Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For Gold and Glory - Actual Play Report #1

This is the first Actual Play report of one of my Play-by-Post games over on the RPG.net forums. For Gold and Glory is a game I'm running using the Dark Dungeons rules and I chose to run an adventure (and maybe some more later) rather than running a sandbox game. I chose to start with my favorite adventure - The Sunless Citadel, originally published for D&D 3.0. I'm basically converting it on the fly, but 95% of the monsters in the adventure are available in the Dark Dungeons book and the traps are pretty much straight out of the adventure. This campaign started back in September and we've got almost 350 posts so far, with no sign of slowing down any time soon. 

In case you missed it, I fucking love this adventure.
So, first up, here's the initial cast of characters:
Anich Larinson - 1st-level Fighter, played by Phil6294
Rowan Porter - 1st-level Thief, played by m111
Quartz Graystrike - 1st-level Dwarf, played by Sabermane
Penlin the Mighty - 1st-level Magic-User, played by thirdkingdom
Father Suril Troar - 1st-level Cleric, played by CaliberX

The adventurers, a mix of locals and roaming folk, met up in a tavern (how original, right?) in Oakhurst. While most were responding to a call for adventurers needed to take care of a local goblin tribe, Father Suril was a local priest, determined to go out to the fabled Sunless Citadel in search of his nephew, one of a band of adventurers who had gone missing in the Citadel.

A merchant approached the party and revealed the full reasons why Oakhurst put out the call for adventurers - a goblin tribe living in the bowels of the fallen fortress would ransom a single perfect apple once a year. The apple would cure any ailments, though occasionally the goblins would attempt to sell a white, sickly apple instead - where the red apple would bolster whoever ate it, the white apple would steal the life from the poor victim. Another party of adventurers, including the merchant's son and Father Suril's nephew, went into the Citadel over a month prior to the party's arrival and never returned.

Long story short, after much promised reward, the party set off for the Citadel the next morning. After a few hours walking out to the ruined Citadel, with no encounters along the way, the party reached a deep ravine surrounded by broken pillars with a rope leading down. After some debate over what to do, Penlin the Mighty grew tired of waiting, cried "Observe my decisive action as I grow bored of standing about!" and swung down on the rope to a ledge down below, only to be promptly attacked by giant rats. The rest of the party quickly followed, with the notable exception of Father Suril (who preferred to use his sling from above), and two rats were slain and the third fled. Fortunately, despite being bitten, Penlin and Quartz managed to avoid contracting a deadly plague from the rats.

After some minor patching up of wounds later, the party continued down a battered set of stairs from the ledge, leading into a ruined courtyard, beyond which laid the Sunless Citadel itself - a blasted keep that had fallen into the ravine centuries before. Deciding to press forward to the entrance, the group nearly had its first death - Rowan tumbled into a pit trap, bashing his head on the ground and dropping to zero hit points. A fortunately-timed critical save vs. death ray later and he was back up to one hit point.

After pulling Rowan out of the pit (and grabbing some loot from a goblin corpse found within), the party moved on, entering the Citadel. Their first sight was a group of slaughtered goblins, one of which was pinned to the wall with a spear. Moving on from that room, the party killed another giant rat and chose to ignore for the moment a stone door carved with an elaborate dragon.

After that, the group of intrepid adventurers made it to another room with a broken cage, a smoky firepit, and a huddled tiny humanoid covered in rags and weeping - a beleaguered kobold known as Meepo, Keeper of Dragons...

More to come soon! That covers about 150 posts up to the first week of October. We've got another two months and 200 posts to go, and hopefully I'll get that covered here in the next few days. If you guys found this at least a little interesting, please let me know - if not, I'd love to know that too and I'll go back to my other gaming content. Thanks!

Monday, December 9, 2013

XCOM Musings

I've been playing a ton of XCOM: Enemy Within in the last few weeks, so naturally, I've been pondering an XCOM tabletop game. There are two aspects to XCOM: EW - the tactical squad combat and the strategic global management/tech upgrade aspect.

Admit it, you'd buy a game with this art on the book cover. Pic from here.

For the tactical combat, I don't foresee that being too difficult to port over to a tabletop game. There are plenty of games out there that can handle lethal tactical combat. I'm thinking somewhere along the lines of an extremely simplified D&D 4E - something built off the 13th Age system, maybe. The big key here is that it's got to have a level-up system to replicate XCOM ranks and it's got to be absolutely lethal to simulate how often XCOM soldiers are killed. A plus would be quick character creation, for the same reason.

The strategic element could be a little more difficult. In the video game, there's only one player to make all those decisions - in a tabletop game, there are generally going to be at least two (three if you count the GM). There are also a lot of aspects to make decisions about: choosing which abduction mission to go on, tech upgrades, research options, items to buy, what countries to send satellites to, etc. Making these decisions as a group has the potential to be divisive unless there's a clear role for each player. So, I'd call one player the Head Scientist, one the Chief Engineer, one the Strategic Lead, and one the Tactical Lead. Each would get a quarter of XCOM's budget to take actions for their section.

The Head Scientist would make decisions on things like research options, autopsies, and tech upgrades. The Chief Engineer would make decisions on what buildings to add to the base and Foundry upgrades. The Strategic Lead would make decisions regarding satellites and which missions to take on, and the Tactical Lead would make decisions on what equipment to purchase and equip soldiers with, along with choosing which XCOM soldier would be the squad leader on the various missions. This way, every player has a strategic role to play alongside controlling a character during tactical missions.

Options for the four strategic roles could be something like this:
Head Scientist - purchase scientists to shorten research time, choose research projects, and run autopsies and interrogations.
Chief Engineer - hire engineers to speed up Foundry upgrades and build times, build base facilities.
Strategic Lead - purchase satellites, run intel scans searching for Exalt, sell surplus at the Gray Market, make decisions on what missions to take.
Tactical Lead - hire soldiers, purchase equipment, choose squad leaders, choose Officer Training School options.

Now, I realize that this limits the game to four players plus a GM, but I don't really see that as a problem. I'm thinking XCOM would be less of a roleplaying game than it would be just a really good boardgame with a tactical combat module bolted on. It would certainly be possible to add a lot of roleplaying elements into it, what with playing the soldiers as well as the XCOM HQ roles.

I may not make this game, but it's fun to think about. So, what are your thoughts on an XCOM tabletop game? What would you do different?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

All Things Arcane - Arcane Grafts

Grafts are one result of mad wizards trying to magically cross several animals. Grafting is the act of adding body parts, either new or replacements, from other creatures. Golem limbs, giant scorpion tails, chameleon skin, ghoul claws – all are available through grafting.

However, there are downsides to grafts, mainly the chance of not surviving the process. Characters who undergo grafting must succeed on a saving throw vs. death to survive the experience. Characters take a -1 penalty to this saving throw for each graft they already have. In addition, the character takes 2d6 points of damage due to incisions and the arcane solutions needed to graft the new parts. Afterward, healing damage takes place normally, but the character will need to take at least a week of rest for the graft to heal and become fully functional.

Get a few grafts and before you know it, your
character looks like this.
To create a graft, characters need things: an arcane surgeon to perform the graft, someone to be grafted, an acceptable body part to graft, and costly ritual components. The arcane surgeon must be of 7th level or higher and be a Magic-User, Warlock, or Artificer. To obtain body parts suitable for grafting, the arcane surgeon must have access to a specimen of the appropriate type. If the specimen is dead, there is a 1-in-6 chance that the body part is too damaged to use. However, if the specimen is alive, the body part is always useable, though the arcane surgeon will have to remove it, which generally either kills or cripples the specimen. Suitable magic (a hold monster or similar spell) may assist in removing the body part intact. Certain specimens may hold multiple grafts of the same kind – for example, a massive dragon may be able to provide two or three sets of scales for the Dragon Scales graft.

Each graft has an associated cost to perform the ritual. The character or arcane surgeon spends this cost on ritual components – healing solutions, numbing balms, cleaning agents, spell components, etc.


Demon Claw
Specimen: Any demon
Cost: 5,000gp
Effect: A demon claw replaces the character's hand. The character can use the hand as a melee weapon dealing 1d6. On a strike with the claw, the victim takes another 1d6 damage unless they pass a saving throw.

Demon Heart
Specimen: Any demon
Cost: 10,000gp
Effect: A demon heart gives replaces the character's actual heart (requiring a saving throw to avoid death during grafting). It gives the character +2 hit points per HD, a +2 on saving throws vs. magic effects, a reddish cast to their skin, and the character takes half damage from fire. In addition, the character gains an affinity for blood and violence and gains a more volatile temper due to the fiendish influence of the heart.

Dragon Breath Gland
Specimen: Any dragon
Cost: 10,000gp
Effect: A dragon's breath gland gives the character a breath weapon. The shape and type of the breath match that of the dragon specimen. Range is reduced to twenty feet in its largest dimension. The breath weapon can be used three times per day and deals 1d6 damage per HD of the character.

Dragon Scales
Specimen: Any dragon
Cost: 7,500gp
Effect: Dragon scales bond to the character's skin over most of the body. They give the character a -1[+1] bonus to AC and the character takes only half damage of the damage type dealt by the dragon specimen's breath weapon.

Ghoul Claws
Specimen: A ghoul
Cost: 7,500gp
Effect: Ghoul claws replace the character's hand. They allow a character to make a 1d6-damage melee attack, and if the attack's target fails a saving throw, they are paralyzed for 1d6 rounds.

Giant Scorpion Tail
Specimen: A giant scorpion
Cost: 5,000gp
Effect: The scorpion tail is grafted to the end of the character's spine. It allows the character to make a tail attack that deals 1d6 damage and forces a saving throw. A failed saving throw means the target takes half the damage (rounded down, never less than 1) again due to the powerful scorpion venom.

Or maybe even like this.
Giant Squid Tentacle
Specimen: A giant squid
Cost: 5,000gp
Effect: The squid tentacle attaches to the character's shoulder or hip. The tentacle gives the character a tentacle attack that allows the character to grapple an enemy for one round, giving it a -2 penalty to all actions and AC on a successful attack roll.

Golem Arm
Specimen: An iron golem
Cost: 7,500gp
Effect: A golem arm replaces the character's original arm. The arm may be used as a shield and allows the character to make a melee attack equivalent to an attack with a mace. The arm cannot be used both as a weapon and a shield in the same round.

Griffon Wings
Specimen: A griffon
Cost: 10,000gp
Effect: Griffon wings are grafted to the character's back and shoulders. The character may fly at normal speed for a number of minutes per day equal to the character's Constitution score. A heavily-encumbered character cannot fly.

Lizardman Tail
Specimen: A lizardman
Cost: 5,000gp
Effect: The tail is grafted to the character's spine. It gives a character the ability to swim at double their normal speed and a +2 to any saving throws related to balance.

Minotaur Horns
Specimen: A minotaur
Cost: 5,000gp
Effect: The horns are grafted affixed to the character's skull, giving them a gore attack that deals 1d6+1 damage. A successful attack also knocks an opponent off their feet, if they are the same size or smaller than the character.

Ogre Arm
Specimen: An ogre
Cost: 5,000gp
Effect: The ogre's arm replaces that of the character. The character gains +1 to Strength and adds +1 to damage from melee attacks made with weapons wielded with that arm.

Shark Gills
Specimen: A shark
Cost: 3,000gp
Effect: The shark's gills are implanted into the character's neck. The character can breathe underwater indefinitely. However, the character needs to keep the gills moist – a wet rag wrapped around the neck would work. Dried gills cause intense pain to the character, preventing them from concentrating on difficult tasks such as spellcasting or picking locks.

Shark Teeth
Specimen: A shark
Cost: 2,500gp
Effect: The shark teeth replace the character's original teeth. The character gains a bite attack that deals 1d6 damage to a target. The target must succeed on a saving throw or take half that damage again the next round, due to teeth breaking off in the wound. The character constantly sheds and regrows teeth every few days, and cannot speak clearly enough to cast spells.

Spider Silk Gland
Cost: 3,500gp
Specimen: A giant spider

Effect: The spider's silk glands are implanted into the character's wrists, allowing the character to spin a web (similar to the Web spell) or create thirty feet of silken rope once per day.

GM NOTES: This material hasn't been playtested yet. I was playing XCOM and figured it would be really interesting to modify D&D characters the way XCOM soldiers can get genetic modifications using alien technology. I know that there were graft rules buried somewhere in D&D 3.5, but I wanted something I could use for the old-school games I'm running now. I wrote this up with Swords & Wizardry in mind, but it should work just fine for most, if not all, old-school games. For cost, I just had to wing it - I couldn't find anything about magic item costs in S&W, and I was thinking these are kind of like permanent magic items. So as with anything OSR-related, use at your own risk and feel free to tweak, add new grafts, and please, if you use them at your table, let me know how it went and how the rules worked for you!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Online Gaming - Play-by-Post Edition

I do a lot of gaming via forum posts. Right now, I'm playing in a 13th Age game, a Pathfinder game, and a Dark Dungeons game. I'm also running a Dark Dungeons game and an ACKS game. Over the past few years, I've had a tough time getting offline gaming groups together due to moving around, not knowing many gamers in some of the areas I've lived, and scheduling, so most of my gaming has been done online. I've played probably a dozen games over the past three years and run maybe half a dozen (including the ones I'm running now).

I know there are a lot of gamers who play online, using forums, Google+ hangouts, Roll20, or IRC/other text chat, so I figured I'd write up a few thoughts on the pros and cons of Play-by-Post (PbP) gaming. I'll also post some advice I have for playing PbP games.


1. Preparing for a PbP game isn't as intensive on the GM. You may not have less stuff to do as a PbP GM, but due to the pace of most games, you've got more time to do it. Things take more time in PbP, especially when you may only get one post a day from each player, which gives the GM more time to prepare.
2. It's much, much easier to improvise. Because of the time factor, if the PCs do something unexpected, it's usually totally fine for the GM to sleep on it rather than make an immediate decision. This generally leads to decisions and rulings that are more thought out.
3. No more worries about stopping play to look up a rule. The GM (and generally, all the players) have plenty of time between posts to look up a rule or create a suitable house-rule, in contrast to a face-to-face or real-time online game where you'd have to interrupt play to search through books and PDFs.
4. It's much less time-intensive. As a GM, the longest I've ever spent on a post was thirty minutes for a game-opening post, which I consider to be prep rather than active play. The longest I've spent on an active play post (combat, roleplaying, etc.) was about fifteen minutes where I was responding to multiple players at the same time. As a player, even with combat actions, I haven't spend more than five minutes or so on a post.
5. Scheduling isn't a problem. If all the players and GM have time for one post per day, there's almost no time taken out of everyone's daily schedule. It's much easier than setting aside three or four hours every week for five or six people to get together and play.


1. PbP is slow. Really slow. Like, one combat in Dark Dungeons can take four days to play out. That kind of slow. In a 4E game, one combat can take upwards of a week or so.
2. Player/GM interest can wane rapidly. Between the slow pace and waiting on everyone else to post, it can be really easy for a player or GM to just lose interest in a game. I always take an extra two or so players when I do my game recruiting to combat player drop-out.
3. Games die very easily. Sometimes it's a GM losing interest, sometimes it's multiple players, and sometimes it's something as simple as the GM or a couple players taking a break for a couple days (holidays, vacation, whatever reason) for a game to go on hiatus and just never come back.


Most of my advice for PbP gaming is similar to what I'd give for a regular game, with a couple PbP-specific additions. Remember, this is what works for me and is mostly focused on OSR games. Take it with a grain of salt, your mileage may vary, etc.

1. As a player, get involved. Offer to help keep the game wiki updated, offer to help map dungeons, whatever you need to do to keep interested. The more you invest in a game, the more you'll want to keep playing.
2. Let the GM make all dice rolls. It speeds the game way up and simplifies things, especially for combat. A three- or four-post back and forth discussion between the GM and a player on what dice need rolled, especially for situations where success or failure will lead to another roll, is much more time-consuming than a player including a request for a die roll in their post and the GM making that roll and any related rolls and including the results of the roll(s) in their next post.
3. Give out XP boosts. For OSR games, give out a lot of XP. Advancement in certain games takes a really long time, and in PbP, that time is even longer. To mitigate that, give out extra XP, either through story awards (The party helped the kobolds achieve a common goal instead of murdering them? Here's some extra XP!) or reaching certain goals (The group survived the dragon attack with no deaths? Everyone gets a 10% bonus on XP for that encounter.).
4. For GMs, either keep your posts short or format details using a list. People generally aren't going to want to read big blocks of text to try to find what's fluff and what's actually relevant detail. Instead of working details into a paragraph, put them in a list to make them immediately stand out and so the players know it's relevant information.
5. Have separate In-Character and Out-of-Character threads. IC threads are used for in-game roleplaying and relevant rolls. Out-of-Character threads are for anything else - metagame discussions, character build advice (if your game has character builds), brainstorming, etc.