Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tyranny of Dragons Kickoff

"You've all been hired by the trader Basko to escort a wagon of trade goods to the village of Greenest."

And so begins an Actual Play log of the D&D 5th edition centerpiece campaign.  As an Actual Play thread, the spoilers for the campaign will be flying fast and furious.  All the usual warnings for those who may play the campaign in the future apply from here on out.

The new gaming group started off the long-term campaign, A Tyranny of Dragons, this past Friday with a classic kick start to the campaign – five strangers thrown together as guards for a shipment of supplies through bandit infested lands.  Things have been heating up in the north of Faerun lately, with all sorts of unsavory types doing all manner of unsavory things, even along the most well traveled routes.

Our cast of characters:
·         Raane Inontani, sickly half-elven illusionist/diplomat, my own character
·         Gilgamesh, pale teifling necromancer in dark robes who tends to target opponent’s eyes with awide range of death bolt and death touch spells
·         Karren, beefy dragonborn fighter carrying a big old sword
·         Aramis, human tank style cleric of Helm
·         Grim, an appropriately named human rogue/archer

Tiefling wizard with pale white
skin and jet black dreadlocks.
Basko, the trader who hired the sausage party to run interference for his driver – a friendly Halfling named Jeppo – clearly wanted a group that covers all the bases.  His guards include one each of the four major roles, plus an added ‘faceman’ whose talents lie outside of combat.

What should have been a routine wagon run quickly turned into the running of a kobold gauntlet.  While passing through a small farmstead on the outskirts of their destination, a village called Greenest, the party’s casual conversation was interrupted by a farmwife banging out the front door of her home with several kobolds and a mastiff sized lizard-beast in hot pursuit.  The plucky heroes saved the woman in short order only to be ambushed from behind by more kobolds, this band led by a purple robed maniac. The maniac warned the party that if they didn’t lay down their arms and join in the glorious people’s future they would forever burn in the fires of all dragonkind.  The party put their arms down, right down through the center of the dragon's head symbol on the crazed cultist's chest.

For their part, the kobolds attempted to recruit the one dragonborn member of the part, Karren.  What?  Just because he’s dragonborn he’s the only one worth recruiting?   Racist little bastards.  At this point it isn’t entirely clear whether or not they succeeded.

So.  Cleanup.  The housewife Shelley was quickly bundled into the wagon, given the loot dropped by the kobolds – the least the party could do to help the now widowed, childless, and farmless victim.  Topping the next rise, the party spotted the village of Greenest under attack.  Purple robed cultists and hordes of kobolds running around scaring the citizens, burning homes, and engaging in wanton plunder, death, and destruction.  A large blue dragon circled overhead, blasting the central stone tower with lightning.

After a quick consult, the party elected to take the direct route into town.  The illusionist quickly cast alter self to appear as a purple robed, order barking, maniac.  This plan worked well until the party entered the main square of the village, at which point they blundered into a squad of kobolds chasing down several children and an old man protected only by an injured peasant woman.  Too much for the cleric of Helm, Aramis charged into battle, scattering the kobolds and buying time for the civilians to hop aboard the wagon.  As a side note, while bluffing the kobolds, Raane learned that the scaly little buggers were under orders to capture as many children as possible.  As a main note, the party wiped another handful of kobolds off the face of Faerun.  High points of the fight:
  • Grim has a deadly way with a bow, firing repeated shots into crowded spaces and only hitting enemies each time
  • Karren’s dragonbreath works just as well on dragonkin as it does on humans
  • Raane doesn’t seem too concerned about standing on the front lines of a fight despite being the not-so-proud owner of a measly 4 HP
  • Aramis might just be a cleric of Saint Ineffective, missing on every attack role – on the other side of the coin, his healing touch saved two party members from certain death
  • Gilgamesh the mage is already dealing more damage than the front line fighters, his chill touch and witch bolt devastating opposing spellcasters left and right
  • Karren (whose player is the youngest member of the group, it’s worth noting) was the only one with the presence of mind to capture a kobold alive for later questioning
Openly running now (slowly what with all the civilians in tow), the party found itself in a foot race for the still open gates of the main keep.  Their opponent in the race consisted of a large body of well-trained troops headed in from the opposite direction with a handful of skirmishers out front.  The party arrived at the gates at the same time as the skirmishers, and engaged in a quick fight for control of the gates.  Crossbow wielding enemies - humans this time - set up a withering fire; their bolts put both the dragonborn and the half-elf on the ground.  The leader of the villains, a spellcaster, never got a shot off – the party’s own spellcaster choked the life out of him by way of a well placed chill touch.  Good old Grim managed to lay down effective covering fire from the interior of the keep, staving off the crossbowmen long enough to allow the wagon to enter and the party to drag their wounded comrades into the keep.

BOOM! the front gate slammed down right in the face of a troop of fifty enemy warriors.  Thanks to Grim’s insistence on fulfilling the letter of the contract despite the dragon circling overhead and obviously changing nature of the situation, the supply wagon was delivered and signed for by Tamil and Escobar, a human and dwarf charged with managing and protecting the keep.  The two expressed gratitude not just for the supplies but for the five extra defenders.

While the locals brought the rest of the party up to speed on the situation, Gilgamesh dragged the captured kobold off to a quiet corner for a little private discussion.  During the interrogation, the following three names bubbled to the surface:
·         Bogluk, the guardian of the hatchery
·         Rezmir, a mighty warrior and chief hero of the revolution
·         Frulim, the great overboss of the whole evil shooting match

Following the interrogation, the nameless kobold was re-introduced to his fallen comrades in the next life.

End Chapter One

Monday, August 25, 2014

Old School Skirmish

The best local game shops in town is one of those cramped little shops crammed full of all sorts of odds and ends the store owner has collected over the last two decades.  It's all too easy to while away a full hour digging through boxes of random game titles published since the early 1990s.  This store has a shelf of Paranoia supplements, ICE's MERP books, and more old wargame rules than Carter's got liver pills.  One of those shelves holds a hundred or so small press wargame rules covering everything from ancients to sci-fi and every scale of battle from skirmish to massed battle.

On a whim, I bought a late-Renaissnce skirmish set called Sword and Pistol by a bloke named Richard Stevens.  The copyright on this set of rules is January 1985, making it an interesting look back at the times.  For example, the introduction states that the set was designed for a fast moving game, that "usually lasts for two or three hours".  There was a time where two or three hours was considered fast.  That amuses me.  These days the guys touting their rules as fast are clocking in at less than an hour a game.

So how does it play?  Well...can't say as I'll ever find out.  It's just way too fiddly for my tastes.

Sword and Pistol uses written orders for movement/attack. It classes figures into eight different grades that can move at five different speeds - you can only move up or down two speed classes per turn, so you've got to track that.  There are rules for accidental collisions - even between people on foot.  Each of the eight figure classes has different to-hit chances with the fourteen different missile weapons, given to you in a chart.  There's another chart that does the same thing for melee. Add in charts for morale, quirky costs for figures that turn while moving, and so on, and the whole thing just gets way too complicated for my tastes.  Even with just the 8-12 figures recommended you're looking at spending a lot of time on book-keeping rather than playing.

Don't get me wrong, the rules could be a lot of fun if you're looking for a sort of poor-man's-wargaming-version-of-Squad-Leader. This may be one of those games where having a GM set it up and walk you through the complexities could make for an enjoyable afternoon.  But it's not for me.  I'll stick with the modern skirmish sets like the Song of... series or the Two-Hour Wargame titles.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Fields For Battle

Yep.  So.  Got some paint on the farm fields.  Just need some dull coat to take the shine down a notch.  These fields give me three easily stored square-ish terrain blocks that will do a fine job blocking line of sight and travel times for ground pounders.

This one has static grass sprouts in the rows, but they
don't photograph well.

They look just fine, but a word of warning on a product that doesn't work very well for these applications.  Normally, I use a watered down craft glue to fix the sand covering in place.  This time around, instead of craft-style white glue, I grabbed a product called "Mod Podge".  My daughters use it for their Littlest Pet Shop trinkets, and it looked like it wouldn't require watering down.  Skipping a step made it look like it was worth a shot.
Like an idiot, I didn't read the not-so-fine-print.  Turns out that this stuff is high gloss (though you can buy a matte finish version).  Regardless, this stuff dries too fast for my tastes, and doesn't take to the acrylic paints well at all.  It took several coats of paint to cover the shine, which completely negated the time saved by not having to water it down.  Lesson learned.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Next!

Whatever you call the new version of D&D ("Next", "Fifth Edition", or just "D&D"), I've got my first RPG character in over five years.  My new group met last Friday night to roll up characters, and my son and I wound up with the spellcasters.  He's got the boom-boom mage, and I've got the 'face' of the group - an illusionist sorcerer with all the 'talky' skills dialed up as high as possible.

The plan for the group is to run through the initial campaign offered up by WotC, Tyranny of Dragons.  Apparently it takes place in Forgotten Realms, but the DM is playing his cards close to his chest, so aside from that, the presence of dragons, and presumably a dungeon or two...not quite sure what to expect.  

As mentioned previously, one of my favorite aspects of published adventures is the ability to compare your run through them with that of others.  Can't really do that if nobody is talking about their campaign though, and I'd be a hypocrite if I complained about not having any actual play posts to read on other blogs if War in a Box didn't include one, too.  So watch this space - as I plug away at the miniature wargame stuff, I'll pause now and again to update readers on how my group fares against the dragons and their tyranny.

Oh, and my five second review of the new version of D&D?  What's up with the halfling art?  Poor little guys...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Back on the Horse With Some Fields

The single most important tool in a wargaming arsenal is probably one of the more over-looked - the humble table.  The last thirteen months Team Abox lived in a dingy and tiny little rental house while saving up for a mortgage.  Last month that dream came true, and my realtor (of all people), had an older table that she donated to the cause.

Short story even shorter: I'm back.

Let's kick off the new house and table with a simple all-purpose project.  Farm fields are nice little universal terrain feature that work well with fantasy, historical, and even far flung future projects.  Everybody has to eat.
Not sure how well that carved balsa wood wall will look
once painted.  May have to hid some seams and end caps
with carefully placed vines.
The figures are Rebel Miniatures.  The fences are basic
green scrubber hedges and cut balsa.
Three variations on a theme make for variety while
tying everything together on the table.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Moldvay Gems

The cool kids all seem to be raving about the offerings over at dndclassics.com, especially the Moldvay edition of Basic D&D.  Being the tech savvy luddite that I am, I scored a hard copy of those rules via eBay.

As is the custom, having read these rules cover to cover, allow me a post to point out a couple of  details that had escaped my notice lo these many years.  We'll skip the big and obvious things - a quick run around the blog-o-scape reveals that I'm not the first - and talk about just three of the many rediscovered wonders in this tight little book.  Others have pointed out quirks like inheritance, cure light wounds negating paralysis, and the variable bonuses for CHA vs. the other five stats.  These are the three things I haven't seen discussed elsewhere.

1.  Dwarves as race.  It's not what you think.  Fans of Basic D&D know there are four races of players (human, halfling, elf, and dwarf), but according to the rules as written, dwarves are also people of color.  Page B9 states, "Their skin is earth-colored and their hair is dark brown, gray, or black."  The conjures images of the faerie-folk like master craftsman of Norse myth moreso than the Warcraft style stocky vikings with Scottish accents.  It's not a big deal, but it is yet another indication that early D&D owes less to Tolkien and more to the myths that Tolkien himself drew on.  Speaking of which...

2.  Elves are short.  Again, from page B9, "They are 5 to 5 1/2 feet tall and weigh about 120 pounds."  These aren't tall, willowy beings that peer haughtily down their noses at the stumpy humans.  They are elves of the old world - another detail that's been lost through the decades.

3.  Monsters move really slowly when they aren't in combat or chasing food (i.e. meddling adventurers).  Let's look to the movement section where adventurers move at a sedate 120 feet per ten minute turn.  That seems slow, but it accounts for, "mapping carefully*, searching, and trying to be quiet" (page B19).  Monsters are given movement rates on a per turn basis as well (page B29).  Because they also move carefully, map, and search?

Probably not.  This is most likely a hold over from the earliest Gygax days when any player could have a character of any race. The grognards report that ol' Gary would let folks play level 1 monsters of any stripe, but that the characters started out the lowest HD of that type.  If you wanted to be a vampire, you started as a skeleton, advanced through zombie, and so on until you hit Vampire HD.

I could be wrong, but it makes more sense than the idea that the goblins that ran into the party were mapping the dungeon, searching for traps, and trying to keep quiet. Those bad boys are on their home turf here.

*Incidentally, this line in the book is what leads me to interpret searching for secret doors as an "always on" ability; the first time a party passes by a secret door they have a 1 in 6 chance of noticing it (2 in 6 if a dwarf or elf is with them) even if they don't state they are specifically looking.  If they state they are doing so, they get a second chance where the player rolls the die.  It makes it a little more likely that doors are found, which is fine by me - secret doors are part of the fun of exploration, and I don't put them there to not be used.

Friday, February 7, 2014

AAR: The Necromancer's End, Part 2

To recap:  Our humble and noble Necromancer was passing innocently through a pleasant wooded glade when he was viciously accosted by a troop of inbred and illiterate ogres.  
The Necromancer, his assistant, and his skeletal party were heading south through the forest as shown here. The ugly ogres and their pet troll, spotting a potential victim, immediately headed in for the kill.  Being slow and stupid, this took quite a while.  First one ogre would shamble forward, then the other.  Thanks to their bumbling ineptitude, the Necromancer had plenty of time to organize a defense.

Rushing through the fallen columns of an ancient abandoned temple, lurking behind any available hiding place, the cowardly and thuggish Warchief split off one ogre and the troll to cross the stream at a narrow footbridge (on the right of the photo).

The Necromancer, fearing for the safety of his lizardman employee, chose to split his own forces.  He stationed three shooters to the west and gathered up his five swordsmen to the east.

The first of the ogres foolishly charged the shooters on the left, clearly signalling his murderous intent.  The handsome and dashing Necromancer whipped up a bit of sorcery, and transfixed the ogre in place.  The skeleton archers, the weakest fighters in the battle, somehow manage to defend themselves and their beloved boss by knocking their attacker out of the fight.

Meanwhile, to the west, one of the wall-eyed knuckledragging ogres was hurling massive boulders across the stream, to no effect.

The ogres finally sent their heavy hitter across the bridge and straight into the massed rank of skeletal warriors.

The brave Necromancer met the threat head-on.  His warriors swarmed the Troll, to little effect, until the Necromancer himself tranfixed the savage troll, which allowed his warriors to desperately work together to dispatch the relentless beast.  That feral and probably rabid beast put out of its misery, they turned their attention to the ogre waiting nearby, but disaster struck!  The Necromancer, having spent his spell points healing orphans and saving kittens from high trees, found his reserves depleted - no more could he call upon his ancient arts to protect his poor bony friends from the depredations of the Warchief and his minions.  Alas and alack!

On the eastern front, the archers fought one ogre to a stalemate.  Time was not on the archers' side, however, as the foul and greedy Warchief slowly picked his way across the bubbling brook.  Adding his considerable (and most likely alcoholic) weight to the fight proved to be too much for the skeletal archers.  At odds of 3:1 they stood a fighting chance, but at 3:2 the outcome was inevitable - two standing ogres and a pile of bones.

With the death of one too many friendly skeletons, the Necromancer encouraged his skeletons to quit the field.  After a brief start, they reconsidered and rushed back to assist their beloved employer, who stands alone to buy them time to escape. 

Alas.  The Necromancer's erstwhile reinforcements arrived too late.  As they reached the fight, the Necromancer was sent spinning through the brush, his poor lifeless body as crushed as his love of all things good and just.  The Warchief celebrated his victory over the innocent and humble Necromancer in the traditional dim-witted way of his kind, by looking for some other poor soul to beat up on.  

Guess which faction was run by your humble host.
Aftermath:  So this battle pitted a large force of easily activated weaklings against a larger force of poorly motivated brutes.  The ogre player got off to a rough start, pushing his luck by rolling for two actions.  With 4+ figures, that didn't work out so well.  His Warchief in particular took himself out of the game completely.  Late in the game, he went with a slower and more methodical approach by throwing just one dice for each ogre.  That way they each got a chance to do something each round rather than risk having that first guy come up snake eyes and wasting a full turn standing around.

The real back-breaker was that triple-failure roll on the Necromancer's spellcasting early in the fight.  A fallen troll triple-teamed by skeletons still has the advantage in the fight, but a transfixed troll is at their mercy.

For my part, I made the mistake of using my Leader (the wizard) to order the melee skeletons around.  He would have been far more successful ordering the archers to combine fire while shooting energy bolts at a target.  That way even a lost fight wouldn't have resulted in a casualty.

Live and learn.

We're still learning the ins and outs of this game, but hope next to run a more complicated battle between a small adventuring party and an orcish warband.