Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Damsels, Dice, and Everything Nice

They've dropped episode two of Damsels, Dice, and Everything Nice!  In case you haven't watched it yet, here's episodes one and two . . .

Damsels, Dice, and Everything Nice: A Royal Roleplaying Adventure (Episode 1)

Damsels, Dice, and Everything Nice: Episode 2- The Party Gathers

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Crusaders, Vikings, and Birds

Knocked off a few boardgames in the last couple of weeks, though I have been less than diligent in my camera duties, let alone blogging about them.  The store hours at Lake Geneva Games have expanded, we've hired and are training two additional staffers (so far), and a new MtG set dropped.  Dare I say I have had a fairly full plate lately.  Nevertheless, after months of trying to arrange a game of Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (2018) the LG lunchtime gamers managed to get it to the table.  I was thoroughly trounced due to a disjointed strategy that garnered a steady stream of victory points during play but left me wanting for end-game points.

Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga (2004) has been around a while but was recently acquired and three of us put it to the test last week.  We played incorrectly but in such a way that we all, more or less, equally benefited from the error.  Essentially we were all taking additional actions each turn which, surprisingly, slowed down play rather than speeding it up.  We even removed the cards they suggest you set aside in games for beginners.

Wingspan (2019) is something Mark M. just got hold of, a slightly dented box copy which he lucked into getting, considering this game is seemingly hard to track down for less than double it's MSRP.  We had to truncate our game due to time considerations but got through about 80% of a full game and none of us had played before, so we all needed to learn it.  Rodney's How to Play video on it helped me out tremendously, as he always does.

I found all three of these games enjoyable and will play any of them again, if given the opportunity.  I think Crusaders can be played much faster than we did but we'll see.  Fire & Axe might need a closer look next time as I am not really sure how much playing it correctly will change the game.  I think the additional cards will make it a lot more competitive.  Wingspan works just fine as is but feels a bit like a race with little interaction between players, except when an action allows all players to benefit.  There's a bit of blocking other players when choosing dice but it didn't seem too egregious.  We'll see!

Mopping Up,Getting their Due, & Tracking Down in 1E AD&D Grymvald

The Lake Geneva 1E AD&D crew gathered a few weeks ago with but one missing member to unfreeze time after the big cultist temple battle from two weeks prior.  They still had the Witch of Dour Haven to locate and bring to justice.  Plus, there surely must be some treasure to be had.  And, of course, there must be experience to tally and some sweet, sweet leveling to be done.

The light of two huge braziers on the riser at the far end of the temple highlighted the carnage.  The bodies of almost a dozen heavily armed and armored cultists lay mangled on the floor along with two comatose party members.  There were two archways leading out of the temple, one to the north and one to the south.  They suspected the witch had cast a spell during the proceeding combat and that she had done so from the southern archway because now, a few feet down the hallway beyond the archway, a membrane of green slime blocked further progress.

Photo by "Scott Michael"
Why is the DM hiding, one might ask . . .

This was a more cautious foray into the complex at Marak Tor than many of the previous trips, but also one that was meant to be thorough.  They wanted to be able to say they had cleared the place and have it as a potential HQ for future expeditions deeper onto the Trackless Moors.  Once they had removed the slime-obstacle, they were able to ensure both the southern room and northern room were free from opponents.  This left the question of where the Witch of Dour Haven had fled.  The room was outfitted as a sleeping quarters for the witch, alone.  Some treasure was found as well as signs that others treasures had been here but were now gone.  A quick reconnoiter by the Half-Elves revealed a secret door to a supply room where food stocks and other provisions were stored for the witch and her closer bodyguards.  After some additional searching, yet another secret door was found to a lower chamber where a standing stone was kept, as well as a great deal of coinage).  It obviously had been brought here from elsewhere, as evidenced by the damage to it and the manner in which it had been propped up on an unlike pedestal.  The runes upon it were some form of ancient Dwarven language so they figured a way to transport it out of the structure (and eventually back to town in a double-locked box).  A later search of the same areas, mostly to retrieve coinage they were not able to carry on the first trip, revealed an additional hideyhole containing a wand of enemy detection.

After regaining civilization, the group spent some time converting their treasures into more directly useful items for the various party members, some healing potions were distributed, as well as cure scrolls and a few other spell scrolls.  Armor and weapons were acquired through trade or purchase to try and optimize everyone who might be in the line of fire.  A fair bit of time was spent seeking sage advice on the standing stone / obelisk, what it might be meant to represent or possibly do.  The group had sussed out that it might be used as a portal but were not clear on how.  A first attempt to discover its secrets from a wizardly mentor was only minorly helpful, though he did direct the group toward a more knowledgeable information source in the form of the Temple of Darien, the Guardian, a military-religious order in the kingdom's capital, Jalston, with which the party had previously had dealings.  In fact, Nydijan the (Human) cleric, one of the original party members (and still kicking) is of that order of Darien, though the temple in Jalston has a mostly Dwarven membership.  This, of course, worked out well for the adventurers because they were able to discover that the portal-stone was not usable without some sort of accompanying headwear, that it was connected to the Dragon's Teeth (a series of tors-cum-towers spanning the Trackless Moors), and the stone was probably what the witch used to escape.  All this being likely, arrangements were made to cover the stone in molten gold, encasing it in such a way that no one could come to it from elsewhere, or so it is surmised by the temple sages.  They also left it in the temple vaults for safe keeping.

Mind you, the above took place over a couple of game sessions and yet a third has transpired since.  Although the witch had escaped, she was no longer considered an imminent threat and chasing her straight away in the unknown seemed like suicide.  The group opted, rather, with the help of a map and some information from a mining camp scout, to check out a ruins south of the Deadrop Goblin caves where that threat may have originally emanated.  This was also confirmed by their ally, the mist dragon that had been freed by the group from the Deaddrop Goblin caves.  The mist dragon, Vaporex, came up to them in a fog bank, making the party a bit nervous as to what might be approaching, but thanks to the newly found wand of enemy detection they group managed not to jeopardize their friendship by plugging the dragon full of arrows.  This newly discovered ruin, while not directly tied to the Dragon's Teeth, seemed like something the group should be better equipped to tackle without too great a risk to life and limb, something the group had begun to learn was worth consideration.  Early losses in the numbers of the group had been slowing down their overall progress and they felt a more incremental approach to adventuring might be prudent.  There were only a handful of founding group members (and a number of players had worked through several characters).  They understood that what they would find at this new ruin would be an underground goblins' lair and rats' nest, and so it has proved thus far.

The group scouted the hillock upon which mere remnants of a crumbled ruin sat, discovered a spiral staircase from it to below, but also found a cave entrance down the side of the hill.  Some goblins were dealt with outside of the complex, including several caught unawares while gambling by the top of the stairwell.  The cave entrance was determined to be primarily used by disease-ridden rats, so they torched and blocked it as best they could then made use of the spiral stair to descend within.  Inside they had several tense battles with goblins, mostly, but also a few hobgoblins, and a trained ferret in the keeping of the goblins.  Though they did not discover the location of the goblin spellcaster from the Deaddrop caves, they did find some treasure as well as a stairway leading even deeper underground and that's about where the group has left off.  With more to explore, they plan to hone their skills as a well-oiled machine to become a more competent strike force for these dangerous journeys in hopes of someday going on more legendary adventures!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

No Denying It in the Grymvald 1E AD&D Campaign

Well, the group was left frozen in time the previous session as they needed to decide if making a strategic retreat and leveling up outweighed whatever advantage they might have from surprising the cultists of Marak Tor.  They had carefully approached, caught a few unaware and dispatched them, but at least one had gotten away after noting some arrow fire and a cleverly laid trap.  If they charged in immediately, though with some party members not in attendance, they might gain some advantage early on but they also knew the numbers were heavily against them.  In the end, as their first act after restarting the clock this time around, they headed back to civilization to resupply, gather more of the group (ten players this week!), level up, and report what new information they gained.

But they would not be denied and returned to Marak Tor stronger than ever.  This proved to be a wise move because although the cultists knew they were returning, and set up an ambush and a further choke point, the adventurers withstood what was thrown at them and cleared their way down to the main temple, defeating nine more cultists along with ten of the personal bodyguards of the Witch of Dour Haven.  Though she had a hand in the battle, heating up the armor of one of the top fighters and adding green slime obstacles in the group's path, the temple defenses were not strong enough to keep the party from a victory.  Now with the temple secured, what lies behind the scenes needs to be discovered, the witch needs to be located, and whatever else might be awaiting the brave adventurers must be faced.  I wish them well . . .

Busy with the Boardgaming

It was a busy first half of the week with some boardgaming and some AD&D (posting on the latter soon).  It's been a while since I played Kingsburg so I got it down off the demo shelf to show it to Jesse when we had a little time on Monday evening to check it out.  It was the base game and very close at the end, just a few points between us.

Tuesday saw some visiting gamers in town with Dave Conant and Jim Ward joining Tom and Ernie, as well as Brad and myself, for a few afternoon games including San Juan (using two copies of the game to increase the player count).

We also played a Tom Wham classic, made manifest through the Game Crafters as guided by Dave, called Felithian Finance, a Sci-Fi stock market game.

And we finished up with Architects of the West Kingdom, a worker placement game I've mentioned on this blog not long ago.

A good week for gaming, indeed.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Systematic Assault on Marak Tor

The largest group we've had in a while for the 1E AD&D game in the Grymvald setting with eight players in attendance, one still on vacation but a new face in the mix.  Welcome to Jesse!

Last session, the party finished their side trek to the Caves of the Deaddrop Clan.  The goblins had recently secured a long-abandoned hidden Dwarven outpost to use as weapons manufacturing facility and general HQ for other tribes wishing to raid the settlements along the northern causeway.  The adventurers nipped the goblin plans in the bud and gained some undiscovered Dwarven treasure for their efforts, though not without some losses and injuries.  Details of the battles, and tough consequences, came in my previous campaign blog posts but I should mention magic armor and weapons were garnered and some leveling took place.

This latest session, however, saw a considerably more systematic approach to the site of their original adventuring, Marak Tor.  The cultists seemed fairly entrenched but many of the obstacles to dealing with them had been cleared away or figured out.  They had a fairly good idea of what they would be facing and did their best to avoid incidental injury along the way toward their goal.  They had some fun removing a nasty slop bucket trap, then resetting it elsewhere with the addition of some flasks of oil, which was tripped to good effect, taking out a couple of cultists (a third dying to bad luck).  They also managed to lead an owlbear and her two chicks-cubs (the players dubbed them "chubs") to the tor and upon a couple of other cultists, one of which was a goner.  Unfortunately, they had underestimated the population below.  After finally venturing back within, they chanced to discover a previously unknown secret door which revealed a larger temple complex than formerly reckoned and considerably more cultists than expected; dozens more! 

Photo by Scott Michael!

The group reconsidered but with the evening winding down we chose to freeze time before they moved off and gave the cultists a chance to regroup or reinforce.  It's a tough call.  They are seemingly outgunned but know the complex much better than they did when they first came upon it seven or eight games ago.  The rewards could be great but the danger is undeniably tougher than they can hope to overcome without some serious losses.  I do not envy them their decision . . .

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Architects of the West Kingdom (2018)

One of the downsides of working in a game store is playing a lot of nifty games that we just can't keep in stock!  One of the more recent culprits is Architects of the West Kingdom (2018) by Garphill Games, Angry Lion Games, Banana Games, Ediciones Primigenio, Fever Games, Meeple BR Jogos, PixieGames, Reflexshop, Renegade Game Studios, and Schwerkraft-Verlag (all according to Board Game Geek).  It's a strategy game for one to five players that involves Card Drafting, Set Collection, Variable Player Powers, and Worker Placement.  It has a lot of interaction and ways to disrupt the games of others even as you advance your own.  It's a colorful board with a lot going on but it is not difficult to keep track of anything and the iconography helps a lot in that regard.  A few of the building cards might do with a bit more explanation but we think we have figured them out.  I've played five or six times now, counting a double header today with four then three players, and I daresay I will play this more in the future.  Good stuff!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Just Rewards

Ever have a group stop just short of a goal?  My 1E AD&D in Grymvald game was like that and I did something I rarely do, for the sake of the game.  It really wasn't too much of a DMing faux pas, and I've got plenty enough reason to have made it happen for the good of us all, and that includes anyone following along with this narrative from outside the game.  Let me make my case.

I spent the end of last year planning to run a 1E campaign in 2019, talked it up, and advertised the fact locally and around the social media channels.  I Shared it on Facebook in multiple 1E and Old School groups and finally had the interest of nearly a dozen potential players, totally intending to run a large group, and figuring if a few don't make it any given week due to scheduling conflicts, we're still good to go and will be playing most weeks.  Perhaps due to some conflict of my own, we'd miss a week once every month or two.  I like it when a campaign keeps a certain pace.  I like running games that get into those juicy mid-levels (5 to 9, I feel) fairly quickly.  For me, this is the sweet spot for 1E AD&D gameplay.

Modified Dyson Logo map
Cartography by Dyson Logos is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Mind you, I'm primarily a sandbox kind of DM.  There's a spectrum between railroad and sandbox, IMO, a sort of sliding scale, on which all games fall with no game being at either extreme and every game having at least some of both aspects.  The dice ensure some randomness and the fact that we know we're playing a game guarantees it's at least somewhat of a contrivance.  My point being, at my table there's going to be more randomness than predetermined narrative.  What the players decide to do dictates what happens.  The DM has no story, in my games, and the narrative is a retrospectively derived from gameplay.  There are story elements all over the setting but the players' actions guide how they come into play.  As a DM, I'm part of an audience of one who doesn't know everything that will happen but has a fairly good grasp of the potential story about to unfold due to dramatic irony.

Imagine my frustration, then as a DM and fan of the gamers at my table, when we start the campaign early in January, generating two characters each (one as a backup), only to follow that up with four weeks of having to cancel due to weather!  Can't be helped but already 2019 seems to have it in for us.  Of the dozen interested players, two didn't follow up and two more had scheduling issues crop up before we even got started, so we began the campaign with eight players who had characters but didn't get to play them in earnest until a month later.  When we did get going, I was surprised when the group ignored lesser ways to garner early experience in favor of diving into the most dangerous mission they could find.  Really, I hadn't expected such an ambitious crew but, "More power to em," I thought.  If they really gel as a group right away, I'm all for it.

Turns out, if you put a half dozen or more people in a room who all have vast individual experience but scant relationship with one another, there's going to be some time required for the group to become cohesive.  Convention and gameday one-shot sessions aside, campaign game groups do generally fire on all cylinders from the start.   What followed was five or six weeks of players working out the kinks in their collective playing style while their characters were punching above their weight in a meat grinder relative to the level of the party.  The warning signs were there for them, and on multiple occasions they commented they might be in over their heads, but it didn't stop them from trying, and losing quite a few party members along the way.  There were victories, to be sure, but the low survival rate meant the players were gaining setting knowledge and institutional memory without the individual characters advancing substantially.

Modified Dyson Logo map
Cartography by Dyson Logos is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Eventually, the group took a step back and determined they needed to tackle some more manageable missions before remounting an expedition into the initial site of their early adventures.  They discovered a lesser location and, with the group down a couple of players due to scheduled vacations, scouted and assaulted this alternate location quite successfully, to a point.  It was great for me, again, as a fan and audience member, to see them work together more effectively.  Unfortunately, even as they were overcoming diversity and obstacles, they were also missing out on the rewards nearby.  They pushed themselves in such a way that they had done most of the hard work and would likely need to retreat right before crossing the finish line in the latest race they had chosen to run.  This is where some intervention on my part sort of broke one of my own rules regarding letting the chips fall where they may.  If they cleared most of the adversaries from a complex but left the treasures undiscovered nearby, in a 1E AD&D game that means garnering only a fraction of the experience points they had worked so hard to earn.  I dropped some encouragement into the mix at this point to be sure they'd reap the benefits and then also discouraged pushing things so far that they'd squander those gains.

Now, some might think this a betrayal of the very DMing style I profess, the one I've cultivated for four and a half decades, while others might feel it is more important to put the success of the gaming group ahead of the purity of a sandbox game.  I, as usual, fall somewhere in the middle.  It's like the age old DMing question, "Is a secret door truly secret if a DM is going to ensure it is discovered?"  There's probably no right answer or, at least, no universally correct truth to any answer one might give.  In most campaigns I have run over the years, if the clues are there and the players miss them, so be it.  Many treasures have been left in the hidden compartments of chests and under the floorboards and flagstones because the dice were not kind on a given day.  Ultimately, though, all I did was help define the options and let the players decide what they should do, perhaps with a bit of emphasis on the downsides of not choosing one over another.  I might have nudged this game, if not the campaign, a little further away from a true sandbox but I think it was the right call.  Only time will tell and I look forward to finding out.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Yokohama, Skull, and Love Letter Premium

It was a good week for the LGG lunchtime gaming bunch.  After Gary Con, we took another week off due to some scheduling conflicts and health issues but we were back it at early this week with a game of Yokohama.  I hadn't played this in a while and failed to do much more than trigger the end game and snag the Dutch ambassador chit while Tom and Brad built solid engines.  Disaster!

Still haven't shaved!

Late in the week, we managed to get four of the regulars together and were joined by Neil.  We started off with a couple of games of Skull then on to a game Love Letter Premium.  Good times!

Neil in the house!

In fact, we played two games of Love Letter Premium because Mark got to four tokens in four rounds with only Brad snagging a token in answer, a decidedly quick game!

Yup, I shaved.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Gotta Get Some Goblins

My 1E AD&D Grymvald group was down to five last session due to a couple of vacations and a last minute work situation.  Even at full strength, they had been having some difficulty at Marak Tor (lost three PCs last time).  So, the group opted to look for a somewhat less deadly endeavor.  Fortunately, a map secreted in the hidden compartment of a previously discovered scroll case showed the location of a cave complex which they determined was further to the east of Marak Tor by about another day's travel.  This information was gleaned from Slanch who even knew there to be goblins in that area.  After some discussion, the group decided to guide Count Ulrich, Penelophe, and Slanch back to the mining camp, to resupply while there, then strike out again for adventure, this time to the newly discovered complex.

Modified Dyson Logo map
Cartography by Dyson Logos is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The adventurers made sure to travel by day, utilizing the bunker at Marak Tor as a secure way station halfway to the cave complex.  After an uneventful night in the bunker, they continued across the moors toward where they suspected the location to be.  It took some wandering but once in the area they were able to locate this new tor by following a stream which grew wider as they got within sight of it.  Staying a mile off, they set a cold camp and watches, hunkering down for the night.  They did some minimal scouting but waited until the next day to make a careful approach, sticking to the scrub and copses of trees to get close enough to spy the cave entrance.  Sure enough, there were goblins seemingly guarding the entryway.  The ranger and half-elf made some effort in searching along the western face of the tor, keeping out of sight of the cave mouth, for any hidden entrances but found nothing.  They regrouped further back and decided to circumnavigate the tor to look for additional points of entry.  Suspicious of possible patrols, they kept well away, perhaps a quarter mile, and surprised a lone goblin to the south of the complex, taking him unaware and quickly securing him to make sure no alarm was raised.

Artwork by Eric Quigley

The goblin seemed to have little information but, when threatened, revealed there were a couple dozen or more goblins in the complex and that it definitely did not have an entrance on the far side, near the waterfall.  Definitely not.  Although they suspected a trap, the southern entrance afforded no way to get close unseen, so they backed further away, traveled back west, crossed the river at a ford they had previously discovered, then made there way around to the east side of the tor.  Creeping closer along the river toward the waterfall, they sighted about half a dozen goblins outside another cave mouth near the falls.  Being late in the day, and with the tor at their backs casting shade, the goblins were outside the cave.  A couple of plans were discussed but waiting until morning meant the waterfall cave entrance would be bathed in morning sunlight and the adventurers would be unlikely to find the goblins out of doors, so they rushed the entrance and slew them in short order, preventing one of their number from retreating to let his clan know an attack was in progress.  Although they kept their captive on a lead, he had also tried to warn his clanmates of the attack so they dispatched him, rather than risk further treachery.  His cries outside were drowned out by the crashing water but if they had taken him inside with them, it might have proved their undoing.

They entered the complex to find a long cavern stretching inward with a fire pit and bramble nests on which the off-duty guards must sleep during the day.  They had caught them during the dusk change-of-shift, so no others were slumbering here.  The cavern had a dogleg turn at the far end which ended in a door, the size and construction of which suggested the complex was originally of Dwarven design.  Fortunately, and a key found on one of the goblins allowed them to open the door but another small skirmish quickly ensued.  They took out three more goblins just beyond the door, and another working in a crude armory nearby, before running into some more serious resistance.  Rounding a turn in a wide hallway, they proceeded along and discovered what might have been stone coffins in a pair of alcoves.  Suddenly, two large ballista bolts shot out of the darkness at the far end but missed the party members, shattering a weapons rack behind them.  The group charged forward as their lantern light revealed two ballista with goblin crews and a hobgoblin barking orders to them.  As they got closer, the half elf had been carrying a bucket partially filled with water to use in sussing out traps but now flung it over the group to try and disrupt the ballista fire.  This proved serendipitous since, although it fell short, it uncovered a pit between the party and their assailants.  Feeling they'd be sitting ducks on the near side of the pit if they stayed out in the open, most of the group immediately made use of the cover provided by the nearest alcove.  However, the fleet-footed half-elf decided instead to leap across the pit and try and take out the enemy rather then become pinned down in an alcove and risk reinforcements surrounding them.  The half-elf, with Sophie the guard dog following closely, sprang across the pit only to come up short and drop twenty feet below, falling unconscious and slowly bleeding out.

Artwork by Storn Cook

Sophie, the guard dog, however, made the jump successfully and began tearing into the ranks of the goblins, taking out one of the crew members, while another fell to an arrow from the adventurers.  A series of good and bad fortune followed in which Sophie managed to live through the decidedly quick battle, taking out quite a few of the enemy, the rest succumbing to missile fire.  Sadly, between damage from ballista bolts and additional failed attempts to leap across the pit, during rescue efforts on the half-elf, more party members went down.  They managed to bring the fallen around but used up all of their healing spells and potions in the process.  They then had to retreat from the complex, though not before dropping the ballista into the pit, rendering them harmless should the party return this way again.  It could have been a lot worse but needing to retreat might mean the goblins are better prepared if or when the adventurers return.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Green Slime in Grymvald

We took a session off last week due to Gary Con XI occupying so much of everyone's schedule but we got back to our 1E AD&D game in the "secret" room at Lake Geneva Games almost at full strength.  One of our numbers could not attend but another player who is temporarily in town joined in the fun.  Our temp player is Alex's nephew, Mike, who is here after Gary Con for just a short bit.  It was easy enough to have him use Alex's backup character.  As folks might recall, the players all created two characters right away with one being a backup, to be brought in right away (as soon as reasonable) in the event they suffer a dramatic loss of hit points with their current bundle of stats.  Mike became Kuma the Cleric for the evening, an acolyte who wouldn't stand for being a background player for long!  After spending a bit of time rehashing the events of two weeks prior, when two players were absent, and doling out the Experience Points, treasure was divided and some spent at the mining camp, which has a general supply store.  There was also some healing to be done due to wounds from their previous foray into the underground complex below the ruins of Marak Tor on the northern edge of the Trackless Moors.

 One down but one up . . .

When their transactions were complete, a meeting with the supervisor of the mining camp confirmed that our fearless adventurers were on the cutting edge of civilized ruins exploration.  He had no new information for them and when the group explained they suspected cultists were taking root in Marak Tor, it came as a surprise to the supervisor.  The party wondered if he was being fully forthcoming, so they left the mining camp with pretensions of heading back to the town of Holdmarch but left the path surreptitiously and traveled back to Marak Tor, refreshed and resupplied.

The group knew there were three people held up in the bunker above the complex, the lone building standing intact on the tor, so they attempted to make contact and swiftly did.  They had only seen the trio while the group was battling goblins three days prior, and hadn't made direct contact, so discovering Count Ulrich, a down-on-his-luck noble, his man-servant, Slanch, and Penelophe, a mysterious, tight-lipped cohort, cleared up a minor mystery.  Sir Virgil, the party Paladin of Darrien the Defender, picked up no evil from the three bunker dwellers so the trio were invited to join in the next expedition below.  Although he laid no current claim to the ruins or complex, Count Ulrich explained that his ancestor, two hundred years ago, had built this place as a means to explore further south onto the Trackless Moors where a series of towers known as the Dragon's Teeth were know to exist.  After Ulrich tithed the two clerics and the paladin, they formed up with the count and Penelophe in the center of the group, leaving Slanch behind to keep watch on the bunker.  Now ten strong, the group prepared to descend.

If these dice could talk . . .

During a break, Alex was kind enough to pass on a pair of ten-sided dice to me that his father had left to him.  He told me that, given his father had many, many dice, they weren't unique or particularly special but I begged to differ and thanked him.  These dice would claim the life of a character before the night was over.  Perhaps it was bravery or maybe hubris that guided the plans of the group when they opened the secret door they had only suspected existed which gave them a second entryway to the underground complex.  They had previously come toward it from beneath but rethought their route when a ponderously slow-moving and malformed humanoid statue ground its way across the foyer when last they explored.  Now, knowing the secret door's mechanism, they opened it and planned to delve right in directly toward their next objective, a third-level deep room completely enveloped in green slime . . . but not before surrounding the eight-foot tall stone monster with massive fists that moves so slow it would have been fairly easy to avoid.

About half of the ten party members went more-or-less straight below but several members of the group engaged the juggernaut with weapons while one awaited a chance to join the action and Sonoma, the dwarf fighter, attempted to tie the one ton animated statue's legs together with some silk rope.  Sadly, this is where my newly acquired dice finished off Segovax the Fighter with two hard hits in succession from the guardian statue.  Perhaps it was the lack of effectiveness of their weapons, or maybe the fighter's blood and brains strewn over their boots and greaves, but it was around this time they disengaged from the entry guardian and got on with their mission.  It was a tough loss but Cerverious (sp?) the Fighter was nearby and joined the group as a replacement.

Once on the second level of the complex below, they established that some others had indeed been there in the interim since a tapestry had been re-hung.  The group checked around in known locations but found no other signs of cultists (or otherwise), though a previously missed feature, pillars that didn't extend to a ceiling, warranted attention and turned up a key.  Back on mission, they took the long way around to re-open the secret door, and necessary step in venting the smoke and heat if the group was going to burn out the slime infestation in the first room of the third level below and gain access to more of the complex.  They used enough oil to burn a little more than a third of the green slime and reveal a doorway as well as clear a path to it.  The key, as it happens, looked like it would fit the lock on the door but without a party thief, a debate ensued regarding the best approach.

The Witch of Dour Haven

It was Kuma the Cleric who, perhaps out of frustration with his over-cautious (?) companions, took the key and moved forward to unlock the door.  He managed the task but not without tripping a poison needle trap which his body was unable to withstand.  First his fingers went numb, then his hand and arm, his shoulder next, followed by his whole side, causing him to collapse on the newly-cleared floor.  As the remainder of the cleric seized up, someone checked for life and found he had only been paralyzed.  Rather than remove him from the complex, the group (who was strung out across a narrow passage through the slime and up a narrow spiral staircase) decided it would be best to check the now unlocked door.  It revealed a short hallway beyond that opened into a larger chamber.  Despite the lingering odor of burnt slime, some in the group could smell burning incense and those toward the front could see flickering candle light.  Finley, the ranger in the front, and Nydijan, the cleric in the rear, donned a pair of cultist robes they had picked up on a previous exploration and a rope was shared out over the length of the single-file party to simulate that the party were captives.  The ranger stepped through the door and triggered a covered-pit trap.

It was fortunate the rope had been shared as it prevented the ranger from falling the full twenty feet to the spikes in the bottom of the pit.  As it was, he managed to slam into the wall of the pit about halfway down, dangling from the rope secured above by Sir Virgil the paladin.  At this time, a pair of cultists stepped into view across the far side of the pit trap, shielding an unkempt woman who was casting a spell.  The paladin's armor began to feel quite warm.  Although a couple of party members attempted to fire missiles, the cultists were hit for but little damage.  Despite his armor and metal accouterments burning his flesh, the paladin held fast on the rope and tried to help the ranger climb out of the pit.  Sadly, their first attempt almost resulted in the ranger losing his grip and falling further.  With the armor continuing to burn the paladin, the green slime then began to recover the entirety of the room.  It was then that Count Ulrich and Penelophe decided enough was enough and worked their way through the party to the rear, doing their best to escape.  After an attempt to prevent their exit, some quick shifting around allowed them egress.

The paladin now managed to pull the ranger from the pit and the last few party members rushed for the narrow, spiral staircase.  But Thonon, the magic-user, remembered Kuma the Cleric was not truly dead and could not leave him to be overtaken by the progressing green slime.  Thonon dodged around Cerverious (sp?) the fighter and sidestepped Finley the Ranger but ran full-on into Sir Virgil, the paladin, who was off-balance as he both tried to leave the green slime encroachment even as he was attempting to remove the last of his burning armor.  The two fell to the floor, the paladin finished off as his flesh was deeply seared and green slime dropped upon both him and Thonon.  It was all the magic user could do to escape the slime.  He and Borbeoy, the druid, watched helplessly, the green slime enveloped Sir Virgil and the paralyzed Kuma, swiftly eating away their flesh.  With no alternatives, the party retreated upward, having lost three party members but gaining some solid intelligence on the nature of the Witch of Dour Haven.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Gary Con XI

Took a few pics at Gary Con XI.  The first small batch were some early arrivals and gaming pre-con.  Picked up my badge on Wednesday and caught up with some folks for a bit of Liar's Dice.

Thursday was fairly full with Vikingar in the morning, The Dark Eye in the afternoon, then on to our annual Divine Right game in the evening.  I was also lucky enough Thursday evening to run into some friends and get to try out Larry Hamilton's burgeoning card game.

I kept myself mostly open on Friday to catch up with friends and prep for the Tourney of Legends, which I had been asked to help DM in the eleventh hour due to a cancellation.  Saturday got a bit convoluted during the daytime with some "off-campus" obligations but I loosely consulted during the big Middle Earth Chainmail game on the side of Sauron the Fair against the Numenoreans, then it was time to run my traditional 1E AD&D game Saturday evening.  Sunday was mainly about Avalon Hill's Civilization returning to the schedule.

I wish I could have done more but I had a great time playing and running games.  As usual, there are a lot of pics from the dealer's area and the wargaming tables.  I'll write more up about specific games and such in the future but this posting is simply and overview and to say that full albums can be found on Facebook here and Google here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Pre-Convention 1E AD&D Game

Carl Black​ apparently found this surly miniature somewhere and immediately thought of Tom Tullis​, so Carl bought it and brought it to Gary Con XI as a gift for the founder of Fat Dragon Games​.  I was pressed into running this 1E AD&D game on fairly short notice and snagged some Dyson Logos​ maps to utilize, including one he was kind enough to name my honor some time ago.  When this miniature was gifted to Tom at the game table, I couldn't help but work it into the adventure.

Essentially, the group, most of whom have a connection to a local brewery and restaurant on the shores of Gentle Lake, are asked to convey a barge of ale across to the Isle of Clover for an impending festival.  They manage to fight off a rather nasty water elemental which attacked the barge, possibly due to someone defiling the lake with some of the, admittedly, inferior ale.  As they finish the crossing, they are also informed that as part of the festival, there will be a lottery to choose who will have the honor of being the first to explore a newly discovered underground complex beneath the island.  The players jumped though a lot of hoops to enter their name as a group and attempt to influence the outcome of the lottery in their favor.  Just their luck, they win (since no one else had entered any names) and, after consuming copious amounts of free ale at the festival, are lodged in a luxurious pavilion.

Thanks to Dyson Logos, I had a ready-made and personalized adventure location!
Cartography by Dyson Logos is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

They do set watches and during the night some distant drums draw the attention of the fighter on first watch just before he is meant to rouse watchman number two.  He pokes his head out of the pavilion and is saved by his helmet as a sock full of slugs is used to try and kidnap him by a handful of cultists.  Several cultists are killed though two manage to flee.  Most of the group dons gear and pursues and find that despite the weakness of the individual cultists, their fortifications are dangerously formidable.  The defenses claimed several of the adventurers.

Once they finally gain access to the cultists' lair, and the remaining adventurers are all reunited, they dispatched a number of other cultists before finally locating the secret, inner sanctum.  Unfortunately, while attempting to thwart the sacrifice, some spilled blood triggers the very ritual they wished to prevent and a tentacled horror rises from the depths of a pit, flailing about.  During the ensuing battle, the horror laid low all but one of the adventurers before it was vanquished!  With their leaders and false god destroyed, the surviving islanders were quick to offer whatever they could in recompense to the hero(s) who saved the Isle of Clover.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Raiders of the North Sea (2015)

Wendy is running a slot of Raiders of the North Sea (2015) for Gary Con XI, so she wanted to get in a quick refresher game at Culver's on Friday.  Having recently played Architects of the West Kingdom (2018), this one was fun to play again and see how some of the similar mechanics and features were used.  I think it had been a couple of years since I had last played this game, but I did recall how important the Valkyrie are and making sure to have more provisions and silver than you think you might need in case someone steals from your stores.  Lots of fun and it moves pretty quickly if everyone stays focused and keeps the phases of their turn in mind and in order.  Definitely a high quality game that's fun to play again and again.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Prophecy (2002)

Prophecy (2002) is designed by Vlaada Chv├ítil.  Originally published by Altar Games, the version I have is published by Z-Man Games which I understand includes some upgrades and corrections.  We watched a how to play video from Scott Nicholson so we could hit the ground running since none of my group of four had previously played.  Most of us have played similar games, so it wasn't too tough to pick up though there were a few sticking points we needed to clarify, like what is meant by "least" and what is meant by "fewer."  I know semantically there is a difference but wasn't sure how that distinction translated to the game nor if ties mattered in one or both cases.  Turns out it does matter in the former case but not in the later.  There were a few other odd cases that needed rules reference but mainly just getting to know the various in-game items and abilities ate a lot of time.  We gained speed with each round of turns.  We also established early on that the game would take us longer than the time we had allotted for play, so we sped things up after a couple of rounds of turns by making sure each player got a regular item and an ability from one of their two starting guilds.  We individually drafted one of each from three cards in each case.  That helped us get moving more than anything.  Once we weren't stuck in the mud, we all enjoyed the game a lot more.

I got a good deal on this game through eBay and the seller through in some minis to be used in place of the character standees, so I'd be pleased enough to get just a few playthroughs.  But I think with some adjustments like the drafting mechanic for one regular item and one trained ability, gameplay is vastly improved by eliminating the first, slow third of the game.  Maybe that third of the game would prove interesting for folks unused to such games but it's a lot of hoop jumping for experienced players to overcome for little reward.  Once on the far side of that first third, the game picks up tremendously.  I've also got the first of two expansions and look forward to adding it in for a subsequent game, though maybe not the next time since there is still more to be gleaned from the base game, I think.  There's a third expansion which appears to change the game quite a bit more than the first though I may pick it up just to own the complete set.  We'll see.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Something from Nothing: 1E AD&D in my Grymvald Setting

Folks will recall I planned to start up a 1E AD&D campaign in 2019 and I did just that.  It's been slow going putting together the group then getting up and running mostly because the weather has been uncooperative but we're on track now.  I set a target number for players at ten or more but wound up with eight after two of the ten dropped early on due to changing commitments.  I've been running games for a long time but usually kept the number to around five or six.  I've never been one who enjoys running a game if only one or two players are involved, and even three players can feel a little light, though doable.  Five to six feels comfortable for me even if one or two people cannot make it on a given week.  It's also been true that for most of my life the game spaces available to me would have made larger groups problematic.  I have run the occasional one-shot game for gamedays or conventions with a higher number than six, even as many as a dozen or more, but a large-group campaign had never been a goal not a result.  With our first campaign meeting set for the 2019 1E AD&D campaign in my Grymvald setting, we had a solid eight players, and a comfortable place to play in the secret game room of Lake Geneva Games.

Thanks to "Scott Michael" for the picture!

In January, the remaining nine of us gathered and created characters.  I asked everyone to make two characters initially.  This is a First Edition campaign and that can get deadly rather swiftly, depending on the choices of the players, but I don't want anyone sitting around just watching everyone else play if their character dies. Even if it feels like I am using a giant shoehorn to do it, I want a player to have a back up character ready and for me to be able to bring them into play as quickly as I can come up with a contrivance to do so.  Our first meeting was mostly about character creation but included some casual RPGing to set the stage.  While this first session saw the players doing little more than establishing their places in the town of Holdmarch, they also gained knowledge of the mining operation on the Trackless Moors south of the village.  A couple of the players had a connection to to the mining camp.  We had utilized the secondary skill table from the DMG during character creation and one player had a mining background with another being a teamster, so that lent itself nicely to that bond.  In fact, two were leatherworkers and two were fishers, so I decided to have pairs of players start the campaign by knowing one another.  The gardener and the carpenter was a bit of a stretch but since they were the remaining two, I made it work.

With that groundwork laid, the campaign was set to begin on the following week but a subsequent four weeks of freakish storms, which seemed to mostly target our game night, made gathering to play an impossibility.  From week to week our group watched the impending forecasts hoping they'd be in error but finding when the day came each week for us to play, cancelling was the only prudent choice.  While I live nearby, as do one or two others, the majority of the players have a fair distance to drive for our game and even in the best conditions it's tricky, work schedules being what they are.  The first week that we cancelled, I didn't think much of it.  I like establishing a game as weekly knowing that from time to time we'd need to cancel due to weather or some other scheduling conflict.  If a weekly campaign meets three or even two times in a month, I consider it normal.  It became quite strange, though, to find that four weeks in a row we were forced to consider cancelling, and each of those four weeks I felt it best that we do.  However, two weeks ago we returned to the table for our second campaign meeting and managed to have a third get together earlier this week.  We are taking this coming week off for Gary Con but we're all going to the convention so none of us will miss out on gaming during the campaign break.  We plan to gather again the following week.

The second week of play saw our first character death.  The group had followed up on some information from the mining camp about some ruins discovered on the Trackless Moors.  I won't go into too much detail because I plan to have this available for me to run at Gary Con but let's just say there was no returning for the fallen thief.  These are veteran players but as with all new groups it can take a while to find their groove.  This lack of cohesion can manifest in chaos and disorder.  This can in turn lead to splitting the party which is tricky enough when it results in two smaller groups but we had player characters in three separate locations with some impediments between each.  A warning sign was ignored, a dangerous foe attracted, and an overwhelming force resulted in a quick death and the subsequent destruction of the player character's body as well as much of their equipment.  I mention the latter because it may have played a role in the concerns of the surviving characters.  While they moved quickly to discover what had happened, and did overcome the foe with quick action, some of the table talk set a tone prioritizing life and wealth, among other things, in a fairly mercenary hierarchy.  We'll see how that plays out but it might be good for the players to insulate themselves from character death if it means they will take more chances and have more fun.

They seem happy and this was taken at the end of the evening!

Two of the players couldn't make it out for our third campaign meeting but we pressed on and I fudged one thing to avoid a potential Total Party Kill.  It wasn't retroactive, so I wasn't turning back the clock, and it probably changed how things played out though not so much the result.  This was definitely a DMing decision made on the fly but under the circumstance it was the right call.  Really, it came down to design versus play.  I had designed this adventure location with certain norms in mind that weren't in evidence when we got together to play.  I think we make assumptions all the time while prepping for games but in this case I had left only a crude back up plan, an encounter with one primary solution and nothing but brute force as an alternative.  It's true that there are times when brute force should be the final option for adventurers but I hadn't envisioned it in this case and I was surprised by it when I shouldn't have been.  Even an old dog, I suppose . . .

Despite the vagueness of this summary, I think that brings folks up to speed on the campaign.  Post-Gary Con, I'll be able to give more details with the updates, so I look forward to being less guarded.  While I'll be able to post more about the ongoing campaign, I'll also only be able to post so much about that game I run at Gary Con since it will then be spoilers for the ongoing campaign.  What a tangled web we weave.  More coming soon, I hope!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Hansa Teutonica, Sushi Go, and New Frontiers

The Thursday Night gang was short a couple of players this week, so they were kind enough to let me join in their fun and even let me pick the game.  In fact, we worked it out in advance and everyone had the chance to familiarize themselves with the game, Hansa Teutonica (2009), before we arrived.  I had played once before but JP, Cera, and John were all new to the game though you couldn't tell it by the way anyone perfomed.  We played twice and the final scores were tight.  It's definitely a game where there are a lot of paths to victory and everyone needs to make sure that no one exploits one path unimpeded or unchecked.  JP set the tone by immediately horning in on trade routes, so we all followed suit and were not squeamish or worried about stepping on one another's toes.  We played twice and it got more raucous as we went along.  It's a game that demands interaction so if direct confrontation in a non-wargame boardgame makes someone uncomfortable, this game is not for them.  Otherwise, it's a free-for-all!

I find it odd that the opportunity to play Sushi Go (2013) hasn't presented itself to me in the past but every now and then there's a game that I miss without having dismissed it.  We opened our Friday with a this gem.  Sushi Go is a fast little card drafting game with no small amount of scoring and signal-reading complexity.  The more clever your opponents, the less light this game will play.  We had a fairly-even crew, myself being the only new player, and we played a couple of times through and I managed to be in the mix the second time.  Higher scores are had by taking some risks but this also means that the scores can swing wildly from round to round if some players are making unorthodox drafting choices.  This isn't a bad thing because that opens the door for a slightly more conservative strategy.  A player definitely needs to pick their moments.

I forgot to snap a picture but we also got in another game of New Frontiers: A Race for the Galaxy Board Game (2018).  This one has been tough for me because I keep finding myself surprised by the final scores and also find it hard getting my game engine started if the combination of my starting world and the random development cards don't present some intuitive synergies.  I might not be giving myself enough credit because my final scores range from competitive to very good but during gameplay I often feel like I am foundering and waiting for some lucky break rather than steering my own course and mitigating bad breaks.  I can deal with the latter but hoping for some random mechanic to allow me a chance to win is frustrating to me as a player who likes more control over my own fate.  I'll still play this again but if I get the same feeling next time, I'll probably avoid this one in the future.

Monday, February 18, 2019

A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch

I've played two games of A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch and found them both engaging.  I think I need to adjust my strategy a little and become a bit more aggressive for territory and Development cards as I do in the regular game.  I'm holding back too much in deference to the collective Wildling threat.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Viticulture B-Day Party

I had a wonderful time playing Viticulture in the new gaming and work shed of my pal, Wendy*, on Friday.

(Right to left - Wendy, Donna, Ernie, Tom, and me)

(Left to right - Donna, me, Ernie, and Tom)

Three-way tie decided by tiebreakers and won by Wendy!

*All photos by Wendy and [her] Tom

Thursday, February 7, 2019

GoT 7x07 Behind the Scenes @ Dragonpit

As I look forward to the final season of Game of Thrones, I've been enjoying going back and watching some fun stuff from earlier on including a video which shows some of the best of times for many of the actors on the show.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Blue Blackout Yeti USB Microphone

After some consideration I decided to pick up a Blue Blackout Yeti USB Microphone in a bundle that included a Knox Gear Studio Boom Arm, Knox Gear Pop Filter and Tascam TH-03 Headphones.  While I won't be using the boom arm right away, the pop filter and quality headphones will come in handy.  I'll run some tests with it today before plunging in to making episode two of Tabletop Gaming Talk.  Thanks to everyone who chimed in with suggestions on what equipment to research.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Con of the Lakes II - June 22nd

I've signed on to run a 1E AD&D game at Con of the Lakes, in Twin Lakes, WI, on Saturday, June 22nd from 7 pm to 10 pm!

"Evening 1E AD&D Game! Exploring the Dragon's Teeth - This is a 1st Edition AD&D game run by Mark CMG Clover from 7 pm until 10 pm. The adventurers will sally forth onto the Trackless Moors to explore one or more towers known as the Dragon's Teeth. Open ended sandbox play where the players determine the direction of the adventure."

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth

A recent article on Open Culture reminded me about the exhibit called Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth.  It is the latest deep delve into J.R.R. Tolkien's archives for previously unpublished and, to the wider world, unseen materials including early drafts and original drawings.

The exhibit spent late last year at The Weston Library but now a great many items from it will be moving from Oxford to New York's Morgan Library & Museum before then traveling to France.  It opens here in the states in less than two weeks so make your plans to see it if you can and let me know how it goes!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

New 1E AD&D Campaign and More

It's been a couple of weeks since my return to blogging after over two years and I've made some headway on a few things.  I've gotten a few bits and bobs ready for a new podcast: an intro, outro, and some music and such.  More on that soon.  The store is geared up for for the next MtG release and we've seen quite a few preregs for prerelease weekend, which is always a good sign.  It's great to start off a new year with a strong month.  But I wanted to blog this time a little regarding the 1E AD&D campaign I am getting set up.

Next week will see the first gathering for our new group.  I know everyone involved, mostly from online though I've met almost everyone at least at a Gary Con or around the store.  I have a couple of returning players that were part of a campaign from a few years ago, so I'm glad they've got time to join.  But the eight or nine other players will be new to my table and DMing.  I set up a secret Facebook group to share some maps and preliminary information about the rules we'll be using.  It's mainly 1E core three with a bit of other stuff added in as we go.  Pretty straight forward but that's good for a new group, I think.

We'll be playing in my Grymvald setting, sandbox-style, but I want to make sure I have some early options so I've shared some of my old maps and have made some adjustments to some Dyson Logos maps for the starting area.  It's a village called Holdmarch, at the west end of a causeway that stretches east to the capitol of the Kingdom of Jals.  They may not stay in the area but considering the Listless Marshlands lie to the north and the Trackless Moors border on the south, there's plenty to do in any direction they decide to go.  I'll be sure to blog more about this after we're up and running.  In the meantime, keep gaming!

This is a modified version of
Cartography by Dyson Logos and is licensed under a