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Tag Archives: Adventure

Day 3: In which I slowly learn that buying Forgotten Realms is like pissing away money

Day 3: First dungeon you explored as a PC or ran as a DM.
Hmm… my memories here are a bit foggy. I think it was either the first dungeon from the Starter Set or the one from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting box. The first one was nice, the latter taught me that FR is horrible.

No, come to think of it, it was the one from the FR set actually. (from the book on Shadowdale in the boxed set: “Beneath the Twisted Tower”)

The Forgotten Realms seemed to be a good idea at the time. Most of the material that was translated at all was set there, if it wasn’t generic, and the boxed set was one of the first products then-current AD&D publisher Amigo translated into German.

Of course once I actually read the whole thing I noticed what a strangely incoherent place the Realms really were. In my youthful ignorance I thought it might play better than it actually looked on paper, but soon after I noticed that no, sometimes you can’t polish a turd.

I don’t even know anymore what exactly made me think that way, there were so many things wrong with it in many subtle ways. Political systems didn’t fit together, cultures were in weird places in relation to each other, sometimes expies for Earth-cultures were doubled or tripled (how many Egyptian cultures are there actually on Faerun?), and everything was full of overpowered showstealing munchkin NPCs.
I ran the guys through the dungeon in Shadowdale and killed off one of them. Hilarious antics followed.

Well. I don’t know. The problem was that the Realms never clicked with me.
I did buy a few more products afterwards, but never really used them. I suffered from a bit of scarcity-induced gamblers’ fallacy: I already spent so much money on stuff, lets try to buy some more to get something out of it! And the fact that the only things I could get for AD&D were Forgotten Realms things didn’t help.
It never got better though. The Harpers sourcebook showed me that there are even more showstealing NPCs around, the Cult of the Dragon was bland like cottage cheese, only the Guide to the Underdark gave me some ideas for some fancy monster lairs. I think that one was the only one I ever used, and then it was for a campaign set in Mystara.
FR kept on being bland and untinteresting and pointless. Oh, but the computer games were a bit of fun. I played Baldurs Gate and a few of the SSI games.

Hmm… I guess that was not what people want to hear. On the other hand I killed my first PC in that scenario, but that is a story for another day.

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Day 2: Oh no, I created munchkins

Hmm.. I noticed that I might be kind of weird in this blog hop. I actually decided to post all the questions and answers in seperate entries. Most of the other participants just seem to do the whole thing in one batch. Me? I am using this as an excuse to actually post a lot more than I have been doing the last year or so. Small entries might not be so great, but at least I can get them out quicker than those I write on for ages and then don’t publish. There is one which I want to publish tomorrow that has been laying in my drafts since January last year!

Day 2: First person YOU introduced to D&D? Which edition? THEIR first character?

Did anyone else notice that some people in this blog hop are kind of weirdly focussed on the edition thing? Seperating AD&D and D&D and for some reason starting with 3rd edition it’s something completely else.

Not that I like 4th edition, but I don’t doubt that it’s D&D. On the other hand neither do I doubt that of Pathfinder, Labyrinth Lord, or any of the retroclones, so there is that.
The people I introduced to D&D first were my friends Achim and Julian. Horrible munchkins the both of them, which is why they both ran multiclassed human Fighter/Mages in AD&D 2nd edition, houseruled in by their Monty Haul GM. Which was, uhm, me.

Ok, I admit, I should have read the combat rules better. They managed to talk me into strange situations in-game and were a on a power trip. They managed to conquer an island (empty, well, after they killed the gnomes that lived there, but what did they care? They wanted to grow weed on it) around 5th level. That was when we decided to retire them and start over with a bigger group.
800px-Island_near_Fiji

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D&D and the Colossal Cave

English: Print terminal output of Will Crowthe...

Print terminal output of Will Crowther’s original Colossal Cave Adventure aka ADVENT (1975-76) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know if I came across this information earlier, but I think I might have: it sounds vaguely familiar.

The very, very classic game ADVENT (or Colossal Cave Adventure, or just Adventure), the game that inspired the adventure genre as a computer game genre as such, is obviously directly inspired by D&D. Not only that, it also started as an early way of computer assisted playing for a group of 8 players that didn’t have the time to meet often enough.

In a post in rec.arts.int-fiction from Oct 1994 Bernie Cosell wrote:

Well, Will Crowther made the game up after we had been playing D&D
for a few months.  A new arrival on the ARPANET project was also a
housemaster at Harvard at the time and D&D had pretty much just
appeared.  He dungeounmastered up a dungeon and a bunch of us from
the project team got sucked into playing.

Due to our inclinations, we were almost zero interested in the ‘battle and
monster’ aspect of the game, but rather a lot more interested in the
cooperation/innovation/puzzlesolving aspect.  And so quite against the
tide of the D&D world at the time, our dungeon turned into more of
a group problem-solving expedition than an every man for himself
hack-em-up.  Anyhow, it was great fun but VERY difficult for folk
who had any sort of a life: getting the eight of us together at the
same time and in the same place with nothing else to do for four
hours or so was a nontrivial problem.

So Will had the astounding idea that he could cobble up a
computer-mediated version of the game.  We mostly thought he was
nuts [but had long-since learned not to underestimate what Will
could innovate].  Given our predilections in the real game, in
ADVENT puzzles and cleverness were more of a premium than quick
reflexes and keeping track of hit-points.

[…]

No words on how well that worked though. The computer-mediation I mean. But the game itself soon spread over the servers of Arpanet and inspired other people to do similar things, or even go further than that. The genre of text-adventures/interactive fiction derives directly from this game, so do graphic adventures, and so do MUDs and by extension also MMORPGs.

Beowulfs Saga

Beowulfs Saga, CoverI would be really interested in the history of this gem. Like this I only can describe it from what it says in the book itself, and that is not much. It still is fascinating. This one was the one of the three books I got via the Troll-Welt storage clearance thingy which impressed me the most. The other two were more or less decent adventures, but very simplistic. Which might have had something to do with the fact that they were written 5-7 years before they were published in Germany, and were from a very different school of roleplaying (Gygaxian dungeon crawl?)

This one was clearly influenced by Ulrich Kiesow and his railroads. It reads more like a script in many cases, and while it does account for a lot of player action variation, some of the things they might do would just throw the whole adventure off the rails. Even when reading it the first time I was impressed with the story, but I noticed that something was amiss if the players just would decide on some completely different action than the one prepared. But a lot of German adventure modules from that time had that problem.

The story already starts with something the players should have done: they are supposed to have done something that warranted them trying to get away as quickly as possible from their home country. While this seems to be a good idea at first (what bunch of heroes never gets into trouble?) this already can throw the adventure if they decide to, well, face the trial or other consequences. Then they are supposed to take the only ship out of town, which coincidentally only goes to the country of Thar Scani, a very thinly veiled medieval Scandinavia. And I mean very thinly. Going there already might be a challenge (what do you mean you are trying to flee into the mountains?!)

Now they are supposed to get bored in the big metropolis of the North, Askeby, which turns out to be a slightly oversized fishing town with delusions of grandeur. Someone they know invites them to his farm to spend the winter there (so you already were bored in Askeby, and you go to spend the winter snowed in in a fjord?) and so they travel there. On the farm they spend some nice weeks until further guests arrive (including the titular Beowulf), make trouble, and now they have to be hunted down by the heroes because they now are honorbound to the family of their hosts. (hmm, completely reasonable for adventurers who just fled their own country as criminals, I guess)

I think the adventure makes much more sense if one does not actually follow the plot and just uses the informations contained in it for whatever scene might come up. The description of Thar Scani is concise and workable, with enough details to have further adventures in this country. There are wonderful descriptions of Askeby (which I could use for any Northern/quasi-Viking city) and a few other locations that can be used for anything else. From what I have seen those actually are even more or less archaeologically correct and based on real life examples. In between there are examples of NPCs, both mundane and magical, which fit in well into the whole setting. The only real problem is that the adventure that binds it together is a railroad and mostly a waste of space (although it is finely written prose and gives a nice feeling for the whole scenario).

In the end we have the stats for this adventure, and there comes the surprise: 5 pages of rule stats for 6 different systems. DSA (of course), (A)D&D, Midgard, Pendragon, and Mers, including a workable rule for berserkers for each system. I am loathe to admit it, but I used those stats in at least half a dozen adventures.

Now, the thing that interests me about this is the way this was developed. It came out in 1989, and with that it should have been one of the first Northern campaign settings coming out in Germany. For DSA Thorwal und die Seefahrt des Schwarzen Auges came out in November 1990, and had only sparse information for it’s Viking expy (half the box was indeed dedicated to ships and sailing for the whole setting), for Midgard the first edition of Waeland came out in 1991. Both had the same or a larger pagecount than Beowulfs saga, but both of them were sparse in the actual depiction of the culture in question. This is were Beowulfs Saga shone. The author, Rick Davis, obviously put some effort into the description of Viking culture, and it contains wonderful tidbits about Viking religion, politics, and jurisprudence. There even is a two page long bibliography listing nonfiction, fiction, as well as other interesting roleplaying supplements about Vikings (it references Gurps Vikings and the D&D Gazeteer 7: The Northern Reaches, but the only German references are Corrinis and Jenseits der Huegel).

I might be wrong with this, but this seems to be the first time that someone presented a campaign settings for a Northern culture in German roleplaying. And funnily enough he did it historically nearly accurate. Something that both the DSA and Midgard settings had problems with (horned helmets! we need horned helmets!!! and winged ones as well! and dragon ships!)

Troll-Welt

Now this one goes back to the early days of the hobby, and straight before the time when I got interested in the whole thing. Or rather: it fits in there in my first phase of fascination with the hobby.

Basically in the late 80s German publishing house Welt der Spiele and a few successors to that company (the whole history of the company is kind of a mystery for me, but there always seemed to be the same people involved), published a few universal modules. Often those were translations and adaptions of even earlier AD&D modules, some seem to have been original creations for the German market. One should not forget that D&D did not really take off in Germany until the end of the 90s (thanks to some really crappy translation and marketing) and there was not really a market for the whole thing. Then along come these nice adventures which have been written for AD&D, but fit in well somewhere else, and so they decide to make something out of that.

Partially it was a really shrewd move, and in a few cases this lead to some nice adventures. Adventures that did not sell out completely it seems.This might have been a factor in the demise of Welt der Spiele come to think of it…

In the middle of the 90s previous WDS employee Mario Truant had created his own publishing house: Truant. This one still is in business and even one of the more respected small game companies in Germany right now.

But in the middle 90s they noticed a bit of a problem with their heritage: there were still a lot of unsold modules taking up space in storage. And those grew harder and harder to sell the further roleplaying moved along. Still far from any renaissance of dungeon crawling, and slowly realizing that railroading might not be too good, these modules collected dust and aged.

And so someone came up with a nice way of cleaning up storage: selling them in compilations.

And that was how Troll-Welt came to be. The modules were either from the near forgotten Edition Troll imprint or from WDS itself, so they created this title (geddit? geddit? Edition Troll and Welt der Spiele!), made a cover for it (I saw that particular picture on at least two other products already), and then glued three random modules from storage into it. This gave nerds like me access to some old classics, and kept them from having to pulp the rest of them. So I guess it’s a win-win.

There is not really so much to say about Troll-Welt itself. According to the backtext the modules were chosen from stock at random (with 11 different modules possible), but so far I haven’t found any example of the thing that did not have exactly the same three modules than the one I have already. So it seems that either the advertisement was wrong (can you believe it?!), or they just had a lot more of these three modules than of others.

For reference, my copy has:

* Sternenhoeh – a translation of Mayfair Games’ Pinnacle

* Ruinen des Schreckens – a translation of Mayfair Games’ Evil Ruins

* Beowulfs Saga – a standalone railroad in a Scandinavia expy with lots of vikings

[Tools] Found: GM Template for creating Mysteries

Some wonderful soul posted this on reddit/r/rpg: A template for creating Mysteries. It lets you create a story on how someone got to kill someone and why, and then lets you tell the story in reverse. Uhm, was that explanation clear? Anyway, looks like a helpful resource!

My Entry for the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012…

… is rather old actually. Last year I got into the mood of creating a dungeon somewhere after the last contest, and created The Mourning Wight of Brakhill.

Well, I noticed that the creation of a One Page Dungeon might be nice, but rather timeconsuming, so I just entered the Wight into the competition. Because really, I could sit down and create something really new, but right now I am working on so many other things it would just not come out right. For me writing OPD is a bit like writing a poem. I might not be the best of poets, but I damn well will try to create something that I can be proud of.

[DSA] Session 4 – The Ancient Academy

So, another adventure with these intrepid adventurers in The Dark Eye. This time I was doing “The Ancient Academy” (as I hinted in the previous post). It went… ok, I guess.

I set it in the western region of Aventuria, the adventurers scouted for a job in the city of Havena and found an old book dealer who was willing to pay them money for an old book that might be in an old monastery in the mountains. The name “Testament of the Nameless” was a bit of a tipoff that the tome was not about bunnies and rainbows.

The characters took to that rather well (the offer of money helped as well), bought themselves a donkey and went off. After a short search for the whole thing they found the dungeon, went in, and… came out again.

It turned out they went in a circle, so after 4 rooms they were standing in the monastery again. They would repeat that another 3 times, getting increasingly frustrated about it. The design of the Ancient Academy is rather interesting, with certain logical units that fit together quite well. Unfortunately for my players that meant that their specific style of exploring always led them back to the first room. (“Again?!!”) And then, when it finally didn’t, they ended up going through all the storage rooms on the periphery, neatly getting around most fights. A lot of luck (?) on the wandering monster table also figured in there.

Still, they met a few creatures. And they killed them. If I noticed something during the game it was how merciless they were towards their enemies. Normally they are scared kittens, but yesterday they hunted down one of the goblins and killed him like a dog when he tried to get away.

At least in the end they got their objective by a bit of roleplaying: the cultists in the dungeon were the ones who had the book they were searching for, and they neatly convinced them to be other members of their cult, killed the high priest (who had turned into a ghoul) and got the book to Havena. Of course by that point everybody in the group already was a bit tired, and most of my players had to go to work the next morning, so I was eager to wrap up the adventure.

Notes on the adventure:

1. the characters dealt in forbidden lore and pretended to be members of a very forbidden cult. That might come bite them in the ass in a few adventures. Also they never got into a third of the dungeon. Sequel hooks!

2. Google image search is brillant. Everytime I had the feeling I needed some extra pictures to enhance the mood I could search it within seconds. That also was the good thing about having a notebook with my notes on it. Picture of rotten zombies? Check. Stag beetle? Check. Ruined monastery on a hill? Check.

3. Playing on Sunday night is bad, and I told myself not to do it anymore. Still, I wanted to play this week, and that was the only time when all of us had time. Still: it leads to all of us being tired and unresponsive. I wanted to play the cultists a bit more but I couldn’t. And I at least have the boon of having holidays for two weeks now. My players don’t. They had to go to work the next day.

4. I actually managed to get them onto the silver standard. The basic coinage they are dealing with now are silver talers (dollars…). That’s a bit better for my own sanity as the gold coins in the game are defined to be ridiculously valuable, and for some reason players seem to like to deal with the gold coins.

[DSA] Session I: Black Boar Inn

So, we played. And it worked rather well, I guess. We had one completely green player (my girlfriend) and two which had more experience with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Just as DSA is THE standard for roleplaying in Germany, so is WFRP in Poland, to the extent that some people will claim that D&D is not a roleplaying game because it’s not WFRP. But both of them did  well even with this oh so unfamiliar game. That it was even more basic than OD&D might have helped a bit with that.

And we had fun. The party consisted of a Valkyrie from the north (a Thorwalian), a rather antisocial mage with a fetish for petrifying people, and a small-time crook with aspirations to become a full-blown scoundrel. They all met in a wayside inn just a few miles from the town of Gratenfels, and quickly got imprisoned and sentenced to death for  espionage and backtalking with evil intent, by the paranoid madman running the Duchy.

This actually was the worst part of my performance: the adventure module has an awful case of railroading in this point, which is especially grating as my players actually could have found much more interesting ways of freeing themselves from that situation. I tried to avoid most of it, but in any case the characters need to be railroaded  because there is no other way to get to the dungeon. In hindsight I think I should have had them start in the inn’s cellar, waiting for execution, and discover the secret exit to the duke’s secret silver mine by chance alone.

The rest went a lot better: we skipped the part where the characters had to find their way through the darkness and find the torches by feel and touch alone (which technically is an awesome part of this adventure), as we had a mage in the group and he knew a light spell.

Problem-solving was done accroding to the plan in the module though, but I soon came across another problem: the players all in all did not really like the idea of dungeons in itself. Which might not be such a bad thing in a larger campaign, but the adventure was supposed to be mostly about finding your way through a secret silver mine and discovering all the weird stuff in it.

To make things short: they found the way outside and left much earlier than I would have anticipated, not even touching the more juicy parts of the conterfeit operation, but getting the basic gist of the other plot point: the Duke is mad (hard not to notice that) and he’s not heeding the warnings of his dwarven slaves to not actually dig here, because there are warning signs plastered all over the place. Instead he believes the dwarves want to weasel out of digging here because there might be a dwarven treasure down there somewhere (dwarven runes = lots of treasure, obviously). Which he needs because he built city walls so fucking huge that he won’t be able to pay off the debt in a hundred years.

We managed to all in all get into one single fight: Two orc guards were surprised gambling and quickly slaughtered (as quickly as you can with the DSA-combat system, in other words: both orcs and adventurers hit a lot of air). Of course only afterwards they thought about maybe questioning one of them so he could lead them out of there. Which they did when they found the next one, who was easily convinced by them that they were the Duke’s inspectors. He also lead them to the dwarves. they tried to instigate a rebellion under the dwarves, but 1. most of them were completely broken after months of hard labour, and 2. even if they weren’t the could not leave because there was something lurking in the walls, and they had to stall the discovery of whatever it was, because, well, if the highest authorities of the dwarves and the humans leave warning signs all over the place and nobody wants to remember what this place actually IS, it might be pretty bad (spoiler: yes, it is).

In between they managed to talk their way out of a bad situation with some bugbears (or Höhlenschrate, as they are called in the system) and managed to get a hint for a shortcut out of the system. This one they actually found, bypassing most of the later dungeon and some of the more nasty monsters. The way they found was rather inventive but ended in the Thorwalian warrior getting bitten by angry bats and then bumbling down a rocky hillside. All in all she got the most damage in the adventure and she wasn’t even fighting that much.

So the characters now have a hook for the next session: get a message from the imprisoned dwarves to the mountainking and tell her what is happening in that mine (yes, her, I’m going for the untranslatable-term-in-dwarvish here). Now I will have to think about where to take the story after they get to the dwarven king.

Things I need to remember if I ever play this module again:

Don’t railroad the beginning that much. The hamminess of the Duke and the roleplay with the people in the inn might be nice, but there is no way that a group of young hotshots will just let themselves be thrown into the cellar. This actually was solved in the module itself, the problem was that the “solution” was three pages of text to be read to the players, with no actual playing allowed in between.

All in all: not too bad as a dungeon adventure, once one gets past the introduction, with a bit of logic even the different inhabitants of the dungeon can provide some nice interactions and memorable moments.