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....