Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Which The Warlock Winds Down the Year...

If it's one thing I've not been very good at, it's concluding.  In writing, in projects, in...well, life in general, I've never been particularly good at finishing out.  I suppose that includes this year's blog entries, even.  As I sat down to put in this entry, I was at an utter loss.  Do I talk about the year that's gone by?  Perhaps what I'm looking forward to in 2011?  Maybe the swag that was part of this year's Christmas haul? 

No.  None of those would fit.  Rather, I decided to take a page from last year's entries and provide some resolutions for what I can work in next year.  I'm not big on New Years' Resolutions, but this is the one venue where they make sense.  Plus, y'know...if the resolution's public, it's a lot harder to back down on!

--Keep Up the Layout!  One of the things I'm most proud of, in the past few months, is the formatting that I've been able to put forward on this blog.  I'm hardly an HTML guru, but I've been able to make this blog much more visually appealling with images and links, as well as various formatting changes.  It's been exciting for me, particularly, as I've been able to watch my readership slowly start to pick up.  Hopefully, that means I've been doing something right!

The current progress on Dungeon Slam
--Revise, Revise, Revise!  While I've been working hard on new ideas, new scenarios, and new games, my older projects have been gathering dust behind me.  This, my lovelies, is a real shame, as I think I really have some good stuff there.  Dungeon Slam! is still waiting on its fifth revision, while SunnyVale Acres has been aching for some more playtesting, now that I've instituted some changes to each of the factions.  Lumberjack Wars has been off to a good start, but needs to be completed.  I have the basic rules finished, and am nearly finished with the lumberjacks themselves, but still need to complete the vehicles/gear and the "Screw You, Buddy!" cards. 
Finding time during the busy scholastic year isn't easy, but I'll find a way...

Swinging the Pendulum...
--Swing the Pendulum!  Speaking of projects on the back burner, my Pendulum Method has actually been much more to the forefront than my other pieces of work.  I'm hoping to finish out the Pendulum and submit it to Digital Kat for full revision and layout within the first half of this year.  Ideally, by this time next year, I'll be able to put out a 64 page PDF detailing The Pendulum Method with several examples of Pendulum-style adventures.  This one, probably moreso than any of my board games, is closest to completion.  With any luck (and a good bit of work), I can actually finish out this project!


The future of Wittenberg Gaming?
--Start the Archive!  One of the biggest, most ambitious projects that has come out of the Wittenberg Role-Playing Guild was an idea from Will the ManMan.  You see, after running games at convention after convention, the Guild has a massive list of games that we can run, with characters already generated and plots already conceived.  Part of the issue is that they're not consolidated.  That, my lovelies, would be the change.  Ideally, we could consolidate all of our one-shots, all of the games run by Wittenberg gamers, as a massive consolidated document full of ideas, characters, and adventures.  Perhaps someday, once we get enough material in one place, we could even publish a volume of our materials...

We'll see, really.  2011 looks to be massively exciting, with another trip to Origins and GenCon on the docket, in addition to WittCon, FOPCon, DenCon and more.  Here's to another year, fellow gamers! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Which The Warlock Has No Entries for a Tick...

Just to let you know, friends and neighbors, I'm taking a week off for the holidays.  I'll be back in action next Wednesday, the 29th. 

See you then!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In Which The Warlock Twirls a Terrible Towel +6...

This may come as something as a surprise, but gaming isn't my only real obsession.  My passion for good food's been pretty well documented on this blog, but another one of my passions really hasn't.  You see, friends and neighbors, I love professional football.

"Big Ben" signs autographs for Steeler Nation
I was born and raised in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  For those of you who know football, you know that Latrobe is the site of St. Vincent College--both my mom and my sister graduated from there!--which is where the Pittsburgh Steelers hold training camp.  My favorite wing joint--Dino's Sports Lounge--is a favorite of many Steelers, both past and present, when they're in town.  And, in a town like Latrobe, cheering the Steelers is as natural as French fries on a Primanti Brothers sandwich or a weekend trip to Kennywood.

It would seem to be a massive disconnect--my geeky predilictions for dice and wizardy, coupled with a fanaticism for smash-mouth football--but, really, the two are becoming more and more intrinsically linked, as time has gone on!

The start of this trend has to be due to the rise of fantasy football.  Indeed, both the Errant Nick and I were in an ESPN league at one point--which yours truly ended up winning, riding a combination of Ladanian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook to an easy title!  I've since given up the fantasy football addiction, but the same tools, skills, and obsessions are present in any amount of character optimization as in setting a fantasy football roster!

For those not familiar with fantasy football, the game is pretty simple.  You, along in with eight to twelve other people, initiate a rotating draft of current NFL players.  Each week of the NFL season, you set a starting lineup of players--a quarterback, a few running backs and wide receivers, a kicker, and a team defense--which accrues points based on their individual performance.  FF players are free to trade players between one another--which is how I ended up with the lethal duo above a few years ago--and to pick up undrafted players from the waiver wire.

Barbarian?  Avenger?  Fighter?
I ask you, how is poring over stat sheets any different than checking a 'character optimization' board for a favorite game?  How is agonizing over a roster decision or "playing the matchups" from week to week any different than building a character for role-playing.  It's not, say I!  Sure, the stats may be different:  sacks instead of spells, touchdowns instead of trait dice.  But, in the end, it's the same action with a similar result.

Even outside of the fantasy angle, football devotees show a knowledge of the game that's almost encyclopedic.  We reminisce about great battles of the past, curse rival teams like they pillaged our home, and cheer on the big hits when a defenseman like Troy Polamalu (right) lays out a vicious 'crit'.  The passion's the same, the banter's the same, and really...even the snacks are the same.  Cheetos and Mountain Dew all around!

"Fantasy" Football!
Years ago, Games Workshop tried to cash in on this carry-over with Blood Bowl.  In its table-top game--and its later incarnation as a video game--Blood Bowl featured the standard fantasy races from Warhammer Fantasy facing off on the gridiron.  Orcish linemen, elven wide receivers, and ratling running backs were the orders of the day!  While the game was a marginal success, it still brought together two great tastes that taste great together.



Someday, the proverbial 'geeks' and 'jocks' will live in peace.  And, you know what?  It's our communal feeling of gamesmanship that's going to be the link that brings us all together.  We all love a great contest--now, if only we could build some d20s into our upcoming gridiron classics!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Which The Warlock Jots Down Some Random Thoughts...

I didn't really have any particular ideas for today's blog entry, so I thought I'd just toss down a few of the things that have been rolling around my brain over the last week.

Walkin' in a winter wonderland...

--How many times has weather really factored into an rpg session?  It's snowing sideways here right now, but rare is the time that I can remember where weather really mattered in any given session.  With my own adventures, many of the conflicts would tend to take place indoors, which pulls the elements out of any showdown.  It makes me wonder what one of my Deadlands sessions would be like, if I stranded the PCs out in the midst of a Colorado blizzard...perhaps they'll find out sometime soon...



Please, Blizzard?  Give us a date...

--Gaming really thrives on that idea of "more, better stuff".  I've been back on the Diablo II train, playing a Holy Freeze/Zeal Paladin, and am honestly amazed at some of the comments I've been making to myself, regarding gear.  The delight I'm giving off when I find a new rune or pick up a unique weapon--even if I can't use it!--is amazingly palpable.  The PlatinumChick tends to give me funny looks when I shout out about a new find, but I can't help it!  That last little bit might be critical to keeping my little Paladin alive!  And, as I'm about to start "Nightmare" difficulty, I can use every bit of help that I can get!

--Speaking of Diablo, the previews for Diablo III look amazingly tantalizing.  I had been eyeing up the Witch Doctor class, but with the release of the Demon Hunter, I think I may have a new favorite.  And, to be honest, the Wizard really captures the essence of the stereotypical, D&D-ish mage, yet still looks bad-ass.  If only there were an official release date...

--You know, it's sad when I dream about gaming.  A few nights ago, I had a dream about a Magic: the Gathering-style collectable card game, based around NFL football.  I'd definitely need to refine the ideas a little bit, but it really could be pretty spectacular, if I managed to put it together.  Obviously, there'd be huge licensure issues, but perhaps the missing link between 'geek' and 'jock' could finally be found! 

--The most dangerous spells in D&D are cantrips.  Actorios, in our Friday Night Dark Sun game, has no less than 4 tools as his disposal, at-will:  telekinesis, telepathy, pyrokinesis, and the abiility to create nearly any tool he wants, on demand.  This combo is massively troublesome for everyone around him, as Chris the II's (shhhh!) wizard nearly found out in our first session.  Nothing like some interparty conflict showing up in the first session.  Actorios was one telepathic message away from finding a new party member!

Digital-Kat's usual hangout
--Digital-Kat has been trying to convince me to join the addiction that is World of Warcraft, telling me tales of the role-playing going on in SunCrown.  And, I'll admit, it's tempting.  But I've been holding off thusfar, due to the ongoing cost and the addictive nature of the game.  With the stories she's been telling, though, of noble betrayal, backstabbing, and broken alliances.  *drool*  It's the sort of gaming I just don't get in real-life, and have had a distinct hankering for. 

--With the holidays on us, it'll soon be time for my wee ones at school to experience the utter pain, humiliation and horror that is my holiday tradition:  The He-Man/She-Ra Christmas Special.  The old Star Wars special has nothing on this one:  it has musical numbers, overly cute Mary-Sue protagonists for the kids, and even a reformed Skeletor.  It's hideous, but it's so worthwhile! 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

In Which The Warlock is Made of Plastic...So Fantastic!

Each year, my family asks me to write a Christmas list for them.  Being a typical nerd, they rarely know how to shop for me, regarding presents, so they want some suggestions.  By and large, most of my suggestions are pretty par for the course:  this year, I'm hoping for the Inception dual copy, the so-called World's Greatest GM Screen, and copy of Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition for my new PS3 (yay for Black Friday!), among other things.

But, they always ask me about gift cards, as well.  Again, most of the stores are ones you'd expect--Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc.--but one stood out to even The PlatinumChick:  The Container Store. 


You see, friends and neighbors, I have a problem.  I'm having a love affair with Sterilite.

When it comes to my gaming supplies, organization has become more and more important to me, particularly when heading out on the convention circuit.  If I can't get what I need from Point A to Game B and back to Hotel Room C, I have a definite problem!  This idea has even spawned whole threads on rpg.net as gamers try to keep their goods sorted and close at hand.  And, it's been Sterilite containers (and their ilk) that have kept me running efficiently.  Really, it's become a little bit of an obsession...

So, I figured it's come time to take a look at how I've been doing it!

The Minis carrier!

Once 4e came out, my minis collection had been growing almost exponentially.  So, when finding somewhere to put the little guys, I figured that I'd need something large, with a lot of small compartments to hold the minis relatively in place.  This Plano tackle box has been holding my minis ever since.  And, at $25, it wasn't unreasonable in terms of price, either.  Definitely better than the Games Workshop army carriers, which retail between $60 and $100!


Minis carrier, expanded.
However, this isn't without its own drawback.  While I'm able to hold a lot of minis in the Plano, they do tend to be just a touch loose, which can lead to chipping and the like, if the minis aren't properly sealed.  Wear and tear does take its toll, all told.  However, the sheer amount of figures it's able to hold--at least 200, right now--plus the bottom storage area--make it a really efficient way to get the minis around.  Plus, the Plano is equipped with a really high quality handle and two solid latches, which keep it sealed when you want to keep it closed.  This was definitely a solid investment on my part.

Dungeon Tiles and More!
In terms of storing Dungeon Tiles and other items, though, I needed to find something smaller.  Two of the biggest things I look for in Sterilite containers are high quality latches and ease of carrying.  I made that mistake with our painting supplies, and the container broke while I was carrying it from at Wittenberg game-night.  The Tiles container has the added advantage of having removable sections, which are customizable.  As you can see, I'm able to fit all but the largest of tiles in this container (pictured are 5 full sets of Dungeon Tiles!), which in turn I keep in the Plano. 


Organizing SunnyVale Acres!
Even SunnyVale Acres hasn't escaped my organizational hand.  One of the nicest things about producing SVA has been the fact that it fits in a relatively small box, which in turn fits the small bead box full of troops.  It's easy to transport, easy to get around, and, once it hits publication someday, will make for a slim, sleek game.  Dungeon Slam! works much the same way, but is somewhat more component heavy, which makes things a little more difficult in that regard.  That's what Draft 5 will be for, children!



Art tubes make map carrying easy!

And, finally, one of the best ones I've come across.  I can't even take credit for it, though--this one was all L-train's idea!  When heading out for AnCon last year, he needed a way to carry large, printed map for his "d20 Zombies" scenarios.  So, he headed out for the local Hobby Lobby and picked up one of these:  an art tube!  For $14, the price is spectacular, and it easily fits two Chessex battle-mats.  Plus, you can sling it over your shoulder, which keeps your hands free for carrying other supplies and opening doors.

With the 2011 con season rapidly approaching, I'm hoping that this Christmas brings some additional Sterilite for all the new gaming acquisitions!  After all, all the minis, tiles, and accessories in the world won't mean much unless I can get them where they need to be!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

In Which The Warlock Brings Some Six-Guns and Shuriken...

With our next-to-last session of the semester, our weekly Deadlands group decided to make a bit of a field trip.  As we wrapped the group's investigation of the DeepWater Lake revival--headed by Jeremiah Riggins, the brother of perennial nemesis, George Riggins--we headed out for the 7:15 showing of The Warrior's Way, an action pic that I'd been looking forward to since I saw the trailers for it earlier this year.


The Warrior's Way--Cowboys vs. Ninjas!
 However, to be honest, when watching the previews and commercials, my hopes were a bit muted.  The concept was straight out of a 14-year-old's wildest fantasies:  a lone ninja-assassin named Yan (played by Dong-Gun Jang) leaves his clan when ordered to kill the infant scion of a rival clan.  He makes tracks for the good ol' U.S. of A., arriving in a near-ghost town named Lode, which is populated by the members of a formerly-traveling circus.  Yan's clan isn't exactly a fan of this idea, and comes to exact bloody revenge. 

Yan soon befriends the citizens in the town, including the hilarious 8-Ball (played by Tony Cox) and lovely and tragic knife-thrower Lynne (played by Kate Bosworth).  However, Yan is further kept from peace by the interference of a certain rogue Colonel (played by Danny Huston), who leads raids against the town.

Jang's performance is somewhat humdrum, but it's not his acting ability that we came to see--it's the fight scenes.  And, truly, The Warrior's Way doesn't disappoint.  Eschewing most of the gore and such, cinematographer Woo-hyung Kim does a fantastic job of stylizing the violence, making the fight scenes visually appealling and fun to watch.  Of particular note is the set design, as the Colonel's men enter the Lode carnival and scale a decrepit Ferris wheel in pursuit of Yan and the child.

I had really been looking forward to seeing Geoffery Rush (playing drunkard/outlaw Ron) ham up the screen, particularly after his hilarious performances in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but this was a bit of a disappointment.  I really would have liked to see him cut loose and ham up the part, but this really wasn't the case.  Rather, he ended up as more of a foil character for Yan, which didn't come across that well.  Concurrently, I wasn't expecting much out of Kate Bosworth's Lynne, but her early performance was particularly pleasing, as she was mischevious and spritely.  Ironically, it's only after the she's established as a romantic interest for Yan that I lost interest in her character. 

Kate Bosworth as Lynne, in The Warrior's Way
Really, though, this isn't a movie you come to see for the acting.  You come to see it for the spectacle and the fight scenes.  And, truly, The Warrior's Way doesn't disappoint.  Massive cowboy vs. ninja battles abound, centering on a madcap chase through the center of Lode, as Yan and Lynne chase down the Colonel, who is in turn pursued by the ninja Headmaster.  There's dynamite, katanas, and makeshift Gatling weapons.  The battles here are truly fantastic set-pieces.  Great stuff, indeed.

Overall, I can't say I really recommend The Warrior's Way based on quality, but it's the sort of movie that you can just turn your brain off and enjoy.  The plot holes are minimal, and the special effects and fight scenes are good enough to keep you wanting more.  Catch a matinee if you get the chance, or rent it on DVD/BlueRay.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

In Which The Warlock Decides to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle...

You’d normally figure that, with the holidays coming up and New Years’ on the horizon, I wouldn’t be focused on the upcoming convention season. That, my lovelies, would be folly. Rather, the pseudo-downtime’s been nice to start planning out some of those scenarios to be prepped and ready for WittCon, FOPCon, Origins and all the others.


One thing I have noticed, though, is a tendency that runs amongst the great gaming groups throughout the area—the idea of the “multi-purpose” group.
Check out ABGames' "Blobcast"!
Let me give an example. Every year since its release, Amorphous Blob Games has been running Dark Heresy at Origins. In those games, a set group of PCs is put to the test year-after-year. The PCs are, needless to say, fairly unique—one need only look at the further adventures of Bazziti Comcast, pyromaniacal Imperial Psyker, to see that!—but they’re repeat offenders. Usual suspects, if you will. While the circumstances around them might change with the given scenario, the characters are the same.

Writing scenarios with this in mind has several benefits. As a GM, it certainly reduces the amount of prep-work necessary for any given scenario. Rather than creating new characters for each module, you can simply use the same ones in multiple ways. Having put together six Deadlands characters by hand last night, I can tell you, it makes a big difference. Having done the same thing for Heroes Unlimited last year took me no less than three days of work! Being able to avoid that amount of prep is a massive benefit!

But, beyond the simple prep-work, it also allows the GM to gain a better handle on each character’s abilities, tendencies, and gear. There’s a bit of a learning curve with any character—PC or NPC—that both player and GM need to overcome to play a character ‘effectively’ from both the mechanical and roleplaying standpoint. When the GM is able to eliminate his section of the learning curve, it frees them up to be able to help the players with mechanical questions and table-related issues.

Bazzati's bestest friend!
So, what’s key in all this? First off, the characters must be interesting. If the characters are without some degree of uniqueness, the GM will become bored with them, and they’ll be just as unappealing to the players. Again, AB Games has always had a stranglehold on this quality, with such luminaries as Rubella, the love-stricken tiefling paladin, and the aforementioned Bazzati and his mechanical owl familiar.

Similarly, these characters must each have a unique niche.  Each character should have their own unique abilities, which echo their unique personality.  Bazzati was so unique as a character, because his mechanical abilities--his utter mastery of fire-based powers--reflected his own chaotic stance on life, and his tenuous (at best!) grip on sanity.  Rubella's power choices reflect her nature as a 'nuturing protector', particularly one set for motherhood with a certain noble in the party.  Nearly all of the AB Games characters work this way in some sense, which is a masterful stroke in providing hooks for one-time players on the convention circuit.

So, what do I have in store?  Well, I'm glad you asked (hypothetically speaking)...remember those Deadlands characters I mentioned earlier?  Well, I've finally decided on a full party of members.  Enjoy this brief preview of what's in store!

  • Nigel Worthington-Smythe--an India-born British big-game hunter, Nigel's spent his life with a high-calibre rifle in his hands, searching out the most elusive and dangerous prey.  He's taken down elephants near the Bay of Bengali, lions in the Serengetti, and wild boar in the Rhine forests.  However, with tales of Mojave rattlers and California Maze Dragons lurking out in "the Colonies," Nigel packed up his belongings and made for the Weird West!
  • Ricky "One Armed Bandit" Parker--A former riverboat gambler, Ricky Parker made one bet too many with a black-hearted desperado aboard a steamboat on the mighty Mississippi.  One thing led to another and Ricky took a slug in his left arm.  The sawbones had to amputate, but that only made Ricky's drive to be the best grow.  Since then, he's learned a few new tricks...
  • Benjamin Three-Bass--A Union-educated scion of the Lakota tribes, Benjamin served for a time as an ambassador and delegate before the Dakotas became their own nation.  However, with war on the horizon, Benjamin has left his tribe, seeking to bring peace--one way or another--to the West, atoning for his failures in the Dakota territories.
  • Shawna McClintock--If you can ride it, rope it, or drive it, Shawna's already done it.  And damned if she can't do it better and faster than you.  Shawna would still be racing across the Weird West, delivering for the Pony Express, if not for the Texas Rangers that have been pursuing her ever since she made that one delivery...
  • Melissa "Miss Meliss" Garrett--It ain't easy being a "soiled dove" out on the plains.  Melissa could sure tell you that.  But, if nothing else, it gives you a chance to get real close to a mark...close enough to relieve him of that fancy gold pocketwatch, pocket a letter from someone 'connected', or even slide a switchblade between some ribs.  Miss Meliss has done it all, and damned if she's not going to be a survivor.
  • 
    Morgan Arringon looks over his schematics...
    
  • Prof. Morgan Arrington--A Massachusetts-educated professor of...well, some science, Morgan's got a bit of an obsession with ghost rock.  Ever since he built that "mist projector", he just hasn't been the same.  If he can't build it, Morgan can definitely fix it, and has a knack for tools.  Just don't get the idea that his ideas aren't really his...Morgan's just a touch possessive of his work!


So, which would it be, fellow gamers?  Intregued by any of these?  Any that strike your fancy?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In Which The Warlock Creates a...Well, a Warlock!


Elric of Melnibone
 One of my favorite characters--and the subject of my senior thesis at Wittenberg--is Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone.  So, when trying to build a character for Chaotic Frederick's upcoming Dark Sun game, I couldn't pass up the opportunity for an homage to such a vivid, tormented sword-and-sorcery character.  As such, let me present my own take on a pseudo-Elric...the fallen Prince Actorios of Theleb Orethia!

The Ten-Minute Background: Actorios, Prince of Theleb Orethia


Step 1: Write 5 background and concept elements that you feel are important to your image of the character. These can be a concept overview, a list of important life events, a physical description, a personality profile...whatever you need to get an image in your mind. 5 is just a minimum...more elements are encouraged!

1. The Chosen One… Actorios was raised to be the savior of his people. The kingdom of Theleb Orethia (The Dreaming City), hidden away amidst The Lands Within the Winds, was maintained by a generational ritual, which imbued its ruling scion with immense arcane and psionic power. Actorios, the entitled only son of Mathrion, was chosen to become the next “gekozen”, renewing the fey pacts that gave the city its might.

2. Storm-tossed on the Seas of Fate. Actorios, however, cared nothing for this role or his obligations. Rather, he used his title, wealth, and considerable arcane and psionic training to delve into forbidden lore, to refine his swordsmanship, and for other decadent ends. Despite the pleas of his family (and even his arranged-betrothed, Caelyn), Actorios chose himself over his kingdom…

3. Pacts Made, Pacts Broken. Instead of relying on the Court of Stars, as eladrin traditionally do when committing themselves to the warlock-arts, Actorios instead sought power with the infernal lord Yrkoon the Ever-Dying. Yrkoon gifted Actorios with a rune-etched black blade, which tears forth souls from its victims, feeding the always-hungry daemon. This act was near heresy in the eyes of the eladrin, which led Actorios’ cousin Thibault to rise up against him.

4. The Fall of Theleb Orethia. Thibault rose up against Actorios in a battle that none won. The eldritch powers of both ever-ravenous Yrkoon and the mighty Court of Stars ravaged Theleb Orethia, leaving it as bleak and blasted as the rest of Athas. As Thibault confronted Actorios in his throne room, the usurper confronted Actorios as Caelyn pled with him to surrender. In the ensuing struggle, Caelyn was slain…not by Thibault, but by a careless blow from Actorios. Guilt-ravaged and bereft of influence, Actorios left in self-imposed exile.

5. A Lesson in Self-Disaster. It seems that nearly everything that Actorios touches turns to ash. Loved ones die, compatriots are betrayed or killed, towns and villages are burned to the ground. Actorios has a difficult time believing in anyone or anything, much less himself, yet clings to his infernal practices as the source of his power. It may be the one thing in life he can ‘control,’ yet even that is truly in the hands of Yrkoon.

Step 2: List at least two goals for the character. At least one of these goals should be one that the character has, while another should be one that you, as a player, want to see developed over the course of the game.

1. (Character) Atone for the death of Caelyn or, “better yet”, find some way to bring her back.

2. (Player) I’d like to walk through Actorios’ descent into despair and, if possible, find a way to bring him out of it. Actorios is truly a guy who’s had everything, and lost it by his own hands. It’d be very fitting to see him change pacts at some point during the game, should the Court of Stars ever forgive him (and if he can forgive himself).

3. (Player) I’d further like to traverse the line between corruption and atonement. Certainly, Actorios is a ruthless, unpleasant individual, but I’d like to see him use those ends to (maybe someday) become a just person. Or, at least, one who can look himself in the eye again.

Step 3: List at least two secrets about your character. One is a secret the character knows, one is a secret that involves him but that he is not actually aware of yet. This will help me in creating plots that center around your character. I will also be creating a third secret which you as a player will not be aware of, so expect some surprises!

Stormbringer, the black runeblade
1. (Known) The black hell-blade that Actorios uses literally steals souls. It’s not a figurative term. The blade is literally a conduit into the void that is Yrkoon’s bottomless maw. Each creature that Actorios slays feeds him some power, but that astral energy works towards freeing Yrkoon from The Gray. Actorios is literally addicted to this power, and will sicken to the point of death without it.

2. (Unknown) Caelyn is alive. She survived the accidental stabbing, and is currently “head consort” in Thibault’s harem. She hates Thibault as much as she mourns Actorios, and wants to see him return to The Lands Within the Winds, even if he cannot return to Theleb Orethia.

Step 4: Describe at least three people that are tied to the character. Two of them are friendly to the character, one is hostile. If you like, you can include an enemy of yours here as well, so I have an instant NPC nemesis to throw at you.

1. (Friendly) Rackhir the Red Archer—an old adventuring partner of Actorios, he knows what magicks that Actorios is capable of. In an incident that he still won’t speak of, Actorios lost control of a lesser daemon, which slew everyone in the group aside from Rakhir. Rackhir currently lives in Urik, acting as a smuggler.

2. (Helpful, but Indifferent) Balaan the Grim (daemon of law)—When Actorios uses any sort of divination ritual, Balaan is typically the first to answer. Balaan is an associate of imprisoned Yrkoon, and has an uncanny ability with riddles, wordplay and contracts. He also knows much of what happens in Athas on a daily basis.

3. (Actively Hostile) Ayarkan Shalod, Warrior of Orethia—When Actorios went into self-exile, his lieutenants and followers were almost-universally put to the sword. Ayarkan Shalod was the exception. Escaping from his cell the night before his execution, Ayarkan swore vengeance on his once friend and commander, whatever the cost. Ayarkan foreswore The Lands Within the Wind, arriving in Balic, set to hunt down Actorios.

Step 5: Describe three memories, mannerisms, or quirks that your character has. They don't have to be elaborate, but they should provide some context and flavor.
Elric, in all his decadence...

1. Actorios is arrogant, entitled, “mentally superior”, and generally an utter dick. However, he has a massive guilt-complex, making him pitiable. He’s something of a fatalist, but will go through the motions of helping his friends. In some ways it makes him feel better, but little helps to relieve the sting of everything he’s lost.

2. The mark of the “gekozen” is Actorios’ albinism. Actorios has pale white skin, near-white hair, and pinkish eyes. In The Lands Within the Wind, this isn’t as big of a problem, but in Athas proper…well, let’s just say that Actorios is very, very careful when he’s going to be in the sun.

3. At his heart, Actorios is entitled and lazy. If there’s a way to do a menial task in a showy arcane/psionic way, he’ll find it. If that means using his low-grade telekinesis or telepathy rather than picking up a drink or speaking to someone he thinks is beneath his station.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Which The Warlock Reaches the End...



The usual end to one of my games..
 I feel like it's been ages since I've actually reached the natural conclusion of a campaign.  Both "Pirates of the Underdark" and my Wittenberg Eberron game fizzled out before reaching their true ending.  Even before that, there was my defunct Expedition to the Demonweb Pits game, and the TPK that pre-empted our Dark Heresy adventure.

In truth, to reach an actual end was really satisfying for me.  For once, the story could come full circle.  For once, all of the plot hooks and threads that had emerged over the course of the campaign had managed to reach their natural end.  For once...there would be a worthy end.








Something of a tangent:  my favorite character from The Lord of the Rings isn't Aragorn or Legolas, nor is it even Gimli (though, I'm pretty sure that my dwarf-loving tendencies started with him).  Rather, it's Theoden of Rohan.  This is a guy who truly rises up, facing each challenge set before him, even though it costs him his life, his kingdom, his family, and all that goes with them.  Theoden sets the bar for 'heroic speeches', and sums up my feelings on endings par excellence:
Theoden of Rohan, being inspiring!
 "Look at my men. Their courage hangs by a thread. If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end, as to be worthy of remembrance."


It's that mentality that I took into mind when I designed the final battle of the "Tear of Ioun" saga.  After fending off the siege of Morgordal Keep, our heroes found themselves venturing once more to the source of both the corruption in the area, and their own adventure--the Forlorn Tower of Wellspring.
Ia! Ia!  Fhtaghn!
At the top thereof lurked Volarn--the Opener of the Way--and several of his corrupt, degenerate fleshlings.  Energy streamed from archaic runes etched on the tower's face, pouring forth into a corrupted symbol of Ioun.  Beyond that symbol...Zalgo.  The Render of the Veils.  The Hunger with a Thousand Eyes.  The eternal, the ever-dying.  That which waits beyond the walls.

Our heroes leapt into battle as the energies poured forth.  Charging forward, Guf was so unnerved that he tripped, face-planting into a stream of putrescent water tainted with unholy eldritch energies.  As soon as Martook and Lupin managed to join the melee, they were snatched up by Volarn, being dealt horrific woulds by his claws and writhing tentacles.  Shantira cast bolt after fiery bolt, doing  her best to stem the tide of energy that poured into their world.  Aster and Elladan skirted the flanks of the battle, firing arrows and slinging daggers into the cultists, while the enigmatic Blink charged after Volarn.

In the end?  Victory!  As the battle raged on, Elladan raced to cut off Volarn's escape, hamstringing the creature and casting it down in eternal defeat.  As the Forlorn Tower finally collapsed, and the waters of the nearby river ran clear and clean for the first time in decades, the party escaped in triumph.

As we put away the minis for the last time in this game, I provided a brief vignette for each character, summing up their actions, as they parted ways in pursuit of their own epic destinies:

  • With Morgordal's new alliance with the Doomguard, Clan-Father Russell of IronVictor was able to lead his combined clan into a new era of prosperity and unity.  Morgordal became an important planar and Underdark trading up, with the Doomguard establishing their first ever Prime Material armory.  Russell rebuilt the temple of Kelemvor, providing a new era of law, order, and peace for the dwarves.
  • Lupin, with the assistance of High Templar Wesley Baracus of Blackfall, established a chapel to Bane within Russell's temple.  Lupin also married Shantira, in a Banish ceremony that...well, it probably looked more like an S/M rave than a marriage, but that's life!
  • Shantira joined with the enigmatic invoker Belzadi Riftember to create a new school for fire mages, within the halls of Morgordal.  Their combined expertise broke new ground in elemental research, as well as new opportunites to scorch their foes.
  • Guf, still delveless, joined the IronVictor/Riftember clans as their sergeant-at-arms, reinforcing and rebuilding the keep outside, and training a new generation of dwarves in the arts of war.
  • Aster, still seeking vengeance for Lord Criswell's "betrayal", joined with the assassin 'Cruel' Seirrah and infiltrated the Blackfall Opera House, where Criswell was in attendence.  As Seirrah snuck up on Criswell, Aster fired a single arrow which exploded with fantastic force.  Both Seirrah--who had maimed Aster's ear--and Criswell were slain in the blast, while Aster left, retiring to Gloomwrought.
  • Martook, however, was not granted a peaceful retirement with his family.  His pact with Mighty Bane meant that he was once-again a full-time soldier, being recruited to the eternal Blood War.  While his family moved to his massive manor in  Morgordal, Martook soon found himself returning only to an empty house.
And, from here?  Well, we're taking a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but after that, we're back in action.  The exiled Prince Actorios of Theleb Orethia will make his debut, in Chaotic Frederick's Dark Sun game!  Until then, fellow gamers!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Which The Warlock Sleeps it Off...

Ahoy, fellow gamers. 

Just so you know, there's no entry this weekend.  After spending some time around the table with a few beverages, the PlatinumChick and I are going to relax for a bit.

Keep your eyes peeled for this Wednesday's entry, which will detail the climactic final showdown against Volarn, Opener of the Way!  Also, get ready for a new character, as I reveal what I'll be playing in Chaotic Frederick's Dark Sun game!

Cheers!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Which The Warlock Becomes a Doomsayer...

When Wizards of the Coast first announced their Digital Initiative, I was skeptical at best. It was hard to believe that a company so focused on print role-playing materials could put forwards a quality online application that effectively summarized their work.

However, upon closer review, I was pleasantly surprised. The downloadable Character Builder and the later Monster Builder quickly became invaluable tools for me, as I both ran and played D&D. Character generation time dropped from the hours it had become in 3.5e, down to mere minutes. I’ve often been quoted as stating that I could make a 30th level character, fully-equipped, playable, and reasonably optimized, within a 20 minute timeframe. The Monster Builder, similarly, allowed me to print out sheets with chosen creatures—both custom-made and pregenerated—reducing the amount of time that I spent preparing for games.

RIP--The Downloadable Character Builder (11-16-2010)
The down side to this functionality was the reliance on updates. As August and September rolled on with no update—and no word of an update—DDI customers grew frustrated. The revised version of Dark Sun came out in hardback…but had no support via DDI. Whole articles and books were being left out of DDI, with no word from Wizards of the Coast on why or when.

Then, the announcement: Wizards of the Coast would no longer be supporting the downloadable Character Builder software, choosing instead to implement an online-only toolset. The online-toolset debuted yesterday to much outcry amongst the gaming community.

With that in mind, I’d like to get on record now this thought: If the D&D brand is set to fail within the next decade, it will be because of Wizards of the Coast’s utter refusal to commit to either a set online plan and, through that, their customers.
Having examined the new Character Builder, it has several fundamental flaws that not only defeat its design intent, but also harm the gaming community as a whole.

The Character Builder is online only. This is the biggest problem, yet one that WotC refuses to address. The company line is currently one that states that the online-functionality of the CB software makes it accessible from anywhere that has an Internet connection. There are two flaws with this logic: not only does this make the CB harder to access, but it also makes it less available overall.

o Online-only MEANS online-only: For some people this may not seem to be a problem, but when thought through thoroughly, cracks emerge. If I go to play at any of my 3 local game stores, there’s no wi-fi available. My characters, saved on my computer, would be inaccessible, whereas with the Downloadable CB, they were at my fingertips. Similarly, if the WotC website goes down or crashes, my characters are inaccessible. This limits access, rather than making it more available.

o Silverlight is left in the dark. The new CB runs on the Silverlight framework, put out by Microsoft. That’s all well and good, but most mobile devices—including the iPad, most palmtop computers, and any smart-phone that doesn’t use Windows 7—can’t run Silverlight. Considering that these were the target users of the new CB, this design precept is utterly a failure.

Your characters are no longer yours. This, as a writer and blogger, angers me beyond belief. Not only does the new CB have an absurdly-low limit of 20 characters, WotC has now made it expressly clear that the characters—despite the fact that you, as a player, assembled them—are not yours. With no ability to export a character to your hard drive (and no ability to even view it, once you have done so!), you will have absolutely no access to your own creations, should you choose to cancel your subscription. As someone who runs D&D at conventions and uses pregenerated characters, this limit is crippling—with 6 seats at a table, a mere 3 games fills out the limit, and that doesn’t even count any ‘home’ characters that I might have!


WotC has framed this as the ability to store these characters “in the Cloud”, implying that storing them on a hard drive or flash drive is somehow an inconvenience. Such is not the case. Again, it’s much easier to port over a character via a USB drive than have to log into a website, which may or may not be available/functioning.


 

Maybe this can tell me why new the CB crashed 4 times in 15 minutes...
The Character Builder is buggy beyond belief. Admittedly, it just debuted yesterday, but when WotC already has a fully-functional product that performs the same function, the idea of having basic, fundamental sections of the new version unworkable. The current “Known Issues” list on the WotC Character Builder site reads like a laundry list, with basic class features—such as the use of a weapon as a implement, which is core to classes like Assassin, Swordmage and Warlock—left to be totally unworkable. When a product already exists that fills this niche—one already produced by WotC—switching horse midstreams is foolhardy at best.

WotC’s Track Record: Promise Much, Produce Little. We’re told, through the occasional forum post or the CB FAQ, that the ability to export characters will be incoming. We’re told that core components of the game, such as the ability to house rule items, to include inherent bonuses, and to modify the character sheet on a fundamental level…all that “has not yet been implemented,” but it’s on the horizon. We’re told that all of this is coming.

But, I ask this: what about the rest of the functionality that was promised us? What about the rest of the Monster Builder updates, which have gone untouched? What about the much ballyhooed Virtual Tabletop, which would allow you to play with your friends across the country, with full chat utilities and stylized virtual minis? What about open communication, within the gaming community? Anyone remember GleeMax, WotC’s utter travesty of a social networking site?

So, how long did GleeMax last?  6 months?  A year?  Did anyone care?

All of this adds up to bad news in my eyes. It’s been mentioned—unofficially, of course—that WotC made this move to keep more nefarious gamers from cracking and subsequently bit-torrenting hacked version of the downloadable CB. If this is the case, though, it’s a paranoid attempt to deal with a minority of the gaming community, which only harms the majority’s ability to enjoy a product as a paying customer.


WotC has dropped a fully-functional, smooth program in favor of trying to rebuild their image. This, on a fundamental level, is a misstep. While I doubt that this would bring the D&D brand on the whole to a collapse, it does make for poor tidings for the world’s most popular RPG.

I, for one, will not be witness to this pratfall. Upon the completion of my already-paid year of DDI subscription, I’ll be cancelling.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Which the Warlock Raids the Furniture Store for Inspiration...

With the 2011 convention season on the horizon, I’ve been scheming what to run at this year’s cons. My Cthulhian WEGS scenario—WEGS + Cthulhu = WEGSThulhu!—is already locked and loaded, with only minor changes necessary after the playtests I ran at Champion City ComicCon.


I’m tempted to play through one of my already-made “Pendulum” adventures, but I’d rather come up with something new. However, the Pendulum idea hasn’t been at rest. Rather, John—over at World vs. Hero (go check it out!)—got me thinking.

Two of the basic precepts of the Pendulum Method are shifts in time and shifts in place. Certainly, there are other shifts that are available to GMs, but what about shifting the very PCs themselves? What if you could create a game in which the PCs aren’t really fleshed out until the players flesh them out…at the table?

This idea’s still in development, but I think I really could be on to something here. There’d have to be a hard limit as to how many advancements a player could get, as well as a finite system for when characters may advance, but it’d be fantastic to see what the players come up with! It would really provide a unique play experience on both sides of the table, which nothing else really emulates.

What do you think, fellow gamers? Could I be on to something here? Perhaps a playtest at WittCon? Let me know what you think!

What if, rather than before the game, a player-characters were created as the game itself progressed?

The site of the next zombie outbreak?

Bear with me as I change topics. A few months ago, the PlatinumChick and I were off, roaming around the Ikea in West Chester. Ikea’s a store unto itself—rather than wander up and down aisles, you walk through showrooms based around different rooms in a house, each of which display the various furniture options that Ikea sells. The whole store is rife with “secret passages” leading from one section to another, from “Home Office” to “Kitchen and Dining”.

Then, an idea struck me. The idea of a zombified shopping mall is one of the most classic in all of horror, starting with George Romeo’s classic Dawn of the Dead, and even being spoofed in the Dead Rising series of video games. What if, rather than a shopping mall, the invasion started in an Ikea!? The passages between sections would make for glorious gaming, to say nothing of the improvised weapons one could make from kitchen implements, light-duty furniture, and prop displays!



Maybe he's got the Berserk edge?

That’s where the Pendulum kicks in. Using the Savage Worlds system, all of the characters would start with d6s in each of their 5 stats. Rather than having assigned Skills or Edges, the players would be granted the ability to design their own character, based on their actions in the game. Need to get through a locked door that leads to the employee break room? Come up with a reason in-character to do so, and fill in one of your empty Edge slots with the “Thief” Edge! Want to hot-wire a forklift? Maybe you were a heavy construction worker in the past, giving you “McGuyver”!


This idea’s still in development, but I think I really could be on to something here. There’d have to be a hard limit as to how many advancements a player could get, as well as a finite system for when characters may advance, but it’d be fantastic to see what the players come up with! It would really provide a unique play experience on both sides of the table, which nothing else really emulates.


What do you think, fellow gamers? Could I be on to something here? Perhaps a playtest at WittCon? Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Which The Warlock WEGSes Out!

With this week’s Witt-Guild sponsored run through the WEGSventure Hobgobble’s Eve, I figured that it’d be fitting to take a look at one of the scarcely used variant rules of WEGS Old Skool, the “Multi-Arkin’” rules. While WEGS is a game that revels in the classic fantasy archetypes of Fighting Man, Skolar, Trickster, and Ranger, one of the classic fantasy staples is missing: the Paladin!


So, without further adieu, here’s your guide on how to build a WEGSing Cavalier!


Time to WEGS out!
Stats:

Remember, all characters in WEGS are randomly rolled, but if you’re shooting for an old-school Paladin, you’ve got to hope for great stats in two areas: Prowess (which governs your melee attacks and will become your Prime stat) and Grace (which governs your Spoint usage and your spellcasting ability, as well as your Secondary stat). When assigning Ranks, however, you want to be sure to be careful to strike a balance.

That's right...STRIKE that balance!
Traditionally speaking, players tend to place their starting rank of 30 in their Prime stat. However, striking a balance may provide a better benefit in this case. As an example, if you were lucky enough to roll a stat of 32 in your Prowess—the best possible result on the table—your 30 rank would be better served in your Grace stat, rather than in your Prowess. Rather than boost your already high melee attacks, you’d be better served ensuring that you have the Spoint reserve to back up your spellcasting. Generally speaking, it’s better (in this build, at least), to have two stats in the 50s than a single stat in the 60s.

Regardless of which stat gets your rank of 30, the other should definitely merit one of your two 20 ranks. The other 20 absolutely should go towards Stealth, increasing your mobility on the battlefield by increasing your Move Strength, and increasing your Invulnerability. Remember, you’re going to be in melee all day long—that extra 10% Invulnerability matters!

Race:


Only a Dwarf will do!

There’s precisely one race you want to look at, in order to make the WEGS Paladin work: Dwarf! Dwarves naturally gravitate towards the Mystic sphere, and gain the coveted +6% Grace rank bonus. That bonus becomes critical to your spellcasting ability, and provides you with an additional 6 Spoints—that’s a free Cast and Blast, friends!

 Some may think that a Humnz may make an equally effective Paladin, but that’s statistically erroneous. The drop in Grace % that you forfeit—that 6%--is simply not worth the single Spoint that you’d gain in recompense. Essentially, you’d be dropping 6% on all Grace-related rolls, as opposed to a single roll with a 10% bonus. Permanent bonuses trump temporary ones, so Humnz Paladins aren’t in the question.

Arketype and Vitals:

As your primary Arketype, you’ll want to choose Warrior. At its core, the Paladin is a melee fighter, which is going to mean high Wounds and Invulnerability are a priority. You’ll gain the 30% Armor Invuln from the Warrior Arketype which, when combined with your 20% Stealth Rank, will start you off at 50% Invuln as a brand new Ark! You may be at a slight disadvantage in terms of Wounds, in comparison to a “straight” Warrior, but your spellcasting ability and sheer number of Spoints will take care of that shortcoming.

Your secondary Arketype, naturally, should be Sage. This provides the Mystic edge that you’ll use to take down foes. Naturally, you’ll be taking skills from each category, but don’t forget that you always have to have more skills from your primary Arketype than your secondary.

Skill Choices—The 9 Skill Hand

Remember that, when Multi-Arkin’, your Kreator/Minion Master gets to decide upon the hand size of your skills. Traditionally, 9 skills are considered to be an acceptable number. However, hand sizes of 11 and even 13 are not uncommon. I’ll make recommendations for the first 9, then provide some “honorable mentions” to fill out to 13.

Warrior Skill—Charge! A classic Paladin staple, Charge absolutely has to be in your repertoire. The ability to Move and Attack as a single action in WEGS is par excellence, providing mobility, a possible Invulnerability penalty to the enemy (if you’re able to get a Back Attack), and the ability to get across the battlefield quickly. Charge can also help to offset a weak Stealth stat in this way. So what, it’s a Cold Roll skill? It’s still glorious!

Warrior Reaction—Resist Fear Again, a Paladin staple here. Paladins fear nothing, and a WEGS Paladin is no exception. The bonus to Lost Action Phase rolls is just gravy on this one.

Warrior Skill—In Your Face! Just like a Paladin’s “Divine Challenge” or the like, In Your Face catches a foe’s attention and gets his claws away from your allies. Plus, it’s a hands-free skill for you, levying a hefty Invuln penalty against your chosen foe for your next 4 attacks. Can’t beat it.

Warrior Attack Form—Invuln Down Simply put, anything that lowers Invulnerability in WEGS is golden. Being able to do this at will, especially when coupled with In Your Face ensures that you’ll be doing damage consistently.

Warrior Skill—Mighty Whack! You won’t use it often, and it has a Spoint fee to even try it, but if you want to Smite Evil, this is the way to do it! Get yourself in position first, make sure you have In Your Face set up, and let that heretic have it!

Sage Skill—Sense Mystic You want to cast spells? Then there’s no choice here…gotta have it.

Sage Spell—Bless with Fire A classic weapon blessing that can really up your damage output, this one automatically takes off a Wound chip, as long as you can land the hit. This one’s great for whittling down those 8/88s!

Sage Spell—Sphere of Light Since you’ll be in melee so much, this spell can really increase your accuracy (ensuring that those lethal hits land) as well as that of your nearby allies. Keep this one for when you’re in flanking position with that Trickster ally of yours!

Sage Spell—Laying of Hands This one’s a limited use Spell, but it can really make the difference in hits, particularly after you’ve been in battle for a while. A well-timed, well-rolled Laying of Hands can totally refresh your Wounds, putting you back in the fight and those Phew points safely in hand!

Honorable Mention Skills:

Sage Skill—Pocketful of Miracles With a lower-than-normal Spoint reserve for a Mystic caster, this one really merits some thought. While you’ll only use it once, the Spoints that it provides can really be a lifesaver. I wouldn’t take above one of the others listed, but it merits consideration.

Sage Spell—Clash of the Spheres Oh, man…so tempting. You’ll be in melee with so many monsters that dropping them all into Lost Action Phase looks great, right? There’s one problem—you have friends that’ll be in melee with you. They won’t appreciate getting LAPped by their own party! If you’re a solo tank, this one makes the foes into easy pickings for Mages and Rangers, though.

Warrior Attack Form—Strength Up If some damage is good, then more damage is better, right?! Plus, with another Attack form, you can Blitz!

Warrior Attack Form—Stat Up With a slightly lower-than-normal Prowess, this skill can help land some attacks as you start out on your adventuring career. Over time, though, it becomes somewhat unnecessary, once you near the 66% mark on your Prowess %.

A real Old Skool Paladin!

Playing the WEGS Paladin:

When playing the WEGS Paladin, it’s all about preparation. The key is to bide your time. If the enemies come to you, they afford you time to prepare your buff spells and skills which only make them easier to take down. Starting off a with a two-inning cycle of Sense Mystic and Bless with Fire or Sphere of Light will make that combat go all the faster once you wade into melee.

When entering combat at a distance, Charge will allow you the opportunity to avoid spending a turn doing nothing but moving, and will set you up in a position where a friendly Trickster or Ranger will get a Back Attack, as the foe focuses on you. If the enemy focuses elsewhere, a well-placed In Your Face will change that instantly.

If in between foes, try to ensure that you have a Sense Mystic up and rarin’ to go. A well-timed Laying of Hands or Clash of the Spheres can really turn the tide of a battle, but both require the Sense to be on-deck. If you can take care of that step a few innings earlier, you’re in a winning position.

Naturally, you cannot put all of these strategies into effect simultaneously. Rather, move as the situation dictates. If you’re Spoint-rich, don’t be afraid to let loose with a Bless with Fire. If you’re running low, hold your Sense for a needed Laying of Hands or the like, relying on your Warrior Attack Forms for your offense. Judge the situation as it comes, and you’ll be smiting heretics in no time!
A Final Note!

If you get the chance and want to throw down the 6s and 10s, swing by the Wittenberg University Shouvlin Center this Friday at 7pm. I’ll be running the holiday classic, Hobgobble’s Eve for any and all comers. Spante up, children!!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

In Which The Warlock Tears Down the Wall!

When I planned out the end-game of the Friday night "Tear of Ioun" game, I wanted to ensure that the ending would be an epic one.  As Chaotic Frederick says, I wanted them to "be saying 'wow' every time".  As I mentioned earlier, I had been hoping for a set-piece battle that really demonstrated the weight and power of the characters' actions thusfar in the game.  Moreso, I wanted them to feel massively threatened, while simultaneously maintaining that feel of supreme bad-assness!

So, when I decided upon a siege on Russell's home clan, I was a little worried.  In fact, I was downright  intimidated.  I had never run a game session on this scale before, and doing so proved to be quite the challenge.


The Defenders of Morgordal Keep
 After building their castle, writing up rules for siege weaponry and other defenses, and preparing troops using the DDI Monster Builder software, the field was finally arrayed against the hordes of Volarn, Opener of the Way.  It was a ton of prep, which culminated with a 4 page long e-mail on my part, detailing troop costs, toughness and more...and then prompted a similarly lengthed response from Chaotic Frederick!

In game, each player was responsible for four items each:  their own character (currently near-epic level, sitting at 17th!), an NPC ally of theirs (also near-epic!), a siege engine that ranged from the traditional ballistae and trebuchet to the mighty acid cannon and pseudo-sentient Hellfire engine, and a legion of troops.  While this seemed like a lot, the rules were incredibly streamlined, moving quickly for each character.  To be honest, each turn only took slightly longer than a normal D&D turn!

Without a doubt, my players rose to the challenge brilliantly.
Clanfather Russell rides the Hellfire Engine into battle!

The battle was joined, and everyone at the table threw themselves into the defense.  Lupin led Banish skirmishers from Gloomwrought against the eldritch horrors, while Martook confronted one of the massive mutants head-on, being swallowed in its toothy maw!  Shantira, Aster, and Guf manned the walls, leading troops directly, while Russell and his clanbrother Thorgrim swung their hammers in unison before the gates of their new home.


Friday Night Will, Chris the II, and Pyro-Jessie survey the field...
 Things looked grim for our defenders for quite a while.  While the defenders had great success wiping out the aberrent hordes with their siege weaponry, their numbers seemed countless.  However, with Martook swallowed and Lupin overwhelmed, the two largest of Volarn's minions--literally, walking engines of destruction themselves--focused their fire on the Hellfire Engine and the keep's walls...


The gates come crashing down!

In that moment of despair, all seemed lost and the Far Realm beasts seemed on the verge of annihilating all within the keep.  Martook let loose yet another unheeded prayer to Moradin from within the beast's gullet.  Cursing once more, he turned to a different source of divine intervention:  Bane, Lord of War.

I was floored!  For session after session, Lupin had (half-jokingly) been trying to convert the party to Bane, only really succeeding with the embittered Aster.  Totally at a loss for what to do, I resorted to an old tactic from "Pirates of the Underdark"--I asked him to 'roll the bones'


"Do ya feel lucky?"

"The Bones" is a simple mechanic, which I culled from Skull and Bones:  Swashbuckling Horror in the Golden Age of Piracy, while I was running "Pirates of the Underdark".  Essentially, a character can toss 'the bones'--2d6--once per session, and hope that Lady Luck can help him out of a dire situation.  Martook's roll?  A ten...near perfect...

Mighty Bane manifested in his mind, offering ultimate victory on this battlefield, in exchange for his fealty.  Martook hastily accepted, his Moradinian regalia reforming and restylizing as Banish armor, and he burst forth from the creature's belly in a shower of gore.  With a half-crazed war-cry, he leapt back into the fray, hewing down aberrations with each mighty swing. 


Chaotic Frederick and Chris the I have the situation under control...

Our session ended late--almost at 1:15 am--with the aberrant army crushed and Morgordal Keep saved.  But the players, triumphant and energized, were excited.  This was a battle for the ages, and was really memorable for all of us.  This was what I was hoping for.  This, my lovely readers, was what it was all about.  this was the culmination of a truly epic yarn.

While we're off next week, the following week will bring our final battle and take our PCs back to where it all began--the Forlorn Tower, just north of the ruins of Wellspring. 

And honestly?  I can't wait.