction to the Company of the Closed Fist. In the past, I've tried to introduce new characters organically, but that generally takes a good deal of time and I was eager to get into the action. I didn't bother explaining why there were suddenly two new members of the Company, at least, not yet.

I'm not going to go into a room-by-room description of the party's exploration of the dungeon beneath the ruins of Ebler's Tower, because I don't feel like it. There was a good deal of fun exploration and interesting (if failed) attempts to navigate some tricky spots. Combat was not in short supply. Surprise rolls were not in the PCs' favor, and run-ins with various giant vermin (including giant killer bees, giant shrews, and giant ticks) were extremely costly -- the retainers Mordal, Kharain, and Worford all met grisly ends in the dungeon. Roleplaying the retainers is among my favorite parts of DMing, and it saddened me to see them go, but I also relished describing the terrifying ways in which they died. I probably got a little too "into" describing a giant shrew bursting out of a slimy chamber, bloodily ripping out Mordal's throat with gnawing yellow fangs, and sending the dwarf's body tumbling down a stairway into a morass of giant killer bee honey and rotten provisions. (It should go without saying that there's no nice way to describe somebody being killed by a giant tick.)

The Company of the Closed Fist's dismal track record of keeping retainers alive is certainly going to catch up with them. There was plenty of humor, though, including a brief encounter with a swarm of mischievous sprites, and a particularly odd stratagem where the Purloiner greased himself with butter and attempted to make a running lubricated dive, Slip N' Slide style, through a half-collapsed room. The session ended with the party preparing to spike themselves into a galley kitchen that featured a basin filled with a foul-looking yellow gunk.

I paid a lot more attention to wandering monsters in this dungeon, and as a result, the party really ended up fighting for their lives. (The giant tick attack, in particular, was a nail-biter where Garen-Gen and Cadie came very close to being slain.) I'm not using a dungeon I wrote myself this time, because I was feeling uninspired. The one I chose has some fairly tough monsters in it, but I figured I've been a little too nice to the players so far. If they decide that it's best to run away and live to fight another day, well, that's a valuable lesson for them to learn.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Demon Verge: Session 6

After all of the endless whining about "losing my smile" that I posted last week, I stumbled across an interesting dungeon online (which shall remain nameless for now), reskinned it, and managed to find some enthusiasm again for this week's session of the Demon Verge campaign. We were slightly short-handed this time, with my brother (Chris V.) unexpectedly finding himself unable to make it to the session, but bravely soldiered on.

The participants were:

Aelaran the Resilient (male cleric), played by Bret
Cadie Stone-Spar (female dwarf), played by Jaime
Garen-Gen (male halfling), played by Dan
Magda the Witch (female magic-user), played by Chris H.
plus their retainers: Kharain, Worford, Ralan the elf, and Mordal the dwarf

The session consisted almost entirely of what many might consider "downtime". We started off by determining which of the Company of the Closed Fist's retainers would be willing to continue working with the party, especially after the terrifying encounter with the green dragon last session. For the first time, I actually adjudicated this properly, by rolling for retainer morale and taking Charisma scores into account. Unfortunately, Aelaran, who is lacking in that department, had hired many of the retainers. However, the dice were in the Company's favor, and all of their hirelings save Bardoon agreed to remain in their employ. (Bardoon, a man fond of referring to himself in the third person, swore never to work for the Company again, particularly after his courage was called into question by Garen-Gen.)

Magda managed to determine that a strange suit of leathern hide armor recovered several sessions ago was magical in nature. As it was originally worn by a hulking, lumpen demi-man of some sort, Garen-Gen planned to have it altered to fit his diminutive dimensions, but found (to his terror) that it molded itself to his frame when he put it on. He was briefly chased about camp by a cleaver-wielding Company physick eager to cut it away, but this scare was mercifully short-lived.

The Company then elected to bring their captive, the young magician called Galtin Vauk, before their sometime benefactor Arjon Tenpher, the acting regent of the city of D'Ansor. The bulk of the session was taken up with roleplaying the scene, with plenty of arguing amongst Galtin, Arjon, and the cleric Aelaran. Though he apparently wanted to take the necromancer's apprentice into his custody, in the end, Arjon stated that he was unconvinced that Galtin's cabal, the Brotherhood of the Broken Crescent, posed as great a threat to D'Ansor as the Company believed, and declined to provide them with more armed assistance (since his two of his personal guard had earlier met their doom in the Company's care). Aelaran expressed his disappointment in no uncertain terms. Ultimately, the party decided to investigate a rumor Arjon relayed to them, about a wizard's tower that was apparently recently toppled. Galtin also managed to secure an oath from Aelaran that the Company would spare his life if he aided them.

After securing the services of another retainer, a tough warrior woman named Kharain (who provided more information regarding the bandits that the party has heard so much about), the Company set out for the ruins of Ebler's Tower. The place the Company sought was four days' travel to the southwest. The journey was largely without incident -- the party did attract the interest of a band of goblins, but the humanoids were unable to surprise the group and were dissuaded by their numbers. At this point, Chris H. (the player of Magda the Witch) had to drop out early, so I decided to wrap up the session by saying that the Company of the Closed Fist had sighted the ruins of the Tower in the distance.

I really enjoyed myself this session. It was devoid of combat and of dungeon-crawling, though there were plenty of dice rolls in the form of morale checks, reaction rolls, and overland travel. I think a big part of DMing, at least for me, is entertaining one's self. For whatever reason, my typical reluctance to cut loose and get into character was largely absent that night, and I had a great time playing Galtin Vauk, the arrogant teenaged magic-user the players took captive last session, and Arjon Tenpher, the rather dismissive local regent. I will admit that most of my interactions were limited to one or two of the PCs, however, which is another thing I'll have to work on remedying in future sessions.