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Saturday, January 16, 2010

2nd Session

The party decided to trek back into the vast marsh to find the lost tomb. They re-equipped a little and resupplied, then headed out.

They spent a total of 4 days and nights wandering about almost aimlessly, as they kept getting lost and back-tracking. They are considering returning to town to find a guide and Ruby is starting to believe there is a magical force at work preventing them from getting near the area where the tomb lies.

The first day out they ran afoul of a giant poisonous snake, but managed to slay the beast in three rounds of fighting. Drisnir got hit twice but made his save both times, healing had him back to full efficiency for the next day. They decided to butcher the snake and add it to their rations. I ruled that they could stuff themselves with snake meat and drop to 1/2 ration use for 3 days before the rest of the snake went bad.

Third day out they got the same giant poisonous snake encounter again, only at greater range and with fewer hit points. They were alert and unsurprised and got 2 rounds of shots at it while it closed. It's morale broke on the 2nd round and it attempted to flee, the party hit it with more arrows and sling stones killing it before it could get away. Then they butchered it for the extra rations.

Fourth day out just after dusk a hobgoblin patrol ran into them and attempted to stealthily move in on their camp, but they screwed up and got spotted by the ever alert Sister Celeste. I rolled 1d6+2 for Hobgoblins and decided that they would have 1d4 Bugbears with them since the loss of an entire patrol last week, they got 8 Hobgoblins and 4 Bugbears- not good for the party, but I had decided to let the dice fall where they may. The HP totals were about average for them, slightly to the low, but I figured swamp living probably isn't doing them any favors either.

The party actually surprised them and got shots off (to absolutely no avail), then won initiative and Sister Brangwen and Drisnir lobbed flaming oil both hitting and killing a Hobgoblin each (with Drisneer also slightly scorching one Bugbear)and Sister Celeste or Ruby wounding another Hobgoblin with missile fire. The enemy closed with the party.

Next round Sister Brangwen and Drisnir closed with the enemy and started laying the smack down, then got surrounded and started getting hurt. Sister Celeste cast bless managing to get herself, Sister Brangwen and Drisnir. Brangwen got knocked down, but was healed by Celeste and back up the next round. Drisnir got dropped a round or so later while Celeste and Brangwen were fighting back to back. The round after that Ruby fell to a hard hit from a Bugbear. Maybe 5 or 6 rounds (and a couple of wound ally critical fumbles on the part of the Hobgoblin patrol) after that Celeste and Brangwen managed to break the morale of the last Hobgoblin standing and he managed to get away. Tough bastards, they refused to break no matter how hard they got hit, I figure the last guy escaped to tell the rest of the tribe what they were up against.

I house ruled in that we used 3e style stabilize and both Drisnir and Ruby made it. Additionally, it is a house rule that a character has negative HP=1/2CON(rounded up)+1 before death. I also have been house ruling in healing kits with some non-magic healing stuff in them, I give 3 uses of 1d4 healing in the kits and 10 uses of 1 hp "first aid". I feel this frees clerics from the role of field medic and lets them use spells other than cure light wounds. I also rule that the gods don't really like their clerics to take multiple instances of spells. So the healing kits, while they are not particularly helpful at higher levels, are very helpful to low levels in keeping them alive and extending their time in the field.

We broke after this fight, I gave out XP, they divided the cash take and we watched Doctor Who.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1st Game!

First game of the new campaign, very exciting. The game started a little slow, it can be hard to get Em to settle in; John too if the mood isn't striking him when it's game time, so it took a bit of prodding from myself and Ashli to get the game moving. I gave them a couple of different rumors of where to seek out adventure. There is a newly discovered dungeon complex to the north or they could search for a lost tomb in the vast marsh across the Averyraen from Castra. They chose search for the tomb (although John wanted to go find the Dwarves in their ancient kingdom)and into the marshes they went. The first day went without incident, other than Em nearly losing a boot in thick mud and everyone being made miserable by mosquitoes, gnats and leeches.

The first night however did not pass uneventfully. They divided into four one-man watches Drissneer (John) had third- he wanted first, but Em called it before he did- and got a random encounter with a giant frog. I was merciful and made it only one, reasoning that restarting the campaign after the first random encounter would suck. Drissneer woke his party with a shout and charged it. He succeeded in taking it out largely alone- one minor hit from Sister Brangwen (Mona), otherwise all his.

Next watch was Sister Brangwen's and she got a Hobgoblin patrol in the predawn. I figured they must have been attracted by the party's fire and come to investigate. Sister Brangwen was more alert than Drissneer had been and woke her fellow party members quietly so they could prepare for battle. The Hobgoblins drew up in a battle line just outside the range of the light from the campfire, I had them roll initiative when they reached visible range for the party and the battle commenced.

Since Drissneer and Sister Celeste (Ember) were still armoring up-2 rounds for Drissneer, 3 for Celeste; So Sister Brangwen charges their archer but misses. Rosie (Ashli) fired off a round from her shortbow and dropped one, then they went. They surrounded Sister Brangwen, 2 rushed Rosie and their archer moved to get a clear shot at Drissneer.

Long story made short- a series of really bad dice rolls on both sides left the party with three down, only Drissneer was left standing. One Hobgoblin fumble killed another adjacent Hobgoblin while they were double-teaming Rosie. Heroic Sister Brangwen got unlucky 2 rounds in and got hit by 3 out of 4 that were surrounding her knocking her into negatives. The next morning I ruled that everyone could be conscious so they could more easily head back to town, they made it back without incident and stayed at the inn. It was fun and after that we broke to make dinner and watch Doctor Who, since it was a school night we had to stop.

Next time we'll start having passed a couple days and healed everyone to full.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Prepping the setting

The new sandbox campaign starts this weekend. The setting is this: Humanity (and by extension demi-humanity) has fallen on hard times. Their world has been over-run by humanoids (and worse) in the recent past. The "Home-base" of the PCs is a fortified town on what used to be the border between two mutually antagonistic human kingdoms, the great powers of their time. Those kingdoms set aside their differences ultimately to fight the threat of the massive invasion but failed anyway to stave off their destruction. Losing armies of humans and their demihuman allies retreated to this fortified zone some 30 years ago and have relatively little contact with the outside world. I keep picturing a fantasy version of the "Twilight 2000" setting, but it is actually more like "What if aliens invaded the earth at the height of the cold war", only in a fantasy setting.

Anyway, humans and demihumans control only fortified or easily defensible areas, and not all of them. The great kingdoms of the past are fallen. Trade is all but gone. Large swathes of formerly civilized territories are under the control of tribes of various races of humanoids or worse. Humans (and demihumans) in those territories are either gone, enslaved or food. Or a combination of those. D&D post-apocalyptic.

This all fits with my theme of an ancient and ongoing multi-planar war, and I get to tie it into the last campaign on ran in Garnia where the players failed to stop Horsa and his minions. Not their fault really, the campaign ended prematurely, but that kind of seemed the direction it was headed in.

So in my official timeline now Horsa managed to become Aetheling of the Westermarch and his minions unsealed the gates between worlds, so the dwindling and weak humanoids of the world were immediately reinforced by the legions of their brethren. The hordes of darkness also had access to the ancient Dwarven roads which made the kingdoms largely indefensible and the unknown reaches of the underworld once again had access to the surface. Ancient evils vanquished long ago returned, other planar threats emerged leading vast armies of evil humanoids.

Ultimately, this did not go well for Horsa or his minions. Not only was the entirety of the Westermarch over-run, but the entire kingdom of Wodanslund; it's capital Wodansburgh burned to the ground and it's people largely became food for the slavering horde. Wodanish is a language spoken by very few people now refugees all, they have no homeland to return to.

The campaign area is the Garnian-Frodian border region, starting in an outlying town inside Garnia- the region where the Averyraen and the Aver- something I can't recall at the moment and I can't find my map right now, the one that runs up into the old Dwarven kingdom of Khazarak. All of this was the center of the ancient elven empire, and is home to the mysterious Tomari people- a human ethnic group whose origins are lost and speak a language unrelated to any other in the world.

I like languages and cultures. Anthropology is the DM's friend.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I love Hackmaster. I loved it's 4th edition and I love the new Hackmaster Basic. When I swore off 3e D&D I went straight to HM. I extolled it's virtues to every gamer I knew and I ran a game for a while. It ended mostly because I had some health issues and the group of players was starting to fragment- Steve always lived a good distance away, Matt and Heather were finishing grad school and moving out of state, John and Kevin both were hard to pin down for regular times to game, Melissa and John broke up and Tom was Kevin's high school aged son and dependent on him for a ride to the game.

When my daughter Ashli was old enough to become interested in gaming her and her friends wanted to play D&D, so that's where I went. Now, after several years of convincing, all of my kids game with my wife and me and we have gone retro. Getting my kids, my son John in particular, to see the benefit of non-video game style of play, with it's instant gratification power-ups was a challenge; but I finally did it.

Then HMB came out. We had been playing in a 1st Edition AD&D game when it was released, so we didn't get to play it right away. That game kind of guttered out amid the life-clutter of the new school year; Ashli is taking a pretty heavy course load and it took some time to adjust, John had football practice every day, only Em really had any time to spare. I managed to get a game started in November. Ashli is GMing! It's her first time trying and on a new system. She is doing a pretty great job. I really am liking the system, it has a really old school feel. However, Ashli only feels able to play every other week at most so I am picking up the extra time slot and running a 1st edition AD&D campaign.

Why AD&D? Because I can run it easily, off the cuff and my campaign world came from AD&D. I am sick and tired of converting stuff to match this game or that version. It was easy to run Hackmaster 4th edition there, it's just adding to AD&D; the new HMB is TSR-less, without D&D as it's base. Will I convert eventually? Maybe, hell probably even, but for right now, this next campaign, I am going old school with a vengeance.

Great Khan?

A simple explanation of the name of the blog- I was/am Jagatai, Khakhan of the Steppe Warriors. The Steppe Warriors are a largely defunct online gaming guild/clan that started in AOLs Neverwinter Nights back in the mid 1990's. Most, but by no means all, Steppe Warriors were local to Oswego County in NY state. We gamed together in the real world and online. We were culturally very Mongolian for RP and took Mongol names for our online personae. There is a lot more to it than all of this, but it isn't really relevant to the blog, I just needed a name and went with my go-to online persona.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

AD&D 1st edition

I get asked from time to time why I use 1st edition AD&D rules for the games I run. The answer is simple- it's the game I know best. I started playing AD&D very shortly after being introduced to role playing games via the Holmes Basic D&D boxed set. The Expert boxed set followed when it got released adding to the confusion; I mostly dumped Basic and Expert in favor of Advanced probably before the end of 1982. From there until the release of second edition AD&D, the most gaming filled years of my life, I ran or played in 1st edition. I know rules and house rules for pretty much every situation. I still have, tucked in my DMG, intoxication rules I wrote for the game sometime after 1985.

I didn't play 1st edition much after the release of 2nd edition until after 3rd edition was released. Just a couple of short campaigns run by a guy I met that didn't see much point in buying a new set of books when he owned a perfectly serviceable version of the game. I wish I could say I had his wisdom, but I bought into second edition myself, not as hard as some, but I did. There was a lot to like in second edition- clarifications, removal of contradictory rules, the way Thief abilities worked (in theory). At first I liked the supplementary books with the kits too, I bought the Fighter one. If I had known what they would eventually become...

The loss of the 1/2 Orc was kind of a bummer, the loss of the Monk not so much. They screwed the Ranger up pretty bad for no reason I could tell. Lost the Assassin, not a great loss. Changing the names of Demons and Devils, cowardly but understandable. But the minor rules changes for the sake of change were an irritant to me for the whole of the 2nd edition period. Plus the constant decline in quality of supplemental materials like modules was a plague. I also preferred Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms, but that really was not terribly important to me because I used a home-brewed campaign world.

3rd edition brought my first wave of revolt. My gaming group refused to buy into the new rules at first because we didn't want to spend the money or convert our characters. Eventually though we started buying the books and investing ourselves into 3e. I agreed to DM a campaign and away we went. First I liked it, then I grew weary of it, then I hated it. 3e was not conducive to my "off the cuff" style of DMing, required way more prep time and rules memorization than I had time for and had much more the feel of a tactical miniatures game than I wanted for D&D. I eventually gave over the DMing responsibility to one of the other guys and rolled up a character of my own to play the remainder of the module series we had been playing, we never finished but he took us through the next 2 modules before we just quit.

I ran a couple of more games using 3.5 (for which I only ever bought the PH), one in my home-brewed world with a much more "old school" style of play which ended only because of life getting in the way; the other was a heavily house-ruled Oriental Adventures campaign using the Kara Tur setting and old OA modules converted to a mix of 1st edition/3e/3.5e/stuff I found on the net and stuff from my head. It drove our resident rules Nazi a little crazy, but we all had a pretty good time until life screwed it up too.

During this same time my buddy Lance started talking about going "back to basics" and started a Rules Cyclopedia based campaign, it didn't last, but it was a good idea. Less rules means less rules lawyering and more DM is always right. Basic D&D was not the right fit for us because we had cut our teeth on Advanced and played it for a long time- it was too retro.

Then I thought about my campaign world. I had designed it and evolved it largely through 1st edition, 3e was too far removed, made too many changes to be a good fit. I needed to either house-rule the hell out of 3e (which I did) or go retro. My kids were reticent to go retro at first, but now they are actually 1st edition partisans. I think when they were younger they fell for the more polished presentation of 3e (and 2nd edition to a lesser extent). I guess it didn't hurt either that those editions were marketed to younger audiences than 1st edition.

Ultimately this post is about my impending "sand-box" style campaign with 1st edition AD&D rules, where the players (my wife and 3 kids) will start in a small town on the frontier near some ruins. Characters are made, we start this weekend. My wife, Mona, and my youngest, Ember, are playing Human Clerics; My son,John, a Human Fighter and my oldest daughter, Ashli, is playing a Halfling Thief. I hope it goes well.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In the beginning...

I started playing D&D with the Holmes Basic set in the spring of 1980. I got that set after obsessing about the advertisement in "Boy's Life" for months. I saved my allowance and hunted for it, the hunting took longer than the saving. I don't remember now where I found it finally, but I suspect it was on one of my family's (roughly) monthly trips to Syracuse. D&D would explode onto the scene shortly and be quite commonly available, but hadn't quite yet.

I played with my dad when I started. I DMed, he played a Halfling Fighter named Mee the magnificent. I ran a corps of NPCs with names cribbed from across the spectrum of fantasy literature- Radigast the magic-user, Conan the thief and Lancelot the cleric come to mind immediately and somewhat perversely. I misinterpreted, misunderstood, extrapolated and house-ruled my way through DMing an entire campaign based on "B2:The Keep on the Borderlands" which had come with my boxed set. We had a good time, but it wasn't really my dad's cup of tea and he would only rarely play again over the next few years. Boot Hill, on the other hand, he played on and off until after I was out of high school as the leader of a notorious bandit gang that terrorized the south west and occasional lawman.

Next I found a couple of (slightly) older guys in my school that were into D&D. I befriended both and started playing with one, Chris, that lived about 5 miles from my house. He put together a group that played at each others houses. It lasted 2 sessions before collapsing and I never played with David, John or Pam again. Chris was a crazy compelling DM though and I played a few more times with him (and sometimes his younger brother Pat) before we stopped hanging out together. Chris had a difficult personality to deal with- over the years I would find this to be a disturbing trend in gamers.

As it happened the other older guy from school that DMed, Tim, moved much closer to me, about a mile from my house. I didn't know about this immediately because it happened during the summer, but shortly after school started I joined his campaign already in progress. Tim was the first really great DM I ever played with. Chris had been able to draw you into his setting, but it was always extremes with him- you died or you got super powerful. Tim managed to consistently provide interesting adventures, had "living" NPCs and something of an over all campaign arc. He did this sometimes 8 hours a day 7 days a week (in summers). Watching him taught me how to improvise a lot. Plan what you can, improvise the rest and be willing to steal ideas from any and all sources- not just genre.

He based his campaign in the town of Specularum in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, but aside from the map (kind of) and some names, this was his baby. Specularum was a city of thieves and, oddly, dwarves. Strangely, it was a small town not unlike the one we lived in, only direcly on the water instead of being inland a bit. There was one tavern- Borg's. Borg was a fat old Dwarf and the local thieves guild met in his basement or across the street at Andemon's armory. Borg's also doubled as a brothel and he had rooms to rent. We lived here between adventures drinking and whoring to our teen-aged heart's content. We were friends with the Bartender Ramh. When Will quit playing D&D his cleric became the priest of the village church. There was a pirate queen that stayed here too named Angela, that my character- a mighty Northman Fighter named Mandark the Barbarian(after the release of UA and the Barbarian class renamed Mandark the Wild) eventually married and semi-retired with. We bought the old ship yard down the street from Borg's and ran that as a business.

Tim's campaign ran for years usually 2 or 3 times a week during the school year and nearly every day during the summer (except when he was at his dad's) for about 5 years until he graduated from high school and went in the army. He house-ruled a lot (did away entirely with experience points, you leveled when he felt you earned it), he had an odd fixation with thieves and dwarves (and dwarven thieves), he was stingy with loot (particularly permanent magic items); but it was the longest running campaign I ever played in and one of the most enjoyable. I am not alone in feeling that way either- several of us veterans (Myself, Lance and Paul) from that campaign have tried playing together after that over the years with greater and lesser degrees of success, but we all agree that it hasn't really been the same.

Concurrent with Tim's campaign I was still running a game every now and again, sometimes to give Tim a break and sometimes because he was gone (usually to his dad's which wasn't really far away- just too far to walk or ride a bike) or with my neighbor Scott when I had some extra time. Scott played a halfling thief named Thorik and managed to make it up to 8th or 9th level before dieing being resurrected and then ultimately retiring. He was replaced briefly by a half-elf fighter/magic-user by the name of Rosmore. Lance showed up semi-regularly with his Paladin Bordan from Tim's campaign, or tested out new characters to see how he liked them- mostly thieves and assassins. As we got older Tim DMed less and I picked up the slack.

But now I have to back track a little, back to Junior High where I met and gamed with an entirely different group of people. I was sent to a different school than my local friends at home- one district away to the south-east; which gave me a broader spectrum of gaming friends. I started a D&D club there (and was it's president for my 2 years there) and met one of my best gaming buddies of all time, Darryl. We never actually seemed to play much D&D in that club- in 2 years I only remember playing 3 times, but it's where us D&D nerds were at and I occasionally gamed a little with them at off times, before school started in the morning, at lunch, or very quietly in the library during study hall. Darryl and I collaborated on the design of my campaign world, The World of Garnia, that I have used ever since- he drew the maps I still use as a basis for the layout of the countries and he adopted one of the cultures as his own-the Magocracy of Frodia and their patron god Frodal. We have both run very different versions of the campaign world at different times and we have occasionally run it as a shared campaign. For nearly 30 years it has been a mutual love and a bone of contention, we bounce ideas off of each other and we butt heads over it. My vision is largely the official one, but he has had a huge amount of input.

I had to backtrack there because my campaign is the semi-official focus of my blog and this first post is mostly about my history with D&D and AD&D, the World of Garnia started and grew with my experiences there. I read the 1st edition DM's Guide like it was holy scripture. I read Dragon with an eye towards being a better DM and developing my world. An article in Dragon said to infuse your world with realism- so I did. Make your dungeons have reason and purpose- done. Eventually the world started having a real feel to it. Every now and again a campaign would sputter out and I'd reboot the campaign into the future 50, 100, 500 years or occasionally to some less developed part of the past. Player actions and plot arcs from previous campaigns become history and legend in the new. New editions of the game required rebooting for the most part- done. I have played D&D, AD&D, 3.x, HackMaster and GURPS (and play-tested a home-brewed RPG) in Garnia. The earliest reboot was to back-story the existence of many races (a great multi-planar war) and to give the Human race a cultural touch-stone (Gaelic, later retconned to include Gauls, Britons and Pagan Anglo-Saxons and, eventually many more groups of humans that simply live in areas outside of the main campaign play area).

My campaign world has maybe a dozen pages of written history. When I started it in earnest I wrote it like a clone of the Greyhawk gazetteer, it was my only model for world design. I had a brief write up of each major country and a lot of really crappy heraldry. I wrote a pantheon of dieties- since mostly dropped from the setting in favor of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon gods. Mostly.

Enough for one day, I can't seem to stay on topic and most people could probably care less about my nostalgic trip.