Friday, September 30, 2011

Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian

I hereby announce the inception of Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian, my new online-only ConstantCon Lands of Ara campaign.

Before I reveal some of the juicy details of what this entails, I need to acknowledge that the concept for the campaign is not my own: it is completely horked from the repertoire of a long-lost gaming buddy of mine named Scott Peoples. He originally ran a Hotel Kaladarian-based campaign back in the mid-1990s, albeit in a slightly different game system.* However, the general template I plan to use, as well as a few of the specific encounters in the series, are stolen directly from Scott. Consider this whole endeavor a loving homage to a very inventive referee and RPG'er. Thanks, Scott!

Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian
The Hotel Kaladarian is a famously opulent and exclusive hotel located on the central hill of the Free City of Kaladar, the largest human city in Ara. The various members of the party are out-of-work adventure seekers, perhaps desiring employment or amusement between missions in other territories. Seeing ornately printed signs in key areas around the city, they report to a nondescript office a few blocks from the Hotel grounds. They are met by Sir Hobart of Delzar, Escoffier's most trusted lieutenant, and are presented with the following information:

The Hotel's Head Chef Escoffier orders unusual creatures to be hunted so that he may create his highly exotic (and expensive) dishes. The Hotel makes a policy of hiring inexperienced teams to conduct simple missions into the wilds, thereby learning who are the best suited for this peculiar kind of work. Over time, the Hotel management weeds out the chaff and retains only the best, most skilled monster-hunters in the realm. The Hotel Kaladarian is the most exclusive lodging in the entire Lands of Ara, and has the platinum in its coffers to pay its contract employees handsomely.

Each mission (or "Episode") of the campaign -- hopefully to last a single three- to four-hour session -- is named for the recipe and/or key ingredient Escoffier plans to prepare and/or use in his latest dish.

Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian 
Campaign Houserules

1. The campaign will use the Swords and Wizardry Whitebox Rules as writ with Descending AC and no "Alternate Rules" from the Whitebox rulebook(s). [EDIT: We are specifically using the Third Print Edition -- 25 November 2010.]

2. Available Classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Dwarf, and Rodian (Race-as-Class only, see below).

3. Elves and Halflings do not exist as PCs in Ara unless ported over from other campaign settings. [See PC importation guidelines in The FLAILSNAILS Conventions and in my ConstantCon section below.]

4. Rodians
Rodians are seafaring folk who demonstrate a distinct tendency toward sea piracy and con-artistry. Any rodian character may originate from the rodian home island of Suhl, located at the extreme southeastern end of the Bay of Noffel. Rodian characters may also come from any region available to Arandish humans, although rodians from Telengard and northern Achelon are quite rare. The majority of mainland-born rodians (i.e., those born anywhere other than Suhl) come from the Free City of Kaladar, or one of the Suhlian-governed coastal cities on Ara’s far western seaboard (e.g., New Port).

Rodians have many of the same basic abilities and follow the same Level progression as halflings (as Fighters, max. level 4).

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Like human Fighters, the Rodian has no
weapon or armor restrictions.

Fighting Giants: Giants, ogres, and similar giant-type creatures such as trolls
are not good at fighting small creatures such as rodians and dwarves, and
only inflict half the normal damage against them.

Deadly Accuracy with Missiles: Rodians receive a +2 “to-hit” when firing
missile weapons in combat.

Near Invisibility: When not engaged in combat, Rodians can be quite
stealthy, making themselves hard to spot and moving in almost total silence, especially in urban locales.

Saving Throw: Rodians are somewhat immune to disease, and receive +4 on
saving throws vs. disease, including mummy rot and lycanthropy.

5. Shields Shall Be Splintered!
Shields provide the usual +1 bonus to AC. However, they may also be used to "soak" damage from a single attack, thereby reducing damage to zero. Soaking damage destroys the shield.

Shields may also be used against any attack that allows a save for half damage, such as a fireball or dragon's breath. In that case, the shield is destroyed, as above, and the save is considered automatically successful, thereby guaranteeing half damage.

For magical shields, each +1 enchantment bonus gives a 10% chance of surviving a damage soak.

6. Critical Hits and Fumbles
Any time a player rolls a natural ‘20’ on a to hit roll, it is a critical hit. Damage (before modifiers) is doubled.
Likewise, if a player rolls a natural ‘1’ on a to hit roll, it is considered a critical failure or fumble. Typically, this means the combatant hurts himself, drops his weapon, breaks his weapon, or just plain falls down – DM's discretion.

Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian 
ConstantCon-Related Information

- Die rolling on honor system.

- It is assumed that the PC party must return to the Hotel Kaladarian at the end of each one-session episode, to collect their cash reward and reap their glory.

- The Lands of Ara "Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian" Campaign shall accept imported/converted PCs so long as they abide by the guidelines in The FLAILSNAILS Conventions.

- No PC shall exceed the assumed experience level of a given adventure session by more than three (3) experience levels; overlevel PCs are subject to the handicapping policies described in Article 4 of The FLAILSNAILS Conventions, to be rolled at the outset of the session. The assumed PC level shall be provided with each session announcement.

And In Conclusion . . .

- Watch for my first session announcement within the next couple of weeks, surely by the teens of October.

- See also this page for resources and information about ConstantCon and Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian.

[EDIT: ConstantCon now has its own homepage!]

* Crimson Blades of Ara, the homebrewed system designed by David Miller and me.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Session 43: Underground Exploration (Part 2 of 2)

"Let's bring [Father Azamondius] down here, and feed him to the manta rays if he messes with us!"

This is a continuation of the session report which began here.  This session took place 9/12/2011 and involved PCs Innominus (Clr 6), Dak (Dwf 5), Yor (Dwf 5), and Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 3).

Note the scale: 20' per square!

After briefly checking out the large rubble pile at the end of the southeasterly passage off the manta ray pool chamber, the PCs decided to get the hell out of the tunnels for awhile. They headed back up the shaft to the Prince's Manor, to get some rest, pray, re-memorize spells, and so on. As they ascended, they posted Royal Guards in the Manor's cellar at the trapdoor covering the 500' shaft.

Before retiring for rest, Innominus and Yor had a brief discussion with Grand Vizier Krock, the recuperating Prince's principal adviser, about current affairs at the Country Manor. Krock mentioned Father Azamondius, the high-ranking Priest of Carcoon currently en route to the Manor all the way from the Free City of Kaladar, over a week's travel to the north.

YOR: Let's bring him down here, feed him to the manta rays if he messes with us!

KROCK: I am not suggesting that you become combative with the invited Priest, I am merely suggesting that IF the Temple of Endra would like to become even more closely held in the Prince's good graces. . .

INNOMINUS: But I have already intervened with Endra on the Price's behalf, saving his life! Is that not enough?

KROCK: Of course, we deeply appreciate what you have done, and you and your compatriots will always be welcome at the Prince's court. However, Father Azamondius of Kaladar is on his way, and as a high-ranking Holy Man in the region, he has a vested interest in associating his Temple with the Prince's reputation and power. It is a political consideration for him, and a matter of standing and rank. So if you wish to establish the clear presence of your Temple in the Prince's court, especially in the face of Azamondius, I suggest you contact your Temple elders and have them dispatch a higher-ranking Priest of Endra here forthwith. This is meant as no insult to your own holy gifts or standing among us personally, but merely as advice to you as the political situation around the Prince solidifies.


Despite his exasperation with such shallow political maneuverings, Innominus did ultimately follow Krock's advice and send word to the Temple of Endra in Kaladar, apprising them of the situation and suggesting they send a name-level priest to southern Minoch ASAP.

No sooner had the cleric dispatched the outbound messenger to Kaladar than an inbound runner arrived at the front door, bringing a leather parchment tube containing pages intended for Innominus, Priest of Endra. The documents were sent by Sister Fenway, Priestess of the Church of Achelon, Holtboro Diocese.

The parchments inside were three:

- a letter from Sister Fenway explaining that she and her collaborators had tracked the symbols on the necromantic coins to an old document of evil runes from their archives, a copy of which was enclosed; and that she had also provided a map to locales in northern Achelon where necromantic coins had been found

- a non-magical diagram of a set of magical symbols, a great majority of which appeared on the powerful anti-curse spell scroll Innominus found in the scroll case far beneath the manor earlier that day (see footnoted EDIT in Part 1)

- a map, showing Enhelm, Holtboro, and the graveyard where the PCs met the entranced locals and first found necromantic coins; the map also showed five other sites with coin icons, and, at the far west side of the map, across a swamp from the six coin sites, a castle icon with a sinister "death" rune inscribed above it

Yor and Innominus asked the inbound messenger if he'd seen Father Azamondius' entourage approaching or entering Fortinbras. He replied no, that the heavy snows of the day had slowed much road traffic south, and that furthermore, there were dark rumors surrounding conditions in Farn Junction. In fact, he said, the word on the road was to avoid the northern Minochian city at all costs. He did not know precisely why; yet he himself had chosen to circumvent Farn Junction on his way south from Kaladar.

YOR (to VIZIER KROCK): I suggest you send a few of your men as scouts to Farn Junction, to see what is actually happening there.

KROCK: You are so right, good master Dwarf! I shall do as you suggest forthwith.

The messenger then left, the PCs were given rooms in the upstairs west wing of the Manor House, and they retired for the night.

Next morning, the dawning of Day 150 of the party's Arandish adventures, saw them rise early, send word to their dwarven housemen in town to hasten to the Manor House bearing mining equipment, and then they set off back down the 500' shaft to the underground dungeon far below.

Once down, they immediately headed to the northern end of the manta ray pool room, and started excavating that cave-in in order to reach the northbound passage beyond. One hour of excavation gained them a small but safe passage through the rubble pile to the other side. On that side was a stone passageway with seaweed motifs etched into the walls. Down that passage about 40' was a stone door with strange symbols etched in it: what looked like a continuation of the seaweed motif, and a thing vaguely like a fish's head.

First, the PCs ordered their dwarven mining accomplices to head back to the 30' deep cave-in at the end of the southeastern passage off the manta ray pool room, and to start excavating that collapse. Then Viv and Yor readied weapons, Innomius prepared to detect evil, and Dak, new steel hand axe held on high, braced himself to fling open the "fishy" door.

As soon as he touched the door, Dak felt a strong strong, sweet feeling of adulation toward the fish-head symbol etched on the door-face; but he was able to mentally resist this urge, and he cleared his mind and threw open the portal.

Within was a large, square pool chamber dominated by four thick central pillars and a great altar and fish-thing statue dominating the western side of the room. The entire place was a 2' deep pool of water.

Innominus' ability to detect evil revealed that the central pillars and the altar / statue all radiated very strong evil indeed.  Viv began examining the two other doors out of the place -- also etched with the seaweed-and-fish-thing design -- with his x-ray vision, and saw some of the spaces beyond: to the east, a passageway leading down to a circular chamber, and to the north, a passage that sloped down to a waterline and continued sloping down (and bending west) fully submerged underwater.

Then Viv turned his x-ray attention to the fish-thing altar, and noticed that the 2' deep pool was actually much deeper right beneath the altar, and in fact seemed to extend into an underwater passage behind the altar itself.   No sooner did he notice this interesting feature than there was some underwater commotion from that quarter, and the PCs became aware that something was swimming through the water at lightning speed from beneath the altar, into the room!

Innominus quickly cast Prayer as the various PCs were attacked from the water by a group of hideous fish-men.  There were seven of the swimmers altogether, but in the first round of fighting, Viv cast sleep and knocked one out cold, then Innominus held three more.  With those four down, the party had little trouble hacking one more to death before the remaining two swam swiftly back the way they had come, under the altar and out of sight.

With that, the party decided to (at least temporarily) vacate the fish-men's temple, and withdrew from the room, though Dak was sure to prop the door open so he would not have to touch it again in order to gain entrance to the place.  Also, Innominus pissed in the fish-men's pool.

As the cleric exited, he cast detect magic, and thereby learned that the pillars, altar, and door etchings of the fish-head all radiated strong magic (as well as evil). 

Just outside the underground fish-man temple, on the morning of Day 150 of the party's Arandish adventures, the session ended.

DM's Notes
Fun session --  a lot happened!  And much of what did happen was good, old-fashioned dungeoneering activities: lots of searching, exploring, sifting through rubble, carefully excavating rubble piles, and (right at the end) a little bit of melee combat.  I like this kind of stuff.

I also like the previous plot intrigues that are finding their way back into play --  I find the information delivered from Sister Fenway of Achelon to be portentious.  We will see, of course, what the players choose to make of it

Lastly, two PCs leveled up at the end of this session: Dak leveled to Dwarf-6, and Vivuli leveled to MU-4.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Session 43: Underground Exploration (Part 1 of 2)

"I think we should find a way to kick these manta rays' asses and rob them."

This session took place 9/12/2011 and involved PCs Innominus (Clr 6), Dak (Dwf 5), Yor (Dwf 5), and Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 3). A lot happens in it, so I will break this report into two parts; this is Part 1.

The session began exactly where the previous one left off, in the chamber containing Morag's Gate. After discussing the possibility of using one of their other bone chits to reactivate the Gate, and despite Dak's professed willingness to be talked into enacting just such a scheme, the party ultimately rejected the notion of using the Gate again, and after spreading some dirt around on the floor surrounding the Gate, they withdrew from the Gate chamber and closed the huge iron door behind them.

 Note the scale: 20' per square!

They returned east to the large circular chamber directly underneath the 500' vertical shaft coming down from the Kaminster Country Manor Secret Cellar. They then pressed on to the east exit from said chamber, heading off northeast along another natural tunnel. This one led to a natural grotto chamber with a pool on the west side. A pungent odor which smelled like combination of feces and sulfur wafted through this area, but did not originate from the pool. The pool was quite muddy and hard to see through -- even with Vivuli's x-ray vision ring!

The bulk of the north wall of the pool chamber consisted of a huge rubble pile -- as if that section of the chamber had at one time collapsed. Dak and Innominus immediately set about searching the rubble pile, while Vivuli checked out the pool and Yor searched the chamber's east wall.

Dak learned that the rubble collapse did indeed cover a prior section of corridor that lay beyond. Meanwhile, Innominus found a skeletal arm sticking out of one portion of the collapse, a leather scroll case still clutched in its bony hand.

Innominus touched the scroll case and instantly had a vision of himself kneeling in a temple, before a towering altar whose pinnacle was made to look like the sun, and verily it glowed as if it were the sun even though it was inside a temple. Also before him in the vision was a glowing sword, point-down, which he grasped as he knelt before the altar. The vision passed; Innominus let go of the scroll case and, saying a prayer to Endra, began excavating the skeleton from the rubble collapse, with Dak assisting.

Meanwhile, searching the pool chamber's east wall, Yor found a shard of night-black metal embedded in the stone of the wall, at about 5' height. This is the same substance of which is constructed the night-black mace the party found at the very end of Session 41 [though not yet mentioned in that session report].

Inspecting the muddy pool more closely, Vivuli was able to detect a few large, manta-ray like creatures lurking around the bottom, hovering over what appeared to be treasure: he glimpsed a chalice of white gold.

Once Innominus and Dak finished excavating the skeletal remains of the presumed Sword-Cleric,* the whole party got interested in Vivuli's manta ray pool. Yor chucked a medium-sized rock into its center; the rays momentarily scattered, regrouping in the furthest removed corner of the pool. This suited the party fine; they prepared grappling hooks and ropes and prepared to drag the various items of loot out of the pool one by one.

Innominus took a fancy to hook some of the dead flesh of one of the slain vulture-demons from last session onto a grappling hook and dangle it into the manta ray pool, presumably as some kind of bait. But the vile, sulfurous stuff repelled the rays, and they retreated even further back into the pool, so far back that most of the party (save Viv with his x-ray vision) couldn't see them anymore.

The party then chucked the whole demon carcass into the pool, to keep the mantas at bay while they looted the treasure. They got:

a chest with 6,000gp
a chest with 1,000pp
a chest with 3,000sp
a white-gold chalice bearing a Noffellian sword-and-sun emblem
a long sword in a fine scabbard with a Noffellian sword-and-sun emblem
a suit of fine plate mail, also with Noffellian sword-and-sun insignia engraved on breastplate

[Spawn says: Don't worry folks! My manta ray's alright!

And now back to Carter!]

They stashed the loot in their portable hole and headed down the natural passageway to the east. The stench of sulfurous feces became much stronger as they went east, and indeed, they soon came to a niche in the north side of the passage that apparently had served as the demons' crapper. There was a huge pile of blackish excrement there. For now, they passed it by, and followed the natural passage as it bent around ninety degrees to the north, terminating in a stout, wooden door. Vivuli's inspection revealed that the door was locked, and his x-ray vision showed him part of a large chamber beyond the door.

Viv attempted to pick the lock, to no avail, and furthermore, upon touching the door, a voice inside his mind boomed: "Get away from there, puny scumbucket!"

Yor then applied his +1 crowbar to the task, and, rolling a "19" for his "attack" roll vs. the door, he busted that sumbitch open. The party now beheld an unusual sight.

They looked into a large triangular chamber, with a huge (25' tall) statue dominating the space. The statue depicted a grotesque, vaguely humanoid yet betentacled creature, apparently with no eyes. It was like nothing the party had ever seen before.

The party spread out into the chamber, searching for traps and the like. Once they got round to the north side of the chamber, on the far side of the disturbing statue, they saw a metal door with no handles, centered in the long north wall. Viv noticed right away that his x-ray vision could not penetrate the walls of the triangular chamber, nor the northern metal door.

Dak approached the statue's base and inspected it. The statue was carved out of the living rock of the chamber, as if it was simply left here when the chamber itself was excavated. The workmanship was extraordinarily precise, if strangely artless. Dak also noticed some dried substance caked on the surface of part of the bottom of the statue; he scraped off a sample of some of the dried, greenish substance and stashed it away in his belongings.

Feeling nervous about Dak's probings of the unnerving statue, Viv retreated from the triangular chamber, returning to the excrement pile niche to (in his words) "x-ray demon poo."

Meanwhile, always the daredevil, Dak took out his new steel hand axe and poked it into the base of the statue. Surprisingly, the blade sunk into the statue's surface, penetrating about two or three inches in . . . until a voice boomed inside Dak's mind:


and the dwarf was suddenly blasted back twenty feet by a terrific blast of greenish electrical energy, injured from both the blast and his having been unceremoniously hurled to the hard stone floor. Though he wondered about it, Dak ultimately could not tell if the telepathic message had originated with the statue itself or was delivered from somewhere (or someone) else nearby. The PCs decided not to wait around to find out; they exited the triangular chamber the way they had come, shut the wooden door behind them, and joined Viv at the demon crap-pile. Sadly for the industrious assassin/mu, there was nothing to be found there.

The group briefly explored one other eastbound passage leading off the manta pool chamber, which led to a large cave-in about 30' down. Viv scanned the collapse with his x-ray powers, and saw that the rubble went back at least 30' deep. He also saw a (somewhat pulverized) Noffellian holy symbol about 9' deep under the rubble.

More to come in Part 2 . . . 

* EDIT: After the excavation, Innominus finally did get a look at the scroll inside the skeletal Sword-Cleric's scroll case. It was an extremely potent scroll of divine magic, which Innominus sensed must be an anti-curse or curse-virus spell of some sort. The cleric of Endra also strongly suspected that the scroll was only usable once.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Self-Admonishments about Writing

From the bowels of a dissertation shrieks forth the Spawn of Endra:

[Note: I write "fuck" and "fucking" a lot in this post, and reading that may not be your bag. Or it might be a jolly old time for you! How do I know?]

Sir Mortimer Wheeler telling it like it is.
Nothing really game-related to discuss, but I'm coming off of getting a dissertation chapter basically done -- one which was THE most horrendously painful piece of scientific writing I've ever done (and my CV is not short for a grad student) -- and having one of those serious "what the fuck is going on with you?" sessions with my advisor (this time he was asking me). So it's been a lot of highs and lows the last few days and weeks, and I'm coming into parts of my diss I enjoy better. But to keep my momentum in writing, I've distilled a few items that I need to keep in mind. I've seen a lot bloggers I respect mention some of these thing as they talk about their writing projects or process in general -- from the notorious Happy Whisk to that dandy of the podcast James Raggi the 18th. (Quick Quiz: One is the instrument of Satan and the other makes delicious baked goods -- which is which? Answer below*).

Some of these admonitions are more specific to my genre (academic writing on the boundary of social and natural sciences), and some are personal peeves. Mainly I just want to put these down to remind myself of what I hate about my own writing so I stop doing it. (This should all be in first person, but it's in 2nd person. Don't take this personally, I'm not talking about you.)

The Process: You've got to fucking sit down and write, or at least try to write, every fucking day that you scheduled yourself to. That is, you've got to be putting words on the page everyday, no matter how crappy they are, or if it takes all day to write one paragraph. Allegedly some days it comes easier than others, but if you don't force yourself to endure, the good days will never come.

The Only Good Dissertation Is a DONE Dissertation: This is probably the first, most succinct, and most accurate advice I've ever heard about writing a diss. Even so, I am still struggling to face the reality that this applies EVEN TO MY DISSERTATION. Can you fucking believe that, dear readers? Even MY dissertation is a piece of crap, after all these years of blowing people out of the water and being the smartest grad student archaeologist in the room. Wow. This may not be readily applicable, to say, writing your Fantasy Heartbreaker or your first old school module, i.e., it may just suck and that's not really good for the person that buys your product. Having a done module won't make it good, but the analogy is probably that you have to have the first shitty iteration of the thing before you can get on to doing something better. Somebody posted an Ira Glass quote about this a while back.

Fucking Times New Roman: I've written enough with Word that I'm used to Times New Roman font, but I have now officially grown to hate its look so much that I need to start writing in a different font. For a while it has just been background and corporate nothingness, but now not only does it evoke Microsoft and Bill Gates and his crappy glasses, it evokes the nausea and tension that have been the last several months of working on the diss. If you're writing a gaming product, don't use TNR, even if you're trying to emulate the LBBs or something like that. Or I will vomit on your game.

Useless Words I HATE: Archaeologists run the gamut in their ability to write either (in the words of the great Sir Mortimer Wheeler) "the driest dust that blows", or the most flowery obtuse garbage imaginable. Most lack the grammar or vocabulary to do the latter, and aren't empirical enough to do the former, and they fall in between the two. The ones aspiring to floridity (often those bumping elbows with Old World classicists, non-ecologically oriented Mesoamericanists, and art historians) or technicality (often those collaborating with hard scientists) will use words that sound good, but carry no weight. These I officially hate:
  • significant, significance, etc., for big, a lot, important, substantial. I vow to never use this ever again unless I'm talking about statistical significance. I worked on a paper with a friend whose first draft had 23 instances of significant. In your writing, keep an eye out for words that you keep using like that. They make you look stupid.
  • implications: Often a stand-in for just saying what the implications of your research are, and suggest significance ... ugh. Especially bad in titles and abstracts where you should just say the result, not vaguely allude to implications (which must be significant). [In the spirit of full disclosure, my first sole-authored journal article committed this crime.]
  • timeframe for timing or date of prehistoric events. Given how shitty your chronology is, you probably don't have a timeframe, but you may have a sense of the timing of an event. And the connotation is wrong anyway.
  • Bayesian when you really just mean you used OxCal to calibrate some radiocarbon dates. Taking a frozen burrito out of the freezer and putting it in the microwave does not make you a physicist or an engineer. Nor a cook. Running OxCal does not make you a post-classical statistician.
  • suggests, indicates, etc. Most archaeological evidence is ambiguous, or at least when we're interpreting cause and effect, we rely on induction more often than deduction and the problem of equifinality limits our ability to say "This giant obsidian blade stuck through this person's skull means that he was an enemy of this tribe and was killed in battle." Usually you could also say something like "It is possible this was the king of this tribe and the giant obsidian blade was ritually stuck in his skull as part of the renewing-the-earth ritual and he was the most beloved member of the dynasty." So the writing gets bogged down in "This suggests that ..." or if you feel more ballsy "This indicates that ..." or "This is consistent with ...", all of which are dull words that suck the life out of you as you write. It's very difficult to just say what your observations are in a confident way, without obsequious qualifications, but when you can it usually sounds more interesting. But you don't want to overstate your case and get shit upon. These words are probably the most intractable, but even so other ways of phrasing the ideas may help.
There are more, I just can't remember them right now. Oh, and Christ! ... Of course:
  • robust: Unless you're talking about a distinct group of australopithecines, then fuck you when you use this word. How is this used in the literature? To refer to one's own research design, data, analytical methods or theoretical framework. To the discerning reader it always looks like you're trying to cover up weaknesses in these things. Examples: Robust chronology-building. Fuck you. Robust inference. Fuck you. Robust set of ecological models for human decision making. Fuck you. Now lookit, I'm not saying all of your shit isn't robust. But why are you telling me in the background section a priori (and I know what that means because I know what Bayesian means, mf'ers) that all your shit is robust instead of demonstrating to me in the results and discussion that it is? If your methods and data are awesome, I'm going to know. If you keep talking about how robust everything is I'm just going to think you're insecure about your science or your genitals or some other part of your life. Chest-puffing looks like chest-puffing whether it's done at a bar or on the page. And equally likely to get you called on your bullshit (i.e., an empirical test of your robusticity).
Argh. Well, I guess I needed to rant about writing. I'm happy to hear anyone's take on this sort of BS, and especially good ideas in the process category and how you stick through the hard times.

*HA! Trick question! The Whisk makes satanic, albeit delicious, baked goods.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

No-Show Leads to Change of Plans

Well, I showed up for the initial orientation meeting of my proposed Labyrinth Lord group at the local bookstore, but sadly, nobody else came. It may be that I have not yet established enough of a web of contacts in the local gaming community to attract prospective players. Or maybe there simply aren't enough local tabletop RPG'ers in the immediate area to sustain a local old-school D&D group at all, at least not on Sundays at 1pm at Lift Bridge Books. At least not yet.

In any case, this means a re-assessment of my next step is called for. I may re-attempt an Old-School D&D Group at the bookstore again in the future, but I need to regroup and re-prioritize a little bit first.

As I recently reported, there are a number of local game shops I have not yet set foot in. So that seems the next most likely avenue for exploration.

Especially promising in this regard is the recurring Retro Games Night at Pair-A-Dice Games. Maybe I'll just show up there on October 1 with Labyrinth Lord rules and The Lost City in hand, and see what happens.

The Cynidiceans want to kick your ass.

But most immediately, my plans include getting a ConstantCon game started. I will make an "official" announcement of this soon, and will advertise the first virtual meetup on this blog and on Zak's Wednesday "bulletin board" immediately thereafter.

 "Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian" is coming!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pound-O-Dice Revisited

I was just reading Spawn's great pictorial account of the arrival of his very own Chessex Pound-O-Dice, and found myself particularly impressed with his shot of the lb. split up by die type. It had not occurred to me to depict my own lb. of dice this way, and since I have to gather those dice together for the first orientation meeting of my FLBS D&D group tomorrow, I thought I would pause long enough to take just such a shot or two.

Here is my Pound-O-Dice still in the bag, next to the case I plan to store it in for travel to Lift Bridge Books tomorrow.

Bird's eye view of the Pound, separated by die type.

I won't bother to do the whole mathematical breakdown, but it does look like the set strongly favors d6s and d20s, with a decent spread of d8s, d10s, and d12s, but I got short-changed on d4s:  I only got two d4s in the whole set!

 My two pink d4s.

Here is a pic of a few of the smallest d6s I got, with another d6 in the frame for scale. Are these the tiny ones you other guys are complaining about?

My menagerie of small d6s, plus their big brother for comparison.

And lastly, a couple of pics of my array of materials for tomorrow's meeting:

My dice in their case, including my special DM-only "Theo set" on the right there.

Adventure awaits the boldest and bravest of Brockport!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another Pound-O-Dice? Yes.

Ein Spawn of Endra quantifies it:

Like Carter, I also could not resist the sirens' song that is the Chessex Pound-O-Dice. I've got my favorite sets of dice for my own gaming purposes, and unlike Carter I'm not trying to run a public game, but this was not purely commodity fetishism on my part. Last week I was messing around with Zak's Quickie Small Castle/Fort Generator and since I was lacking in d6s, I had to mix in d12s, things went pear-shaped ... but that's another post. For those sorts of things I need more dice. Perhaps a Pound-O-Dice would suffice. Ah that reminds me of the extemporaneous lyrics to I Worship Satan:
I'd like to sacrifice some rice. Now wouldn't that be nice? Build a sacrificial altar on the Rock of Gibraltar. And I didn't even falter.
 Anyhoo, here's the teaming horde I got for what you spend on a 6-pack in Pennsylvania:

There's some pretty cool dice in this set. Maybe I like colors that are not market-viable. Well, sucks to be you, Everybody Else That Hates These Colors! Why don't you buy another set $10 set of 7 beautiful dice to drown your sorrows in already? Having said that, I wasn't stoked on the (promised to be speckled) coherent set of dice included:
These are cooler than they look here -- the white groundmass is flecked with orange -- but you think they should glow in the dark and they don't. You're never really gonna love dice that should do something and they just don't do it. Seriously. But what the fuck, they cost me about $1.50 total. And I miss using the beautiful geological term groundmass.
But, heedful of a comment from the inestimable Kelvin Green, I broke this down a bit. Here are the dice sorted by shape (note the coffee mug/wine glass axis implied at the top of the image):
So yes, we're a bit light on the d4s, d8s, and d12s. And the dice aren't totally random, there are matches within types (though much less so between them). What I got:
d4: 7. 1 pair among them.
d6: w/ pips: 18. Incl. matching sets of 4 and 6. Officially cool.
d6: w/ numerals: 11. 2 pairs.
d6: w/ special '6': 4. 1 pair (check out WTF below).
d8: 5. 1 pair.
d10 (0-9): 19. 5 pairs.
d10 (00-90):  8. 1 pair.
d12: 5. No pairs.
d20: 19. 5 pairs, 3 triplets. Pretty much cool.
That is 96 dice total. I'd like more of the d4, d8 and d12, but I do like a bunch of these dice. The many pairs of d20s I have will serve me well when I construct my Dice Golem; as testicles (for him) or boobs (for her). Or both! Hell I've got 5 pairs!

So help. I've got two of these d6s and another with the same symbol. What is that? A dragon or wolf head? What game does this belong to? Rotate this thing around, I can't make any sense of it.
As I sifted through these dice and latched on to the colors that I liked the most I became more pleased with some of them. Then I saw how my favorite dice were congruent with one of my favorite albums, Stereolab's Dots and Loops. 

At any rate, cheap thrills from the Pound-O-Dice.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Session 42: Morag's Gate

"I'm the Steve Buscemi of dwarves."

This session, played Monday 8/29/2011, included PCs Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 4), Innominus (Clr 6), Yor (Dwf 5), Dak (Dwf 5), and Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 2). Hazel, having spent the bulk of last session unseen, began this session invisible as well. Since Dak's player wasn't here last session, we ruled that the dwarf had been out drunkenly tending the horses and War Wagon during last session's events, and stumbled in out of the snow just as this session got underway.

We picked up in the basement room where, having vanquished two gargoyle-demons, the party was now explaining to Grand Vizier Krock, Prince Arkus' chief aide, that he and the Prince had serious demon problems here at the country manor. As the following dialogue ensued, Hazel focused her powers of ESP upon the Grand Vizier.

Innominus of Endra (to Krock): You have demons setting up gates to infernal realms in your own cellar. How do you explain this?

Grand Vizier Krock: My staff and I never came down here -- nor did the Prince. We had heard from a member of the household staff who had served under the Baron that the cellar of the manor was haunted, and we felt it was best to leave such matters alone.

Hazel could tell that in his own mind, Vizier Krock believed the tale of a haunted basement and was genuinely terrified of the place.

Moving out of the gargoyle-demon room and down the corridor to the south, to the door from behind which Hazel heard clarinet playing last session, Innominus used his Detect Magic spell to determine that there was a magical energy engulfing the (now silent) clarinet player's door. Using his x-ray vision ring, Vivuli quickly determined that beyond the door lay a roughly 20' x 20' chamber partially filled with smashed and randomly scattered furniture remnants, and a single humanoid-seeming creature lurking in the back corner (see circled "x" on map) behind a rubble pile. Using her ESP, Hazel determined that this creature's mind was utterly fixated on a being it referred to as "the Master." Its predominant thought was that it "had to get back to the Master," although Hazel detected that it both strongly desired and simultaneously dreaded reuniting with this Master.

Hazel then used her ventriloquism spell to speak sentences into the creature's ear, including, ultimately, "the Master commands you to open the door."

Responding to this, the creature ran to the inside of the still-closed door and swung it open from the inside. For a brief moment, the party could see a tall, pale human-looking figure framed in the doorway, a certain nobility still conveyed in its bearing despite the pallor of its skin and a black blankness in its eyesockets. But then instantly, triggered by magic, a huge burst of fire exploded in the doorway, burning the creature to a crisp a split-second after it flung the door open wide.

Grand Vizier Krock: My god, that was the Baron!

The clarinet-playing creature had indeed been Baron Kaminster but was now caught in some kind of hideous, semi-undead state. To be sure he/it did not rise again, Innominus and Dak plunged a stake through its heart and cut off its head, while Vivuli searched around in the 20' x 20' chamber, finding a necromantic talisman like those the party previously discovered in an Achelonian graveyard at the conclusion of Session 37.

Having made this set of discoveries, the party next investigated the central, westbound corridor of the cellar level. A steady dripping sound came from that passage, and probing down the hall, the party found that the drip sound actually came from beneath a circular wooden trapdoor at the end of its 30' length.

Dak and Innominus pried up the trapdoor, and the party found itself looking down into an incredibly deep 6' diameter vertical shaft. Very dark. All the party's ropes were amassed, tied together, and lowered down the shaft -- at the 350' mark they had run out of rope but not touched bottom. Always a dwarf of action, Dak dropped an oil flask down the shaft and, gauging the timing of the impact and using his dwarven sense of underground architecture, estimated that the bottom must be at least 500' down. Upon its distant impact upon a solid surface far below, Hazel swore she faintly heard some low-frequency utterances (possibly grunts or growls) in response to the exploding flask's momentary flame burst.

More ropes were ordered brought to the basement from the Baron's stash, and soon the party was lowering itself, Dak-first, into the 500' shaft. Thanks to some words of encouragement (and shared snorts of dwarven whiskey) from the aforementioned Dak, three of Arkus' Royal Guards descended the shaft as well: Brad, Norbert, and Whiskey Pete.

At the bottom, the shaft opened into a great, circular domed chamber, roughly 60' in diameter, with two exits, one on either side. As soon as point-dwarf Dak lowered himself into the chamber, two hideous, birdlike demons half-leaped, half-flew at him, striking viciously with their vile claws. Fast, lethal combat ensued -- in the course of it, at least three PCs used their d30 rolls for damage against these poor demons. At one key point early in the battle, Innominus -- he was the second one down the rope -- chucked his holy water bolas at one of the demons, rolled a "28" for damage, thereby paving the way for Vivuli to pick it off the next round with a similarly deadly longbow shot.

The second demon fled, flying with uncanny swiftness down the westbound corridor. Hazel ordered her kestrel familiar after it, and lo and behold, the dang kestrel could actually outfly my demon! So it caught up within one round, intent upon dropping the elven vine net (looted in Session 33 upon my poor airborne demon who was just minding his own business and wasn't really bothering anybody when those pesky PCs came along.

Nevertheless, the demon almost escaped all but the kestrel's clutches when a portion of the tunnel roof collapsed behind it, filling up all but a small 3' aperture between itself and the rest of the (landborne) party in the natural corridor. But Dak charged ahead anyway, and his fellows joined in, shooting projectiles through the aperture at the fleeing demon -- to no avail. But then Hazel, deciding to act decisively despite the deed's negation of her invisibility, fired her longbow at the demon, rolling a natural "19" for the hit, and a d30 damage roll of "28" plus bonuses for the one-shot kill. The thing exploded in a fiery blast in midair, its disembodied, beaked head hurtling forward on its prior trajectory and clanging loudly against an iron barrier 120' further down the tunnel. The party dug its way past the rubble barrier and joined the kestrel in front of the huge iron door at the end of the passage.

Innominus cast detect magic, and was nearly blinded by the brightest arcane emanations he had ever seen when he looked at the formidable door. There were no apparent door handles, but the dwarves could tell that the huge door likely pushed inward, so they got together and with Yor's +1 crowbar pushed the heavy thing in. The sight that greeted them more or less temporarily blinded the still magic-detecting Innominus: an 8' diameter upright circular gate, just like the ones from the Stargate franchise, with nine different sections around the ring, five inscribed with one large symbol each, and four blank ones. A few feet in front of the upright gate was a small pedestal with a bowl fused to the top of it.

The five visible symbols included: a five-pointed star, a horned skull, a mountain, a circle, and a flame. The first four of these correlated to various types of Morag's keys the PCs had on them; presumably they had at last come upon one of Morag's Gates. Indeed, the bowl atop the small pedestal looked about the right size to receive one of the bone chits.

Hazel cast Read Languages upon the gate's symbols, to no avail.

Somehow the party decided to try the Gate out, choosing the "mountain" chit to insert into the pedestal-bowl. Dak tried to hold onto the chit without dropping in fully in, but once in the area of the bowl, the chit simply vaporized in his hand, and the gate activated. The whole circle rotated until the mountain symbol was at the top, then the gate within the circle winked to life.

Hazel sent the kestrel in, and through the kestrel's eyes she saw a vast, yet likely built or constructed, stone chamber, literally thousands of feet to a side. It was so vast and dark that it could not all be seen at once, the kestrel had to find a wall and fly the perimeter. Dak, Yor and Innominus prowled around in there for the better part of an hour, yet never reached a single wall. Dak etched his family rune into the stone floor before he left.

The party retreated back through Morag's Gate and waited on the Minochian side; it winked closed after two hours. The session ended.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Crazy Egor's - Closed Today

Well, as expected, today I went to visit a promising looking FLGS, Crazy Egor's, in the nearby (20 minutes east) village of Hilton. It was an extremely pleasant drive down a country highway (Hwy. 18) to Hilton, and the road brought me into town right at the very corner at which Crazy Egor's sits:

Sadly for me, however, the shop was closed today for the first part of the afternoon, apparently due to a Trollish labor shortage:

So I had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant . . .

. . .  noticed this cool clock . . .

. . . and headed west, back down the country road to my home village of Brockport.

Crazy Egor's: I'll be back.

The Take Home Message

Spawn of Endra, September 23, 2006. Sharpie on Cotton Resume paper (8.5"x 11"). Spawn of Endra Gallery, State College PA.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rochester Area FLGS Roundup

Thanks to some great comments on my dice post, especially from Cid Phoenix, Jagatai and ze bulette, I now have a tentative roster of FLGS's in the Rochester, NY area, including:

Boldo's Armory, 891 Monroe Ave., Rochester
Phone: (585)271-3880
Hours: MWF 2PM-10PM, Tues. 9AM-10PM, Thurs. 11AM-10PM, Sat. Noon-10PM, Sun. Noon-7PM
Directions and notes from Cid: "Take 490 to Monroe/31 and take a right and it's pretty much right there on your right. It's a little hard to find and it's not quite a FLGS, but it's not too corporate either."

Millennium Games, 3047 West Henrietta Road (in the Henrietta Townline Plaza)
Or, according to Cid: "in Henrietta, on West Henrietta Road in a plaza just south of the railroad bridge."
Phone: (585)427-2190
Hours: Mon. - Thurs. 10:00AM - 10:00PM, Fri. 10:00AM - Midnight, Sat. 10:00AM - 10:00PM, Sun. 11:00AM - 10:00PM

Crazy Egor's, 4 South Ave., Hilton
Phone: (585)392-0230
Hours: Fri. 3:30pm to 7pm; Sat. 11am to 7pm; Sun. noon to 5pm; Mon. through Thurs. 3:30pm to 5:30pm, or by appointment.

Pair-A-Dice Games, 274 N. Goodman Street, Rochester
Hours: Mon. Closed, Tues. 2PM-8PM, Wed-Fri. 2PM-9PM, Sat. 11AM-8PM, Sun. Noon-6PM
From its website: "We are Rochester’s newest Gaming Store" [. . .] "We are able to do special orders and often are able to get the hard to get items from over seas. Our courteous and experienced owner is happy to assist with your gaming needs. We have free gaming tables that are available during store hours. We are happy to accommodate league play, and groups." Good signs, and while it looks like their in-house crowd may favor (or at least more heavily promote) Warhammer and Magic, there does appear to be a Retro Game Night scheduled there most Saturday evenings including one coming up on Oct. 1!

The best vibe of the lot is definitely Crazy Egor's, about which its own website says: "We sell everything new and currently available as well as everything that was ever published within the Adventure Gaming Industry. The store has thousands of items on hand and although we cannot stock 100% of everything new, we can get it." And: "There is open gaming space available and we are always ready to help you with what ever you may wish." Very good signs!

Crazy Egor's may have to be the first one I investigate . . . tomorrow . . .

But Pair-A-Dice, a lead I got from a local contact of mine, intrigues me as well . . . especially with that Retro Game Night they've got going!

[EDIT: There's a Retro Game Night coming up at Pair-A-Dice on September 17 as well, though I am already otherwise booked that afternoon and evening.]

Chessex Pound-O-Dice Arrives!

As you may have guessed, I ordered a Pound-O-Dice from Chessex, and it arrived at my door yesterday!  Here is the box it came in:

Here is the box, barely opened . . .


A Pound-O-Dice!

(My cats prefer the box to the dice.)

Here's what a pound of dice looks like out of the bag . . .

. . . depicted here with the bonus set of dice it comes with in its separate sealed envelope . . .

. . . here is the bonus set itself . . .

. . . here are a few of my favorite individual dice from the Pound . . .

. . . and, lastly, the whole shebang.

Thanks Chessex!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tales from OSRCon - Why I Love This Photo

Ever since I returned from OSRCon in August, I have plugged a bunch of Garfield's photos into my computer desktop background as a rotating slide show.  It is fun, as I work at my computer grading papers and the like, to see images go by that remind me of the AWESOME time I had at the Con.

One of my favorite photos in the bunch, at least of those that center on me as a subject, is this one:

I like this shot for several reasons:

- It was taken moments before OSRCon ended on Saturday, so it was literally the last shot taken of me while I was there.

- It depicts me wearing my LotFP shirt and holding a copy of Vornheim I just won -- so I'm sporting quite visible old-school credentials here. 

- As I said, I won that copy of Vornheim in a post-session raffle, but it so happens that I already bought a copy of the book back in May.  So rather than cling onto two copies, I asked around amongst some of my compatriots to see who wanted it or would get use out of it.  It turns out that Theo (depicted below) was quite interested in Vornheim, so I simply gave him my newly won copy.  Theo attempted to offer me money or trade for it, but I figured, hey, this was a total freebie for me, why not share the wealth with a gamer who will surely get use out of the product?  So I insisted that he accept the spare copy of Vornheim as an OSRCon gift.


- Soon thereafter, as everyone was gathering up their stuff to leave the building for the last time that weekend, Theo came up to me and gave me a set of dice that he had used in my Friday morning Labyrinth Lord game.  I had been admiring his dice earlier in the Con, and at the end, as a kind of karmic trade-off for giving him the Vornheim book, he gifted me that set of dice, which I subsequently photographed back at my hotel room:

The dice, alongside some Canadian coins.

And that is my favorite OSRCon story, a real illustration of the comradely spirit that characterized the whole event for me.  Moral of the tale?  Theo rocks, and so does OSRCon!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lands of Ara = Rated R

Well, I took this test and found out that we are rated R.

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

The reason: use of the words "death" (5x), "asshole" (3x), "pissed" (2x), and "drugs" (1x). [Note: I am personally a little surprised that Spawn and I haven't used the word "drugs" more than once on this blog. For shame!]

I suppose this means that everybody except the under-17's can pretty much keep reading The Lands of Ara blog without parental supervision. If you are younger than that, and reading this unsupervised, then don't tell your parents you're reading this fuckin' shit, okay?

To conclude, I am glad we at least hit the R, but I am secretly disappointed that we didn't rate an NC-17. Well done, James!

UPDATE: Fuck that shit! The previous post has fucking opium and Aleister Crowley in it! Satan Goat fuck, whore president, slut pederast, Bayern-Leverkusen. Licorice butt-fuck! 666.

Christ on crutches.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Aleister Crowley, Master of the Random Table: d12 Weird Encounters

Thus spaketh thine beloved Spawn of Endra:

Every so often I pull some books off my shelf that relate to my early interest in the occult and the spiritual, and before I left Oregon I went back into a book I bought from a Mexican curanderia in downtown Fresno back in the summer of 1990, I believe. This is 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, a collection of facsimiles of Crowley's essays Gematria, 777, and Sepher Sephiroth, published by Weiser with an editorial commentary by Israel Regardie. These were originally published in (what would amount to a zine of the time?) Equinox, and some of Crowley's jabs at his contemporaries would fit perfectly into an OSR blog. To wit, I think I've read this exact passage from the preface of 777 in someone's Penultimate post:
Every new sect aggravates the situation. Especially the Americans, grossly and crapulously ignorant as they are of the rudiments of any human language, seize like mongrel curs upon the putrid bones of their decaying monkey-jabber, and gnaw and tear them with fierce growls and howls. (777: p.x).
["them", refers to words themselves. It's kabbalah.] At any rate, I can pick up on that thread later, but to the matter at hand: 777 contains page after page of tables of correspondence that connect the 10 sephiroth of the kabbalistic Tree of Life and the 22 paths between them, which are mapped on the 10 numbers and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, to all manner of mundane and occult phenomena. Too much to explain here, but if you're having a vision while traversing from Tiphereth to Netzach, you check against this giant concordance to see if it smelled and looked right for that particular path, or if you were being deceived by some entity or whatnot. Crowley was an empiricist. Here's a couple of pages.

A few subtables struck me as being interesting random tables for D&D random road encounters, weird visions, or at least for inexplicable flavor. Here I've given the concordance for the 12 signs of the zodiac with the magical images of the angels of the decans ascendant, succedent and cadent as three d12 tables. The demons ruling these are another set of tables, but this will get you started.

Crowley may have needed opium to make these tables work. Column XXLIV indicates that for the old school gamer, opium corresponds to rolling a d12. Enjoy!