Pity the Elves

Something Awful’s WTF,D&D!? series this week covered elves, it being Christmas and all.

I feel a bit bad for D&D elves and their diaspora. They’re good looking but frail and they don’t sleep, they’re basically one molestache away from being The Machinist. Those  big ears are stupid too. I realise that the idea of a crappy constitution was to achieve game balance in D&D; ICE’s Middle Earth Roleplaying did nothing of the sort – playing an elf wasn’t fair at all. If you played a Noldor, you were better than everyone else and you had been for 6500 years.

Above: Low constitution, my ass; Celebrimbor took some time out between being mistaken for Conan to hammer out some rings of power, then maybe he’d relax with a cool glass of strychnine and eat some anthrax-laced sandwiches, because he can just shrug that shit off. He didn’t need to put a shirt on, ever, because he never got too cold. Being an elf was great. Except the part about being tricked into making rings of power by Sauron and then being tortured to death.

Having insanely powered elves in MERP made sense because Tolkien’s elves were superlatives; they represented everything humanity aspired to, wholly realised and used (largely) only for good. Also, tapered ears, not dagger-lugs; D&D elves are looking more and more like anime refugees.

Take Glorfindel, please, because no-one else has. In the Fall Of Gondolin, Glorfindel duels a Balrog and kills it. He doesn’t trick it into falling off a bridge, he just flat out kills it with a sword. The fight kills Glorfindel, but he doesn’t take that shit lying down, he is such a badass that he gets sent back to Middle Earth where he defeats the Witch-King at Fornost, causing the Witch-King to flee. Also it is Glorfindel that makes the prophecy about no man killing the Witch-King, so he probably saved countless dudes lives dissuading them from going toe-to-toe with the Witch-King. You’re welcome, Middle Earth. He then goes out and finds Aragorn and the hobbits after Frodo is stabbed at Weathertop, a role given to Arwen in the movies because waaah, there aren’t enough girls. Tolkien removed Glorfindel from the Fellowship in the later drafts of the book because obviously, it would have been too freaking easy with him in the party. The book would have been called “Glorfindel simply walks into Mordor” and it probably wouldn’t have been a trilogy.

The elves I grew up with, Games Workshop and Tolkein elves, weren’t as limp wristed as their TSR counterparts. They were vicious, not particularly friendly to humans and divided into two distinct sets like the Courts of celtic mythology that informed the idea of elves in the British Isles: One that was beautiful and intoxicating and the other that was wicked and predatory. D&D plundered this tradition too to some extent, which is why D&D can’t lock up the rights to “Drow” like they can for “Beholder”, Drow were a thing to Viking settlers before anyone put bondage gear on a black elf.

So pity the elves; the longer they are around, the more feeble they get. They’ve gone from exemplars and paragons, to delicate pushovers that no-one wants to play.

Stormraven is coming. That is all.

I'll take it.

The Acts of the Lords of Rannick, II

When I started this campaign off there were only three players. I’ve said that I’d run it with as few as two, although thankfully it has never come to that.

Three players is fine at first – slightly underpowered, but at 1st and 2nd level part of winning is just showing up.  It seems like at higher levels how the group plays together – tanks up front, support at the rear, healers flitting between is important.  Coordinating plans on the fly, as I think the last session shows, can get really awkward with many people.

Last night’s session was a good lesson in how small groups can still be effective. There wasn’t a lot of planning, but everyone knew roughly what the dangers were and stuck to – if not a plan – then an approach.

Part II – Skull Crossing Dam; Team Chaos!

Having seen off the Ogres that had been hacking the dam apart, the party retired to the barely adequate Ettin cave for some recuperation and to get out of the worsening storm.

After resting, Tersplink, Kerplak and Dagfinn set out to investigate the building that straddled the walkway of the dam, with its odd ziggurat of carven stone skulls.

They found the doors propped up in place and secured by a seemingly immovable barricade. Fortunately, all this skull-themed carving wasn’t entirely pointless as the wall-skull closest to them had windows in the eye and nose sockets.  Sneaking through, the scouting team found a vine-choked room with nests constructed of moss and creepers.

Proceeding into the next room, but tipped off by Kerplak’s preternaturally good hearing that something may be on the other side, Dagfinn cloaked everyone with his Invisibility Sphere. Cracking the door they found four trolls, covered in vines, waiting.

Tersplink Entangled the room with grasping plant-life, snagging and pulling at the trolls, while Dagfinn chose strategic areas to coat with Grease which were then ignited. Kerplak flooded the air with crossbow bolts and deafened two of the trolls, causing considerable havoc.

One troll burned away, unable to escape the flames, tangling plant life and missile fire; his comrades fled the building as fast as they were able. Reluctant to give up their advantage of terrain just to move forward, the party kept the Grease and Entangle spells up and retreated back the way they came.

Back outside, they climbed onto the roof and were rushed by the remaining trolls. Due to the narrow confines of the ledge the trolls weren’t able to surround the party the way they’d like and could only come after them one at a time. Another well-placed Grease spell slowed the attack down, helping to kill another troll and Tersplink cast Fly on himself and Dagfinn, giving them enough space to engage to trolls with missile attacks. Seeing that they were denied the ability to attack again, the trolls fled again, this time only one escaping.

With three of the trolls dead and burned, the party examined the rest of the building. they found more troll nests amongst the vine-choked ruins and some rooms filled with a harmless fungus. There was evidence of contact with the Kreeg ogres as they found over-sized and gnawed bones amongst the vines and ogre hooks used to help barricade the western doors shut.

They also found two great stone doors. Graffitti scrawled across the door in the crude runes of giants warned that below there was someone called Wet Papa Grazuul.  Kerplak tried  pushing them open, but they barely budged.

The scouting party left the doors alone and decided to try abseiling further down the dam to examine the massive skulls that decorated the dam’s face… and that’s where we left them.

There wasn’t much progress made, but what there was was safe and successful, which was no mean feat for such a small crew.

Steve Jackson Quickies

As long as we’re discussing our Chrisnukwanzakah presents, the missus gave me Zombie Dice and it’s been an excellent time-waster.

It consists of a cup and 13 six-sided dice (and really the cup is optional). You’re a zombie looking to collect your RDA of brains before taking too many shotgun blasts. There are different dice with varying numbers of brain, shotgun, or footstep (if your prey escapes) sides. It’s a simple game to pick up and takes about 10 minutes with two people although pretty much any number can play.

It goes well with the other Steve Jackson di(c)e game we have, Cthulhu Dice.

Everyone takes turns trying to make everyone else go insane. This one involves a d12 carved with hideous, mind-melting symbols man was not meant to know along with some hideous, mind-melting glass beads man was not meant to know for keeping track of your remaining sanity.

This one is better in a larger group so there’s some variety in who you attack; it’s okay with two people if each person controls two or more “players” though. The best part is that half the time no one is left with any sanity, in that case everyone loses and Cthulhu wins. Up to 6 can play and it still shouldn’t take much more than 15 minutes.

So yeah, if you don’t quite have the three day weekend needed to set up Doctor Who: The Game Of Time & Space, these are a good way to go. Ooh, now I want to play Doctor Who again…

Xmas Haul

I don’t know about everybody else, but I presented my mom with a bunch of options for some board and card games I was interested in playing as good Christmas presents. I figured since they were coming here I could get her to throw some money Tower’s way. From the list of potential ideas I gave her I ended up with a couple of interesting-looking quickplay beer and pretzels card games.

Hex Hex XL

Hex Hex XL is a game completely devoted to screw-your-neighbor gameplay. Every hand is five cards, and it starts with a hex getting put on one player, then everybody using the five cards they have to make sure the hex doesn’t land on them. You lose point by having the hex land on you, and you can goose the power of the hex to make the penalty worse when it (hopefully) lands on somebody else.

Not super deep looking, but it’s one of those card games where all the rules are on the cards, so anybody that can learn the basics can play pretty quickly.   I’m really excited about this one.

Aye, Dark Overlord!

This is kind of a weird party game where somebody gets to be the Dark Overlord and everyone else is one of his henchmen, trying to shift blame for some fantasy high adventure failure. The cards are only part of the game as the rules expect that you’ll be making up stories of your own and role playing what the cards help you make up. If you don’t satisfy the Dark Overlord you get Withering Glares, and on the third Withering Glare you lose. Looks like a really good game to start after midnight when there’s a bunch of actors in the room.

Anyway, I’m going to try to get some quick tries in with these things this week. I’ll let everybody know how fun they are.

The Acts of the Lords of Rannick, I

If I had wanted to keep a decent adventure journal, recapping the party’s escapades, I should have started when Dagfinn, Lonny and Kerplak first strolled into Sandpoint looking for a good time at the Swallowtail festival.

I didn’t though, which is too bad because now the players have to rely on their memory for names to recall who everyone is and I’ve forgotten who did what and when so that I can hold them accountable for it one day. I wanted to. Plus, you know how I hate it when people ask me to spell names for them during play? Because seriously, how would you know? Now’s your chance… Still, here we go:

Dagfinn Cleng; Bard and bon-vivant
Baaz; Half-orc monk and man of few words
Lonny Dun; Dwarven cleric of Torag and Lord of Rannick
Kerplak Dropwad; Gnome rogue and gadget enthusiast
Tersplink Dropwad; Gnome sorceror, a bit Fey
Arradin Tyrlyith; Elvish fighter and scythe-wielder
Corwin; Half-elf, half-fighter, half-rogue
Torgor; Ranger and newest recruit

Part I – Turtleback Ferry to Skull Crossing; Don’t despair me, bro.

The first act of the Lords of Rannick was to save the town from the flooding and the dangers it brought. It was a thrilling tale, full of unknowable aquatic horrors, bravery, derring-do and primal forces of nature, but we’ll skip that. They set out to investigate the cause of the flood that partially destroyed Turtleback Ferry. The river gorge having vomited a vast wall of water and debris onto the village and surrounding area, the party set out to investigate the ancient dam that held back the waters of the Storval Deep. The town was left in the capable hands of Father Ivan. Mayor Shaelin Shreed set off for Magnimar to secure funding for some rebuilding; former-Black Arrow; avid apiarist Vale Temros set off for Whartle to spread the news among the nearby communities and
former-Black Arrow and mild depressive Jakardros Sovark set off for Fort Rannick with his step-daughter Shalelu Andosana to get on with the grim business of burying the last two sets of occupiers of Fort Rannick.

Trivia: The Black Arrows occupied Fort Rannick for about 50 years and the Kreeg Clan for about a week, meaning that the average length of occupation is about 25 years. However, 100% of previous occupants have been brutally murdered in a surprise attack.

The party arrived at the ancient stone dam to find a marvel of engineering from an age long dead. Also, skulls. Apparently constructed be the same crew who rigged the skull trap under the Dwimorberg for the Dead Men of Dunharrow because every foot of stone on the gorge-spanning, 200′ tall Thassilonian dam was covered in skull shapes carved into the stone. Starting to show signs of strain and the damage that caused the Turtleback flood, the dam looked to have sustained damage recently, but held back the weight of the rain-swollen lake. The path to the top of the dam was a narrow staircase with 4′ high stairs, which was made even more treacherous by the resumption of the torrential rain which had been pummeling the region for a week.

Lonny slipped as he climbed, his dwarven legs not quite up to such giant stone steps and began the night’s theme of falling from great heights. The gnome cousins flew to the top of the stairs, Tersplink depositing Kerplak at the mouth of a cave, the end point of the stairway. Tersplink flew up to the level of the dam and found a work crew of Ogres labouring hard to cause another fault in the
dam. The Ogres were distracted by the flying gnome and while they hurled javelins at one cousin, the other tried to sneak along the cliff face to get to the dam. Sadly, with no-one else around to witness, Kerplak slipped and fell off the edge of the cliff, bouncing down the side of the dam and landing broken-boned and out cold in the pool at the foot of the dam.

Upon arrival at the stairhead, Baaz, Arradin and Torgor followed Kerplak’s plan, with almost comical similarity. Only the ranger Torgor managed to catch himself before plummeting off the treacherous cliff at which point he joined the rest of the group outside the cave mouth. Tersplink, flying away from the Ogres, set about rescuing the three gravity victims from drowning and bleeding out, ably assisted by Kerplak and Corwin’s dogs, who – it must be said – were having a great time.

Corwin led the way into the cave, supported by Dagfinn, Lonny and Torgor. Not knowing what might be stomping around the cave, Corwin advanced and made contact with the cave’s inhabitant, a brutish Ettin. The two headed giant was moderately surprised to see Corwin, but probably not as surprised as he was when the half-elf activated The Impaler of Thorns, a crowd-control device as old as the creaking dam outside. A solid strike with the ancient polearm unleashed a wave of despair and sorrow that made the Ettin so profoundly sad that it couldn’t concentrate on anything, much less mashing the party to pieces. The giant was dispatched and as one half of the party sifted through his belongings, the other was just getting itself back on its feet. Lonny reclaimed a phylactery, once used by clerics to heal the injured and banish the dead.

When all had gathered, Arradin shared her near-death experience with her fellows. As she had been approaching death’s door not too long ago, she felt her soul start to leave her body, only for it to be drawn towards the old medallion she had taken from Nualia, the deranged Aasimar who once threatened Sandpoint. The Sihedron Medallion was another artifact from long dead Thassilon. Lonny laid
down some professional opinion; that anything that messed with your soul was a bad deal and advocated removing the various Sihedron Medallions the party had accumulated. Corwin evidently has big plans for the afterlife because he relinquished his, but Arradin remains attached to hers for the boost of vitality it gives her.

Reassembled, both skeletally and socially, the party left the cave to face the Ogres on the Dam. The Ogres, cruelly overworked, put up no great fight but their overseer managed to slap a few party members around before he too fell.

And that’s where we left them, standing in three inches of rainwater on a walkway on top of a skull-festooned dam, in the middle of a raging storm.

A Goblin State of Mind.

These are the Condition cards that Paizo is bringing out sometime next year. Your character gets deafened? Boom, there’s your Condition Card, you just keep that on your sheet until it wears off.

I said YOU KEEP IT ON YOUR SHEE-… never mind.

Are there other ways of doing this? Gosh yes, none of which will cost whatever this pack will cost. I really do have to express my admiration for the way Paizo makes money from a game whose rules you can have for free from the internet.  I’d far rather see people  pour their creativity into these kinds of conveniences than meddle with rules or write umpteen similar scenarios.

Except the coins they made. That was stupid.

Woe to you, Oh Earth and Sea…

I hope that after reading the name of this post you will have “The Number of the Beast” stuck in your head.

Do you have it stuck in your head now?

Alright, dammit, watch this then!

There you go.  Why do I want to get this song in your head?  Why wouldn’t you want this song stuck in your head is the better question.  Yeah.  Think about it.

So this isn’t a blog about Iron Maiden, even though that band may be mentioned in the future.  This is a blog about games.  We’re talking board games like Galaxy Truckers.

We’re talking card games like Munchkin Cthulhu.

Aww, isn't he cute?

We’re talking, of course, about Role-Playing games.

Still smarter than Baaz.

And table-top war games, like my personal favorite Warhammer 40k.

All of these game types are fair game on this fair blog.  There are even some other ones I didn’t mention that may pop up.  So sit back, relax, and let the Iron Maiden pulse through your brain and check back often.  There are a lot of us here at Dodecaheathens, and there are a lot of games to play.