Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Update - 9/25/18

Although things have been silent here and at our other blogs, fear not.

There's a lot going on behind the scenes. The Outlaws have been gaming regularly, and I am to blame for no recent updates ... sometimes it's difficult to make time.  A few weeks ago, we had to make a blessed trip to Georgia to attend my daughter's wedding, and great festivities were had! Now, we are in the process of moving to be closer to my daughter and her new family, as a grandchild is very much on the way.

This does not mean, however, that the gaming will cease ... we are going to continue gaming on line via Roll20 and ... dare I say it ... stream such games on our very own Twitch Channel ... https://www.twitch.tv/jmiskimen.  Announcements will be made on Twitch and here at Outlaw D&D when that should begin ... most likely on Wednesday Evenings around 6pm, but I'll let you know when the time comes.

We'd like to thank New Philadelphia's own WARGEAR for the opportunity to game with them and in their store. We've had some Great Times and shall miss them dearly.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How to run and play D&D5E as an Old School Game

I don’t see myself as anyone special when it comes to running an old school game. Apparently, though, there are quite a few folks who just don’t see how you can run anything other than an old school game in that style. I guess that’s where I come in, having been formally asked – How do you do it? I don’t know what I can add to the topic at hand that hasn’t been said before, but I’ll give it a shot.

Firstly, we need to speak the same language. My go to guy for anything old school is Matt Finch. You might remember him as the creator of Swords & Wizardry, but he also wrote a fantastic article on old school play that will be central to our discussion.

A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming

Go ahead and download it. Read it. Learn it. Live it. Breath it. It is your new religion.

Matt describes "Four Zen Moments" to learning and understanding old school play and they really are more than ‘ah-ha’ moments. Calling them Zen moments is not by accident, as they are profound and significant pillars as to what is old school.

I’m going to break this treatment on the subject up in segments, so as to allow for the format of questions and answers. Also, it is my belief that shorter entries tend to imprint themselves on the minds of online readers easier. Ready? Here we go.

First Zen Moment: Rulings, not Rules.

Rules are NOT in and of themselves old or new school. They are simply devices to assist a DM/GM/Ref make decisions in his/her game. Gygax understood this implicitly, as is derived from his quote about Refs not needing rule books to play. Rules are NOT in and of them selves old or new school. It bears repeating. Skill rolls exist in Empire of the Petal Throne and Traveller, and both are considered old school games - not so much because of their rules, but because how their rules are applied.

The old school player doesn’t need a rule to search a room, but there are degrees as to how thoroughly the player may have searched. If the player is very specific, then a RULING may suffice. The DM/GM/Ref may decide to tell the player what he/she found – if anything. Not all players are created alike, however, and this is where a skill role may come into play. Not every situation falls to the bounce of a die in old school play. This method also increases the immersion into the game – the player becomes more intimately involved in the gameworld without the distraction of rolling dice. He or she is living and breathing the world with every action of their character, and most people will tell you this is RPGs at their best.

I recently had an ex 4th edition player, now 5E, search a room simply by rolling his 20-sider. He then asked what did he find. I said, with such a cursory glance into the room, you find nothing. He insisted he should have found something based on his roll – if there was anything to find at all. I replied, how could you have found anything without telling me where you are looking? This is a large room with several unique features and plenty of furniture. Forget the dice for a moment and play the game. That’s when I saw a flash in his eyes, that ‘ah-ha’ moment that in time and training, will become so much more – even second nature to his play style.

 Second Zen Moment: Player Skill, not Character Abilities

The one question that comes up time and again at the table is, “would my character know that?” What I like to tell players is your game knowledge is what makes your character exceptional in a world full of NPCs. Player skill cannot and should not be ignored or handwaved away. Sure, your 5E character has skills and abilities that separate him from normals, but so does everyone else at the table playing a character. Player skill brings even more diversity to the table. Player skill represents what these novice adventurers have heard in ballads and tavern tales, if you need an ingame reason for it existing. You need not Role-play your character to death via forced ignorance.

I think it was Bob Bledsaw that said something to the effect that it’s not his fault your characters picked a first level dungeon that has a Red Dragon lair in it. Your 1st level dumb-dumbs should be smart enough to not bother the beast or they deserve a fiery death. In the natural world, there is very little balance when it comes to your individual survival. What makes man a dangerous animal that can contend with apex predators in the wild is his intelligence, otherwise he’s just another item on the food chain menu. I go to Natural Geographic’s documentaries all the time to rationalize what some may consider imbalances to my games.

But let’s be rational in doing this – dumb/dead characters does not an old school game make. Help the PCs out with rumors or what should be obvious clues about what awaits them. As my old man used to say, give them all the rope they need to hang themselves with. Not every encounter with a monster should necessarily default to a combat situation – not if you have thinking players exercising their skill of the game.

I’m currently running an old school module at the store that is about a level and a half higher than the party’s current level. Why? Because they have had a pretty easy time of it in previous old school modules that I have run. It’s about 5th level now and time for a few challenges. It has been challenging, and then some, as it has forced my players to actually think about combat electives and finally embrace tactics as their friend.

D&D isn’t all about combat, but there is enough of it going on that players need to become fairly good players of the game as well as good role-players – not just the character personalities and such; but understanding their roles as character classes in the party. Player skill is vital for that old school feel, and should be constantly encouraged.

Third Zen Moment: Heroic, not Superhero

I think most everyone here has a handle on this one. That said, I try to add what I can without repeating what Uncle Matt has to say on the subject.

To say 'Heroic' might rub some of you wrong, as there is a prevailing attitude in the old school that Swords & Sorcery is the way to go, and heroic stuff isn't what the game is about. Yes and No. Appendix N is full of heroes, but at the same time, they are not over the top heroes like Superman. Keep your scenarios very personal to your player characters and try to keep them as 'realistic' as possible in a game about dragons, dungeons, wizards, and such.

If you must include stories in your game, which I don't exactly believe you do, tell those stories through NPCs and leave the Player's characters as wild cards in the story - mostly because you have no idea what they'll do and you should absolutely not base the story on an action the PC has no decision on. The PCs are Not your damn characters. Your story is not required to have the ending you foresee, and it'll probably be far more interesting if you let the PCs be themselves.

In my opinion, avoid most Greek myths like the plague, as they were in a lot of ways, the first comic book stories. The story of Odysseus might be okay, but Hercules is definitely out.

5E may seem superheroic to a lot of 0D&D players, but really it's not. There are fewer Feats to deal with and those that are there have been scaled way back from previous editions. Abilities have the potential to go up to 20, but this is not a common thing, whether you roll dice or point buy a character.  The skill system is pretty well handled and not overpowering considering the DM holds all the cards by determining the difficulty number to beat - there is a potential for misuse here on the DMs part by administering poor judgement, however. Good DMs are fair and impartial.

With all of the items above, it's still Batman's game rather than Superman, RAW, unless you go out of your way to write a campaign more suited for Krypton's Greatest Son. As the Zen moments occur, you'll find that most of what makes D&D5E playable as an old school game is attitude, your approach to running the game, your subject matter ... all of it comes down to YOU Mr. Dungeon Master.

Fourth Zen Moment: Forget “Game Balance.”

Here's another one the Good Folks of The Ruins of Murkhill got a pretty good handle on, but this doesn't just apply to the gameworld and encounters. There need not be balance among player character Classes either. As the Pawn is not an equal to the Knight, so is it the same for Character Classes. Each have a role they should fulfil; that roll may not be the equal to another. No big deal. 

Game balance became important in D&D when AD&D was produced, and the powers that be wanted it to be the tournament rules for the game. In such a contest, sure, you'd want an even playing field. I'm not knocking on AD&D, just stating a fact. From there on Balance and its importance became more and more ingrained in the rules.

5E has a healthy does of Balance issues. I'm okay with that. Monster Encounter ratings, or CR, are all messed up, in my opinion ... but again, I'm okay with it. Certain Cantrips are more powerful than previous editions ... It's all right. As The Master said, "Be like Water ..." Flow with it. For all the beefed up character abilities, Monsters are a terror when run properly in 5E. It may not be perfect Balance, but it does even out pretty well - enough so that it can feel old school pretty quickly.

Go to Ruins of Murkhill and join in on this and other old school discussions!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Calvary Cometh - 15th of Mirtul, Year of the Ageless One; 447 North Reckoning.

Thyrr looked over his shoulder to a most welcome sight in the pit of horror he'd become trapped in - Rescuers! They came in the form of Zicar, a mysterious Fire Lancer from the East; Kromag, a Githzeria Paladin of the Weave; Coal, a Genasi Sorcerer of Flame; and Wo Fat Chin, an Elvish Monk of the Mysterious East. The newcomers had been sent by Ramne the Wizard before he left for his southern expedition to gather the Ivory Scimitars for what he described as a Realm-shaking discovery ...

The backups did little more than back up, however, against the ferocity of the trolls and fled the dungeon with the beasts hot on their trail. Zicar had succumb to the trolls in a spray of gore as they over took him by tooth and claw; the foul ones fighting over his larger pieces. The rest of the party, seemingly escaping the monstrosities, headed to Stone Vale to resupply.

As a Ranger, Thyrr could not stomach the idea of the humanoid filth nesting so close to civilized lands. Newly supplied, he lead the group back up the mountain pass to the Black Stone Pyramid dig site. Two Norkers stood guard outside the Obsidian Temple. They spotted Darkedge, the Shinobi, as he not-so-steathfully approach the Temple Entrance. One of the Norkers turned to enter the Pyramid and was feathered by Elf arrows, courtesy of Thyrr. Coal summoned her sorcerous powers to lift the Norker into the air and pull him towards her in a furnace of superheated air. Wo Fat Slammed the other Norker with a devastating kick to the face.

With the sentries dispatched, Coal silently stole into the deep darkness of the forbidding Pyramid. Thyrr could hear the rumbling of a snore; a sound he was quite disgusted of having spent many a night in cheap human Inns during his youth. Coal, thanks to her innate darkvision, beheld one of the trolls from earlier that day, only now with a distended stomach, sleeping heavily at the stairs in the hback of the Temple. She wondered if such a creature could even hear her over it's deafening snoring. The she thought perhaps it would smell her rather than hear her. She dismissed such thoughts and loosed flames upon the sleeping thing. Her companions released hell itself upon the surprised troll and it was slain in hand.

Darkedge remembered that his companion Korrick had a magical Ring of Protection and dearly wanted the item. He slit open the corpse of the troll and began sifting through its innards, much to the utter disgust of the rest of the party. Thyrr thought aloud that he thought they smelled bad on the outside ...

After much gore had been sifted through, Darkedge had not yet found his treasure. He had, however, discovered a stomach churning smell that clung to him as tightly as the wetter bits of troll that clung to his tunic. The group pressed onward, down three flights of stairs to the lower holdings of the Temple.

Through a doorway, Wo Fat discovered a LARGE creature sitting with his backside toward him playing with the remains of some unfortunate person. It slammed a legbone into a pile of bones with a thunderous crunch, and the vile odor of death and unwashed troll wafted in his direction.

Without so much a word, Wo Fat ran in and rammed his lit torch up the great beast's ass and then slapped a large butt cheek as insult to injury. The slap echoed in the chamber, but was quickly drowned out by the wails of pain the creature was experiencing. Wo Fat ran from the beast, back out the chamber and up one flight of stairs as the giant creature wailed in agony and squeezed itself out into the landing of the stairs.

Kromag dealt a silvery spellfire blow to the giant with the aid of his great 'Time-Blade' as Thyrr fired his bow as quickly as he was able. Coal and Darkedge stayed on the second set of stairs out of the Giant Troll's terrible reach.

Wo Fat, once again, made a light hearted attack on the angry Giant. He ran and slid under the bow legged beast, striking at his testicles and then, after getting behind the creature, kicking the now extinguished torch further up the ample ass of the Troll. It howled again in great pain. The party took advantage of the greatly distressed Troll and attacked in unison, ultimately slaying the giant creature.

Ain't it great to be 13 again?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Death by Sunset - 15th of Mirtul, Year of the Ageless One; 447 North Reckoning.

As their popularity seemed to hit an all time high in the Western Heartlands, once more the Ivory Scimitars were summoned by Lord Bron of Iriaebor. Stone Vale was a bustling mining community of Gnomes nestled in the Sunset Mountains to the north that contributed greatly to the economy of Iriaebor and the wider Heartlands. Pleas for aide against humanoid raids had reached Lord Bron’s ear, however; with reported military activity of Amnish troops in the south, she was hard pressed to send any military aid to the suffering Gnomish settlement. The Ivory Scimitars would be sent instead to investigate and assess the situation and surgically remove the threat if at all possible.

The Gnomes welcomed the Scimitars with great enthusiasm, holding a feast in their honor shortly after arrival where details of their oppression could better be discussed in a very Gnomish forum. The Gnomish town was a flurry with activity with miners going to and fro to their specific dig sites, inventors testing their brilliance with strange devices that might cause even a Gondsman of Lantan to scratch his head in befuddlement; Bakers, Restaurateurs, and other vendors beckoning the crowded streets to sample their wares and press a penny or two in their mitts – it was indeed a busy little place.

After the quaffing of many mugs of the sweetest mead this side of Eagle Peak, Lord Laird Gwaylar addressed the Ivory Scimitars about the raiders. Most of the raiders were of a peculiar sub-race of Goblin known as Norkers, though other fell races were well represented, up to and including a Mountain Giant called Groorg. Generally, the raiders would attack miners on their way back from the dig sites, but recently they began attacking the mines themselves, killing miners and claiming and defending the mines themselves. Gwaylar also mentioned that there was one particular dig site that was, while the greatest concentration of the fiends, was also one that was recently unearthed. He was flippant and even evasive about further details of that site, but the Scimitars decided that was the best site to investigate first.

What the Scimitars found at the site was astonishing. Here sat an unearthed pyramid of black stone of great size. The stone itself was probably of great mineral wealth to the Gnomes – and probably why Gwaylar didn’t want to discuss it. At the only visible entrance to the structure was a three foot high wall and beyond the small wall, only darkness. With no small measure of trepidation, the Scimitars entered the structure.

They were met with arrows fired in the darkness – Norker guards whose eyes could easily be seen in the dark reflecting a sickly yellow-green the light from the entrance. Darkedge and Thyrr met their missile assault with barbs of their own, while Korrick met them with Goliath might. Yuri cast numerous insect related spells that tormented those shining yellow-green eyes with fury. Norkers tried using pillars in the pyramid for cover, but to no avail; and in a short while, the battle was concluded. That’s when the loud foot falls of a new threat were heard coming up the stairs in the back of the black pyramid …

Grime laden claws and yellowed teeth bit from the darkness. The smell of fresh blood assaulted them from the darkness. Entrails hit the floor like so much slop in the darkness. Growls of primal ferocity cut the blackened chamber over the sounds of steel and spells. The crunching of bones and the slurping of viscera were the last things Yuri heard. Korrick fought valiantly, but in vain, for he too succumbed to the hunger that gorged at his flesh. The dizzying savagery of the Trolls sent the Scimitars into a fighting retreat, what few were left …

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Knights of Neverwinter - Curse of Death: 15th of Mirtul, Year of the Ageless One; 447 North Reckoning.

In the wake of the Siege of Neverwinter perpetrated by Red Arrow Orcs, The Nine of Neverwinter were officially Knighted by Lord Dagult Neverember in what some suspect was a half hearted publicity move. Whatever the Lord's motive, the Knights were soon contacted by Harper agent Remallia Haventree. Haventree proposed a mission for the newly knighted heroes, one that was sympathetic to their aims.

The Stormcaller had been ill since his raising from the dead for several days in what seemed an unnatural affliction, and so too had a Harper called Syndra Silvane, a masked wizardress who accompanied Haventree. The Harpers suspected the ailments were caused by a Death Curse which drained those who had cheated death not unlike the manner in which a Lich feeds souls to its phylactery. Haventree felt strongly that a lich might know more about this process that was afflicting so many along the Sword Coast and sought to question one.

However, few liches would be so readily forthcoming with such information, and herein is where a mission for the Knights of Neverwinter lie. Haventree would have them steal or otherwise obtain a lich's phylactery and force the information from the creature. The Harpers would keep the Duchess of Rot, Zaldara Cordress of Cloakwood, preoccupied in battle, while the Knight stole into the lower levels of her tower and procured the Phylactery.

Sirs Gizyg, Azun, The Stormcaller, and a few other newly appointed Knights -  including the Deposed King Bumi, Baodin of Mithrendain, and Coridella of the High Forest, set sail out of Neverwinter, down along the Sword Coast to the Cloakwoods aboard the Harper ship, Diviner. In a matter of a few days, which gave the Harpers ample amounts of time to coordinate an attack upon the Duchess of Rot's tower; they arrived at the shores of the Cloakwood.

Stealing into the lower levels was easy, as the lich had an escape route from her tower that lead into seaside caverns. As planned, Zaldara was easily distracted by the Harpers at her gate and the Knights made their way in stealth into the creature's lair.

With the combined powers of Baodin's strange Sidhe psionics and the pull of the Curse upon Stormcaller, Zaldara's Phylactery, her spellbook, was found relatively quickly. The Lich was enraged and fled from the battle, seeking those who had that which was most precious to her. Stormcaller clutched the book and threatened Zaldara. He would easily destroy the book unless she answered questions. The Duchess literally shook with rage, but the battle outside had sapped her of spells and she was quite vulnerable.

She revealed that the cause of the Death Curse was indeed something like a Phylactery called a Soulmonger and that its origin was somewhere south in the land of Chult. The Knights returned her spellbook and vowed never to cross her path again ...