Friday, December 16, 2011

The Assassination Decree

I have discussed this subject before, but wanted to formalize this policy for my Arandish Campaign:

Assassination (see Advanced Edition Companion p. 10) only works in the context of a planned, premeditated assassination attempt, NOT in the middle of standard melee combat -- unless that melee combat is being staged for the purpose of committing the assassination. In other words, "Assassination" does NOT equal "backstab followed by chance of instant death" unless it is as part of a premeditated Assassination attempt. This houseruling may limit how this ability works vis-a-vis the wording in the AEC, but that's how things are in Ara.

"File yer complains with me, filthy human scum!"

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Vornheim, Charlie Brown!

Says Spawn:

Click to embiggen, naturally.
I took Saturday off from dissertation writing and in addition to starting a batch of sauerruben (fermented turnips) and listening to Wagner and Beethoven, I managed to throw the above image together. It had been percolating in my brain since being reminded of the Vornheim font by this post and learning it can be downloaded here. As was mentioned in the comments, it's so evocative of a specific work that it's not a super-useful font, but it can come in handy for, e.g., Vornheim greeting cards, or similar nonsense like the above.

Had I thought of this a few months ago, this would have been "It's the Great Peryton, Charlie Brown!" I'm sure you can use your imagination for that.

The image comprises elements of original works by Zak S., James E. Raggi IV, Charles M. Schulz, and Andreas Johansson (the electronic font), none of whose claims to copyright or whatever I challenge.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Session 47: Vivuli Makes a Deal

This session occurred on Thursday 11/17/11 and involved PCs Innominus (Clr-6), Dak (Dwf-6), Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard-5), and Vivuli (Assassin-5 / MU-4). NPC Gorgo (Dwf-4, Innominus' follower) was also onboard this time.

Many of our group members were in slightly different real-world locales for this session: Carl was out of town for work-related training, so he Skyped in from San Francisco, CA; Uncle Junkal's and Viv's players met at the former's on-campus office in Eugene, OR (instead of Carl's house as usual); and Spawn and I broadcast from our homes in PA and NY.

That's Uncle Junkal and Viv in the upper left, Spawn in the top center, and Carl next to him.  I'm on the bottom with the camera in front of my face.

The PCs started right where they left off last session, near the center of a vast rectangular chamber with a 600' diameter demonic circle inscribed into the floor.  Uncle Junkal and Vivuli pooled their efforts in order to transcribe the symbols from the demonic circle onto parchments, while Dak and Innominus mapped the perimeter of the vast room, both tasks taking over two hours.

Next, in a kind of bizarre "science" experiment, Viv chucked one of his many rats into the demonic circle. There was a flash of bright orange light and the rat vanished, seeming to fall right through the floor into nowhere. Still curious, the rat-master* tied a 15' string to a second rat, and hucked it after its fellow into the circle. Another flash of orange light and this rat too vanished, the twine spooling out through an invisible portal in the floor. The twine spooled out to its full length; Vivuli reeled it back in to find no rat, only a charred end of twine.

Dak, requiring a bowel movement anyway, took a dump and threw the result into the demonic portal after the rats.

Magmatron? they wondered among themselves.

They also wondered if there might not be more as-yet-undiscovered elevator floors, either above or below those already visited.** So they embarked the elevator once again and started mucking about with the levers, attempting to go up to higher levels (if they existed). The elevator rumbled as usual, then a hideous metal-grinding sound went on for awhile, then all went quiet; the elevator hadn't moved. Viv tried another similar lever combination, again the usual rumble followed by bad-sounding grinding noises but no movement from the elevator

"This elevator is a piece of shit!"
-- Innominus of Endra

Frustrated with the fricking elevator, the party decided to go back upstairs into the country manor to rest overnight. Before retiring, they learned that Prince Arkus was planning to leave with warriors and clerics for the plague-ridden city of Farn Junction early the next day. Grand Vizier Krock would be staying behind at the country manor outside Fortinbras with a minimal house and administrative staff.

Also, before retiring, Vivuli turned himself, Dak, and Gorgo invisible.

The morning of Day 166 of the party's Arandish adventures, Prince Arkus of Minoch left for Farn Junction, while the party returned to the dungeon levels far beneath the manor, selecting the weird metal triangular chamber as their next port of call.

1 square = 20'

Dak approached the wooden door to the strange chamber and opened it; as his hand turned the doorknob he heard a voice inside his mind hiss at him:

"Stay away, puny filth!"

Despite the mental voice's warning, they all went in anyway and, ignoring the disturbing statue of the tentacled thing with no eyes, headed straight for the northern metal door. Innominus cast detect magic upon it; it glowed extremely brightly. The cleric cast dispel magic upon it; sparks flew all over, arcing off the whole surface of the shiny metal door, and then, subtly, the door began to seem less shiny. The door-metal literally became duller-looking before the party's very eyes.

In this moment Vivuli thought to use his x-ray ring to look through the door; no dice.

Dak being Dak, the dwarf swung his New Steel axe fully at the door -- and rolled a natural "20"! His mighty blow left only a minor scratch on the surface of the metal door, and the dwarf could tell that whatever strange metal this was, it was far stronger than anything yet known on Ara.

So Innominus cast dispel magic upon it again, and it dimmed further, and Dak knocked upon it and yelled "open up!" -- to no avail. Innominus threw Holy Water at the door, chanting prayers -- to no avail.

Then Viv walked away from the door and over to the statue of the tentacled thing, placed his hand upon its slimy surface, and asked it to open the door for them.

Projecting thoughts into Vivuli's mind, the statue responded that it would open the door if he (Viv) would agree to grant it one favor.

Distrusting the look of the statue and noticing that Viv was in some kind of fugue state, Innominus threw Holy Water at the statue. The Water instantly boiled off the statue's surface, seemingly ineffectual.

Meanwhile, inside Vivuli's mind, the Chaotic Assassin decided to accept the statue-entity's terms, agreeing to grant it one favor in the future in exchange for its opening the metal door now. Viv removed his hand from the statue and asked his fellow party members to tie him up, in order to prevent his being forced by the statue to attack them or the like.

Then the metal door slid upward into the wall, and a horrific rotten smell bellowed out into the triangular chamber. It smelled like dead things.

The area beyond that metal door looked like this:

Opened metal door at bottom right of map; 1 square = 10'

Pausing briefly to spike the metal door open, Innominus and Dak advanced into the 40' x 30' room, as Uncle Junkal covered them with his crossbow. The ceiling was arched and all the walls, floor and ceiling were metal.  A weird fleshy goop covered most of the floor, and out around the perimeter some small mounds of rotten-smelling fleshy substance grew out of the general pond of goop. Suspecting something green-slime-like, Innominus and Dak prepared oil flasks.

To the east, another shiny metal door in the center of the 30' wall; to the west, an open passageway, also centered in the metal wall.  The group decided to advance westward down the passage, and saw ahead of them a much larger chamber filled with wrecked machinery.  Scraps of metal and various other materials were piled everywhere, and much of this wreckage was also coated with the ubiquitous stinking, fleshy slime.

50' back, the party spotted something moving in the dark depths of the wreckage chamber.  All they could see was an indistinct fleshy mound, but it was definitely advancing toward them.

The party slung oil flasks and shot projectiles, and Innominus cast Prayer.  The blob-thing shot electricity bolts at the PCs in retaliation, but after a short yet intense battle, the PCs managed to neutralize the flesh-blob.  It disintegrated back into the primordial muck of the flesh-slime.

And that is more or less where the session ended.
* Devotees will recall that in Session 44, Vivuli used Conjure Vermin to summon a horde of rats; this session he further announced that he keeps said rats in pockets all throughout his robe -- a "rat-robe."
** So far the PCs have visited four levels via the elevator: (1) the Thoopshib Temple level, from whence they originally came; below that, (2) The Briny level, where they butchered a couple of Ponaturi; below that, (3) the Underwater level with the weird Egg Temple they ransacked; and, atop all the others, (4) the Huge Sulfurous Chamber level, where they began this session.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lands of Ara Enterprises and the OGL

As 2011 draws creepingly to a close, I find myself gearing up for some new Lands of Ara-related endeavors, most notably the compilation and self-publication of the Lands of Ara Compendium 2011.  This project, which I announced here, offered an artwork preview of here, and posted a tentative Table of Contents for here, is going to be the first official publication of Lands of Ara Enterprises, the publishing entity I have formed with my collaborator Spawn of Endra.  My hope is that LAE will function as an "umbrella" or brand identity for future Lands of Ara Compendiums, various adventure modules I plan to release including The Tower of Death, and, in the fulness of time, a Lands of Ara Gazetteer

Obviously, generating content for these projects is not a problem for me: I really enjoy writing gameable stuff, especially adventure modules.  I am also extremely fortunate to have Spawn of Endra as my collaborator / editor-in-chief, for he has a keen eye for (and many technical skills relating to) layout and graphic design. (See, for example, his enlightening queries about Font Use in D&D Products.)

However, where I am still a bit naive and ignorant is in the exact functioning of the OGL and the various legalities behind what I can and can't use from other sources.  Sure, I have picked up on some of the general parameters by reading other people's stuff and consulting posts about various "cautionary tales" -- and the most valuable of these to me is a post by David Macauley wherein he outlines two such tales and follows it up with links to crucial resources for using the OGL properly.  For my own convenience, and to possibly benefit my readers, I will now re-post those important OGL-related links.  I also highly recommend that you check out his original post, esp. the second half. There is also a nice comment by Melan, and some further advice from Matt Finch, which I will excerpt here:

"the OGL can be intimidating if you start by reading the definitions section. In a legal document, capitalized terms are like defined variables. The heavy duty legal language is in the definition of those terms. It is easiest to get familiar with the OGL by skipping the definitions for your first read-through, then reading the definitions to get a better sense of how it works with the details, and then (because you will still be somewhat confused) start going to reputable sources to walk you through it a bit more clearly. Don't rely on those, though; once you have their advice, you should still go back to the OGL for a third reading now that you think you understand how it works."

Now those links:



Thanks, David!

See also Paul Gorman's helpful advice about font use in pdfs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Local LL Game -- Initial Report

Here are a few preliminary details about how this Sunday's local Labyrinth Lord game went. All in all, it was a triumph.

It looks like I will have about five regular players, with one or two others who may drop in and out from time to time. Most of these regulars are veterans of 3.5 and D&D IV play; I have only one truly experienced old-schooler. (More on him in a moment.)

As I said before, I was really hoping to stick to Race-As-Class and other Labyrinth Lord Core Rules conventions, for part of my mission here is to introduce these folks to the mechanics and feel of old-school play, to keep the game as "Moldvay-ish" as possible. In this I was successful: the group conceded to playing LL as writ. Chargen only took one hour, and that time-frame included a lot of discussion about the setting and some gentle guiding of the new-schoolers through the chargen process. Ultimately I had them roll 4d6 (drop the lowest) in order for attributes, then choose their PC's class. All standard LL core classes were available -- even elves!

The session itself was great fun and The Lost City rules! By the end of the session, the PCs had already met their first faction and started negotiating with them, offering to perform a spy mission against one of the other Cynidicean factions in exchange for food and water. They're off!

Full session report to follow.

Related Note: Another Local Game!
That experienced OSR guy I mentioned -- Cid, who ended up playing the party's cleric, Thorgald Thorgaldson, follower of Ragnar -- is starting his own public game at Boldo's Armory, one of the local Rochester area game shops, this coming Sunday. He is running a custom-hacked d20-Lite type system, and setting the campaign in Jeff Rients' Wessex! (From what he says, he literally contacted JR, asked permission to run a campaign in the setting, and apparently received permission plus some background materials and resources from the man himself.) Here is a link to Cid's Obsidian Portal page for the game:

Cid was such a pleasure to play with that as of now I am planning to sit in on his Boldo's campaign on the opposite Sundays from my own local campaign.  Local RPG'ing opportunities abound!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brockport LL Campaign House Rules

As I mentioned the other day, I am starting a new local Labyrinth Lord campaign here in my home village of Brockport.  I hereby dub this enterprise, to be commenced today (six hours hence), The Brockport Campaign.  This campaign's name refers to the physical locale of the game sessions in the "real" world, as well as the in-game port city from which the PCs hail.  Those PCs have ventured many months' travel west of the prosperous sea port, to find themselves lost in a vast desert. . . .

One ancillary benefit of naming the new game the Brockport Campaign is that the names of my three active campaigns follow an easy-to-memorize A - B - C pattern:

A = Arandish Campaign (commenced 1/18/2010 in Eugene, OR, now plays over Skype)

B = Brockport Campaign (commences 12/4/2011, plays live in Brockport, NY)

C = ConstantCon, Tales From The Hotel Kaladarian (plays in HELL)

At any rate, here are the House Rules I plan* to use for the Brockport Campaign:

Brockport Labyrinth Lord Campaign House Rules

Our campaign shall obey the Labyrinth Lord Core Rules plus:

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.

Multiple-Turn Searching for Secret Doors Allowed
This deviates from the "one try only" rule as printed in LL p. 45.

Critical Hits and Fumbles
Any time a player rolls a natural ‘20’ on a to hit roll, it is a critical hit. Damage 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 – Labyrinth Lord's discretion.

[EDIT: I removed "The D30 Rule."]

* Note: I anticipate having some veteran players onboard -- I know at least two of my probable attendees have played D&D 3.5 and/or D&D IV at any rate -- so plan to spend a wee bit of time at the top of the first session discussing these house rules and making sure nobody has any strong objections or intriguing suggestions.  For myself, I am really hoping to stick to Race-As-Class and 3d6 in order, for part of my mission here is to introduce these folks to the mechanics and feel of old-school play.  I want the whole thing to be as Moldvay-ish as possible.  So I will resist adding AEC classes as best I can; but I do not want to ruin anybody else's good time either, so we'll see what happens.  I am easily negotiated with.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Las Hurdes: Surrealist Documentary of a D&D Town?

From the world of dissertation madness writes Spawn:

Yesterday I was trying to find a reference to something I had written in a journal of mine from 1994 about labyrinths and illusory walls apropos of a conversation with Carter the other day. Then I got sucked into the journal, this was from a fairly rough period in my life during college. (Note to dissertation writers: Don't move across the country in the middle of writing a diss, and never pull out a journal from 17 years ago. Probably you shouldn't be contributing to a blog either.) And I came across this passage from Nov. 23, 1994, the day before Thanksgiving that year:
Today watched this terrible documentary (Los Hurdas) [sic] about goiter victims and dirt-eating cretins and idiots in Spain. Firecracker murder of mountain goats.
This was in an anthro class, Human Adaptability and Variation, which I absolutely loved, and I presume it was a day-before-Thanksgiving filler. Yesterday I looked this up and found out it was actually called "Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan", (Land without Bread), and depicts the incredibly hard life in the Las Hurdes region in the 1930s, a perennially neglected and shunned area of northern Spain, practically medieval even then. The instructor was making a point about the social abuses of physical anthropology in the early 20th century (e.g., cretinism was a diagnosable condition, not just a snobby insult), and how the doco was so staged and artificial. Hence the "firecracker murder of mountain goats": there's a scene where the dispassionate narrator is talking about how the people only rarely eat meat, such as when a mountain goat falls to it's death. The instructor said they set off firecrackers to make the goat fall for the film (you can see a puff of smoke, frame-right). It's only 30 minutes, you should watch it. This is the "Unpromised Land" version, which differs subtly from the original narration*, but is a better film transfer:

 What I didn't know was that the film was made by Luis Bunuel, everyone's favorite early surrealist film-maker. And they shot the goat, it wasn't firecrackers. Even if you've never seen his earlier film "Un Chien Andalu", you know Dali was involved, there's ants crawling out of hands, and as the Pixies remind us "Got me a movie! Ooh-ho-ho-ho! Slicin' up eyeballs! Ooh-ho-ho-ho!". Well, in fact, there's an argument (thanks Wikipedia) to be made that the whole thing is in fact more of a parody of documentary films than a mean-spirited effort to portray these people as degenerate sub-humans. Mr. Ruoff's article presents a really interesting analysis. It seems that no one got the joke at the time, or even into the 1990s.

But now that you are properly repositioned as a voyeur of this film, and let's say you watch it three more times and work through your moral outrage at yourself or film or anthropology or surrealism or Franco, this would be a creepy place to go into if the absurdities the doco lays on to reality were accepted as true. By all accounts life was extraordinarily difficult in the region, but in a D&D setting, you enter a town and the festival involves 6 guys pulling the heads off of upside down roosters ... I think Raggi has a module like this. Why do they do all this crazy stuff? Why do they not know what bread is, when they were given bread by the 6 heroes? What's wrong with their water, outside of pigs? Or do the pigs have anything to do with the water? What's the deal with the 18 ruined hermitages within the monastery walls? You get a sense of a fundamentally corrupted, poisoned, cursed land. Maybe the PCs need to figure out what is doing this to the folk and remedy the situation?

Of course the fact that no rooster heads or attempts at ripping them off are shown in the film seems to suggest that this isn't actually what went on in Alberca. Our belief is suspended by the narrator's tone and the ethnographic feel of the film. But, even with the surrealism and sarcasm, the average viewer can probably gain a historical sense that the people suffered because of failures of social governance rather than an evil demon living in a cave who makes even their honey bitter. But it's that sort of metaphorical, mythical imagery -- their honey is bitter! Maybe that's not "weird" but it's wrong -- that makes it interesting for thinking about a Village of Hommlet, or a much warmer, drier version of Vornheim, or Children of the Corn, or Parlier, or wherever else.

And you can impress your friends with references to surrealist film and critiques of ethnography. Win-win!

* What I think is closer to the first English-language narration is in 3 parts: here, here and here.