Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quick and dirty and eminently useful

As a harassed dungeon master/game master, I am always on the lookout for very useful shortcuts to make my job easier and more effective. Real life takes a horrific toll on my refereeing efforts - and I feel that I am not remiss in claiming that many of my brethren of similar persuasion are in the same situation as I am.

Jeff Rients has a most effective article on coming up with an instant dungeon in Fight On! magazine issue number 6 most appropriately entitled HOLY CRAP! I NEED A DUNGEON RIGHT NOW. I find myself so much in such a situation the day before I committed to run a dungeon and just emerged from a very toxic work week. I do heartily recommend this article if you find yourself searching for some solid tips on how to deal with these last minute crunches.

One such piece of advice deals with quickly but effectively stocking your shake and bake dungeon with monsters which are hopefully going to offer something for your players' characters to sink their fangs into. I am a fan of customizing my big baddies before I throw them at the players as I always believe in tossing them something they've never encountered before as opposed to just recycling something straight from the monster manual.

Jeff suggests rolling once on the appropriate encounter table for your dungeon's level for the basic monster and then rolling again on the encounter table. After this, simply amalgamate the two monsters who have rolled up.

I decided to take this for a spin during my last Traveller-themed dungeon crawl. The results were pleasantly intriguing (and surprisingly fun too for my players). First roll on the wandering monster table under Labyrinth Lord rules produced the Owlbear- my usual favorite. Second roll was the Gorgon: mean and deadly considering its petrification attack. Amalgamating the two together produced a monstrous and deadly hybrid- the Owl Gorgon. It looked, smelled, attacked and died like an Owlbear but packed the hideous surprise of breathing out a cloud of greenish gas when it had you in a bear hug which, if you failed your saving throw, turned you to stone.

As it is, my players wisely ganged up on it and applied massive dollops of shock action (ie. cut it to pieces before it really got to turn someone to stone). The fighter narrowly missed his save but never really found out what was going to happen to him if he failed. Too bad he later got careless and failed his save against a corrosive poison gas trap later on as he fixated on looting a magical sword. But that's an altogether different story.

As to generating the Owl Gorgon, I got it down pat in 2 minutes flat. Not bad for a harassed dungeon master.

Jeff's advise shows you that thinking slightly out of a box and using the tools provided in existing old school clone rulesets will really yield great dividends. A great savings in both time and effort.

I know it's gonna be a good year!

As I post this, I reflect on 2011.

To be honest, 2011 was very difficult for me. I count myself lucky that I am still gainfully employed when so many decent, hardworking folks are aching to find fulfilling meaningful jobs. But I'm only just so lucky... working for a living for me now involves earning just enough for the family to survive but at a price of slowly eating away your soul. I had made a promise to reinvent myself when the time comes and I pray it comes sooner than later. We aren't getting any younger after all.

I'll be saying goodbye to the third world very soon and hopefully settling in a better place overall. As a gamer, my fears lie in the direction of losing contact with my gaming group of more than ten years. I'm having separation anxiety as I am leaving behind my books, my games and my airsoft stuff (some of my few real vices in this life).

It is my fervent wish that sometime in the future, I'll still get a chance to do some gaming in our new home in the great white north.

It is with this that I look forward with hope.

2012. A new year coming in about one and a half hours from now. May it be peaceful, fruitful and better for all of us.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Barrier Peaks Syndrome

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

Believe it or not but I've never had the privilege of either running or playing this module. Never had the chance to do so but it always remains as one of my best inspirations in terms of genre-bending science fantasy. Maybe it's just the Gamma World fan in me but I always found it cool to have sword wielding adventurers toting captured firearms.

Looking back to yesterday's most recent "one-shot" Labyrinth Lord dungeon crawl made me re-visit Traveller Book 1: Characters and Combat. The rules set down some "antique equivalents" of the weapons set down to give the players a reference point on their capabilities and stats. Hence, when GDW referred to "submachineguns" they stated that they were referring to the Sterling 9mm L2A1 or the Israel 9mm Uzi.

What about armor?

Yesterday's vulpine mercs were wearing Mesh. Traveller described this as a body suit of natural or synthetic leather reinforced with a lining of flexible metal mesh similar to chain mail but lighter and stronger. Hmmm, so it would look like modernized leather armor with a layer of chain mail below, but lighter. My equivalent in Labyrinth Lord would be Chain Mail (Armor Class 5).

Going through the whole set of Traveller armor, I would put the following as their Labyrinth Lord equivalents:

Jack - a natural or synthetic leather jacket/body suit. Somewhat better than ordinary clothing or bare skin against blades but worthless against guns. Labyrinth Lord equivalent: Leather Armor (Armor Class 7).

Cloth- my favorite, being the most versatile in the Traveller series. A heavby duty jacket/vest covering the upper torso and legs tailored from ballistic cloth. It absorbs impact energy distributing the blow over the body of the target resulting in (possibly) severe bruising. Given the metallurgy and workmanship of the D&D world, I'd place Cloth's Labyrinth Lord equivalent as Plate Metal (Armor Class 3).

Ablat is cheap and is fashioned from material which will vaporize when hit by laser fire. I'd like to see how this stacks up against a fireball spell. It has some value as protection against other forms of attack primarily because of its bulk. I'd place its Labyrinth Lord equivalent as Studded Leather Armor (Armor Class 6).

I find cross-genre gaming fun as I get to "translate" the stats of gear and items from one game universe to another. In this case, 'porting matters from Classic Traveller to OD&D (and vice versa!) never fails to provide me with a most interesting intellectual exercise.

I guess the Barrier Peaks Syndrome lives on. While I don't think I'll have the time to run or play out this very long and most intriguing module, its' influence will always continue to make itself felt in my gaming in years to come.

If you think dungeon crawls are fun...

...don't let anyone else tell you it isn't (run your games this way if you want). I recall a sentence to this effect in Robin Laws' book on refereeing. Today, our gaming group validated this statement.

It started out with having one afternoon to run a one-off old school game. So I decided to dust off (figuratively) my pdf copy of Labyrinth Lord and cobble up a one shot dungeon crawl. To spice up the weirdness factor, I decided to throw in a mutant human and mutant animal (antman!) warrior from the Mazes and Monsters optional rules at the end of the book thereby importing mutant warriors from the Mutant Future. So my pregen list ended up with a stock human fighter, a cleric, a magic user, a thief (all of the above representing the big four basic classes), a dwarf, an elf and the two afore-mentioned mutants.

To spice things up even further I set the game in what turned out to be a frontier scout surveillance base staffed by Vargr Mercs from Traveller. I know we always used to consider tech level 6 Traveller weapons as being on the lower end of the deadliness scale during combat. Today's game showed how the "typical" battle rifle (being the venerable M14) proved deadly against a group of 5-6th level D&D characters, particularly when paired with an odd laser carbine and wielded by a foe that seemed to remotely know what they were doing...

It was fun. I recall the last time we did this sort of D&D-Traveller genre bend was in high school. I wonder how their magic items will stack up against an enemy in Battledress?

We might get to find out as my players are clamoring to continue. This one shot is turning out to have a continuation after all....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Well that's very kind of you to mention it...

I've been so out of it for so long, I even neglected to note that my friend Alex who runs a pretty good gaming blog himself posted something on my ongoing Fading Suns game here at the Armchair Gamer.

Many thanks my friend. You do a better job than I do in documenting our latest attempt at good gaming.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


It's regrouping time for me. Recovering from a bout of gastronomical infection of the variety that sends you scurrying to the bathroom, I had to call off today's game. I think I can use a day of rest.

It would be the eve of another anniversary of the battle of Kursk, something my history aficionado friends and I always end up marking. But to my other friends and relatives, it's almost the 4th of July.

In particular, to my American friends out there, here's to a great 4th of July! Stay well and prosper everyone.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Epic battle

My head is still spinning. We had our regular Mutant Future game today. Fifteen player characters and NPCs in the adventuring party. Just when I expected them to run, the players dig in resolutely and FIGHT! A reinforced platoon of mutant 'human mercenaries assault their prepared positions. Supporting dragoons make a nuisance of themselves, sniping and harassing.

The result: three solid hours of good old fashioned combat and killing. The final tally: six dead characters and the reinforced platoon of attacking mutant mercs scattered and fleeing. The butcher's bill proved a heavy price indeed.

Two things everyone learned today with a definite emphasis:

First, friendly fire, ISN'T. Mutations harm friend and foe when badly used. Today's use of Killing Sphere came close to wiping out the party as well as the attacking point squad. Reminded me of a wayward arty strike landing on your own positions.

Second, snipers kill from a distance. One of two pure human player characters found out the hard way. I guess he should have been paying more attention and asking why the Mutant Lord was still counting initiative when every enemy in sight appeared to be dead....

Oh well, happy times....

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rain rain and rain

It's seven in the morning and the sky is pouring. By this I mean forty days and forty nights variety of tropical torrential rain. It's been like this since the other day. What many people take for granted is the appalling state of urban drainage we have here after years and years of corruption and neglect. Every little bit of rain (which is pretty much unavoidable this time of the year) results in flooding. This gets to your car, your house, your things and pretty much brings everything to a standstill.

I have a meeting with a minor government agency in a flood-prone area and I'm having doubts even if my SUV will survive the trek. Oh, and did I ever mention the traffic jams that will inevitably result? They are giving out anti-pneumonia shots in the office and boy, do we really need this stuff the way things are turning out here. Somehow I keep wondering if people should really be living like this.

Times like this I feel that living in the third world is an adventure in a medieval fantasy world. At least it isn't post apocalyptic..yet.

Maybe this is why my recurring inspiration for my current mutant future game has a lot to do with tropical rain and jungles.

I can't wait for the week to end so we can proceed to session 6 of the Southeast Asian Mutant Future. Upon a player's urging, I cobbled together the MF encumbrance rules as written with the elegant point system found in Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role Playing thereby (hopefully) simplifying things in this regard. we'll see soon I guess.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In the midst of a lot of stuff

Life has been very busy and exciting of late. I have so little time to update my blog and I am very much aware of the fact that I have a tremendous backlog in terms of after-action reports and other related musings. Between work, family life and the occassional gaming session, my days and nights are jam-packed, but I have so far stayed true to my personal commitment to thrive and not just to live.

Events are catching up with my wife and I and decisions have to be made soon. I'm just so thrilled to move on with our lives after waiting for the right thing to happen.

On the gaming front, I'm happy to note my Southeast Asian Mutant Future campaign has been progressing into its fifth session by last Sunday. I've been scribbling down my copious notes and will be posting the account of our mutant ne'er-do-wells who are now in the midst of trying to break into their default starting town which is besieged by Moro Mutant Pirates. They recently just survived the Re-Energizers module and are currently dodging freelance mutant marauders allied to the Moro Mutants. It certainly isn't easy for them they have to keep moving while lugging 120 pounds worth of scavenged radioactive batteries which they are trying to smuggle into the surrounded defenders of Barrio Santo Cristo.

Keeping in consonance with the tenets of old school gaming, I lifted the restrictions on characters each player can field. With our NPCs, the party is now up to 15 effectives and counting.

I plunked in the 'Shields Will Be Splintered' houserule, as well as some handy houserules by fellow Mutant Lord Malcadon on increased melee combat plusses due to Strength. Adding some sniping rules and other assorted bits on firearms all served to turn the game a tad deadlier. Judging from the players' reactions, the verdict so far is that Mutant Future is one deadly game.

I'll be making an effort to post more, given the constraints of real life always hanging over me. What little free time I have is often eaten up by reading up all those interesting bits from other people's blogs.

Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Good bye chips and junk food

What is it about players, soda and chips?

I just got my blood test result and my cholesterol rating is too high to be normal. Hence, goodbye salty, trans-fat laden chips.

Argh! Watching my players gorge on this is pure pain.

Mutant future episode 2 - no fatalities

We just finished our second episode of this season's Mutant Future (Southeast Asia edition) amidst a tropical late afternoon downpour. Yes, that was fun. Nothing beats an afternoon with friends around the gaming table. The intrepid mutant adventurers are halfway through RE-ENERGIZERS, a Mutant Future adventure module I recently purchased and downloaded. So far, it played out well as a balanced and well thought of scenario. It was also very easy to take, adopt and plunk into my homebrew gameworld. Yes, RE-ENERGIZERS rocks!

My house rules expanding the slug throwers found in the MF rules as written appear to work fine- making gunplay very much reminiscent of FALLOUT TACTICS, which was my intention in the first place. Of course so far, it's been the players using their firepower against mutant fauna. I'm sure things will get suitably sanguinary when they run up against opposition with a modicum of intelligence similarly armed and inclined as they are.

Man, it is so hot here. I hear the weather hit 38 or 39 Celsius last week.

Even if I'm tired and hungry, I'm real happy. And more than ready to face the work week. Bring 'em on guys....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Back to gaming!

We just had our return to Mutant Future game yesterday. It was a blast. i'm still enjoying the feeling of having ran a great game with good friends. I'll be posting a report soon. More good news means we'll probably gaming again this weekend.

It's been such a long time I've forgotten how great all of this can be!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Entering the 46th year

I've been blessed to be alive and well and entering my 46th year today. I have a lot to be thankful for in spite of the day to day challenges that come up now and then. For this year, I resolve to do a lot more enjoyable and memorable gaming.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Newest Addition to this Mutant Lord's Arsenal

I just managed to purchase and download my pdf copy of Mr. Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator. I'm only in the first few pages but I can see how this product is going to go very far indeed in enhancing my next Mutant Future game. With everything moving in accordance with our plans, I hope to be gaming on May 22. Good times seem to be just around the corner!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hijacking the jumpstart attempt at running a new game

One thing GM-ing has taught me is the value of player buy in. The fact that your players have this starry-eyed look of expectation whe you tell them what you plan next means they are hooked.

I've been mulling a more Hawkmoon-esque Mutant Future game in the coming weeks and started the actual task of jotting down my ideas just to make them simmer and stew. In the process of doing this, I seem to have been hijacked again along my original path. This has happened before so I am not really bothered. My ultimate end in the proposed upcoming game is a gradual decline of technological civilization on Earth during the course of a drawn out struggle which savants of a later more civilized age will refer to as the Tragic Millenium.

The thing is, I seemed more drawn for now to run a game at a point in the TM when technology and civilization is still somewhat formidable but falling catastrophically fast.Having to explain how I envision this to some of my more new school players I described the feel of this attempt at a Mutant Future to be Fallout Tactics meets Planet of the Apes and a dash of the X Men. Well, this got their attention.

Next, I decided to try a different tack. I decided to set the game in the place I call home. This means hot, tropical beaches, a lot of native slang, crumbling ruins near fortress gothic churches all set in a place once referred to as the Pearl of the Orient Seas. Other things of interest include local warlords (we never seem to lack those even today), mutant water buffalo, overgrown rice paddies with mutated carnivorous flora, mangrove swamps aplenty, a resurgent ultra-fanatical religious order which would put the Knights of Genetic Purity to shame, fortified towns cobbled together from the floating hulks of ancient tramp vessels (clustered around a beached inert SSN Boomer as the town hall), and rain - lots and lots of it as climate change is slowly but surely sinking our land beneath the waves.

I'm presently tweaking the MF rules to allow more and deadlier slug throwers in keeping with the tradition of Fallout Tactics. Knowing my players they'll be demanding this. Maybe it's the legacy of playing too much Twilight 2000 in the past. So yes, guns, guns and more guns. At least until they come upon some serious energy weapons (I do believe that's what happened in Fallout Tactics too).

Another thing that provided me with unexpected fun is how I get to use the current slang and subculture here and turn it on it's head when crafting the background. I know my old language teacher will probably maul me what with my bastardizing a lot of Tagalog for this game, but heck, this can be fun!

I do recall that the original Gamma World had a lot to do with satirizing Western culture. So maybe I'll do a little of that as regards the culture over here with Mutant Future and see how it pans out.

By the emails I've been getting from my prospective players, I do believe I've latched on to something promising here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bataan Day

I take this opportunity to salute the heroes who gave so much in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. Bataan heroes day was celebrated here on April 9 with a ceremony honoring the veterans at Mount Samat. Mt. Samat is a commanding terrain feature somewhere in the middle of the Bataan peninsula and was subject to a terrific bombardment when the Japanese Imperial Army finally broke through the lines in early April 1942. As my family comes from Bataan, I took trips to the war memorial during the summer months of my childhood.

This year, my re-enactor friends from the Asia Airsoft Alliance joined the veterans' ceremony in the Mt. Samat memorial. The ceremony was also attended by active service members of the Philippine Armed Forces and visiting servicemen of the US Pacific Command. I'm still regretting that I wasn't up to joining my comrades after recovering from a long bout of respiratory infections and my asthmatic cough.

It was unusually foggy and wet at the start of the day when our group took positions at the memorial. Nonetheless I found this scene so apt as to produce a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought, bled and even died here so many years ago.

My humble thanks remain with the gallant generation who served with armed services of the Pacific Theater of Operations during the last World War, in particular, to the heroes of the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) and the guerilla fighters who kept fighting the good fight after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. Your sacrifice allowed us to enjoy the freedoms we should never, ever take for granted today.

You will never be forgotten.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Real life ruins

I was lucky to have been able to join a company outing last week to an island south of Luzon. Mindoro hosts a pretty decent place called Puerto Galera which is known for its beaches. I managed to join up with a hiking group from our company and ended up trekking through a forested and hilly area to a place called Aninuan Falls. I believe the closest translation from Tagalog would be 'Falls of the Ancestors'.

Being rather out of shape after an extended bout of chronic respiratory infections, I found the pace climbing up the hills rather tiring. I did not help that my companions just recently completed a 17-hour mountain trek near Subic Bay. In any case, I luckily made my constitution check and survived the trek over rather challenging terrain.

Completing the trek was worth it as a wonderfully secluded and refreshing natural waterfall greeted us at the end.

What really got my attention was a group of ruins off to one side of the small lake formed by the cascading stream of water. This appeared to be the concrete and rebar foundations of some long crumbled bridge. The bridge itself seems to have eroded away long ago but the supports are still evident.

The structure does not seem to be a contemporary or near-contemporary construction. I'm betting it was set up during the American Commonwealth period, sometime in the 1920s or 30s.

For some reason, the upper portion seems like it was blown up. I have to do some more research on this. Maybe this was blown up by guerillas who were fighting the japanese between 1942-1945. Or maybe it was the work of some communist rebels who were quite active in the area in the 1980s. Then again, maybe I'm just letting my imagination run away from me this time.

Even more intriguing is how the locals managed to use some of what remained of the crumbling concrete supports as a frame for a hut they managed to cobble up.

Seeing all this through a roleplaying umpire's eyes gave me an idea how the survivors of the Mutant Future could set themselves up in terms of shelter amidst the Ruins of the Ancients. Seeing concrete ruins all moss-covered and crumbling is one thing but beholding them up close is quite an inspiration for a gamer!

Also, I do believe I'll be paying more attention to those ability checks from now on when I'm adjudicating wilderness movement and exploration. Most of the terrain we traversed was boulder-strewn dried river beds. Apart from being out of shape, I had all I could do by just keeping my attention on the ground. Tripping and falling on the rocks is not a nice thing to happen to a trekker. And yes, difficult terrain tends to slow down travel. Having a trail to follow is such a Godsend when you're traversing jungle terrain in them thar hills.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Where in the World?

The last incarnation of my MF game was set outside Earth. The world had two moons and was a terraformed garden planet before the Interstellar Federation from which it's colonizers originated from collapsed and died. This time, I'm setting it on Earth, somewhere in the not too recent future.

Earlier, I mentioned my preference in setting the game amidst a Hawkmoon-esque feel. The action of this particular Mutant Future happens a lot longer after the last planet-busting weapons were detonated. Instead of one big mad minute where everyone who had something worth shooting let loose and trashed the world, we had a long, extended spate of unpleasantness which led to the End of the World as We Know It. In Moorcock's books, this extended time of unpleasantness was called the Tragic Millennium. While there were various times of reconstruction and recovery, the ultimate end after this era was the gradual erosion of technological civilization giving way to the quasi-medieval world of the wasteland.

Now that I've more or less determined the 'how' and 'when' of the setting, what remains to answer is the question where the action takes place.

The Hawkmoon novels picture a Europe composed of a patchwork of squabbling principalities ruled by petty monarchs. And one big bad Dark Empire. This sort of fits my gaming model but I decided on moving the game to North America. With a big landmass with so much space to play in, amidst interesting and varied terrain, I feel that this pretty much meets my demands. One of my inspirations is the old Gamma World module Legion of Gold. The feel of that game setting really doves into how I intend to run this coming incarnation of MF. A lot of sword-wielding feudals ranged against the new barbarians amidst the ruins of the Ancients. Mutants? Yes, quite a lot, but this time, I'll be dialing down the gonzo-weirdness factor a bit.

Other influences include Richard Adams vision of horse clans and steppe warriors duking it out with knights from extant kingdoms such as Pitzburk. I see the new world as a bit warmer, what with all the havoc caused by the Tragic Millennium and the resulting climate change that followed. Lands previously considered relatively cold north of the Canadian border are now pleasantly warmer. Hence, I'm imagining massive rain forests with corresponding mega mutant flora and fauna in places like Virginia. I believe Sterling Lanier's Heiro novels suggested something like this in their version of the mutant future.

Jumpstarting the game (or so it is hoped)

After the longest time, I hope I'm on my way to starting up a game with some semblance of regularity. I was supposed to run a Mutant Future session this afternoon but practically all of my players bugged out. I guess I'll be putting the time to good use by reading up on some inspirational material and more solid prep.

I don't know if Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley qualifies as inspirational material. I'm enjoying it though. I can't believe I have not read this book a long time ago. I remember watching the movie as a kid but I guess the special effects tech of the 70s would have been pathetically Insufficient if they decided to run the movie straight by the book.

As to solid prep, I have reams and reams of hex paper here and pages of notes. Last week's extended stay in the beach left me a lot of time to just muse about the setting of my MF game this time around. I'm leaning towards a world feeling more like the post-disaster kingdoms from Moorcock's Hawkmoon novels, than Kirby's after-diasater Kamandi.

I'll let the ideas stew a bit more and see what happens.

As an aside, anyone know a source of downloadable hex paper with individually numbered hexes?