Sunday, January 20, 2013

Oldschooling Pathfinder with TOEE

Recently my old college gaming group got back together. We all hit a stage in life where the kids are old enough to be home alone if need be, the jobs permit it, we all live close again, and there seems to be time and the desire to have fun like in the old days. My brother Mike started talking it up first, he hit up Pete and Kurt at a bar one night, and they were both into it. Only one player couldn't join back in, Steve, who had too much going on. Kurt knew a woman from work (they are both high school math teachers) who was interested, so he asked if she could play too.

There were some initial reservations---our group had never played with a woman on a regular basis before. The past GF's (now the wives) back in college checked it out and had zero interest in it. Which was fine by us---our DnD sessions were sacrosanct events of the man-cave dwellers. We play, drink, fart, tell rude crude jokes that would offend most everyone, talk about sex—who we're fucking and who we want to fuck, eat shit food, and generally have a good old fashioned male bonding neanderthal style good time.

We didn't want to lose that, nor did we want to censor ourselves and lose a lot of what made getting together fun. Basically we told her she is welcome, but warned her we weren't changing because there was a woman present.

Added to the complication is that she is about 30 and single, whereas the rest are 40-45 and married (except for me, but I have a dog, which is about the extent of a relationship I am willing to commit to). Something I've noticed, and yes I'll say it because it's my blog damnit and I can feel free to stereotype and offend on my home turf, is that people under 30 and under grew up thinking that what I call invasive political correct behavior is normal and the way to be, rather than some bunch of lawyer-driven HR pussy types telling us how to be around each other for fear of lawsuits. Fuck lawyers.

Anyhow, with all that I worried she'd run screaming from the table after 10 minutes.

I can't believe she chose to stay. We still play, drink, fart, tell rude crude jokes that would offend most everyone, talk about sex—who we're fucking and who we want to fuck, eat shit food, and generally have a good old fashioned male bonding neanderthal-style good time. And she sits there and blushes and laughs and seems to be having a good time. We've had about five sessions, she says she enjoys it, and she keeps coming back. Shockingly.

The group wanted to run through the classic old school mega modules: Hommlett and the Temple of Elemental Evil, The Slavelord A1-4 series, The Giants G1-3, and the DQ Drow series. Since I had the most recent experiences with the TOEE and with DM'ing and playing a ton, I was to be the DM. I was least rusty I guess.

They all liked 3.0 as the best as a ruleset for the game, mostly because a couple of us played a heavily modified version of it as a group for a short period of time. It was familiar. All my arguments and attempts to convince them to play an older style game or clone were to no avail. They like skills and feats, what can I say. I was at least able to convince them to play Pathfinder, as it is the best version of the 3.x game imho. Plus, I had played it with a good group for like nine months and was familiar with some of its fiddly bits. These guys didn't know what they were in for, since the 3.0 version was hacked back to look a lot like ADnD with skills and some feats. They wanted to play this thing by the book, so by the book it is.

That doesn't mean I as an old school DM couldn't throw some modifications on top of the book's rules tho, to give it an older feel. For example, for searching for secret doors and whatnot, if they failed using the die roll, I give them a chance to describe to me in detail how they are going to do a manual search. If they decide to move the thing that opens that gadget that reveals the secret door, more power to them. They really can't bitch at another bite at the apple. For anything involving a character trying to use his charisma on someone, like to intimidate or persuade someone, I have them act it out, and depending on how cool (to the DM) what they say or do is, I give them a bonus to the roll.

It's not a lot, but its little stuff like that which brings back some of the old school feel to me.

Really the only thing where Pathfinder differs in actual play are the grueling combat sessions. We bust out miniatures, arrange them all, use move 30 feet, take five foot steps, get attacks of opportunity and all that bullshit. They decided they didn't want to do gold for xp, so basically combat is the only way to level up, other than dm xp awards given for cool shit, or mission goals type stuff.

One thing that shocked them is that if the bad guys have half a brain, then I'm playing them that way. The other bigger thing that shocked them is my sandbox approach to the game. I have no fear of letting the pc's actions completely fuck up the whole module, and the way the book lays out it is to be run. We've always strived for some level of realism in that regard as players and dm's, but until now I was never able to give it to them. Lack of experience, trust in my own abilities as DM to handle it, and lack of trust from players that I wasn't just out to fuck them over. Yeah, I was the asshole DM to my brother when we were in high school. It was all I knew, how I learned the game. So playing the module as written was the thing that made them trust that they weren't getting fucked over.

I explained to them this time that we are going to play it in a sandbox way, and that all rolls were out in the open from the DM side, rather than behind a screen. There would be no fudging, if you die you die. We used to fudge a bit as DM's back in the day, to keep people alive, just to keep the game going, unless death was unavoidable due to actions of the players. No more of that pussy shit. As a result, every time I do a roll out in the open, everyone is holding their breath in anticipation of a possible pc death roll. I love it. :)

The other thing we used to do was usually have the DM have a perma-npc, a pseudo permanent party member, essentially. This was due to lack of players and need for more classes. I told them none of that this time. If no one wants to play a cleric, I'm not, so you're without healing.

And without healing they were. Pete rolled up a druid, Kurt a thief, Mike a fighter, and Michelle a Ranger. To say their initial attack on the Moathouse was difficult would be an understatement. They were jumping into combats not knowing the rules, spells, skills, feats or combat movement types very well Neither did I, but we learned as we went along.

On their first trip to the MH, they took Spugnoir, an aspiring 2nd level wizard. They cleared some rooms on the upper level, then went back to town to rest. On their second trip back, Spugnoir (Spooge More, as he has been named) decided not to go with them. That's because he was a spy for the MH. He greeted the party with a full compliment of gnolls at the front gate, ambush style. The ranger nearly bit it, and the group was in trouble. Also with him was Furnok the card cheat, who Mike's fighter caught cheating at cards, and threw out of the tavern on his ass. Spugnoir used that to his advantage to recruit some help for payback. It was a rough fight, but the pc's won, barely, and Spugnoir and Furnok got away thru the secret door.

The party healed up as well as they could and decided to go find the back door entrance thru a cave, which they heard about in town. They found it ridiculously fast due to excellent skill rolls. Now they're sneaking in the back door. Lareth and crew is not stupid though. They lowered the portcullis and dumped a gallon of oil on the side of it the pc's would be trying to lift if from, with a bugbear on the other side with a flaming torch in hand. That meant the pc's could only really come in from one side (I ruled that the secret entrance thru ghoul territory was not known to Lareth.)

So, down the long tunnel they cautiously came. There are two doors at the end, one to the N and one to the W. They quickly pop open the west one, and see a bunch of bugbears with missile weapons. The bugbears blow the horn as the pc's slam shut the door. A similar move with the door to the north shows that it is packed with over 15 mercenaries, with missile and melee weapons at the ready.

Knowing how deadly combats are now, they shy away from the direct assault and wait for the bad guys to come at them. Why the fuck would they is my answer. Give up a good secure position to fight just four men who have proven themselves capable of taking on forces larger than them? Please. The pc's waited in the hall for like 30 minutes before they realized that nope, this fight ain't gonna happen.

They decide to go back to town and make a big show of leaving town for the war to the north, telling the villagers that they are thru with the MH. It was meant to be a big show to convince whatever spies there may be in town that they are really leaving. In the meantime they hoped that the MH people would relax their guard and that they would be able to sneak in.

Now for some background on the setting and motivations of the big players in the area: I've chosen to locate this in Greyhawk, during the Greyhawk wars. That means currently Iuz' forces just cut thru the shield lands like a hot knife thru butter. They are threatening Furyondy. Verbobonc, allied with Veluny, who is allied with Furyondy, just had a troop conscription at the spring time festival which just occurred. Hommlett is relatively unprotected.

Iuz and Lloth are working together as allies, or as allied as any two demons can be. They send Lareth down to the area to raid and loot and cause some chaos down here, so as to distract some military attaention from the north to the south. Also, if he is successful enough, he ought to be able to get enough forces to then go back to the TOEE and use it as a power base in the area.

Whatg Iuz doesn't know is that Lloth is making a move to secure her own power base down there. Lareth is loyal to her. Also, she has two people in the temple on Level 3, a mage and an assassin, who have discovered the Golden Skull.

A bit about the history of the skull, including what I added to make the module make more sense, fit the bigger picture, and change shit up enough that its new to some of the players who remember bits and pieces of the original adventure:

Iuz and Zuggtmoy set up the TOEE as a way to funnel the energy of those worshiping the evil elemental gods to themselves. They did this via the Skull. Once all gems were inserted, it was able to channel the energy of prayer and devotion from one thing to another. Of course, that meant that whoever created the Skull needed to channel some of their own energy into it. As a result of this investment, whoever holds the skull cannot be harmed by either of the creators of the Skull. This makes the skull a potent weapon indeed. The other benefit of the skull is that the more you use it, the more dark charisma you attain.

Lloth wanted Lareth to use the Skull to increase his already formidable Charisma to godlike levels thru use of the skull, so he could pose a threat even to Iuz himself. While holding the Skull, Iuz would not be able to harm him. When the assassin and mage found the Skull, Lloth was able to bribe them well enough not to tell Iuz of it, even though they worked for both Lloth and Iuz.

Anyhow, tho Lloth has high hopes for Lareth, he has to prove himself worthy of it first. It's just the dog eat dog way of chaotic evil. So she sent him to the MH area to raid and grow in power.

That being said, Lareth knows the jig is up once the party leaves, and taking a lesson from all the great generals of the past, he decides to move and move fast, so he is not where his enemies expect him to be. Once the pc's leave, he abandons the MH and goes to Nulb, the evil pirate city. He approaches in force, so he is not messed with. He uses his potent charisma, along with Spugnoir's charm person and suggestion spells to convince the major players to join with him and his cause. In a relatively short time, he basically rules the place, thru force and persuasion.

Meanwhile, the pc's do a big loop around, taking a day or two, and head back to the MH. They discover it abandoned completely. They track Lareth's men, and note that he seems to be headed to Nulb. They decide to head to Verbobonc to get better weapons and gear than Hommlett can provide.

This gives Lareth enough time to consolidate his base, and do the purge. Basically he and the mage had been going about town, detecting good all over the place, noting who may be a spy, or one they needed to kill.

The pc's arrive back in Hommlett just as Otis the ranger spy is coming back to town, carrying old mother Scrang, who was actually the Cannoness Y'Day in disguise, the head cleric of the church of St. Cuthbert in Hommlett. Their cover was blown in Nulb and they tell the tale of many killed and raised as zombies, others enslaved, as Lareth solidified his hold on the town. They jumped him in his sleep, he was able to get out with the dagger he held at his side, and Y'Day. Unfortunately, in order to get the pirates in league with him, Lareth had to promise them slaves. Y'day's daughter, who was also Otis' companion and lover, was taken into slavery. (This is me setting up the party for the Slavelords adventure in advance.) Otis and Elmo gear up and head out in search of her.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that Burne and Rufus are dead? Seems the Scarlet Brotherhood decided to simultaneously attack across the Flanaess, killing any people in positions of power they could find. This is as per what happened in the the Greyhawk Wars book, modified a bit to affect Hommlett as well. Thing is, no one knows its the brotherhood who did it. Yet.

Anyhow, this is the scene the pc's coma back to. Any idea that they were going to do a neat simple adventure of kick the door down and kill the bad guys and take their stuff is really gone at this point. And they seem to love it.

They make plans to go to Nulb, to see what they can see, and try to take out Lareth. After making detailed plans for the assault, picking out likely places on the map Otis gave them as to where Lareth might be housing his forces and where he might be holed up, they arrive in Nulb to find it deserted. Lareth figures he finally has enough men to go to the TOEE and cause some real havoc.

They track they trail of over 100 men and humanoids, as well as over 100 slaves, thru the forest, until they come upon the break in the trail that leads to the TOEE. (I moved it from where it was to put it in the Gnarley bit.)

The ranger and thief sneak up to the temple, about a mile ahead of the rest of the group, for some recon. They note the layout of the upper structure, and see that Lareth has taken up residence within the walls somewhere with about 200 people and humanoids, half of which appear to be slaves who are beginning work reconstructing the walls.

They had a shot at taking Spugnoir out, or as captive, but pussied out and didn't take it.

They go back to the rest of the group, tell them the deal, and the group decides they will sneak in at night and try to get at Lareth if they can.

Thru some ridiculously great sneak rolls and good decisions and planning, the party manages to gain the walls, kill some of the guards in the area, and enter the main grounds. At this point I should note that the party felt the need for some more potent healing, so my brother rolled up a cleric. Another player, Kurt who had the thief, decided between games that he would roll up a wizard too. I was going to introduce him thru a side adventure, provided by the Spugnoir bait I dangled in front of the group. When they didn't take the bait, it flushed any ideas of how the night might go right down the shitter.

Anyhow, the party is sneaking up to the cathedral from the back side, thinking Lareth must be inside, since it's the most imposing building. They are approached by the half orc with a big fucking axe, who is on guard patrolling the place. The thief, speaking orc, steps out of the shadows while the rest of the party remains hidden to talk to the HO. The HO was mumbling something about killing Spugnoir in various painful ways, so he though he had something in common to talk about.

This was my way of introducing Kurt's new pc. He had no idea how I would do it, so wasn't sure if the HO was his guy or not. It was fucking hilarious, as I'm playing the guy in a way that may lead to a fight between the pc's and him, thus blowing a new pc, by the same guy who ostensibly runs that pc. Eventually they came to a common decision, a joint plan and temp alliance: Let's kill Spugnoir, get the HO's spell book back from him, try to kill Lareth if they can, and blow this place.

They find out from the HO, now played again by Kurt after I divulge this info, which tent is Spugnoir's and where Lareth is held. Since they were already in disguises taken from the uniforms of dead guards, they decided to just walk thru the camp. More lucky rolls, and they get to Spugnoir's tent. Two go in, get the info from him about Lareth's plans to send Spugnoir to a town far to the west of Hommlett to help a couple dozen of his best men in raids in an area far from the Temple, for distraction purposes, as Lareth builds a power base and alliances here. Leaving Spugnoir's strangled corpse, the party knows also that Lareth is in the guard tower in the top right corner. Scoping it out, they see that he has a couple guards at the door, with the camp surrounding the area, and a guard on top of the tower.

Two well placed and failed save Charm Person spells get the pc's entrance to Lareth's lair.

Now the DM decides to roll for what they are going to encounter. Random chances for: Are there guards inside? Is Lareth there? Is he alone? Is he awake? Did he hear anything? Are their traps and alarms set up? The rolls determined all these answers turns out to be in the party's favor. Amazingly. When it comes to stuff like this, I like to roll, so it doesn't look like I am railroading to the players, and so that I keep myself honest.

Anyhow, a silence spell is cast on Lareth's bedroom, as the parties burst into it with a couple continual light spells as the fighter and the thief hack the shit out of Lareth in his sleep. They kill his ass dead.

I was as shocked as they were at how it turned out, but hey, the dice determine the game. It's my job to deal with the consequences.

They got out with the treasure, the skull, and their lives, and plan to go to the town where Lareth's men are set up, far to the west of Hommlett to deal with them. Their thought is that if Lareth is dead, his army will fall apart without its charismatic leader, and then can come back to the TOEE on their own time to investigate it.

Before he left my brother had his pc draw the symbol of Iuz in Lareth's blood on the wall and floor of the place. He did it to make people think Iuz was involved in some way, to further demoralize them, as none of the common troops know this is an Iuz/Lloth joint expedition.

After, they head off to the mining town with Lareth's men in it to mop the place up.

Here's what they don’t know, and what's going to happen while they are spending a couple weeks doing that.

Know a good way to get Iuz' attention? Draw his holy symbol all over the walls with the still warm blood of his follower. His attention thus gained, he appears to see wtf is up. Yes, he appears. Surprisingly to me, in reading the TOEE it says that the big guy drops into the TOEE from time to time to shoot the shit with the leaders of the Greater Temple, give advice, and so forth. Whoulda thunk it.

His attention drawn to the area, he scries, sees whats up, appears in person, tortures (to death once he finds out the Lloth betrayal and the fact that they had the Skull) the mage and the assassin.

He decides not to tell Lloth that he knew of the Skull deception, planning to use that knowledge at a later date, letting her wonder where the skull went. In the meantime, the skull is a great weakness of his, that he thought was lost forever but is now let loose in the world. He goes to the lower area of the TOEE, the Greater Temple (who always knew of the Iuz/Zuggtmoy deception), and tells Haderach that the time is now for the Temple to inflict chaos and destruction across the land. Also, he tells him that he wants the skull found at all costs, as well as the gemstones.

The Air Temple is ordered to take over the Moathouse and rebuild it, raiding from it. The Water Temple is to take over Nulb. The fire Temple is to attack and destroy Hommlett. The Earth Temple will work with the Greater Temple forces to restore the walls and clear the land around the Temple of Elemental Evil itself.

This serves the dual purpose of causing enough chaos and destruction to the south that significant forces will have to be deployed to deal with it, that it will weaken the war effort to the north. Which suits Iuz just fine, as he is planning to assault the capital city of Furyondy in the near future. Plus, he is having his forces hunt down the Skull while they are out there.

All this is going on in the background as the party heads out to kill off the equivalent of the Cowboys from the Tombstone movie (the Val Kilmer one, not the shittier versions).

We'll be playing in two weeks. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Different Way of Looking at Kickstarters

I was reading Mongoose's state of the union year end report, and the owner of the company mentioned that he has started handling a lot of work through freelance writers.  He selects people who love the product they are writing for and who have proven themselves as writers.  This way he can get the best talent available without having to pay them enough to quit their day jobs.  The result is that he gets excellent work product, but the drawback is that it's sometimes late, because of life and full time jobs and everything else associated with hiring freelancers.  But he hires the best, so he know that the product will be delivered.

It struck me that when we back a Kickstarter we are in effect acting as a company owner, hiring freelancers to produce a product for us.  I know all that garbage people say about patronage, and it might not come to pass, blah blah.  The truth is that 99% of us use Kickstarters as a pre-order of what is promised in the promotional materials.  It's just how we view it, right or wrong.  That's why we get pissed when something we pre-order never gets delivered.

The issues of Kickstarter late delivery come about because unlike Mongoose, we very often hire our Kickstarter freelancers without any consideration as to a proven track record.  Most of the time we have no clue who these people are.  For all we know they may be failed freelancers, not hire-able by any reputable company. 

I backed just a couple Kickstarters anyhow, so it's not a big deal to me.  But for you guys who back an ass-ton of them, you may want to research the freelancers you're hiring to develop your company's product.  People like Monte Cook and James Raggi will always deliver, of that I have no doubt.  But how about the other freelancers you hired?