Friday, February 28, 2020

Drawing 101 - Class 1 of 6

OK - first off this is a reminder to myself to check my camera before leaving the class. I didn't get a picture of the still life setup the teacher had us draw so there's no way to compare it to what I did draw. That's on me and I apologize since it makes this entry less useful.

The class has three other people. Let me identify them since I think they'll come into play in future classes.

Pinterest Lady (PL) - A lady about my age, taking the class to have something to do before she moves out of state
Manga Girl (MG) - A teenager who somehow makes me think she's into manga and showed up without the supplies from the list
Serious Art Guy (SAG) - A guy about my age (I think) who brought his traveling easel complete with extendable legs and a full Hobby Lobby table easel box full of supplies.

The teacher was credible if a little disorganized with his lesson plan. He also took multiple trips to bring in his supplies, delaying the class. People also staggered in after the start time so there's that.

The teacher set up a still life that had a fabric draped box background and four objects. There was strong side lighting to get some shadows and hotspots. He didn't say that part, I just knew it.

He had drawing boards for those of us who didn't and gave us big sheets of cheap newsprint to do this first drawing. Then he said to draw. No instructions to start, no help, just .. draw.

Ok. I started drawing. I guess I knew more than I thought since I was able to get the basic forms on paper in a way that they looked like the ones in the still life. Shading was more difficult due to the single color option (black) and trying to get it right.

Here's my drawing. Snicker all you like but I haven't really drawn anything in a very long time.

I guess you can see the various objects, their relation to each other, and the basic shading of what's what. He gave us tissue to blend the pencil into actual shading. The dark line in the upper right is where I gave charcoal a try and decided against it. To be fair there was a deep shadow there.

If you look closely at the drawing (your choice there) you can see I added the reflections of the three people's drawing boards in the left vase and the reflections of the other objects in the right vase (it was black). This was because I finished the thing in about an hour. Out of a two hour class.

The teacher seemed a bit unsure of what to do for me for the rest of the class time. He gave me a printout of a statue face that had strong lighting and said for me to draw that. Really? The human face is one of the more difficult things to draw and he's giving it to me in the first class?

Ok. It turns out that my reading over all the Etherington Brothers tutorials on Twitter and the linked blog paid off. I was able to at least put the features in the right place and get some of the shading right. The nose even looked like a human nose. No. I'm not posting pictures of that one at all.

I took that as far as possible with plenty of time to spare. Once again he dug into his tacklebox and had me try ochre pastel. I used an extra pitcher that didn't make it into the still life as my subject. I did all right and found how to use the pastel to make directional shading. I also learned that a little pastel goes a long way when you start blending. I'm calling that a moderate win. I'm also not showing it.

The final thing was me picking the lamp to draw. At this point PL was also done with her still life and was drawing random things. She kind of followed me with the pastel pitcher and then the lamp. She didn't get the statue picture to copy. That's how we filled out the class.

At the end MG had a decent enough picture using a mechanical pencil and regular eraser. She was still working on it when we stopped. SAG had an attempt at Serious Art and was moderately successful, in my opinion. PL also had a still life that was reasonably accurate.

The instructor looked at all of our results and took pictures. From what he let drop this was done for him to judge our skill levels and how we worked. I'm hoping that means the next classes will be more instruction and be more in line with the students. But he's got a half-and-half here. Two that seem to move faster than the others. This may or may not be a problem and I can say it is partially my problem because I'm one of the faster ones.

I'm happy with my still life and most of the extra things I did. I learned some things. I found out I knew more than I thought. These are all good things. I also wasn't nervous about drawing the still life, which was kind of surprising to me.

My style at this point seems to be "fast and dirty". I used a harder pencil to draw in the basic lines and shapes then switched to successively softer ones to shade and bulk them in. I didn't bother to erase any hard pencil lines (drawn lightly, of course) as I worked. In a more finished drawing they would have been erased or covered. I have a lot to learn about how to do pencil drawings when I don't have color to use to show various effects.

I don't choke up on the pencils and I use arm motions more than wrist for everything but the detail work. Again I think this is good when working on the bulk of the drawing. I'll find out if I'm right, I hope. But if it works for me then it's right, right?

I learned a very valuable lesson about pastels that I hope I don't forget when we move to those in class. Less is more when blending is involved. I can always add more but taking them off the paper isn't nearly as easy. To be fair I didn't expect to blend it when I was working and used the texture of the paper to help with the drawing. But again, I hope to remember that.

I'm interested to see how the second class goes. That will be a more accurate representation of how the full run of the session will be. Having the two very different speeds of artists worries me a bit but if we're doing one thing per class and have some options it should work out. If the instructor doesn't provide I can make up my own. Like drawing the lamp in the first session since I had time.

The only person I might make friends with is SAG. MG is just too damn young and PL is moving away. Maybe the instructor but probably not. For all that I said making friends wasn't a goal in the class I wouldn't have objected. Now I know what my options are and can take it or leave it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

How I Roll - Fudging Dice Rolls

Fudging dice rolls is a big discussion item in the gaming world. Some people believe that all dice rolls - including the GM's rolls - should be in the open. Some believe that certain player rolls should be done by the GM. Some believe that the GM shouldn't even use dice.

I like rolling behind my little screen. Honestly the dice results tend to be more of guidelines than rules in my game since I don't let the dice run my game. But that's a delicate line to walk.

Fudging dice rolls is something you need to do judiciously. I lean towards rolls in the players' favor but sometimes not. It's all depending on the situation. Most times I know what's going to happen regardless of what the dice say.

So why do I roll when I don't adhere to the results? As I said they give me some guidance on how to proceed. If the dice are constantly trying to kill the PCs then I'm going to hit them harder. If the dice like them and refuse to let me so much as wing them I'll tilt the encounter that way. If combat is dragging on I'll end it one way or another without resorting to dice.

The way I play can't be done with open rolls.

Back to the topic at hand - fudging the GM rolls. That depends on the GM, the game, the setting, the players, and the outcomes. It's a lot to think about. And once you make the decision to roll open or behind the screen it's going to be the way you roll for the game.

FYI - it's much more difficult to fudge dice rolls the players can see. If you roll a 20 there's no way they're going to believe that you did 3 points of damage. You need to be comfortable with killing off PCs if you're going to open roll. Think about that.

My games are story driven. That requires me to keep my dice rolls to myself.

Now - about those player rolls that GMs do. The ones I've heard them doing are when there's a DC involved or a perception. This way the roll is completely unknown except for the results. I've considered that and decided against it. Not so I could fudge them but I don't want the players to think I'm running their characters.

If a player can't roll their own result for something then they're going to start wondering if dice matter. They also lose the fun of rolling and discovering the results. The entire thing smacks of a GM who can't give up control of aspects of the game. I don't like that. However if the group doesn't complain then the GM who does it isn't wrong.

My players are pretty darn sure I fudge dice rolls. I don't fudge as many as they think because my dice all hate me and love my players it seems. Mostly I fudge on damage rolls until they're beefed up enough they can take it. Even then I shy away from massive damage if I can. Unless the player has been getting uppity. Then a handful of d6 damage to their character can humble them a bit.

How I Roll

I use dice to help me guide the story but not to rule my game. I fudge when I feel it's needed for the attitude of the players and the rhythm of the game.

I also do random dice rolls for no reason, just to keep them on their toes. There's a lovely warm feeling to having them roll a perception, making a note, and telling them to carry on. That's not fudging as much as making them wonder what the heck just happened.

I feel that whether or not to fudge is a personal decision for the GM. We have so much going on that it might be easier to simply roll in the open and let the dice handle the situation, regardless of the outcome. There's nothing wrong with that. I can't do it because I don't want to turn a PC into chum because my dice rolled hot that one time.

I'll keep my dice behind my screen, thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

How I Roll - Derailed Story

So many times those pesky players just have to do things their own way. They take the neatly organized story arc you've made and blow it up because they want to explore the caves over there rather than the dockyard over there.

Yup. It happens. So what do you do?

There's a couple of schools of thought on this.

If you're used to modules they tend to find a way to force the players back onto the original story arc no matter what they try to do on their own. So if that's what you've been running and your players are used to it then you can keep going.

If you're used to a more migraine-inducing improvisational game then you may already have a plot hook and some ideas tucked away in your notebook. Or maybe you don't.

Here's something that GMs - especially new GMs - forget they can do.

When (not if, when) the plot derails from what you planned and prepped the best thing you can do is say:

"I don't have anything prepped for that. Give me 15 minutes to get it set up."

Everyone except you gets a break. You've got 15 minutes to pull something out of your hat that will keep them interested and involved. No player should have a problem with this situation.

Here's what you can do to keep the session going. That's all you need to do - keep it going. What direction it goes in is up for grabs but it needs to keep going.

How to use your precious 15 minutes:

  • Look back in your notes (you DO have good notes, right?) for something that might be applicable to what they want to do now;
  • Pick a piece of nifty loot they've gotten recently and make an encounter around it (stolen, lost, cursed, etc.);
  • Have them encounter someone from earlier in the game;
  • Reskin a different encounter for the new setting;
  • Let them figure out why the heck they went there.
What you're going to do is get some kind of framework you can hang the rest of the session on and possibly build from there. All you need is one thing - one thing - that you can use to connect their unexpected change in direction into the story you have planned.

Players are as jumpy as rabbits on a trampoline. A lesson to take away from this is to have some very basic encounter notes on hand for when they jump in a way you don't expect. It will help you with those 15 minutes so you can use them to work on the mechanics rather than the creative.

How I Roll

I have a whole bunch of notecards that I carry with me at every game. In the back are things that the players have said, ideas they've come up with, things they think I'm plotting, ways they may have done things, and all kinds of other stuff they'll never remember saying. I also pick up things from various online D&D groups to note for later. I'll write down things that come to mind when I'm doing game prep that don't fit into the current situations. I have it for when I need to come up with things on the fly.

I've asked for the break any number of times. From there I frantically find some NPCs, some rumors, something from past notes, some monsters/opponents, and a way to hang it all together. Hopefully they gave me a reason for why they wanted to go in the different direction which is also a framework for the rest of it. Sometimes I think they do it just to see my expressions.

I don't have full encounters written up and waiting. I have notes. I have item generators. I have some short adventures printed out and tucked away to give inspiration. I have plot hooks. But since I never know what's going to happen I don't bother with writing up something elaborate. I'm able to use an outline and some bookmarked stuff to make it work for me.

But it still gives me migraines.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Forgotten Realms Campaign - An Unexpected Hideout

[GM commentary is in square brackets. Refer to the Forgotten Realms Page for more detailed information about the characters and setting.]

Everyone takes some time to rest after the battle and get patched up, which seems to be less important than looting the bodies when no one is on the verge of dying. Izzy easily heals everyone who has been hurt and they decide to stay where they are to rest rather than moving on or back up.

Daylor hears some scurrying sounds further down the passage during his watch and passes the information on to the next person. No one else hears noise during the night.

In the morning, or at least after everyone is awake since they're deep underground, they look around the area more closely. The webs that hid the chitines seem to be more than random - they seem to form a barrier between the staircase and the rest of whatever is deeper in the mountain.

As kind of a side note they get into a discussion about how spiders spin the webs. L'oric states they spin them out of their butts, which is pretty much accepted by all of them. Finy gets up his courage and goes to see if that's what happens here.

The chitines are wearing leather loincloth/skirts that don't seem to have any special significance. Izzy checked. Finy goes behind one and lifts up the loincloth of one to find out that it's female and doesn't seem to have any extra parts. The rest of the party is literally cringing at this. They've all noticed that there's something on their stomachs that is probably where they spin webs. They noticed this while trying to look at anything but where Finy was and what he was doing.

Izzy is still trying to figure out the connection between these chitines and Lloth but she's not remembering it. They didn't spend a lot of time on her in classes and she was distracted by a very attractive classmate in the seat next to her at the time. She thinks it was a footnote more than anything important.

They move deeper into the complex. Fiuy and Daylor once again split trap finding duties into each taking one side of the corridor - Daylor to the right and Finy to the left. They keep an eye on things and do more thorough searches about every thirty feet or so. The walls are covered in webs, some thin and wispy while others are more substantial.

From are large cocoons hanging from the stalactites as they proceed. They're pretty certain they know what's in them and that they could have ended up in them as well. They revise how long ago the last party was down here by the fact that they weren't in cocoons. Yet.

Daylor sees a pair of thicker web strands running parallel to the floor and disappearing down the length of the cavern. Finy doesn't see any on his side but is getting very interested in the cocoons as they go. Daylor points out some ledges he's seeing about twenty feet up on the wall, on both sides and in no real pattern. They discuss this and guess they're meant to be nesting/resting places for the chitines as they seem about the right size.

Finy gives in to his curiosity about the cocoons and decides to climb up to get one when he finds one close enough to a ledge to make it possible. It takes him a little work to get up the wall and he's covered in webs by the time he makes it to the ledge. Looking in he confirms that the space is about the size needed for one of the chitines to comfortably fit and there's no webbing in them.

While they watch him make the climb Izzy and Daylor hear noise from further down the hallway. L'oric has been focused on Finy and trying to figure out how to catch him if he falls so he's not paying as much attention as the others. Izzy and Daylor have their focus split between what Finy is doing and watching for trouble.

Finy is at the limit of his reach when he uses his rapier to try to cut the thick strand of webbing holding the cocoon to the stalactite. The light weapon sticks to the web and he yanks it free without pulling himself off the ledge at the same time. Sheathing the now sticky rapier he pulls out his dagger as he's bound and determined to get himself a cocoon now.

Holding his dagger in his teeth he steadies himself to jump from the ledge to the cocoon. L'oric sees this and tries to stop him but Finy leaps. He is able to grab the cocoon and hold onto it as it sways from his momentum. Moving up he starts cutting the strand holding it (and him) to the ceiling.

Everyone is now focused on Finy sawing away at the only thing keeping him from meeting the floor in a rather painful way. Izzy gets everyone to use a blanket to catch him when he falls. She has to use her blanket as L'oric states quite emphatically they're not using his to catch the web covered halfling and whatever is in that cocoon.

The three of them hold the blanket under Finy and brace themselves when he finally severs the web. They're paying complete attention to the task and seem to have forgotten that there was noise further along or they've decided this is a more immediate need. Finy somehow bypasses the blanket to land on the floor below.

In doing so he also crushes the cocoon and falls inside. While the rest of the party is trying to figure out what the heck just happened he's searching what's now all around him. Digging around in old bits of bone and desiccated flesh he finds some buttons and buckles, which he shows the party and then puts into his pocket. They all felt that the cocoons held bodies and now they've confirmed it.

Izzy tries to help Finy out of the mess by grabbing the back of his jacket but he easily avoids her and gets himself out. He's now added bits of bone and desiccated flesh to the webs sticking to him and isn't really a very pleasant sight.

L'oric is bored by Finy's antics now and pays attention to the distance where they heard the noises. They see closer than when they were first heard and he tells that to everyone. They can't interpret the echos to know more than that.

While they're relaying the information a trio of javelins fly into their midst, one of them hitting Izzy and then falling out rather than wedging into her flesh. She's really upset at this happening again. L'oric sets the lantern down behind her so they can try to see what's happening while keeping their hands free.

L'oric casts Light on a rock and throws it down the hallway. It's a large enough radius that it illuminates the entire area including the ceiling. Daylor sees shadows moving around the stalactites and they realize these chitines can also be up there. They take a very brief moment to try to decide what direction the javelins are coming from but can't quite figure out if they're all coming from above or not.

Daylor activates his gloves and moves up the wall and to the edge of the ceiling to try to spot what's up there. L'oric fires an arrow at a shadow and doesn't hear it hit anything, blaming bad dwarven fletching. Izzy picks up the javelin that hit her and sets herself to throw it. Finy has moved behind her and sees her strike a heroic pose worthy of being on a low relief carving. He also sees her fumble the javelin just before she throws it and it falls to the ground behind her.

Finy sees the lantern and looks at his readied crossbow. He takes the time to rip a piece of cloth, wrap it around the head of the bolt, and prepare to send his makeshift fire arrow into the webbing on the ceiling to try to set it on fire, taking away their cover.

Another trio of javelins fly into the group and one finds L'oric on a glancing blow. Finy sets himself and fires his crossbow. The bolt isn't well balanced but it's a large and close enough target that it does tangle itself in the webbing without going out and starts enough of a fire that the web is now burning.

The smoke and distraction prevent anyone from actions and Daylor moves further into the ceiling to try to see something to attack, hopefully without being attacked himself. The webbing burns further as the flames are well established. The chitine moves away from the fire and down the wall opposite of where Daylor is.

Unfortunately for it Izzy is waiting there with a mace full of frustration at not being able to do much in combat to this point. Seeing the chitine fall in front of her she has an outlet for that frustration. With a mighty blow and a ringing "Meeting the dawn, bitch!" she crushes the chitine and it drops into a mangled heap at her feet.

[The image is of two things. The left is the not-to-scale hallway they're progressing. The tick marks are where the rogues do more thorough searches since I had them do 3 checks. The right is the aftermath of the battle with the chitine. Orange is the light spell and the area of webbing being burned (blue Xs). The orange d4 is the current area on fire. The random d6 was Daylor's indication that he was using his gloves and was not on the ground.]

No other attacks come from that end of the hallway. Thinking it through they realize that the thick strands of webbing that Daylor saw are most likely trip wires to alert the chitines (and whatever else is there) that there's prey. Finy pulled on one when he made his climb to get his cocoon. L'oric brings up the idea that they lead back to the main nest but it gets lost in the discussion about trip wires.

Searching further Finy finds a hidden door set into the wall. There's slight depressions that his hands will fit into at about waist level. Holding his hands there Daylor searches out the edges of the door to find it's about five feet high by three feet wide. Plenty tall for halflings, gnomes, and most dwarves. Izzy, L'oric, and Daylor all carefully examine the door in their own ways.

Izzy sees that there's a glyph on the door and as they look at it she understands what it does. If anyone other than a halfling opens the door that person - and many of them around - will get hit with electrical damage. This baffles everyone as to why a door aligned with halflings would be here at all.

Everyone makes suggestions on how to open the door. Finy tries various combinations of words until he says "Open" in halfling. And the door simply opens It's beveled to prevent it from being forced open easily and they're cautious about opening it so they can look inside. There's no traps to be found at the entry so they all move into the room.

L'oric is very excited about the skill necessary to place that glyph and wants to rush in to find out more. He's also looking forward to searching out the place since that seems to be where his interest is.  Daylor and Finy want to carefully search the room they're in before they move to the entry to the next room they see. It takes some persuasion to keep Izzy and L'oric from going into the next room first.

The first room has some tables and chairs along with a small flat chest near the doorway. Careful investigation turns up an empty chest and disappointed rogues. They decide it's simply a place to put stuff by the door and turn their attention to the next room.

No traps on the open doorway and in they go.

The next room is far larger. It has more tables, a nook that seems cozy, and a pyramid statue near one side of the room. There's a long table facing it and chairs long one side, also facing the pyramid. The other tables are larger but similar to the ones in the entry area.

The pyramid gets their attention. It's about three feet high and has a scooped out top rather than a point. It's not in bad shape but there's rubble around the base. The top has been hollowed out to about the size of a halfling's cupped hand and there's a desiccated spider corpse in it. Finy crawls around to find writing on the base - in halfling. He translates it for everyone and Izzy writes it in her journal.


They debate this and then look at the rubble around the statue more closely. With some imagination they can see part of a hand in it. The table facing it gets more of a hard look and they see the center chair is more ornate than the two flanking it. Daylor and Finy aren't saying much about this setup.

They range out in the room to examine it further. The furniture is similar in make and there's a secretary desk in the corner with a writing surface and a number of cubbies and cabinets in the top section. It's a rogue magnet which works quite well. They're going to wait for one of the others to detect magic before touching the thing, given the possibilities of that status.

[Entry on the left. The blue is simply furniture, the orange is interesting furniture. The rock thing is the pyramid statue and will be replaced by a d4 in future games because I didn't think of that at the time.]


Oh yeah. I have notes.

Finy's teleport ring shouldn't have had the effect he had. I did some research and the official 3.5 decision is whatever state you're in when you teleport is the state you arrive in, whatever it is. It started with asking about being prone and then momentum came into it. The answer is that the translocation property is all that changes. So he would have taken falling damage. It was only 10 feet and he's a rogue so even with the negatives I would put on it for him holding/being stuck to the cocoon he'd take almost no damage. I need to let him know about that for the future. I don't expect an argument since I'm using the WotC answer.

I screwed up making the Gloves of Spider Climbing. They last too long. Right now they last 2d6 minutes and the roll had them active for 24 minutes. That's just too long based on the spell. So I'm going to probably take it down to 2d3 minutes to match the spell duration. I can't use combat rounds for measurement because I know he'll use them for non-combat times. Hopefully he'll take the correction well.

The gloves have a random duration and he rolled it when he activated them. I explained that I was the one to roll or what's the point of making it random? He'll still know how long they'll last so the extra thrill of uncertainty is gone. Funny enough we both rolled the same number.

I got all the descriptors for the hideaway they're in from various dungeon dressing products (I can't find the freaking links but I'll get them somewhere). I like how they work together to make something more interesting and unusual. I printed out a bunch of options so I can choose the ones that work best on the fly. I prefer that to planning the whole thing out and then finding that I need to make changes anyway.

I'm also basing the hideaway on the "5 Room Dungeon" designs all over the place. So they'll have 5 rooms that lead into another 5 rooms until they've figured out the hideout. I already know what it's there for and what they'll find but we'll see how it morphs out.

I'm not sure why this session seemed to not have as much going on as the previous ones. My notes are shorter and there's not so many of them. I have to wonder if we just had a slower pace or if I mistimed it. I'll see how the next one goes since there will be combat and other things going on to help keep the excitement level up.

I found that one player specifically was unhappy with the higher amount of ranged combat since she's very bad at it. I need to keep that in mind so there's more melee that she can have a better chance at scoring in and not being so darn frustrated. I'm glad she showed it in this session so that I can make changes to what happens going forward.

I also found one player is all about the dungeon crawling. Ok then. He's very excited about this and about the possibility of finding magic stuff. Knowing that I can tweak the hideout and where it takes them later.

I'm also disappointed that the players for the rogues aren't seeing that I'm all but laying out a guild hall in front of them. Either the players aren't getting it or they're playing it that way. I need to ask which one it is since one answer directly impacts me. I'm thinking it might be a combination since I've already found out that one player isn't the best at piecing together things from clues and hints. I already had to lay things out more explicitly in private conversation for him to follow the breadcrumbs to the answer.

There was also a lot of metagaming going on this time. I finally had to ask flat out if what they're saying is what they're doing. They're better than this. The rogues were about to start looting the secretary desk without checking for magic or saying they were looking for traps. I asked them if that's what they were really going to do - just blindly start opening doors and reaching into cubbies. They were a bit taken aback but I'd had it at that point. I'm not going to apologize. They saw that they were blurring the lines too much for me to know what they were doing so they should be better next time.

No one said they missed the player who had to leave. They did ask about him and whether or not he asked me to run a game for him so they showed some interest at least. They left it with being relieved that they weren't going to have to put up with his wife and the pressures it brought to the group dynamic.

I had a person contact me on one of the Meetup groups asking if they could join the game. He recently signed up for the group and my game has "Closed" as the first word in the title. As a courtesy I asked the group what they wanted to do even though we had discussed and dismissed the possibility of adding another player last session. They said they didn't want another player and like the group we have. I expected that to be the answer so I wasn't surprised. I let the person asking know that I would ask and I just realized I never told him the answer. Whoops. I'll do that and offer to run a game if he gets a group and location together, as I always do.

All in all they're doing well. There may be a slight skill point shift for one of them since they don't need it where it is now and I'm happy to let them move it since the original use was my idea. I'm fair that way. I hate wasted skills and feats.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Forgotten Realms Campaign - They Chose Down...

[GM commentary is in square brackets. Refer to the Forgotten Realms Page for more detailed information about the characters and setting.]

After an uneventful night spent in the tunnel entrance [No one seems to care when they're camping next to corpses. Go figure.] they want to use their new magic item to try to figure out what the brass eyeball does but the loot they found doesn't have the right kind of gemstone.

Finy offers up one of his and they are pleasantly surprised to find out that the eyeball will allow the person who activates it to see things as they really are - including things hidden by magic - for a short period of time, taking two days to recharge from being used. They consider it to be a handy item even with those limitations. [It works the same as True Seeing for one minute, once per day, every two days.]

They also see that as the spell works the web takes on the color of the gemstone it's consuming. This is a pretty nifty effect and a credit to whoever made it. [Cough, cough. It was me.]

Given how useful that brass eyeball is is they want to keep it handy. Finy immediately offers to hold it but for some odd reason the rest of the party prefers to let Izzy be the keeper. Finy takes this in stride, as he takes so many things.

Leaving their horses secured in the tunnel entrance they make their way down the mountain to try to find that trail that L'oric pointed out. They find a lesser trail breaking off the main one and it leads to the side of the mountain. It's been used and it leads to steps and handholds hacked into the mountain side, going up. Careful checking turns up a local copper coin dropped in the dust as well. The spacing on the steps seems to be meant for human-sized creatures rather than giants or dwarves.

Before they start the climb Nihilus checks the weather and forecasts a bright sunny day. The entire party gives each other the side eye at that, given his terrible record at forecasting the weather. They can already see the clouds on the horizon that he somehow missed.

Carefully climbing up the mountain takes about an hour with no missteps or problems. They're well carved enough to provide a good route up to a hole that's been crudely cut into the mountainside. The walls are about a foot deep and the opening is just large enough to admit one person at a time - about 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. There's a small ledge outside the hole so two people (or two people and a halfling) can stand outside of it.

They decide this isn't ancient work or part of the original construction. The sun is at the wrong angle to light up much of what's inside the hole and Izzy thinks she sees someone watching them from the top. L'oric looks carefully and doesn't see anything or anyone. He tries pointing that out to Izzy but she's adamant that there is someone up there even if she can't see anyone now. She shoots an arrow that doesn't hit anything, even rock, but keeps a wary eye out because of her certainty that someone is there. L'oric lets her do and think what she wants at this point.

Finy nominates himself to go into the hole and no one seems to have a problem with that. He finds himself in a chamber that's cut out of the mountain and is sized for giants. The cavern is empty as far as he can tell and there's a thick layer of dust on the floor. He finds that there's layers of footprints in the dust going into the chamber and out of sight of where he went.

Returning he relates what he saw to the group and Nihilus goes to have his own look. He determines it was three sets of tracks and they were spaced out over time. They also only go in one direction - into the chamber. Finy and Daylor have a bit of a conversation with body language and eyebrows relating their opinion of his skills.

Since there's really only one direction to go they parallel the footprints into the chamber. At the far end is an open giant-sized doorway with the remains of metal hinges still visible. On the walls are some metal torch holders in various states of disrepair where they still exist at all. There's a very old campfire by the doors that seems to have been made of suspiciously door shaped planks of wood. Poking around finds more hinges in the ashes.

The metalwork isn't bad but it isn't great. It's about what they expect from giants. Everyone is of that opinion that "good, not great" is the default state of giant work.

Finy takes the lead out of the chamber and follows the curving hallway that slopes down and then back up. During this he's checking for traps and seeing places in the dust where previous visitors have done the same thing. Daylor is also checking as he goes, which does not escape Finy's notice. They split up the search. Finy obviously moves his belt pouch to the side where Daylor isn't.

As they go L'oric believes he heard stone moving behind them in the chamber that they left. They all listen and there's nothing. They decide to continue going away from the chamber, following the trail. While they're doing this L'oric is speculating about what's in the room he's decided is at the top of the mountain based on the cuts he believes are windows. He wants to find it so he can look.

At the end of the hallway is a stone spiral staircase. The steps are sized for giants, which means they're about four feet tall per stair. Finy, who is three feet tall, hauls himself up to look at the next step. He finds he's not the only one who's done this and that it seems everyone went up and then back down.

Given L'oric's desire to see what's up there and their general loot-happiness they choose to go up the stairs rather than down. After a decent amount of very tall steps the footprints change and they find two very large feathers on the stair. And a few old human bones. At this point they can see the footprints change and one set of them is deeper in the dust before the next stair.

No one suggests going back at this point. They go up and find only one party has continued past this point, and they also came back. Two stairs later they find more, fresher bones. This is where the footprints turn around and go back. They find a word scrawled on the stair wall - Peryton.

Nihilus sees that and runs past everyone up the stairs. They're racking their memories to see if the word makes any sense. Izzy and L'oric put the pieces together to realize that a peryton is a large, nasty, magical animal that does things like eats people. Right around then they hear a screech and Nihilus shouting. Before they can decide if he needs help both sounds get fainter and further away.

[The players recognized that this was me giving the character an ambiguous 'out' to the game. They accepted it and appreciated the way it was done rather than a stupid/heroic death. This way Nihilus is still available for NPC use if I choose. The player was also pleased at this and had more questions than he should have had when I told him what happened.]

The group decides that discretion is the better part of not being eaten by a large, nasty, magical animal and go back down. They make it as far as the chamber where they started before they need to rest for the night.

Rearranging the watch order since they're down a person they set themselves for the night. During the second watch period L'oric sees writing on the wall glowing very faintly, about twenty feet up from the ground. It takes him a bit to read it - it's in common - to find that it says "Oxos sucks dwarf d....". He relays this to each subsequent watch and then to Daylor in the morning, who had first watch.

Daylor recognized the name as stone giant lineage. He doesn't know much more than that but they all get a good laugh out of the graffiti. They start to ponder how it could be done before they realize they really, really, really don't want to know.

As they move to the staircase Izzy makes the very grave and wise pronouncement that going down the stairs is going to be easy but getting back up them will be difficult. There's a moment of silence at this completely obvious bit of wisdom then they start down the stairs. There's concern that the murder bird (as they refer to the peryton) is going to come down and eat them. L'oric is particularly concerned for some reason but they're all nervous about it to a certain extent.

Half a day's travel brings them to the fate of one of the previous groups. A large block of stone has some skeletal legs sticking out from under it and the edges of crushed armor. He finds the pressure plate they triggered and notes that's a kind of trap they may find again. The bodies have been thoroughly looted so they find nothing.

There's still two sets of footprints going down the stairs.

Further down Daylor nearly falls into an already triggered spiked pit trap he didn't notice but is able to catch himself before he falls in. There's a narrow ledge around the sides and front of the trap that can be walked with care.

Looking into it they find five bodies with surprised looks on what's left of their faces. Looking more carefully they find footprints in the muck below the bodies and Finy offers to have a rummage around. He finds very little and what he does find is either tucked into corners or not worth taking. He leaves the copper pieces and regular thief's tools (after checking with Daylor on that second one). He does palm a ring he finds. There's also a ruined scroll that they decide to keep.

Given the narrowness of the ledge around the trap and the spikeyness of the trap itself they take the time to rig a rope handrail to make sure everyone can safely move down this stair. Their caution pays off and everyone gets to the next stair without a mishap. Even Izzy.

There's only one set of footprints going down the stairs now.

A few steps later Finy stops everyone as he investigates a trap trigger he found. When he can't figure out what it does he blames it on the shadows in the stairs but is cautious moving forward. Daylor has a look as he goes by and sees that Finy was very carefully examining a bit of rock sticking out of the wall. He doesn't bring this up to anyone.

As Daylor stands up he feels a very slight breeze from below and what feels like a spiderweb on the wall. L'oric takes an interest in the web and looks at it more closely. His considered answer is that it's spiderweb, it's useful for some spells, and it comes out of a spider's butt. [I love low rolls.]

Daylor notices a blocked up doorway as they're paused. It's not expert work, it's lesser work that what carved out the chamber and staircase, but it's solid. The wind from below is just a bit stronger and it's carrying some webs as well. No one wonders if they missed other blocked up doorways on the way down because they were so focused on traps and not falling down the really big stairs.

L'oric decides to try to pull out one of the rocks from the doorway. He gets a grip, pulls, his grip slips, and he ends up on his elegant sun elf butt. A pebble does fall down and hit him on the head, as convention says it must. He isn't going to let this go unchallenged. He tries again, pushing and pulling. The rocks don't move but no more pebbles fall so for him it's a win.

He's the only one who tries to get through the door. The rest had a look and realized that they didn't have the equipment or skill to break it down.

They find more blocked up doorways as they progress, all on the same side of the stairs and all well made. They're various ages and not hidden in any way.

The breeze and webs from below keep getting stronger as they descend. There's web strands on the walls now. Finy and Daylor get some paper from Izzy to make tiny torches to burn away the webbing from where they want to check for traps.

Daylor finds a broken web strand that had spanned the width of the stairs. Not much further he finds an intact strand and the footprints seem to have stepped over this one. Finy is seeing that the webbing on the walls is getting thicker. Daylor looks but doesn't see anything different in the webs that he hasn't been seeing all along.

As they're looking at the webbing a number of hand-sized hairy spiders attack from all directions. This is not a good day for the spiders as they're turned into spider kabobs in very short order. They don't even get a nibble before they're slaughtered. [Damn those useless spiders.]

They continue down two more stairs until Finy finds a leg but not its owner. Being much more cautious he promptly falls into a web pit trap on the landing below. He's a twisty little halfling so is able to grab one of the hardened web spikes around the edge and pull himself out.

As they try to figure out what happened to Finy a trio of javelins come sailing into their midst. Izzy catches one with her shoulder but her armor gives her some protection from major damage. It takes a bit for everyone to catch their bearings and see the wall of webbing across the landing about thirty feet back. They also see the remains of what was most likely the last set of visitors in the center and sides of the floor.

Finy pulls out the lantern and Daylor throws it at the webs, igniting the center of them. More javelins are thrown, this time with Finy and L'oric getting nicked. They can't see what's attacking them but as the web burns they see three figures of some kind behind it.

Izzy casts a spell to cover the area with mist to prevent more targeted strikes and centers her spell on where Finy is standing. The figures run out of the burning web and at the group. They're four armed, half human-ish, half spider. And they're not pleased. They're brandishing swords now as they move forward.

Even though they have no idea what they're fighting the group makes an excellent account of themselves. It takes about the same amount of time to dispatch these creatures as it did the spiders above, although they don't make creature kabobs this time.

The final attack goes to Finy with an admirable tumble and stab to the last standing/wavering creature. Who then promptly falls down. Finy avoids being squished, kind of forgetting that could happen.

The creatures don't have anything on them but the previous visitors not only have their own equipment but what they took off the previous two parties. Being a more experienced adventuring party Izzy casts a spell to detect any magic items they may be holding. There's a decent amount of coins, a number of gemstones, spell scrolls, and several magical items as well as mundane weapons.

Using gemstones from the loot L'oric is able to use the web to identify the three magic items. Finy had put the ring from earlier into his pocket rather than his backpack so it showed up when the spell was cast. He lets them identify it as well. There's just enough gemstones to identify all four items unless they want to start using much more valuable ones.

There's both divine and arcane spell scrolls so those are quickly and easily sorted out. As they settle in for the evening in a place they feel is relatively safe they discuss the treasures they found and what is best suited for who.

The items they found are:

  • A set of gloves that let the wearer climb up walls and ceilings as if they were a spider but they work for a random amount of time when they're used and can be used once a day.
  • A pair of bracers that will deal out extra damage if the person wearing them makes an excellent strike and can do this twice per day.
  • An anklet that will let the wearer teleport to a spot they can see up to ten feet away from their current location and do so without error, twice per day.
  • A ring that makes it easier for the wearer to hide and disguise themselves which requires two days to recharge each of the abilities.
The corpses have had their edibles removed and are kind of sucked dry but haven't been moved much.

GM Notes

I really didn't want to have that player's character leave on a cheesy or insignificant note. Rushing up to a deadly creature seemed in keeping with his actions and would carry him away. After I told the player what was done he really did thank me for removing him without making it permanent. Then he wanted to keep the peryton as his animal companion. I had to remind him he wasn't at a level to get one. I also had to remind him that his options were limited to the list in the druid class and that the peryton is a magical animal and can't be a companion anyway. That doesn't mean they can't be tamed so he's happy with that.

I thought I had them go too deep into the mountain so I decided it was 200 feet.

I picked out the magic items to suit the characters and give them more advantages at times. By limiting how often things can be used it makes them less powerful as magic items but darn useful in the right situations. It makes them think about using them rather than something that's activated all the time. Things will get more interesting the more they have since they're limited on how many of each kind of item they can wear.

The gloves are obviously of spider climb. The person using them has to roll for how long the effect lasts - 4d6 minutes. That adds to the tension since they won't know until they activate them. So sometimes they may have to rush things or they fall down, go boom.

The gauntlets deal out an extra 2d6 of damage one handed, 3d6 damage two handed when the wearer makes a critical hit. Since the chances of that tend to be 10% more or less having them work twice per day isn't overpowering. They also choose when to activate them after they know they've done the critical hit so they can decide to save the effect or use it, depending on what they're doing. Again it puts the player in the driver's seat.

The anklet is a teleport without error with a distance of ten feet. I may have to reduce the number of times it can be used per day but the value isn't that great so maybe not. When I made these I was going for the lower end items. I also don't think anklets can be worn with magic boots since they're in the same body area. I'll double check that one. That would make it another limiting factor.

The ring gives a +10 to hide for 2d6 minutes and works as the Disguise Self spell for 4d6 minutes. They can be used independent of each other. But both of them take two days to recharge when used.

I'm getting into the random amount of time that a magic item effect works. I'll see how it plays out in game. My goal was to add extra tension to the situation since they can't be completely certain of how their plan is going to work if they expected the item to work for longer than it will. Or what happens when it stops working since they're not in control of it. I'll also ask them players what they think of it and adjust as needed.

Finy's player talked to me after the game to discuss how to keep magic items he wanted to hide from being seen. I didn't realize he put the ring in his bag of holding, which would have shielded it from the Detect Magic spell. I apologized and said I would think of a way. Tonight I texted him one of my famous obscure questions - "Odd or even?" - and he chose odd. The d10 also came up odd. So there's going to be an extra outside pocket on the bag of holding, on his dominant hand side, where he can put things quickly. If there's people around he needs to make a slight of hand check but that's going to be a low DC given how natural the movement is in general. Problem solved and it only works for small items.

I'm tracking combat in my Rocketbook now which is why I could be more detailed in the combat descriptions. Prior to this I was using my old method of tracking on scrap paper and then tossing it away since I only had to track initiative and turns. I still track those but now I can make more notes on what happened so there's a record. And I can make these entries slightly more interesting.

I have some time before the next game so I can plan it out. There's two ways I very much don't want them to go out of this area because they're death. Since the players don't want to go to the Underdark and both ways would lead there eventually I should be able to let them make the decision. If not then they didn't heed the clear warnings. I will make them very clear warnings.

I'm also going to have them finish the details on their backup characters so I can level them up to match the game. They're going to be the nemesis party and it started back in the last town they were at. Of course no one knows what's going on since not many GMs will put in this kind of effort or situation. Using their own backup characters is just mean but so fun.

I would have added a bard to the nemesis party so that they could have sarcastic songs following them around but The Witcher series lessens my enthusiasm for that. I did it well before the series in another game but that doesn't matter. For a while bards are going to be difficult to bring into the game without the comparisons being made. I don't want to have to add those quotes to the punishment list, especially since I haven't watched the series yet.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

I Finally Designed 3D Stuff!

It's not very exciting and it's not really my first design. I had already done a simple change to a piece (a remix) to make it more durable. And one of my new designs is also a remix. But one is entirely my own design. Based off another but that's not important right now.

I'm a huge fan of Gamelyn Games Tiny Epic series. I also backed their Kickstarter for the Ultra Tiny Epic games. The one thing about these games is they pack a LOT of little pieces into the box. I like to 3D print organizers for them so things are tidy and they just look cooler. Hey. I've got two 3D printers so I'm gonna use them.

I printed the insert for Ultra Tiny Epic Kingdoms without any changes. I will have to paint three of the little tracking cubes because what was supposed to be red is actually 'barely darker shade of orange'. No biggie to pull out the Testors and a throwaway brush but still.

UTEK with an organizer that holds the cards below and slots for cubes above
The cards fit below the organizer and the little castle meeple fits in front of the blue row when the insert is in the box. This insert is not meant to come out again once it's in place. Or if it is then it's a really tight fit. I had to put clear tape around the end of the flap to keep it from catching on the tops of the slots.

But now that it's done you can see how much easier it is to use. Slide out the rows you want by putting your finger over the ones you don't. Slide the cubes back in. So much nicer than a little plastic bag you have to dig through every time.

For those who can make one the file is here and I recommend printing it upright on the backing piece with a brim, parallel to the Y axis movement. It's a flimsy thing until supported by the card box.


I also have Ultra Tiny Epic Galaxies. That's what the Kickstarter was for. UTEK was something I could add on since it's been out for a while. There's a very nice storage system already out there but I didn't like how the dice cubes rattled around in the tray. There's fewer of them than the player tokens. So I designed a tray with the right size opening for just the dice cubes. It's at the bottom of the first photo and the upper left of the second. My design is just that tray so you still need the original for the other stuff.

As you can see I also like printing the trays in the same color as the tokens. It's a thing of mine. I'm a little worried because the blue that matches so well is discontinued and I'm almost out of it. I may have found another one that's going to have to be close enough. Yes. I'll buy filament just to make sure my game organizers match the pieces. Sue me.

Finally we get to my original design!

There's already options out there for Tiny Epic Kingdoms but they don't work if you put the cards in plastic sleeves. There's just not enough room for everything. I refused to accept this and after far too many test prints (anyone need little plastic boxes?) I made one that fits nicely in the box and allows the sleeved cards to sit on top.

You can see the organizers around the edges of the cards in the first photo. I need to trim the card sleeves because they're too long but that's a project for when I'm bored and have a fresh blade in the craft knife. They work as-is.

The player token trays mean setting up is easier - just hand the tray to the player. When the game is over they dump it all back into the tray. Done! I know there's a lot of extra room in the box with the tokens but I needed to fill that top space to hold the last tray in place. Extra room isn't bad.

And an observant eye will notice I took a black Sharpie to the edges of the cardboard tokens so they look better. It's a habit I got into doing cardstock terrain. Otherwise it's that kind of brownish-grey of the cardboard and it's not attractive to me. Smooth off the nubs from where they attached to the backing board, color them in, and sit back with a smile. The cards are also edged in black, as if I would forget that.

These aren't very exciting designs. They're very useful designs. Board game organizers are very popular all around and people make them out of foamcore and other materials. Go look at BoardGameGeek if you don't believe me. I may have to see if people have made organizers for another (not Tiny Epic) game I have that has more parts than the molded plastic will hold due to Kickstarter stretch goals.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Forgotten Realms Campaign - Real Life Changes

Sadly we had to lose a player for the game.

Nihilus's player will no longer be able to join the group. We're all sad to see him go. There's a chance that he'll gather up another group and I'll run a game for them (which means TWO different campaigns to read!) but for now he'll be written out of the story.

I'm debating between a heroic death or an unknown fate for Nihilus. I honestly don't think that the player will be joining us again but I also don't think anyone in the game wants to see the character die. The way I have things planned for the next session will allow for either.

We all know these things happen. As the GM I'm the one who polled the group with the changed situation and then told the player what the result was. It sucks but it's part of my job to mediate between players and this falls under that umbrella.

To be fair the player with the real life conflict was willing to make the call but eventually understood that it was something I should do. I'm the impartial third party. We both agreed that having fired people in the past it's no fun but sometimes it has to be done.

The player was fully understanding of the circumstances - since many of them were his - so I don't think there's hard feelings to be had. He knew the special situation of one of the players when it comes to real life so he made his choices.

This is a reminder to me and will be to the rest of the group that no matter how much fun gaming is our real lives come first. We see this when we have to cancel or reschedule games but it hits home hard when someone has to leave the game because of it.

As a group we'll talk about whether or not we want to try to find another player. We're at four and we only play when everyone is there anyway. If there's someone who's itching to get into the game I'll gladly interview them. Otherwise we'll see what happens.

Now I'm off to finish prepping for tomorrow. I'm very, very lucky that the plans weren't heavily focused on his character so that I'd have to make big last minute changes. I do have to adjust the encounters because we're down a player but that's not going to be difficult. It just means fewer opponents or I lower their stats a little.