Sunday, January 14, 2018

Campaign Journal: World of Prime #2

Humble Beginnings (Continued)

The party decides to deal with the hobgoblins first, as a stepping stone to the rank necessary to take on the Wild Lord. They track the horde through the grass while the trail is still (relatively) fresh and find a dilapidated village, taking their new bestest buddy Par the Archer with them because they don't trust leaving him behind with the mules and the food. And this despite the fact the ghost Tyvek now heals Par. If that's not a stamp of approval/alignment change, what is?

Hiding in the grass on a rise about 500 yards away, they spend an inordinate amount of time discussing tactics, torn between a full frontal assault during the day while the hobbos are Dazzled, or waiting to ambush their hunting parties at night. Finally they decide on the latter, or perhaps they just argue so long the sun goes down and they don't have a choice.

And thus we see a D&D trope seamlessly blended into the narrative. The Side Quest is a staple of the DM's art, but in this case the players chose it themselves. Making XP a concrete quantity that the players control puts them in charge of the pacing.

The party is a bit disconcerted to discover that the hobgoblins, who sleep during the day and hunt during the night, use no light. It's hard to spy on a village at 500 yards at night when the village doesn't so much as strike a match. Still, they hold their course, and eventually a hunting group wanders out to their position.

The ranger and barbarian move to flank; the ranger (who has the worst luck with the dice) totally gives away their position. Par stands up and shoots a hobbo with his longbow, the group's only missile weapon. Most everybody else throws rocks and javelins, save for the wizard who lights a couple of torches. As usual, the bard is the only one who inflicts any real damage, killing another hobbo with a rock. Why does this guy even want a weapon?

The hobgoblins respond with a shower of javelins, knocking Par out of the fight. Melee is joined; the hobbos lose, of course, but give a good accounting of themselves. After three or four rounds it's all over, and the party belatedly realizes that lighting torches in the plains in the middle of the night gives your location away to everything within ten miles. They snuff the torches, and after only a lengthy discussion, decide to retreat.

The next day they head back to the village, simultaneously emboldened by their victory and worried over how much damage they had suffered. They notice that the central fire pit of the village contains a large chunk of roasted meat. While trying to get close enough to determine what it is, they are discovered; the hobbos marshal for war, forming into four squads, and advance at a measured pace.

The party falls back slowly, letting Par fire into the oncoming formations. Because the hobbos move slower than the party, the archer gets off all 19 remaining arrows, killing ten hobbos. The rest charge through the party's final javelin assault (again, only the bard does any real damage) and melee is joined.

My squad rules makes the hobbos less dangerous, in that I don't have to roll thirty attacks per turn, but also frustrates the players a bit as the hobbo squads are harder to hit now that they are helping each other out. A classic battle line is formed, with the players strategically retreating their wounded to prevent fatalities, but then the wounded step back up, realizing that if they get knocked out the party can probably save them with a Cure Minor Wounds spell - but only if the party wins. Things could have gone either way, but the party is sporting several short-swords now, and Par's arrows hurt a lot more than I realized. One of the hobbo squads is reduced to two figures; they break out of squad formation and attack as individuals, only to get immediately murderized, and the party rolls up the hobbo line from the flank in true battlefield style.

To their credit the party had carried on a long discussion of whether or not to murder the hobgoblin's children. To their relief, there are none; the village had fallen on hard times and was not capable of spawning (goblins lay eggs, which they treat more as commodities than as children, not that the party knows that). The village yields little treasure, just ten rabbit skins and a wicker basket full of throwing rocks. The meat on the spit turns out to be the remains of the hobgoblins they killed the night before. Meat is definitely not back on the menu.

The next day they are lounging around outside their cave when three bandits come out of the woods, shouting for Par. They have been sent to rescue Par and his fellow, who had been sent out hunting a few days ago. Par suggests turning the men to their side; the bard comes up with the perfect line to open negotiations: "Are you hungry, boys?" An easy die roll later, three more hirelings are stuffing their faces with salted pork and porridge, made extra delicious by a Prestidigitation spell.

Now they have more information about their foe. Boros is down to a few days of supplies; he will soon lead a raid on a village for more. Some members of the party (you know who you are!) think this is an excellent opportunity; they'll wait for Boros to leave, occupy the keep, and surprise him on his return. Other members note that this will allow innocent villagers to suffer, which is not really acceptable for Team Good. The druid appropriates the wicker basket of rocks, turning it into a rattan shield with his Survival skills, and then gives it to the barbarian. Hey, it's a +1 to AC, so you know, that's something.

They give it another day to see if they can catch anymore of Boros' men out of the keep. My module calls for the remaining five to show up in force, which seemed like a good idea when I wrote it, but doesn't work out now. All five come marching through the woods; they are met by the entire party plus their bandit turncoats armed with pork sandwiches; and now the entire enemy team (save the one unfortunate slain by Tyvek) is working for the party.

They take their new lads back to the cave, feed and rest them, and return the next day to beard the Wild Lord in his den. Boros is not completely stupid; he tries to make use of his fortifications, but most of the party goes around behind the keep to climb in the back window while the bard, the druid, and bandits hang out in front. Boros then makes an extremely poor choice: he charges out to fight.

The bandits are fighting in squads, Par can't get a clear shot, and the rest of the party is still in back of the keep. Things look decent for a whole round. Boros targets his turncoats first, because he's mad at them, and besides they're the ones who look dangerous (some of the party is still fighting with stone weapons). The bandits do some pathetic stabbing, Boros kills one of them, and then everything goes south.

Boros, scourge of the Wild, muffs his rather easy Will save against the druid's Daze spell. He loses a round while the party flanks him. Suddenly the party has figured out how to roll dice; they are flanking, aiding each other, and throwing sixteens all over the place. Boros gets hit hard by the barbarian, among a few other successful attacks.

Next round Boros hits the barbarian, rolls a bit low, and leaves him with one hit point. Then he muffs another easy Will save. More important than the unanswered attacks is the fact that Boros keeps losing his chance to retreat to the keep, where he can at least be protected from flankers.

Combat continues; Boris swings again at the person who hurt him the most, the barbarian, and misses by exactly one. The rattan shield saves the barbarian's life! The party responds with a flurry of attacks and Boros goes down, another BBEG brought low by the action economy.

They cut off his head rather quickly, concerned that he might spring back up again. The tales of how dangerous he was seemed to have stuck with them, despite his poor showing at the end. They are now wealthy beyond their dreams, with enough tael to get everyone to first rank. Much to my surprise, they spend a lot of time talking about how much to share with their new bandit army, even though this would leave one of them below first rank. Unfortunately, they do this out of the hearing of said bandit army, having sent them with Par back to the cave to fetch the mules and supplies to their new headquarters, the keep.

The bandits are not at all impressed with Par's new-found outlook on life. Once at the cave, surrounded by food, and free of any influence by the party, they murder Par, steal everything (except the sword, assuming its curse is what messed up their ex-buddy's head), and run for their lives. The party comes looking for them the next morning, only to find Par's stripped corpse.

Now they face a moral decision: chase the bandits, or go back and take care of the handful of women that Boros had kept imprisoned in the keep to do the bandit's laundry (hey now, we have a pre-teen in our player group). Ultimately they choose justice over mercy and set out after the murderers. The druid's hawk does invaluable service here, telling the party which way to go. The bandits, realizing they are being tracked and that they have no Animal Handling skill, abandon the mules so they can move faster.

The trick works; the party, retrieving their valuable mules and supplies, suddenly loses the appetite for justice (funny how that works). They return to the keep and the prisoners. Old Bob, the crazy hermit who sewed up the bandit's clothes and wounds, says he'll stay in the keep and take his chances in the wild. The three women are escorted to the nearest village on the edge of the county of Edersarr and released with a gold piece each to find their way back to their homes. Not exactly the triumphant return of paladins, but the party is trying to lay low at the moment, still adapting to their new-found identities as nobles.

They spend the night in the local inn, living it up. A whole gold piece for food, drink, and board! This is the high life, at least as peasants conceive it. While they're partying, the bard ferrets out an interesting story about a lake monster snatching a young couple out of the very room they will be sleeping in

You know you've succeeded when a roast chicken and several pints of cheap ale excites your players. 

Despite being ennobled, they are still quite poor, down to their last three gold pieces. They sell off the mules and spend the money on shields, staves, and a spear and a warhammer. Only the barbarian looks the part, wearing the chainmail and masterwork longsword they looted from Boros. Now they're trying to figure out how to make money for equipment, and their finely tuned senses smell an adventure opportunity in the lake. Tune in next time, when we discover that only the barbarian thought to take Swimming as a skill.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Campaign Journal: World of Prime #1

So I finally started a new campaign set in my World of Prime. I'll thought I'd write it up as it goes, because I am sick to death of writing/reading about politics, and besides otherwise I'll totally forget what happened by the next session.

We started with my beginner's adventure (cleverly called Humble Beginnings), which is a bit different than usual. Rather than spend the first session drawing up 1st level characters, the group began as 0th level peasants. They got to pick their father's profession, which gave them 2 points in a craft skill and a single attribute at 12 (with the rest at 10). We had two miners, two farmers, a lumberjack, and a shepherd.

They each got a sheet of paper, wrote down their profession, their bonus attribute, and their name. And then we started playing.

Humble Beginnings

I was a bit rusty - it's been a few years - and I had some trouble getting into the first few NPC characters. Fortunately my players were even rustier (including three total newbs) so they didn't notice.

A group of young people, just a few days or weeks before the age of majority when they will become adults with adult responsibilities and therefore consigned to the bleak, miserable future of serfdom, are standing outside the village tavern, looking disconsolately at the one poor consolation that adult offers. When they turn sixteen they'll be allowed inside, to spend what few copper coins they can scrape together on trying to drink away the meaningless of their short, hard lives.

The worst of it is knowing that when they die, Baron Darcio will harvest their souls to fuel his sorcery. There is no escape from servitude, in this life or the next.

A traveling peddler by the name of Gareth takes a bit of pity on them. He offers them a drink - but not at the tavern's prices. He has a couple of kegs with his mules in the tavern's stable.

The players were instantly suspicious and had a bit of debate about whether they should go into a dark stable with a creepy old man. Kids these days... no respect for their elders.

While they have a drink, Gareth drops a few hints about the wider world. There's Wild Lords out there, making their own fortune, and always eager to hire ambitious lads. It means running away from home and becoming a fugitive, but it also offers a chance to rise up in the world, without Baron Darcio's foot on their heads. He's had a few mules go lame, so if the boys are willing to carry his supplies, he'll put in a good word for them. And if they don't like it, they can come home in a few days. Sure, it'll mean a whipping, but that's a small price to pay for a bit of adventure.

The players very kindly took the adventure hook and ran with it. Otherwise it would have been a pretty dull campaign.

So in the middle of the night they creep out of bed and out of town. They were allowed to take a winter cloak and one item from their homes, without any harm to their families' economic situation: a choice between a) a bag and three torches, b) a knife, c) flint and steel. The stuff of grand adventures! Over the next few days they walk through the wilderness, following the old man's lead.

At this point I asked if anyone wanted to make a Survival check to see if they could mark the way home. The goal was to slowly introduce aspects of the game, such as skill checks. Instead, the players refused. They were all-in; they didn't want to know how to back out. I was very happy to see this level of role-playing from even the newbs so early on.

Also, it became obvious that the party would be playing for Team Good, as no one tried to rob their families blind.

As they're strolling through the forest on the third day, a shower of rocks flies out of the bushes. Gareth, their NPC leader and guide, takes a plot-coupon to the head and drops unconscious, and eight hobgoblins charge out waving stone-tipped spears. A tense and yet hilarious battle ensues, as the party realizes they have no weapons. The shepherd starts picking up rocks and throwing them back with incredible effectiveness, murdering two hobbos in a row. Two characters pull out torches and put that flint and steel to use lighting them. The two with knives draw them and charge into combat. The last one runs over to the unconscious Gareth and takes his shortsword. He starts to toss it to another character, thinks better of it, and just hands it off instead of throwing a sharp piece of steel around.

It's a good combat, what with people getting stabbed, some flanking and maneuvering, flaming hobgoblins, and lots of hunting for rocks to throw. The lumberjack goes down, having fought bravely but futilely - against uncooperative dice the dogs themselves contend in vain. At least he makes his roll to not bleed to death. It looks dicey for a moment, but then several hobbos drop in a single round. The last two try to flee but don't get more than twenty feet.

Hobgoblins on Prime are short, stunted semi-intelligent humanoids, more akin to traditional goblins but less sophisticated. My goblins are a civilized but evil race of medium-sized humanoids known for their stealth and trickery.

They patch up the wounded lumberjack, leaving him at negative HP but conscious (as long as he only takes partial actions). He reasonably suggests they head for the hills in the distance and try to find some high ground to fortify. On the way, he spots a blue gleam in the hills. They toss him on one mule and the unconscious Gareth on another and keep moving - but not before collecting all the hobgoblin heads. Turns out taking a sack was a great idea.

In the World of Prime, players don't get experience points. Instead, they harvest the souls of the dead to fuel the supernatural powers of rank and class. They do this by boiling the brains of sentient creatures for a purple dust called tael.

A storm blows in and it starts getting dark. Hobgoblins in large numbers begin shadowing them a few hundred feet out. The lumberjack directs them towards the blue flash he saw, which leads to a cave mouth. They have a brief discussion, but as more and more hobbos are appearing, they quickly decide they have little choice. The torch-bearers fire up their torches and follow the brave miner inside.

It's a smallish cave, perhaps forty feet across, full of old bones and dust. At the back of the cave a gleaming sword with a blue sapphire is stuck upright in the ground. While most of the peasants are smart enough not to touch anything valuable, knowing they'll just get hung for stealing, the brave miner proves a bit too brave. After some hesitation he reaches for the sword.

At the same time, the hobgoblins make a mad charge for the cave. The sword disappears from under the miner's grasp and reappears in the hands of a ghost at the mouth of the cave. The ghost swings; several hobbos explode and die; the rest run off into the night, howling in fear.

The ghost is Tyvek, a paladin who led his party into this cave years ago, only to fall prey to hobgoblins. He soon realizes he is a ghost, and after a bit of grief, tells the party to help themselves to what is left of his. Which is to say, sufficient tael to advance each party member to the second apprentice rank of a class. The shepherd becomes a bard; the lumberjack goes for ranger; one miner goes for priest and another one for wizard; the brave farmer becomes a barbarian and another chooses druid. He also heals the lumberjack, but declines to heal the comatose Gareth, saying he doesn't play for that team. However, he makes it clear the party cannot murder Gareth, as the man is their sworn leader.

At this low rank they have only the attribute point-buy, weapon proficiency, and skills of their class, but none of the other goodies. There was a pause in the action as we worked all this out. I hadn't succeeded in developing skills on the fly; instead they spent most of their points here. It was all a bit confusing but rather than focus on the details I kept the game moving. After the session I reviewed the character sheets and corrected a few minor details.

In the morning the ghost is gone. The party spends the day exploring and getting a feel for how safe they are; a lucky roll finds the goblin village, though they don't get too close. That night the ghost reappears, but with no memory of the previous night. He goes through the whole ritual of grief and acceptance again, including the part where he refuses to discuss the existence of the sword and his eyes turn red if anyone gets within a few feet of it.

The next day Gareth comes around. He sees the sword and immediately advances on it. The party, having concealed the existence of the ghost and the fact that they now have some apprentice ranks, keeps mum. They want to see what happens.

Much to their surprise, nothing happens. Gareth claims the sword and explains the Wild Lord will pay handsomely for it. But he's still too wounded to travel, so he sits down again to rest.

The party isn't sure what to do next. They absolutely don't trust Gareth, but they haven't got a better plan yet. Most of them go out foraging and exploring; while hunting a rabbit they sneak up on a pair of bandits hunting the same rabbit. To his everlasting credit, the wizard talks everyone into applying diplomacy rather than violence. He and the priest stand up and say "Hi."

A brief conversation ensues, which does not go well, as the two bandits are half-mad with hunger. Violence follows as they argue over who owns the rabbit that no one actually caught. One of the bandits draws a sword and charges; the other fires his bow at the priest and misses. The ranger and barbarian try to sneak into position to attack the archer, fail miserably, and the ranger gets rewarded with an arrow to the shoulder. That guy has no luck at all.

But the party has blossomed, thanks to their apprentice ranks; both bandits go down to one hit each. The party strips them of weapons, armor, and boots; the druid even takes one's clothes. The archer wakes up, being at only 0 HP, and proceeds to pledge his loyalty in exchange for an apple. He's really hungry. He terrifies them with tales of how vindictive his Wild Lord is.

They take their prisoners home to see what Gareth's reaction is. It's as bad as they feared; the vicious Wild Lord that Par the archer tried to threaten them with is the same Wild Lord Gareth has been leading them too. Both Par and Gareth immediately fall to bickering, asserting that the Wild Lord Boros will kill the other one for being such a failure (one for getting captured by peasant boys, the other for not showing up with the supplies). Much swearing and arguing occurs, and the sun starts going down; the party discreetly retreats outside the cave.

As soon as it gets dark, a blue flash explodes in the cave. Par the archer comes running out, screaming for his life, and throws himself at their feet. Eventually the barbarian sneaks back up to the cave mouth (did I mention he was brave? Perhaps foolhardy is a better word). The ghost is there, but he's red now; no one dares approach him any closer. They all sleep under the stars.

In the morning the ghost is gone. Gareth and the unconscious bandit they had left in the cave are scattered around the floor in pieces. The wizard makes his Knowlege: Arcane check and realizes they need to move the sword back to its original place to reset the ghost. Par tells them they're in deep trouble, because the Wild Lord is going to hate them for stealing his supplies; he's come completely over to their side - well, as loyal as a man of his character can be - due to the fact that they have food and apparently a pet ghost.

Now they're plotting their next move. Should they flee into the wilderness? Although they seem rather under-equppied for that. Should they sneak to a different town and try to buy gear? They don't know the way and they don't have a lot of gold. They do have some left-over tael, which represents a fortune, but peasants dealing in tael would be extremely suspicious. Should they attack the goblins? They had been inclined to ignore them, since the hobbos weren't actively hurting their kingdom, but now they think they may need their tael to take on Boros, who absolutely is preying on people from their home. Should they confront Boros now, either with violence or to try and make a deal?

Tune in next month for another thrilling installment!

All in all, the game went quite smoothly, though we only got through half as much adventure as I had expected. Mostly I was worried that the very small scale of the game would make it too boring, given that D&D is often very High Fantasy, but I think the spareness of the process really worked to put them in the role. It's a very sandbox world; I've used my Sandbox World Generator app to map out the entire continent, so they can totally march off in whatever direction they want; but it would be nice to get them to 1st level before they do that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The origins of invisible racism

Another great article in the Atlantic. Not liquid gold like Coates, but comprehensive and compelling.

The Nationalist's Delusion

The basic point is that America is defined by two things: 1) racism, and 2) a commitment to not being labeled racist. This bizarre dynamic apparently started immediately after half of America fought a war to defend toxic racism. The money quote:

As the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, in his 1861 “Cornerstone Speech,” articulated that the principle on which the Confederate States had been founded was the “great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” That principle was echoed by the declarations of secession from almost all of the Southern states.

Sitting in his cell at Fort Warren years later, the rebels defeated and the Confederacy vanquished, Stephens had second thoughts. He insisted in his diary, “The reporter's notes, which were very imperfect, were hastily corrected by me; and were published without further revision and with several glaring errors.” In fact, Stephens wrote, he didn’t like slavery at all.

“My own opinion of slavery, as often expressed, was that if the institution was not the best, or could not be made the best, for both races, looking to the advancement and progress of both, physically and morally, it ought to be abolished,” Stephens wrote. “Great improvements were, however, going on in the condition of blacks in the South … Much greater would have been made, I verily believe, but for outside agitation.”

Stephens had become first in line to the presidency of the Confederacy, an entity founded to defend white people’s right to own black people as chattel. But that didn’t mean he possessed any hostility toward black people, for whom he truly wanted only the best. The real problem was the crooked media, which had taken him out of context.
And we've been hearing that whine for 150+ years.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Kickstarter for Sandbox World Generator

I started a Kickstarter to convert my Sandbox World Generator over to Pathfinder, 5E, and other game systems, by making the races and classes customizable.

Sandbox World Generator for D20

I'm hoping Vin Diesel will fund the stretch goal, and then I can spend the rest of my life writing gaming applications instead of my day job... which happens to be saving the environment.

Probably better for everybody if we just stick with the first goal. Do you hear me, Vin? No donating a million dollars! Even if it is in Aussie money, and therefore merely pocket change for you. Also, more Riddick, please.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The First White President

Ta-Nehisi Coates is on fire here. Epic in scope, eloquence, and truth.

But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies.
The First White President

I only wish I could use the word "eldritch" with such potency.

There is a scene in 12 Angry Men where one of the jurors goes off on a racist rant. The other men freeze him out: they turn away, cross their arms, frown, and refuse to speak to him. That was a model of racial awareness for its day, but the problem is it remained the model.

We passive beneficiaries of white maleness can no longer follow that model. We have to stand up and engage; we have to confront; we have to actively combat. The men in that room should have spoken back. They should have argued, condemned, shouted, and then had the racist thrown off the jury.

We can't tolerate Uncle Bob saying racist things at the Thanksgiving table anymore. We have to speak up: "You're wrong, you're racist, and you have to leave now. And you can't come back until you understand the most important thing of all: you are wrong."

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Portal

OK, it's played for laughs, but man, I wish they made real movies like this:

The Portal

Amazing production values for a short. Makes me remember why I love fantasy.


Ask and ye shall receive!

Riftworld Chronicles

How did I not find out about this until now?

Double edit:

ARGH! It's only the pilot episode. They're still trying to swing a TV deal.

There is a scene in this pilot, involving the classic "hurt comfort" scene and a trash can, that is deeper and more morally significant than anything in TV fantasy outside of Game of Thrones. Other than that, it's mostly tropes and cliches, but the leads are so appealing I don't even care. And that one flash of veritas gives me hope they could do something actually interesting.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Crazy Conspiracy Theory Day

So, on the face of it, Trump's threat to bomb North Korea if it so much as looks at us crosswise seems... weak. A rational person would have put out an obvious and hard deadline, such as actually launching a missile or test, rather than merely looking like you might. A smart person would never have boxed themselves in on a bluff they didn't want to be called on. A mildly competent person would not have promised to start a war over imaginary weapons of mass destruction, particularly after having spent so many years complaining about the last one.

Despite all that, is mere incompetence and narcissistic nilhism really sufficient to explain this latest move? Particularly as it comes on the heels of President Xi of China's visit with Trump, which apparently included an education on Asian geo-politics. (So nice of China to educated our President for free! I'm sure they did it entirely out of the goodness of their hearts, with no ulterior motives at all.) And following the impulsive attack on Syria, it looks doubly suspicious.

Here's my idiot conspiracy theory for the day: Xi put Trump up to it. Now Xi is sending more diplomats to NK to tell them, "The Americans are insane - they might do it! You need our help to defuse the situation." They are playing good cop/bad cop, and they tricked Trump into being the bad cop.

If it works - great! The Chinese get to squeeze NK a little more, peace gets restored, and things go on as before but with China in a better position. If it fails - it is entirely on the USA. Trump either backs down from his empty threat or worse, carries it out. We get either massive collapse of international prestige or an actual war that will kill millions. Either way the USA is made a fool; in all cases China's position is only improved.

This, my friends, is the work of a Great Negotiator.