Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Tale of Three Batmans

A few months ago, I wrote about my first exposure to comics, vis-a-vis my discovery of Batman as a young boy in central California.

Recently, I've gotten into yet another comics kick, perhaps due to all of the hype about the "Avengers," "Spider-Man," and "Dark Knight Rises" movies this Summer, following on the trail of "Thor," "X-Men First Class," "Captain America," and the sadly disappointing "Green Lantern" movie from last Summer.

I think the unveiling of DC's New 52 last Fall also has something to do with it. I'm really more of a DC comics fan, versus Marvel, and I was a bit intrigued by the idea of the New 52, but, until recently, I hadn't picked up any of the issues. 

I think the main reason is that, I hate change. I hated having to move all the time when I was kid, due to my dad's job. I hated having to make new friends. I hate having to start a new job, move to a new house, buy a new brand of cereal because my old brand is no longer being made, etc. I really don't like it when there's a new version of the games I play (D&D, Warhammer 40K, et al) being released every few years. I just don't like change.

That's part of the reason that I didn't want to get into the New 52. I heard that they changed a bunch of stuff - character origins, costume designs, overall comic history (I understand in this version of the DC Universe, Jason Todd didn't die), and more. That kind of stuff bugs me. 

Because of that, I tend to limit my comics reading to graphic novels that take place outside of current continuity and can stand alone as just good stories without all of the baggage of what DC is doing to try to sell more comics. 

Recently I read three very different versions of Batman stories in graphic novel format, and I liked all of them for very different reasons. 

First up was Batman: Noël, by Lee Bermejo. The story is based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and features characters both from Batman as well as from the original source story. I don't want to say too much to spoil the surprise of reading the story, but the artwork is incredible - detailed cityscape of Gotham along with extremely well-executed character designs and, despite the season during which the story takes place, a form of warm coloring that brings the characters to life. On Batman, we see every wrinkle in his suit, every seam and patch, and every pocket where he is hiding a little gadget. The style is both realistic and yet "comic-book" at the same time - this isn't the realism of Alex Ross, but a realism that exists to explore the form of comic art to its fullest.

Story-wise, the key elements are drawn from Dickens' classic, but I frankly was a little bit shocked at the POV character, which I guess I shouldn't have been. Full disclosure here - I really enjoy the original A Christmas Carol in both novel and movie forms (with the 1952 Alistair Sim version being my favorite).

Next, I read Chip Kidd's and Dave Taylor's Batman: Death by Design, which was an incredible visual treat. Both the story and the art in this comic are concerned primarily with architectural design, which might seem a bit odd for a comic until you remember that we're talking about Gotham City, which is, I maintain, one of the most important characters in the Batman universe. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed Christopher Nolan's Batman movie trilogy, one thing I always felt he was missing was that Gotham City should have been more prevalent with a distinctive sense of design and character. Nolan chooses to define Gotham solely by its inhabitants, whereas I feel that Tim Burton had the right idea that Gotham needed a specific sense of design, where you could look at a cityscape and immediately recognize, "That's Gotham City."

Batman: Death by Design takes two different events from our own history - the destruction of Penn Station back in the 1960s, and the 2008 crash of a tower crane in New York City that killed two people, and intermixes them into a story where both events occur in the same time frame, and then posits the question, "What if these two events were related?" Familiar Batman characters have their place in the story, as well as new ones created specifically for this effort. 

While the story is good, the artwork is just absolutely fantastic. In a neat twist in these modern times of computer-generated graphics, artist Dave Taylor noted that he did the art for Batman: DBD the "old-fashioned way" - in non-repro blue pencil, and then re-traced the lines he chose to keep in graphite, without erasing anything. The end result is a classic feel that immediately evokes the time period during which the story takes place, in that vague "Dark Deco" 1930s-1960s time period popularized by television's "Batman: The Animated Series." 

Lastly, for a change of pace, I read the highly regarded Batman: The Black Mirror, by Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla. This particular story technically breaks my rule of not reading continuity comics, as it is really not a true original graphic novel, but instead a trade paperback collection of a story told in pre-New 52 Detective Comics. In this particular story, Batman is actually Dick Grayson, who is assisted in the story by Red Robin (aka, Tim Drake, the previous Robin). Robin during this time fame would have been Damian Wayne, Bruce's son (an idea that, frankly, I always hated), but he does not appear in the story. The Gordon family, including Jim, Barbara, and both Jim's current wife and his ex-wife, have some significant roles in the story, as well as appearances Detective Bullock and some familiar Batman villains.

This story is dark, and I mean dark. It explores a lot of areas around just how inhospitable Gotham really is, and how it can corrupt the seemingly incorruptible. Like the best Batman stories, this is a thinking person's Batman, and (at least for me, as this is the first time I've read a Batman story with Dick Grayson as the title character), it allows ones to explore what it really means to be Batman through a different lens. Dick has much of the same training, and ultimately the same motivation as Bruce Wayne (striking back at the type of criminal mind that killed his parents), and yet the execution of that mission is very different. I enjoyed little touches, like one scene where Batman and Jim Gordon are speaking on a roof, and in the middle of the discussion Gordon seems a bit preoccupied, stopping in mid-sentence, and when asked it anything's bothering him, he replies, "No... I supposed I'm just no used to it yet." Batman asks, "Used to what?" and Gordon replies, "To you still being there when I look up." 

Many have proclaimed that this story-arc, which is really a collection of three separate stories ("Black Mirror," "Skeleton Cases," and "Hungry City") is this decade's, or even this century's, definitive Batman story that belongs with such classics as Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. The story is definitely extremely well done, and the artwork is perfect - with Jock and Francavilla taking turns illustrating separate parts of the story (Jock concentrating on the Batman-focused ones, and Francavilla covering the Gordon-centric ones).

Best of all, reading these three different stories in a row, I was really reminded how writers and artists all have their own take on Batman, and yet, in all of these different incarnations, he is still quintessentially Batman. Even in the Black Mirror, with Dick Grayson as the Caped Crusader, there is still an undeniable quality of "Batman-ness" to the character, and a talented writer like Snyder is able to pull off distinguishing between the Grayson-style Batman and the Bruce Wayne-style, while still retaining the essence of the character.

Even if you typically don't read comics, I'd recommended picking up at least one of these stories to see what is being done these days in the graphic novel medium. You could do a lot worse than picking up one of these three stories.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)

Drinking: Had a glass of Halter Ranch "Cotes de Paso" (a Rhone-style blend) for lunch

Listening: "It Never Entered My Mind" by the Miles Davis Quintet

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Latest World of Samoth Recap

My wife snapped this picture at our session.
My daughter and wife dropped by quickly,
and my daughter Joy rolled her first d20!
This past Sunday, we got the whole gang together (Brian, Cal, Jeff Franz, and Nick) to continue where we left off in my long-running World of Samoth campaign. 

For what's come before, check this list of all of my posts tagged with "World of Samoth", but in particular, this most recent full recap.

I'm going to combine the caps from the past two sessions since I never really wrote one for our session back in May. 

     The 21st of Saarh, 504 D.E. (Dorrenic Era), Arile, Esoría

While Jeremi was being accused of heresy and arrested by the Pontifex Rex, Cristobal Arino, for crimes against Ætonism, both Sameer and Sombra chose to stay outside the city walls, drinking at a tavern. Eventually, Sombra left to go seek the help of an apothecary for an analgesic ointment that could sooth the awful "armor rash" he had acquired after Sameer forged a new breastplate for him. [Editor's note: this was how we explained the absence of Sombra's player, Nick, from the May session].

Meanwhile, Shao, curious about Western culture, used his abundant step ability to bypass the city walls and look around. He soon discovered someone tailing him and did his best to lose the tail. He eventually returned to meet up with Sameer, and they later discovered that they were also being followed, perhaps by the same person who had been following Shao earlier. The two comrades set up a quick trap and cut-off the potential assassin and attempted to question him. The assassin was in some sort of disguise and chose death rather than to reveal who had hired him, and Sameer disaptched him quickly and with honor. On his death, the assassin seemed to change back to his natural form, that of some sort of crow-man, a legendary race from Shao's homeland in the exotic East. 

The two comrades then searched quickly for Sombra, who had not returned at the appointed rendezvous time.  They tracked down the apothecary where Sombra had purchased his ointment, and the proprietor stated that Sombra had, in fact, been there earlier, but he had not seen him since.  He also mentioned news of the heretic priest who had been captured and was to be tried and executed in the square in front of the basillica the next day.  The two heroes realized that it was quite probably their fellow adventurer, Jeremi, and then Sameer had a chat with Shao to explain his past interactions with Jeremi and why he thought it might be a good idea to try to rescue him. Shao, for his part, had not had many interactions with the members of the Company, having just joined with them, but eventually decided that trying to rescue Jeremi was the right thing to do.

     The 22nd of Saarh, 504 D.E. (Dorrenic Era), Arile, Esoría

Dawn seemed to come much too early for Jeremi, as he waited in his cell.  He had been stripped of his holy symbols and material components, but unbeknownst to his jailers, he would have been able to escape at any time suing the arcane magic from his mother's side of the family. However, he chose to face his accuser and plead his case in front of the public, hoping to turn them over to his way of thinking.

Sameer and Shao blended into the crowd, weapons stowed but ready to strike when needed. Arino sat at the top of a high 20 dias, lounging on a luxurious golden and be-jeweled throne, and with his robes of office draped regally on his noble figure. He was surrounded by a group of hand-picked guards, including one hulking captain who appeared to have some sort of giant blood in him, as well as two lightly armed and armored attendants. While Arino's herald read the charges against Jeremi, the heretic priest was tied to the stake some two hundred feet away from Arino. Even at this distance, Arino's and his herald's voices rang clear through the noise of the crowd. Jeremi was also able to see, to his astonishment, that on some tables behind Arino were displayed some of the evil artifacts that he and his comrades had discovered in the Bane Vault in distant Verundhi, and which they thought had been secreted away when they closed the gate that tied the Bane Vault to our world.

Jeremi of course plead his innocence, claiming that he acted on his own authority regarding the will of Æton, not on the church's authority, but this concept seemed to difficult for most of the crowd to grasp. Jeremi asked to be allowed to prove his innocence, and Arino indulged him by allowing Jeremi's hands to be untied, whereupon Jeremi cast a simple healing spell as an attempt to prove to the peasants in the crowd that Æton had not forsaken him. The peasants in the crowd, however, were unaware of what was happening, and Arino used this uncertainty to his advantage - his herald declared that Jeremi had tried to attack the Pontifex Rex, rightful ruler of the Ætonist church, and that the heretic must be destroyed. Arino, meanwhile, cast a Silence spell on the two attendants standing near him, who they proceeded to move with seeming unearthly speed toward Jeremi. Shao noticed that their movements reminded him of the monasteries where he had been taught the mystic and martial arts in the East. 

Sameer quickly and secretly cast a spell to reverse the Silence spell on the two monks, thereby preventing them from stifling Jeremi's spellcasting abilities.  He and Shao jumped over the barricades to Jeremi's defense while the peasants began to flee and a general panic ensued.  Sameer dispatched the two monks relatively quickly, while Jeremi hung back, lobbing ranged attacked spells on Arino from a distance. Shao, in the meantime, used his mystic abundant step ability once again to appear on the throne behind Arino and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. Arino was ready and cast a powerful spell that dropped Shao nearly dead immediately. The giant-blooded guard captain, meanwhile, charged to Jeremi but was intercepted by Sameer, who cast Righteous Might to increase his combat capabilities. Jeremi, too, cast a powerful spell that enveloped him in a magic visage of the Most Hallowed Prophet, Dorren, founder of the Ætonist church. He and Arino then took turns calling down flame strikes on each other, and then each healing himself in order to stay in the fight.

All of Arino's guards, including the giant-blooded captain, were eventually defeated, and Arino realized that he was outmatched by Jeremi and his warrior companion. Arino did attempt to persuade Sameer to stand down and turn himself in for judgment, but Sameer politely refused and struck down the leader of Universal Ætonism on earth.

In the confusion and the aftermath, Jeremi summoned as many local priests as he could find and asked them to attempt to Detect Evil on Arino's corpse. Roughly half of the priests who did agreed that Arino did seem to be evil, but the other half claimed that Jeremi must have done manipulated things to prove his innocence. Jeremi's former cohort, Estacio, also showed up with a contingent of warriors, mentioning that he was in Arile and had rushed to the scene of the planned execution to help his former master as soon as he could. 

Estacio mentioned briefly that while the Company had been gone in the Lugalate of Nur and in the Free and Independent City of Ryn, the war between  Esoría and Courrisseux had escalated, to catastrophic casualties on both sides. The Imperial Theocracy and its dwarven army, the Tharría Imperia, had entered the war on the side of Courrisseux, and the Rijnbösch Republic was preparing its navy to make a coastal strike on the western part of Esoría. Estacio mentioned that the tactics on each side had gotten better and more viscous, and there were rumors about new military leadership on either side of the conflict. 

Although Jeremi wanted to immediately to go inside the Basillica to face the Ætonist Council and figure out the aftermath of his actions by being party to the execution of the Pontifex Rex, Sameer and the recently healed Shao advocated for a quick exit in order to find out what had happened to their friend and companion, Sombra. 

The three adventurers eventually discovered that Sombra had been captured by perhaps the most famous bounty hunger of the age, Pirro ("Red-Headed"), a half-elf who works for anyone for the right price. The adventurers tracked Pirro down at an inn, where he had holed up to await making a safe exit from the city un-noticed, in order to deliver Sombra to his employer, alive. The Company convinced Pirro that he could still honor his contract by delivering Sombra, but that they would like to accompany him as well to the final meeting place. They, and Sombra, both assumed that the Radillar family were behind Sombra's capture, and it may be time to face the powerful family once and for all. Pirro accepted, seeing no need to get into a fight with three seasoned adventurer. They also got the impression that Pirro really didn't look very favorably upon his employers that had hired him to track Sombra halfway around the world.

NEXT TIME: Sombra and the Company versus the Radillar family... or worse?

So, a few things happened during the last two sessions that I felt kind of bad about. One was that, in the last session this past Sunday, my friend Nick drove all the way from Thousand Oaks to my friend Brian's house in Glendale to play D&D (which is about at least a 45 minute drive), but since his character, Sombra, had been captured in the previous session and was not involved in the combat with Jeremi and Arino, he actually never got to play. He just patiently sat there waiting and the combat (and requisite chit-chat about movies, work, etc.) took way longer than I had anticipated, leaving Nick with nothing to do. About 45 minutes before we were supposed to wrap-up, Nick mentioned that he was going to be leaving soon and I felt awful, as I had completely lost track of time. So, I tried to wrap things up quickly in order to try to involve Nick before we ended. 

The second thing I felt bad about was the "end" of Arino, who has been an NPC in my campaign since pretty much the very first session way back in May of 2001. I don't feel bad that he died - I wasn't really attached to him. But, his death just seemed a bit anticlimactic for someone who had lasted so long in the campaign. He just sort of... died. Got struck down by a falchion. No grand speeches, no glorious back-up contingency plans... nothing. I did have him try to talk his way out of the situation and had a momentary thought of letting the group take him captive and turn the tables by having him tried for crimes against Ætonism, but it just didn't seem to be in his character to allow that to happen to himself. Jeremi never confronted Arino directly - they each stay far away from each other and just used ranged attack spells, so there was no big "movie-type scene" where the two combatants come face-to-face and stare each other down, each determined to win the fight.

There are lots of things that need to be worked out next time, not the least of which is - what is the Company planning to do with the evil artifacts that Arino had on the tables behind him? They high-tailed it out of there pretty quickly after Arino's death. Why did Arino have the artifacts, and how did he get them? Was he evil before he got the artifacts, or did they corrupt him? Who is really behind the capture of Sombra, and how did they find him after he's been gone for 10 years or more?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Welcome to Jamrock" by Damien Marley

Monday, July 23, 2012

(Hopefully) There and Back Again

My old copy of the Hobbit, on the shelf with other Tolkien
and Middle Earth books.
A few weeks ago, one of the fellow bloggers I follow online, Peter Schweighofer mentioned how he was reading The Hobbit to his young toddler son. I asked him on Google+ how old his son was, because (as most of you know), I'm the proud dad to a recently-turned 3 year-old girl, and I've been wanting to read her Tolkien's book pretty much since before she was even born.

Peter mentioned that his son was 2 1/2 and they just started reading it, so I I figured that my daughter is probably old enough.

In preparation, a few days before her birthday, I told her that I had a special surprise for her on her birthday,  but it was something that I would share with her that night before she went to bed. My plan was to read her a page or two every night before she went to sleep, which is slightly messing up her nighttime ritual - typically my wife reads her a story before her bath time, and then she takes her bath, brushes and flosses her teeth, and then comes to get me in the living room where I'm enjoying a much deserved beer, glass of wine, or Scotch after having done all of the dinner dishes (and usually cooked the dinner, too, at least on work nights).  Then I help tuck her in to bed. 

But, I remembered back when my wife was pregnant with my daughter, that I sometimes would read The Hobbit late at night when my wife was having trouble sleeping due to some pregnancy pains she was experiencing. I guess she finds my voice "soothing" (aka, "boring") and it usually helped her to fall asleep pretty quickly. As a result, we never even made it past the first chapter, because my wife couldn't stay awake long enough. But, I always imagined that some of the story got through to my daughter subconsciously. 

A few Sundays ago, on her birthday, I reminded her of the special treat I had planned, and after she was all bathed and with clean teeth, she came to get me and I took her back to her room and her mom and I get her put into her PJs and then I put her in bed and brought out my old, yellowed copy of the book, which is technically my sister's copy (it even has her name written on the inside front-cover) but that she gave to me when she finished it. I explained to Joy how I remember reading the book as a young boy, although I was older than her - probably about 9 or so, as I remember reading it during the Summer between 4th and 5th Grades while staying at my grandma's house. I would hide under the covers at night with a flashlight to read because I was so excited by the book and didn't want to put it down. My grandma caught me a few times and chastised me in that way that basically let you know that it was okay as long as mom didn't find out.

Joy's eyes were wide and I began to read the book to her.  "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit..."

It's been about two weeks since we started, and we haven't read it every day. I've moved from reading it at night time, which was just too disruptive to her normal night time ritual, to reading it in the morning at the breakfast table after I finish my breakfast and am drinking my coffee, while Joy finishes her breakfast.  She is more awake and alert at this time, anyway, and I find that she remembers more of the story this way. Plus, I had the thought that there are some scary parts that might not be good to read to her right before bedtime. 

Each day I read to her, I ask her if she remembers what was going on, to help her try to use her memory. She has a very vague idea of the story, but at certain times, she's really surprised me. I constantly test her on the names of the dwarves, and she can't remember all 13, but she gotten good at remembering Fili, Kili, and "Glower" (aka "Gloin"). She asks me from time to time if they are good guys or bad guys, and also if there are any girl dwarves. She remembers Bilbo's name, and also that Gandalf is a wizard. At one point, I was quite impressed as we read - we had just finished the scene where the dwarves came to Bilbo's house and sang about how their treasure was taken by Smaug the dragon, and Joy announced that "I think they are going to ask Bilbo to go with them to get their treasure back."  Pretty darn clever for a three year-old, if you ask me. 

We just finished Chapter 2 this morning, and Joy is quite proud of the fact that she is farther in the book than her mommy ever got. She recognized that the trolls were "like the guy under the bridge on Dora," although we had to explain that the troll on Dora was a nice troll, whereas these trolls in The Hobbit were not that nice. 

Joy, like pretty much all toddlers, has absolutely no concept of ideas of killing and dying and so forth, so there are parts of the story that she's not grasping, and only once or twice I've altered a word here or there to make it more relatable to her.  I also stop semi-frequently to define words for her. Sometimes she asks me to, and other times I just stop and ask her "do you know what 'punctual' means?" She now knows it means "don't be late!"

I'm having a blast reading the book to my daughter- not only is it one of my favorite stories ever, but it's so much fun to "see" it through her eyes and her toddler's way of looking at the world. It's also a great refresher to read prior to Peter Jackson's movies coming out later this year. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

First (Character) Loves

In my quest recently to clean my home-based office, where I run my boutique ad agency from, I came across my old plastic file cabinet into which I had stored a bunch of old gaming notes, stretching back to when I first got started playing RPGs back around 1983.

I have a strange habit that I pretty much never throw anything out - at least, not things that I have created. I'm great at throwing out junk mail, receipts, paper bills (since I pay them online), catalogs... I'm fine with getting rid of those, because I absolutely hate clutter. However, I've always had an aversion to throwing out anything that I've made myself, including stories written for school projects, old sketch pads with drawings dating all the way back to 4th and 5th grade, and more. This little quirk includes my gaming notes, so as a consequence, at one point, I filed every character sheet, every map, and notes for every game I tried to create, all into a neat little folders and then put those into a big plastic file box when my wife and I bought our house about five years ago.  When I did the filing, I came across things that I hadn't seen in 20 years or more, but we were busy in "putting stuff away mode", so I didn't really get to take much of a trip down memory lane. I just filed them away and stored the box in the office, and kind of forgot about it.

As I mentioned, I'm trying to clean my office a bit because it's gotten somewhat out of control, and while doing so, I came across the box, and had a feeling of nostalgia that I'm sure many gamers have gotten when coming across that long forgotten box of gaming materials, whether it's a copy of the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, the Moldvay Basic D&D Set complete with box, or the original three Traveler books.  

For my part, I've actually always kept all of my purchased game books and boxes neatly on my bookshelves in every house and apartment I've ever lived in, and I've referred to them constantly over the years as reading and inspirational material. Although I enjoy them, because I've had access to them so frequently, they don't necessarily evoke feelings of nostalgia in me. Instead, my feeling of nostalgia came from finding my old notes that I wrote, on the back of ancient dot-matrix printer paper that my dad had brought him from his office for my sister and me to use as scratch paper.

While going through the box a few days ago, I came across my very first character sheet for Moldvay Basic D&D - the first iteration of the game I started with. My character's name was Dovirr, and he was a fighter. That's a trend that I've continued pretty much up to today - I tend to prefer fighter-types over magic-using types for some reason.

Dovirr was Lawful and had some absolutely amazing stats which clearly did not come from rolling 3d6 - the DM for the game, a guy named John Stireman (who was also the guy who taught me the game in the first place), assigned me my stats after I picked my character, so I technically wasn't "cheating."

In my odd handwriting mix of printing and cursive (another habit which continues for me even today), I see that he had a "normal sword" and something called a "sheild" which is odd because I've always considered myself a good speller.

I also like that he has the standard adventurer's gear that people often forget to note on their sheets these days - 30' of rope, a water/wine skin, exactly 6 torches, a "gold cross" (I remember that I didn't really understand how religion worked in the game but I just assumed that he was probably some kind of knight, like a King Arthur type, and so probably would have a cross), a lantern, and one of my favorite touches, a "key (found)".

Also, miraculously at 1st level, I had already amassed a "gem of true seeing" and a "di genie" that would fight for me on command. I also had an invisibility jewel that I could use up to 10 times. John had a great imagination, as I remember, and I'm sure made up quite a few things like this in the games he ran.

I remember being so excited to create this character sheet by hand (we didn't really have access to a photocopy machine and goodness knows we couldn't afford to actually buy pre-printed character sheets).  The yellow marking on the top isn't actually from the sheet itself - that's from my scanner, which has clearly seen better days.  However, I kind of like it - it makes the JPEG look old and weathered.

I also remember keeping exact track of Dovirr's coins, every item he picked up along his travels, his languages, and his gear.  I was very much a "by the book" type of player, to the point that at one juncture I told John that if he continued to allow another player in the game, a magic-user, to use a mace (which was forbidden by the rules - magic-users could only use daggers or staves), that I would quit the game  in protest. John's very curt answer was, "Go ahead." That was one of my first life lessons in not being a jerk and demanding that things be exactly the way that I thought they should be, but it has been a hard habit to break. I still have a very deep sense of "This is how things are supposed to work, so why can't people adhere to the rules?" streak in me.

Mostly, I fondly remember playing Dovirr during class with John. We would pass notes back and forth and I'm sure I still have some of the notes somewhere (probably filed in the box).

Dovirr never made it past 1st level. We only played Moldvay Basic for a short period of time, and John was a little stingy with giving out XP at that time, so even after a few sessions, I was still slogging it out as a 1st level Veteran.  Then we moved on to AD&D and I didn't play B/X D&D again until just a few weeks ago (using Labyrinth Lord rules).  After I discovered AD&D as a kid, I felt that Dovirr was just too, well... basic. With AD&D, I could be a half-elf ranger or a gnome illusionist or a half-orc assassin or all kinds of cool things that just seemed more grown-up and sophisticated than poor little Dovirr with his gold cross and his Lawful alignment.

Looking back, I kind of miss Dovirr. It'd be interesting to know what kinds of adventures he would  have gone on had I kept playing him all those years ago.  As it is, I like to think that he tired of the adventuring life, even though he was only a 1st level Veteran, and he retired to a life of relative peace and tranquility as the owner of a pub somewhere near the Keep on the Borderlands. Perhaps one of your characters will come across him one day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Old School AD&D Game II - 6/29/2012 Recap

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm running an Old-School AD&D adventure for the Friday Night "Beer & Pizza" gaming group I'm a part of.

I finally decided on using Labyrinth Lord along with the Advanced Edition Companion as our system, and I'm already liking it better than using OSRIC, like I did last time I ran an old AD&D Adventure. That's nothing against OSRIC at all - I actually think it does almost too good of a job of cloning 1st Edition AD&D, and I just decided that for this game, I don't want all of that baggage.

I made pre-generated characters for the group, and when creating them, I knew I liked Labyrinth Lord already. I hadn't played B/X D&D since way back in around 1983 or so, and I'd forgotten how "simple" a system it is. I'm so used to stuff like Pathfinder, which I do like, but more and more I'm finding that on a Friday night after a long week of work while drinking a few beers and joking around with the gang, a more open and flexible system like Labyrinth Lord or even Savage Worlds is more my speed. I was able to create game mechanics of the characters extremely quickly - all five were done in less than 20 minutes. The backgrounds and equipment took a bit longer.

The group is going through the old module S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, which I'd kept secret from the group, and interestingly enough at the end of the first session, I discovered that one of the players has actually run this adventure before back when it first came out. he claims that he doesn't remember it, which sounded pretty accurate since after an entire session he didn't realize he'd DM'd it before until I just mentioned the name of the module before we left.

Here's a quick recap and background of the first session.  If you ever want to play through this adventure, then I guesss this is the obligatory SPOILER ALERT alarm. You've been warned.

Module: S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
System: AD&D, by way of Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion 
Number of Players: Five (Brian, Cal, Jeff Franz, Nick, and Sean)
Session 1: 6/29/2012; 7:00pm - 1:30am (actual D&D time roughly 8:45pm - 11:15pm)
Food: Two extra large pizzas, Klondike mint-chip bars
Drinks: Tap Room #21 Lager, Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Boatswain Chocolate Stout, Coca-Cola, Water
Other Games Played: Bohnanza


Adventuring Group: The Lucky Fools & Gloaters

Dolok, Human Druid (Brian): Dolok is one of the wolf-nomads, and thanks to something that Arkhein from Rather Gamey mentioned on Google+ the other day, I made Dolok a cannibal essentially. His tribe of the Wolf Nomads comes from right near the border of Iuz where there is an undead infestation, but there are no clerics among his people, so they have adopted the habit of eating the corpses of anything they kill in order to prevent the body being used to create an undead creature. To help with this, Dolok has filed his teeth and keeps his finger nails very sharp. He usually have bloodstains on his mouth and hands, frightening most people and giving him a bonus to intimidate people if he chooses. However, people are so scared of him that he finds it difficult to bond with people.

Lord Flemin Ormstraad Corond, Dwarf (Cal): Lord Flemin is the third cousin, twice removed, of Prince Olinstaad Corond, leader of the Principality of Ulek. Lord Flemin does not have a lot of "official" duties, but is well-known as a consumer of large quantities of ale. He's been sent away from Ulek to learn new scientific techniques which can better his people, and so far he has amassed several notebooks worth of new brewing technique to share with his cousin when he returns. The combination of his drunken slur and very bad accent makes him difficult to understand, and many of the adventurers wonder why they had to outsource the job of "dwarf" to someone from Ulek instead of getting somebody from Irongate or Sunndi. Lord Flemin carries a unique magic item - a ring that will talk to him and offer suggestions if magic-items are sacrificed to it. When it speaks, it uses a confusing language full of terms that Flemin doesn't understand, but he trusts it enough to have sacrificed a Staff of the Woodlands and a +5 Suit of Elvin Chainmail to it so far.

Benedictus, Human Cleric (Jeff): Benedictus is a follower of Fharlanghn, god of Horizons, Distances, Roads, and Travel. He prays religiously every morning before setting out to adventure. He drinks honey straight from the jar several times a day. I'll have more to say about Benedictus as we continue but I'd rather than it reveal itself naturally through adventuring since most of my players read this blog.

Andrezi Ionacu, Half-Elf Ne'er-do-Well (Nick): [The first thing Nick did was decide the Andrezi Ionacu was his "human" name, and asked people to instead call him Estian Darkstar]. Estian is the son of a Valle Elf and one of the "wise women" of the Rhennee, who are the equivalent of "river Gypsies" in Greyhawk. He is not trusted by either culture due to his mixed heritage, and took to taking on odd-jobs to learn as much as he could. He is usually considered the leader of the Merry Fools & Gloaters. He gets along extremely well with the ladies and adventures with a few apprentices, all of them female. However, most men find him annoying and nothing more than a fop or dandy. He is a strict vegetarian, and carries a handkerchief with him that he uses to constantly wipe off Dolok's mouth.

Weslocke, Elf (Sean): Weslocke is a "Red Elf" from a far-off land, and has explained that his people died off long ago, and he is one of the last of his kind. Skilled with both the blade and with magic. He carries himself as though he had military training. Once again, there is a lot more behind this character, but it will have to come out during the actual game.

The adventurers received a notice from His Lotfy Grace, Walgar, the Margrave of Bissell, asking if they would be willing to be hired for a dangerous mission in the Yatil mountains, ostensibly to recover an ancient artifact rumored to be somewhere in the mountains.

The five seasoned adventurers, along with their hirelings and porters, traveled to Bissell and met with the Margrave in a fortress near the capital of Thornward. As the leader of a border kingdom constantly on the brink of war, Walgar did not stand on ceremony, but got right to the point, explaining how, in the past, the evil arch-mage Iggwilv had imprisoned the demon lord Graz'zt into her service and carved out a powerful empire for herself, based in an elaborate system of caverns that were supposedly located in the Yatil Mountains. Graz'zt eventually freed himself and Iggwilv was defeated, and her caverns looted. However, some of her treasured is still rumored to be in the caverns, although the location of the caverns has been lost. The Margrave wishes the Merry Fools & Gloaters to recover one particular item, Daoud's Magical Lanthorn. All of the rest of the magic found within the caverns would be theirs to keep, along with all of the coin, minus a 15% tax, if they can recover the lanthorn for him.

While this was being explained, several servants came into the room to wait on the Margrave's guests. All of the women chose to wait on Estian to the exclusion of all of the other guests, leaving one lone halfling to cater to the needs of the other members of the Merry Fools & Gloaters. The hafling ran away screaming from Dolok, fetched about three or four pints of ale for Flemin, and then watched Benedictus down a jar of honey and ask for more.

Estian proferred Lord Flemin as the leader of the adventurers in order to agree to the terms of the contract, but the Margrave mentioned that he had trouble understanding the dwarf, and therefore Estian took over the negotiations, with assistance from Flemin. The adventurers refused the pay the 15% tax, mentioning that now that they knew of the existence of the caverns and the magical lanthorn, there was really nothing stopping them from going on their own and keeping everything for themselves, including the lanthorn. The Margrave mumbled something under his breath about a plot hole and eventually begrudgingly agreed to let the adventures keep all that they could carry out of the caverns, and that once it had been cleared, he would recover the rest.

In front of the group, a drunken Flemin produced a powerful Staff of the Woodlands from his pack and sacrificed it to his ring, asking his ring "Is there a chance that Graz'zt is still in the caverns?" [Or it was something to this effect - I forget exactly how he asked.] A female voice from the ring said, "Hang on, I'll get him" and then a few minutes later, a male voice from the ring said something akin to, "No way, dude. He want back to the Abyss. But you never know where he could turn up."

Benedictus seemed a bit upset - he had been pushing to go to the caverns when he had though the demon lord might be trapped inside. Begrudgingly, he finally agreed to go, along with the rest of the Merry Fools and Gloaters.

The Margrave provided a scant map of the area, along with horses, some guides, and a few weeks' worth of rations and bade the adventurers to hurry so that the magic items inside the caverns did not fall into the hands of Perrenland, Ket, or Iuz.

The adventurers rode to the starting place on the map, and having no definite idea of where to go, Flemin again surprised the group by producing a suit of magical elven chainmail and sacrificing it to his ring again to ask the ring which path they should take. After a few seconds, a voice was heard to say, "No way! Look where they are!" and then the first voice from the previous consultation with the ring said, "I know, right? That's crazy!" This type of banter between the two voices went on for quite a while, with one voice mentioning something about "high enough level" and the other commenting that "I'm sure they'll be fine." Eventually the ring attempted to answer the question Flemin posed, which was "Which way should we go?" The Ring answered "I don't know, Dude. I haven't been this far before. But you should totally watch out for some crazy stuff coming up. If there's like a landslide or something, do not hesitate. You gotta get outta there. Good luck, Dude!"

Flemin grumbled about the good-for-nothing ring that didn't answer his questions, but then the adventurers had a good idea - Dolok could transform into an eagle and fly above the area depicted on the map to let the group know what was ahead and more importantly, where the entrance to the lost caverns might be found.

Dolok complied and after about a 15 minute break while various players took out their iPads and looked up how far an eagle could fly on an average day, Dolok scouted ahead. At one point, he was chased by a group of giant eagles who thought their eggs were being threatened. He also saw a group of hippogryphs, several patrols of men and humanoids, and a gnomish vale. His aerial reconnaissance completed, Dolok flew back to the group to report his findings, and they began to plot out their next move.

[At this point, we stopped playing D&D for the evening. One of the guys went home, and the rest of us hung out for a bit, chit-chatting and then playing a game of Bohnanza.]

The recap of the second session is here

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Water
Listening: "Fran-Dance (Alternate Take)" by Miles Davis

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