Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Knife's Edge Charm

The charm maker inscribes this basswood disk with symbols of healing and speaks words of magic over it as she carves.  The charm radiates magic faintly if a “detect magic” spell is cast upon it.  When applied to a mortal wound, this charm will keep the person alive for a brief time.  The wound will still be fatal if healing, magical or otherwise, is not forthcoming.  The charm only provides a bit of extra time for the injured.  This charm does not work on poison, disease, life draining powers of the undead or injuries that produce instant death and cannot be healed such as decapitation. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Convention Report: Total Confusion 27

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to make it to Total Confusion 27.  I was uncertain whether I'd be able to attend.  Due to that, I didn't submit any events to run.  Maybe next year, I'll be back in the GM's seat for the con. I've been going to TC long enough now that I'm getting to know some guys that like the same games I do.  It was good to see them and hang out and play games.

I arrived on Saturday morning bright and early.  It only took the con staff about 10 seconds to give me my badge and the tickets for games I had pre-registered back in January. I played in a game called Giant Monster Smash! This was a custom miniatures game featuring the Tokyo smashing giant radioactive monsters. The battles were resolved using a simplified version of the combat system from Champions RPG. Players scored points for smashing buildings and attacking the other monsters.  The board had enough space for 18 players to crowd around.  The referee did a good job of setting the game up.  It was easy to learn and the combat interesting.  The only downside was that the rounds took quite a while to get through.  The fix here is probably just limiting the number of players to ten.  There was a lot of sitting around and the younger boys that were playing became bored very quickly.

After lunch, I had a good time with Frank Mentzer.  He ran his recently published adventure "The Quondam Fount."  It took us a while to figure out how to get into the entrance of the dungeon.  Eventually, we managed to get into the dungeon and fought some nasty little water creatures.  The party struggled to figure out how to maneuver through the difficult surroundings.  Near the end of the session we lost a character and I think if we'd gone much further into the dungeon we'd have had more casualties.

Saturday evening, I played in a very fun session featuring an old Judges Guild adventure "The House on the Hill" with  DM Ken Marin.  Everyone had a lot of fun with this one and we managed to kill the baddie that was threatening the ostensible "town at the bottom of the hill".  Ken did something I'd not seen in a con game before and liked quite a bit.  He introduced a slight random element by having us roll for magic items from the advanced party creation appendix in the DMG.  Second, he gave us 20,000 gp to buy potions, scrolls and other magic items from a list he handed out to the party.  We spent a bit of time getting this put together before going off on the adventure.

Generally, I don't like doing this sort of thing of in a convention game.  Since convention games are one shot adventures I like to get adventuring as fast as possible.  I liked that we were able to make some choices for ourselves rather than having the GM decide what we needed.  Later in the session we had some options that proved to be helpful in defeating the big bad guy. I think I'm going to implement something like this for my con games in the future.  Great job Ken!'

Sunday was a chill day.  The schedule was more or less devoid of RPG's I was interested in.  I think, I'll schedule myself to run a few Sunday games next year.  It was OK though because I played Ticket To Ride with Frank Mentzer and Tim Kask.  Frank likes to play the game on Sundays at conventions.  He used to play it with Gary Gygax on the Sunday mornings of the various conventions they both attended before Gary passed away.  It's become a thing Frank does in memory of Gary.   I got my clock cleaned in Ticket to Ride, by the way.  Right before I was about to tie up my big transcontinental ticket, Frank snagged the last route into Portland.  That hit me for thirty points that I didn't recover from.

The attendance at Total Confusion has been growing steadily for the last few years. That trend held for TC 27.  All the rooms in the hotel were filled on Friday and Saturday.  I was told that there was good attendance on Thursday night of the convention, which is not usual for a convention of this size.  TC is developing into a great event for old schoolers.  Besides the great GM's putting together events, several notable old school publishers were present.  Michael Curtis ran several games.  Jeff Talanian was here running sold out sessions of his Astounding Swordsman and Sorcerers of Hyperborea game.  James Carpio of Chapter 13 Press was running his adventures using Dungeon Crawl Classics. As previously mentioned, we had Frank Mentzer and Tim Kask running games.  Eldritch Ent. sold quite a bit of product at the con. Jayson Elliot of Gygax Magazine also had a table in the dealer's room.  It looked like he did a fair bit of trade.  David Prata, editor for AS&SoH (hows that for an acronym!) ran a marathon session of AD&D that went at least 11 hours and had six players that hung in for the duration of the game.

The convention has a room with four tables running old school games all weekend.  Last year, there were two or three games going on most of the time with sold attendance.  This year, all four tables were going plus several in the general RPG area.  On Saturday Night it was a packed house.  I'm looking forward to finding out what next year brings.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Time Spent Preparing Things Your Players Don't See is Not Wasted

I have read various bloggers who state something to the effect that if the players in their game don't go do a particular thing that the GM has prepared then that prep time is wasted.  I disagree, for two reasons.

First. The players may come back to that thing in a later session or you may be able to recycle that thing for another campaign.

Second: You only get better at doing a thing by doing it.  You get even better at doing a thing by attending to your errors, fixing the mistake and repeatedly practicing the corrected activity.  This is what musicians, artists, athletes and craftsmen do every day.  They do a thing and mess it up.  They look where it was messed up, figure out why and then do it again.  They may produce hundreds of drawings that you never see.  Hundreds of songs you never hear.  Dozens of sculptures that are never displayed.  Likewise, I do not consider scenarios written by DM's that players never experience as wasted.

By prepping material, you are practicing and improving your design skills.  When players ignore or bypass material that you've prepped.  You can ask yourself:  Why did they ignore that?  How can I be more efficient with my preparation?  What can I do to improve the hook?  What does this indicate about what sorts of activities the characters are motivated to do?

You can analyze what is going on in your campaign, with your own DMing skills, what your players are interested in and a lot more by asking questions about what the players did not do as much as you can by thinking about what the players did do.

Prep time is never wasted.  You can be more efficient and effective at prepping but the act itself is never wasted.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Challenges for Low Level Characters: The Iditarod Scenario

In 1925 Nome, Alaska suffered from  a diphtheria outbreak that threatened to cause a considerable number of deaths.  Due to the winter weather, the only reliable method to deliver the diphtheria serum was for mushers and their dogs to make the trip on the Iditarod trail.  Several mushers passed the serum in a relay up the trail, through extreme weather and dangerous conditions.   The serum was delivered and disaster averted.  Several of the mushers and their lead dogs were hailed as heros and traveled the country showing off their animal companions.

Many old school games take place in a wilderness or on the edges of it.  This set up give the DM a number of potential scenarios that give your players a break from the dungeon and give you a chance to turn the PC's into local heroes and celebrities.    The borderlands town has been all but shut down by disease.  A curative is available but someone has to bring it to the town.  The trip to deliver the medicine will be difficult and dangerous.  The people will die if the adventurers fail.

Ways to challenge characters as they travel:

Difficult terrain: Some terrain requires lots of extra gear or special gear, climbing/dex checks, special animals to travel (sled dogs) and so forth. extra water (desert)… you can use a special mechanic to deal damage to players, slow their rate of travel due to exhaustion or equipment failure.

Difficult weather:   The characters may need to buy warmer cloths, tents, extra furs or fabric impregnated with bee wax just to stay alive let alone accomplish the mission.  During the serum run, several mushers had frostbite and hypothermia.  A number of dogs died.  The temperatures were as cold as -70 F and the wind cut visibility to the point that the musher couldn't see the dogs.  Managing resources and henchmen could be the difference between life and death for the party.

Difficult people:  Could be that bandits and highway men have an interest or even a need for healing for their own people, exorbitant tolls by local lords, rival adventuring parties trying to take the mcguffin to claim the reward and glory for themselves or large bands of refugees fleeing from the disaster may get in the way and slow down progress.  

Monsters: Maybe the reason why adventurers are the only people who can get to the town is because the town so far out in the boonies that you have to pass a gauntlet of monsters trying to eat you.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Are You Confident?

There are many ways that you can challenge a party of low level adventurers without resorting to dire rats and centipedes.  One of those is using a con to relieve the PC's of some of their hard earned gp.

Adventurers, by nature, are greedy. The easiest mark in the world is a greedy one.  Offer something valuable to lure them in and there are many ways you can close that trap. My favorite way to run a con is with a mid level magic user NPC.  There are a number of low level magic user spells that could be utilized to make a con more effective.  From the AD&D magic user lists there are:  Nystul's Magic Aura, Friends, Fool's Gold, Charm Person and Forget.  If your antagonist is a 5th level MU, she could have Phantasmal Force and Suggestion.  Throw in a useful magic device, say a Hat of Disguise and you've got a very effective con man.  The AD&D illusionist have some fun spells for this application.  You might even say the illusionist, as a class, is built as a magical con man.

Be careful using the confidence scheme as an adventure seed. You can annoy your players with this.   The occasional scam that robs them of a minor resource, complicates their situation or puts them in danger can be a lot of fun for everyone.  If you are not careful the player's will feel like you've scammed them unfairly.  The key is to make sure to have several points where the PC's can avoid the con.  Give them clues that what they are seeing is a con.  Make the proffered bait too good to be true, make something about the grifter just a little off, the grifter is desperate so he sweats a lot.

The con is a tool in the DM's bag of tricks that you can put to these and many other uses:

-Providing clues to the activities of a larger or more powerful organization.
-Introducing a villain or group of villains.
-Putting the characters in a situation where they need to get a lot of coin fast.
-Putting the characters in a situation where they owe someone powerful a favor.
-A random city encounter.

Here is a simple con you can run on your players.  They will need to have just come from a successful adventure and have plenty of coin to spend. The basic idea is that you offer them a way to make a lot of money fast without much work and a minor amount of financial risk to themselves.  Its a simple investment scheme.  You sell them a worthless object that they think is valuable and don't figure out is a fake until afterwards. 

A well dressed fellow walks into an inn frequented by adventurers and other types of folks with lots of coin to spend.  He's carrying what appears to be a beautiful and probably magic sword.  The man is a 5th level MU who has hired or charmed a weapon smith into dressing up an average sword to make it look like something special.  The wizard has used various spells like "fools gold" spell to make cheap mountings on the scabbard look like awesome ones and has disguised himself using a magic device of some sort.  A wealthy merchant known for buying magic items or weapons is in the common room eating his meal already.  The merchant immediately approaches the wizard, offers to make amends for his previous insult and wants to buy the sword at a fair price agreeable to the wizard.  The wizard refuses, he makes it clear that he does intend to sell the item but will not, under any circumstances sell it to that merchant.  The merchant pleads and begs.  He offers a considerable amount of money for the object and the wizard again refuses.  Earlier in the day, the wizard used the third level spell "suggestion" to plant the urge to buy the sword because the merchant could get a fabulous return at resale.  The merchant makes such a fuss, the inn keeper throws him out.  

The PC's witness this event and if they ignore it, it is just a colorful encounter at an inn.  This may pique their interest and cause them to ask about the sword and perhaps try to purchase it themselves.  You can make up whatever story you want about the sword.  The wizard will weave a fabulous tale about how  it was the famed sword of the hero who slew the horrible dragon that would have consumed the town but with a single mighty blow struck off the head of the dragon, blah blah.  Talk it up. This can be a great way to pass on a rumor or confirm a rumor the party has already heard.  The sword being described actually exists and it exists in the place the wizard says it came from.  The wizard's story is that some adventurers cleaned out a dungeon/tomb etc. and one of them rolled badly on the carousing table loosing this particular item in a dice game with the wizard.  Obviously, no one has cleaned out the dungeon and the wizard didn't win it in the dice game, he doctored it up.  The sword looks like the real deal, that can be researched by consulting the sage on the other side of town and that guy even has a drawing of it. 

The wizard makes it clear he wants to sell it and the PC's might get it for cheap. He might even sell it just to spite the merchant. The wizard says he took the sword into the shop and the greedy merchant offered such a low ball price that the wizard was insulted.  The merchant seeing his error tried to recant, but a wizard mush have his dignity after all and refuses to sell to the merchant.  If the players check out the story with the merchant, who is hovering around outside the inn waiting for the wizard to come out, he will confirm the truth of the story.

Again, play up the too good to be true thing.  If the players haven't taken the bait at this point, you can up the stakes a bit by giving the wizard a pretext to leave the room (he has to use the privy, pay his tab etc.)  Not long after the wizard leaves, the merchant sneaks back in but finding the wizard gone looks around the room.  He sees the PC's and looks suddenly happy like he has gotten a great idea.  He offers the PC's a deal.  The PC's buy the sword, and whatever they pay for the sword- the merchant will double the price.  The party gets a nice profit and the merchant gets the sword.  If the party wants him to kick in a bigger price, the guy will haggle with the party.

The wizard returns and appears to be getting ready to leave.  He has his gear and staff.  If the PC's don't approach him, The wizard will ask the PC's straight out if they would like to buy the sword.  He's in a hurry to meet someone in another city and needs the coin.  He knows what the sword is worth but because he's in hurry he'll take less for it since he doesn't have the time to find a buyer who will pay its full value.  Because he didn't have a lot in it to begin with and he's an honest fellow, he'll give the player's a fantastic deal.  He appears to be very up front.  He'll answer any questions the party asks about it, elaborate on the made up story of how he got it, what it does and how much its worth if they take the time to find the right buyer.  If the party try to test the blade, the subterfuge won't last and the jig is up for the wizard.  Your party may react to that in a number of ways so you'll want to have an escape plan for the wizard.

If they buy the sword, the con man takes the coin and leaves town as fast as he can or changes his disguise to throw the PC's off the scent.  The wizard, is of course not going where he said he was going. If the party sell the sword to the merchant, he pays them the agreed amount.  If they hang on to it and test it out, it proves to be a forgery. Not long after the merchant buys the sword, he to figures out he's been swindled and things start getting interesting…   Maybe the merchant is a frontman for the local thieves guild and when they find out the party sold them a fake, they don't like it very much.  The merchant may go to the local powers that be and file a complaint.  The constable, of course, is not buying the story and the party have to perform some community service to get off the hook.  That community service just happens to be helping the constable deal with some problem that is out of his wheelhouse and you know have a new adventure in place for the players to go on, in addition to a new NPC they've become acquainted with and all kinds of directions you can take it from there.  

There are a few contingencies you may want to plan for.  The PC's figure the scam out before the net closes and get angry at the con man.  They may reply with violence or magic of their own.  You know your players and how they would likely act in this situation.  The way I would play it is that the magic user/con man just bugs out at the first sign that his con has been busted. Your players may do something that brings them on the wrong side of the law. Maybe they go, "What a good idea," and try to pass off the item in a similar fashion.  Who knows what shenanigans the PC's will pull?

There are a lot of less complex variations of this scam you could pull for smaller amounts of gold.  Sell the players fake potions, fake scrolls etc.  Check out the wiki page for more ideas.