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Trollopulous Adjusted Session 48: The Charge of the Douche Brigade

Fri, 11/17/2023 - 18:32

This game was a long time coming. Way back in January I devised a new town and dungeon local to specifically to set up a “mudcore tier of play” for new players where they could play without being bothered by any “patron” tier characters from the broader campaign. The idea was that when they graduated to level 3 or 4 or so, they would have a chance to fight a cool miniatures battle and then begin to move about on the campaign map as they pleased once they were victorious. Limiting “bro” character autonomy in this way back then was very controversial and the players did not like it at all.

Here is the data for my original “one-page campaign setting”:

  • Urgrecht/Whocaresville — MU5 Elderbrecht, C3, C2, A4, C2, M3 Bechtylbrecht, M2, F4 Urglebrechtenburglebrechtenmecht, 80 Romans with Chainmail, Shield, Spear, and short sword.
  • Lothrivengrove — MU2, F3 Hanse, R4 Gooberthorn, F3, C2, D5 Kickatrix, 30 archers with longbow/leather/dagger, 30 light cavalry with short bow/leather/dagger.
  • Burgleburg — C3, F2, F2, T4, F2, F2, A5, 80 ruffians with sling/leather/club.

The players wanted Steadington to be this city where they could sell magic-items and find training and run their game, but it turned out to be controlled by hill giants, trolls, and goblin wolf-riders. The latter turned out to be devastating to the players when they first encountered them. Goblin archers could not be wiped out with ranged weapons. And charging wargs was suicide. If you were on foot you could not get away. If the goblins were outmatched, they could escape. The perfect unit! It turned out that we didn’t need “big” monsters to keep the players in their play pen. Just a few mounted gobbos!

So, my idea was that the players would grow in power, form an alliance with these three cities and then somehow march on Steadington and liberate it. But this lead to the question of why Steadington didn’t just send some hill giants down to level these stupid small towns. The answer to that was… Doucheland. If the player area was blocked in by Steadington and impassable mountains, then Steadington was bottled up by the valiant forces of Doucheland!

The other piece of the puzzle came from my face-to-face group which had traveled to an alternate dimension to defeat an ancient blue dragon with Wild Wild West meets A-team superweapons in a truly inspired escape room scenario that led to novice players returning to Urgrecht/Whocaresville with two hatchlings and three dragon eggs. The loss and destruction of the eggs is an epic tale in and of itself, but then Elderbrecht researched a spell to “force grow” the hatchlings into adulthood using giant weasel blood for a spell component which the players had brought back to him.

Fast forward to last night where we were finally ready to set up a game for all of this. I added in new “faction” forces for everyone to play and nailed down everything that was still ambiguous:

  • Doucheland — 100 Heavy Cavalry (plate, heavy lance), 300 infantry (plate, pike), 50 Gross Nerds (darts, 2 magic missile spells)
  • Steadington — 30 Hill Giants, 20 Trolls, 50 goblin wolf-riders, 10 Ogre Magi
  • Elderbrecht — Two adult dragons that may run amok at any moment
  • Billy — 3rd level fighter controlling a palisade with 30 refugees from Steadington forming a small army. (This is the only PC to directly play in the event.)
  • Kronen’s orcs — Steadington looked a little light on canon fodder, so 200 orcs armed with axes and heavy crossbows where whipped up as a wildcard faction and placed in the cave hex.
  • Belboz — One more “wild card” for the game. He did not emerge from the shadows as of yet so his details will remain secret. I placed his dungeon in the mountain hex in AG-40.
  • Chaz’s Hippogriff Squadron — Chaz gave me some orders and I intended to play him as an NPC as I had done with Foam the Gnome in the face-to-face game but I was so overwhelmed in the session this only came up as a minor factor. Things were so interesting on their own I did not feel the need to invoke Chaz as an instigating factor or as a garnish.

Everything was now set up for what I was calling a “Battle Braunstein”. My expectation going in was that everyone would try to gang up on Steadington, that a terrible plan would form to send all the pieces in motion, and that said plan would devolve into two or three battles in different places on the map. One awesome miniatures battle worth playing would have been a major victory for me– with maybe a couple of minor battles elsewhere on the map. Further, to integrate with continuing campaigns and the 1:1 time rules, I was hoping to get concrete dates for these events so that player characters could interact with them later at their own pace.


Session Braunsteins exist in a highly subjective sort of time. Orders are given and events happen, and players are cutting backroom-deals and you cannot possibly keep up with it all so there is no time to carefully track what day it is at any given point of the session. The best that I could manage and all I could do in the actual session was to declare that if something happened in the session then it happened when it happened, and no deal or negotiation made thirty minutes later could alter the circumstances which established that original event. If you run this stuff anything like I do, you will come away knowing the order in which several dramatic events have occurred. BUT YOU WILL NOT HAVE A PRECISE DATE YOU CAN ATTACH TO ANY OF THEM.

Therefore, a referee will have to use his judgement in order to integrate the events of a Session Braunstein back into a continuing campaign that is running under a very clear and (these days) intuitive 1:1 timekeeping system. In my opinion, you should err on the side of referee energy and player interest. In our case, we will not be meeting the following Thursday night due to Thanksgiving. We have a few loose ends to sort out. Declaring that all of these events took two weeks to transpire is reasonable and nothing needs be placed into “time jail” at all when we resume play the following Thursday. But you have to ask, “what did the PC’s do in response to these titanic events?” Don’t care! The new status quo we have produced in a single session is so exciting, it will be way more profitable to have the lower level PC’s react to it all after the fact than to try to integrate them into battles we have already resolved.

But anyway, the session ran for six hours. The first two were 1:1 player conferences where I personally nailed down each person’s faction and coached them on the overall strategic situation. This ran a little long in my opinion and it might have been shortened if I had been more prepared, but NOBODY knew what we were doing and all of their engagement with me before the game seemed to me to fail to anticipate what I actually needed and was going for. But that’s what blazing a trail is like!

At 8PM I began pulling people into one-on-one conferences again after a brief speech to everyone when I tried to get things rolling. But things did not get rolling! Players were confused!! So maybe around 8:30PM I popped back into the main room and told them that they didn’t need to worry about being in the same location in order to negotiate with everyone else in the game. THIS WAS AN ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL CALL BECAUSE IT IS WHAT ALLOWS PEOPLE TO PLAY A BRAUNSTEIN AT ALL. A consequence of this decision is that we lose strict timekeeping and enter the weird subjective time world of a highly fluid and chaotic Braunstein scenario. (Note: if you don’t like this you should stay with the “always on” approach which we developed previously and which we ran into the ground during 2022.)

At this point things took off and things happened so quickly I could barely keep up. Very early on there was a minor engagement between some goblin scouts and some Lothrivengrove archers. This was on the periphery, and I could tell that this by itself was not going to trigger a “convergence” of many varied interests operating under a fog of war. I told the players I was tabling this because it just wasn’t compelling enough to soak up referee time when I hadn’t even checked in with everyone yet.

The next thing to happen was that Billy got sent with a dragon to scout out the cave hex at J-28. This is where I had placed the orcs! I needed the orc to tell me now how many of his guys would be outside the cave and/or on patrol or guard duty. There was no way to do this fairly in the moment, but the guy running the orcs was chill and just said it was 50. This was such a cool encounter and I needed an event to allow Steadington to understand that hostilities were officially underway so I went ahead and ground through the AD&D combat rules for this situation. For an encounter at distance, I ruled that the dragon fear-effect did not go off if the dragons elected to hang back at range and use breath weapons. The fear effect would only occur if they charged or if they flew overhead. Well, many dice were thrown and it shook out that 20 orcs were killed and the dragon was unharmed and even Billy that was riding on the dragon could not be harmed thanks to his AC adjustment and DEX bonus.

Me having two people in conference for a long while created a lot of excitement. When I came back up for air I noticed that people that weren’t supposed to be allied together had formed their own breakout groups. Weird things were happening. The game was much less of a wargame like the “always on” strict timekeeping July 2021 Mega-Braunstein event. It was more like a turn or two of a Diplomacy game… or maybe… about a week’s worth of activity from a “continuous” Braunstein.

So anyway, the orcs, Steadington, and Doucheland were setting up a “Kegger” at the party tree in hex N-17. Doucheland was sending 100 Heavy Cavalry, 25 Nerds, and 50 pikemen. The orcs were sending 45 orcs– and the dude intended 25 but did not correct me when I heard 45 as the number. Steadington smelled a rat and only sent 5 hill giants and 5 warg riders. This was an utterly ridiculous and almost LARPy situation, but I could tell that this was the entire point of the event was going to be. Any situation involving 5+ factions at this scale is just automatically going to be really exciting and way better than anything a referee could devise.

Now, a couple of things. Some players had come to me with a bunch of world-building type stuff which I really didn’t care about. All I cared about was the wargame scenario and the encounters that developed as things were set in motion. However, away from the referee and in the presence of players negotiating with each other directly, all of this “blah blah” stuff because primary and real and persuasive. Defying all logic, the idea that Steadington could buy off Doucheland by hooking up some frat boys with attractive women became plausible without me around to poop the party. (Shades of Dave Arneson posing as a CIA agent!)

And it was a party. Many of us keep saying “D&D is a wargame.” And it’s true. However, a “Battle Braunstein” is more of a party and people can come into it to play it in a variety of ways. This was another objective of the event that turned out to be a success– I wanted more people and more types of players filling out the rolls at the faction scale and giving it their full attention for as long as there was still “game” left in a particular scenario. And we got it. It was also loose and fun and– because it replaced a regular session night instead of dragging out for months or years in multiple discord channels– it was not going to burn out a referee like the the Mega-Braunsteins did.

There were some minor events that just weren’t going to gell into anything big, so I called everyone back into the main discussion area and informed them that we had one battle that we were going to go ahead and resolve in-session rather than waiting for later. Further… there was one small thing after that that we would resolve that would be the icing on the cake.

So, we resolved the big battle which was now being called “The Red Keggar”. I am told this is a reference to Game of Thrones and it fit because everybody was going to betray each other at this ridiculous social event that was obviously a ploy. Anyway, the dragons crashed the party and came in with an audible glamor spell blaring out Flight of the Valkyries. The monster factions were dismayed when the spell-casting dragon followed this with mirror image.

The orcs turned out to not be completely useless. Their impotent crossbow bolts managed to eliminate two of the mirror images. Rocks hurled by giants very nearly killed the dragon that did not have spellcasting ability. But adjudicating this in the main room was nearly disastrous. Everybody had something to say and the resident rules-braniac second guessed all of my calls and bogged me down by reminding of rules I had forgotten. (Ie, attacks versus ariel targets are shifted one range band. Didn’t know that one!) Also, there were difficult callings to work out due to the theater of the mind type stuff and the freeform play being so indistinct.

Somehow we got through. It became clear that if Steadington had sent ten hill giants instead of five then one or both dragons would have been eliminated from play. (Yes, the dragons loomed large in our imaginations, but they were not the strategic “I win” button that we had presumed they would be.) The orcs were whittled down from 45 to 40 to 25 to 13 and a very canny player insisted that they take a morale check. I ruled that the orcs were so dumb that they thought they had killed adult dragons when they blinked out the mirror image spell. Further, the morale rules in AD&D are rigged for bodies of troops facing off, not for large groups fighting “boss” monsters.

The goblins had fled just as hostilities began. The gross nerds turned out to be second level magic-users with two magic missile spells apiece. Everybody else realized there was no way they could escape from being picked off by the dragons were they to try to flee. The sequence of play and the initiative results came down to the remaining hill giant having ONE LAST CHANCE to take out the wounded dragon, but I continued using random targets and the final hit landed on the one that had not taken as much damage.

So, this battle was not the cleanest one that I have run, but in my defense, we had never run anything like this before. The most important thing at this point was to get through it and we did. The final exchange for the battle ended up being 8 Gross Nerds for 45 orcs and 5 hill giants. The orcs had already lost 20 dudes earlier. And in a battle which we have not played out, Steadington will probably lose some goblins. Maybe not the most tremendous result from a strategic standpoint, nevertheless “the charge of the douche brigade” was definitely going to go down in history as one of the great moments of gaming. One hundred drunk guys wearing three popped collars and charging without their plate mail on was pretty danged cool even if some of my rulings were questionable.

As I had rushed everyone through this ridiculous affair I kept alluding to the fact that time was especially short because it was late and we had to also resolve “the icing on the cake” before we could adjourn. So, I have to tell you, the Steadington player had gone into shock when he saw that Chris (ie Macho Mandalf’s player) had taken the role of Elderbrecht. This was really, really intimidating. However, no amount of player skill could overcome the reality of the actual strategic situation.

But yeah, with the dust settling from the big battle of the night– which of course looked to be entirely favorable to “the good guys” which were being run by our most expert player– it was at this moment that Chris pipes up and asks, “what was the icing on the cake?”

So, I finally revealed that there was an agreement between Steadington and Burkleburg to have Elderbrecht assassinated. The assassin player had– as far as I could tell– pretty well hung back and quietly observed the proceedings unfold with very little fanfare. You wouldn’t even have known he was there, really, going by how often he’d spoken up! In our dice rolling channel he rolled percentile dice for the assassination attempt. I think Chris was too overwhelmed with things going on to bother me with an instruction to have his character dropped off in the weird “tine” hex or whatever. Just this once he had made a mistake and elected to stay behind in Whocaresville where his enemies would be lying in wait for him.

The percentile die roll came up as a one. MEGA-SUCCESS!!! And the guy that had won so many Braunstein games died ignominiously on the spot. And wow, the ridiculous kegger event which looked an obvious trap for the dumb monsters to walk into was now transformed! THE KEGGAR WAS A DISTRACTION WHICH SOAKED UP ALL THE ATTENTION IN THE GAME SO THAT THE REAL BETRAYAL COULD BE CARRIED OFF WITHOUT A HITCH!

Unlike some of the weird battle setups, there was no argument at all that this was completely fair. And holy moly! Just this once actual diplomacy turned out to trump system mastery! What a twist ending! This was just the sort of brilliant stroke that would never occur between NPC’s in a genius clockworker-god type DM’s game. And once again, BrOSR gameplay produced a better story than anything the storygamers do. Even better, this relatively dead gameplay area was revitalized. People were thinking about what to do next. Play more Braunstein style? Check back in on the players? What to do!

If we did pick this back up again, we could run another “Battle Braunstein” and continue to explore what was happening at this level of the game and in this particular hex. But this is very crucial: we are not dependent on all of the same players showing up on the same night. We are just not at the mercy of scheduling issues the way that conventional players are. These factions were freely given to the players for the night. The factions could be returned to the toy chest if we had gotten all the play that was to be had from this again. And if we did another Braunstein session… factions could be reassigned to new players as needed and the campaign would not miss a beat.

Meanwhile, the ultimate outcome is not at all good for people that depended on Whocaresville remaining the center of the game universe. With the primary owner/trainer of the dragons removed from the game, I can’t help but assume that the dragons will now go completely rogue. Yeah, they will be out of play for a while licking their wounds. But when they come back, there is no telling who’s side they will be on!

So, there you go. You can have a good chunk of the “patron game experience” as long as you can fill your table with people that are ready dive into it for an evening. It doesn’t cost you a whole lot of spare time to prep or manage it in comparsion with the way we used to do this so you can tackle “elite level” gameplay without giving up your social life. The only hitch is that integrating things back into an actual campaign is going to require some judgement calls by the referee.

Is it worth the tradeoff? I think it is. Either way, I think we have a new option for how we can play out higher level conflicts in the overworlds of your original campaign milieux.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Trollopulous Adjusted Session 31: The Dragons of Belboz

Wed, 11/08/2023 - 12:32

Okay, so this session was crazy exciting from the get go. Everybody is chomping at the bit to play.

This was one of the rare sessions where there was zero discussion about what people wanted to do. Everyone was just going to go in the dungeon to collect the cult memembers for reward money.

This was a very large party. So many players! About as large as we have ever run.

Somehow, this tired one page dungeon was suddenly brand new. Every room was engaged with as if it were brand new and had never been seen before. We had people that had experienced different things there with different characters even so there was an odd schizophrenia that tinged the session.

The opening area featured two different rooms. One spelt of brimstone. The other had the sound of a cricket. The thief Tahoma goes ahead and explores the brimstone room, finds an empty dais which he does not touch, and maybe searches for secret doors. Upon reporting back, Eric recalls events from a previous session that no one else had heard about. So Eric volunteers to send his ranger to explore the cricket room due to his forgetting. The cricket then was dealt with. This turned out to be… a cricket. Which was assumed to be an illusion. Which was disbelieved. And then given a suplex. This dungeon exploration was very serious business!

The players then move along, up the cliff and to a winding passage and come to a place where they had removed a door. The thief Tahoma enters and then searches for traps. Entering the room DID NOT set off the recently installed pit trap. He then finds the pit trap. The players then want to disable it, which I allowed– but then the thief wanted to use his remove traps which succeeded. Something to think about here.

Moving on, the players come to an intersection and see some red eyes down one passage. The ranger does not want to leave this on their tail, so he goes in. I think it is several large rats that run away into a large rat hole in the wall. He has two wardogs, so he sends them in. There is the sound of fighting and (DM does not roll any dice) soon there is a yelping wail from inside. The ranger is angry and throws in three vials of oil, lighting up the whole thing. The players are afraid to explore inside.

Down the other passage there is another room to explore. Inside is the rotting remains of a body, which the ranger insists on searching. I keep describing how disgusting it is and he keeps engaging with it until finally he declares that he is throwing up in response to it.

Moving on, they come to the red rock room. The players had passed through here many times before and ignored these but the ranger asks what they are exactly. They tell him that if you cast a spell near them, they will flash yellow and then explode. Both he and Huxtable the assassin think this sounds awesome and fill up a bag or sack with the rocks.

The caller has a terrible map and directs that the party comes out and moves north towards their usual stomping grounds. But I have a carnivorous ape which I had restocked long ago on this level for a group that never ventured this far. I made it a four-armed white ape, of course. So several things happened at once here.

One thing was that Chuck Longdrag declared that he was casting detect magic. The reasoning was that the players had faced many illusions in this dungeon and they thought this would identify them as such. The human men-at-arms hunkered down in the back, set for charge. Meanwhile, the overzealous ranger charged the white ape.

The charge was devasting doing over ten points of damage. I was now concerned that my scary monster was going to die ignominiously. In response to the charge, the monster opted to grapple. The ranger would fend off the attack if he made an attack roll, but this failed. From there, due to the monster’s size, the white ape got an automatic grapple with an automatic stun. There was some debate over the rules and the ranger’s player questioned the ruling on the basis of (i think) what he was reading from the pummeling section.

So this was bad. But now we had the spell to resolve. At first I thought it was going to hit Huxtable, but then we remembered the marching order would actually be backwards in this situation. This placed Huxtable BEHIND Chuck Longdrag. So the spell goes off in the direction of the monster. Thus, the ranger’s sack of red rocks now begins glowing yellow.

Everyone declared their actions and my monster wants to run away with his next meal. The monster wins the initiative and runs off around the corner and… at the end of the round the players hear a gigantic explosion. This was one of the greatest player character deaths of all time. Even better… it was something the players inlficted on themselves. Perfect! Just an amazing sequence of events here. There was some effort to retroactively alter these events in favor of the ranger somehow, but given that the intent of the spell was to determine if the ape was an illusion, there was no way to relocate the events in the theater of the mind battlefield such that they transpired differently.

Moving along, the players come to another door that had been removed from its hinges. Then they come to another door which a successful search for traps roll from the thief Tahoma revealed that it would squeak if opened. The players then removed THIS door from the hinges. There cracks in the floor here which seemed a bit wider than the players remembered from before.

Entering the clifftop area, the players obvserve two figures sitting at an unlit table. The players are baffled by this. I describe them with one wearing a hawaiian shirt and another having a coat that looks like bearskin. This was intended to be an OBVIOUS HINT that there were ridiculous charicatures of people in the game that were riffing off of their profile pictures. This backfired because the hawaiian shirts were compelling to Tahoma’s player. He began to engage with this… thing… that was supposed to be an obvious trap, but now he was smitten. Partly because the thing encapsulated is own style and tastes– a devastating recapitulation of Narcissus here!

Now my idea of the trap here was basicially “De Tar Baby 2.0”. Tahoma’s previous character had been captured by the previous iteration of this trap, the now-notorious Flailsnail shell. So he starts talking to this figure sitting at a table and wearing a Hawaiin shirt. I tell him (and maybe he could not see the glimmer in my eye), “the figure does not respond to your address at all and you find this to be just about the rudest behaviour that you have ever encountered.” For whatever reason, this spoken word became reality and Tahoma was now getting angrier and angrier at this ridiculous manaequine sitting in a dungeon at a table and wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Finally, he strikes out at the thing in exasperation. I then inform him that he has become stuck to what is a recapitulation of the flailsnail trap. Everybody groans. No one wants to get hung up on this. Tahoma’s player suggests that burning hands will somehow break the spell due to how it comes out of the hands. I don’t understand what he is saying. I rule that the manequin is made out of tar– the it is really a tar baby. It bursts into flames and he is burned alive. Huxtable attempts to put him out of his misery with a crossbow shot.

The players move on to the next stage of the session. I think there is maniacal laughter off the right cliffside. The players move down and I think Garamond calls out to them that they don’t have to do this. It’s going to be a blood bath. Will the players pass it over? NO WAY!

So the players come up on this thing. It’s very simple. Baby dragon, Garamond, baby dragon, Pewter, Baby dragon. The outcome of the first round was complex. I can’t remember the exact order of events, but Chuck cast a sleep spell which was absorbed by a bag of rocks that Huxtable had thrown. Huaxtable was supposed to “take a bath” due to Garamond’s command spell. Chuck got commanded to “run away” which went off after the sleep spell took effect. One baby dragon on the right took a good bit of damage from Mr. T on the party’s right. All of the men-at-arms, 3 farmers, and Huxtable were killed by dragon lightning. Saving throws didn’t help anybody.

The next round was going to be brutal if I got the initiative, PC’s were just going to drop. I rolled a 5. Then the players rolled a 6! I made a big mistake here. The dragons could have done so much more harm if they went to claw and bite. Instead they were sitting ducks. The remaining PC’s managed to take out each dragon on either side. The middle dragon was eliminated by the exploding rocks. I may have forgotten to fire his lightning breath– it seems like he could have taken out one more PC with that if they didn’t save.

Garamond was killed at some point. Pewter was kind of a special case. I think Pewter cast light on Billy’s eyes. Billy was going to kill him with a thrown spear. Things didn’t shake out. There was a goof with the sequence of play and we rearranged things so that Pewter would get a chance to backstab his previous PC with his current PC. This did just enough damage to take him to zero hit points.

At this point the dead ranger player put in that maybe the party would want to keep this guy alive so that he could be questioned in town. This was not obvious, but the idea would have been that maybe his testimony could help his other character Goldenrod get out of jail. This table hadn’t played those sessions and didn’t think of Goldenrod as this big priority, so Pewter quietly bled out while players argued over how to divide up the loop.

It was super late, but I got one last ruling in. I declared that of course the thief would be able to palm Pewter’s coin purse. Mostly because it was funny. Players did not object because– hey, thieves! What can you do?!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Trollopulous Adjusted Sessions 28 & 30: In Which “Always On” Play Creates Massive Amounts of Engagement

Tue, 11/07/2023 - 20:51

Okay, this one started with a plan from Foam the Gnome:

Here’s the plan. I know it’s complex, but I have faith in you Jeffro. Pewter, Garamond, feel free to adjust.

Foam has been invited by Goldenrod to come to the tower to take possession of the Illusionist scroll: (See General Channel)

While he’s there he has agreed to go around the tower and inspect for secret tunnels, trap doors, chalk markings and other things a thief would notice.

A gathering of women appears to protest a short distance from the tower. Three of them will break off and approach the tower.

Phantasmal Forces will go off. In the egg room, a cloud of mist will appear (reminiscent of the one in the viney manse) and will almost obscure the room. The perceptive will notice the three eggs (or their container) rise as if lifted by invisible creatures and dash to the window and appear to feather fall out of it.
The women, who are each carrying a basket, will sprint away toward the protesting crowd, and once inside the whole crowd will swirl and then break off by twos running in all directions. Each pair of women has a basket.

While all of this is going on, our man on the inside has been passing the eggs out of the opposite window to three burrow owls (none of them Lenny) who will silently glide the eggs down to Pewter and Garomond on the other side to take them where they will.

Foam will not leave Goldenrod’s side while this occurs and will give every indication of trying to help her pursue the women with the baskets or whatever.

If the owls are spotted, Foam will explain that they live in the Mega Dungeon and only Lenny is loyal to him.

Foam will helpfully try to retrieve the eggs, even to the point of suggesting that Elbrecht may have a locate object spell that they could use to see which women had the eggs, or where they are now.

If it all falls to crap and Foam is apprehended, he will admit that his friends haven’t been the same since returning. He was so happy to have them back that he didn’t stop to question if they had been charmed. If they let him live, he will promise to help make it right, and remind them that his friends may not be at fault if whoever was behind the FailSnail has them in his thrall.

The session was at a game store and the players were made up of Goldenrod’s player and a new guy (5e type guy) and another dude that was totally familiar with the AD&D rules.

I sketched out the tower and kicked off Foam’s plan. It took forever to get it rolling, though. Every detail of the positioning of the forces was hashed out over and over. As each new development transpired, a horror overtook the players due to their being inside of an insidious plan which they didn’t quite understand. It was completely wild and totally unfair.

After the game, I would release the public account of these events which read thus:

As you know, there were a set of three Dragon Eggs in Elderbrecht’s Tower.

These were being guarded by a group of PC’s lead by Goldenrod during downtime.

Rumors are currently flying in Urgrecht about what has happened the past two days.

The general facts known to the general populace are as follows:

1) Foam the Gnome paid a visit to the tower, ostensibly to pick up an illusionist scroll that Goldenrod offered to give to him.

2) During the visit, a group of women began protesting nearby– baring their breasts, causing a disturbance, and calling out the evils of Humanocentric societies.

3) Witnesses report that a group of three women approached the tower carrying baskets.

4) The women were accosted by the female elf Goldenrod from the second story of the tower, told to stop.

5) I believe it is commonly understood that at this point, to guards at the entrance of the tower went inside to bar the door.

6) Concurrently with this, three eggs were seen floating out of said window, drifting to the ground as if by feather fall.

7) At a range of about 30 yards, women approaching the tower made a break for the eggs. Two of them were shot dead, but the third one placed the eggs in her basket and ran into a maze of teepees.

8) Shortly thereafter, Foam the Gnome was escorted out of the tower, illusionist scroll in hand.

9) A short time later– maybe 20 minutes or so, the captain of the Guard, Urglebrechtenburglebrechtenmecht arrived with a large contigent of troops.

10) Urglebrechtenburglebrechtenmecht took Goldenrod into custody, sent her to await trial for DOUBLE HOMICIDE, secured the tower, and banished everyone not part of the town guard from the tower and its surrounding area.

11) The next day, it has become known that a certain Garamond is wanted for questioning regarding these matters.

12) The hideout of the so-called Cult of Zobleb as also been raided, however it was evidently deserted by the time the town guard got there.

This only covered about a third of the session. The players went out into the wilderness, ran into a Lamassu which manage to overbear the monk, knock him unconscious, and then carry him away without the party being able to intervene. The players wanted to check the cave she was near and I thought I had made a mistake. But the treasure table indicated that she only had jewelry. So we now had a very dangerous and very rich monster loose in the wilds… with crazy valuable jewelry around her neck!

The players had this scheme to use chickens to set a trap for giant weasels in order to acquire spell components for Elderbrecht. I allowed this to work out, but rolled for number appearing and got only one. This could have been very dangerous for the party with nearly any other roll! They killed the thing narrowly and came away with 3,000 gold to split. So far so good.

Upon returning to town, the monk was replaced with a Paladin. Goldenrod had already been replaced with a ranger, I think. They all wanted to go to the dungeon and quickly found an obvious trap in the form of a golden idol with the head of an octopus and ruby eyes. The 5e guy managed to get it and played the rest of the session as if he were insane. Ah, yeah… I remember now. When they touched the idol these short jibbering monsters arrived, but could not attack the party due to the presence of the paladin.

Anyway, the players went on and found their way to the “blue men” area. They charged the speaker and overran him, but in the next room the players found themselves under fire from people shooting from arrow slits. The players considered fighting or getting the treasure and running out, but the paladin got shot so they ended up abandoning this scenario.

News of the theft of the eggs lit up the discord. I was immediately hashing out the game with the cult members and trying to figure everything out. Goldenrod’s character was also after me with heavy rules questions. I told him that even if there was a rule violation, I would not retcon it because I had already spent several hours playing with the cultists. This was not taken well. So finally, I checked to see if Foam could have cast the spell under the circumstances of the session and determined that by the rules, nothing happened that would have spoiled his concentration. Crisis averted! For the moment, anyway.

Every day for the rest of the week saw my phone lit up with text messages. I then had the idea to do a court room game and had players write up legal briefs. These were very amusing.

Finally, Saturday arrived. I handed out the legal briefs– the first time I had ever had props of this sort. Goldenrod’s player had lit up the phones of these people as well and it was unclear how to proceed. Finally I just made them read the stuff and we started hashing it all out. I think after a good two hours, it was basically decided that there was nothing obvious to do. The hints were too vague and there was nothing that seemed like could save Goldenrod.

At this point I released some more bombshells, there was some more discussion, but it was then decided that the patry should go to the haunted manse. Without any prompting, the fifteen year old guy at the table declared that this was in fact his family estate. They opted to split up– two clerics removing vines that blocked the main entrance and then the fighter and the elven thief exploring the house.

They quickly found a monster in the mists that knocked the thief down to exactly zero hit points. Very scary! It was decided that they should search the house a bit more. The basement seemed to scary to them, but the attic… well that might be better. Up there were these blood sucking bird-bats, though. They fled and shut the attic back up, but they still had these monsters on them. The dwarf cleric died, but the other two player characters narrowly survived.

From there they made it back to town. I can’t even remember if they had gotten treasure or not. At this point, for some reason it was determined that the party should go and find Foam the Gnome. So they went to Lothrivengrove, paid a troll toll of 30 gp, and then did indeed find the gnome. They started talking to him and the elf thief’s player gave such a convincing argument for why Foam would feel so much better if he came clean, I just went ahead and had him spill his guts– because the player did in fact feel guilty for the disaster. We wrapped it up there with most of the answers of the mystery given out.

But the game STILL was not done.

I went home and posted the following news bit:

Intense courtroom drama

Cult women give tearful, charged testomonies in cross-examanation

Goldenrood’s character defamed in every possible media outlet

Testimony from some pieced together by the prosecution used to paint a picture of Goldenrod as behaving VERY SUSPISCIOUSLY, inviting a known illusionist to the tower. Acting strangely immediately following the events of the murder, etc– “hmmmmm… are these eggs real or fake– huh huh– hmmmmm who can tell? Wink wink”

General opinion is swayed to the view that Foam the Gnome, Goldenrod, Garamound, and the entire cult of Zolbleb are clearly in league

At the very fever pitch of the intense courtroom debate, it is revealed that the eggs are IN FACT missing
Town criers are out in force reading the most negative framing of these events conceivable and dragging Goldenrod and co through the dirt

Garamond is wanted by the city. Foam is wanted by the city. Goldenrod is all locked up



Very distressing

Very sad for all the players as I don’t even know how they are going to get out of this SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS

I am Marlon Brando every day here



This resulted in MORE questions and more attempts to discuss the details of the court case which I was already done adjudicating. I shut it down sayind Goldenrod’s character was in jail and could not discuss this but that players should PLAY THERE ROLES. There was still some pushback, but the constant play for something that was not going to make a good game in my opinion was too much. So I put my foot down:

We have already bled Goldie dry to cover legal costs. This journalism war is one that she cannot effectively win

I have used the face-to-face group to gauge what would be a reasonable outcome for what most people would think in regarding the courtroom sequence

The public knowledge revealed above represents what would be reasonable for everyone to know regarding this episode

Some of you may have performed more elitely had you been involved in the session, nevertheless… having four human beings kick this around for 2-3 hours tells ME everything that I need to know about this

My honest opinion based on observing them is that you all PROBABLY would not have done any better

The complexity of the situation was too much for it to be unraveled. In fact… adding more players to the proceeding would likely have made the intelligence of the group much lower

(Committee effects and so forth)

Debating this to death is not fun so per referee perogative I am putting a pin in this

The real question now is what you guys as a group of adventurers would even do on a Thursday night delve

Time is of course a tremendous factor in all this

If there are any questions about the broader campaign state that would pertain to the probably Thursday night session, feel free to ask and/or discuss

Finally I was free from this this constant always on game that would not leave me alone.

But it was now time to set up another session!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Arranging and Orchestrating Rifts Combat– to Deliver the Most Punch!

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 17:28

“It’s your job to set up the action to deliver the most punch. Not manipulate and force the action, but to ARRANGE and ORCHESTRATE how it all goes down.” — Kevin Siembieda

Early Palladium games never had “round-robin” melee rounds. The clear intent of the rules is that the winner of initiative and his target will use up all of their attacks on each other before the referee moves on to the next character up in the initiative sequence.

The “Round Robin” directions are a variant system and do not actually elucidate how the Palladium combat rules were intended to be played. In fact, they are not rules at all and should not be treated as such. They are merely bad advice.

NOTE: This term “Round Robin combat sequence” is DEFINED in Rifts Primer as a DEPARTURE FROM RAW ON p. 19: “Rather than having these duke it out until all of their attacks are gone, the Game Master turns to the character with the next highest initiative, and asks what he or she is doing.”

However you interpret the rules, they must work well with both melee, ranged combat, and spellcasting.

1) For a fist fight, it makes sense to me that two guys squaring off in a melee will take 4-7 swings at each other before anyone else nearby can react to the micro-events happening between them.

2) For a gun fight this makes less sense. However, if you are reacting to being shot at by dodging and then shooting at somebody else who also then goes out of sequence… then at some point here you might as well switch to GURPS because I don’t know how in the hell you would run this. However, getting to burn through 7 ranged attacks on my initiative step would be FUN and may potentially have an impact even with a lowly energy rifle depending on the scenario.

3) Magic spells DO require special handling if you are going to play Palladium the old way. If you the ditch round-robin “interpretation” AND declare a spell before initiative dice are rolled THEN the GM can know when the spell goes off. This begs the question of WHEN do things actually happen. Are the various actions happening concurrently simultaneously? Or do things ONLY happen in the initiative sequence? If the GM is ARRANGING and ORCHESTRATING how everything plays out, he COULD recall where in particular a given spell would go off and allow that to hold for each set of people trading blows– IF IT MATTERS WHICH IT GENERALLY WON’T. In practice I think people will be FINE with spells going off on the magic-user’s initiative sequence. So if Jeff the Juicer gets to blast 7 attacks with his mega-rifle, then Melf the Mage can cast 2-3 spells on his turn. Again, if you want second by second adjudication of combat round events… TRY GURPS.

(And note that if you drop the round-robin thing, about the only way to spoil a spell would be if the magic-user declared spells before initiative and then an opponent managed to engage him in melee BEFORE his initiative order came up. Actually… the magic-user wouldn’t even have to declare…. The “vulnerable to a pressed attack” rule on page RU 189 means your mage just isn’t going to be casting higher level spells at all if some goon manages to rope into trading punches.)

At any rate, if the GM can utilize round-robin adjudication set up the action to deliver the most punch… he can also use bulk resolution to speed up play. Kevin Siembieda would not be doctrinaire about this. When you have any kind of declarations before initiative, the style of play that becomes possible is that the game master can IMAGINE the overall scene and then ARRANGE and EXECUTE the entire round in a way that makes sense under the circumstances.

That COULD include things like… Clint Eastwood rolling some kind of skill in order to see if he gets three attacks off before the desperados get a chance to shoot back. It could also include the magic-user getting a critically important spell off in a way that would impact everybody’s back and forth activity at a given point.

The Palladium rules are spartan enough that they can work better with these sorts of judgement calls. The gm is well within his rights to, after general actions have been declared and BEFORE initiative has been rolled to describe the scene and explain the will be running the melee round with any, all, or none of these various potential embellishments.

The Round Robin interpretation is an EXAMPLE of just this sort of embellishment. It is not THE WAY the rules are intended to work every single time. Certainly not with a pre-1990 Palladium game that has mostly melee combat as its bread and butter.


My son comes in and I brag that we have played this Rifts game finally and I point out the Kevin advice in Rifts Ultimate and I am like, “This round robin stuff doesn’t work.” What’s that, he asks. I pick up Rift’s Primer and open it up to the definition. “Well, you see… if you have 7 attacks in Palladium and you start fighting a guy in the combat round then after using one attack and having the guy dodge and then attack back, what you do is freeze that situation and shift over to another part of the engagement and–“

“And It takes @!#?@! forever?”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Phraint in Rifts and Aliens Unlimited

Thu, 10/05/2023 - 21:54

Alignment: Any
Attributes: I.Q. 4D6, M.E. 3D6, M.A. 2D6, P.S. 2D6, P.P. 5D6, P.E. 4D6, P.B. 1D6, Spd. 4D6+20
Hit Points: Standard, P.E. plus 1D6 per level of experience
Light Armor Exoskeleton: A.R. 13, 100 S.D.C. [130 M.D.C. in Rifts]
Horror Factor: 12
Height: 6 feet plus 4D6 inches
Weight: 100 plus 2D6x10 pounds
Average Life Span: 75 years.
P.P.E.: 1D6

Super Abilities: Phraints with one or more unmodified I.Q., M.E, or M.A of 16 or higher may have psionics abilities. Their base chance of having them equals 1 + 2.5 per point of I.Q. above 16 + 1.5 per point of M.E. above 16 + .5 for each point of M.A. above 16. Multiply the base chance by three and roll percentile dice. If the amount is equal to or less than this product, the Phraint has psionics. Roll a d6. On a 1-3 the are a minor psionic and on 4-5 they are a major psionic per page 289 of Rifts Ultimate edition. On a 6 they are Heroes Unlimited psionic, but not the adjustments for Rifts on page 63 of Rifts Conversion Book One.

Natural Abilities: All the features of the compound eye and antennae; no chemical secretion. They are also instinctive climbers 90%/80%, swimmers 80% and are resistant to heat and fire (half damage). They also gain an additional ability based on their caste which they can either select or roll randomly for:

01-20 Warrior caste: Phrainth of the warrior caste have natural weapons; a Bite (2d6) and 2 Claw (2d4) attacks. They gain an additional +10 to speed, four addition weapon proficiencies, and are +2 on initiative, +1 to roll with punch, +5 to save vs Horror Factor. Phrainth of this caste tend to be red, orange or yellow, with blazing coloration patterns.

21-30 Assassin caste: Phrainth of the Assassin caste have a Sting attack; (the victim must roll to save vs lethal poison every melee round for 10 round. Each failed roll means the character takes 2D6 damage directly to Hit Points) and gain a +20% bonus to Prowl, Camouflage, Concealment, and Detect Ambush skill checks. Assassin caste phrainth have dark blue, black or purple chitin, with tiger-stripe-like patterns.

31-40 Guardian caste: Phrainth of the Guardian caste have natural armor of A.R. 16, 200 S.D.C. [240 M.D.C. in Rifts] and also gain +3 on initiative, +2 to pull punch, +2 to roll with impact or fall, paired weapons, +6 to save vs Horror. They are green, blue or yellow, with large, bold spotted patterns.

41-50 Overseer caste: Phrainth of the Overseer caste are immune to fear and similar effects, +1 to save vs all psionic attacks, +2 to save vs possession, and +1 to save vs magic illusions and mind control, +1 to save vs all psionic attacks, +2 to save vs possession, and + 1 to save vs magic illusions and mind control. Their carapaces range from grey to silvery or even ashy black, with tiny speckled patterns of white, yellow and red.

51-60 Hunter caste: Phrainth of the hunter caste receive a +4 racial bonus to Spot, Listen and Survival, and a +8 on Hide checks when in leafy or forested surroundings. Hunter chitin is earthy greens, browns and blacks, in patterns that mimic natural undergrowth.

61-62 Queen caste: Phrainth of the Queen caste gain the ability to produce special pheromones, which can make her commands irresistible. All phrainth who move within 30ft of the Queen (and can smell her) are exposed to an effect identical to charm person, except that it is an alchemical effect and therefore unaffected by wards against magical compulsion (Will negates, DC 10+1/2HD+Constitution modifier). Anything the Queen says carries the same weight as a suggestion to phrainth as long as they are within 30ft and can clearly see and hear one another.

63-00 Caste-less: modern demands on phraint society have led to the creation of ‘caste-less’ phrainth, who are highly adaptable. Caste-less phrainth select 4 additional skills at first level at an additional +10% skill bonus. These skills may be outside of their Skill Program or O.C.C. specification but also gain their usual skill bonuses if they are. Additionally, caste-less phrainth gain one additional skill each time they level.

Special Weapons and Vehicles: The equivalent of most types of weapons, hover vehicles and spacecraft are available.

Preferred Armor: Due to the highly protective nature of their exoskeletons, most do not wear armor. To breathe in inhospitable atmospheres, they will wear a helmet or face mask with an air purification system and/or air supply.

Random Skill Selection
01-20 Use Alien Education and Skills table from Heroes Unlimited (page 95 of that rpg)
21-70 Use an Aliens Unlimited Galaxy Guide Skill Programs (Table I below)
71-00 Use a Mercenary O.C.C from the Rifts Mercenaries Sourcebook (Table II below)

Table I
01-04 Cyberjacker
05-14 Intergalactic Bounty Hunter ·
15-18 Information Broker·
19-30 Mercenary (Space) Soldier
21-35 Professional (Space) Combat Athlete ·
35-42 Spacecraft Mechanic
42-50 Spacecraft Pilot
51-54 Space-Fighter Pilot
55-60 Space Pirate·
61-66 Space Infantry Soldier·
67-72 Technical Scientist·
74-78 TGE Special Operative
79-83 TMC Officer
84-89 Weapons Technician
90-95 Xeno-Biologist
96-00 Xeno-Roboticist

Table II
01-14 Bounty Hunter
15-24 Forger
45-34 Freelance Spy
35-50 Master Assassin
51-60 Safecracker
61-70 Smuggler
71-80 Special Forces Soldier
81-90 Super-Spy
91-00 Thief-Professional

Note: This is a shameless mashup of material from here, from the Palladium Insectoid aliens, and from an odd corner of AD&D all adapted to the Aliens Unlimited alien writeup format. These aliens are loose in the Desert Swamp location of the #RiftBros campaign. Will probably update this if I think of anything else or if I get any good suggestions.

Rifts, Heroes Unlimited, and Aliens Unlimited are trademarks of Palladium Press. Arduin probably belongs to somebody, I dunno.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Trollopulous Adjusted Session 25: The Tutorial Dungeon that Wasn’t

Sun, 10/01/2023 - 17:22

Okay, this one… we lost the two girls to scheduling. And the dad was taking care of family stuff. My alpha-gamer buddy managed to scrounge up a couple of millennial guys who I could not quite figure out. They kept talking about going to this guy’s dad’s house for Father’s Day and I was like… “uh, are you… brothers…?” It turned out they were married. Womp womp.

Being of the hotbed of hardcore radtrad Catholicism that is the BrOSR, you would think I would be concerned about these guys fitting into a retrograde campaign with explicit Christian elements but no. After some back and forth about AD&D’s humanocentrism, Fritz Leiber, and a couple of bits from the campaign, the two guys were working up cross dimenasional Ptolomeic elves with some sort of connection to the Olympian pantheon due to their alignments.

We worked up an entirely new party because the other group was in time jail due to training. Nobody complained or even asked about it. It did take forever to roll them up. AD&D takes at least twice as long as B/X as far as this goes. I really need to xerox the relevant charts and tables for people for in the future.

Now, I had worked out with the other players from the online game an attack on the party with the dragon eggs. I thought this would be a big hit and was wildly excited about it. As I broached the subject, I got pushback on this simply having happened as a background event. Not having the same group as last time helped stymie the excitement, too. As we began to go back and forth on it, I finally had to table the discussion because we really needed to get playing for real.

After another of those three minute Trollopulous overviews, the players opted for the local dungeon. (They were not going to to anything about the hill giants that dropped by Urgrecht demanding protection money.) I had to restock the dungeon on the fly and got “gnolls” and “a sulphurous oder”. The players rolled into the dungeon entrance and asked if they heard anything, so I described this sound of something struggling to breath. The mom IMMEDIATELY declared it must be a pug, which amazed me. I showed everyone a illustration from the booklet for a pug-man and everyone had a laugh. Someone, maybe a ranger, rolled up on it and took it out quickly. The party continued on, passing over the sulpherous smell and the passage marked with a skull on a spear. They came up on the rest of the pugs and had a nasty fight. The four henchman lost a figure and then failed a saving throw. After some back and forth, the pugs failed a saving throw as well and two ran out of the dungeon.

At this point the players decided to go for a proper burial for the fallen henchman that needed a week to recover. I think they gave him additional hazard pay due to his taking a solid hit. The players decided that this dungeon must be too hard– though in this case it was a fluke that a second level monster had ended up on the first level. (See the obscure DMG stocking rules.) The 15-year-old boy really wanted to gamble so I ran the Zowie game for him a few times. The guy wanted to really play cards and didn’t like it, but then one of the ptolomeic elfs agreed to gamble with him playing blackjack. We chitchat for a while and the two new dudes left for a father’s day meetup.

At this point the players decided to go to the tutorial dungeon. There was no way I was going to stock this before the session, I was shocked when they went there. There were no wilderness encounters on the way there (unfortunately) so my hope for more freeform gaming in the overworld fizzled away. (Making Steadington too hard to bottle the players up was now working against me.) There was another group of hill giants hitting Lothrivengrove up for protection fees and again the players ignored the obviously too-hard hook.

Going into the dungeon, I had hobgoblins near the entrance. I decided he would taunt them and then run away, and the extremely aggressive party ended up trailing up to his lair. This resulted in a rather tedious fight in which the group’s wardogs did most of the work. The players found a chest and had the elf PC that was serving as a henchman here check it for traps and open it. The inevitable poison needle hit him and he made his 7+ roll to avoid getting killed. A false bottom in the chest revealed an illusionist scroll.

At this point the players hear footsteps coming down the hall and they rush out. I described them as short creatures with long, darkened faces and long pointy ears and horrible sneering faces. They decided they were goblins and attacked. This was a REALLY tedious fight and though the “goblins” were losing, they made their morale roll when the odds were wildly against them and continued to fight. Then when they later failed their morale roll and ran away, I found out that there movement rate was so slow they were just not going to be able to get away at all!

At this point I didn’t want the game to be too boring. The treasure amounts were just too small. I declared this group had a piece of jewelry when this was a wandering monster that shouldn’t have had any at all. This was a bad call and I feel bad about it in retrospect.

The players continued their delve, however, in spite of their having lost some war dogs. They turned into a room with a giant, leering face on the wall. The mom carefully drew out my description of the fangs, horns, and tongue. Beside the face was a box with three buttons on it. And I think there was a smell of sulpher coming from its nostrils. This was obviouslly a silly and dangerous puzzle which the players opted to leave alone.

Moving on, there was a room to the right which had a disgusting, godawful smell emanating from it. The players decided it is the monster bathroom and move on.

Rounding the corner is another large room. The light from the bullseye lantern sweeps right and left and across the cieling before settling on a horrific nine foot tall humanoid gnawing on a broken femur.

The thing charges and I think instantly cuts a hired footman to pieces. Between rounds I check for morale and I think the failure was so bad, I declared that the men were frozen with fear a la that chick from the alien movie. Everybody else runs and we find out the 15-year-old that wanted to be an evil Jedi was the only person in the group with a move of 6″. I think I calculated that if the players had a two round head start they could escape the dungeon without getting caught. The jedi kid elected to throw himself into the poo room and then later snuck out of the dungeon when everything calmed down.

The players noted that the “tutoral dungeon” evidently had encounters in it that were definitely not “tutorial” grade. I thought a very large area of level one monsters with level one treasures would be very boring. Also I had alluded to the troll being there back at Madicon.

I think the thing to do is to leave the Troll in as a wandering monster with maybe a hidden lair loaded with extra good loot. Also… those poor “goblins” need something. Maybe a mine or a forge. Who were they delivering that necklace to? [

The players were offered 2000 for the necklace in Lothrivengrove. They looked for a buyer in Urgrecht and got 3000. I thought it was too much. It got split 3.5 different ways.

I think the news item was that a diplomatic mission from the dwarf king to Kickatrix to help with the impending war effort. Wanted posters with the PC’s description will be circulating.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Trollopulous Adjusted Session 23: Elderbrecht and the Blue Dragon

Sat, 09/30/2023 - 13:39

The game I was so nervous about.

My old gaming buddy which I had reconnected with at Madicon was dead set on playing again, and somehow through his vast span of social connections somehow came upon this nearby family that was interested in playing D&D. The parents wanted to play and their 15-year-old son did, too. Adding to this group was two of his school friends, 15-year-old twin sisters, one of whom was a 5e DM.

To prep for the game I had merely spent some time talking to the players of the Urgrecht area and trying to coax ways that they could serve as either setting background or as adventure hooks. I was going to allow the new group to go anywhere and do anything so the idea of preparing anything was just exhausting to me. I never even got around to making up more dungeon material that they could play through.

The opening part of the session was very tedious as we worked through how to roll up player characters in AD&D. I went around the table filling out peoples’ height, weight, age, and movement stats. This really started to drag to me and I was concerned that anything good could proceed from all of this painstaking esoterica. The mom said something about not caring about the details which I misinterpreted as her wanting to be more of a story-focused type session. Later my friend told me that the 5e people were bred on a game that was even more tedious and complex than AD&D, so this was not nearly as off-putting as I feared. Also, I suppose that by not having a session zero we were going to be insanely far ahead of the typical rpg group even if it did take a while to crunch through everything.

Throughout the process I gave out bits of esoterica related to the rules and its literary antecedants. I tried to be as brief as possible. At some point I gave out a three minute description of the play area, mostly focusing on Billy’s pallisade (who was immediately deemed “the racist”) and Garamound’s cult of Zobleb. The players had an immediate affinity Garamound and Foam the Gnome because they were the anti-racist and anti-sexist faction. I got pushback when I described holy symbols as being a crucifix. The mom declared they could also be a Tibetan prayer wheels and she got up, retrieved an actual Tibetan prayer wheel which she gave to her son to use as a prop. So now I was concerned about there being a conflict between “the DM’s word is law” and “my house my rules!” How on earth was this going to work???

To wrap up this stage of the game, I asked my gaming friend if he could summarize the two game sessions that he had played in. We had a laugh recounting the bit at the Madicon game where the players murdered most of an NPC party and took all of their stuff right down to their clothes. But when I asked him to describe the flailsnail shell session, he went pale. He muttered something about it being too traumatic, too awful to even review it.

Anyway, we went on from there to some back and forth about each potential adventure hook. The players wanted to know how they knew each other and I said something about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouserb just sorta going on these excursions for the laughs and then blowing all of their money. Out of all of the hooks, the one that grabbed the most interest was the one about Elderbrecht going missing. The players head to Elderbrecht’s tower and meets up with Chuck “Long Drag”, who explains the situation and allows the players to search Elderbrecht’s lab.

So they go in and find on the work bench a monster movie style Jacob’s ladder, a red artifact, and a pile of copper coins with wheat on one side and an image of a man with a beard but no mustache on the back. The players have questions but want to explore first. They don’t find any secret doors or spellbooks, but up in the loft one of the twins finds a kyak. Inside it is a box screwed in place which she removes. It has two knobs and a dial with some numbers ranging from 94 to 107. She adjusts the dials and strains of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons emanate from the box. SHe surreptitously pockets the box and returns to the group.

Returning to the red box, they observe it has a slot, a drawer, and a readout with strange runes on it– it says, “$4.74”. The players bcome engrossed with examming it and discussing what to do with it. Finally, the twin that stole the artifact makes a play. She puts several coins into the box at once but then finds out that pulling the slot causes the whole thing to lock up. This throws the players into a frenzy. People are about to smash the box, throw it out the window, they start debating and arguing about what to do next, speculating on what went wrong.

At this point I notice that my gaming friend had turned white as a sheet. He was having flashbacks to the flailsnail session where a similar situation lead to the ENTIRE SESSION being about something really dumb. So I figured… if this was an introductory text adventure, some kind of hint or feedback would be given at this point. So I have Chuck clear his throat and suggest that violence isn’t the answer here. Then I simply declare that after interacting with the box for a while, they determine that putting one coin in at a time would work– in the interest of moving things along.

So somebody puts a copper piece in and pulls the slot. The party is engulfed in a flash of light or some such and they are transported into a tunnel. There are unusual iron rails on the ground and the cieling of the tunnel is rough and rocky. Somebody puts their ear to the track and indeed there is a sort of humming sound within it. My gaming buddy then suggests that the cleric types reach out to their deities. I take a moment to find the prayer table and check for them all and I get a hit with the girl that had taken the artifact earlier. She was Lawful Evil, so I checked the planes page from the PHB and I think it matched the bazillion hells or something. So I threw her a demonic voice that said something to the effect of, “I’ve got your back.”

The players relieved to discover that they are still in the AD&D cosmoslogy, but are still very concerned about being run over by a train, but they use the dwarf’s abilities to detect which direction lead “up”. They before long come out into brilliant sunlight by a stream. I describe cat tails and large dragonflies like I did everything else– description only without giving away the actual names– and the players puzzle out what this place must be.

The players engage with everything like it must be the most important thing ever. But this was all boring whether they knew it or not. It was past time for an encounter. I trot out one of my favorites– Apache indians on horseback! The players ask what kind of sound they are making which is “whoo whoo whoo whoo.” I am informed this is racist, but I fire back that at least I am not doing the “Tonto” thing. Anyway. The players are not inclined to fight the Apache. There is a brief encounter and the players are encouraged to jump onto a horse and ride with them. None of this makes any sense but the players are going along with this. I had kind of wanted a fight here, but I rolled a freaking 98 for the reaction and so now I had surprised even myself with this dumb encounter.

What I really wanted next was a thunderbird chasing the Indians. I looked for a pterodactly in the monster books and just could not find one. Frustrating! Finally in exasperation, I went with a blue dragon, which I later nailed down as eight hit dice with three hit points per die. The Apache sort of fan out, seperating and I describe something blotting out the sun. And the players all know what is happening without me having to tell them and I think my friend even suggested selecting a random horse to determine who gets fried and the players all suggest that maybe if one horse is killed, the thing will be satiated and leave the rest alone. SO I roll the die and it comes up as a seven. One of the random Apache guys is zapped by lightening and sure enough the players look back and see a blue dragon feasting on his horse and the players are all kind of stunned because that could just as easily have been one of them and what DM is going to do something that stupid, wow, gosh!

Now briefly, I then sketch out a scenario that all of these elements imply. Elderbrecht is with the Apache village and has twelve sons. He has been here twenty years. (A player suggests he has gone the full Colonel Kurtz.) There is a gold mine in one direction and the train tracks also lead to a coal mine that is deep in the heart of dragon territory. The “iron horse” is an interdimensional space/time machine that can get everybody home if Elderbrecht can get it up to 88 miles per hour. He needs the coal to do this. Which means the players need to take care of the dragon. He gives them a map of a secret entrance to the dragon’s plateau/cave.

The dwarf suggested that he could find coal somewhere else as if he had a “water witching” type ability for that. But this did not pan out. The players gradually resigned themselves to the fact that they will actually have to fight something and take some risks. But the Apache have metal arrow heads and they determine that the gold mine area had both black smiths and dynamite available. They end up paying the gold mine people a chunk of gold to make crossbows that could fire dynamite sticks with probably some sort of contact trigger. There is an A-team style montage sequence as these are tested and produced, and so armed, the players become convinced that their suicidal objective is maybe doable.

As to what to do next, the players lapse into an extended bit of discussion and planning and debate. Finally I have to break in and say, “look… you just have to make a plan here and then we are going to see how it turns out.” The mom at this point got very animated declaring that it was absurd that these people had lived on the edge of dragon territory for twenty years without doing an indepth study of the habits and behavior of blue dragons. But such information was not forthcoming– neither were detailed maps of the dungeons which Elderbrecht said he had found all of his artifacts.

So the players finally set out for the plateau which was two days away. They travel only at night. They have a camoflaged tarp which they hade under during the day. I check for encounters in the desert for two days of travel and nothing comes up. The players wait until nightfall and send the ranger forward to place six charges of dynamite at the entrance. I do a surprise check to see if the dragon could get the drop on the players here and I think the ranger actually would have had surprise on the dragon with this. So I told the players this looked to be successful.

At this point, the elf thief went to the back entrance, made a climbing roll and then just barely made a move silently check to get in position on a balcony. (I thought this was a failure until my friend reminded me of the bonus for her insanely high dexterity.) The elf could see the dragon sleeping on her big pile of coins here due to her infravision.

When four hours had elapased, the players at the front of the cave began to make a commotion. The dragon– who really was determined to be asleep according to the rules– wakes up and rushes to the entrance. Now, the players had elected to have a cleric on either side of the entrance ready to throw a COmmand to “halt” right at the charges. I make saving throws for the dragon and one succeeds while the other fails– the players breath a sigh of relief that everything seems to be working so far.

Next, the clerics run away from the entrance as the rest of the party fires their crossbows. But then there is a turn for the worse: all three of them roll really low. They don’t even hit armor class 10 even without the penalty due to not having the weapon proficiency. This was… alarming and the players were sure that they were looking at a total party kill here. But then everyone remembered that there was one more crossbow– with the elf thief that was in the cave! Everything has come down to one more die roll… BUT IT HAS TO BE A GOOD ONE. She rolls the d20 onto the dice tray and… it comes one as an 18. Even with a penalty for range this is going to be a solid hit. The charges all explode and the main cave entrance collapses. And somehow everything felt like everything in the game had culminated into this wildly unlikely outcome where every choice, every idea could just conspire together to this proton torpedo to the exhaust port type ending.

I can’t describe how exciting this was. The tenseness of it all. The terror. The narrow successes. The dashed hopes. The sudden turn of luck at just the right moment. You couldn’t make this sort of thing up and yet the die rolls for all of this were done right out in the open. People could not believe that they had beaten a dragon at first level. People could not recall ever beating a dragon PERIOD, much less with first level dudes. This all seemed real and impossible and legitimate and legendary all at once. Genuinely amazing.

I started rolling through the treasure tables and crunching through the numbers for XP and so forth. It came out to enough for people to level twice, really. (While I did this, the dad had set up a target in the back yard so that everyone that had fired the crossbows end game could larp out the climatic scene with a bow and arrow.) There was also the matter of a set of three dragon eggs which the party also recovered. By now it was well after nine o’clock when we had started at 2pm. I ruled that due to the train and so forth, moving the coin back to civilization was not going to be an issue as it would normally. My old friend had visions of using the dragon eggs a la Game of Thrones to take over the world. Everybody was stoked. I could tell everyone was pumped and happy and almost even stunned even without the 15 year old girl that played the ranger telling me more than once that this was awesome.

We all went home but everybody talked about the game for days.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Battle of Desert Swamp

Sat, 09/23/2023 - 01:41

Okay, I am still thinking this one through, but I will throw out what I have for this now.

Cast o’ Characters:

  • One first level Rifts Juicer wearing NE-C20 Camouflage Variable Armor and armed with an NE-10 Plasma Cartridge Rifle
  • The Secret Society of Burrowing Mutants — five units of After the Bomb type mutant animals armed with mega-damage grade weaponry. Two of these are armed only with sidearms, two with rifles, and one is a heavy weapons teams armed with light anti-tank type weapons.
  • A group of four alien Phraints who have jury-rigged an energy howitzer out of parts salvaged from their crashed starship.

The intruders consist of one Invid Command Unit, three Invid Shock Troopers, and six Armored Scouts.

The premise of the scenario is that the Invid want to break through this line in order to seize protoculture on the other side. They cannot merely fly over because a host of dragons have interdicted the skies in this region.

The Invid are highly mobile but are walking into a trap. I think the key thing for the defenders is– from a roleplay standpoint at least– to determine when and how to reveal their forces so as to maximize the destruction of the Invid. The key problem for the Invid is to figure out that they need to flee at the moment the discover things are amiss.

Upon reflection, this conflict does not need an elaborate wargame. Palladium combat will suffice for the shooting and thus sidestep the need for translation between systems. Instead of devising a framework for this action, we will just make it up as we go.

The defense is arrayed as such:

  • Sidearm burrowing infantry (10 mutant animals)
  • Rifle burrowing infantry (10 mutant animals)
  • Sidearm burrowing infantry (10 mutant animals)
  • Rifle burrowing infantry (10 mutant animals), Juicer Chameleon/Assassin
  • Heavy weapons burrowing infantry (10 mutant animals)
  • Phraint energy howitzer

The infantry groups are effectively stationary due to their need for cover. (They lack MDC armor.) The Juicer may change up to two range bands between each combat round on activation rolls of 4+ on d20. Invid Armored Scouts may change up to two range bands between each combat round on activation rolls of 6+ on d20. Invid Shock Troopers may change up to two range bands between each combat round on activation rolls of 5+ on d20. Invid Command Units may change up to two range bands between each combat round on activation rolls of 4+ on d20. Upon entering within firing range of a range band that contains an infantry unit that has not yet revealed itself, the infantry will be in position to ambush it on a roll of 14+ on d20. The Ambush ends further Invid activations for that round. Invid that take damage during a combat round are at -1 to their activation rolls per 10 MDC of damage they have taken during the following movement phase.

Sidearms may fire only within their range band. Rifles and Invid weaponry may fire into neighboring range bands. The howitzer may fire up to five range bands away.

Whelp. Let’s give the Invid to avoid this whole thing. A natural 20 and they don’t wade in at all. No good!

Okay, no need for activation rolls during unopposed movement. They move into the first range band. We will give them 19+ to figure out that this is bad. No!

Moving into the next range band… 18+ now. No again!

And the next… 17+. Still no!

Okay, all hell breaks loose.

Okay, calculating the Juicer assassination of the Command Unit. W.P. Rifle gives me +1 to strike at first level. (My P.P. bonus does NOT give me its usual +3 bonus to strike.) The sensor eye is at -3 to be hit. Can also give them -1 for movement. The NE-10 Plasma Cartridge Rifle does not itself get a bonus for aimed fire. So, we will take three vanilla called shots. First shot cannot be dodged. Required roll is 11+ on each. This guy gets +2 to dodge on the ground here. The damage is 1d4x10. Let’s roll! A 16 on the first shot. 40 points of damage! Now to target a Shock Trooper: I rolled a 15 and he dodges with an 18. But then I roll a 19 and he only gets a 5. I roll a 2 for damage– 20 M.D.C!

I did not declare my actions before the initiative roll. I think these things would be done in a strict initiative order if you wanted to follow the rules explicitly. Which would allow each person on a side to adjust their actions based on the results of the other attacks on their side.

The howitzer I never statted up. I will just give it two attacks on a 9+ to vaporize a single enemy unit with each hit. Two 19’s. I arbitrarily rule that you can’t dodge a howitzer blast.

This leaves just the six Armored Scouts. The gung-ho pistol infantry are ready to jump. The ten guys will take two attacks each, reserving two dodges for defense. The do 1d6 damage. Let’s say they need 9+ to hit. 38 damage here.

We will let the two Rifle units pull the same trick. But they hit on 8+ and do 2d6 damage. If they can change targets after they finish one off, they may be able to take out more than two. Of course, if all of these infantry give up their dodge rolls, they will practically finish these things off. That is the way to go. 24 hits. (Can hit damaged guy, #2, and #5.) Three hits finished off the damaged guy. Ten hits finish off #2. The last eleven hits easily finish off #5.

The final Rifle unit can target the three remaining Armored Scouts– if he can roll 14+ for each one per my rule. Ha! He does not have line of sight on the surviving Invid, so he remains hidded. (This is the forward unit which will get a surprise attack if they flee.

Do the Invid make a banzai charge against the energy howitzer? Do they just flee? Or do they take their shots at the poor pistil infantry before they go? We need a d12 table!

  • 4-11 Punish the mutant animal infantry
  • 12 Charge the energy howitzer

Whelp. We got a three.

Let’s check for a clean sweep. The surviving Armored Acouts have activation rolls of 6+. Checking them…. Scout A is frozen in place. Scout B moves one range band and is not ambused by the hidden rifle infantry. Scout C moves twice and is also not ambushed. My Juicer also moves two range bands.

Rifle infantry can easily pick off Scout A. Scout A will not get a return shot due to its initiative roll of 1.

The howitzer can try for two kills on rolls of 10+. That is that.


The end.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mecha in Tunnels & Trolls

Sat, 09/09/2023 - 20:52

After rolling up some Heroes Unlimited characters and easily converting them to Mercenary’s, Spies, and Private Eyes, I wondered if the Tunnels & Trolls engine would handle Mecha. At first I thought that given that attributes had no limit in T&T, that I could just run Mecha as characters. That may be true, but as I worked towards an initial prototype I departed from that somewhat. I had originally wanted to convert Rifts mecha to T&T, but the 3025 BattleTech lineup is the gold standard in mech concepts. While adapting those mecha, I wanted to convert missiles to be one shot weapons as well in order to better match the original source material. Here is the first pass at these rules after testing it with a battle with an Atlas and an Orion going against a Stalker and a Thunderbolt.

Stat conversions:

Constitution aka Hit Points are equal to BattleTech tonnage

Armor aka Damage Resistance is equal to BattleTech armor factor / 10 and rounded down.

Luck aka Dodge is equal to 7 + BattleTech walking MP’s

Speed aka Move is equal to 5 + BattleTech walking MP’s

Melee Dice = BattleTech tonnage / 10 rounded up (never used this in anger)

SRM’s are single shot and are rated at 2 dice per missile port. They can fire at Point Blank or Close range which is up to one range band away.

LRM’s are single shot and are rated at 1 die per missile port. They can fire at Far or Extreme range, which is two or three range bands away.

Weapons that have a range of 9 in BattleTech can fire at Point Blank or Close Range. They get half their dice in damage rounded down.

Large Lasers can barely fire at Far range. PPC’s would be solid at Far range. Some autocannon will fire at Far range. Give half their damage in dice here, but less for the large lasers which aren’t as good. These weapons can also fire at Close range.

The movement system is very abstract. It comes from the Classic Traveller range band system. The idea was that the chaos and unpredictability of combat would lead to Players declare whether a mech will advance or retreat or stand their ground. Moving mech making a saving roll against their speed attribute. That is, they roll 2s6 with doubles adding and roll over. If the speed attribute plus the die total is greater than or equal to 20, THEN the mecha actually performs its movement. (This creates some interesting situations and feels true to the action even though it may appear to be complete nonsense as an idea.)

Movement actions are declared secretly and simultaneously and then resolved publicly.

After that fire actions are declared secretly and simultaneously.

To-hit targets are 6+ for near, 8+ for far, and 10+ for extreme. To check for to-hit, roll 2d6 with doubles adding and then rolling over. If the total is greater than or equal to the target, then it’s a hit. Special note: each double that is rolled in the to-hit adds a -1 to the target’s dodge roll as does each increment of 5 that the roll is exceeded.

For hits, check to see if the target dodged. This is a saving roll against the mech’s Luck stat. Success means the hit is converted into a miss.

Total the damage done to a mech in a round and subtract the mech’s armor stat from it. This is the amount of points deducted from the mech’s constitution.

If a mech takes 25% or more in damage in one turn, it takes a -1 penalty to its speed saving roll the next turn. If it takes 50% or more in damage in one turn, it will take a -2 penalty instead. (Mechs that take a bunch of damage are more liable to get pinned down and finished off.)

In this first pass conversion, the game is mostly about what happens with the missiles. So much is at stake! After they are all fired it should be obvious who is winning. Note that these base numbers here are VERY stingy and bonuses for good piloting or good gunnery in the +1 to +4 range would be very reasonable.

To view the log of the first playtest, see this thread.

Playtester comments:

“I like the roll to activate movement here. It makes the big guys feel heavy.”

“Missiles being single shot is def more in keeping with the visual inspiration”

I did not necessarily like leaving the vanilla combat system, but Tunnels & Trolls seemed to lack a coherent set of movement rules as far as I could tell. Having a High Guard type abstraction level beyond the PC scale seems to make sense. Though maybe if I drop the commitment to recreating BattleTech I could work something else out. Building on what we have here, a strategic game where two sides attempt to kill the other’s command post is the next logical step– deployed mech would have to return to their cp to get their missiles reloaded.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs