Last Week But One Game Write-Up

I’m finally getting my brain back in gear, so last week’s Monday game is now up and in place as Week Seven of Wartorn Chapter Four

Assuming my brain continues to cooperate, I’ll get this week’s writeup done tomorrow, and hopefully include some more updates to other stuff along the way. Woo hoo.

Yuck – here comes the rain

There was definitely a nip in the air today – my face went from normal to “ohmygodIcan’tfeelmynose” within a couple of seconds as I left the flat – but at least it didn’t then start to drip when I got in to the warm library fifteen minutes later. It’s been a long day, with the last customer kicked out about seven in the evening, and then some more articles written when I got home.

Lady M has been out at a networking event this evening, so I’ve just been rattling around the flat – but I have at least also managed to write up Monday’s game. This was one of those flat out battle sessions that lasted pretty much the whole evening and gave everyone a chance to do something heroic.

Bleah – it’s late, I’m tired – I’ll write something witty later – be cool and excellent unto each other in the meantime.

A Few Site Changes

I’ve been getting some good feedback from my fellow Roll20 players about the write-ups, so I thought I’d make it easier for everyone to pick up the narratives without seeking through all the blog posts.

To that end there are now pages devoted to the various campaigns we’ve been playing over the last year, each session listed in order – and when I’ve finished, fully linked so you don’t have to use the drop-downs to follow the story. (The only reason I’ve not done it all yet for the Croomik campaign as of the time of writing is that it’s getting late and I’ve got both a job interview and a full day of work lined up for the morning)

Anyway, enjoy, catch you later.

Some useful resources for setting up Roll20 games

I’m still doing preparation work for the new D&D campaign, but that’s more because I’m doing it in a rather piecemeal fashion than from it being particularly difficult. I’ve got a lot of sourcebooks and rulebook on various shelves in the flat that I’ve accumulated over the years. If anything, the challenge has been to choose how to limit the material available to me, having decided to use the Eberron campaign setting.

This is partly down to my having gone on a bit of a mad spree for various reasons when the 3rd Edition came out in an Open format known as D20. Suddenly there were rulebooks for shows and settings to make everything compatible, should I desire to use them. I’ve actually stopped myself from seriously considering using D20 versions of Call of Cthulhu and Judge Dredd in this current campaign – something that will no doubt be a relief for my players to read here.

Adding to the challenge of running a 3/3.5(ish) campaign for the first time, it’s also the first time I’ll be running a game using Roll20. Unlike a traditional tabletop environment, I don’t have quite the luxury of winging things so much, especially when it comes to maps for encounters. In days of yore I would grab a scrap of paper or lengths of printed card, dice, books and anything else of approximate size to denote features of an encountered area – especially if the party had gone off on a tangent and I needed to distract them with a fight while I worked out the best way to steer them back on course.

With Roll20, this can seem like a bit more complicated, given that you have to assemble maps from tiles, and populate various layers with tokens for objects, characters and opponents, along with the GM layer of information, let alone setting up dynamic lighting and line of sight markers. The Roll20 site helps by performing searches for tokens and maps that have already been submitted, or that are hosted on sites like http://www.dundjinni.com/ or www.cartographersguild.com/ which can help immensely when you are first starting out, and offer software to help you along the way.

By way of an alternative though, I’ve just discovered Pyromancers.com, which has a free online floorplan creator that will, crucially, allow you to export your floorplans as a .jpg to your desktop so that you can upload them to Roll20 as a mapping layer. Any additional tokens or markers I want to add can then be slotted into place.It’s proving quick, simple and reliable – and did I mention free? – just what I need.

So far I’ve been focusing on creating the set piece maps – so when they’re done I’ll start assembling some template designs to allow me to rapidly piece together the more random encounters along the way. As my ultimate fall-back position, I’ll also be looking at how effective simply drawing on a blank template with my graphics tablet is if I need to do something rough and ready in real-time.

So, I’m getting there, as they say. In the meantime I’m using the forum features on the site to encourage the players to create their characters and do a bit of roleplay to introduce themselves. If nothing else I’m hoping it’ll give me a heads-up on their interactions and common themes before I dive straight in, and that’ll inspire some more encounters and plot twists.

Roll20: The Big Bang

And so, on with the fight we went, warriors trading blows with duegar and rogue dwarf lieutenants, troll shamen, goblin assassins and a small horde of fleeing minions. It was really all coming down to the wire this week. A wererat summoned by the mage wreaked havoc among the lesser minions and nearly made the cleric need to change his shorts; while the party’s kobold thief and master of poisons found himself evenly matched with the goblin assassin who seemed to be immune to pretty much every noxious substance thrown at him. (Well, he certainly made a series of excellent saves in quick succession).

The tide of the battle seemed to largely turn thanks to a successful casting of Hold Monster by the mage, which took enough of the lieutenants out of action for long enough for the party to rally, though the target was able to scurry out the way and take cover. We had a moment or two to pause and then the party’s old nemesis, the demon Ferrikus, reappeared. This time he possessed the kobold (“yes, it’s true, I’ve always wanted to be a dragon”), and prioritised the paladin of our group for some percussive maintenance.

In the meantime, our dwarven target was trying to negotiate for his life and freedom, claiming to be able to call off the demon and to be able to pay the group off with a million gold coins – his payment for betraying the country to the orcish invasion. In almost the same moment, the doughty warriors of the party defeated the demon and demanded the dwarf’s surrender. Despite some last minute attempts at evasion, he was quickly tracked and cornered in his vault, a successful capture and one less traitor running around.

Our next target? A goblin poisoner, currently believed to be in hiding in the Thieves Guild back at the capital city. Plans to draw him out of hiding are now being hatched…

Roll20 – A Quick Spelljam before the finale

This week’s session was odd in as much as it was partly wrapping things up from the last session and the unexpectedly quick defeat of the Big Bad and led into a glorious new chapter in the rolling campaign.

I’m still setting up the campaign to come, and while I have the major set pieces plotted now, I’ve still got to get to grips with uploading maps, setting tokens and teaching myself the more arcane aspects of the interface like managing the fog of war, so I was grateful that we were able to roll on, so to speak, from where we’d left off – I had a real fear that I might suddenly be catapulted into the driving seat with so much left to set up.

Of course it didn’t help that we had a few communication issues getting set up this week – with the Hangout invites being sent from the wrong account (our GM’s girlfriend had left her Google account logged in, leading to a slight bemusement about where the unexpected Hangout invite was coming from) – and then my not being able to see the renewed Hangout led to my missing about five to ten minutes of the session itself. This led to the first words I heard from the group being: “Hi, take thirty one points of damage!”

Spelljammer Motivational - Dungeons and Dragons meets Starwars: Porn for Nerds
Snarky? Well just a little, but horribly accurate

Cue one grumpy mage pointing out the various protections that made this unlikely or at least reduced (layers of defence that included a ring of spell turning, a staff of the magi with spell absorption capacity and a shield spell still active from the previous session. Not wanting to spend the entire session in a huff, I then made an active effort to lighten my own mood and stop being precious so we could get on with the show.

The show in question was the journey of our group back home by means of a spelljammer spaceship – just go with it – that allowed us to travel from the Big Bad’s pocket dimension back to our homeworld. This effectively translated into a number of encounters during the voyage’s duration with a number of strange entities that included metallic flying space monkeys and an enormous snake about the size of our boat. This latter beastie was seen off by our previously departed and now draconic wizard, dropping in for a cameo appearance.

On arrival back home, the ship was confiscated by the dragon and we were free to pick the next target of our campaign. We chose to hunt down a dwarven collaborator who had been responsible for betraying the nation’s defences in the initial invasion. If this sounds a little brief then that’s a fair description of the session up to that point. Our GM had had to rapidly rework the entire endgame for his campaign with only a week’s notice, so if it was lacking in pace and detail it was entirely forgiveable. I don’t think we were quite expecting that the campaign was going to continue when we got started that evening – and I certainly fielded a few whispered conversations with players about options and preferences for the new campaign so that they could get started with character creation.

This has led us to an isolated fortification that appeared to have been hastily repaired and enhanced – so with all due caution we started to scout the area to see what we were walking into. Perhaps scarred by our encounter with the minotaur demigod we overdosed on caution, so before long the thief was invisibly scouting the walls and my wizard was invisibly flying overhead – becoming aware of a virtual army waiting for us that was milling around doing… something…

In the grand tradition of our group of dysfunctional mavericks we then began our assault, going on a basis of “well we might as well start somewhere and adapt to what they can throw at us.” A passwall opened a hole in the outer walls for the fighters to storm the breach, stealth kills of troublesome-looking spellcasters were performed under cover of – well not much really – and some strategic area effect destruction was unleashed on the nearest low level troops to clear the breach.

Then the counter attack began. Giants, some of them spell wielding, and surprisingly tough ground troops began to press back and we realised that we had done a rather clever impression of kicking a termite mound with bare feet. Summoned creatures started popping up on both sides, and our fighters began retreating back to the breach to give themselves some more easily defensible terrain.

We ended the session with the fight well and truly hanging in the balance – so let’s see where Monday takes us…

Why do I play Dungeons and Dragons?

So as you may have been reading in the last few months I’ve been engaged in rediscovering the joys of Dungeons and Dragons, using Roll20 to overcome issues of distance and scheduling with other players. I’d played Dungeons and Dragons in its many forms right from the publication of Basic Dungeons and Dragons and had just started buying the third edition rules when circumstances led to it being impractical for the group I was in at the time to continue.

I still bought third edition rule books and material because I loved the way the D20 system fitted together, but being a new parent and having a stressful job I never got a chance to do anything with them. I then heard such horrible reactions to the fourth edition from friends and acquaintances that I never even gave it a chance, and I wasn’t at all sure to make of the concept of Pathfinder or wanted to have to buy yet another series of core books that seemed to be practically identical.

As for how I started playing, well I was actually introduced to it by my father, who ran a session for my family one evening using the simple adventure included in the back of the rules. (I played a wizard and I got eaten by a giant spider). I remember being swept up in the event, and pestering my dad to do more. Being a busy vicar, it didn’t happen – and I suspect a slightly lukewarm reaction from the other players may have contributed to it too.

Nonetheless, having been inspired by Tolkein and a rapidly expanding library of fantasy and science fiction I kept nagging as only young boys can, and he allowed me to borrow the boxed set. I never looked back. I introduced friends at school to it, and my brothers as they grew a little older, and soon there was a cluster of us who played Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Star Wars, Marvel Superheroes and indeed pretty much anything we could get our hands on. This was no small feat in the late seventies and early eighties in the UK.

Indeed, I only got introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons when I went away to boarding school and met people who had been able to secure copies from the States. These precious rulebooks were passed around, and practically hand copied at times as they fell apart. New printings were avidly hoarded and became objects of desire among us. Attaching myself to the Wargames Society at school introduced me to painting figurines. The historical battle recreations were soon supplanted by the fantasy games, and vast epic and interlinked campaigns soon came to dominate the five years I was away.

Gaming with friends and my brothers became a shared glue binding us together with in-jokes and references that still raise smiles twenty years later. Life may have thrown me curve balls in the form of work, family, depression and divorce, but it never suppressed that love of stories and fantasy in me. My brothers all went on to become LARPers, and some of them are still involved in the running and playing of the Aftermath LARP. They keep asking me to come along and join them, but the timing or money has never quite been right to draw me along. Yet.

So the last few months exploration of technology as a way of getting the old gang and some new faces together has been a great joy. Having a wife more than happy to let me disappear into a virtual space every week as a lad’s night is a huge boon. Indeed most of us have families now, so having the ability to step aside from the web cams for a few moments to look after children, or sort out household problems is a lifesaver. That and it’s cheap – no petrol money needed or the stress of being somewhere if the traffic is awkward.

It’s reinvigorated my inner child, given my geekery an infusion of enthusiasm, encouraged me to keep writing and most importantly for the purposes of this blog post has led to me stepping up and agreeing to run sessions again.

So I’m teaching myself the GM side of Roll20 and will post about that here too – and am putting something together loosely based on the Eberron setting so that I can finally use those third edition rulebooks I bought all those years ago. So far I’m resisting mixing it with the D20 Call of Cthulhu rules, or even the D20 Judge Dredd rules.

Oh the fun we’re going to have…

Roll20 – Well I Wasn’t Expecting That!

This week’s session picked up straight from where we left off, right at the end of a pitched battle with our party’s evil counterparts. The last couple of combatants were being swiftly despatched when an all too familiar roar was heard and our immortal pursuer made a new appearance, barrelling down the corridor towards us. In our battered state there was no way we were going to be able to take another round of assault, but luck was with us this time.

My mage was able raise a wall of stone to block the corridor before he could close with us, reasoning that if he could not directly assault the demigod with magic, he could at least throw up barriers to slow him down. With the wall already cracking from the blows it was receiving, we fled back into the maze, to retrace our steps and look for another way through. On the general principle that it wouldn’t stop our pursuer, but would at least pause him for valuable seconds, every door we found had a hold portal enchantment placed on it.

This was a fun benefit of the wizard holding a staff of the magi and not needing to expend charges to create these barriers. The calculation was very much one of it not costing anything, so nothing lost if it didn’t work and who knew how those extra moments might stack up? With the cleric and paladin have a vague sense of something pulling them to the South West, we tracked through areas we had skirted previously. Active searches for secret doors revealed additional options, leading us to the divine portal that had been attracting our holier companions.

It led to a small pocket dimension created by their deity – where they could receive blessings and boons, and the rest of us could rest, heal and change our trousers. We were told that the exit from the maze would take us to our quarry’s lair, from where a ship would allow us to return home.

Duly refreshed, we pressed on, anticipating a battle royale. Still keeping ahead of the rampaging minotaur demigod, we found another portal and rushed into it for a Stargate-style swoosh across space and time to another pocket dimension. This one appeared to be a formal garden with disturbingly alien plants and a distinct preoccupation with octopus statues. Before we could say “We R’leyh must be going now”, the owner of the garden appeared.

Rather than being an evil human wizard, our target was an Illithid, or Mindflayer, who had basically been wearing a disguise. As he prepared to engage us, enraged at our trespassing in his home, our kobold thief shot him with a poisoned dart, and rather anticlimactically ended the fight right there.

There was a moment of dropped jaws around the group and then I quietly mentioned we were supposed to take him alive. Fortunately we had the means to neutralise the poison immediately and take him prisoner. To minimise the risk of transporting our prisoner, my mage promptly turned the mindflayer into a frog – because he’s a traditionalist about these things.

Our session ended with a quick ransack of the mindflayer’s home, the stuffing of an expensive sofa into a portable hole as a souvenir and the discovery of a Spelljammer ship, ready to take us further on our adventures than anticipated…

Roll20 – The One Where We Try To Get Away

So once more unto the fray – and the dank and dismal tunnels beneath our target’s estate. With the smell of the deceased slime lord beastie firmly in our noses, we pressed on – aware that stopping now to regroup and relearn spells would be playing into the hands of the wizard. We had already spotted ample sign that the tunnels were periodically flooded, so based on how many traps we’d already encountered, it seemed wise to assume that the threat of this happening again couldn’t be shrugged away.

Finding a minotaur behind a secret door in the maze was entirely appropriate – although it withered noticeably under the blades of the fighters who simply outclassed it – and we were more perturbed by what we found as we continued deeper. The bodies of creatures of all shapes and sizes were liberally strewn through the next set of corridors. Dragons, serpents, orcs and less readily identifiable creatures could all be found in various stages of decay with many signs of physical and magical harm on them.

I’d like to say that we moved quietly and stealthily through, but that would be a lie – frankly there were too many of us dressed in heavy armour for that to happen.

We briefly caught sight of a gaunt armoured figure with a huge silver sword, but it quickly vanished and we came face to face with the true threat in this labyrinth – the trapped demigod of minotaurs, who was distinctly unhappy about being there, but rather happy to have new toys to play with.

My mage was immediately somewhat mortified to realise that the demigod was totally immune to magic. The paladin was immediately torn between tactical common sense and his geas to fight the creature. Everyone else was suddenly in need of a change of trousers from the mindnumbing terror that overtook them.

At this point the game evolved from the relatively simple dungeon crawl to one of cat and mouse, where we (barely) fought off the enraged demigod, and then tried to find another exit from the labyrinth between beatings. With psionics and physical attacks lashing on all quarters, it was something of a relief to find ourselves face to face with another party of evil characters who had also been drawn into the maze.

Now there’s something about facing off against other characters in-game rather than standard monsters that concentrates the minds of players. I think it’s mostly because we know just how devious and devastating player character abilities are, as well as how varied, and so they are seen as a more potentially devastating set of opponents. In addition, there are many more opportunities for synergy between skill sets and magical abilities that can totally blindside a group more used to facing a homogenous set of opponents in any given encounter.

In practical terms this lead to a moment’s confusion as we came face to face and realised that they were a dark reflection of our own team’s composition; a very brief attempt at communication to see if there was any chance of cooperation; and then an attempt to exterminate them with extreme prejudice.

It all got a bit messy, and in the background we could hear the amused laughter of the minotaur god. We ended our session victorious in this battle, but well aware that there was still a long haul and a lot of running to do.

The Adventure Continues

It’s been a busy week (somehow), so I’m later than I wanted with writing up this week’s session. We’d left off in the aftermath of a pitched battle at the entrance to the compound inhabited by our target, having defeated a small army of orcs, ogres, summoned elementals and constructs with a side order of aquatic trolls. Having secured the entrance we rested up before pressing on.

This adventure is very much an old fashioned dungeon crawl – and as such there’s something very refreshing about being faced with largely static set piece encounters, fiendish traps and logic puzzles (that I am absolutely dreadful at solving. This does nothing to enhance the reputation of the wizard I’m playing.)

Where Combat Rules
Where Combat Rules

The winner of the “unplanned pratfall victim” award this week had to be the party member clambering over a fallen boulder to attack a target in a trap-defended room just as my wizard cast a passwall spell that effectively made the boulder flow away to each side of him. Cue a Wiley Coyote moment of running on thin air…

The target in this case was a henchman of the wizard we were chasing, a half orc cleric of vile repute. What he was doing in this particular area we didn’t actually find out, as a bit of luck with holding spells and a tactical use of telekinesis both neutralised him and drew him across the room, bypassing the traps liberally laid out around the room until they could be systematically cleared by the group’s more rogueish members.

After a quick side trip that revealed my wizard’s new familiar, we delved deeper into the dungeon, defeating vorpally equipped opponents. One of our group was somewhat hampered by losing an arm in the process. A brief but intense debate was then needed about how to help our stricken comrade. With no suitable spells currently available to the cleric, it looked like we might need to send him back to civilisation until a bit of fast talking brought us a compromise and my wizard polymorphed him into… himself. Very much a stop-gap and bends a few rules, but in the interest of not ruining the flow of the game it was allowed until a more appropriate cure could be arranged.

With this workaround in place, we carried on, working out math-based traps and encountering a number of mimics. Proving that experience is a subjective thing, the same person was caught out by the mimics three times in a row, to much general hilarity. That hilarity was somewhat stifled when we found our exit from the sewers blocked by an enormous slime creature with rather greedy tentacles. An epic series of explosions, the slicing and removal of tentacles as fast as they were spawned and some creative uses of cure disease later, the guardian beastie was no more, and we could rest a moment before continuing.

Our adventure continues tomorrow…