Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Dungeon of Kazamir, In Miniature

You definitely need a longer and wider table for the beast!

A lot of work for only twelve or thirteen rooms--better make them count and filled with interesting things. Not pictured are two separate pieces of the dungeon entrance chamber and tomb vaults.

Hey the dungeon paneling is coming off! It needs some buttoning up with glue and maybe a suitable calk to cover the foam tops of the walls and conceal cracks and paper edges, maybe painted to look like mineral deposit. Kazamir is, in fact, submerged beneath a lake.

I don't know how a super mutant from Fallout ended up here but the thief looks a bit nonchalant; hopefully he is holding an orb of power or a set of ioun stones in his hand.




My most ambitious styrofoam model to date is a level of Kazamir dungeon, giving me a few thousand square feet to run encounters.  It is definitely in need of some finishing touches and doesn't have much realism but it's definitely ready for table top action.

A modeling tip I can pass on for very cheap and easy rock terrain is the use of paper towels dipped in glue-water mixture and pressed, draped and folded into, over and around cardboard insert forms. I grew fatigued and skipped the final application which would have rendered the rock formations very realistic looking and that would have been to have made a paper mache pulp compound or some other filler and rubbed and worked it into the folds of the paper towels which would have concealed their nature and texture.

The cardboard tiles work well as flagstones and they too are free materials from a recycle bin and can be cut easily by making strips with a box knife and then chopping them up with a paper cutter. You can get a gob-load of floor tiles pretty quick. If one were meticulous enough they could be in perfect one inch squares to facilitate movement calculations faster. However, in hindsight, the tiles should have been coated with something to fill in the grooves on their surfaces and to fill the cracks in the floor.

Ultimately, due to skipping these steps, I must deem it a bit of a washout in terms of hiding what it is made of and achieving any realistic effect. In terms of sheer fun and practical use, though, I am more than rewarded. It is not without a certain aesthetic vibe, and it will most likely be unveiled, room by room, by candle light since I like to play my games by such light.

I like my cave system-most of the cave chambers are accessible only by use of secret doors and are scattered throughout the level, with a tripartite cave chain as a final ultimate destination.

Total time in model, probably a little under 20 hours. Total cost, not more than $20. And I do have to say it is surprisingly stiff and durable. It can be carried sideways with nothing breaking and stored up right on one end with no bending.

I am currently researching professional and serious hobby modeling techniques and planning on using some higher grade materials and more painstaking methods to create some really pretty, durable dioramas and terrain sculptures. I find the train model enthusiast tutorials very helpful on the video sharing communities sites.

Hope to share more and may post a play-through of Kazamir with pictures when I finally get to test some players against the ruins of the Jennerak!




















Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Exclusive Premiere: Gumi Comix Presents "Sim Logic"

This was submitted to me today by a young cartoonist and since it is gaming related and, I thought, quite creative and humorous, I am sharing it. Debut comic panel for "Gumi Comix". Kind of reminds me of XKCD.





 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Phoenix Road Update: Post War Denver Excursions and Thoughts on Sandbox Campaigns

Dolmon Varg the Human/Wolf Splicer Hybrid leaps over a rusted hulk to dispatch a bounty hunter in power armor and packing a laser rifle in the streets of Denev Ar, the ruins of Denver, CO. (click for larger view)


The adventures of Phoenix Road have continued at our Sunday afternoon gaming meet up for a few months now with only two missed sessions and it has been quite a fun game as well as a great learning experience and a re-charging.

I have been learning the Savage Worlds system and still really love it for the most part, though I am not in love with the combat system. It is a little hard to manage when calculating wounds where any sizeable number of PC combatants is involved. Still, it is very playable and there are some really good other things in the system for quick, cinematic resolutions.

I love the car chase system, which we got to use this weekend as the PC's piloted a pre-war armored scout car through the rubble and tried to burn tread when a giant psionic komodo lizard leaped up on top of an overturned schoolbus and tried to make them lunch. Two characters were riding on top and had to make agility checks even as the driver made driving skill checks--at penalty due to the rubble piles-as the creature bounded after them. 

The GM basically surveys all factors related to the chase and declares a number of rounds that the chase would take to resolve. Initiatives for attack and counter attack are drawn by card suite while the driver is assumed to be trying to ditch. A failed driving check results in a roll on a table of possible driving mishaps, ranging from a simple slide or shift to flips or rollovers.

I realized the scout car would be able to leave the dragon in the dust in a simple test of speed but also took into account that the party had been at a slow cruise when the thing appeared above them on the bus and that the streets were very cluttered with debris. So I ruled that it would take two rounds to ditch the beast as they gunned it and tried to negotiate the debris and gain enough speed to leave it behind, giving the creature enough time to have a chance at getting at the top riders. They drew for initiative as a group (one card) this time because they were all in or on the car and I drew for the beastie.

The chase ended in one round, however, because while the driver made a good driving check, our David Bowie Android character, Andy the Androgynous Android who was created by a Vampire billionaire with a liking for Ziggy Stardust, failed his agility check and toppled off into the dragon's path. His friends would not leave him so they hit the brakes and decided to slug it out.

Anyway, I like this simplicity and flexibility--as a GM you just kind of picture it in your head like a movie and go from there. A very kind system in that respect, Savage Worlds!

BTW, the encounter just described is not the one pictured. You would laugh to hard at the mini we used for the komodo which was a childs rubber finger puppet of a goofy looking dragon--I seriously need to get some minis. The pictures here are from their journey from Bronco stadium to meet an NPC they've heard about but enroute they met up with some militia men from a warlord's settlement where they had been forced to double cross the chieftain since he was somewhat a cross between the original human Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars out-take and Gary Oldman's character in the Book of Eli--a greedy and manipulative corpulent fellow named only The Gooch. The Gooch had been thrilled to find tech on the characters and hear about "a magic cave"--the Stasis Vault--where other goodies could be found. 

The Gooch even had the PC's solve a couple problems in Boar's Town for him, and he thought it was a promising relationship--but when he sent a militia party with them to breach the Vault, well, they couldn't let that happen so after misleading the Boar's Town militants in the snowy woods they rigged a diversion (The Tale of the Planted Renunciate Holy Symbol which I shall have to tell later) and initiated a firefight and sword fest that ended in bloody snow and mostly dead militants.

They had a brief sojourn in Utah but after hitting Denev Ar, they ran into the Gooch's men, now with a sizeable price upon their heads. And to top it all off, someone--an alien faction called the Jennerak, is now supplying the Gooch with pretty toys like lasers and power armor... so the battle shown had to go down to deter their capture and they now have it in for the Gooch, too. 





I have tried to make Phoenix Road a true sandbox campaign--it doesn't get much more Sandbox than taking a map of the US and indeed the world and saying, go wherever you want. In Fallout fashion, I gave one of the Vault survivors a central role in the High Plot but peppered my world with numerous NPC's and factions that left so many hooks and directions that some players found little direction or purpose for their characters after creating their initial backgrounds and finding little way to connect with those elements.

In my effort to make the world seem real and big and filled with numerous possibilities I let it get quite away. There is an alien faction, warring vampire clans, a crazed religious cult, secret government projects, a vast A.I. with dubious aims and too much tech at it's disposal to let anyone feel truly safe, a monkey cult that worships the Statue of Liberty, scheming warlords and chieftains--a veritable orgy of late night B Movie horror, sci fi and Mad Max films, Fallout, After the Bomb, and Alas, Babylon and Kamandi comics!

I learned from my mistake. All these elements are fine to include in the campaign, and everyone has enjoyed them--especially learning that  a Denver horse cult they heard about from an Estes Park Warlord turned out to be a tribe of deer skin clad natives who have turned Bronco Stadium into a fortress and are using the seats as garden terraces while venerating the bronco statue in front of the stadium. The monkey cult from New York, or, the Shattered Coast as it is known, had rosaries made from Lady Liberty figurines and actually succeeded in making a convert of my wife's character, a bear/human splicer hybrid! The players took it right out of my hands by asking them if there was a great metal plaque on the statue and after the simians acknowledged that there was, a player awed them by writing the words of the plaque in the dirt and explaining the meaning to them, which awed them in several respects. They left rosary neclaces with the party, begged them to come to the sacred island, and departed to share these revelations with their cult! I was thrilled at the encounter, I hadn't planned it that way at all, but it evoked one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, the Omega Glory!

But it was too much, to many, too fast--my players needed to feel some continuity in their background elements. So I have slowed it down and without pushing them anywhere, I am trying to solidify a few paths so they can get some things wrapped up or nearly wrapped up before starting new projects or goals.

So now, I'm trying to put all that on simmer and let them resolve some things. In the very first game, the Renunciation monks tried to flay the Splicer PC's but they escaped through a rescue by the Vault dwellers--but this left them thirsting for the blood of a Renunciate priest who got away but whose scent the Splicers know. But as will happen when a DM gets busy and other characters come on the scene, some slip through the cracks and are forgotten. It dawned on me though, that in this tale, that wicked priest really needs to die!

Well, it is nearly 12 sessions later, but that did not deter me--having entered the ruins of Denev Ar, they have heard a rumor that some strange presence is in the Cathedral ruins--and guess who that is going to be? Yep, this was, it turns out, the staging base from which the Renunciation warriors and priest first set out from to trouble the Estes Park region. Did I plan it that way from the beginning? Nope. But I know that they are going to relish finally getting their paws (literal paws, that is) on the fanatic who wanted to expurgate them as demons by way of the Ritual of Thirty Knives...


Yes, that is first officer Spock. He works quite well as an android, don't you think? The unpainted figure is Combat Specialist Clarke, a Vault survivor, along with Ursa the Bear Splicer. They are taking out Boars Town Bounty Hunters in power armor. The pennies are pine trees in case you didn't know--not much time to get my terrain ready before the game!

So it has been a blast for all, myself included. They get some great roleplaying going with the Edges and Hindrances built into the SW rules and sometimes you just let it go and have a good laugh. Most of the time, actually!

At present, they are actually doing a "dungeon-crawl" in some abandoned labs underground where Project Myrmidon was going on--the very genetic experiments that led to the hybrid races. This is pure Fallout here--they did battle with some flying Mega-Roaches at conclusion of last game and I am actually taking schematics of vaults from the Fallout video game guide and keying them like a dungeon. They have been sent by a pre-war scientist (a government vault stasis survivor) to retrieve a functioning reactor core which he intends to take to a distant installation where a mysterious A.I. is requesting repairs to its operating system so that it can rebuild the broken world...but they have their doubts.




That last bit about the A.I. is from the Savage Worlds Campaign Setting Broken Earth. I will be writing a review of this book soon- I love it. It has been an invaluable resource to me for Phoenix Road--even though the War is a fresh memory to people in the Broken Earth setting and my setting is 300 years after the 2027 War that ended civilization as we know it. It has tons of plot hooks, detailed adventures and encounters, stats for post apocalyptic world denizens such as robots, freaks, raiders, etc.--it is an entire campaign in a book and since the Savage World Core Rules can only offer a few specifically post apoc characters and monsters, it has saved me a ton of work. If I had this book before I began my homebrew, I probably would have run it as written with very few changes. As it is, I can still salvage a number of scenarios and characters from the book. Broken Earth is also published as a Pathfinder book, but no offense to anyone, I do not care for Pathfinder personally.

Anyway, I share these things with GM's and invite sandbox advice and hope ideas can be gleaned from eachother.

Quick note on the model, it is a quickie. Two coats of paint, a couple toy cars from the thrift store painted rust red and not attached so I can use them anywhere. My group is forgiving enough that I can probably get away with re-using the same city block as a generic street over again when the need arises. I do plan to epoxy it after getting realistic paint on it, hiding the foam edges by filling them in with paintable glue, and adding pine trees, brush and maybe snow.

Bring on the End of the world, we are ready!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Modeling Continues-Kazamir Dungeon Module



Life has left little time of late for this hobby that I love. I have been able to keep running my post apocalyptic Savage Worlds game and have built terrain for that game as well, but my goal of modeling the major campaign areas of my 1st Edition AD&D campaign has not been completely idle, either.

These are some pics of a terrain module which encompasses the second level of the major dungeon in my Rysanthis setting, Kazamir. 

I do look forward to finishing it and using it in a game. I tried to give it a multi level effect and there are both natural caverns and engineered chambers and tunnels left from the days of the Jennerak, though the dungeon has been turned to wholly evil ends long ago...




It takes up an entire table in length but leaves room for players and DM. Very inconvenient to transport. I made a very conscious effort to get as much maze like effect as possible while not making it stuffy for miniatures play, and I like it's raised effect. I have about 15 hours into it, and about five bucks in paint so far. It's halfway done, roughly. I didn't picture everything but it has about twenty chambers and rooms. I am now hunting statuary and adornment for it in thrift store toy bins.

Kazamir dungeon lies beneath a ruined fortress of the same name on a lake island near the shores on which lie an abandoned and crumbling town called Barrow.

Hope it inspires someone to model your game world!



 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

From the Reliquary: 1st Edition AD&D Re-Discoveries and How I Never Played by the Book



Greetings Maze Dwellers. It has been truly long since I have entered the chamber of blogging. But a recent period of cold sickness has laid me low and since I've had some down time, what did I choose to read for entertainment?

None other than the first edition original three hardcovers of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game, Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual. 

I have read them nearly cover to cover this past week and several items jumped out at me that made me realize I had never really played the game as written.

I have already commenced games to rectify that!

If you played 1st Ed. AD&D, did you follow the DMG closely and apply it to your early campaigns? Unless you were reading carefully, here are a few things you may have either missed or maybe you chose not to use these guidelines for reasons of flavor or expediency.

I have reconsidered them and plan to include them to add some depth and flavor to my next AD&D games.



LEVELING UP IS NOT AUTOMATIC
(DMG, Page 86)

Playing the game as youngsters, we either missed this or decided it was a pain, but when a character gains sufficient experience points to attain a new level of experience, this progression is not automatic. Game time must be taken on the calendar to receive training from a qualified teacher for the new level and there is also a cost in gold--your current level multiplied by 1,500 gold! 

When you are name level (9th or higher and you get a fancy title), self study and training are normative for you but there is still substantial cost. 

I can see why people would skip this-personally I always assumed the experience you gained adventuring was why you leveled up but it makes sense that you would need instruction. 

Why would one include this guideline instead of simply adding up XP and updating the character? It adds some depth and flavor with NPC characters and organization, for one thing--it seems of interest and roleplaying fun to watch the players develop professional and mentor relationships that could be an ongoing element of the game. It also adds some new dimension with the calendar--the passage of months and years chronologically noted always give the game a more realistic feel. And, since AD&D has that weird surplus of gold, it is a means of maintaining balance in the coin-purse.


SPELLS ARE NOT AUTOMATICALLY ACQUIRED
(DMG Page 38-40)


  I think we cheated ourselves by not using the acquisition of magic spells guidelines in the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Player's Handbook. Usually it was a matter of, "You leveled up, you get to pick new spells, here is your list to pick from."

That this was incorrect is probably a no brainer to a lot of old school AD&D players, but we just didn't bother with the recommended method, which is that new magic user and illusionist spells must be found in magic books and scrolls and the like or else taught from willing teachers. Spells can also be researched and created by the player character, as well.

Clerics and druids are another matter, of course. Clerics gain 1st level spells through rituals and disciplines learned as acolytes, second level through continued prayer and spiritual service, 3rd-5th through bestowal by spiritual intermediaries of the cleric's deity, and spells beyond 5th are from the direct channel of the deity itself. Druids apparently gain them in similar fashion but the spells come from spirits of Nature and Nature itself.

In point of fact, my position after reading the books all over again is that I don't even want my players running spell casters to even know the spell lists, beyond acquired spells. Granted, most will because of past playing experience, but any neophytes I get at table again will not if I have anything to say about it. 
This way, my game will not make magic mundane, i.e., a list in a rule-book. Hearing rumors of new spell powers or conceptualizing them on one's own would provide a great impetus for quests, (to say nothing of gathering material components for spells known) and add depth to the experience of being a magic user or illusionist character. Instead of always tagging along simply to provide magic to a party and gathering gold, hoping for the odd scroll, the magic user may him or herself organize the next expedition to pursue rumors and legends of places or beings who may provide new magical knowledge or to acquire material components in dangerous locales or from mythical monsters.
It might even involve the magic user hiring their own party members to go along!

Clerics and druid characters need not know all of their spell lists, either. Certainly there would be mysteries of what powers may be unlocked at upper levels. Religious texts studied in temples and shrines may provide knowledge of spells that could be gained through proper service and prayer, druids might glimpse these possibilities in moments of intuition. They could also be revealed by spirits or religious teachers. Again, alot more roleplaying and campaign potential then simply handing the player a book and saying "Pick your spells."

Imagine a druid learning about the existence of a Stoneshape spell from a spirit in a giant stone sitting by a magic pool instead of just flipping through the PHB. It would take a little imagination to make all spells known that are available, but one could reveal two or three spells from the same source as well.

The Players Handbook states that the cleric prays for his or her spell, but that the DM, who plays the higher power, can ignore the request altogether or else substitute another spell (PHB, page 40)--there is no reason a completely new spell could not be revealed to the cleric at this time. 

Also, in the class description of the cleric on page 20 of the PHB, it states that a cleric is not necessarily the devotee of single deity but possibly to more than one ("The cleric is dedicated to a deity [or deities]...")...imagine a cleric learning new spells by spiritual exercises in a shrine, temple or other holy place of the deity whose sphere of domain the spell comes from...lots of adventuring material!


THE USE OF THE PLANES OF EXISTENCE AND ASTRAL AND ETHEREAL TRAVEL

This was an area I did not use as written in the Players Handbook(Appendix IV), probably because at 13 I had difficulty conceptualizing the planes. To be sure, we had adventures in planes beyond the Prime Material, but it was largely improvised and not based on the structure provided, which in fact is tied into alignment.

In fact, after carefully considering how Gary ordered the Multiverse in the PHB (and Dieties and Demigods) I have come to believe that the alignment system (and even the oft ridiculed alignment language rule) is actually far more orderly and tied into the fabric of the AD&D universe than I first understood.

The absolute balance of alignments, as emanating from their original outer planar sources (deities, demigods and other powerful beings)is the physics of the Multiverse. The reason alignment is rigid and organized into absolutes that admittedly seem quite strange at first glance (Chaotic Neutral, for example)is that this order is, for lack of a better word, divinely ordained and maintained. Character, NPC and monster alignments reflect the arrangement of the outer planes where all exists in a semblance or harmony and stability. If alignments were seen as the color spectrum and complimentary/contrasting color wheel, all makes sense. Nirvana and Limbo stand as opposite neutrals and buffer the gradients of alignments which could not exist side by side.

This is why in the fabric of the AD&D Multiverse, where player focus is upon the Prime Material Plane where Greyhawk and other milieus exists, alignment and the adherence to alignment is more than just an arbitrary game mechanic...it is tied up to the phsyics and material nature of the visible and known world. 

When you don't behave according to alignment, you fool with the very balance of the universe. When you change alignment, you actively go against it. This is why penalties occur for a cleric who changes gods or alignment, and why a thrice changed cleric is instantly killed by the forces of the Planes. (DMG, page 39). It is why a Paladin who violates law is penalized, even if acting on behalf of what he believes is for true good. And this is why even those who involuntarily violate or change alignment (such as by means of magic devices like a helm of alignment changing) require things like atonement spell to set things right.

It helps to picture the Prime Material Plane as a place where lines of alignment intersect, and this intersection results in warfare, philosophical conflict, and ideological debate. If each line of alignment is followed out of the nexus to it's spiritual place of origin, there is to be found no opposing alignment, excepting those of astral travelers upon the plane, which pose little threat to the plane's order.

Spells of Astral Travel (cleric and magic user) are not simply a ticket anywhere one wants to go--actual PC knowledge must be gained from some source, a manual, teacher, or deity. In the spell description for Astral Spell it plainly states that where a cleric can go is dependent on his or her conceptualization of the Outer Planes.

Certain magic items and spells can put you out there on the Astral Plane and the Outer Planes, but then one is like a sailor on a ship that is lost at sea. The acquisition of planar knowledge thus becomes an integral part of the campaign once such lore is known to exist and can provide endless adventures!

An entire campaign could, in fact, be cobbled together from the exploration and mapping of the planes.

In any event, these are a few of the thoughts I have had since revisiting the 1st Ed. AD&D books. I may share more, and welcome others to expand on these topics.